I have the great pleasure and opportunity to attend a wide range of professional meetings, an important asset to the WWT. Some of these take place in a combined social and professional environments that contribute to unusual experiences and insights. The informal gatherings are usually more productive and always more fun. My reason for going to Hungary was to attend such a tightknit meeting with friends to discuss the new developments in the field of holography, a meeting that had its origin in a beer garden in Poland. The venue was Balatonfured, and the host was Professor Zolten Fuzessi, of the Technical University of Budapest. The chief organizer was Dr. Wolgang Osten of Bremen, Germany. The meeting was called "Holomet 2001".
As an adjunct, a subset of the group, self-designated as the International Order of Holoknights had planned for months to hold our surprise knighting service for the newest member elect, none other than Wolfgang Osten, himself, after a long and complex internet exchange between existing members. The order now claims members from seven countries. The selection was a secret until the last moment, and Wolfgang was not aware that he had been selected. A holoknight must be both a well known and respected scientist as well as a great host and promoter of international friendship. That he be a good beer drinker is not mandatory......but it probably helps. As a minimum he must serve good beer as a host. Each year the reigning holoknight picks the next one from a country other than his own in a surprise knighting ceremony that is usually connected with a professional meeting.
On this trip I was accompanied by my fiancée, Pauline Abbott, with about two months left before our wedding in England (a separate story of the WWT). We arrived at Budapest's Ferihegy airport where our first impression of Hungary was enhanced by a beautiful and modern airport. The Dorling Kindersley Guidebook paid for itself at once by suggesting that I hire the Airport Minibus shuttle service that took us the 20 miles directly to our hotel at a whopping sum of 6 dollars each. Apparently God created taxi drivers for the sole purpose of screwing tourists. The DK guide suggested that he did a great job of this in Budapest where they'll take you for a ride in more ways than one. From this moment on I was impressed further by the low prices of almost everything in Hungary. The Hungarian currency, the Forent, is worth about 1/3 of a cent. We had excellent meals in the sidewalk restaurants for 700-1200 Forents ($3 to $4).
The experience of a new foreign city is always an interesting evolution from knowing practically nothing and feeling helplessness to empowerment and feeling of familiarity and comfortableness with the surroundings. During this trip I realized that this is also the way I experience life itself, maybe the way I remain interested and excited about living. You can see the metaphor in the following descriptions. I have developed a routine that works well for me.....this is not a recommendation for everyone.
When visiting a new city, I attempt to stay either in a centralized location or one that is near a subway station. For Budapest, I accepted recommendations and stayed in the Gellert, a beautiful old hotel overlooking the river Danube and the Freedom Bridge. Magically our room was number 308 (my lucky number is 3 and Pauline's is 8). Throwing back the curtains we enjoyed our first view of the opposite bank of the river and the streets of Pest illuminated in the twilight. (We were actually staying in Buda - the two ancient towns now joined to make the capital city of Budapest).
The sounds of the city raised the dB level to an incredible high, which was partially dampened by double paned windows and a window shield that slides down over the window. The only bad news was the room temperature that soared to a sweltering high......and there was no air conditioning. We Americans take air conditioning and the availability of lots of ice for granted. Other countries don't, even in very expensive hotels like the Gellert.
Lacking full protection from the city noise and from the jet-lagged circadian rhythms that chaotically scrambled our brains, we awoke next morning at 4:00am and watched the sun rise over the Danube. Breakfast included a magnificent variety of cereals, multiple fruits, hams, cheeses, pickles, cooked eggs, bacon and sausage, an unending variety of breads, juices, tea, and coffee. Hungarians sure know how to eat.
After greeting a few conference attendees in the hotel lobby and receiving updated instructions for the meeting place later in the day, we proceeded with our original plan for the morning, which was to walk across the Freedom Bridge to Pest. Looking back across the Danube we admired our hotel in the morning light and walked on to Vaci Utca a pedestrian street that runs about a mile all the way to the Parliament. We soon concluded that Utca must mean street.
Returning to the Buda side of the river, we explored the area immediately around the hotel, along the Danube river, the Cave church, and the Freedom Statue on Gellert Hill, a steep park accessible by many wandering paths taking different routes to the top. We stopped for some time to explore the Cave Church part way up the hill, carved into the rock many centuries age by the Pauline Order (!).
