August 16, 2019

I haven’t done a long post for a while. Something like three weeks now. Some of it has been because I’ve been busy. Some of it has been because I’ve been in a better place emotionally (probably because I have been busy). Some of it has been because I’ve been writing on a few other projects.

The last couple of weeks have been devoted to the rehearsal process for Choir Boy, the inaugural production of Birmingham Black Repertory Theater (Opens on Thursday at Birmingham Festival Theater tickets at http://bftonline.org). It’s been a while since I’ve done a drama or had a major line heavy acting role and I was really afraid I wasn’t going to be up to the challenge. I did get the lines down more or less. I know where they all go and the emotional impact and connection for each one. Now if I could just get the words to come out in the right order and wouldn’t get rattled by the addition of new technical elements. The play was on Broadway last season (and won a couple of Tonys) and this is the first production since the Broadway run anywhere so I feel a need to do my role and the piece justice. As I’m following Austin Pendleton in the part, those are pretty big shoes to fill. I seem to be doing something right, because even in rehearsal, I’m getting compliments from people I respect and in whom I am in awe of for their talents. The gig seems to be opening some doors for future projects as well. I’m in talks for a possibility next spring that both elates and terrifies me if it comes to pass. We have four more techs to get everything right. It’s about ninety percent there so I have a good idea of what the final product will be and I think audiences will be pleased. N.B. Birmingham Festival Theater is in the midst of a major fund raiser – make a donation if you can. I did.

In other news on the theatrical front, I did a brief film gig playing a congregant for Eternal World Television Network. Yes, the world headquarters of the Catholic Church’s cable station is just down the street from me in Irondale and lots of friends have had gigs with them for years, especially singers. They needed a mixed crowd for a couple of hours to shoot B roll footage of congregational responses to the mass. So, if you happen to have insomnia, are channel surfing late night and come across EWTN, you may catch a glimpse of me in the fourth pew house left on the end. I’m also working with my other usual partners in crime, Diane McNaronand Ellise Pruitt Mayor on a 2019 edition of Politically Incorrect Cabaret scheduled for September 28th at the Clubhouse on Highland. I can’t really do much while Choir Boy is in rehearsal (my brain is getting too old to hold more than one project at a time) so I have to lock myself away Labor Day week to get the script, such as it is for PIC, hammered out. I do have Labor Day weekend off. Maybe I’ll carry my trusty laptop somewhere secluded and work.

I’ve been missing Tommy the last few weeks for practical reasons. When I came home to discover water all over the basement floor from a leaky HVAC, there was no one to share clean up duties and cuss words with and I had to get all the evaluations and repairs done around my work schedule which is always a bit difficult as I am so locked in with outpatient appointments. All is now well. As I kept mopping things up, I discovered that three problems had actually happened relatively simultaneously. The HVAC drain line had clogged leading to the water flood. The excess water and moisture in the air had done in the aged dehumidifier that keeps the damp out of the basement and, for good measure, something with very sharp teeth, had discovered where I keep the extra cans of beer and soda for parties and was puncturing them and sending sprays of carbonation all over the place. One HVAC repair, two new dehumidifiers, and three cats to roam the basement later, and the floor seems to be staying dry. It will need some repainting before I resell. I’ll add that chore to my never ending punch list.

I should tell a story. One that came up this week, after the news came out that Tommy’s old boss was fined $1.5 million dollars for defrauding federal health programs, involves Tommy’s stay at Birmingham Health Care. As most of you know, Tommy was a renaissance man with a number of different career paths over his life. He had been a major mover and shaker in the Birmingham gay community in the 1980s and was one of the committed volunteers that helped put together the HIV programs that would grow into Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama. At the time, he was a professional chef and baker working for the Sheraton, Continental Bakery and even operating his own restaurant with his brother – Classic Pizza and Barbeque in the Clay Chalkville area. He got tired of restaurant hours and, with his health care volunteerism behind him, went to Jeff State and got his RN degree, starting out as a Pediatric Nurse at Childrens and UAB. He had this social justice component, however, and when Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless, under the leadership of Jonathan Dunning, began making significant inroads into underserved populations, he headed over there and took a job as an ambulatory nurse.

