Tuesday, July 3, 2007
A single flower...
History captivates me. Different people from different landscapes..all of us trying to figure things out. Successes and failures alike slowly carve out what becomes the uniqueness of various global histories. And no lifetime is large enough to even scratch the surface of comprehending the vastness of it all.
And the comparisons...Certain places have. Others have not. Zoom in a decade or two, and the situation changes. Zoom out and the tables turn. One nation survives destruction. Another causes it. And seemingly everyone takes a turn playing every kind of role.
Visiting countries formerly under communist rule fascinates me. Understanding the weighty longevity of these nations being watched and molded and forced seems, in reality, to be a chapter from history that I never read. Not really.
This past week, I was introduced to Budapest.
A beautiful city, gracefully divided by the Danube River which bends and twists in the city, leaving a one-of-a-kind shoreline. Large monumental buildings.
And history. Peaceful demonstrations turned into bloodshed. Commerce and trade nearly halted. And in the end, when the tanks finally scurried away, there were numerous symbolic cries of painful victories...Hammers and sicles cut out of a flag. Memorials raised in honor of those lost in the Uprising of 1956. Soviet statues forcefully removed from their foundations, to be exiled to a dumping ground.
For 44 years, Hungarians had access to only one kind of flower...the carnation.
The father of our Hungarian tour guide survived the communist occupation as one of the sole remaining florists in his area. And what did he get to sell for 44 years? Carnations. No more, no less. Imports from Holland and other floral capitals had been halted and locals weren't allowed to plant other flowers.
No orchids perfectly matched to the throw pillows on the couch. No fragrant lilies freshening up the living room. No roses to be given from one lover to another. Until the tanks rolled away, there were only carnations.
And from her telling, there has hardly been a carnation seen in Hungary since.
I don't exactly know how to behave in these situations. My inner dialogue goes a mile-a-minute with ponderings about how certain massive historical events impact the spirit and identity of a nation. I don't want our tourguide to feel like her life in Hungary is a spectacle for me to see, but I'm so curious. It seems important to understand...or at least to try...what goes on in the world. To gain perspective, especially as the 4th of July hovers by, on our (American) great fortune. Our freedom. Our strength. Our unity...as fractured as it seems of late. We have so much.
I am so overcome by how blessed my 33 years on earth have been that I can hardly breathe. And a blink back my tears.
A single flower...for over four decades. Living in an occupied country is beyond my understanding. Imagining that the only flower you could buy was a carnation is not.
My mental image of Budapest and all of its beautiful buildings and monuments and bridges are draped around this...the ruffled form of a single fragrant carnation.