Saturday 30 April 2011

Plaster, Porcelain and Paintings

shell detailing over a mirror reflecting a jib door in the Main Hall

Received pronunciation, or BBC English as it is sometimes known, is, increasingly, a thing of the past. In today's world to speak in such a way is perceived to be neither with it, nor cool.

No wonder then that, The King's Speech apart, there is little or no interest in elocution or the mastering of tongue-twisters in the manner of Peter Piper Picked a Piece of Pickled Pepper or She Sells Seashells on the Seashore. Shaw's Pygmalion is as outdated as the proverbial Dodo!

details of shells included in ceiling and door decorations
door surround  from the Morning Room into the Drawing Room

Which, indirectly, brings us on to the subject of shells which, here in our Budapest apartment, are something of a motif. To begin with, they recur in much of the late nineteenth century plasterwork on ceiling rose, on cornice and on coving. They appear, as wood carvings, above the door frames of the principal rooms and are to be found over and above the tall looking glasses which serve to illuminate the Main Hall. Most recently, we have added a shell to the pediment of some painted bookshelves, incorporating an H into the design.

Much of our Belleek porcelain carries the Second Mark, dating it between 1891 and 1926.

a selection of Belleek porcelain
Many of the paper thin pieces take inspiration fom the sea, the teapot for instance is supported on three winkle-shell feet, whilst the cup is itself in the shape of a shell. The pearly glaze, the secret of which was bought by the Belleek company from a French inventor, defines so much of the porcelain.

A small oil painting depicting shells is by the surrealist artist Norman Black [1920 - 1999] and was a gift from the artist. It hangs in the Morning Room, alongside other examples of his work, in a small group of seascapes.

sundry shells painted by Norman Black

And next week we leave for our 'rooms' in Brighton where we shall hope, weather permitting, to find ourselves gathering seashells on the seashore.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Mad Mugs and Englishmen

Carrie Reichardt's Royalty Wedding Cup

some men are born great,

some achieve greatness,

and some have greatness thrust upon them

And some women too. Certainly, we venture to suggest, the last could be said to be true of Miss Kate Middleton who, as the world now knows, will this coming Friday be married to  His Royal Highness Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Master of Arts.

We, along with their 1,900 friends, to include, we are informed, Miss Middleton's butcher and postman, several fellow Knights of the Garter, some few remaining crowned heads of Europe, and numerous 'celebrities', wish them well.

Now, had it not been for a surprise parcel, beautifully packaged, delivered to our door here in Budapest this morning, that, in all probability, would have been that.

the surprise parcel, its outer wrappings removed, with card

But dear friends Simon and Stephen, so recently house guests, and clearly having spotted, and doubtless admired, our collection of Royal memorabilia have, most generously and thoughtfully, added to what undoubtedly will become the heirlooms of tomorrow.

reminders of past Coronations utilised as pencil holders

It may not be the most traditional of souvenirs, it may not contain the most flattering of portraits, it may not fully display the Imperial crown, nor even show sight of the Union Jack, but it is definitely different and for that we love it.

an authenticated, limited edition Royal Wedding souvenir

And so on Friday as Britain's longest running soap opera rolls out yet another extended episode for the public's delectation we shall, a thousand miles away, charge our glasses and raise a toast to our adopted country: the Republic of Hungary.

Friday 22 April 2011

We'll Gather Lilacs

There was a time, once, when we thought to form a group - a pop group. The idea stemmed from a friend, the improbably named Lyn Long, whose tenuous claim to fame at that point was that her father had been a Member of Parliament serving under Clement Attlee in the post-war Labour government.  Our aim, and upon this our popularity would depend, was a revival of old songs, a reinvention of nostalgia. And, as such, our signature tune was to be 'We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again'. Needless to say, it all came to nothing.

We were reminded of this only yesterday when, to have flowers in the apartment over Easter, we ventured to the outside market. Predominantly dealing in fruit and vegetables, with some cheese and meat, and in glorious disregard of all European Union dictates, the market operates daily throughout the year. However, it is at its best towards the weekend when, in addition to the regular stall holders, the old grandmothers come in from the country, their baskets groaning with homemade produce.

a country woman at her stall in the outside market

There are to be claimed jams and chutneys, pies and pickles and, of course, garden flowers. And so we found our Lilac. Still dripping with the morning dew [although here, perhaps, a little poetic licence has been allowed to creep in] we gathered armfuls intent on filling the rooms with its potent scent.

a vase of Lilac on the drinks' table in the Morning Room

And so we have. But today, looking to top up the water in the vases we note, somewhat sadly, the heads are turned downwards, the green leaves wilted, the life force spent.

Monday 18 April 2011

On the Track of the Pioneers

Hungarian Pioneers

Old habits die hard and the new Russia is not, it would appear, so very different from the old. Certainly this was the clear, overriding message of 'My Perestroika', shown to a packed audience last Saturday as part of the Budapest Film Festival.

And if old habits do indeed die hard, then so it is [at the risk of mixing metaphors] that still waters run deep. For Hungary, whilst embracing the new democracy, paradoxically resists change and endeavours, when and where possible, to maintain the status quo.