Tommy, being one of the most competent people ever, soon rose from clinic nurse, to chief nurse, to chief nursing officer. At the same time, Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless changed itself into a multisite Federally Qualified Health Center, dropping the Homeless part of its name as its programs expanded. This is what he was doing when we met each other in late 2002. In 2003, BHC moved from its downtown location into an old plastic surgery clinic on southside, greatly increasing its footprint. They opened more satellites, and started to swallow other FQHCs around the state. Tommy, as chief nursing officer (#4 in the company) was put in charge of ethics and compliance and making sure that the federal grants were adhered to. He was busy, but things were going relatively well for a year or so. In late 2004 and early 2005, Jonathan and Sharon Waltz, his number 2, started to treat him radically differently, making impossible demands on him, denigrating his work etc. etc. The last straw for me was when they sent him on a long scheduled vacation with a grant proposal that he was supposed to have completed the day we got back. We spent most of the cruise together in the cabin writing the thing. Tommy was sure something was up with Jonathan and Sharon but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. I encouraged him to quit and do something different as he was being badly abused. I hadn’t expected him to go back for a music degree, but that’s another story altogether. He did quit in the spring of 2005. Shortly thereafter, per various court cases, with their pesky ethical compliance officer out of the way, Jonathan and Sharon embarked on a series of schemes to enrich themselves at federal expense. (You can google the news articles on it all, published after the whole house of cards came tumbling down around 2012). Jonathan and Sharon also hooked up in a long term affair that produced two children so Tommy’s suspicions were at last corroborated. Once the FBI got involved, we both expected a call to find out what we knew, but it never came. Tommy was gone before the shenanigans got going. We had a lot of fun reading the news pieces to each other as they came out and indulging in a certain schadenfreude. Jonathan is in the clink for another 12 years or so. Sharon seems to have escaped jail time, but continued her grifts after the collapse of BHC and these seem to have landed her in new hot water.

That’s probably more than any of you ever wanted to know about local health care scandals. I can give you more juicy details if you buy me a margarita.

July 28, 2019

I’m feeling restless and unhappy this evening. This is usually a signal that it’s time to start one of these free form long posts which are pretty good at helping me get perspective on life and figuring out what’s wrong. I have a number of other things that I should be doing but I’m having some difficulty concentrating – which I think is a combination of dysthymia and gabapentin for the shingles pain so I’m allowing myself a bit of down time this weekend.

We had our first table read of Choir Boy this morning. I am not off book yet despite due diligence over the last week. The sense and shape of the lines is sticking but it’s proving very difficult to get the actual words to stick. I think it’s an age thing. Fortunately, rehearsals this next week are music/choreo for the youngsters and don’t involve me so I have another week to get them down (and a few kind friends are coming out of the woodwork to run lines with me this next week). I know I’ll get them eventually, I’m just lamenting the steel trap brain I used to have which would have learned a part like this over a weekend no problem. It’s gone, together with my youth, never to return. Part of the problem is trying to learn the part in a vacuum rather than in the rehearsal process. I’d never make it in a soap opera where they have to come in off book of pages of dialogue day after day after day. If the first read through was any indication, this is going to be a hell of a show. Tickets are available through Birmingham Festival Theater at bftonline.com

There must have been a slew of retirements in the geriatric world over the last year or so. The recruiters are calling thick and fast trying to lure me away from Birmingham. If my major motivator was money, it wouldn’t be too hard as the starting salary quotes they’re lobbing are a good deal over what I currently make. Money, however, isn’t what interests me. What I need now in life is a combination of balance and things to do that will hold my interest. I have balance here between what I do professionally and what I do when I leave the office. It’s taken me several decades to create that and it would be very difficult to recreate somewhere else. I’m a bit unmoored with Tommy’s death and if I relocated, I’m afraid that I would thrash around in my off hours without the structure of my theater work and social life. I grumble sometimes that I’m too busy and never get to relax but there’s a big positive to that full calendar. It keeps me from my natural tendencies to isolate and ruminate and feed upon my own negative energies.

Last weekend, I went to Drag Brunch which has become kind of a thing locally over the last couple of years. Sunday brunch at a restaurant with drag queen entertainment. Drag is always better over cocktails, whether it’s late night Manhattans or early afternoon Mimosas. I was sitting there with my friend Carin Mayo at Brennan’s Irish pub and I started thinking. Carin and I have been friends for about fifteen years. Her husband’s Birmingham musical theater debut was the same show in which I made my Birmingham musical theater debut (Jekyll & Hyde – fall 2004). She and Tommy had been friends for about fifteen years before that. Brennan’s is owned and run by my friend Danny Ray Winter whom I have followed around to three different eateries over the years and with whom I have sung in the opera chorus. The drag entertainment was provided by Barry Perkins (better known as Reece Eve Cocx) whom I have shared the stage with and who was my clinic nurse for a number of years and his husband Samuel Torres (Sharon Cocx) whom I have acted with, directed and who Tommy put into drag for the first time in a Theater Downtown show called Dragula back in 2012. How can you replicate those odd ball connections and deep sense of community someplace else at the age of pushing 60? I don’t know that there’s any amount of money that would make a move worth it. (Well, there’s probably some amount of money but I doubt that anyone’s likely to offer it as I’m guessing it would be in the eight figure range…)

