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From Russia With(out) Luggage

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Just in from a week in St. Petersburg, where I hope my suitcase isn't. It's definitely not at the Newark airport. If it doesn't turn up I hope someone gets some use out of the two bottles of vodka it contains. Not to mention my best suit, shoes, and new glasses. Grrr.

Two chess encounters on the final days of my trip. I went into the dilapidated old central club. (No, that's NOT it above. That's the Kazan Cathedral in the center.) I wanted to take pictures but they were in the middle of the nightly rapid tournament and I didn't want to be the ugly tourist. 24 people, playing in four categories instead of all playing together and using clock handicaps. Average age was over 50, just two or three teens. You can tell it used to be a lovely space, but judging by the club's decorations, times are tough. The large photos of all the world champions end with two incorrect current champs: "Kasparov 1985-" next to "Khalifman 1999-". The last club champion on the wall was 2003.

On the way home through Paris there was a large advert to promote tourism to Hungary. It was mostly a large photo of none other than Judit Polgar, with a caption giving her identity and endorsement. Is she the most famous Hungarian in the world? Seems plausible. Probably a higher Q score than Leko, worldwide. No musicians or soccer players? Barring chessplayers, who comes to mind if asked to name a famous Hungarian? A living one? Is Zsa Zsa Gabor still alive?! (Kidding!)


Sorry about your luggage, Mig. What is it about ex-Soviet countries and losing luggage. The same happened to me in Estonia some years ago.

I remember being at the Kazan Cathedral with my family. It's a real treat walking through all the various columns. I hope that the weather was nicer to you than it was to me during all those trips.

Gyorgy Kurtag is considered one of the giants of modern classical music. Q rating? Worldwide probably somewhat below Polgar. And alas, significantly below Al Hrabosky.

Famous hungarians. Biro is named after its hungarian inventor and also Rubik's cubicle inventor is also hungarian.

Edward Teller. George Soros. Pal Benko (born in France). Congressman Tom Lantos.

Probably the most reknowned Magyar of modern times is Ferenc Puskas... born in 1927, lives in Belgrade.

Joe Namath


Don't forget the man who helped make computers a reality and whos architecture is still used today. John von Neumann. One of the greatest mathematicians to have ever lived.

Hungary has produced some other fine matematicans as well. In addition to von Neuman you have mathematical celebrities like Paul Erdös and Kurt Gödel.

As to living famous hungarian, my favourite hungarian is Judit Polgar. Can someone recomend a good game collection with her games ?

Kjartan: Sorry, of the ones you mentioned Kurt Gödel was not Hungarian, he was Austrian. I'd love to have him among my fellow countrymen, but we can't have _every_ great scientist after all. But you can add Theodore Karman to your list (physicist and aero-engineer). Don't forget about Béla Lugosi, either (chief character of 'Dracula' films in the '20s - or '30s?).

Also note that many famous Hungarians became famous _after_ they had left Hungary (like Neumann, Karman, Teller, Soros, Benko etc). I have a theory on this fact: people must be so desperate to leave this country that they are willing to do even the weirdest things to be able to do that - like compose or play music, act in films, study science for many years, invent computers or create a neutron bomb. (Chess fits in nicely: it _is_ weird and you can travel abroad a lot.)

Sorry about the mixup with Gödel, I was sure he was hungarian. I can add George Pólya instead :-)

I can never figure these things out - does Hungarian mean born there, or does it also mean of Hungarian descent? If the latter, how many generations does descent go before you go with the new country? I'd guess, for example, that Joe Namath, famously born in Beaver Falls, doesn't speak any Hungarian. Well, other than curse words.

Well, the point of my inquiry was whether or not Judit Polgar is top candidate for "face of Hungary" internationally. That is, born in Hungary and living in Hungary.

Bela Bartok (great Hungarian Composer)

Sorry, his name was already listed on that site.

All those Hungarian Dances from composers who weren't even hungarian! Very misleading. Personally, I don't think that the 'face of a country' works as a successful tourist campaign. I asked a few work colleagues who they considered the most well known hungarian (and a few other countries) and they all struggled to come up with anyone living at all. None of them had heard of Polgar, since they are non-chess players. It's quite funny that they had heard vaguely of Kasparov and remembered hearing on the news that he was hit on the head by a chess board. Apparently the story they heard (on youth radio) was that he was playing a computer, losing, and the opposing team (backing the computer)? got so angry that they attacked him?! And this happened just the other week? So I don't know how well Kasparov would serve as the 'face of Russia' either. I guess depending on target demographic, since I asked people in their early 20s.
Hope your luggage has turned up, Mig.

Hungary is one of those nations that *feels* like they probably did a great many things, have an impressive culture, etc. - yet you can't really point your finger on too many Hungarian achievements offhand. Unless, of course, you are Hungarian.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 15, 2005 5:05 PM.

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