Enjoy the pics!
And enjoy my book, with details of the complete journey...
The day after the commemorations of the Sarajevo assassinations, I attended Mass at a local Franciscan Monastery, then moved to new lodgings with a mountain rescue guy named Neno. He took me to a cottage to the east of town (part of the Serbian quasi-autonomous region of Republika Srpska) for hiking. I got to see steep karst crags, a mountain goat, and the dark ridges miles beyond. And I got my first taste of descending a talus slope.
Enjoy the pics!
And enjoy my book, with details of the complete journey...
Continuing with the pictorial retrospective on the 100th anniversary of Franz Ferdinand's assassination, here are images of the end of the "celebration" - and other attractions in the Sarajevo area.
Czech novelist Milan Kundera passed away July 11 at the age of 95. He was certainly one of the most influential Czech writers of the second half of the twentieth century. In terms of international notoriety, he was surpassed only by Václav Havel, the playwright, essayist, prisoner of conscience, and first post-Communist president of Czechoslovakia.
Kundera became globally famous largely thanks to his status as émigré writer in Paris, and to the American production of his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That book and film centered largely on the impact of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which crushed the liberalization of Alexander Dubček, on the work’s central characters. Some go into exile in Switzerland, only to find that they “can’t hack it” abroad. So they return to their homeland, where their travel papers are promptly confiscated. The hardliners are back in power, now enforcing “normalization,” a return to authoritarianism, censorship and doublespeak.
To me, that book encapsulated the plight of dissidents – or any non-conformists – in the former Czechoslovakia. Havel himself was even offered the chance to emigrate – the Communists wanted to get rid of him, they so feared his influence. But he declined, and once said that he was a “Bohemian bumpkin” more at home even in a country that wouldn’t allow publication of his books. (Like Kundera, he was able to get his books published elsewhere in Europe and North America.)
Kundera felt so stifled that he finally emigrated to France in 1975, acquiring citizenship in 1981 and writing in the language of his adopted land as early as 1986 with his article “The Art of the Novel.” He later said his works should be considered part of French literature. That would certainly seem to apply to his later works. I’ve had the difficulty, when seeking to read Kundera in his native language, that some of the Czech titles turn out to be translations (and not by the author) of French originals. (Incidentally, I had the opportunity to meet the English translator of Unbearable Lightness, Michael Heim, at an academic conference in the early 2000s.)
After 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Kundera returned to Czechoslovakia, and his Czech citizenship was finally restored in 2019, but he still spent most of his remaining three decades in France.
My general take on Kundera’s legacy is that he has made significant contributions to Czech and French lit, as well as to the world’s émigré and dissident lit. He deals well in themes of alienation and belonging. Unbearable Lightness does a good job in depicting secret police agents filming an adulterous affair in order to blackmail the victim into cooperating, the use of kompromat, including honey traps, being typical for such regimes.
I’m not crazy about Kundera’s obsession with sex – and baser instincts generally. His atheism was rooted in his insistence, for instance, that no god could ever have invented anything as absurd as the human need to defecate. Pardon me, but I scat, therefore God does not exist is a flimsy philosophical argument.
There is one matter for which he should be – and largely has been – forgiven. In October 2008, documents surfaced which seemed to indicate that he had turned in a defector who had returned to Czechoslovakia and was staying in the dorm room of an acquaintance. (I was in Slovakia for a two-month stint at the time, and it was very much in the news there.) It is unclear from the record whether or to what extent he cooperated with authorities, and a number of globally famous authors such as Salman Rushdie supported the author in a public statement at the time.
Oddly, the incident took place in 1950, the same year Kundera was expelled from the Communist Party, which he had joined in 1947 at a time of youthful idealism. He was readmitted in 1956 and finally expelled again in 1970. But he was active in the reform movement of the 1960s, and gained considerable attention for his speech at the Fourth Congress of Czechoslovak Writers in 1967. So, even the year before Dubček’s liberalization, he was arguing for cultural independence from larger countries.