I took myself to the movies last week to see the new horror film, Midsommar. (MNM has written her review – it will be out in a week or so). It’s really stayed with me in a way that most films do not. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. It’s not the horror elements as they are simply macabre touches. I think it’s because the fundamental theme of the film is one of human connection as everything that happens flows from either people connecting and bonding in community or failing to connect with each other. Maybe that’s the issue this weekend. Feeling unconnected. I certainly feel connected to my larger group but there’s this huge hole where intimate connection used to exist and I don’t yet know how to fill it. It wouldn’t be that hard to find someone to date seriously (I am kind of a catch if I am allowed to say so) but I’m self aware enough to know I’m not ready and if I try to fill it too soon or in the wrong way, I’ll have serious issues. More than I already have.

So I will continue to do my job and change one family’s life at a time through compassionate care of an elder. I’ll get my lines down and work to be the best that I can be among so many great talents in Choir Boy. I’ll start putting together ideas for a new edition of Politically Incorrect Cabaret which will happen in late September. No major trips for a while. I’ll probably go to the west coast later in the fall and I want to get to NYC sometime in the next six months. I have a few ideas for my major 2020 journey abroad which will happen either late March/early April or September of that year. I’m still taking applications for travel buddy if anyone’s interested. I’ve also got to get one more chunk of the book done to have enough to possibly begin shopping it around to see if anyone might be interested in publishing it. But for the rest of the evening, I think it’s time for Netflix and Chill. I don’t know that I’ve discovered what was bothering me in writing this, but I do know I feel somewhat better so maybe whatever it was has come out somewhere between the lines.

July 17, 2019

Many airplanes

Dateline: Birmingham, Alabama

And so back home in my own bed after a not quite 24 hour trip involving three different flights and not much in the way of adventure. Which is good when traveling internationally. I got up this morning around 11:30 PM last night central time, got myself packed and down to the lobby and was met by a very nice driver who got me to the Budapest airport. It was a bit of a mob scene as several Chinese package tours were departing at the same time I was but they were on their way home to Shanghai so I soon left them behind. A few hours later, and I was in the Amsterdam airport waiting for my transatlantic flight. At least the gate was close to the Starbucks.

I watched a bunch of movies I’ve seen before so I could dose in and out of them and not be lost. The one new one to me was Love, Actually – which I had somehow never seen despite its being broadcast every holiday season for the last fifteen years. It may have not been the best choice as it brought up quite a bit of emotional baggage of various types. Eight hours later, I was in Detroit, only two hours after leaving Amsterdam. Long lines at immigration and customs but as my flight was delayed several hours due to midwest thunderstorms and planes being out of position, that didn’t really matter. I found a seat and dozed some more and was pleasantly surprised to find out they’d upgraded me to first class for the last leg. It would have been nicer had I been upgraded for the transatlantic piece, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

The house is still standing. Anastasia, the only one of my cats that seems to like me seems happy to see me. Archie and Oliver have me on ignore. Going to try and get my normal sleep and then go to work tomorrow and Friday on usual hours. I’m just doing paperwork and catch-up. Not dealing with patients until Monday.

Starting to think about the next adventure. Looking at the calendar, looks like late March/early April 2020 is when it will happen. What to do? In the meantime, writing to do and a bunch of theatrical projects on deck. I should stay out of trouble. Signing off until I have something to say…

July 16, 2019

St Stephen at the top of the Fisherman’s bastion

Dateline: Budapest, Hungary

And so the trip draws to its close. Up tomorrow early to be driven to the airport and then Budapest > Amsterdam > Atlanta > Birmingham. If everything goes well, it will be about a 20 hour process. If it doesn’t go well, who knows. I’m not looking forward to three flights but it’s the price we pay for convenient international travel. Not too long ago, it would be a several week journey home by rail and sea.

