Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Because autumn is just around the corner the new vintages are coming out and it's a great time of year to celebrate the summers copious bounty. I realized that here  people live with less filtering between themselves and the land than Is usual for me so I've adjusted my comfort level and I am enjoying it. 

I shop in the Great Market Hall (Nagy Varoshcharnok) which is FILLED to the top with stuff right from the farm every day. There is even a stand which had FRESH milk. That is milk from the cows which is cooled in a large vat (without being pasteurized) . I haven't been
brave enough to try that yet but I do get homemade butter and cream and yogurt from the stand next door which does pasteurize.

When I went to stand in line at the strudel (retes) counter I was anticipating my favorite sour cherry strudel until I was told the cherries are finished and now is time for the plums!
Well then it's plum retes for me for sure!Why would I want something other than what's the best at this time of year?

But this was an unusual experience for me. Being accustomed to getting any produce at any
time of the year has it's obvious appeal but it also in some ways desensitizes one to the
actual meaning of "fresh from.." the whatever. I don't have words to describe the difference
between freshly shipped fruit from Chile and freshly picked from the farm next door. It's an
experience as unique as chocolate. Until you have it you can't describe it and once you have
nothing else will do.

I like being closer to the lands bounty and I like the awareness it gives me of the miracle of our food sources. Putting a seed in the ground and adding water is our part. There is a magic or miracle in place every time that process produces cherries or apricots or tomatoes or corn or wheat or grapes and when packaging and processing stand between us and the source material something is lost that is not counterbalanced by convenience.

No Virginia, bread doesn't come from the shelf in the supermarket! I'm just sayin'

Friday, August 26, 2011


For better or for worse this has been a very strange week. It began with the attack on me in
my own home by Atilla the Bird and is ending with an attack on my loved ones on the east coast by Irene the Hurricane. Between these event the week was filled with sleepless nights, mild dehydration,heat prostration and sick children. These calamities can all be attributed to temperatures which did not go below 96 all week and even at night, maintained a steady 70-72 degrees.
Now for a "Floridian", even one who came to that designation as late in life as I did, these numbers are hardly daunting. Except this ISN'T Florida and this isn't usual weather for Hungary, even at the end of August.
There is a much more holistic approach to health and well being in this part of the world than what I have always taken for the norm in the west.Here,air conditioning is considered to be an unnecessarily aberrant interference with the body's system of humors, which keep all systems in balance. When the humours are in order we sweat in the summer in order to keep cool and our internal furnace keeps us warm in the winter.

The attitude toward air conditioned hotels is that if Americans want to make themselves sick
with all of this chemically treated, recycled frigid air that's their business but at home a Hungarian looks forward to a warm bath and a cold beer for comfort.

These challenging circumstances have given me the impetus to consider what really is necessary and what is possible to forego in life as I move forward on the path of trying to minimize my footprint with the goal of maximizing my impact on the world in which I live.
To my great amazement, I have come to know that air conditioning is not essential. I can hear the universal guffaw at the last sentence but I think it deserves, and requires some clarification
Of course chilled clean air is infinitely preferable to hot steamy lung clogging heat any day.
I'm only saying if I had to chose between a freezer and an air-conditioner which one would it be?
A cool breeze through open windows is something that was mostly done away with during the era of cheap energy when central air became central to life as we know it and the "best" houses were built without a thought to cross ventilation. But I knew it differently. I remember summers at Beaumont Beach ( next to the stoop of our row house in SW Philly) where we would cool ourselves with a hose on our feet during the day and catch a breeze on the porch glider at night. I remember exhaust fans that kept a steady stream of warm air blowing in on my Grammom and me all night and let us sleep in restfulness.
What we also had though were screens in every window. We had ventilators (metal half screens that kept the windows propped up) and full window screens and screen doors. We had wooden screen doors and aluminum storm doors with interchangeable glass and screen panels.
We had all of these things in our little row houses and apartments. We had them in the rooms we rented with shared kitchen privileges at the shore and we had them when we went to the playground or the school yard summer camp.
If we could just retrofit all the gorgeous buildings here with something as simple as a screen, the incidence of encephalitis could be dramatically lowered and a whole new industry could provide jobs to lots of folks.Homes would be cleaner, schools would be cooler and people could be put to work.
I really fail to see the humour, or should I say, the lack thereof, in perpetuating a system that is impractical uncomfortable and most importantly, fixable! And it would keep birds in their nests and out of mine too

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Well this is the morning aftermath of what started out to be a really relaxing night of reading and chilling and just enjoying the amazing weather.

On this breezy night, I had a good book, a cold drink and a comfortable reading corner with a good light. It pretty much doesnt get any better than this for me.

After every few chapters Id get up to look out over my tiny balcony and see the spotlighted turrets of the monuments against the sky and take in a deep breath of contentment and experience the "I cant believe Im really here" moment again.

After about an hour or so of this luxury, on the dot of 9 o'clock, a distant rumbling began. It made me think of the sounds of war and bombers and at first I thought some idiot had his TV on TOO loud.  Then it dawned on me that it was August 20, Hungary's National Day, in the same vein as July 4. The bombers of my imagination were just row, after ceaseless row, of ear shattering, building shaking, fireworks. They were distant but they were loud. I figured they couldnt last forever and so left my door open as not to deprive myself of the delicious cool evening breeze.

At 9:30 the noise and light show stopped as abruptly as it had begun and I resumed my reading.
At this point I should say that in the last week or so I seem to have developed a floater in my left eye that translates into seeing a slight black line in my periferal vision. As I was reclining and reading I though I saw a black shadow moving around the room out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked up from my book, I found there was a panicky little BIRD, who seemed to have come in through the open door and was trying to find his way out again.

Who was more panicked, me or the bird (a little tiny one), will never be known.
Every warning I had ever heard about flying rats and birds as carriers of plague, flooded my consiousness and I went to war with the tools at hand. The tools were actually my long handled broom. I ran to the kitchen, 3 feet away, located my weapon and leaped onto the bed, the better to reach the pestulant invader as he swooped around my 12 foot high ceiling.

