An evening and a day in Saint Andrew
August 29, 1996, mostly Szentendre, Hungary

Up at a reasonable hour in the morning, we showered in the cheesy shower stall in the room. Surprisingly, there was lots of hot water and it was quite comfortable. Somewhere in the night I had accumulated some major mosquito bites, though. It took some doing to find a staffperson who could explain how to use the phone in the room, and breakfast was a similar challenge. We ended up, mostly by luck, with paprika'd eggs and onions and some undefined meat and good coffee, though, so there wasn't much to complain.

We then walked back a few blocks to the Szentendre "old town." The guide book referred to this as a major fashion center, but to us it was more quaint Hungarian buildings in international tourist trap style. Along the way it was impossible not to notice that there was building everywhere, and that satellite dishes would interrupt even the most respectably aged skylines.

Szentendre (St. Andrew) was originally settled by Serbian merchants, which is where Jovica got the idea of us settling in here for the night. Using the rather limited map in the guide book, and asking around, we find one of the main Serbian churches, now being restored (a lovely image of a man standing on scaffolding touching up the ceiling came out black. sorry). Next to it is a large museum. Jovica is pleased to find staff who speak Serbian, and we spend an hour or so browsing old manuscripts and paintings and icons. As typographers we have a clear vested interest in the typography and lettering, of course.

Next door is the library, although at the moment it is more like an books on metal shelves at the libraryarchive in storage. The archivist is rearranging things and won't let Jovica browse. The library is closed and that's that. Of course, that's the difference between an archivist and a librarian. One is concerned with putting stuff up on shelves and keeping them there, and the other with finding more and better ways of getting information to people who might be interested. This one is definitely an archivist.

Nonetheless, to have spent a good chunk of morning among books is not a bad thing, so we are in a good mood as we check out the first "Antiquarian" bookstore in town. The selection isn't bad, and we have a good time looking through the books, but nothing catches our eye. I spot a likely looking folk music cassette in the window, but the band seems to be going mostly for speed, and I pass. We are directed from this store to another (unlike Salzberg, here is a mere suburb with two good used bookstores) with similar results. I do find an interesting cassette here, though, so this minor purchase is made.

At some point, of course, the thought of lunch becomes important. Jovica wants a place that looks reasonably authentic, but I want to sit on the street and watch tourists pass by. We do, somehow, avoid the place with the menus in 17 languages and settle for a lesser location nearby. After coffee and the ritual of the writing of postcards, we order the Hungarian goulash, which turns out to be okay, if not spectacular. Lots of paprika, but also lots of oil.

Into Budapest

We have agreed to meet Péter Virágvölgyi at 4:30 in the square opposite the Danube from the Parliament building. Arriving early we shock ourselves by finding a parking space nearby. The opportunity is perfect for a foray down the alleged main drag. This turns out to be mostly your average busy downtown street, but occasionally we look at the buildings up a side street or opposite a driveway just for the sheer pleasure of older, and beautiful construction. Across the street, as we walk, I spot an old man at the windowold man looking out of the window next to a wonderful inlaid statue. It somehow adds a note of grace and reality to the buildings. Sometimes, even the newer buildings are quite nice, as well. When we spot this magnificent church, our minds are made up: Budapest is a beautiful city. One can easily understand why Paris is called the "Budapest on the Seine" ;-). (Actually, I believe the reverse is more common, but we must honor the place where we are.)

At 4:30 we meet up with Péter and make our ways to what looks like a working class café nearby. Péter is director of the Visual Communications department at the local Arts College. He is strongly partisan in favor of the good work coming out of his school, which is always a delight to encounter when one is hoping to hear more about local work. He presents us each with a catalog of local design work that had been prepared for a recent ATypI gathering. (ATypI, in its functional moments, is the international organization for typographers.) It is a true typographer's coffeeklatsch as we drift into discussion of the typographic problems imposed by the double accents used over Hungarian vowels (and unfortunately, not part of Latin 1, and therefore, not currently accessible to me on this web page--another clear case of Western Cultural Imperialism, or just plain ignorance). Anyway, Péter has done a book about publications, set in a revival of Nicalas Kis' typeface, with accents perfected by Péter. He is right, the accents can look beautiful and graceful. They needn't look like the slanted typewriter quotes that mar so many printed pieces that we have seen.

All is not well at the Arts College, unfortunately. The economic contraction that has helped induce (or which has been induced by--I am not so sure as to cause and effect) the rush to westernization means that he is losing staff and teaching more classes himself. The school has a very tenuous New Media program, and an even more tenuous Internet connection--although, frankly, it sounds no less tenuous that Jovica has at the Hamburg college where he teaches. Both could do with serious improvement. Still, good work is being produced, and meeting a colleague in another country who can show off and be proud of such work is a nice way to end this particular run through the city. As a bonus, Péter marks locations of several good bookstores for us to browse on our next pass through. We'll be back a couple of times over the next couple of weeks, so we feel relaxed about having seen so little this day. After a confusing rush out of town, we find the road to Szeged and are on our way to Belgrade.