After the Soviet invasion, in December of 1968, Kundera wrote an important essay called Český úděl or “Czech Destiny,” echoing the theme of that writers’ congress speech. I quoted a powerful sentence from the column in my post for the 50th anniversary of the invasion, and it bears repeating here:
I am convinced that a world in which the voice of Guatemalans,
Estonians, Vietnamese, or Danes were heard no less than the voice of
Americans, Chinese, or Russians would be a better and less sad world.
Whatever his faults, he should be remembered most of all for writing such as this.
The date of the assassination, June 28, is here, time for a 9-year retrospective on my experiences on the 100th anniversary in 2014. I'll make this text brief and say that it was an occasion of mixed feelings - for me personally, as well as for the many groups that came to commemorate: Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Austrians, Czechs, and Hungarians (all peoples of the former Austria-Hungary), as well as for thousands of international visitors. Some expressed sadness, at least one of them morbid humor, others historical resentment. The main sentiment was hope for a more peaceful future.
Please see the slideshow for more details, as well as my original post from June 28, 2014, which includes, among other things, footage of the Vienna Philharmonic's performance. For a full set of my impressions, read Travels with Ferdinand and Friends: A Centennial Journey Through Austria-Hungary, available at Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
I made it from Pécs in southern Hungary - please see my previous post - with two days to spare. I'll let the pics and captions do most of the talking for this post.
Tomorrow's post will be on the anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination, June 28.
If this intrigues you, you will definitely want to buy the book at Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
The name Villány may look like something sinister to English-speakers, but unlike "villainy," it's pronounced with only two syllables, the ny combo being pronounced like a Spanish ñ. And the town, and easy daytrip from southern-Hungarian provincial cities like Szeged, is quite friendly. Though you might not find that much English spoken, as it caters mostly to Hungarians and was historically a bilingual town with a substantial German population.
That said, when I made the train trip from Pécs (see my previous post), the Gál Pince's owner was eager to use his English as he introduced me to a meggyes or black-cherry pálinka (schnapps). I then slipped over to the Hétfogás fogadó, or "Seven-tooth Inn," for a meal, washed down with a kékfrankos or "Blue Franconian" wine, common in Central Europe.
The next stop was the Fritsch Pince (pince means "cellar" in Hungarian), where I had to struggle with my Hungarian. The owner was patient with my slightly-above-beginner Magyar language skills. I wondered, following decades of Western inculcation with the idea that "red wine is served at room temperature," why his reds were cool. Not the least bit perturbed, he responded matter-of-factly that it comes out of the cellar.
No kidding, I thought. Common-sense, but a paradigm shift for me. In years since, I've noticed that many reds at room temperature tend to "burn" a bit on the tongue. Once recently, noticing this effect, I asked the server to put the remainder of the bottle in the fridge, and after 10 minutes it was perfect. The "acidic" effect had been reigned in, and the mellower flavors could shine through.
I can't guarantee you'll have an experience like mine, but if you get off the beaten path in a town like Villány, I'm sure you'll find plenty of menus in English - even if you have to point to communicate your choice to the server.
These discoveries and other delights for the eyes and the tongue are covered in more detail in Chapter 3 of my book: "Hungary: Polysyllables, Paprika and Pálinka." I suggest you browse the slide show above - all pictures click through to Travels with Ferdinand. You'll want to order and read the entire text!
Next up: Awaiting an Awkward Centenary - Sarajevo!
The southern Hungarian city of Pécs certainly deserves its reputation as a European Capital of Culture - it shared that honor with Essen, Germany and Istanbul in 2010. This was my last stop before Sarajevo on my tour, as I noted during my post at that time, Pécs, Hungary: Gateway to the Balkans.
It's a university town, loaded with theaters, gorgeous architecture, and the Zsolnay Museum complex, which features all manner of ceramics, as well as leather working and other artisanal items. The Zsolnay family travelled the world learning techniques for ceramics, and innovating on them in ways that are now much imitated nowadays: note the iridescent effect of the eosin glazing on the Art Nouveau vase in the pictures above.
