Sunday, 6 June 2010

On beautiful cities

I’ve just finished reading Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul”, in which the author talks about Istanbul’s ambivalent struggle to ‘westernise’ during the 20th Century.

At one point he talks about the ‘picturesque’ qualities the city had in his childhood time, and referring to John Ruskin says, “… picturesque beauty rises out of the details that emerge only after the buildings have been standing for hundreds of years, from the ivy, the herbs and grassy meadows that surrounded it…”.

I’ve been coming to think that that also describes Budapest. It’s not had the massive plastic surgery that some cities have to make them look ‘like new’. As with cosmetic plastic surgery on people, where all the nips, tucks and lifts cannot hide certain features of the ageing process, and the ensuing disconnect between aged and tightened features just draws attention to the artificiality of what has been done, restoration of a city carries the risk of creating a sterile or artificial environment.

Not so in Budapest, a city that still shows its age, in the occasional buildings whose plasterwork is crumbling to the extent that wooden tunnels are needed on the pavement to protect pedestrians, and the facades marked by bulletholes, reminders of the 1944 siege and the 1956 uprising.

Of course some renovation is needed to stop total decay, but I for one find the mix of old and new, crumbling and precise, help to make Budapest a wonderfully beautiful city in which to live, work and play.

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