Unlike the lovely Autobahn of the day before, the road to Szeged is considerably smaller and slower. I thought Jovica had exagerated the time it would take, but as we crawl through small towns at 40km and 60km, and reach a maximum of 80km on the so-called main road, the time drags on and drags on. We stop just before sunset to repack things, the better to convince Yugoslav customs that we are innocent and bring nothing into the country for which duty should be charged.

On the way Jovica talks about the amazing "Pick" salami that we can purchase at a shop near the border. He also talks about the days of the embargo against Yugoslavia, when he would drive out to Romania to fill up on gas, and to fill up a couple of Jerry Cans to take back. This created a mini-boom in the Szeged area, and, indeed, as we approach the border there are monster gas stations every 200 meters. All of them offer "nonstop" 24-hour service. By the time we arrive at the place where we can purchase salami a few minutes after 10pm, this "nonstop" place is closing. Jovica feels betrayed, but I am just amazed at the sight of this Super Department Store of the Hungarian PrairiesPrice Club-like apparition on the Hungarian plains. Inside it looks as though you can purchase anything from a refrigerator or new stereo system to jars of pickles. The same guard who refuses to let us in to the store to make a quick purchase of salami is quick to pose in the door when I approach to take pix of this amazing phenomenon. He refers us next door to the "non-stop mini market" where we are able to get at least the basic version of the salami. (We have some for breakfast the next morning, and it is quite good, although not as spicy as what I used to get occasionally in California. Jovica explains that this is because the minimart didn't carry the better, spicy version. I also find it a bit oily, but what the hell. This is salami. I'd gladly get more next time I wanted salami.)

Having suffered the disillusionment created by this new definition of non-stop service, we approach the border a few hundred meters away. We somehow get diverted to the trucks-only lane, and pass something like a mile or two of trucks awaiting to leave Hungary. Cars are somewhat fewer and move through much faster, so when we finally get to the checkpoint, there are only three or four cars ahead of us in our lane, and we are through the first checkpoint in fifteen minutes. Then we are waved through the second checkpoint, and get to wait another fifteen minutes or half an hour to go through Yugoslav customs. As we move through, Jovica is marvelling at how quickly we are going. This is not what I wanted to hear. We pass the time with more stories about the embargo. In particular he talks about how he learned that he had to simply pass the guards DM 20 notes so that they would "miss" his jerry cans filled with gasoline. In an early attempt to make it through, he and a friend were turned back despite the fact that they weren't carrying any serious contraband, all because they didn't realize that part of getting into Yugoslavia involved paying the guards. It took hours, but they got in via a different road, instead.

Once we get to the customs inspector, my American passport and Jovica's cunning at presenting just what he wants the guard to see save us from a serious search, and possibly some duties. (I am not convinced that we are taking anything into Yugoslavia that is seriously taxable, but I could be wrong, and besides, that hasn't stopped customs officials before, and might not this time under different circumstances.) And, even then, once we are through, Jovica needs to go and pay a "road tax".

It takes an hour or so to cross the border, and at that, we make unbelievably good time.

The final drive into Belgrade is a nightmare. It is now eleven or so and the road goes on forever. I am exhausted. We are passing through the Voivodina, the Hungarian region of Yugoslavia, handed to the new country as part of the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I. This dismemberment, which also passed Transylvania over to the Romanians, is bitterly resented by Hungarians. At the time it helped bring a totalitarian government to power soon after the war, and then ensured Hungary's alignment with Hitler during the second War. There is probably a better way to ensure that minorities have rights, and that people have freedom to live where makes sense to them, than to set up national borders. The messiness of the process has just been re-illustrated in this country, most horribly in Bosnia. Here, however, all seems peaceful, and if the homes resemble the homes on the other sideof the border, so be it.

As I practice my Yugoslav cyrillic I spy a sign on one of the restaurants ("non-stop minimarket" is the most frequent transliteration when I find cyrillic at this hour) that I read out loud as "non-stop fish girls." By now, this strikes us as unbelievably funny, and for the rest of the trip, whenever we are looking for a grill alongside the road, we talk about finding our "non-stop fish girls". It is not an idea that bears much exploring, but on the surface we find it hilarious, especially after the prostitutes at the intersections of every town we pass through in Hungary, and at this ridiculous hour of the night. A little after two we are in Belgrade at the old apartment, and collapse into bed.

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