Our instructions were to join friends who would be attending the conference at the main entrance of the Technical University of Budapest, which apparently was next door to the hotel. Here I continued my learning experience with the Hungarian language. We found that the complex along the river, where the university should be, is named Egytium Musaki, which would translate using cognates into something like Egyptian Museum. Hungarian words have little resemblance to any Latin words, and they are even difficult to pronounce from the written word, so we felt somewhat helpless. We finally figured out that "Egytium” is "University" and "Musaki" is "Technical". This at least got us on our minibus to Balatonfured.
Pauline had agreed to give a dinner talk on angels, an area of her expertise and passion that Wolfgang had discovered during his last visit with us in California. She has collected over 500 angels made of just about everything and from just about everywhere, and she knows the history of each one. Being somewhat new to this group and not knowing what to expect, she elected to go to our room to study her overheads for the talk that night. Clearly she was getting more and more nervous as she began to realize who her audience would be. I had introduced her to Professor Hans Titziani and casually explained that he "ran" the University of Stuttgart. She panicked even more when she realized that was not really an exaggeration.
I tried reassuring her by explaining that she and I would probably be the only native English speaking people attending, so no one would understand anyway. (Ultimately the group represented eleven different languages). I pointed out that our USE (Universally Spoken English) was always the worst of the group and most difficult for the others. I could see that this was not helping her feel much better so I went searching for someone whom I could buy a beer and stir up some conversation. That did not take long. I found a few who were swimming in the lake and without their wallets they were at my mercy. In record time I gathered a table of scientists in deep conversation solving the world’s problems.
Our first dinner begin with an "ice breaking" stroke in which we all agreed to call each other by first names. Moreover we went around the table with various people explaining the origin of his/her names. This works well for Scandinavians such as Steen (stone) and our Hungarian Zoltan (sultan) and especially well for Mitsuo Takeda of Japan, who turns out to translate as Lord of Light (very suitable for a holographer!). Ichiro Yamaguchi comes out rather tamely as Number One Son, and his wife, Midori, as green. A few of the Germans were fascinated to discover that my name means "People from Tyrollia" and is associated with the famous German Trollinger wine introduced by my ancestors.
We did not at this point understand that the Japanese culture almost precludes the use of first names, and none of them has ever called each other by these names! So what seemed quite normal to an American came across as really bizarre to the Japanese. They seemed to enjoy the experience and in a few instances described how it actually made them feel different.
As always, I found it quite difficult to switch into "USE" where I could be understood by others. My American friends still refuse to take me seriously when I describe this situation in which the native English speakers have the most difficult time in communicating. Translating some expressions into USE takes quite a talent. Even more interesting are some expressions that exist in various languages that do not occur in dictionaries anywhere. I am not even sure how to spell some of them. Maybe that is why they are not in dictionaries. The German "EHH?" translates into the American "Okay?" , in Spanish "No?", in English a question like "Didn't I/you/he/we?" and French "HMM?". There is a wonderful French word, which is roughly equivalent to the American expression "JEEZ". It sounds roughly like Pppuh, made by a puff of air from the lips. These makeshift non word words work remarkably well when mixed with USE because they are more body language than words.
Our first organized technical sessions stayed on schedule for about half an hour. The original intent was to allow each speaker 10 minutes to get a discussion going. You would think that seasoned professionals like these could do that with hands tied behind them. These guys have been doing this so long and have fingers into so much research it is difficult for any of them to speak less than half an hour. Discussions all had to be cut short and resumed later over beer. It always works that way, anyway.
These men have "ins" that few people have and useful knowledge that rarely gets published, so I won't refer to specific names or products to protect the guilty. Among the more striking comments that fall into this category was a reference to an entire production run and several years supply of the most popular holographic material that due to unfortunate last minute changes came out inferior to what we had all been using for years. The company had little to lose since they ceased production of the material for good anyway. Another comment referred to the field of MEMS or Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, one of the hottest topics in the sciences today, as a field to be extinct in five years, a field to be replaced by bandgap devices. Yet another obscure topic that may some day be in everyone’s vocabulary is that of optical dislocations or singularities, a strange state of light that seems destined to have some major application, though none of us can figure out what at the moment.
The night included a wine tasting in a local winery in which we all sampled the regional wines. The underground brick-lined vaults at first struck cold after the warm summer evening air, but we acclimatized as we walked through and were told all the winemaking `secrets' by an informative guide, translated from the Hungarian into USE by Ferenz, one of our Hungarian hosts. The far end of all the tunnels opened out into a large room with long wooden tables and carved benches. Set out for us at each place was an apple and a fan array of assorted cheese sticks. Between us, about every six seats, were enormous brandy-like glasses, whose use later became obvious. We sampled six wines, each poured by our host from a long glass wine-dispenser aimed expertly at each glass. After each `course' any wine we had not consumed was poured nonchalantly into the outsize glass in the center to make way for the next.
