Flinn Scholars

On the Road (day seventeen)

June 11, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.

On the mountaintop

Clark Alves (’07):

As we waited to board the ski lift, we could see the granite mountain in the distance, peppered with evergreens and enshrouded in a thick cloud at the uppermost point of the peak. Just as beautiful, a lush carpet of green grass extended to the base of the mountain and the beginning of the tree line. The echo of the mountain stream was incessant. Near the top of the lift, dull white conglomerates of ice began to appear below. Exiting the ski lift, the air was fresh and brisk. Natural rock monuments in the shapes of a rudimentary Egyptian sphinx and three mushrooms missing the rounded portions of their heads stood at the base of the summit. Starting the hike, we trekked across tundra-like grass and vegetation, sparsely salted with pink and purple flowers. The ground itself did not appear to be frozen.

Near the apex of the hike, a cloud with a texture nearing that of cotton-candy and in the shape of “a poodle in profile” (Amy Stabler) appeared against the blue sky. At 2,300 meters, we stopped to view a steep cliff on the opposite side of a sharp, deep valley. Alternating patches of gray rock and algaeic green dominated the facade of the cliff, which was riddled with branching veins of bright, compacted snow. At the climax of the journey, we looked down at the rolling hills of emerald trees, which, after our constant accession, seemed to be receding into the distance as if the mountain was moving backwards and away from the valley. Mist began to float through the air and completely obscure the scene below. Thirty meters down, a large boulder was perched on a flat, stable precipice and some of us climbed down to sit on top of it. Mark Jeng’s summation captured the essence of the scene most perfectly: “Life is beautiful.”

Back at the bottom of the mountain, thunder rolled softly in the distance–perfect timing. Back on the bus, we had seasoned salami and cheese sandwiches with bananas, apples, pretzels, and Fourre biscuits, which consisted of soft chocolate sandwiched between two medium thick and chewy crackers. We were all very hungry.

We arrived in Brasov in the afternoon. For many centuries, Brasov was the eastern-most bastion of Catholicism and was strongly influenced by Turkish society and culture. The Germans residents of Brasov purchased Persian rugs as a form of investment and decoration for the city’s most famous building — the Black church, so named because it was burned at one time and retained a gray, charcoaled appearance. The Lutheran Renaissance humanist Honterus (1498-1549) turned Brasov into a Lutheran settlement. His statue stands outside the Black church. The church itself stands approximately 40 meters tall and contains a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic architecture.

The inside of the church contains a series of arches. In front of the high windows is a gigantic altarpiece, 12 meters in height and decorated with a 5-by-3-meter painting of Jesus and six niches occupied by realistic sculptures. An organ with 25 7-meter brass pipes stands on the balcony above the entrance. Resident guilds of the Renaissance era purchased and reserved whole sections of pews within the church and carved elaborate designs into the partitions at the front of each section, advertising the status of their respective organizations. Bullet holes still remain in the columns of the interior–testament to the street warfare of the 1989 revolution against Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. Another, much smaller organ stands in one corner of the church. The pulpit is ornately embellished with gilded decoration. Later, walking through another part of the city, we spotted a black paw print painted on the outside of a Franciscan church with “save humanity” stenciled in red below it.

During the afternoon reflection session, one Scholar noted the marked extent to which the villagers of Homorodszentpeter seemed to care about the quality of life of their neighbors. Perhaps I speak for more than myself in saying that the hospitable residents of this village have discovered the essence of existence–it is precisely because “life is beautiful” that we should “save” a humanity that will be able to enjoy the adventures of life and the natural beauty of the world that surrounds us for many centuries to come.


Photo by Sarah Trainor (’07)