Of course this weapon, rather broom, was the very one I use every day to keep the dust and city detritus at bay, so when I took a sweeping whack at the enemy, I managed to cover not just myself but my bed and bedding with all of the dust that has accumulated over the last few weeks.  But I fought on undaunted!  GET OUT OF HERE BIRD!!!  Whack, swing, miss, whack again. miss again. A really strong backhand broke the head off the broom but missed the bird.
I now decided that the best approach to this would be to think like a bird. Up till now I had just been bird-brained and really didnt want to harm the frantic creature, just guide him out the door he had come in through.
The broom handle didnt seem like it had much chance for success so I changed my strategy. Keen observation informed me that the invader (aka Atilla The bird) kept swooping between the 3 lights I had on in the room. I reasoned that if I turned off one then he would be in a more direct line to go out the door as he swooped from one light to the other, like in an airport runway. If finally dawned on me, that if I had no lights on, he might see the lights outside and head there.
The challenge with that strategy of course was did I have the nerve to be in a completly dark room with a swooping bird. (Tippy Hedren revisited!) No I didnt but I also had no choice. I didnt dare consider my usual standard of measure, "Whats the worst thing that can happen?", but closed the lights, closed my eyes and held my breath.
When I stopped praying and turned a light back on I was mercifully alone. Well I had a room full of dust to clean up and linens to change and disinfecting to do but the invader was vanquished.
By now, I'm sure someone is wondering why the screens didnt keep birdie out. Well it seems that here in Europe, they dont use screens. The feeling is that screens keep the air out.  Well they might a little but I have a newsflash for them.
They also keep out  the birds and that's a good enough trade off for me.


Sometimes it's just nice to get out of town. My friend Bonnie, who came to visit me here, observed that Budapest is like Paris, only better because it doesnt have "le attitude". On several levels I think shes on to something.
It's no accident that Budapest has been historically known as The Paris Of The East and for sheer visual and architectural beauty I think it has Paris beat by a mile, but sometimes this city girl likes to get back to her primal energy sources and really longs for the sea.
Well too bad for me because Hungary is a land locked country about as far from an ocean as Kansas. However Dorothy, when the Great Oz designed this beautiful country he put in something just as good. Well almost just as good.
In the centre of Hungary, laying east to west about 50 miles in length and a width of no more than 8 miles at it's widest point is a slice of heaven known familiarly as Balaton.
This is the summer playground for Hungarians and there is something for everyone.

There are family resorts nestled in the hills above Tihany where tourists flock to the beautiful abby. This is the region that grows lavender and sells bottle of home brew on the streets in 2 liter bottles.
To balance this in the west are thousands of acres of vineyards, whose fruits kissed by the warm sun and clear air are the basis for some of the most delicious wines on the market. Theyre not usually so high profile at home but worth the quest.

There are small farm markets that pop up with local produce and lavender that could be a poster for Aix-En-Provence and the smell of fruit that actually perfumes the air with its distinctive aroma as you walk past the tables stacked high with peaches, nectarines, apricots and tghe homemade preserves made from this bounty.

I think though the thing I like best about Balaton is its intimacy. I dont know if this is a leftove from the 40 years of communism, or if its due to the fact that this is an unpretentious country. Although there are the occaissional American type hotel, like Ramada, mostly folks here rent something small or pitch a tent (caravan) and enjoy the sea and the sun for their yearly holiday.

There restaurants are right open onto the street and there is no buffer. You just come in andsit down if there are seats or go to the next place if there are not. No Maitre'D, no buzzers with flashing lights to tell you they cant be bothered to come and find you as if you mattered.

The sea is visible from the playgrounds and miniature golf courses that surround the lake and are FREE for the people who are there. ( I marvel that no one steals the golf clubs for miniature golf  but what would they do the next time if they didnt have them and wanted to play??)

As you can tell I really like this place. It isnt the ocean but it is beautiful, peaceful and healthy.  There are literally hundreds of towns around the lake.  Ive been to theree of them.

I hope to have a lot more in my future.

Monday, August 15, 2011


3 cups flour                      1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet yeast                  1 cup water
1 pinch salt                       1 tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a saucepan; then add water and heat until warm.
Pour liquid into a large bowl.
Add yeast and sugar to the bowl letting it stand a few minutes for the yeast to soften

Add 2 cups flour to the bowl and beat with an electric beater until well blended. Add the rest of the flour to the bowl and knead the dough until smooth.

Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise for about an hour. Punch dough down and roll out onto a floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

Cut into smaller rounds and fry in hot oil until golden brown.

Garnish with toppings of your choice.






Yesterday my landlord was gifting me with a new sofa and desk. The catch was that they were being delivered between 10 AM and 6 PM. I would get a call when they were an hour away so the challenge was to find something interesting to do in a short walking radius that could get me in place for delivery within the time window.
I've pretty much explored the local attractions and so was resigned to a quiet day at home of reading and catching up with the stuff one catches up with when obliged to stay at home on a beautiful day.

It seems however that heaven looked on my plight with pity. The day before D-day, ( delivery that is) as we were driving to the gas station, I noticed that a small cluster of wooden huts had sprung up overnight on an empty piece of ground adjacent to the main square in the very heart of the city, where, I happily, live.

Since my area of exploration was circumscribed by the above referenced time constraints, I figured I had nothing to lose. Having no idea if these huts were a post-communist interpretation of Port-A-Potties or a new home for the Hungarian Crown Jewels I bravely set out to see for myself.

Imagine my surprise when as I approached the first hut I saw a young man with a blow torch trying to set the thing on fire!!!! Well actually he was just starting the fire in the oven that would be used to make the outrageously yummy and endlessly versatile Hungarian delicacy, langos  pronounced "longosh".
These along with chimney cakes are a staple at any outdoor fair or event and are culturally equivilent to Philly soft pretzels but certainly not the culinary equivilent.

Langos is a type of flat bread that Hungarians eat with all sorts of weird toppings like the classic garlic sour cream and cheese combo, but also with cabbage, dill or cottage cheese. Its a typical summer snack and apparently you can see huts popping up selling langos everywhere. Its served hot out of the pan and they say you can tell who is not a "REAL" Hungarian when you see someone put sweet toppings like sugar or homemade apricot or cherry jam on Langos!

Guess which line I'm in! Hint. Pass the jam please.

Friday, August 12, 2011


One of the highlights in my week that has become a fixture in my routine is my Thursday afternoon "Coffee and Chat" with the ladies of the North American Women's Association or NAWA.

