Monday 27 June 2011

Take One Red Star......

Later this week we shall go to stay for a night or two with our friends, the Kondors, in Kapolcs, Veszprém County. Think here of a wonderful fusion of the hills of Tuscany, the fertile valleys of the Dordogne and the clustered cottages of some Cotswold hamlet. To this add rolling vineyards sweeping down to the shores of Lake Balaton, wild flower meadows, bosky woods, a thriving artistic community, and the picture is complete.

the village of Kapolcs in Veszprém County, Hungary

László, and his American born wife, Linda, are not only delightful, but the most generous and entertaining of hosts. And already, even before our arrival, we are promised country walks, wine tasting, a vintage market, new friends to be met and, if previous visits are to go by, delicious dinners eaten under the stars of a hot Hungarian night. For László is no stranger to the grill.

temporary shelter for Hungarian refugees in Austria in November 1956

But it has not always been so. As a young, reckless [some woud say] boy of sixteen in 1956 he, along with his brother, in the revolutionary spirit of that year, climbed on to the roof of the village school and removed the Red Star which topped the building. Facing years in a Labour Camp, and possibly the firing squad, they fled to Austria, escaping across the heavily guarded border at night, and then later to the United States.

a captured Viet Cong flag in 1970 during the Vietnam War: László Kondor

Still under thirty, and by now an American citizen, László enlisted in the army where he served his adopted country with distinction in Vietnam both as a combatant and as a Combat Photographer in the DASPO [Department of Army Special Photographic Office]. His photographic record of that war continues to be acclaimed and examples of his work are to be found in museums and galleries, as well as private collections, not only within the United States but also throughout Europe.

figure on a staircase: László Kondor

Today the walls of the Kapolcs house display examples of László's work reflecting a lifetime of corporate and fashion photography. But, whilst the camera may be set aside, life continues to be as rich and varied as it ever was. More so, perhaps.

a glimpse of the studio archive of László Kondor

As always, we anticipate fun and adventure!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Midsummer Madness or Flights of Fancy

For a considerable number of years now we have entertained the idea of a Mad Boy. Indeed, in our very first post we touched on this subject. A Mad Boy we see as one of life's pleasant diversions.

Cecil Beaton's portrait of Stephen Tennant with bronze bust by Jacob Epstein

Someone who is unconventional, charming, witty and fun. A person who will share our interests, accompany us to concerts and the theatre in a delightful manner, engage in lively and stimulating conversation and, possibly, on occasion, run out and hail taxis in the rain. Not so much, we feel, to ask.

Once, back in the past which is 'another country', we thought we had our person. But, as it proved, we were bound to disappointment. Apart from a flair for flower arranging, of which we were most appreciative, he actually turned out to be rather dull, tiresome even. His untoward departure, into a somewhat murky future, left us not a little relieved.

interior of The Strand branch of Coutts photographed in the 1970s

Some time later we were in our bank. Bank staff, we find, are so very polite and courteous so that, after whatever transaction was concluded, we happened to mention that we were considering placing an advertisement in The Times newspaper for a Mad Boy. He thought this somewhat unwise and advised against it. However, he did volunteer himself which we thought so kind. Alas, he lived in Acton.

Most recently we have a friend, a Swede, who is, in every sense, a true Mad Boy.

An accomplished musician, who graduated from the Music Academy here in Budapest, he is, when his mind is free of music, which is seldom, the most engaging of companions. His ability to play Rachmaninov on his beautiful Steinway is, we assure you, perfection itself. As is his Smógásbord! But sadly, as is the case with so many young musicians, he is near impoverished. And this, taking his Hungarian wife and baby daughter with him, has precipitated a return to Sweden.

So, the search before!

