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Archive for January, 2013

Art Nouveau in Budapest is a well-covered topic, but it is less known that the style was so popular that it extended to the grave. Kozma Street Cemetery, the second largest cemetery in Budapest after Kerepesi Cemetery (which is also spectacular, and loaded with examples of Art Nouveau) is known for its unique crypts, headstones, and Art Nouveau mausoleums. Kozma Street Cemetery was founded in 1890 by the Neolog Jewish community, and is still in operation today.

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There are an estimated 300,000 people buried in the cemetery, including Hungary’s first ever Olympic gold medal winner, Alfréd Hájos. But it is the monuments to these past lives that make the place so remarkable and photogenic. Just have a look at this Ödön Lechner-influenced crypt, which Béla Lajta designed for the Schmidl family. Rare is the crypt that is considered ‘architecturally significant’ by style mavens and landmark spotters. This would make quite a stylish location for a thinking man’s horror flick or erudite vampire.

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Currently, many of the graves are un-cared for or in disrepair, contributing to the eerie and otherworldly feel of the cemetery, which is situated next to an equally frequented, though perhaps not as grandiose, Catholic cemetery. Like many of the Jewish locations in and around Central Europe, the Kozma Street Cemetery feels trapped in time. But despite the fact that much of the community it serviced perished in World War II, the cemetery is still in use.

A feeling of whimsy runs through the graveyard. To boot: here is a model car ornament.

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Additionally, some graves are unique in that they feature images of human forms, something that is unorthodox among Jewish grave-sites. For a unique, creepy but fascinating location, it is hard to beat Budapest’s Kozma Street Cemetery.

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IrisWith the omnipresent, catchy song “Gangnam Style” being played just about everywhere, and Korean film-makers drawing a huge international following with disturbing, atmospheric horror movies, Korean popular culture is suddenly on the world’s radar. With that in mind, local film professionals consider themselves lucky that portions of the second installment of the Korean television espionage thriller Iris II were shot in Budapest this winter. This came about after the successful collaboration of KBS (a Korean TV broadcaster) and the local film industry in creating a hit out of the original Iris, which had the added benefit of making Budapest a hot spot with Korean tourists. Like most juggernaut television shows, Iris was supplemented by a film version. Iris may be the most widely seen bit of filmed popular culture to come out of Korea, except for the video for “Gangnam Style” (it’s hard to compete with a billion YouTube views).

The original Iris, which, in addition to locations in Hungary, was shot in Japan and China, putting Budapest in very international company indeed. It was the most expensive Korean TV show ever made, costing a total of around 17 million USD. Approximately 30 percent of television-watching Koreans tuned into Iris, making locations in Hungary immediately iconic to viewers in that distant land.

The filming of Iris II in late autumn and early winter promised to make use of some of the world’s top locations. These included Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Budapest’s Chain Bridge, which was fresh from its appearance in PPM’s ad for Hero motocorp motorcycles. As you can see from the photos, the film also showcased such eminently photogenic locations as the Opera House and the palace. It is worth pointing out that the film board bent over backwards to make these locations available, having seen a tangible uptick in Korean tourism to Hungary. The Iris franchise is only getting bigger and more popular, thus solidifying an unlikely cultural link between two very different film-loving nations.

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icewine2Tokaj is increasingly becoming known as not just a region, but a brand. It is a brand worth watching, as evinced by the EU’s decision to make it a protected destination of origin, much like like Champagne or Emmentaler cheese. It is of course the dessert wines, the Azsú and Essencia, that have gained worldwide fame and are sought after by wine enthusiasts of every nationality. But did you know there is a variety of Tokaj that is even more rare than these? We are speaking of ice wine.

Ice wines are nothing new to countries like Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. But it was only in 1999 that Chateau Pajzos became the first winery to produce a Tokaj ice wine. Unlike traditional Tokaj wines that employ the ‘noble rot’; grapes which are left to over-ripen on the vine and are harvested in autumn, the grapes used for ice wine are not harvested until they have actually frozen on the vine. This leaves the fruit vulnerable to the elements far longer than what is safe for a good harvest, and thus the haul is a precious small one. Once the first frost has come, the grapes must be picked immediately, within the day’s first few hours, or they will be unusable. This means that a wine-maker either needs a very large workforce or a very small acreage to harvest grapes for ice wine. Furthermore, the frozen grape yields less wine must than an unfrozen one; the winemaker needs more of them for production. Ice wines are rare and expensive for these reasons.

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Photo by Dominic Rivard

It should be noted that the Riesling grape is typically used in Hungary for ice wine, and wine-makers from the Villany and the Balaton regions have also experimented with ice wines, which are known for their clean, sweet flavor.

What’s the world’s biggest producer of ice wine? We wish we could say Hungary, but most ice wine comes from the unlikely source of Canada. So we happily raise a toast, on these, the coldest of days, to our cousins across the Atlantic. But they should watch their backs, because like with all other varieties of wine Hungarians have applied their skill to, Hungarian ice wine is on the rise.

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It is always refreshing when the location of Budapest gets used as the city of Budapest in a film, as opposed to doubling for other more expensive, less picturesque cities. It is only more gratifying when the title of the film actually bears the same name as the city it depicts. Recently released Budapest, is based on Chico Buarque’s internationally acclaimed novel of the same name.

The story begins when the Brazilian narrator’s plane is waylaid in Budapest after a bomb scare. As a ghost-writer and linguist, he becomes immediately enchanted with the Hungarian language and Budapest itself. At its most simple level, the story follows the path of the narrator, Jose Kosta, on his path to fluency in Hungarian, after breaking with his wife and falling in love with his language teacher. But nothing is so easy in Budapest, as Kosta observes of the language, “he had no way of knowing where each one (word) began or finished. It was impossible to detach one form the next; it would be like trying to cut a river with a knife.”

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Kosta’s love interest, the helpful Hungarian who guides him through the complexities of language and love in this city, is played by local favorite Gabrielle Hámori, who, in a more just world, would be an international star. Here is a funny piece of trivia: Hámori starred in the film Hungarian Beauty, a shot for shot remake of the Oscar-winning Hollywood film American Beauty. This is a funny co-incidence, as the hero of Budapest is a ghost-writer, whose work stands in for that of somebody far more famous than himself.

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Though the story primarily concerns itself with the intricacies of language, translation and identity, it does make space for some spectacular shots of the city. There is just something about a bridges across the Danube that acts as perfect backdrop for a character who is deep in thought.

You can see from the trailer that Budapest incorporates multiple locations from around the city, and allows the characters a good deal of dialog in Hungarian. The film Budapest wonderfully exemplifies, through the eyes of a foreigner, how captivating and seductive the city is, and how difficult it is to escape.

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