I came across this group rather serendipitously through a local publication called Funzine, which is published by and for the expat community and highlights activities, groups and programs of every kind. Included are everything from babysitters to Cinqo de Mayo celebration information and tucked into a corner was the meeting announcement for NAWA.

Jason refers to the group as the BHG ( Bored Housewives Group) but I have found these terrific women to be anything but bored and mostly not housewives.

My first meeting was on a drizzly Thursday afternoon at Angelika Kavehaz. It was my second week in town and feeling unsteady about jumping feet first into a new group of unknown women I decided not to go. I told Jason it was because I didn't know the metro system so he insisted on driving me.
So here I was, dropped off at the door precisely at the listed time of 1:30 and there was no one there but me. At least no one who could have been remotely identified as A North American Woman, bored or otherwise.

The cafe itself was charming so I decided to stay for lunch under the "what have you got to lose" premise and then thought I'd go home. Well a funny thing happened. As I was sitting there first one, then another woman came in as tentatively as I had felt. " Hi Are you NAWA?".I guess I was and so were they. We began to warm up the drizzly day with our enthusiasm for each other and the natural warmth that emanates from good fellowship. So we sat that first day, maybe 7 or 8 of us and started to learn about each other, why we were here in this place and what path had led us to be together now.

The leader came and told us about the charity work the group does for old age homes and an orphanage. As important as that work is, I think it's simply another good reason  for seeking out like minded companions. I think the best reason that NAWA exists is to give birds of a feather an opportunity to flock together and to see how we are more alike than different, in the ways of women and wisdom, despite the great variation in our exterior packaging.

I wouldn't have believed how much I have in common with a new ager who has spent the last 5 years in Croatia. But she is a widow and so we speak the same language of pain and loss. Her journey is only a year old so we speak of time and decision making. Doing so in our native tongue and common frame of reference, builds a bridge and a bond in this quiet coffee house so far away from home.

There is J,married to a Hungarian, who earned her Ph.D in History and knows more about Jewish History in Hungary than I could even believe existed and is working to save the European  Jewish remnant by twinning synagogues in North America with those in Central Europe.

Then there is D from California, who has no links to this country at all, but doesn't like the way she sees things going at home. She lived here for 2 or 3 years in the 90's and loved the energy of renewal and positive change, so pulled up stakes at great sacrifice, to give her family a better life here, as she perceives it, than she thinks was possible there.

Recently joining us is A. She's a little older than I am.  A tells her story of being a political refugee in 1970. Born and raised outside of Budapest, married with a family, she just decided one day that she had had enough of someone telling her where she had to live and what job she had to do and so she emigrated to Canada. She became an international vice president of the bank where she got her first job and tears fill her eyes even now as she talks about how people there gave her a chance to work and that's all she asked for.

We plan outtings or just sit and enjoy the afternoon. We meet again during the week or not. We speak of children and home and womens experiences of expat life. We advise each other where to find peanut butter or an English speaking doctor or lettuce. We are not yet friends but we are good company for each other and for today thats enough.




Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Which one could be my mother, my sister or me?All of them and each of them.

What is there to say?


Spent Sunday afternoon at the Hungarian Holocaust Museum. This was not something I would ever choose to do but was hosting dear ones from Miami who wanted to go and so we did.
I've been to my fill of testamentary monuments, attempting to make sense of the incomprehensible. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and US Holocaust Museum filled my quota of exposure to abject evil and the horrors of a world plunged into total darkness.

The museum dioramas here were organised in powerful muti media displays which placed the observer into the scenes of devastation surrounded by the unmistakeable sounds of stamping boots and screaming people and breaking glass.

There really are no words to express my feelings as I walked this gauntlet surrounded by the signs and symbols of ungodly unbounded hatred.

Instead, I simply offer you the photos and comments that made the deepest impression on me.
Yes Eli Weisel. NEVER

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


13th Century Ruins Zsambek Hungary

View of Ruins from Country Inn

Vineyard at Zsambek Country Inn

Dinner in the Countryside Inn Zsambek Hungary

The afternoon was warm and it was a little late but Jason and Gabi were up for a ride, just for a change of scenery. I'm not really any help in choosing a destination, because I don't know what's where, but Gabriella suggested a little suburb that she thought might have a playground. After filling the bottles and packing the diaper bag and putting 2 strollers into the trunk, we all piled into the car, ( a Citroen Picasso Xara for the detail oriented amongst you )and headed out toward Budakaeiszi. (No spellcheck here). It's a beautiful small town just outside the city limits on the Buda side of the river and it didn't take long to get there.Since the day was perfect, the kids were quiet and the old trailblazer hormones were strong, we just kept on going.
Another 4 or 5 kilometers brought us unexpectedly face to face with ruins of a 13th century church outlined against a seamless blue sky, in the small village of Zsambek. As we crested a hill and turned a corner, directly in front of us, in majestic serenity, were the ruins of a gothic church which has been standing in this place from before the time the Jews were expelled from Spain and Columbus sailed for "the new world". These thirteenth century ruins
are preserved in exquisite detail, against all probability, and seem to stand as silent observer to humankinds endlessly futile attempts to rise above himself.
Across the road and up a short path we saw a small vineyard and restaurant and decided to try our luck.As we went up the stone staircase, and turned onto the covered patio, there was a view of the ruins framed by the grape vines whose trellis was holding up the patio where we stood. I think it was the closest I've ever come to feeling like I was in a postcard and I had to pinch myself to realize that little Lynne Rosen from Beaumont Ave was really here!

After we had an amazing dinner (see photo) we took home a generous sampling of the vineyards yield which was judged to be thoroughly acceptable by those in the know.
It was a really special day and made forever memories for us all. I'm so glad we were all open to the possibilities that came to us and just went down the road a piece to see what else was there.

Friday, August 5, 2011


This break in stride can be attributed to the arrival of the Miami reinforcements!

It takes time and energy to convert Budapest from the Paris of the East to
Budapest Caliente but believe me when I tell you were giving it our best shot.

Will report results of the efforts after the weekend.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


It's been a while since I did a newsy note and since I so often wonder what you think life here is like, I thought I'd share some of what a typical day, in this very uniquely beautiful and interesting city feels like.

