Thursday, 18 December 2014

Romantic Road: Vienna and Budapest 40 Years Ago

Vienna Austria
Vienna is a glorious city, a city that reverberates with the music of Mozart and of Johann Strauss. Its palaces and galleries are a delight and its food is delectable. It is the home of Sacher Torte, that wonder confection of thin layers of cake filled with and covered by the richest chocolate imaginable. And hot chocolate in Vienna, drunk on a cold day in December, is so thick one can almost eat rather than drink it — covered, of course, with schlag, thick whipped cream. Vienna is certainly not for dieters. None of this has changed in the last forty years.

Vienna Statsoper
Vienna's Statsoper
However, my heroine in Romantic Road, Lacy Telchev, is in the Vienna of today and she isn’t there for the food or the culture. She’s running for her life when she takes refuge in a small B&B near the legendary Statsoper, the gilded, wedding-cake like opera house. She has to reach a famous diva there, who has an important message for her. In Vienna, the man Lacy is running from finds her. She must escape him somehow, but how?

Romantic RoadI had great fun with the sections of Romantic Road that were set in Vienna and Budapest, cities I’ve known for many years. When I was a music student in Budapest, I used to drive the five hour trip to Vienna once a month, just for the feeling of freedom and affluence that city exuded. It was in the early 1970’s, and Budapest, beautiful as it is now, was a grim place then. Stony faced Russian soldiers patrolled in twos, and there were still gunshot holes in many buildings from the ill-fated 1956 revolution.  Among a number of people with whom I spoke, there was deep resentment over both the original decision made in Malta by “those three old men” (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) to “throw Hungary to the Russian wolves”, and also over America’s inaction when the Hungarians tried to overthrow their Russian occupiers of their country in 1956. They felt betrayed. 

But Hungarians are survivors. One of them told me “We survived the Turks, and we’ll survive the Russians.” There was much black humor quietly circulating in those days. One of my favorites was:

“The man rubbed a lamp and a Genie appeared, offering him three wishes.
 The man said, “I’d like the Chinese to invade Sweden.”
The genie said, “Done . Now for your second wish?”
I’d like the Chinese to invade Sweden again.”
The genie said, “Done again. And your third wish?”
I’d like the Chinese to invade Sweden once more.”
Done. But why on earth have you wasted your three wishes in this way?”
For the Chinese to invade Sweden three times, they have to fight their way across Russia six times.”

In the Budapest of my student days, home heating was a luxury, and food, though plentiful enough, was basic. There had been a long period of near famine after the war. I was told that even thirty years later, the more luxurious items, the fruit and vegetables raised in the south, were largely unavailable to Hungarians. They were all shipped to Russia. The two vegetables on a plate, in even the best restaurants, were an ice-cream scoop of (usually cold) mashed potatoes and an ice cream scoop of congealed rice. 

On my monthly trips to Vienna, I brought back such varied items as oranges, car batteries, and a furnace pump for friends.

People were afraid to voice opinions, and gatherings of large numbers of people, even for social purposes, were considered suspicious.  At a Thanksgiving party I gave for teachers and friends, the police came to see why there were so many people gathered under one roof.  At an embassy party, when I started to say something injudicious, an aide cautioned me, “Don’t say anything you don’t want the Russians or the police to hear.” Listening devices were common, even in public places such as coffee houses and restaurants. 

Budapest was a grim place in those days, while Vienna was full of light and joy. In spite of this, the Hungary of that day was the scene of one of the richest musical cultures in the world. Musicians trained there filled the first chairs of orchestras all over Europe and North America. Great composers and conductors flourished in Hungary. Even Hollywood had its share of great Hungarian musicians, producers, directors and actors. Perhaps hardships were in some way responsible for the incredible flowering of the arts during this long period of Russian occupation. The arts were an unfettered outlet and the education system from which they sprang was unparalleled. 

Budapest Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge
But the story of Romantic Road is set in today’s world, and Budapest has returned to its former splendor, to the city often referred to as “the Paris of the East.” There are few sights as beautiful as that of the Chain Bridge dressed in its costume of lights, reflected in the swift flowing Danube in a free Hungary.

Following are my own published novels. For further details about these books, as well as my reviews of books I have read, go to my Goodreads page.
To purchase one of my books, just click on the book cover below and select the vendor of your choice.

COMING SOON!  Romantic Road, a romantic thriller set in Europe. 
RELEASE DATE:  Jan. 28, 2015.

Romantic Road ~ Takes you on a chase across Europe with our heroine who finds herself in a series of precarious situations.  She encounters a handsome stranger, but is he helping her, or is he dangerous?  This story has hair raising suspense, romance and a sprinkling of humour


The Memory of Roses, Blair McDowell
 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality

Delighting In Your Company, Blair McDowell
 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews

Sonata, Blair McDowell
 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find that a robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame.  She also has a new stepmother with a charming brother who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


Abigail's Christmas, Blair McDowell
 • Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
"Abigail’s Christmas is a sweet and special story that honors both love and the holidays."  -- Sizzling Hot Books  

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Blair McDowell