The allure of cities: Budapest has met its rival in Edinburgh

If you ask me what my favourite city is, I will respond without hesitation: Budapest. That is, until now. Now, Budapest has met its rival: Edinburgh.

Having only spent a day and a half in Scotland’s capital, it might be a little premature to dislodge my all time favourite from its pivotal perch. And it is. Budapest is still number one and probably always will be.

It’s home to my first memories, the site of my first pre-school, where I went to my first disco, and later where I would meet my boyfriend, David. It’s the city where I was compelled to study abroad, to move to after graduation, and which now leaves me with a steady heartache when I think of it. I have to live there again. I have to.

Budapest has me at that guttural level. When I lived there three years ago, I would stop mid-step on the pavement to look around and soak up my surroundings. I loved this place. I loved just being there, just standing on the sidewalk.

When I return, I am filled to bursting. This is my city, my city. I remember my Hungarian step-brother saying these words after returning from a hiatus in the countryside. I had said them too. So have many others.

Budapest is a gorgeous city in a funny country in the heart of Europe. Hungarian is only related distantly to Finnish and otherwise Hungary is an island in a sea of Slavs. Hungarians are conscious of their unique, impenetrable language and take pride in their ethnic identity. At the same time, Hungary is unsure whether to identify with Western or Eastern Europe, this struggle dating far back in its history. If you come from the likes of London, Munich, or Vienna, however, you arrive to Budapest and know you are no longer in the West.

There is something dirty, grimy, and delicious about Budapest. Unlike Vienna, it is not trying to be home to the giants of imperialism. Budapest doesn’t put up a façade, doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It is beautiful and dirty. Stunning 19th century buildings are crumbling, WWII bullet holes bearing witness to a horrific past. Tower blocks at the outskirts of the city rise up in an overpowering reminder of Communism, and the tortured battle over the Metro 5 reminds us that corruption is still rampant in Hungary. The Prime Minister’s courting of the anti-semitic far right signals that all is not right in Europe.

And so Budapest is a transient city. Foreigners come and go, while young Hungarians are leaving the country in droves. But the streets, cafes, bars, and nightclubs team with life, and there is a wonderful vibrancy that you can find in few other places. This city allows you to let go, climb the Buda hills, survey the city below, and walk on islands. All the while reminding you that life happens; it is not curated for you. It is romantic and scary but all the time honest.

Compared to Budapest, Edinburgh is a curated city. It is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is maintained and well-presented but not necessarily because the government is trying to invite tourism or because Scotland’s capital must look and feel a certain way. The city, itself, demands that it be preserved. And not in a Colonial-Williamsburg-sort-of-way or in an only-rich-people-can-afford-to-live-here-way but in a genuinely romantic sense. Edinburgh is a home to Western romanticism and it cannot be otherwise. Therefore it must be a real place for real people but it must also be Romantic.

While Budapest has the pulsating Danube running through its heart and a castle atop its banks, Edinburgh’s heart is shot through with a giant rock emerging from the earth atop which sits its castle. The land around it slopes and rises so that the city’s streets undulate, providing views and angles that nourish the senses. The city is life-size with its old, picturesque buildings that never loom over you. There is the odd, new building with flat character-less walls but it sits proportionately in its surroundings, relative to those structures around it. And predominantly, the old cobble stone streets and medieval architecture of the Old Town and Georgian design of the New Town remain wonderfully in tact.

Edinburgh was home to the Scottish Enlightenment, that miraculous period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the likes of David Hume, Adam Smith, and James Hutton, among many others, helped to revolutionise Western thought, heralding in a new age. The city is also known for its literary figures, including Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louise Stevenson.

Stevenson gifted the world with spellbinding compositions that have seized the imagination, locking them in a grip known only to the most enduring folktales, fairytales, and myths. From this genius we have Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the A Child’s Garden of Verses. He was also a man in love with his birth city and although he spent his remaining years in Samoa, he wrote near the end of his life, “I will say it fairly, it grows on me every year: there are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps.”

Stevenson played a part in constructing the India buildings found on Victoria Street, one of the most unique and appealing streets in Old Town. In the romantic spirit of the day, it was his wish to contribute to the city’s character as a place of adventure, chivalry, and idealism. Edinburgh is indeed all that is Romantic; with a personality and will of its own, it dictates itself.

But what of other cities, you ask? New York City has me at a guttural level as well. Emerging from the subway, you grab hold of the wall or your companion’s shoulder to steady yourself as you gaze up at the skyscrapers above. Although your feet are planted firmly on the ground as you look up, you feel as though you are gazing down from a steep height, the same giddiness forcing you to steady yourself. As you acclimate your senses to the pace and bustle of New York, you transform and mould into it. New York City seizes you in its own way.

