We had a nasty 28 hour nonstop travel experience (even surpassed Jack Bauer's schedule). Our Budapest flight arrived late in Amsterdam so we missed the direct flight back to Portland and instead we had to go through Detroit. The airport in Detroit was actually top-notch and the little man loved the water fountain that would shoot streams up in the air and the indoor red train. It's good to be back and to have our screaming baby off the plane. We had some excellent Thai food for lunch due to our empty kitchen.
A few days ago I finished off the Roosevelt biography--it was excellent and I plan to write up some key thoughts on what I learned. The last few days I've been listening to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" and I just completed it tonight walking back from my brother in law's place here in Budapest. I was incredibly moved, impacted and inspired by this bleak book. Its power will wear off in a few days but I rank it as my favorite book of all time. I want to read it again and this is rarely my reaction when I finish one off. An amazing, profound story.
It's been stormy here in Budapest for almost five days straight -- several trees have been uprooted around our place and a big fence nearby was blown over. It's nice not having to commute out in this and we've been enjoying time with the bambino who just turned 10 months and definitely will be walking within a month or two. He's doing well. Over the weekend we saw Agi's grandmother and other relatives. Her name translates as Sophia (Zsofia) and she is a good, honorable, kind and hard working woman. She also feels that Agi is the direct embodiment of the all of these good qualities and has referred to Agi a number of times as "the golden branch." We all got a good laugh when I told Agi (this was translated for grandma) "it's true -- and this must make me the golden caterpillar."
We had a very nice 3 day weekend down at Lake Balaton (a two hour drive from Budapest). Agi's brother Miki and I played some tennis, we hiked in the hills and checked out some very nice views from various forts used to fight off the invading Turks hundreds of years ago. Our bambino was a real trooper and enjoyed picking little weed flowers when placed in the grass. Several days ago Agi and I watched "Along Came Polly" again because we had enjoyed it so much the first time -- mainly because I remind Agi of Ben Stiller's character (especially when here in Budapest). Ben plays a risk averse insurance analyst who knows exactly how dangerous it is to eat nuts from a bar, walk over a manhole cover and (initially) can't compete out on the salsa dance floor. A little crass but very entertaining.
I had an interesting time in the US Embassy here in Budapest getting a new passport, mainly because I got to hear a number of young Hungarians quizzed on why they wanted to go to the US. Both the Hungarian and US staff were very professional and the security outside was pretty intense with concrete and metal barricades and about six police or soldiers in place. It's been a lovely day and I enjoyed sitting outside afterwards at "Coffee Heaven" before getting on the metro. I'm getting close to finishing the mammoth TR biography -- today's excerpt I loved: Roosevelt was taught Jujitsu by a Japanese master and TR successfully used one of the moves he learned on some guy who attacked him as he was giving a speech in 1912.
This weekend we're heading to the south of Hungary to celebrate Agi's grandmother's 80th birthday. She's in great shape and looks much younger and has been helping out with great grandkids for years now. Good genes for Agi for sure.
Last night I read an article from the Economist entitled "Gendercide - the War on Baby Girls." http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15606229 I was definitely moved by it (Agi had urged me to read the article earlier) and the number of young baby girls (and boys) who are killed via abortion or otherwise is incomprehensible and shocking. Hearing our own infant baby's heartbeat at 6 weeks from the time of conception only crystallized this issue for me further. The challenge is that adoption and foster parenting is very difficult work. But white American slaveowners used to say that slavery was an economic necessity -- and this just 150 years ago.
Final thought: the extent to which little girls in particular are killed made me think of the sci-fi novel The Sparrow where one group of humanoids was raised for food by another. I'm certain morally-inclined aliens visiting our planet would be shocked by how we kill off our unborn kids.
I got up this morning at 5 to catch the 6am train back to Budapest. I definitely like the train a lot and made good progress with my reading. Arriving at the scruffy Keleti train station 5 hours later I knew I had entered the post-communist world again. On me, I had my backpack stuffed with weekend essentials and my computer gear. I also had my "man bag"/satchel slung around my neck and arm (which contained my iphone, passport and camera) along with my black jacket hanging from my arm. I got on a packed bus to make it over to the tram to take me out to our flat and when I got on the tram that's when it hit me: your man bag is gone dude. Ouch. I'm usually very good in these situations and have never lost anything before or been pickpocketed. Agi and I think it's pretty clear it must have happened on the crowded bus and we've even speculated that someone could have snipped the strap to the bag. In any event, it was a pretty big financial hit but at least they didn't get the computer. It's a bummer too that I did lose all the pictures I spent the weekend taking to show Agi. But we've resolved we'll all be going back to Graz and will make up for it.
I'm here in Graz, Austria and am very impressed. Beautiful architecture, beautiful parks, separate bike lanes (up on a curb, away from the street) and separate walking paths too. As I was walking through a gorgeous park filled with children's play structures, tasteful cafes and biergartens--and the park is a quick walk or bike ride from grocery stores, businesses and homes--I thought "yes, the Western Europeans do city planning like Apple computer." Talented, opinionated elites are designing for the masses. You pay a premium for high quality planning, city services, public transportation and publicly-financed buildings, but I think it is worth it. I see elderly people walking around along with all other ages and they're not stuck someplace, alone because they can no longer drive. I think the "PC" approach in America is lower taxes, allowing individualistic Americans to acquire large houses and bigger cars with much greater ease than over here. But when you have the chance to walk and bike all over with your family, hike up onto a beautiful hill to see the city and enjoy gelato and a bier for papa in the garten while talking with your extended family/friends, the Euros are definitely on the right track. Simply getting out of the house and walking around is very important for enjoying life with others.
Also, I forget which survey, but a recent international quality of life survey put the top 30 livable cities in Western Europe and Canada. From what I've seen I agree.
I'm heading tomorrow for a weekend solo man excursion to Graz, Austria by train. Agi is very supportive of the trip -- almost too supportive... -- and I'm going to do some hiking, reading, cafe/pub hopping and some work too and am bringing my laptop. The hotel I'm staying in has wifi, so it should be pretty seamless.
One of the congressmen opposing TR's efforts to preserve forests for future generations had this to say: "What has posterity ever done for me?"
I'm continually impressed with my wife. Her latest achievement is to be an amazing mother to our infant child while still winning an "employee of the quarter" award at her company while working from home. Her company has hundreds of people, keep in mind. Though I'd give her the award too for our little company ;). Part of her "secret" is seemingly effortless time management and an ability to get into her work flow quickly and intensely. In fact, on my book list is one written by a Hungarian called "Flow." The author is Csikszentmihaly and Agi is putting his principles into practice every day right here at our home lab. I continue to read these "self help" books while Agi lives them out.