Words and photos by Joe Duffy
I don’t really view myself as a “world traveler” per say, but I do live in this world and seem to find myself in a constant state of “transit.” I find it doubtful one will ever be able to experience ALL things during a lifetime, but maybe living is better with a few unknowns.
Metaphysical intro aside, it is true. For the first time, I left my native continent – hopped an air-can bound for Budapest. March 6th was the day, I showed up in Hungary bleary eyed and confused about the time zone, my pockets full of translation paper scraps, and my cardiovascular system nearly shattering my ribcage in excitement.
Backing up (in the spirit of metaphysics), I should preface further thought by mentioning my grandfather passed away several days shortly before my departure. The last 72 hours prior to leaving were something of a chaotic whirlwind – many last minute responsibilities in Cleveland, and traveling (via highway-can) for an all-too-brief visit with loved ones in the northeast.
Although unfortunate in premise, the unplanned pre-trip trip was positive in many aspects; good energy manifested within more than compensated for the hectic experience of speeding across Pennsylvania to meet various deadlines. Additionally, encountering the reality of death continues to reinforce the fact that (as far as I know) I actually am still here alive on Earth – and it feels much better to enjoy that freakish occurrence.
Thus, six time zones away in Budapest I eventually gleaned what keys open which doors to my hostel and decided it was time for my first walk. Before making it outside, I felt my mind had already blown into what felt like 10,000 fragments. It began to dawn on me – all prior contexts of my world were about to change. The pleasant cerebral-shattering sensation did not cease.
Budapest exists in a world of profound majestic beauty. I have continually found words an inadequate means of communicating such situations (although do continue trying), but for now you’ll simply have to accept my typed word. I saw a lot, experienced a lot – spent the entire week living “present tense.” Hopefully the pictures can partially convey.
Headed for Prague after a full week’s wanderings, with about 4 hours between in Vienna. Each distinctly its own city, in its own country (with its own culture) – but, with at least one consistency – turrets are strewn throughout. I thought to myself, “If Disneyland weren’t plastic…” (apologies, Walt).
Prague also emanates a cloudy radiance unlike any yet encountered… puzzling twisted humor permeates throughout. As a nation, it seems they have collectively endured endless chaos (various regimes showing up, occupying for a time, killing lots of people, leaving, etc.). Put simply, this reality is not a part of my American experience. Granted many of my ancestors left Western Europe to escape these exact situations (namely religious persecution), I can’t say we have collectively endured similar national challenges hereabouts.
The Czech embrace of dark humor (described to us as “a coping mechanism”) was prevalent both across the city and rural towns – as evidenced in (what we might consider) provocative public art and widespread enthusiasm for local favorite, Franz Kafka. In his words, “Prague is a mother, with claws.”
All of this left me curious as to how our socio-economic experiment will play out – what might America look like in 1300 years? Finding one’s self surrounded by so many mind-numbingly ancient streets and buildings can have a very humbling effect. Perhaps given the timing in my personal life, it was an undeniable reminder of life’s transient nature.
I would argue there is much inherent optimism in this realization; if humanity has endured such a range of civilizations past, who’s to say there are any limits to the future? No doubt today’s challenges are any less earth shattering to observe than say, the black plague.
Although this particular jaunt did have a clear beginning and end point, I do not see it as an isolated, consumable experience; rather a noteworthy blip in my personal time continuum. Future hopes include a sharing in similar blips, to other unknown horizons.
If you’d like to hear more about our coursework abroad (ie, the central reason any of this happened) feel free to listen to our NPR interview on Cleveland’s Hungarian Hour, initially broadcast March 30th 2014. You may do so by clicking here.