Then there are so many other cities: Barcelona with its boulevards, wide streets, and Gaudi architecture or Luxembourg with its valley of fairies in its centre. But Stevenson died pining for Edinburgh, where he passed his formative years, and I suspect Budapest will always hold my heart in the final analysis. But it is worth spending time and living in some of these most arresting cities, because they will take you up, show you new ways of seeing, and leave you forever changed.

By Andrea Sandor

Andrea Sandor is a Hungarian-American who grew up between continents and has now moved permanently to the UK. She holds an MA in anthropology and writes about her cross-cultural adventures and observations.

The Catlin Guide to New Artists in the UK – see the contemporaryist of today’s contemporary art

The elegant cloth-bound 2015 edition of the Catlin Guide to New Artists in the UK is now available. If you have been round all the degree shows at all the UK’s art schools you won’t need it, but if you haven’t this book is a useful guide to all that is most contemporary in the UK art world.

Now in its sixth year the Catlin Guide is compiled by Justin Hammond, who somehow reduces the thousands of new artists he sees each year to only forty. No doubt many deserving artists are left out, and it can only be a brief overview of current practice, nevertheless it is a way to learn about the very latest artists that Hammond regards as having potential.

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Fanny Wickström, ‘Frances’ 2014, Chicken wire, papier mache, clay, acrylic, fabric and fake hair

Artists from London art schools predominate, but there are artists from around the country, including Wolverhampton and the University of Bedfordshire. Graduates from both BA and MA courses have been chosen, and an image or two of each artist’s work is shown along with a short interview which gives an insight into their work, personality and quirks. Patrick Cole regards himself as a modern-day bard, Mette Sterre is inspired by the Fibonacci numbers in nature whilst Nicholas William Johnson likes the dissonance his work creates around current discourses in art.

Artists that stand out include Lauren Cohen, from the RCA, who is experimenting with stop motion animation and painting. Lou Macnamara, who studied at  Central St Martins has investigated photojournalism in the age of the smartphone and social media in her piece #Watchingthewar. Mandy Niewohner of Goldsmiths has been working on a project called Man for a Day which challengers gender perceptions.

The variety of work being produced in the UK is very hard to summarise in one book of 124 pages. With just forty artists chosen, the Catlin guide doesn’t aim to be a complete survey of new artists, but is a welcome peek at some of the work being produced by recent graduates in the UK today.

Selected artists from the book will compete for the Catlin Art Prize which be exhibited at Londonewcastle Project Space, London 7th – 30th May 2015.

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Debut album You Can Have All The Wonders by From Kid @wearefromkid

Nice of From Kid to offer such a prize for listening! And indeed Professor Brian Cox may want a listen – should anyone crave musical accompaniment for stargazing in line with the good Professor’s exploration of the startlingly brilliant cosmos of which the Earth is such a small part, you could do worse even if you don’t happen to have a direct line to Greenwich or Jodrell Bank. Pick just the right evening, head outside & look to the twinkling spots of light in the sky- not forgetting From Kid through your headphones of course.

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“…the contrast between an urban world and a rich nature” is the theme here, & ”shimmering” guitars should set the tone as well as making for a rather pleasing mental image. Even if it’s not quite what Pythagoras meant in outlining his idea of musica universalis, it’ll do nicely. For is there not something of the night about the whole enterprise? It might not surprise you to learn that Mother Nature has a hand here too, the old girl acting as a muse…

”The ideas for their songs often occur to them when they’re travelling, with the duo’s reactions to their surroundings, the natural world they explore and the people they meet clearly permeating their music. ”. Which might be shorthand for ”expect to hear this in a David Attenborough documentary in the near future”. But to dismiss the likes of Come In as mere background is to miss the point, even if that vocation might serve well. An as live sound permeates, and if Itself isn’t being sung along to by festival crowds one summer in the near future several hats will require eating. That is if they can get over the sensation that Of Kid are performing to everyone – there’s a sense of intimacy which suggests they could be sitting right next to you.

Wonders indeed. And when they promise you the universe, you’d be forgiven for being a little disappointed that it’s not yours to play with already. Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? If not, this is the ideal moment for such pondering. ”If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?” Maybe those very birds are those which ”sing your song” according to Water Flows. Fight fire with stones indeed. Its a big world/universe, so explore to your heart’s content. Free your mind & your spirit will follow…

You can have all the wonders is available 2nd Feb

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by Christopher Morley, a citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot.

Download The Flaneur London Review Podcast – Theatre from the Barbican and Southwark Playhouse and the London Art Fair

Episode 11 of the The London Review Podcast from The Flaneur is available to download for free. Click here to add the podcast to your iTunes account, or here to get the feed for other podcast readers.

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Click above to subscribe for free via iTunes

A breezy eight minutes long, this week’s show includes reviews of:

Upper Cut at the Southwark Playhouse

Light at the Barbican Pit

The London Art Fair in Islington.

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