So it is with the Gyermekvasút, the Children's Railway, a unique venture by which a daily train service, operated in its entirety, with the exception of the engine driver, by children between the ages of ten and fourteen, runs through and across the Buda hills. Inaugurated in 1948 by the Communist Party as part of the Pioneers' Movement, the principle of service to the state remains unaltered.

a mural in the booking hall of the Children's Railway depicting Pioneers

at the ticket office

True, the regime change of 1990 brought about some slight differences: Uttorvaros [Pioneers' City] has become Csilleberc, the name of a local district, the red star has been removed from the trains and the buildings, and the uniform red ties replaced with blue. Beyond that, and we are back in those optimistic years of the 1950s and 1960s.

Total nostalgia! The train, its red and cream livery of 1961, the polished seats of slatted wood, the precast concrete stations along the way, the uniformed guards, raising their hands in salute, the ticket punch, the signage translated into Russian, all recall a yesterday belonging to today.

saluting a passing train
And the woods through which we slowly travelled. Emerging leaves of freshest green, white cherry blossom and everywhere the sweet violet, Viola odorata, carpeting each bosky clearing along the way. Whilst far below us the Danube glinted and the city, basking in Sunday idleness, stood still in the warmth of an April sun.

a smiling guard
Today a new week beckons. Friends depart, life continues, and the wheels of change turn with tantalising slowness.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

A Turkish Delight - No Popcorn Here

Hungarians are, by nature, pessimistic. It comes as little in the way of surprise, therefore, that their annual film festival, now in its eighteenth year, should be titled 'Titanic'. Whilst a dictionary would define the word as 'of strength, size and power', the common association is of tragedy and disaster, recalling of course the sinking of the White Star liner of that name in April 1912.

But a visit to the Uránia cinema is never a downward experience, and a screening of 'Curling', a French language film by Canadian director Denis Coté was certainly no exception.

a still from the film 'Curling'

For should the film ever prove tedious, and this was definitely not the case of last night's thriller set against a bleak snow filled landscape of lonely motels, bowling alleys and frozen woods, then the experience of the Uránia itself would never fail but to excite interest.

Uránia cinema - entrance

Opened as a live theatre in 1899, by 1916 the Uránia had become a full time cinema and has continued in that role right up until the present day. A mixture of exotic Moorish and Venetian Gothic architecture the entire building, both inside and out, is a marvellous fantasy of mosaic, mirror, gold, glitter and glass.

Uránia cinema - interior of the auditorium

Within, the 700 seat auditorium remains remarkably unchanged, an architectural delight of period lighting, tiered balconies and mysterious side aisles. A heavily curtained proscenium arch conceals the wide screen, only to be tantalisingly revealed as the lights dim and the credits roll at the onset of the film.  

The Uránia is but one of many Art cinemas in a city which, happily for us, continues to regard film as a serious art form. With the arrival of friends, Stephen and Simon, tomorrow, the promise of 'My Perestroika' to be shown on Saturday is a date not to be missed.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front

Changes to the constitution here in Hungary have resulted in a series of anti government protests. Happily those which took place yesterday passed off relatively peacefully, the police out in full force but not, as is often the case, in full riot gear. Nor did we detect, as on previous occasions, that acrid, sinister smell of tear gas.

In evidence, of course, were the distinctive green vans, nicknamed 'saláta kocsi' [salad bus], utilised to remove from the streets those who the authorities deem to be offending against the law.

All of this, together with a visit by Éva B who recounted tales of sheltering in cellars during the 1956 Uprising, put us in mind to turn out the War Drawer.

Memorabilia! Can one ever have enough or, indeed, too much? Among an assortment of Ration Books, photographs of wartime weddings, and an unused, boxed gas mask, we came across the Victory number of 'Blighty', the erstwhile weekly magazine produced for the Forces. Published within its pages a poem, 'The Lamps are Lit', written by my father in 1945. Quelle surprise!

some of the contents of the War Drawer

To all of this may be added a recent aquisition of a small, Bakelite plaque originally intended to be screwed to a door: Air Raid Warden. At the moment it sits propped against a letter rack on a side table in the Morning Room, an item of information now turned conversation piece.

in the Morning Room

detail of Bakelite sign

 A proposed trip to Pécs this coming Thursday, to see an exhibition of Hungarian Impressionists, must be postponed with the unexpected arrival that day of friends from England.

Friday 8 April 2011

A Horse in the Drawing Room

For Lord Berners, composer, writer and artist, life at Faringdon was never without incident, much of it derived from the highly imaginative, if not at times wild, mind of the youthful Robert Heber-Percy.

Lord Berners at work at his easel

Sadly, as yet, we have no such 'Mad Boy' to amuse, delight and entertain us as we alternate between our Brighton 'rooms' and the fin de siecle apartment which is our home in Budapest.

Robert Heber-Percy as painted by Lord Berners

Yesterday, at the hairdresser, András V was sporting a Michael Jackson tee shirt in shades of purple, red and grey. Not a happy combination, or so it seemed to us, but then any absence of sartorial elegance is more than made up for by a lively intelligence matched with a great sense of fun. Ever an optimist, he is in search of the perfect partner with whom to share his carefree life. That the criteria by which he judges potential 'candidates' is beyond all human endeavour is something of which neither of us makes mention. Whatever, he will come to supper on Wednesday of next week.

On the way home we spotted Vilmos K, the younger son of our dentist neighbour. Since his return from America [doing what?] he appears more Goth-like than before. Dressed from head to foot in sombre, no funereal, black but without the flashes of silver associated with much body piercing, he cuts a somewhat startling figure. Something of a contrast to his pleasant, bourgeois parents.

Regrettably, neither András nor Vilmos owns a horse so each must, therefore, be disqualified as a potential 'Mad Boy'. The search continues....