We were all in merry mood by the time the last sample was tasted, and we had chosen this time for the knighting service. Malgorzata Kujuwinska, the Holoknight for the year 2000, designated Wolfgang as the next one, produced an authentic Polish officer's sword, duly knighted him, and presented him the sword as a gift. As the rules require she presented him a parchment in her native language of Polish. Four attending holoknights congratulated him and gave him charges to select the next holoknight.
During the next day we managed the schedules a little better and prepared for a sailboat trip in the afternoon across part of the lake to a peninsula and the delightful village of Tirhanyi. As we tacked back and forth to the peninsula, we sampled Hungarian beer and an herbal, alcoholic drink called Unicum. Unicum comes in a small spherical shaped bottle that looks like a bomb.
The bottle is decorated with a red cross; both the cross and the bomb shape become more understandable after one taste. Every taste bud I had ever used in my entire life began screaming after one sip. Actually, Unicum goes pretty good with Hungarian beer. Arriving in a small harbor, we were met by a bus that took us to Tirhanyi's historic abbey. Part of the party got separated, and began to walk to the restaurant where we were to have dinner. Those of us who found the bus again picked them up at various places along the route, so we all arrived together
It seemed like each meal we had was better than the last. We were being gradually prepared for this one, which would be hard to top for a long time. I often find myself caught off guard in these affairs. They begin with hors de’ oeuvre that would normally be quite sufficient for me. Then along comes a wonderful piece of fish with elegant vegetables and salads. About the time I feel like I could not possibly eat another bite, someone announces that the time for the main course has arrived. Somehow, I always find room for the main course. We kept on eating and drinking until I realized how the Romans felt when they binged. We ate enough to feed the state of Georgia for the next week and moved outside to enjoy the night air. We proposed toasts in many languages, and as we got wiser and bolder the conversations became more profound, ranging over religions, life and death, freedom from Soviet occupation, and, of course, angels.
The next day our trip back into Budapest included a visit to the holography laboratories of The Technical University, where we were reminded by his statue that Gabor, the inventor of holography, once attended. We saw many beautiful holograms on display, including an unusual one that is on display in the university library. Four large holograms of a priceless ancient headpiece of the church had been produced in the form of a box. As displayed it appears that the headpiece sits in the center of the box.
On our last evening the remaining people were invited to Zolten's summer home, which lay to the northeast of Budapest. We left the hotel in two cars, one driven by Ferenz and the other by Werner, with the idea that Werner would follow Ferenz who knew the way. This ride itself was quite an experience and I learned a new respect for German drivers. Our first destination was an open-air market to buy flowers for Zoltan's wife.
The market was in an extremely busy street, where there was ONE parking space, into which Ferenz swept. Ever bold and decisive, Werner double-parked, left the keys in the ignition, telling us to 'move it if you have to' and ran off into the market in pursuit of Ferenz. At this crucial moment the inevitable happened and a legally parked lady chose to leave her parking space, which naturally was blocked by our car. Wolfgang sprang forward to drive us out of her way, but discovered our car was equipped with antitheft hardware and immediately closed down its systems - and only Werner knew the password to re-activate it. The most logical course of action that next occurred to Wolfgang was to run off into the market in pursuit of Werner - which he did, leaving the rest of us to cope with he increasingly irate lady. We were now out of Hungarian speakers, and legal drivers, so we had to resort to other methods to get out of trouble. Thinking laterally, out of the box, we quickly formed a crack Japanese-American team of car-thieves, with me in the driver's seat and three formerly respectable Japanese professors pushing the car first, out of the way, and second, into the space vacated by one frantic and irate Hungarian lady. Ferenz, Werner and Wolfgang eventually returned, bearing flowers, and our convoy continued. They were hardly impressed by our multinational achievement in settling what was fast becoming an international crisis.
Zolten and his wife had prepared a barbecue of steaks and sausages. As the food was being prepared the rest of us stood under fully fruited cherry trees and ate one cherry after another. One of the conversation topics at the barbecue was an experimental demonstration relating to the “first-name concept” discussion. How would a Japanese man shout to his wife if she were about to be run over by a truck, if she cannot be called by first name? In a friendly demonstration, Yukihiro called his wife with what would be our equivalent of "mother of my children". The assumption is that she will recognize his voice. Magically, she did.
