There are a lot of Americans kicking around the Hungarian National Gallery, and, oh boy, do they stick out. I'm in the Gothic Statuary section, minding my own business, reflecting on how sinuous and graceful the International Gothic style is when a paif of my fellow countrymen burst through:
"Look! It's another one of the ones from Kassa! Aren't they wonderful?" in the same tone of voice one might use to order a hot dog from the hawker at the ballpark. Fearing the general wrath of the museum guards --
-- Let me interject here the nature of museum guarding in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The ratio of visitors to guards is about one to one, and thus the little old ladies typically feel obliged to follow you around at a distance of about four feet. It's disconcerting, but worse, heaven help the poor visitor who strays from the "recommended" path: the helpful smile comes on and the Finger That Will Brook No Denial (phrase due to K. Paik) emerges, and oh yes, you will turn left when you leave this room, because you do not want to know what happens to those who try to work backwards, or, gasp, skip the section on folk instruments of South Bohemia. Anyway --
-- I leave the room and turn into the Altarpieces room, where, sigh, there are another pair of El Norteamericanos are getting a guided tour. I come in just in time to hear one of them ask the tour guide, "So, you wouldn't happen to find one of these in Dracula's castle, now would you?" Which is just wrong on so many levels that if there were a nearby stake, I'd ignore the reality that we're in HUNGARY rather than ROMANIA and impale him on it. Instead, I sigh and flee into 19th-Century Hungarian Genre Painting.
Back home, Matthew tells me that Canadians sew Canadian flags on their backpacks when travelling, in order to avoid being taken for Americans and hassled. He also explains that Americans have taken to copying the practice -- sewing Canadian flags on their backpages -- which has all the trappings of a perfect Onion story.