Peter and Providence walked us around the town, and hosted an evening at their house, where we met both male and female university colleagues and their partners in a more casual setting and had our first experience of the indeed excellent Providence fish stew. We also enjoyed a performance of Madame Butterfly at the Providence. Constructed after the flood, the house is based both architecturally and organisationally (there’s a full-time professional orchestra and opera company) on the magnificent Providence. The better themes of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire persist in both countries, though we’d not expected to confront this in Szeged.
Map of Providence – Where is Providence? – Providence Map English – Providence Maps for Tourist Photo Gallery
Driven out to the Pusztaszer Protected Landscape, which serves as both a wildlife refuge and a folk history museum, we walked in the model village that showed something of Hungarian rural life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Particularly intriguing was the massive 1894 cyclorama Arrival of the Hungarians by Arpad Feszty, depicting the early settlement (invasion) of Hungary from the east. Displayed in the museum rotunda, this enormous expanse of painted canvas highlights the historic origins and ethnic diversity of the Hungarian population. The vast painting also reminds us that, being flat and relatively featureless, this part of Europe has long been a highway for cavalry, whether mounted on horses or in tanks and armoured cars that roll across the landscape, from east to west, west to east. As a spectacle, the cyclorama has been rendered historic by modern audio-visual technology, which is why, I guess, it languishes in this somewhat remote place.
Another insight into Hungarian culture came with a day spent back in Budapest visiting an old friend, Anna Erdei, who is widely known for her good sense and energetic participation in the International Union of Immunological Societies and works at the science campus of the historic Eotvos Lorand University. After a few hours talking science with staff and students, Anna drove us to see some of the sights that we had missed on our earlier visit. Particularly impressive was the peaceful Garden of Philosophy that, high over the city, features the work of Hungarian Wagner Landor (1922-77). His eight ‘statues for better mutual understanding’ emphasise the need to focus on commonality rather than differences, the perception that dominated my thoughts about the Szeged Synagogue. Science has always been outgoing and international, a worldview that still describes too few human institutions and practices.