Everything here has gotten much quieter since I last wrote. Miriam went back to school on August 1 and only having Victor with us, Jason and I have been able to be much more mobile. Mimi is in school from 8:30 to 4:00 so we've really been able to get around most in the last few days in ways we havent previously.

So far this week we drove to lake Balaton (see my blog) which I liked so much were all going back for Labor Day weekend. It's not actually Labor Day here but since it is for me I think we should have a holiday!

Yesterday I had my first tutorial on public transportation and was AMAZED at how convenient it is. Actually more convenient than driving but I'm not saying that too loud!  Gas here is about 8 dollars a gallon so every full tank is about $80 and everyone is cautious about conserving when possible.  Of course with a safe and efficient  public transit system that's an option. It certainly couldn't be translated to Miami or any other city that Ive lived in, with the operative word being SAFE.

The weather has been consistently perfect.  I'm not sure how that happened as I'm internationally known for trailing bad weather in my wake but so far so good. Not only no need for air conditioning which I don't have but also the fan I do have is superfluous.

I guess the first thing I should tell you about everyday life here, is that it is what can only be generously described as "no-frills". My flat is the essence of simplicity. A main room, fairly large, 10 foot ceilings that is both my bedroom and sitting room, a tiny kitchen, breakfast room and bathroom (with tub of course!) I have a washing machine that no one would recognise as such but it doesn't eat my clothes and seems to get them clean.  I use a drying rack in place of a dryer and can report that it works satisfactorily. Not soft but dry clothes so it's OK. No dish washer or garbage disposal but life doesn't seem to be diminished in any way by their absence.

Every corner turned leads to unexpected, sometimes startling beauty that has an attitude about it that seems to say, "I ve been here waiting for you. What took you so long to find me ?" See below,

A typical day finds me up around 8 or so, having coffee and catching up with correspondence. About 10, Jason and Victor  arrive and we explore this beautiful city.  Spent a wonderful morning in the Beaux Art Museum and Cafe and another with a drive up to Castle Hill. Today the plan is a walking tour around the old central Market ( think Les Halles but in Hungarian) and then down the walking street to find an old beautifully restored coffee house, whose reputation has made it a draw. A bit ambitious but well see. After whatever the morning plan is, is done, we usually stop in a cafe for a coffee or lemonade or palacsinta, aka crepes, or something light and then go home.

After Mimi comes home I spend time with the little ones until after their bath and then meander home through the now comfortably familiar, winding streets of the old/renewed Jewish quarter.  I either stop at one of my favourite cafes like  Spinoza or Cafe Vian for dinner or to listen to the music and watch the people go by. Some nights I go straight home and make my own delicious Greek salad and watch out the window as the pink streaked night sky begins to embrace the day and another adventure in Budapest comes to a close.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011



Taking advantage of the perfect weather today, we decided to take a ride out to Lake Balaton. Hungary is a land locked country and this beautiful fresh water lake and its surroundiing hills serve as the vacation spot for the nation

Traveling on a major highway for about 60 miles southwest of Budapest we arrived at the Ferry landing in about an hour and then took the 5 minute crossing to reach the peninsula on the north side and the town of Tihany.
The goal of our trip was to purchase a unique " gypsy cherry brandy" that is made by the monks in Tihany Abby and nowhere else in the world. After waiting our turn in the line in the parking lot for someone to leave, we parked at the base of the Abbey and climbed up the ancient stone stairs and found the wonderful cherry brandy with two other strange herbal varieties. We opted to stock up on the Benedictine sour cherry gypsy brandy for a cold winters night ( Or maybe a book club meeting! ) and then began to look for the lavender which I heard has recently been developed as a local cottage industry.
After winding up on a nice lady's back porch we were redirected to a shop selling the products made with the locally grown lavender.
Of all the lavender items that I saw and there were many,including bath salts, lavender honey and lavender flavored soft drinks, the one I liked best was lavender soap made with actual stalks of dried lavender plants inside so as you wash you also exfoliate!! The beautiful " lavender" color and fragrance were only extra added attractions.

Walking the streets through town to find lunch, we passed the Paprika House, which was a small cottage that seemed to be straight out of Disney only better because it was real. Walking through the archway of Paprikas was fascinating as I entered into a world of every subtle variety of paprika one could imagine and even some I couldn't imagine like Paprika soap!

As we exited Paprika House, it was impossible not to notice the wonderful smell of a wood
fire and exotic spices filling the air. Following my nose brought me to the raised courtyard of a local restaurant which had an enormous black cast-iron cauldron of Gulyas ( AKA goulash to the uninformed) bubbling over an outdoor wood fire. Today was a treat for all of the
senses and a peek into the old world ways that are still just a short ride on a modern highway away.
I think was good enough for a second look. Maybe a weekend would be just the trick. So much to see ....so little time.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


The children have recently gotten a family car and after more than a little effort Victor has become accustomed to his carseat ( I know it's like prison but it's the law)!
As the sky was clear blue and the breeze was brisk,it seemed like a perfect time to get out of the city and into the famous Buda Hills!
I am not partial to hills. They force me to walk tilted and they are likely to be nowhere near an ocean, in my experience, which for me is a prime criteria in picking places to go, But we are nothing if not adventurous so off we went to the hills

After discussing this or that unpronounceable possibility we decided to just drive to a place that G suggested for lunch and see if it would work for us. The kids were really good, playing quietly in the prisons, AKA carseats, as we found our destination
Gabrielle got out of the car,with Moe,( did I mention we took the family Havanese, Mosie, with us on this outting?) to make sure the restaurant was open.
As she walked away from the car holding Moe's leash, it was as though 1000 demons from hell decended on us. Miriam was screaming and sobbing and of course that set Victor off. Luck was with us and the restaurant was hosting a private party so Gabi and Moe returned before the kids set off sonar alarms. We were all really surprised at this reaction and guessed Mimi thought she was being left behind and her Mom was going to have all the fun. As Gabi got in the car, Miriam breathed a sigh of relief and with a hugh smile on her face overshadowing the tears, she said Mosie Mosie. It seems her concern was that her puppy might get lost and once she was assured he was his regular goofy self and tucked in at Mommys feet her world became round again!
We then set off for choice number two which I was not so optimistic about after the previous experience. We drove through beautiful woodland and hills dotted with 19th century restored mansions and hunting lodges and kind of turned onto a gravel path that might or might not have allowed cars. The reassuring sighting of a parking sign was all we needed to find a spot and unload and unfold us all out of the car.

