Città irreale

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“At sunset all cities look wonderful, but some more so than others. Reliefs become suppler, columns more rotund, capitals curlier, cornices more resolute, spires starker, niches deeper, disciples more draped, angels airborne. In the streets it gets dark, but it is still daytime for the Fondaments and that gigantic liquid mirror where motorboats, vaporetti, gondolas, dinghies, and barges “like scattered old shoes” zealously trample Baroque and Gothic façades, not sparing your own or a passing cloud’s reflection either. “Depict it,” whispers the winter light, stopped flat by the brick wall of a hospital or arriving home at the paradise of San Zaccaria’s frontone after its long passage through the cosmos. And you sense this light’s fatigue as it rests in Zaccaria’s marble shell for another hour or so, while the earth is turning its other cheek to the luminary. This is the winter light at its purest. It carries no warmth or energy, having shed them and left them behind somewhere in the universe, or in the nearby cumulus. Its particles’ only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big or small, visible. It’s a private light, the light of Giorgione or Bellini, not the light of Tiepolo or Tintoretto. And the city lingers in it, savoring its touch, the caress of the infinity whence it came. An object, after all, is what makes infinity private.”
Joseph Brodsky: Watermark. An essay on Venice, 1992

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Dissolving: They are here

Shaun Tan: The Arrival, 2007

Venice, Campo dei Miracoli, 2015

Dissolving: The eternal music of the Balkans at lake Balaton

The “Balaton” Serbian-Hungarian (!) Gypsy band performing in the theater of Czernowitz. Early 20th century, from here.

Venice, 2015


What is this exciting installation, which itself fills a whole medieval room of Milan’s Cathedral Museum, the former Royal Palace? Perhaps such kind of modern statue of the Virgin Mary, like the one set up in recent years by the gate of the Roman ghetto, in the Rose of Sion Chapel, before which for centuries the local Jews had to listen every Saturday to the sermons of the Domenicans, so they had an opportunity for conversion?

No. It is rather that kind of spontaneous folk construction, which develops and ramifies step by step, without any prior comprehensive plan, under the hand of local artisans, to whom the commission of a never seen scale allows to experience the child living in them. Like the postmodern constructivist formwork of the concrete church seen in the Ukraine.

The inevitable fate of such ad hoc constructions is passing away, except when they were intended to be the unseen supporting structure of permanent works. Like the iron structure in Milan, which is no contemporary art, as you would think at first glance, but a two hundred and fifty years old steampunk device. It was used in 1770, during the Assumption Day procession, to make lighter and more portable the huge figure of the Virgin Mary taken up in heavens. Her head, carved by Giuseppe Antignati, is seen on her side at the exhibition, just like the small model, which shows, how the folds of her dress were supposed to settle along the field lines neatly welded here and there on the construction. As is the case of the Ukrainian formworks, the secondary structure is much more exciting than the visible final conception.

Esteban Salas (Santiago de Cuba, 1725-1803): Assumpta est Maria. Teresa Paz, Ars Longa de la Havane, Maitrise de la Cathédral de Metz

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Río Wang tours in next year

The tours of río Wang have grown out of this blog at the request of our readers. For the fourth consecutive year, we are organizing tours to regions that we know well and love, and which are not found in tourist office advertisements, or even if they occasionally are, they do not delve so deeply into the history and everyday life of these places, the tissue of little streets, interior courtyards, cafés and pubs only frequented by the locals: to the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Iran, the Far East.

Our journeys are no package tours, but rather friendly excursions. Almost always there is someone who admits to never having wanted to take part in a package tour, but he or she could not resist the offers of the blog. And in the end he/she recounts with relief, that it was absolutely no package tour. That we consider a really great compliment.

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With our magnificent Iranian journey we have closed this year’s series of tours. This year, the river Wang has strayed far from its banks. In addition to our traditional tours to Galicia and Maramureș, we went several times to the Caucasus, Georgia and Azerbaijan, for the first time we organized a journey to Iran, and we have also advanced into the Mediterranean with our two tours to Rome. Together with our weekend in Prague, we have also opened the series of our urban explorations.

