Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Turbulent homecoming

As our flight was later in the afternoon, we had a free morning free to look at Budapest and for us that meant going on foot, first to visit the amazing covered market, three times the size of Cardiff market, with and upper floor almost entirely dedicated to embroidered garments, tablecloths, and a variety of other hand-crafted souvenir goods including decorated eggs and Russian dolls. It was an amazing red and yellow brick nineteenth century building, materials and colouring traditionally used in municipal properties in the city.

Then we walked to the Dohanyi Street Synagogue, in what was the Jewish Quarter, said to be the second largest in the world. Interestingly enough, although not a municipal building it used the same building materials. Its design is unique and unequivocally distinct because of its use of the Star of David motif. It was designed by the city's best Catholic architect, who had never done a synagogue before. He visited Spain to get ideas, and drew inspiration from Mozarabic architecture, so it has a passing resemblance to a mosque. Hungarian Judaic tradition is also sui generis, belonging neither to Orthodox nor Reform nor Liberal stream. The building reinforces this originality. 

There was not enough time for the visits and guided tours on offer, but I was happy to walk around and take some pictures from outside, as its substantial presence in this city which also has a Calvinistic Reformed Church presence and churches since the 17th century. This community was also persecuted under the militantly Catholic Hapsburg dynasty, though accepted fully in a liberal ecumenical secular era.

After a final lunch on board we drove to the airport under darkened skies, punctured by lightening flashes. While we were waiting to board the heavens opened. Flights were for a while prevented from departing or arriving, so ours was initially delayed half an hour. As we went to board we got wind of a gate change, but the information displayed when the flight was called showed no status change. We walked across the 'tarmac' to the gate area for budget flights housed in a large shed. 

The walkway is sheltered but caged in with wire on one side, so rain blew in. Some of our party were walking back saying "Gate B15", so we all turned around half way and returned. A cursory glance across the loading area suggested the previous flight had not yet left. Two earlier Ryanair flights were loading and about to go. We never got to find out whether Gate B15 was like, as when we reached the place in the main terminal building, it was deserted, and there was no indication the flight had been re-located here. The display panels were still at status quo. Then an announcement over the tannoy stated it was Gate B2, so the crowd turned around and headed back. At least by this time the previous Gate B2 flight was getting ready to leave, and another Ryanair flight was landing, having been diverted until the storm abated, I suspect.

While we were passing through the terminal waiting area for the second time, I picked up strains of the last 'Sturm und Drang' movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' being played on an old piano. These community artefacts are turning up in the most surprising places. The last time I saw one played was outside King's College in Cambridge, last summer. The musician was a young woman. She was reading the music from a smartphone, being held by a friend who was scrolling the page display for her. It was amazing, playful and appropriate for this turbulent moment. Some travellers smiled. Others still worse that 'confused.com' face, as I overheard another passenger remark.

This time, we made it into the departure shed through an ankle deep lake of water. The torrential rain, only just abating had overwhelmed the drains, and many boarded with wet feet, no amused. People had to moan at Ryanair, as they often do, but this was a straightforward Budapest airport management team issue, unprepared for contingency, unable to update the flight information panels or make announcements fast enough to meet the need. One simple holding announcement stating that all was on hold as scheduling was being disrupted by the weather, would have covered this at the outset. Ah well, next time. We have to get used to more 'extreme weather events' in the mildest of climates, and beef up contingency plans right across society. Or make things worse, most costly to fix.

Once on board the flight went smoothly, and arrived just an hour late. We seemed to be surrounded by travellers subdued, still recovering from a long weekend of boozy partying, for which Budapest is now renowned. I wonder if they'll all be in work tomorrow? I know I will. 

By ten thirty were were back home, looking at the thankfully slim pile of mail. When I switched on my phone I had a WhatsApp message from Hamid, stating that his asylum appeal was rejected as it had been submitted two weeks late, and his solicitor was no longer answering his calls. He had also received notice to quit his accommodation and withdrawal of his subsistence allowance from the end of this month. Will he be detained and deported before this date, or just left homeless and destitute, because of more administrative chaos in an administration system not fit for purpose for serving displaced people in our crisis ridden times.

After the last few days of revisiting Nazi era history history, travelling the Danube, it's tempting to worry that history is repeating itself. Austria has just elected a left leaning Green party president in a close run-off with a far right candidate. Just. What if it had gone the other way?

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