Saturday, December 31, 2011

Making It Through a Day

All night long, I had dreams of the dangers lurking on every corner. It didn’t help that I had read an online article from the San Francisco Chronicle describing the violence in this city right before going to bed. I had sworn that I would not take my camera out today, nor would I even carry my bag. Certain that I am on some international radar for being a victim of crime, I am playing it safe. It is not paranoia, but true life experiences. Alternatively, we did survive Cape Town twice and the heart of Kenya without incident, but why push the luck?

While we were at breakfast, there was a couple from Boston who also arrived yesterday. We chatted for a while and I mentioned my concerns for safety. One of the guys remarked with a truth that I often think about when people are concerned about the safety of Budapest. His comment was “it is funny how people get overly concerned about the potential violence when they travel, yet they ignore the violence at home. I was mugged four times in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts where I live within 2 years time.” It got me t thinking that he was right, but I am still leaving my camera behind. 

Yesterday when I mentioned my concerns to Ron, I shared my mental fantasy of filling my empty cola bottle with bleach. If anyone dared to attack me, I would splash them with it. His retort was “Will that make you one of the Bleach Boys?” (Beach Boys)

Leaving this city alive and with all our things is a grave concern, if you will forgive the pun. We thought of leaving a day early, but we are prepaid here and changing the reservation at Rio Dulce would be another headache. We can hunker down here, but to be sure, we wanted to get our bus ticket. Though the bus station is only a few blocks from the hotel, we will take a taxi there. I can imagine us going down the street when some car pulls up to collect all of our luggage, when we know this isn’t a service offered by the bus companies.

Within a block of our hotel on the way to the bus station, the atmosphere started feeling dark and foreboding like those Batman movies where there is never any evidence of a primary color. Strange that the sun was shining, yet there was an obscure nature as we inched our way closer to the station. Men surrounded buses with rifles of various types, but it was unclear if they were guards, customers, or category C. For one moment, I wasn’t certain whether to continue trying to find the ticket office or break into a run. Our tickets are booked: January 2, 2012 at 11:30 am.

Not leaving anything to the Fates, we brought our tickets back to the hotel before wandering off. Our hotel has closed circuit TV at the door, so they monitor from the office. There are so many layers of security gates that you have to stretch your arm through to get to the bell to ring to be let in. They as none of the other hotels, give you a key to get in on your own. I am guessing it is a simple precaution in case you are mugged and tortured, you won’t spill the beans as to where you are staying, so they can use your keys to break in. The problem here is, if you are short or you have short arms, you will need an extender to reach the bell. I have long arms and even I get bar marks in my cheek as I stretch in to reach the buzzer.

Now that the tickets were secured, we intended to visit three museums. Museum 1 – closed. There were those metal door knockers so thinking this was a security precaution, we tried the knocker and the bell and our fists. Nada! Museum 2 – closed. Museum 3 looked like it had potential as four of the employees had just walked out and were standing on the sidewalk talking. The museum is scheduled for 10am to 12 noon and 2 – 5pm. It was not yet noon, but they said it would be closed until Tuesday for the holiday, but then again, maybe they wouldn’t open on Tuesday either. Doesn’t matter, we won’t be around then anyway. What to do, what to do?

When all else fails there are always churches to visit. There are plenty of those here and even if I don’t partake, they are fun to look at, plus wonderful examples of cultural differences. One corner had a church on each of two corners and another church just 2 blocks away. They were all Catholic too. Talk about obsessive.

We went into one church and my eyes popped out of my head. For the first few moments, I had forgotten I had gone into a church. If it had not been for two dozen Mary statues in different outfits and poses, I would have had to leave, look at the building again and re-enter. The insides looked like someone set off a bomb in a party supply store. The only thing missing was the Mylar balloons that announced “It’s a boy!” Just about every square inch of the ceiling had draped banners, garland, lights, statues, and other paraphernalia that was never covered in my Catholic military training sessions. I think this was God’s way of getting back at me since I didn’t have my camera to document it all. Just trying to take it all in was beginning to put me into epileptic seizures. One interesting thing in this church, I have never seen in my life was a painting of Joseph’s deathbed. I have never heard of Joseph’s death ever referred to anywhere. All attention was first and foremost on Jesus and then Mary was taken up body and soul, but Joseph’s last years are just a blank slate. The poor guy slaved as a carpenter supporting his wife and step-son, only to be forgotten in history or myth. 

After that experience, I walked into the next church with the same caution as walking into your own surprise party after you received wind of its happening. Apparently this congregation subscribes to Better Churches and Gardens magazine; it was less audacious, but still on the ticklish side of gaudy. Life size wooden pelicans hang all over the church with their necks craned picking at their own breast to feed their young. If you want to read the full story, click here. One giant mural over a side door showed Jesus on the cross, but the cross was in a fountain. Jesus’ blood had filled the fountain. They are just consumed with these torturous betrayals of religious faith. One thing is that this church had another interesting Joseph related item which was a first. In all of my years, I have never witnessed this before, but in the crèche, instead of Mary holding the baby or the baby just being in the manger, it was Joseph holding Jesus with a peculiar look on his face. I could see the word bubble over his head showing what he was thinking, “Darn it, he doesn’t look like me at all.” To make matters worse he had a t-shirt on that said “My wife had an angelic visit and all I got was a step-son.” The Catholics here are really crazy!

The third church we visited was so unadorned, I thought we had wandered into a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall by mistake. The crucifix assured me we were in a Catholic church. As we were wandering around, a mass started. Usually before the priest enters, there are bells jingled warning congregates that the priest is walking in, so everyone stands up. There were no bells, so I was taken by surprise when a very elderly priest was aided to the altar by his home health aide. She had to keep him propped up as he celebrated mass. Vocations must be at an all time low; this poor guy was beyond feeble. It was also during the beginnings of this mass that I realized for certain just how dangerous this city can be. The altar boys, no girls around, are armed with pistols. When they came to take a collection, those holding the basket bore rifles, for those who thought they were passing a grab bag. As we were leaving, I spotted this poster on the wall. It portrayed Jesus in the same position as Rodin’s The Thinker. Next to the poster was the statue itself, which I hadn’t noticed at first. The title is “Jesus in Deep Thought”. As we were leaving, there was a handwritten sign that said “You do not need your mobile phone to call God. Turn yours off when in church.” Someone has a sense of humor.

We walked the pedestrian street so many times looking at the street performers and then stopping to have lunch, we now have every store memorized as well as their merchandise, inventory and prices. Is it January 2nd yet?
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