A native Oklahoman and award-winning newspaper reporter, Pat Browning set her first mystery, ABSINTHE OF MALICE (original title: FULL CIRCLE) in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, where she has lived for many years. After an 8-year sojourn in
Oklahoma, she’s back in
the Valley and is still working on her second mystery, METAPHOR FOR MURDER.
Kaye, thank you for another chance to ramble down memory lane. Since I never know when to shut up and sit down, I will do it in three parts – my visits to the three jewels of the
River – Vienna,
Budapest and Belgrade. I’m also including a brief look at
mysteries set in those locales.
"I've Danced With A Man, Who's Danced With A Girl, Who's Danced With The Prince Of Wales."
Well ... not exactly. I’ve talked to a woman who met Tom Brokaw in an elevator but it seemed like a big deal at the time.
The line from a 1927 song keeps coming back when I read gossipy news about Prince George of Cambridge, grandchild of the late Princess Diana and third in line to be King of England. The king-in-waiting, Charles, Prince of Wales, is now old enough to draw his pension even though he has never been a king. A TV documentary a few years ago revealed that Charles told Diana he didn’t intend to be the first Prince of Wales who didn’t have a mistress. It would be hilarious if it weren’t somehow so sad.
But back to Tom Brokaw and
Tom Brokaw and I were both staying in the Vienna Hilton, but the closest I got to him was the lady who met him in the elevator. I was a tourist. He was covering the Salt II talks between U.S. President Carter and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev. I skulked around the hotel lobby for a little while, hoping for a glimpse of the famous newsman. No luck. Went up to the mezzanine where the press handouts were. Nobody there.
And so I left
What can I say about
that hasn’t been said over and over again? It’s a beautiful, historic city. It
also has its dark side. A classic movie, “The Third Man,” about black marketers,
is set in occupied Vienna
at the close of World War II. It was a
spooky movie and the zither music is haunting. The original soundtrack, with
Anton Karas playing the zither, can be heard on You Tube at
Historical note: After Germany’s surrender in
World War II, Russia,
the United States, England and France
into four military zones, keeping a tight grip from 1945 to 1955. Graham
Greene’s depiction of Vienna’s
black market had its basis in fact, and the book was a “treatment” for the
film. The New York Times of March 19, 1950 quotes Graham Greene as saying: “The
Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen.”
itself is mainly meant to be seen. A colorful example is the burial of the late
Otto con Habsburg, who died in 2011. Quoting the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, "His death brings to a close 640 years
of European history."
Von Habsburg's body was buried in
but his heart was buried in Budapest,
and both cities pulled out all the stops. There are scads of photos and they are
stunning. Do yourself a favor and go to the Daily
Mail article at
And you thought the Brits had a lock on pomp and ceremony, right?
It’s about 150 miles from
In one small town our tour bus passed through there were still loudspeakers on telephone phones, only now
The stork is a good luck symbol in
bringing babies and preventing house fires. Year after year, storks fly in from
Africa to spend the summer. Through Hungary’s
darkest years the storks returned to nest on telephone poles. In this rapidly
changing world, that’s nice to know.
For a fact-based fictional look at
Budapest past and present read William S.
Shepard’s MURDER ON THE DANUBE. Surviving Freedom Fighters of the 1956
revolution became politicians, bankers and bureaucrats, still uneasy about
their pasts. The author alternates past and present, picking up stories of
known survivors as they prepare to meet again at a Parliament reception. The
novel’s protagonist is "Robbie" Cutler, Political Officer for the
The pace quickens when a Freedom Fighter who emigrated to
New Jersey arrives in Budapest to see about building a memorial to
the 1956 Revolution. He wants a statuary group of Freedom Fighters similar to
the Korean Memorial in Before he can meet with
Robbie to discuss his plans, he is murdered. Washington
The American ambassador asks Robbie to look into the murder. The investigation takes on aspects of a traditional police procedural—ferreting out friends and relatives who might know something about the victim's movements and his murder. Everyone remembers the Revolution and Robbie surmises that "nostalgia would be a leading Hungarian product."
The diplomatic world as painted here is a small, gossipy one, almost a closed society, with most of the action taking place at social functions or in cafes, over coffee. The ending would fit an Agatha Christie "Poirot" novel, with interested parties gathered in the private dining room of a secluded restaurant for a review of the investigation and unmasking of the murderer.
Author William S. Shepard is a former career diplomat who served as Consul and Political Officer at the American Embassy in
Budapest. He was made an
Honorary Hungarian Freedom Fighter at the 25th anniversary of the 1956
If you like black humor and are in an experimental mood, you might try UNDER THE FROG by Tibor Fischer, published in the
UK by Polygon in 1992 and in the U.S.
by Picador in 2001. It’s available in paperback at Amazon. The title is from a
Hungarian expression meaning the worst possible place to be is "under a
frog's arse at the bottom of a coal mine.”