A short walk of about 20 yards through a beautiful green glade took us out into a gigantic flat grassy area that was replete with kids exercise equipment. All kinds of slides and climbing nets, even a zip line that some of the Dads were trying out, filled the space. There was even a toy train you could ride on! We dutifully trod the circuit with Moe marking his territory and Mimi doing the same ( Just not in the same way of course) until we realised it was way past lunchtime and we were all hungry.
At the end of the gravel road we found a beautiful country inn with pensiones ( for future reference) and a large traditionally covered outdoor dining area, which coincidentally was right next to the kids playground. Moe settled in under the table to do his dust buster
routine under the Kids chairs and lunch was ordered. I don't want to dwell on food so I'll just say there was a 25 page menu and everything we ordered was delicious and plentiful.

It started to get a little chilly as we were high in the hills, but as every seat was equipped with a fleece throw/shawl we stayed warm and enjoyed the perfect October weather in July. We even had a delicacy for dessert called "Birds Milk with Golden Dumplings".That's worth mentioning because as Miriam is acquiring language skills in English she plays with sounds and one of her favourite recurring phrases is " CHICKEN MILK". Maybe it's not what Mimi had in mind but it was good enough for me.
So at the end of the day, we were full of fresh air and REALLY good food and happy to be together!
Thanks for the memory!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Well after much seeking and fretting about finding just the right place for Shabbos, a messenger was sent and guided me to where I needed to be. I shouldnt be surprised by this any more. Im just surprised at my self for my lower than acceptable level of emunah that it would happen.

Yesterday, as Jason and I were returning to his building we encountered a pleasant man with a nice smile waiting for the elevator.  The man began to play with Victor in English and as he had a kippa on, I asked him where he prayed. He told me that he prayed in The Great Synagogue, (Dohany Street Synagogue) and that Shabbos evening services were at 6 PM and morning services where at 9:30AM.  After I thanked him and went up with Jason and boychik, time got away from me when I was putting the babies to sleep  and I didnt leave for home until  about 7:30 in the evening.
Of course it was no coincidence that I ran into my new chavair coming back home. He wished me a good Shabbos and I told him I was sorry I missed Kabalat Shabbat. As he was so nice and since he's Jason's down stairs's neighbor, who I am sure to run into again, I decided to show my face at The Great Synagogue for Shabbos Morning just to be sociable.
Once again, as I approached the synagogue, a guard named Deja Vu told me that it was closed. I told him I wanted to pray and he explained that since he didnt know me ( and his eyes said "and you dont look Jewish") I would have to go through a security check, which I was happy to do. And I was certainly happy to comply with every request and any security precaution anyone asked of me. Im from the better safe than sorry crowd and now that I understood that they weed out the usual suspects by trying to discourage them from entering I felt a whole lot better about the previous weeks fiasco as well.  I think the fundamental difference between the 2 experiences is that the guard this week spoke some English!! A helpful tool for questioning English speaking suspects. But no matter. The sun was out and I happily entered what may be one of the most stunningly beautiful synagogues Ive ever had the pleasure of being in. Aside from the fact that everyone was seated on the same level, ground level, and I had no stairs to climb, I was simply overwhelmed at the stunning beauty of the place. (More to follow on the subject  at a later date)And again, by COINCIDENCE (HA) on the bima, in the rabbis seat sat my friend from the elevator, Jason's downstairs neighbor, who I later found out is Rabbi Yisrael Froelich, Chief Rabbi of The Great Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest.  After I took my seat the rabbi, my newest chavair, caught my eye and mouthed "Welcome" or in Hebrew Brachim Habayim literally may your coming be blessed and I felt like this one really was.
As I turned around in my seat about 50 lovely,young women entered and filled in several of the rows of seats behind me. When they asked me for the page number I asked if they were American and they told me they were from Russia. My heart was so filled with joy to be able to share this time with them and be able to pray together to Hashem in peace and unity on this sunny Shabbos morning. There was also the woman and her husband from Englewood NJ. She had grown up in Budapest and rmembered when the synagogue had been used as stables for the third reich .May their name be blotted from history.
In so many ways and for so many reasons I was so happy to be there with such a clear awareness of being a tiny piece of a larger eternal, mysterious and sacred entity, The Jewish People
I know I will want to do this again and I hope that I can.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Over the last several months I've made a serious effort to shed some pounds for the sake of my knees and my long suffering sacrosanct-iliac joints (this was from spell check but I couldn't resist the truth of it!)I knew being in Hungary would pose a challenge to my commitment but,undeterred by memories of my dear mother-in-laws palacsinta (crepes) with ground walnuts and home-made Chocolate sauce, or "Golden Dumpling" cake with chocolate fondant and cream sauce, I was sure I could stand up to the challenge! Well at least most of the time. This was the land of the Famous Gerbaud coffee house,Dobos Torte and Gundels world famous restaurant, where when last we dined there, my late husband ordered not one, but 2 items from every course on the menu and upon retiring for the night told me he had eatten so much, the food was flowing to his brain when he lay down.
I was prepared to be sensible when it came to my daily encounters with the understandably world famous culinary traditions of this somewhat obscure Eastern European country,but to my great relief and surprise more than the politics of the old guard here have changed.
On my first outing of any serious challenge, I found myself in the food court of a mall with my kids and grandkids. The predictable offerings were McDonalds and Starbucks and maybe the not so predictable TGIF, but also GURU. Guru is a modern sleek chain of cafes that is meatless and prides itself on heathy and, dare I say, natural organic ingredients? REALLY? Really! Here in the land of carb overload where fat and potatoes are their own food group? Well friends on a hot summer day I had perhaps the most refreshing and thirst quenching beverage I have ever enjoyed, made to order from fresh lemons, mixed Forrest Berries and mint with sparkling water. Coming from a place where getting lemonade with no sugar either means squeezing a lemon into a glass of water or being served a mix with poisonous chemicals masquerading as a sweetener, I was astounded at how good this Guru was.
My drink was accompanied by a terrific salad and there was a kiddy corner complete with stuffed animals, paper and pencils and child sized table and chairs. All this and reasonable prices too. Couldn't get much better than this could it?

