B is for Backwater

There's no escaping the fact that Bratislava has always been a backwater of Europe. Vienna is Vienna (and Prague will be Prague, when we get to it), and we could see that for a time Budapest was the place to be, but Bratislava has never been anything but a dinky little provincial capital. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it's best not to go getting ideas.

We go to a few museums that look, in Sarah's immortal phrase, "like the contents of some babushka's attic." The antique clocks and early violins and battered Judaica are all sort of dingy and iffy-looking, and you halfway suspect that that gilt-edged clock from 1746 chimed its last chime in 1752 when the shoddy mainspring gave way.

Part of this, I suppose, you have to chalk up to Slovakia's recent independence: since the Czech Republic got to keep the capital city, it also kept all the museums there. So maybe they did go around to Slovak babushkas, asking them to scour their attics for collectables.

But still, this is a city whose claim to historical fame really is that "Napoleon slept here" (and signed a treaty, too, because he happened to be in the neighborhood). Hungarian nationalism worried me; Slovak nationalism just leaves me mystified. I mean, sure, the Habsburgs had no particular claim to lord it over Bratislava, but I find myself wondering whether there might have been some better bulwark against absolutism than ethnic nationalism.