Today, I clambered down off the top of castle hill via the stairs up to the fisherman’s bastion. (325 down to the level of the Danube promenade for those who are counting). Then across the Chain Bridge. It was early enough in the morning that St. Stephen’s basilica wasn’t overly crowded so I went in and took a look. It looks like an ancient baroque structure, but it’s really neo-baroque and was actually constructed mainly in the late 19th century and was finished in 1905. It has a few Art Nouveau touches but mainly is ersatz 17th century. It would have been more interesting if they’d kept going with the Nouveau ideas, the way they did in Barcelona with Sagrada Familia.

Then up Andrassy utca past all the embassies and 19th century villas of the merchant princes to the city park. I was going to go to the Terror museum which was on my way, but as I passed it, I saw the line around the block and decided that will have to wait until another trip. Instead, I kept on going and ended up at the Fine Art museum which was not terribly crowded. Not a bad collection with some good 19th century French and 17th century Flemish pieces. Also far too many gothic madonnas and saints. Those all start looking the same after three or four pieces and I tend to skip those galleries.

City Park boating lake

I then spent some time in the city park, which reminds me a bit of Central Park, only not as large, as it has a collection of museums, a boating lake (which becomes a skating rink in winter), wandering paths. One thing it has which NYC does not i the largest thermal bath in the city, the Szechenyi baths housed in a large and ostentatious art nouveau building. As the shingles have continued to nag, some warm water soaking seemed to be in order so I checked in for a few hours. It’s larger than the Gellert and feels a bit more honest, like its being run for Budapesters (Budapestians? Budapestites?) rather than a tourist attraction. It was full of families of all shapes and sizes dropping themselves into and out of thermal pools of various temperatures. My favorite was an outdoor pool heated to about 30 degrees C – lukewarm bathwater – where you could just lounge until you pruned. It reminded me a lot of the pools at Kah-Nee-Tah, a resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon that we sometimes went to as a family when I was a boy. They too had huge thermal pools which, as kids, we never wanted to leave.

Szechnyi Thermal Baths

Late in the afternoon, I took a taxi back to my side of the river. (I didn’t feel like the 3 and a half mile walk back). I hauled everything out to begin the packing process (I’ll finish in the morning) and then took myself out to dinner – chicken paprikash crepes and green pea risotto with a glass of Tokay. Now I’m sitting on the bed where the Hungarian television station is having some sort of Hungarian idol singing competition. For some reason, they’re all singing Christmas songs in Hungarian, even if it’s July. It’s rather trippy, but that might just be the wine. The blond tenor needs to learn about foundation. He’s got very bad skin.

I’ll write something brief tomorrow to let everyone know I have safely returned, then I’ll go back on my home schedule of intermittent long posts when I have something to say. In the next week or so, I’ll move all of the European posts over to the blog site so those who are interested can check out any they might have missed along the way.

July 15, 2019

Hotel Gellert and Baths

Dateline: Budapest, Hungary.

I tried to sleep in this morning but the shingles had other ideas so I was up relatively early. That doesn’t mean I was moving any too fast. I have a lovely king size bed to wallow in here at the Castle Hilton Budapest. I did get moving and had some breakfast while I tried to decide what to do with the day. At one point, I was going to try to make a quick run to Graz, Austria to see my friend Laurie Middaugh who is spending the summer there, but a quick perusal of train schedules showed that it would be about 12 hours round trip for about a two hour visit and it wouldn’t work well with her schedule there so that idea had to be scrapped. It’s Monday so all the museums are closed. I decided to explore the other things that have drawn people to Budapest for centuries – the waters.

Budapest sits on a number of natural hot springs and for centuries the locals have been building elaborate bathing complexes and spas to take advantage of this abundant natural resource. The shingles neuropathy has been acting up so might as well soak in a hot tub. Hot showers have helped somewhat all the way on. I made my way down the hill through the Buda Castle gardens which are terraced into the hill and then down the promenade on the west side of the Danube. A couple of things about the urban woods of Budapest – again, as I noticed in Germany, no squirrels. There’s also a colony of some sort of particolored ravens or large crows with a grey body and black wings who feel they own the place. They likely predate the Hapsburgs, so they’re right.

