This is an excerpt from a November 2008 letter, though some of the pictures were taken later.
This weekend I spent time with some of the journalists from the region at Palic Lake. The lake is set in the very flat landscape of the Pannonian Plain and on a windy day it may have more terrain than the surrounding countryside. When I was there the lake was flat calm with mist rising, shrouding the piers and the 19th century empire hotels and villas. Palic is a piece of the Habsburg Empire that found itself just a few kilometers on the Serbian side of the border after the treaty of Trianon that set Hungary’s borders at the end of World War 1. Hungary took it back in the Second World War and in 1956 the resort became a refugee center for those fleeing in the wake of the Hungarian uprising. The monuments are largely Hungarian, leftovers from the 19th century, with a newer monument to the 1956 Hungarian rising. On Saturday morning I walked for about an hour through the cool fog, spying the spires and gingerbread that occasionally emerged from the mist, first as a loom, than as a fantastic shape that would have had bright colors but for the muting effect of the fog. The sun occasionally broke through surprising me with a slash of reflected color from a 19th century turret.
This is Central Europe with tiled roofs, carved wooden supports; villas with fanciful spires and turrets and some newly refinished copper cupolas that have yet to turn green. Then there are the grand hotels. Some of the buildings are restored and some are in the process of restoration. One in particular, the villa of a Hungarian bicyclist who lived well into his 80s is decrepit except for the plaque and statue. The house is too big to become a private house and too small to be made into a hotel. So the officials scratch their heads. A bicycle rental shop is nearby. Palic does not say “Serbia.” It’s like going abroad without a passport. The hotel I stayed in, the Park, has been remodeled graciously. The separate “gastronome” is empire grand.
And this is from a letter written in June 2010.
Palic is a lake resort on the Serbian-Hungarian border. In the second half of the 19th Century it was very fashionable, the Hapsburg equivalent of Victorian Cape May. The buildings from the 1860s have wonderful covered porches, great for watching prairie thunderstorms roll over the lake. But hotel management uses the porch for storing furniture and serve food inside where the view of the lake is obscured by furniture piled on the porch. When they do serve outside they don’t use the tables close to the lake, but only serve at tables close to the kitchen. I come to look at the lake but the waiters don’t want to walk the extra 20 paces to a table with a view. There are some new hotels near the lake and, amazingly, they put muddy parking lots between the lake and the hotel rather than behind the hotel. Lake front rooms overlook mud. Why have a lake?
We took a pontoon boat to look at some of the grand mansions and the fine old Hungarian pavilions. But the swimming pavilions are, sadly, empty. You can’t swim in the lake, it is too polluted. When you ask about it, even when you don’t ask. you learn that the lake is un-swimmable because of the Americans. They claim that NATO dropped one or two bombs into the lake in 1999 and, depending on who you talk to, they either make it too dangerous to dredge or the depleted uranium in the bombs make swimming too dangerous.
What they don’t tell you is that there have been two surveys, one in 2004 by the Serbs and one in 2006 by the European Union. Both surveys found no unexploded bombs in the lake. The reason the lake is polluted is because people in Subotica have not paid their water bills so the sewage plant does not have the budget to operate properly. You can’t swim because of fecal matter. But Serbs will tell tourists, and probably believe themselves, that the reason you can’t swim is NATO. It’s easier to blame NATO than deal with pollution. An American bomb, not Serbian s**t, is reason you can’t swim in Palic Lake.