Well maybe it could?! Spinoza cafe, is much like the the great and heretical Jewish iconoclast of the same name. Spinoza cafe serves traditional Hungarian food such as the ever popular Goulash but also the equally popular, Hamburger and French Fries. Its not exactly this and certainly not altogether that but somewhere in between what could be found on someones grandmothers table and at the local corner fast food tourist take out. On Friday night,Spinoza also boasts a Klezmer band to give it that complete and rounded experience,which is part of its general overall appeal I think. The food is OK  for a commecial and trendy restaurant but certainly nothing I would write home (or blog ) about.

As so often happens, just 20 steps to the right of my doorway, is the often observed but never tried Godot Kafehaz. It always looked too local to try or to trust but the other night after a long day as I approached my doorway I saw the light still on and  realized that Godot is waiting for ME,

I had an incredible 3 course traditional Hungarian meal for about $20 including beverage, and was able to eat and enjoy with a clear consience, until desert. See Picture above.  This treasure is called Turo Gombosz or Curd Cheese Balls dressed in chantilly cream, wild blueberries and garnished with toasted bread crumbs and sugar.  I only ate one (REALLY!) and took the other 2 home. 

This was fresh authentic and delicious food from a chef who came out with each course to ask if it was alright and was there anything you might want with the next course that he could prepare for your pleasure.It was replete with vegetables from the local green grocer and cautious about the unhealthy and unnecessary addition of too much fat, carbs and sugars. This is what I had been hoping to find.  I was waiting for Godot and it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


After almost 4 decades of traveling to Hungary for everything from extended family visits to sightseeing/culinary cultural overdrive, it has recently come to my attention that I can't speak a half dozen meaningful Hungarian sentences. Yes of course I know a couple of dozen words. I know MELEG from the summer of '73. We were staying in a 19th century flat with old fashioned floor to ceiling windows and 2 year old twins. If we opened the windows for air we had to put ropes around the kids waists so they wouldn't fall out the windows to the ground 3 stories down. We opted to keep the windows closed and I soon learned that "nagyen meleg" accompanied by brisk fanning motions meant its very hot.

Of course the fact that I never had anyone to speak with is not an excuse nor a deterrent. The party line has always been " this is so hard so let's just speak English" and so we did.

So I am now the newest and oldest student of the Babylon school of languages on Dohany Street. Through the iron gate, up 6 steps and then the elevator to the fourth floor where I and my fellows begin our unraveling of the problems created at the fabled Tower of Babel. ( hence the name of the school for those of you who thought it had to do with the Babylon of Talmudic fame

It isn't much consolation but I take solace where I can. One of my classmates,a 25 year old from Tunisia who's been here 6 months and doesnt know one word of Hungarian has a great deal more at stake than I do. He has a new wife and the need to find a job. I only have to contend with my own ego but each of us has his own dragons to slay. We conversed in French and he told me this is his second go round at language school. Doesn't bode well but everyone has told me consistently over the years that Hungarian is the hardest language to learn because it's not one of the Indo-European languages but related only to Finnish. Don't know how that worked out geo-politically but you have to play the hand you're dealt and so I'm here and determined to learn Hungarian. Our only other classmate is a 7 or 17 year old Chinese child. She is effusive and giggly and doesn't speak a word of any discernible language. When asked her name she shrugs and giggles. This doesn't bode well either.

I choose to remain optimistic. With all due respect, since it uses the roman alphabet, half the battle is won. There is the odd pronunciation of what used to be familiar vowels but this is balanced by no diphthongs.

Once I met a tourist guide in Morocco who did simultaneous translation in 6 languages. He told me that for every language that you speak you are able to uncover a different facet of the world. I've always remembered that and it has had an appeal to my curious nature.
But I think I am determined because everyone has told me I can't do it and that's reason enough. Also I think it's also a way of keeping my brain from turning completely to cottage cheese as I travel down Route 66. BTW, That's turo to all who besarol Magyar!!

I know how incredibly useless this language is in any practical utilitarian sense in what passes as my normal life but there are good reasons that spur my determination.
The first of these reasons is because I've been told so often that it's practically impossible.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Judka's Hungarian Plum Upside Down Cake

Gabi's Mom Judka's Plum Cake

1 kilo plums
3 deciliters granulated sugar( 1  1/4 cups)
3 deciliters flour.  ( 1  1/4 cups)
3 eggs
1 deciliter of oil (a littlecless than 1/2 cup)
1 pkg vanilla sugar (about a teaspoon)
1 pkg baking powder (about a teaspoon)
Cinnamon sugar to taste

Cut plums in half discarding pits
Grease baking pan w butter ( can use a pie pan or oven safe skillet)
Cookie crumbs sprinkle over butter
Then spread plums in a layer
Sprinkle plums with cinnamon sugar

Make batter from remaining ingredients. Pour over plums and bake at low 160 or 170 C
 (  325degrees F )
For 25-30 mins.
Turn out upside down on plate and serve warm.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Potato Kugel, Plum Cake and perceptions of Who is What.w

I woke up to a chilly, rainy morning today but eagerly dressed appropriately, in anticipation of my first Shabbos service here in Budapest. I had already scouted out the synagogue and knew what time services would begin so I wouldnt have a rerun of last weeks foul up. The shul I planned to attend is one of the great Triangle of Synagogues in the old city. It is the old Kazynczy Street Synagogue around the corner from me.

As I walked through the drizzle, I felt like the rain was washing away a lot of the old feeling of stigma of being Jewish here.There were 2 kosher restaurants flanking the main sanctuary which prepared prepaid meals for Shabbos and even if the street repair crew did stare curiously,at least it was accompanied by a nod of the head.( and did I detect the hint of a smile?)