In 2016 we go further on these roads. We visit the third country of the Caucasus, Armenia, together with Karabagh. We organize a few regional tours in Iran: to Kurdistan, the Jewish monuments, the ancient settlements of the desert, the historical cities. In the Mediterranean we visit Mallorca and Rome, as well as Venice, follow the path of Quattrocento art from Urbino through Umbria and Toscana to Florence, and penetrate the archaic region of Barbagia, the secluded mountain villages of central Sardinia, and we continue to explore Galicia: in addition to the traditional Orthodox Easter in Lemberg/Lviv, we also tour the former Jewish settlements of the eastern, Ukrainian part of Galicia, as we did last year those in its western, Polish part. Finally, by popular demand, we also visit the region of Spíš/Zips in northern Slovakia, situated at the junction of many languages and cultural influences, and extremely rich in medieval monuments.

In addition to our usually small-size, max. 16-person tour we also start our exclusive photo tours, with the participation of only five persons each, where we tour with jeep a beautiful and remote mountain region at our own pace, stopping for a photo at any beautiful sight, but safely organizing our path and accommodation well in advance. This year we plan three such trips: to the most beautiful part of Georgia, northern Svaneti; to Iranian Kurdistan; and to one of the most beautiful mountain regions of Iran, the evergreen Gilan and North Azerbaijan, to the south of the Caspian Sea.

Give a Wang tour as a gift! Several of you wrote that you would willingly give a tour of río Wang as a Christmas present to your loved ones. If you choose one, I give priority to its organization, and within a couple of days I will tell you the exact costs.
The following tour calendar includes our proposals for 2016. We will announce each with detailed route and costs, if there are enough – at least ten, in the case of photo tours, four – persons interested in them. So inquire! :) The participation fee – which includes the accommodation (half of a double room with breakfast), leased bus, and the cost of organization/guide – is between 400 and 800 euros, and the photo tours around 1000 euro. We will give a more accurate price after the first round of organization. For information and to subscribe to our mailing list, write at Any proposals of change in the program are also welcome.

Beginning this December, we will regularly give personal accounts on our tours with slide projections in Budapest (and, on request, elsewhere, too). We will also distribute information about them in our newsletter.

January 14-22: The feasts of Mallorca. To many, Mallorca is a German tourist paradise, but this is only limited to the narrow southern beach. In reality, this island is a beautiful, archaic and unknown world, as we described in our earlier invitation and joint travel report, with medieval villages and abbeys, Arab gardens and olive plantations, a still living medieval Jewish quarter, traditional small trattorias, stunning mountains and coastline. January is the best month to visit the island, not only because there are no tourists, but the air is warm, and the oranges are ripe, but also because this is the season of the three largest popular feasts: the temptation of St. Anthony celebrated with all-night dancing and a pig roast; the blessing of the animals, and the feast of St. Sebastian, when thousands of demons march with fiery chariots through the old town of Palma.

February 26-28: Vanished Prague. Prague has vanished several times, but still there is enough that remains. On our weekend tour – a repetition and expansion of our New Year trip – we will visit the visible and invisible parts of the old town. While touring the labyrinth of the medieval streets and gateways, the Art Nouveau palaces and passages – myší díra, mouse holes, as they say in Prague –, we will also recall the worlds that have passed away during the reconstructions and the storms of history. The three foci of our urban exploration are the almost completely vanished former Jewish quarter, which we will meticulously reconstruct on the basis of old photos and descriptions; the southern part of the old town, which escaped modernization due to the First World War; and the little-known small streets below the castle on the opposite bank of the Vltava. Our New Year tour was joined by some seasoned Prague experts and pub-goers, who at the end admitted in amazement, how much they experienced that was new to them. With their recommendation we recommend this tour to beginners and the advanced.

March 12-15: Unknown Venice. “My father limited his visits in Venice to two buildings: St. Mark’s Basilica and Harry’s Bar”, writes John Julius Norwich, the great monographist of the city. Modern tourists are not much different from that. However, during this weekend we go further, and we tour Venice from alley to alley, house to house, from the Lido to the still extant Jewish quarter, and learn about the history of its everyday life. This tour is also a forerunner to our path of the Quattrocento, planned for September.