The story follows a Hungarian basketball team on the payroll of the Hungarian railroad. They travel naked around the country, thinking mostly about sex and escaping from Communist Hungary. The story ends with the 1956 revolution.
The author is a British-born Hungarian who spoke at the 2012 Hay Festival in
An article in The Telegraph newspaper
quotes him as saying, “My father really was a basketball player and really did
travel round the country in a railway carriage with his fellow players, naked
for some of the time...” The article and a good photo of Fischer are at
Photos: Stork photo © 1979-2014 Patricia Cokely Browning; Budapest photo from Hilton Budapest Hotel web site; 1956 Uprising photo from NATO web site.
of the South Slavs—I never got to Ireland. I never got to Egypt. I never
got to Australia.
I just kept going back to Yugoslavia,
surely one of the most beautiful and historic places on Planet Earth.
I traveled through
Yugoslavia both during Tito's time
and after he died. It was rugged terrain, 70 percent mountains and a prime
region for hunting and fishing. Consider this: there were 40 miles of paved
road in the entire country when WWII broke out.
The Nazis came in blowing up bridges and villages; their fighter planes strafed people in the streets of
Belgrade and there were concentration camps
outside of town. With no roads to speak of, Nazi tanks weren't much use. The
people just went up into the hills and lived with the Partisans, or guerrillas,
and the Nazis couldn't get to them there unless they wanted to go on foot.
In the 1970s, after Tito broke with
decided to open the country to tourists, the Yugoslavs started building roads
and hotels and doing everything they could to encourage Westerners to come. The
Yugoslavs were going great guns with their expansion when I was there the last
time, in November, 1982. Something I will never forget: I was in a tour bus
rolling through a rural area on a brand new road—built in such a hurry that it
sliced a little steepled church in half. The half that was left still stood
beside the road.
In 1999, during
war in Kosovo, NATO forces bombed Belgrade.
Three downed U.S. Army soldiers were captured and held for a month. The Rev.
Jesse Jackson led a religious delegation to Belgrade and the soldiers were turned over to
him. When TV news announced that Jackson's party
would take the three Americans by bus from Belgrade
to Zagreb, I
thought, yeah, I was there when they were building that highway.
It’s 196 miles from
to Belgrade, where the Danube meets the Sava River
on its way to the Black Sea.
although I never heard anyone else say a good word for it. One of my favorite
memories is of a winter night in Skadarlija, Belgrade’s lamplit Bohemian quarter. Packed
cafés, everyone eating, singing, slugging down plum brandy. When the clock
struck nine, rolling blackouts kicked in and waiters brought candles. Nobody
missed a note or a drop. The blackouts were scheduled power shutdowns, section
by section throughout the city, due to an energy crisis.
According to Wikipedia, Skadarlija was a gypsy settlement before it became the main bohemian quarter of
The guest list is impressive, everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to George H.W.
The Times of
reported that Europe's best nightlife can be found in Belgrade. In the Lonely Planet’s "1000
Ultimate Experiences" guide of 2009, Belgrade
was placed at the first spot among the top 10 party cities in the world.
Further south, on the
Coast, is the city of Split,
a famous seaport in what is now the . It’s early evening.
Our tour group checks into a hotel overlooking the seaside promenade and I
decide to stroll into town. I’m part of an exotic mix that includes sailors who
might have stepped right out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Along the
way I pass a building with a huge painting of Tito on the street-side façade.
In the back, on a pavilion over the water, young Slavs are dancing to “Boogie
Shoes.” I still laugh when I think about it. Republic
A Google search turned up some crime fiction titles but I can’t honestly recommend any of them. They’re too grim for my taste, especially those set in
What I can recommend is a You Tube video of a Belgrade dance troupe doing a traditional
dance. Be advised, it’s loud. They really whoop it up, and the costumes are
gorgeous. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/ojhqf25
You might also rent or buy the DVD of “The Yellow Rolls Royce,” a 1984 movie that follows the ownership of a 1930s yellow Rolls Royce Phantom ll during the years up to and including the start of World War ll. Its third owner is a wealthy American socialite played by Ingrid Bergman.
Time and place: 1941,
on the Yugoslavia
border. Enter Omar Sharif, a partisan hero with a price on his head. Over
Bergman’s objections, he smuggles himself into Yugoslavia in the trunk of the
yellow Rolls Royce. Bergman’s elegant, imperious manner at the border
checkpoint is a delight. The scenery is breathtaking. How close the movie comes
to reality I can’t say, but some of it was filmed on location and it’s great
*Photo of Skadarlija from Wikipedia.
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