As I entered the door way that was indicated as the women's entrance, I found myself In a grey cylindrical vault filled with concrete stairs leading up to the womens section. As I was determined to speak with the Master of the Universe, in his house today, I put one foot in front of the other and begun to climb. The first two flights of stairs led to two more which
led to the women's balcony. After tripping down an unmarked step in the dimly light foyer, I
finally took a seat and while catching my breathe began to follow the Torah service. I had my own Siddur and began to fall into a warm and welcome rapture that I often sense when having private intimate communication with my maker. I was happy that I had struggled up the stairs because what waited for me there was worth struggling for. Although hugh inside, (there were two additional balconies above where I sat looking down at the tapestry of shtreimels, baseball caps and black hats) Kazinczy is reminiscent in feeling of my bubbys corner shteible in South Philly. Its safe and familiar and I belong here. I know the tunes and the melodies connect me in ways I feel viscerally, to a past that lives in my communal memory and a future that I am committed to preserving for my children's children Here the ceiling and walls were painted in muted fading colors in tablecloth patterns that are symbols of the ancient and contemporary history of my ancient and eternal people.
So it was all good until I slowly and carefully retraced the four flights of concrete stairs in the ivory tower into the courtyard on my way to kiddush. A young man in a guards uniform came up to me and asked me if I came to pray. I told him I had and thanked him. He then followed me and told me I couldn't pray here because I was carrying a bag. I thought he figured me for a terrorist and offered to allow him to search my small bag which had my house
key in it. He then advised me that he knew Jews don't carry a bag on Shabbos, the implication seeming to be that since I was doing what Jews don't do I wasn't Jewish. Or maybe just not Jewish enough for him! This guard then consulted with an 8 or 9 year old little boy in a shtreimel and payes who told him that it looked like they couldn't get my prayers undone so I could go
on into the kiddush, which I graciously declined to do. After all if they didn't think I merited praying with them, they would certainly begrudge me their potato kugel.

I left and walked over to Jasons. We went to spend Shabbos afternoon with the kids at Gabriellas mom's lovely home and I ate and got the recipe for THE best Hungarian plum upside down cake I have ever eaten. It was again a wonderful Shabbos with my children but I was sad to experience such sinat chinam and lack of hospitality from people who should know better. During these three weeks if that's the best that some of us can do for achdut, the rest of us will have to carry more of the load. be kind when you don't feel like it and just keep perfecting your Ahavat Yisroel. Maybe this time we can get it right and all of us can know we contributed to building a dwelling place for God in our midst
I wasn't going back there anyway because I prefer my mechitzahs on a level playing field, but after spending Shabbos here I will certainly seek out a Chabad next week where even if I'm not perfect I am welcomed home.

Friday, July 22, 2011


It is almost Shabbos and I want to honor that here in a special way. Each day, on every path I take, I am reminded of the martyrs that died Al Kiddush Hashem, in what is now my neighborhood.

I read an article today by Rabbi Simon Jacobson and he said, apropos of an entirely different issue that "Jews redeem the negative not by running away from it or dwelling on it,  but by returning to the same spot where the damage took place - yet this time repairing the damage."

I hope my Shabbos observance in this place that knew so much darkness and fear for so long,can be used now, as a means of bringing light into this world and making it an appropriate place for The Master of the Universe to dwell " B'tochechem" amongst us.

With loving thoughts and blessings for a sweet and peaceful Shabnos to each of you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Left Bank With "Gypsy Jazz" et al

It is almost evening here in beautiful downtown Budapest and I am feeling pretty good tonight. The weather has changed for the much better and I have managed to get away from the overprotective eye of he who shall remain nameless and have gone for a walk through " le veille quartier Juif". No of course that's not Hungarian but it does give a little of the flavor of the place, if pronounced with just the right amount of " je n'sais quoa".

Windy narrow streets flanked by beautiful if crumbling facades, wearing incongruous garlands of brightly colored flower boxes above my head on rusting wrought iron balconies, have been rebuilt with lots of boutiques and cafes and young energy. I heard something that was described to me as gypsy jazz which I couldn't even begin to explicate, although I really liked it, even if I can't say why. I also heard Leonard Cohen played in the same place and that's the vibe here. I love the way this place doesn't feel like a Disney set. Even though it has much that brings Paris to mind, ( I suppose that's why it was called "the Paris of the east" in it's heyday) it doesn't have the sense of pretention that can only be found in even the most openminded Parisienne.

I managed to make it just down the road a piece and found a synagogue I was scouting out for ( more to come on this), as well as a really nice just opening little shop called Emilie, naturally owned by a really pleasant girl, whose name was coincidentally Emilie. She is just opening this evening and was greeting some women she knew in English. As she finished, she turned to me and spoke in Hungarian and after we both had a good laugh about how funny that was, she told me about her time in The city of the Angeles as well as in San Francisco. I told her about Miami and she started bringing out beautiful things that we both just enjoyed looking at.Her merchandise is all one of a kind hand made pieces by local artists and the prices are embarrassingly good.

She's planning on opening a small coffee bar and pastry shop so folks can just sit around and
enjoy being there.I think that sounds like about as good an idea as I can think of.
I know I'll go back and check it out. Especially since she told me I look young and artistic!
Spiky hair can get you anywhere. LOL

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bialystock Budapest and Borsht

My family comes from a little village in Ukraine called Dneperpetrovsk. It used to be called Ekatrinaslav when we lived in the neighborhood. That was before they murdered the last Czar and his family there. I've often thought of going to visit,but I've never gone.
On the other hand, I have once again come back to Budapest and if no one else wonders about what connects me here and has brought me back so often, I wonder a lot.

My first trip to Hungary was in 1973 with 2 year old twins. Not the ideal travel companions that one could hope for, but there was a great grandmother waiting to see her progeny so we traveled that summer so long ago.

I knew about shtetl life in Eastern Europe. I had heard about it all my life. I knew how another cup of water in the Borsht would stretch to make it feed another 10 kids. I knew about lox wing soup because lox fligels were throw aways and with a little milk and a piece of potato....well you get the idea.I had seen Fiddler On The Roof and read Shalom Aleichem but there was no one who would ever mistake Budapest for Bialystok!! This little Jewish farm girl had arrived in Oz.

My husband at the time was not known for reliable reporting on almost any subject and so I had always taken the stories, of his ancestral homestead being as big as a Fifth Avenue Astor or Rockfeller mansion, with a hugh tablespoon of salt. Well color me astonished when I saw that it was true. Even though it had been taken over by the commie bastards and broken into small dull flats for the workers paradise, the building was still known as the VARGA House. And it was a building. A full square city block earned through the hard work and success of the family hemp business with factories all over Hungary.

When my family back in Russia were stacking themselves like cordwood in bed to keep warm, wearing every bit of clothing they owned, my Hungarian mishpocha were stepping out in top hots and furs with modern cameras and luxury automobiles in the early 20s, complete with movie cameras to record and preserve their definitely NOT shtetl lifestyle.