March 16-20: Hidden Rome. During the reprise of the highly successful Rome excursion in March, we tour the Renaissance and Baroque old city in the bend of the Tiber, visit the most important churches, palaces and squares, the two-thousand-year-old Jewish ghetto, the hidden corners untouched by fin-de-siècle urban planning, walk along the medieval pilgrimage routes, and make an excursion to the campagna. In the course of five days I try to offer in concentrated form all that I have learned during the year I spent in Rome and my later visits, and also leave time for the cafés, the trattorias, and sitting on the church steps at siesta time, without which you cannot really get to know Rome.

March 22-29: Holy Week in Sardinia. March 22-29: Holy Week in Sardinia. The Barbagia, the inner part of Sardinia encircled by mountains, is one of the most archaic regions of the Mediterranean, a stunning mountain with villages preserving thousand-year-old traditions, and prehistoric stone constructions. It is always a great experience to visit these valleys, but particularly around Easter, when the characteristic Holy Week festivities of the Mediterranean are celebrated with especially nice and achaic splendor. An unforgettable part of the ceremonies are the polyphonic folk choirs, which you can also hear during the siesta in the taverns.

Our collected travel reports
(further readings to our tours in 2016):

Invitation to Mallorca, 2014
Travel report on Mallorca, 2014
Collected posts on Mallorca

Invitation to Prague, 2015
New Year in prague, 2015
Collected posts on Prague

Invitation to Rome, 2015
Joint report on Roma, 2015 (coming!)
Collected posts on the Mediterranean (coming!)

Invitation to the Lemberg/Lviv Easter, 2015
Invitation to the Lviv klezmer festival, 2012
Travel report on Lemberg, 2012
Travel report from Polish Galicia, 2014
Collected posts on Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv

Invitation to Georgia, 2015
Georgian program, 2015
Georgia minute by minute
Travel report from Georgia, 2015 (jön!)
Collected posts on the Caucasus

Invitation to Iran, 2015
Encounters in Kurdistan
Persia. The first impresion
Travel report from Iran, 2015 (coming!)
Collected posts on Persia

Invitation to Southern Bohemia, 2014
Travel report on Southern Bohemia, 2014
Collected posts on Bohemia
April 28 – May 1: Orthodox Easter in Lemberg/Lviv. Taking part in this is already a tradition for río Wang. In this multi-ethnic and multi-confessional city, the Greek Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian believers celebrate not only in the churches, but all over the city. We take part in the Greek Catholic benediction of the food in the centuries-old wooden churches of the open air museum, at the orthodox midnight Mass in the Renaissance Greek church, and at the Resurrection ceremony in the Armenian church, accompanied by the Armenian choir of the opera house, while we also visit the monuments of this once Polish and Jewish city. On the way we visit the Baroque town of Drohobycz, Bruno Schulz’s birthplace, and on the way back the Jewish cemetery of Bolechów, one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Hasidic cemeteries in Galicia.

May 2-10 and 16-25: Armenia and Karabagh. We complete last year’s Caucasus tours – in Georgia and Azerbaijan – with the third country. We arrive via Wizzair to Kutaisi, from where we enter the Armenian mountains through the valley of Vardzia. We come in the best season, when the mountainous region is dressed in the green splendor of the spring. We primarily visit the wonderful Armenian monasteries, but we will also stay in Yerevan, and go over to the wild Karabagh.

May 9-17: Georgia. A repeat of the Georgian tour in last May, except that we will visit the cableway city of Chiatura and the monastery of Katskhi instead of Kakheti. We arrive via Wizzair at Kutaisi, from where we go up to Svaneti, the highest inhabited settlement of Europe, then to Tbilisi and the Cathedral of Mtskheta, and from there to the Georgian military highway. In Gori we visit the Stalin museum and his last statue, then we go down to the south, the wonderful valley of the Vardzia cave monasteries, where we will also encounter the memory of the Georgian Jews.

May 29 – June 5: Iran, photo tour to Kurdistan. This is the most beautiful month in Iranian Kurdistan, when the mountains are covered with the red carpet of wild tulips and imperial crowns. With our five-person jeep we go up from Tehran throughh Qazwin and Alamut, the former Assassin stronghold, to the Kurdish mountains, to Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan, and the secluded Howraman valley along the Iraqi border. Finally, through Kermanshah and the Bakhtiari mountains we descend to Isfahan.