I realized after many years that I should be calling Mitsuo Takeda, "Takeda-san" or "Takeda-can" or "Takeda-sensai", depending on where he fits on the scale. Takeda-san roughly means Mr. Takeda. At last, I had discovered why few of my Japanese friends recognized the names of other Japanese friends when I referred to them by first name. They are more likely to know last names. A hierarchy of titles is used to acknowledge respect. I also concluded that they actually think differently about each other than we Americans do.
The next morning I decided to experience the hot baths of the Hotel Gellert for the first time, schedules having prevented that before. Within the confines of the hotel are baths of the type originally designed by Romans, where politics and business were conducted. I sat around in these for a while trying to imagine what a Roman would have been thinking. The baths are not co-ed; the men and women are separated since clothes are not worn. Even the men have a kind of modesty thing that you can wear over your front if you choose. Most of us refused it like brave men. Eventually we moved outside to the wave pool, a large pool that simulates the ocean. I wasn't terribly excited by an ocean pool since I live next to a real ocean. Like a few sane people I discovered that the sun is not particularly healthy and is the main reason people shrivel up eventually, so I always wear a shirt when swimming in addition to trunks. I would probably wear pants if I could swim with them on. I was in the pool for about 30 seconds when a surprised Hungarian kicked me out because of the shirt. He didn't seem to mind all the women wearing shirts. I guess he figured a guy wearing a shirt must be too crazy to be in his wave pool. He suggested I loose the shirt. I chose to just sit in the shade and watch all the other idiots get skin cancer.
By this time we had empowered ourselves with the full transportation system of subways and trams. Nevertheless, in a city like Budapest it is always hard to choose between riding and walking. Every step of the way offers new vistas, interesting shops, churches, galleries, and sculpture. We walked for a long time before switching to trams. One of our first stops was the market place at the Freedom Bridge. The market was designed by the same team who built the Eiffel tower in Paris, and one can see the similarities in structural components. The market place has two floors of stalls selling almost everything from fresh vegetables to souvenirs. I was not able to resist some of the glassware; Pauline came away with beautiful Hungarian lace, and we both munched on freshly harvested cherries that went for about 50 cents a kilogram, which turned out to be more than we could consume during the day.
Along our path was St. Steven’s Cathedral, which offers a tower served by elevator. From the tower we had a great view of all of the city. After lunch we made our way back to the river, passing by both the British and American embassies. As Pauline raised her camera near the British embassy she was warned by a guard not to take pictures. Maybe we looked like two terrorists by now. By day’s end we had walked many miles and needed to sit for a while. Conveniently we caught a boat tour that was already fully boarded and ready to leave; we walked right on and enjoyed an evening ride up and down the Danube. At the beginning we could see the sun setting over the hotel Gellert and by the time we reached the Parliament, lights began to come on. To top this off, friendly hosts brought us glasses of champagne. The view of the illuminated bridges, parliament, and city lights against the night sky may well qualify as the most beautiful night city skyline I have ever seen.
Finally on the last day with our knowledge of trams and subways we ventured further into the city surroundings. At the edge of the city at Heroes Square lies a collection of art galleries, parks, sculpture, a nice old church and even a palace. We found an excellent collection in the Gallery of Fine arts including well-known 18th and 19th century artists. We found entire rooms full of Goya, El Greco, Van Dyck, Titian, Tintoretto, and others. We were surprised to find even a Vermeer here, which the DK travel guide pointed out. Since only about 30 Vermeers have survived, I searched this one out only to discover that the guidebook had mistakenly credited Vermeer for "Portrait of a Lady" that hung above the Vermeer, "View of Haarlem from the Dunes in Overveer.". The 19th century works included Toulouse-Lautrec, Courbet, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Delacroix, Monet, Renoir, Cezzane and others.
On the subway ride back to the town center we stopped off at the Opera House, a structure well worth seeing, had lunch while it rained and moved on to the Castle district and Old Town. Old Town and the Palace are located at the top of a hill overlooking the Danube and can be accessed by a cable car. Even so, we chose to walk up the steps since every corner and turn provided endless views of interesting architecture and scenery. Old Town, which includes St. Matthew's Church, provides a spectacular view of the city overlooking the parliament and river. This area would be such a magic place if we could get rid of all of the cars and buses. Here again, we have allowed cars to screw up such a wonderful place. Even more obscene are huge tourist buses manipulating the narrow 15th century cobblestone streets, spewing out black fumes and unpleasant noises. How long will it take us to realize that this is not a good solution to getting people here?