Sunday 19 June 2011

Messing About in Boats

'Art on the Lake' - an installation by Via Lewandowsky

Public it may be. A convenience, assuredly not. A closet on water, most certainly. A water closet, unlikely. For this 'Portaloo', or mobile lavatory, standing as it does in the middle of the lake of the City Park in Budapest, is but one of some twenty-five works of art which make up the current exhibition 'Múvészet a Tavon', 'Art on the Lake'. And throughout the summer visitors to the park may for a while take to the waters in a hired skiff, dip oars and sail, if not into the sunset, then at least to interact with these several wonderful, and fun, pieces.

general views across the lake depicting several different art works

From Jaume Plensa of Spain comes a sculpted figure, 'Soul XII' [seen above, bottom left], made up of steel letters of the alphabet which, in combining words drawn from several languages, radiates both sensuality and intellectuality. 'Exclamation Mark', the work of Syrian-Hungarian Rosá El Hassan, is a towering design which employs traditional basket weaving techniques enriched and adorned with Roma motifs. Josef Bernhardt through 'Waiting for Birds', a series of bird boxes set on stilts, allows us not only to be in touch with the natural world but, on another level, to consider the work as an expression of freedom, of transcending both physical and political borders.

bottom left 'Waiting for Birds' by Josef Bernhardt

A recipient of the prestigious Munkácsy Award, Hungarian Ilona Németh has contributed 'Floating Gardens, Private Islands' [seen above, top right]. Here two, fully planted and maintained gardens highlight the issues of personal, private space, of security, and at the same time make reference to the more original elements of guerrilla gardening.

'Karl Marx Column-Fountain' by Krzystof M. Bednarski

Discovering the 'Múvészet a Tavon' from boats, from the banks of the lake, or from the bridges which cross the park will, it is to be hoped, enable many thousands of visitors to have an opportunity to confront and react to the exhibits themselves and also, in some way, great or small, to reflect on a world of which they too are a part.

And now as the sinking sun threatens to melt the red 'wax' of the 'Karl Marx Column-Fountain', it is time to pull for the shore.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Watching Me, Watching You

images of victims line the walls of the entrance court of the Terror House

Less than a stone's throw from our Budapest apartment, and clearly visible from our drawing room windows, is Andrássy u. 60. Now the home of the Terror House, one of the very best, in our view, of contemporary museums, this formidable building was, until comparatively recently, the headquarters of the Secret Police. Indeed, in the past it was not uncommon, we are told, for those passing by to cross the road rather than to risk the possibility of being noticed.

in sun the exterior of the Terror House reflects the word Terror on to the facade

Today, within its walls, a terrible and frightening past is recorded and documented. And, understandably, any visitor, Hungarian or foreigner, is made acutely aware, through a series of highly imaginative and original presentations, of the enormous fear, cruelty and suffering to be found at the heart of any totalitarian regime. To spend time in the Terror House is, as may be readily imagined, a very moving, often disturbing, experience and the visitor leaves in pensive and reflective mood. But this is no bad thing for the freedoms which are enjoyed today by so many have, so often, been bought at a high price.

some of the equipment previously used to spy on display in the Terror House

Which, rather strangely, brings us to the Sitemeter, that little green widget which all but conceals itself at the foot of the page of ours and many other blogs. Originally installed simply to record the number of visitors to the site, and to give an indication as to which country they come from, we now find, such are the wonders of modern technology together with a little 'investigation' from our IT friends, that it is possible to know so much more.

surveillance cameras at work in all directions day and night

Our loyal friends and followers have nothing to fear. Others beware!

Saturday 11 June 2011

Making a Splash

At the risk of becoming a 'Style' blog which others, we are only too well aware, perfect with an ease and expertise to which we could never aspire, let us venture to consider the bathroom. And, as we write only from personal experience, our own Budapest bathroom.

a general view of our bathroom in our Budapest apartment
As a room, it opens directly from our bedroom but we should in no way consider it to be 'en suite', a term which is anathema to us with its connotations of hotel chains and Bovis* new homes. No, it is simply our bathroom, as opposed to the one which is set aside for overnight visitors.

looking towards the window [our bedroom door on the right]
Many of our friends, particularly younger ones, espouse today's trend for powered showers, jacuzzi-type baths and wet rooms where, for practicality we assume, tiles abound, often from floor to ceiling and in all manner of colours and designs. Just a tiny bit vulgar, we think. For ourselves, and here we offer a personal viewpoint, we prefer to have none of it. Constant hot water, yes, warmth in winter, a must, a ready supply of towels, always white Egyptian cotton [colours we consider a little déclassé], and we are quite content.

a traditional style radiator warms towels in readiness for use
Curtains we forgo in favour of the existing shutters at the windows; the floor is of parquet; and the bath, purchased in London, serves us well for it is comfortably deep [no regulation wartime 3"  of water here] and, importantly, holds the heat. A glass fronted trolley dispenses with the need for a bathroom cupboard and is, of course, always to hand.