Rudas Thermal Bath

A few hundred yards down the river are two of the large and prominent baths – Rudas and Gellert. I was in no hurry so I decided to try them both as a compare and contrast. My first stop was Rudas. It has a pool, but its main attraction is it’s traditional Turkish bath, under a dome constructed by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century and fed from hot springs directly under the building. It all smells vaguely of rotting eggs due to the sulfur content of the water. The hot tubs are about 106, the warm about 95. Steam/Sauna/Massage available. Only the pool is co-ed. The Turkish bath is male only some days, female only others. After a couple hours, I continued down the road to the Gellert baths, built in the early 20th century as an Art Nouveau fantasia for upper class tourists. It’s huge, had a whole complex of indoor and outdoor pools and lots of fancy spa amenities. I didn’t like this one as much. It’s very much a tourist destination while Rudas was full of locals, mainly older men self treating their arthritis.

Budapest Synagogue

Having killed a number of hours between the two, I headed over the river, stuck my nose in the central market (Think Pike Place Market, but more crowded), and then walked uptown to the main Budapest synagogue and holocaust memorial. There’s a huge new holocaust museum that’s been constructed but it isn’t open yet as it’s caught up in politics with Viktor Orban and disagreements between his view of history and the Jewish community’ s view of history. The story of the Hungarian Jews is heartbreaking. They had mainly escaped the holocaust until quite late in the war when a new Nazi sympathizing government took over and gleefully helped ship off 600,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in six months. There’s a museum and memorial in town to all who were killed by the Nazi and Soviet regimes which I’m going to try to go to tomorrow.

Then back through the central business district, where I stopped at the Budapest Eye for a ride. It’s nowhere near as large as the London Eye but it’s still a nice view from the top. I also picked up a Harry Potter in Magyar to add to my collection. I am such a nerd sometimes. Then a late lunch and back to the hotel for a nap. Dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Budapest restaurant which is only a couple blocks away. The food is edible, but I don’t think Jamie is in the kitchen.

London Eye at New Year

I owe a story. Here’s a quick one. Exploring European capitals brings it to mind. Back in 2007, Frank Thompson and the CenterStage gang organized a group London trip. With 20 or so of us going, it brought the costs down quite a bit so Tommy and I signed up. It was over New Years week so it was quite cold but the weather was clear. On New Years Eve, we had a group dinner at some restaurant in the West End. After Dinner, everyone went their separate directions. Tommy and I had heard about a gay nightclub doing a NYE thing just across the bridge from Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. So we went off there, got there about 9:30 and settled in for drinks and people watching. We left about 1 am and walked out the door and into a seething mass of humanity. We were only a couple of blocks from the London Eye, site of the new years fireworks. We were caught up in the crowds heading home after. There was only one way to go, with the flow of people. Besides, the bobbies had a lot of streets blocked off for crowd management. We looked at each other, shrugged, and thought Oh Well. We managed to not lose each other as we were carried along. Ultimately, we were pushed into Waterloo station, were able to access the Underground, and made it back to Tottenham Court Road in one piece. Tommy did remarkably well with the experience considering his past. When he was in his 20s, he was at Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. Someone in the crowd near him pulled a knife and there was a general panic. Tommy lost his footing and was trampled. He wasn’t seriously injured but it did add to his spinal issues later in life and his chronic hip and low back pain. The PTSD was more of an issue and ever after he tended to get very antsy in crowds where he wasn’t sure if he could control the situation. He also never wanted to go to Mardi Gras again. We went to NOLA a whole lot of times over the years. For New Years. For 4th of July. For Labor Day. But we never went to Mardi Gras.

July 14, 2019

Buda castle

Dateline: Budapest, Hungary.

They made me get off the boat this morning as I had not paid for the next two weeks where the MS Esprit continues down the Danube all the way to the Black Sea. I’m planning on the river cruise down the lower Danube at some point, but doing the two trips back to back would likely be a little much. Two to three weeks is about as much as I can afford to be away at the moment without some sort of major life catastrophe taking a hand and I’ve had quite enough of those lately.

I took a quick cab ride up castle hill to the Castle Hilton Budapest which will be my home for the next three nights, allowing me to do a little more exploring of the city and start taking myself out of River Cruise rhythms before heading back to the usual grind. The hotel is right next door to the cathedral, next to the fisherman’s bastion. It’s built into the remains of an old monastery with a new wing of Soviet brutalistic architecture rather unfortunately facing the river. It’s directly across from the parliament building and, being up on the hill, has one of the best views in town. However, as I am not a gazillionaire and am paying for the stay with Hilton points, I am not in one of the nice rooms with a view. I’m on the opposite side of the building with a lovely view of the taxi stand and the building across the street.

