Finding yourself

My summer vacation

Dave and I just returned from Europe and my head is still in the clouds, so this week, I hope you don’t mind that I’ll just share with you some thoughts from our trip.

The Jewish cemetary in Budapest

Our vacation was prompted by a reunion of Dave’s father’s family, a Hungarian Jewish family whose lives were torn apart by the Holocaust. The reunion was held in their native Budapest, a place of great majesty and one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

About 70 people traveled in from around the world. As this was the first time the family had been together since World War II, it was a very special opportunity to meet the elderly survivors and hear their stories. Given the circumstances, we left our baby girls at home.

No matter how much one has read about the atrocities of wartime, it’s still heart-wrenching to hear the stories as experienced by one’s own family. The Hungarian Holocaust was especially brutal, resulting in the killing of even more Jews than were killed in Germany. Members of Dave’s family who survived were seared forever with memories that no human being should have.

One of the highlights of our week in Budapest was a visit to the turn-of-the-century gravesite where Dave’s great-grandfather rests. As Jews were not allowed to be buried in the main cemetery, their area is set off in a corner. After driving past the manicured expanse of the main cemetery, it was shocking to see the cramped Jewish area, wildly overgrown for lack of care since most of the descendants of those buried there had been exterminated by the Nazis.

This trip made me think a lot about family. Dave and I had never spent more than two days away from our babies, so we missed them a lot, but their absence allowed us more time with the upper generations. I was struck by how we who grew up in times of peace (I was born in 1969) will never truly be able to comprehend the turbulence that our parents have endured. The horrors of World War II across Europe and Asia. Famine. The Cultural Revolution. We are each a product of our times, and we can get so used to complaining about how our parents will never understand us that it’s easy to forget how we may never truly understand them either. We have limited opportunities to understand our parents’ experiences, so it’s important to grab hold of those opportunities while we can.

Our time in Budapest also featured many light-hearted moments. One night we danced until morning at a beautiful disco with the family’s younger generations. Dave’s 20-something nieces danced on the stage and called out for me to join them until finally I did. Afterward, they gushed to everyone about how cool I am for keeping up with them. People who witnessed me up there probably thought me more “fool” than “cool,” wondering who is this crazy 42-year-old lady dancing her tail off in front of everyone at 2:00am!

More than any U.S. city, Budapest is an urban planner’s dream. Planners love pedestrians and bicyclists and hate cars, so I was delighted by the city’s wide sidewalks, plentiful public transit, and abundant bicycle paths set apart from the streets. The landscaping is sensational, with gardens and flower patches exploding in color on even the busiest of street corners. The city also is dotted with surprising bursts of high-design street furniture, avant-garde architecture and daring public art. One balmy night we stood with hundreds in a public square, watching as the façade of one of Budapest’s great historic buildings was brought to life by the light shows of Hungary’s wildly imaginative young digital artists. Click on this video to see an example.

After Budapest, we lingered another few days in Istanbul, another fantastic city and the world’s only city straddling two continents. Linking Europe and Asia, Istanbul pulses with a heady swirl of Muslim and western, old and new.

Dave and I returned home having brimming with stories, old and new, and having met and communed with family members from throughout the world. If you’d like to see some more photos from our trip, click here.

I hope that you are enjoying a memorable summer as well. Stay cool, everyone!

I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.