And whilst, and at this point we should be the first to agree, it fails to live up to those glossy bathroom images which sparkle from the pages of such periodicals as 'House and Garden', or which are the glory of so many blogs, we, in fact, rather like it as it is.

above the day bed a picture by the French artist André Cottavoz 
'Nudes', a signed lithograph by the French artist André Cottavoz, we feel to be appropriately hung!

*for readers abroad, Bovis is a construction company based in Britain. 

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Up, Up and Away!

Tower, rill and water jet at The Arrow Cottage Garden, Herefordshire

Once we built a tower. Or perhaps, to be absolutely accurate, we had a tower built. Not of course on the scale of Eiffel, nor with the renowned lean of Pisa, and not, as in Babel, in any metaphorical sense. No, our Tower, capitalised for it became known simply as that, was constructed four square to close a principal vista within our Herefordshire garden.

Some years earlier we had made a rill, a narrow channel of water extending for some 50 metres at the centre of a broad walk of York stone, flanked on each side with tall hedges of yew, Taxus baccata, and culminating in a single jet of water. But something was missing. A column, topped with a blackened urn of marble, failed to provide the focus for the eye that the position demanded. And so the idea of The Tower was born.

Later we painted it yellow to complement the deep blue of the Agapanthus Headbourne Hybrid which, in terracotta pots, lined the rill. After that the fun, for such it was, began. Summer dinner parties, from which guests stumbled back to the distant house in the black of the late night, clutching candles to light the way, became the order of the day. In winter we sat in the upstairs room before a stove, constant in its propensity to smoke, and told 'sad stories of the death of kings'. Or some such thing.

the underside of The Tower [right] and seen from the Kitchen Garden [left]

But, to refer to an earlier post, it is Montaigne who has prompted all of this for his tower, to which he retreated to reflect on life, served to remind us, all these years later, of our own.

the tower of Michel de Montaigne, Périgord, France

Today The Tower stands forlorn, or so we are told, its once open arches boarded up, its window blank, the rill to which it owed its being, demolished, the stone carted away and sold; the fountain is silent for the entire garden is no more. And what a salutary lesson this is, this Ozymandias of endings where 'The lone and level sands stretch far away'.

Periodically, perhaps, we may return to the subject of our garden.

Friday 3 June 2011

On Board

naked cyclists in front of the Brighton Pavilion

Brighton is a rollercoaster of a seaside place. Sandwiched between the South Downs and the sea, day tripper, London commuter, hedonist, gourmand, and those seeking an alternative lifestyle can all be accommodated by this most cosmopolitan and tolerant of cities. And it is here that we have what we term our 'rooms' for those times when we stray from Hungary.

And for the past month of May, 'London-sur-Mer' became, as is the case each year, a hive of cultural activity buzzing with lunchtime recitals, literary events, exhibitions, concerts, dance, drama and the 'Lady Boys of Bangkok'.

trompe l'oeil by Diane Brandrett at an Open House

On every weekend throughout the Brighton Festival, some 1000 artists at over 250 venues hold 'Open House' in which an impressively varied range of work is on show. Although tempted by a painting by Cyril Mount, former war artist, now ninety years of age and still a rebel with a cause, this year our hearts were stolen by Diane Brandrett's 'South Downs Way', a gilded oil on board which invites the viewer to stroll through the countryside so very typical of downland Sussex.

Diane Brandrett's 'South Downs Way' finds a new home in our drawing room

Diane's work as a restorer at the Brighton Pavilion means that she is no stranger to gold leaf, applying it to arches and architraves, finials and frescoes, pediments and pilasters, all in connection with reviving the regency splendour of yesteryear.

And so as the dying rays of the sun burnish the painting's skyline, a corner of our Budapest drawing room becomes bathed in perpetual golden light.