June 10-19: Jewish and Kurdish Iran. In Hamadan we visit the tombs of Queen Esther and Prophet Habakkuk, the most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in Iran. From here we go up to the mountains of Kurdistan, where we will still see the late spring red carpet of wild flowers. Through the Bakhtiari mountains we descend to Isfahan, where we visit the Jewish quarter with its seventeen working synagogues, not mentioned in any guidebook, and we will also meet the local Jewish community. • P.S. Due to collision of programs, this tour is shifted to the next year.

August 20-25: Klezmer festival in Lemberg and the Jewish shtetls of Galicia. We have already visited the western, Polish part of Galicia, cut in two in 1939, and we have dedicated a long post to our touching experiences. This year, we finally set out to visit the former Jewish settlement of the eastern, Ukrainian Galicia. We will see well-preserved shtetls, still working synagogues, and meet the last Galician Jews. As an assuagement for the memorial tour, we will also take part in the klezmer festival, now organized for the sixth time by the Jewish cultural association of Lviv. Here, in addition to the great Western and Israeli names, we will also listen to traditional klezmorim from the Ukraine, Moldavia and Russia.

August 26-30: The Gothic route of Spíš/Zips. One of the most extraordinary, multi-language region of pre-1918 Hungary, now in northern Slovakia, which was also an integral part of Poland for some decisive centuries, and left to us the most beautiful Gothic monuments of these countries. Its original Zipser German inhabitants were deported in 1945, but the region has still preserved its cultural isolation. During our journey, we will visit the still existing medieval towns from Levoča to Bardejov, as well as the mansions and cemeteries recalling the vanished past.

September 2-8 and 9-15: The path of Quattrocento in Umbria and Toscana. This tour follows the path described in Antal Szerb’s cult novel Traveler and Moonlight. We start from Urbino, the Renaissance town where the first studiolum was built, and follow the thread of the centers of early Renaissance art through Umbria and Toscana: Gubbio, Assisi and Arezzo, as far as to Florence. We will also encounter the surviving pre-Christian traditions, the many-thousand-year-old pre-Roman towns built on the hilltops, and the wonderful view of the Apennine mountains. We will cover some exceptionally beautiful trails on foot, just like the medieval and early modern pilgrims and lovers of art.

September 30 – October 7: Irán, photo tour in Gilan. A one-week photo tour in a five-person jeep in one of the most beautiful provinces of Iran, the evergreen mountainous region of Gilan and Northern Azerbaijan, to the south of the Caspian Sea. We drive through breathtaking mountain passes and canyons on the land of the Shahsavan nomads, and we sleep in the beautiful green plateaus of the “Iranian Switzerland”, in the tents of the Talysh nomads. Finally we descend to the Caspian Sea at the village of Masuleh.

October 8-15: The historical cities of Iran. One year after this year’s last tour, we again arrive in Iran at the feast of Ashura, the most important Shiite religious festival. Just like this year, we will participate in it in Kashan and Nushabad, together with our local friends. We will visit the town of Abyaneh, then travel along the route of the most important historical cities of Yazd, Isfahan, Pasargade, Persepolis and Shiraz. From Shiraz we return via domestic flight to Tehran.

October 16-23: Iran, the ancient settlements of the desert. The Iranian desert, as we have written, is not dead at all, but a particularly beautiful part of the country. Thanks to the underground water channels, it is permeated with a network of thousand-year-old settlements, caravanserais and trade routes, which played an important role in Iran’s history. We will follow this network in the triangle of the historical cities along the desert, Kashan, Yazd and Isfahan, visiting thousand-year-old Jewish and Zoroastrian settlements, entering impressive clay fortifications, sleeping in lonely caravanserais in the middle of the desert, under an usurpassably starry sky. This tour will be an important contribution to the understanding of how the Iranians see their own country.

November 2-6: The Renaissance towns of Southern Bohemia. In our last tour of this year, at the time of the most beautiful fall colors, we will visit a region of impressive natural beauty, which is the richest in historical monuments, and nevertheless perhaps the least known in Eastern Europe. From Brno to Český Krumlov, we will see Renaissance crocodiles, small towns and Jewish cemeteries, medieval breweries and knight’s castles, monasteries and pilgrimage churches, and we will discover the traces of the displaced German population. We will finish our last tour in Český Krumlov, above the Vltava river, with the music of the Vltava.