So much too feast your eyes on - truly one of my favorite stops from the tour! I'll even make a separate post on the nearby town of Villány, to which I made a side-trip. Then it'll be on to Sarajevo, so keep your eyes peeled! And be sure to follow me on Facebook!
Revisiting the 2014 trip that turned into the book Travels with Ferdinand, the second stop is Martin, Slovakia's historical capital of culture, where I taught English from 1990-92. During the second academic year, I joined a civic chorus, Martinský spevokol. After a season of performing at various cultural events in Slovakia, as well as participating in a choral festival in neighboring Hungary, we had a goulash party in June 1992. You can read about my 2014 reunion in my book, where the goulash party forms the kernel of Chapter 2.
You can see my original post about the 2014 event here. I'm providing pictures above, including an illustration of the path of the 2014 trip. I've also added a pic from the goulash party I attended back in 1992, which was a farewell for me.
This is the first in a series of posts retracing the trip I made to commemorate the outbreak of WWI. The posts will mainly be pics from that journey, things not included in the book. Click on the photo(s) to purchase Travels with Ferdinand.
These pictures show where the tour began, once I got settled in to Prague. It's Franz Ferdinand's castle, about a 45-minute train ride from Prague. For the centenary of his assassination, the museum had a display called "Together in Life and Death," about him and his wife Marie Chotek. Konopiště is also where I begin my narrative, having a late lunch in the restaurant of the complex with two Australians I met on the train.
That first chapter also states the goal of my journey: to travel to as many of Austria-Hungary's successor state while observing the commemorations of the events that led to WWI. I'm also in Europe to meet old friends and relive old times. I also recall Jewish-Austsrian writer Stefan Zweig's memoir The World of Yesterday, and how the Great War led to that world crumbling during Zweig's lifetime.
When I landed in Prague on June 18, 2014 and hit the road blogging, I didn’t know – at least not for sure – that the trip would turn into a book. Yet that “World of Yesterday—Today” tour was what started me on the long road to publication. The goal of that journey was to see how the countries of the former Habsburg Monarchy recalled the events of a century before. That nostalgic view also leaned heavily on Jewish-Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s memoir, The World of Yesterday, hence the name of the tour.
When I got home, I had intended to weave vignettes from that journey into a broader memoir, an Austro-Hungarian Rhapsody (now a work-in-progress). I ended up honing the stories from the 2014 trip into Travels with Ferdinand. When it was ready, I entered a couple of contests, then in January 2020 I got a call that I had won the Panther Creek Nonfiction Book Award from Hidden River Press. COVID delayed publication, but a patient and long-suffering attitude has finally borne fruit!
I will begin a series of blog posts on the trip, with pics and recollections mostly NOT found in the book, beginning June 18.
For readers not familiar with this whole project, here is a summary:
Travels with Ferdinand and Friends: A Centennial Journey Through Austria-Hungary
The narrative begins at Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s castle outside Prague and winds through Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina for the 100th anniversary of the assassination that sparked World War I. The culinary and musical exploration of former Habsburg lands continues up the Dalmatian Coast, to the Italian city of Trieste, and on to Vienna, Slovakia and Prague. It includes visits with choirs in Slovakia that the author sang in during his six years living there, as well as spontaneous restaurant performances with musicians in Dubrovnik and Prague.
The work entertains while providing an experiential guide to the history and geography of Central Europe and its culture: music, cuisine, language, and literature. It reflects on the causes of the Great War from the standpoints of various nationalities (and their prejudices), as well as changes in the European political landscape from the end of WWI, through WWII and the socialist era, and down to the present day. Set against the broader European backdrop of Putin’s 2014 Crimea annexation, Travels with Ferdinand provides vital context for understanding Ukraine’s western neighbors, the current state of the EU, and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
You can purchase your copy at Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
Penguin Bookshop of Pittsburgh also sells it online. It is available on the local authors' shelf at The Book Bin of Onley, Virginia, my hometown bookstore.
Musical & Literary Wanderings of a Galloping Gypsy
Mark Eliot Nuckols is a travel writer from Silver Beach Virginia who is also a musician and teacher.