Good grief

diary of a single father ; At the back of the smoky room, beyond the gypsy violinists and the plump singer, I noticed a menorah standing upon a side-board, symbol of who- knows-what secret history

Driving back from the Jazz Cafe on a Saturday night I observe that several lamp posts have floral tributes attached to them. I turn to my companion, a psychoanalyst. "What do you think about this new custom of turning a spot where a loved one met an immovable object into a shrine?" I ask. "I'm all in favour," she replies, "if it provides people with a place where they can access their grief."

"Even so, " I say, "don't you find something distasteful in this colonisation of public spaces? Don't you find this mania for display unhealthy? Doesn't it turn mourning into a cliche?" "So what?" says my travelling companion. "the purpose is to express feeling, not impress a passing critic."

"Did you have a good time?" asks Seth. "Junior Wells was great," I say, "even though he wore a toupee and kept forgetting the words. In fact, it didn't matter. The man obviously knows how to deal with pain." Seth and I tend to go our own ways on Saturday nights, though he is still happy to accompany me on my occasional jaunts abroad. So when an invitation arrived from our friend, Professor Kenez, we both caught the next available flight to Budapest.

Peter and Penny Kenez live in California, Seth's birthplace, but were briefly resident in Hungary, Peter's native land. Their temporary home was a few yards from the Danube, where we promenaded as the sun descended. Later we celebrated our arrival at a posh restaurant, called Poski, which served a piquant stew of paprika and catfish. At the back of the smoky room, beyond the gypsy violinists and the plump singer, I noticed a menorah standing upon a side-board, symbol of who-knows-what secret history.

After scoffing an order of strudel and sundaes at the Cafe Mozart on Erzebet korut we strolled the short distance to No 26. Peter led us through a passageway that opened upon the interior courtyard of a five-storey building, housing some 40 apartments. It was cream-coloured, with colonnaded balconies and classical ornamentation, the natural habitat of the middle class. Peter pointed to rooms on the fourth floor. "That's where my grandparents lived," he said, "that's where I spent the last years of the war with my mother." Being a shy man he added little more. I can only fill in the details because I have read his brilliant memoir, Varieties of Fear.

By 1944 there were 42 people crammed into the apartment, and a yellow star above the gate. The children were not allowed out, so they ran along the balconies, and up and down the stairs, shouting their heads off. Could Peter still hear the cries, echoing through the silent afternoon? Or was he remembering a melancholy anniversary, that of October 1944 (after Germany had invaded its erstwhile ally), when home-grown Nazis, given the green- light by the invading Germans,had herded the residents of No 26 into this very courtyard and marched them to the nearby synagogue (still the largest in Europe) where they awaited their fate. In fact they were returned, without explanation, several days later. During the subsequent winter the army converted part of the building to a hospital. Since it was no longer possible to bury corpses, bodies and severed limbs accumulated where we were presently standing. Luckily it was a cold winter. Peter lived to tell the tale. How to commemorate those who didn't, without turning Budapest into Kitsch City?

Although Seth and I go our separate ways on Saturday nights, we spend the morning together. I drive him to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John's Wood (picking up my father en route), where he attends Religion School. And so we are able to check out Anish Kapoor's newly erected monolith. "Does the world really need another Holocaust memorial?" asks my innocent boy. "Certainly," I reply, "they make people feel better. A man visits one of them. Okay, he thinks, I shouldn't have screwed my wife's best friend, but compared to what those bastards did to us it was a good deed. I call this Dr Sinclair's Law of Relativity."

I see at once that this is different. Here you are not faced with evidence of depravity, but with your own image. The looking glass is a jet black concavity, scooped from a massive block of grey limestone, and polished till it shines. This rectangular void, framed by the indifferent rock, inverts the image, turns the viewer into a denizen of a world turned upside- down. The memorial is an invitation to remember, but it refuses to impose a collective act of remembrance. It requires the participation of the visitor. There is more. A window in the synagogue wall reveals that the memorial has been mounted opposite the ark, the holy of holies, as though the latter were being reflected in a darkened glass. Whereas the ark is filled with scrolls containing divine revelation, the memorial is as empty as a cenotaph. Thus the worshippers stand balanced between two polarities; between the positive word of God, and the negative deeds of man. On the other hand, it offers a generous niche, perfect for a vase of lilies

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Biomass Sales Consultant

    £20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

    Java Developer

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

    Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

    MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

    £45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game