Bendřich Smetana: Vltava (My Country, 2nd movement). Karajan & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


Hossein Alizadeh: Aftab. Bayat-e Kord. From the album Sallâneh

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János Fadrusz: King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443-1490). The modell of the statue erected in the main square of Kolozsvár/Cluj (1900) in the Hungarian National Gallery. In the background: Bertalan Székely: Finding the corpse of King Louis II after the Battle of Mohács (1526), the decisive victory of the Ottoman army over the medieval Hungarian kingdom (1860)

Saint Martin’s Day

Heading toward the abbey of Pannonhalma on the Eve of Saint Martin, the vineyards shine with warm colors in the light of the setting sun. The vinestocks are already barren, the red carpet of their leaves is spread on the earth before the arrival of Martin, whose new wine will be opened in the abbey this evening after the Vespers, at the reception given on his name day.

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The smoke of burnt leaf-litter hovers above the fields, an acrid smell permeates the air. The road leads through small villages, where the inns invite everyone for the Saint Martin’s Day roast goose. The new wine and the goose of St. Martin are the indispensable accompaniments of the traditional post-harvest thanksgiving, and the last occasion for feasting before the soon-to-begin fast of Advent. In Central Europe it is this medieval tradition that most people associate with the figure of Saint Martin. And, of course, the cloak.

At five o’clock the inauguration of Saint Martin’s footprint starts at the beautiful modern visitors’ center of the abbey. The bronze relief depicting a pilgrim’s footprint is the emblem of Via Sancti Martini, the network of pilgrim routes encompassing all Europe, and linking together the settlements that preserve Saint Martin’s tradition, bear his name, or dedicate their churches to him. The Abbey of Saint Martin in Pannonhalma, one of the most important centers of his cult in Hungary, has also joined this network. The inauguration is introduced by Konrád Dejcsics, the organizer of Saint Martin’s Year in Pannonhalma Abbey. Two short speeches are given by Asztik Várszegi, Abbot of Pannonhalma, and Róbert Orbán, chairman of the Hungarian committee overseeing the pilgrimage route. Both of them emphasize that Saint Martin was also a pilgrim, not only because during his life he reached from fourth-century Savaria, today’s Szombathely, through Italy and Germania, to the Gallic Tours, but also because his episcopal work, missionary and church organizing activity was one ceaseless wandering, and at the same time, the realization of the ideal of a man’s continuous pilgrimage toward God. And after his death, they built the largest church of Europe over his tomb in Tours and, after Rome, the second most important place of pilgrimage in the continent.

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The evening ends with Vespers in the church of the thousand-year-old abbey. This evening, the daily liturgy, presented with the participation of all the monks of the monastery, is enriched with a hymn of Saint Martin, in use only in the abbey of Pannonhalma, and preserved in the centuries-old manuscripts of the local library. The response of the first antiphon, I was naked and you clothed me, refers to Martin, the protector of those without defense, sharing his cloak with the beggar: this feature of him has been especially emphasized in Pannonhalma. At the end of the liturgy, the abbot, as every year on this evening, solemnly places on the main altar the relics of St. Martin, kept during the year in the monastery crypt.

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The festive Mass on the next day at 11 a.m. is celebrated by Cardinal Péter Erdő, Primate of Hungary. He speaks about St. Martin as an example for all bishops, who, in addition to his vast church organizing efforts, was willingly and humbly at the disposal of everyone in need, regardless of origin, social status, and even religion. After the Mass, the President of Hungary opens the International St. Martin’s Year, dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the birth of the saint. In his speech he underscores the importance of the Pannonian saint as a patron of Hungary.

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Saint Martin, a figure of folklore, a pilgrim and a bishop, a symbol of sharing and community, a patron of countries and monasteries of princely foundation, who in his time strongly opposed princes. How many faces does this saint have, the first European personality, how many local meanings and how many different shades of veneration along the Via Sancti Martini, once traveled through also by him, and beyond that, throughout the continent?

This is what we start to explore now, visiting the most important European centers of the cult of Saint Martin, collecting materials for the book In the Footsteps of Saint Martin to be published for the anniversary by the prestigious Európa Publisher of Budapest, taking photos, making interviews, researching in libraries. In the following weeks we will report on the stations of our journey here in the blog. Join us.