Castle hill – Fisherman’s bastion and cathedral

As it was only 9 AM, my room wasn’t ready so I dropped off the luggage and spent some time exploring castle hill. I went to the Buda palace, now the Hungarian art museum and spent a couple of hours with the collection. The permanent collection is mainly 19th century genre painting, often featuring a Hapsburg or two repelling a howling Ottoman horde. This museum is dedicated to Hungarian fine arts. The masters from other countries are in the Fine art museum which I’ll get to later this week. They were having a special exhibition on the origins of Surrealism from 1919-1929 with a number of representative works and some of the experimental films Luis Bunel and Man Ray did during that period. The clip from Un Chien D’Andalou did not include THAT scene. I was rather taken with L’age d’or which I had certainly heard about over the years but had never actually seen footage from.

Danube shoe sculpture

Then it was down the hill via a cute little turn of the last century funicular and a walk across the Chain Bridge to the Danube promenade. This included a sobering moment with the famous shoe sculpture (a series of bronze shoes in 1940s style, all different as if people had just stepped out of them. It’s a memorial to the Jews and others murdered by the collaborationist Arrow death squads who were shot on the Danube promenade and then thrown into the waters to get rid of the body. This led me to the Parliament building itself, even more impressive close up. Then back through the shopping district to the basilica of St Stephen. At this point, it started to rain so I repaired to a cafe for a while, waiting for it to pass. Eventually it did, so I made my way back up Castle Hill for a nap.

After a snooze, out for some dinner and a little poking through the stores up here on the hill although the selection isn’t much. All the real shopping is on the other side of the river. Per my pedometer, it worked out to about eleven miles today so my legs and feet are a bit sore.With the intermittent thunderstorms all day (very Deep South), the sunset was lovely and I repaired back to the room afterward. I’m busy watching Hollywood Rom Coms dubbed into Hungarian. I don’t know if the language barrier is helping or harming them.

July 13, 2019

Hungarian Parliament – Budapest

Dateline: Budapest, Hungary

I woke up this morning to find us still cruising down the Danube. The terrain had changed to flat agricultural land with occasional villas on the river bank or at a distance across the fields. I had my usual oatmeal breakfast and went up on deck with my rain gear as we had had intermittent thundershowers all morning. The dwellings began to grow thicker on the embankments, showing we were heading into a metropolitan area and then we rounded a curve in the river and, appearing out of the mists were the sights of Budapest, dominated by the huge neogothic dome and spires of the Hungarian parliament. The appearance of that building through the rain showers will always stay with me it was simply breathtaking.

Half an hour later, we were tied up on the riverbank in Budapest and we were herded aboard our buses for our introductory tour of the city. Budapest is the conflation of two ancient cities, Buda on the hilly west bank of the Danube and Pest on the flat east bank. We started with a look see at Pest then crossed the river to Buda for a stop at the cathedral and the hill overlooks of the town. I think I’ve added another European city to my list of favorites. Every where you look there’s another stunning view or amazing piece of pre-war Art Nouveau architecture. I could spend days just strolling the boulevards and eating in the cafes pretending that Georg and Amalia are at the next table before returning to Maracek’s.

Great Market Hall – Budapest

I had chicken paprikash for lunch (what else) and then wandered through some of the markets on the Pest side of the river. I could have stayed out all evening but it is the last night on board the MS Esprit so I figured I better show up for dinner so it was back to the ship for cocktails, a long leisurely dinner with shipboard acquaintances and too much wine, and then karaoke night in the lounge. (I sang Don’t Tell Mama which I figured would at least make people laugh). I’m going to miss shipboard life. The leisurely pace, the nice people (both fellow passengers and staff). The company I am traveling with, Tauck, does not advertise (unlike Viking) and gets its clientele by word of mouth and travel agent recommendation. It keeps them from having too many ugly Americans (if you know what I mean) on board. Everyone has been very congenial.

Tomorrow I leave the ship, but not Budapest. I’ve booked three nights at the Hilton next door to the cathedral up on the hill on the Buda side of the river. What will I do with my three days in Hungary? I’ll make it up as I go along. The city feels fairly carefree and I’m going to try to take it’s pulse as I am well aware of Viktor Orban and his push towards authoritarian rule and fascism. This may be somewhat difficult given my complete lack of Hungarian language skills. German and English seem to be spoken on the streets fairly frequently and I have some of the former and quite a lot of the latter so that should tell me a bit about what’s going on.

No particular stories are coming to mind tonight. I’ll see if Budapest, the occasional czardas, or a dip in a Turkish bath actually built by the Ottoman Turks jogs something loose later this week.