At the same time, they were definitely and proudly Jewish. After emigrating from Holland 6 centuries before, Mikhail and Karolina Varga were founding members of the beautiful synagogue in the city of Szeged with their names carved in the handrail to the Bima and Mikhail's portrait on the wall as the first President of the congregation.

This was a Jewish I could understand. I could not only relate to this lifestyle but even aspire to it, while my own heritage was so far removed from my reality or anything I had ever known, that I began to feel closer to this urban, urbane community of city dwelling Jews than to the residents of the far away and mythical poor little village from which I could only claim roots but not an understanding or any insights into the life that would nourish those
roots into a flower.

As soon as I began to regard myself as one of These not one of Those, the looming shadow of the question of the slaughter of European Jews, mid- 20th century, that has haunted me since I
was a little girl and first knew of Anna Frank, began to become so much more personal for me.After all I was one of these guys. It's easy to understand, ( or try to understand) how poor hungry farmers, were able to be duped into walking into the gas chambers with songs of praise for the God who was turning his face away, on their lips. But me and my Hungarian solidly bourgeois role models? NO WAY. So my journey continues here and now to bring some clarity to the darkness and some understanding of the unimaginable.
Let's move ahead together to take the road ahead so we can have a better foothold from which to look back.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I found a new route today from my flat to my kids apartment and even though it looked a little hinky due to lots of street repairs happening, I thought I'd see where this path led me.
I passed my new favorite cafe, Spinoza, and saw across from it there was an open gate with
Security guards posted so I immediately knew there was a Jewish component to whatever
Was beyond those gates. No way I wasn't going in there to check it out.

I passed under the banner that I later discovered announced a weekly Sunday market in
the newly renovated area of the old Jewish market called Godzu Udvar. The contrast between the old and beautifully designed eighteenth century buildings and the modern hand crafted jewelry and felted handbags and accessories in primary colors was stark. It measures the distance that this area has traveled since it was home to pushcarts and horse and wagons at the beginning half of the last century when it was new and modern and now when the ghosts of past lives are visible in every reflection and quiet corners that still retain the energy of childrens laughter from long ago.

I also had my first Chimney Cake,up close and personal. Chimney Cake is almost the cultural equivelent of funnel cakes with an equally interesting method of preparation. It's a doughnut like pastry which is wrapped around a thick rolling pin tool and then baked in an oven.( which used to be a chimney that you stuck your rolling pin in ) When it comes out it gets dipped in your choice of vanilla sugar, cocoa powder, coconut or chopped walnuts or any combination of the above. I got mine tucked into a plastic sack to save for later which didn't turn out to be much later at all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


My first Shabbos in Budapest began with my plan to go to services at the local Chabad. I was so looking forward to meeting the community here and getting a sense of what's going on in town. With great care I planned my outfit. Long sleeved black outfit that would meet the requirements of modesty without crossing over into dowdy,God forbid and hat I would never wear at home.

I put extra effort into my toilette because my hot water isn't working in the shower. My landlord will fix this when he returns nextweek from his holiday in Lake Tahoe but in the meantime back in Budapest, a hot bath is only possible with the addition of several pots of heated water. The extra effort was no problem and I happily got ready to dazzle the locals when I arrived for the 10 am service. I left the hat home on in the end as I thought. I needed an encore next week it would be a good second act.

Although the route seemed to be easy enough to follow from both the Printed maps as well as my google map app.As I left my flat and tentatively turned to find my way, a man crossed my path wearing the beautiful flowing holy garments an observant Jewish man wears on the Sabbath. well if this wasn't a sign from heaven I don't know what else I could expect exept a burning bush which might not have been as unnoticeable on a Saturday morning in beautiful downtown Budapest. So I followed this man who could only be going where I was headed and he didn't seem to need to check the names of the unpronounceable streets and after a brisk 10 minute walk, I followed him past the guard at the door, (well it is a synagogue and Europe is still Europe underneath the clean up) up 2 flights just in time to hear the beginning of Adom Olam (Master of the World) the last prayer of the Saturday morning service.

It seems, that this Chabad did the 8am service and the one over about a mile does the 10 am service.I decided to go home. Maybe God wasn't sending me a personal message or a sign. Maybe He really thought I should have worn that hat after all.

As I walked back toward my doorway, I heard a familiar voice yell my name and turned around to find Jason with Victor on his way home from a walk. The sunshine was back in my day and it was quite clear where God wanted me to spend my first Shabnos in Budapest. My kids and I had a beautiful day together and added our own spin on a perfectly beautiful Shabbos.

Maybe the hat will have a redo next week. Well see.
My first days in Budapest left me with feelings that were really hard to put into words and sentences. The combination of jet lag and heat unrelieved by air conditioning left a hazy water color like vision that I wanted to share so that my fellow travelers could not just experience the places I went and saw but also the feel of them. A second dimension sort of to supplement the concrete.
Reflections on Budapest. My half closed eyes see the beauty of Paris stained with the crumbling ancient feeling of Venice. A city left for too long to keep herself in fading elegance in spite of a communist scourge that left beauty to crumble and culture to wither The mirror of time casts new light into dark corners. The resplendent past is gentrified into hope for a better future for a new generation of children.

ROUTE 66 ??

One of my most treasured memories is of a family vacation taken in the summer of 1962, when I was 16 years old. My brother Joe,13, my one year old baby sister Cindy, my folks and I all piled into our now classic 57 Chevy,which in 1962 was a risky ride and we headed west.

The road ahead promised excitement, adventure and new experiences in a place I'd only heard about. The name of the magical road that would take us there was the now fabled Route 66.

Every kind of experience could happen here. A revisiting of history, a reconnection with our pioneering spirited ancestors, (well maybe just metaphorically) and the danger inherent in crossing the dessert with 3 kids in an iffy (albeit soon to be classic) car with no air conditioning!

Route 66 held out my first promise of the thrill of travel into the unknown and the promise was fulfilled in adventures from the critter infested cabin in West Virginia to our first view of the Pacific Ocean

Now I'm on my personal Route 66. Having lived more than 65 years the familiar road side is looming just up ahead. And it holds the same promise of adventure and excitement and new experiences that it did all those years ago in that innocent time when all things. Were possible. Maybe they still are. Travel with me and let's see what we find.