One street over

Budapest is blossoming. Local neighbourhoods are being revamped. Buildings are getting facelifts. Previously drab and uninspiring places are now teeming with life and energy. And in times many find it hard to think of something positive to say about this country, it’s nice to see something good happening.

I freelance. My time is my own. When there’s work, I work. And while I’ve never been a slave to routine, I occasionally fall foul of habit.

For years I’ve been taking the No. 9 bus from Harminckettesek tere to Kolosy tér once a month or so. Yes, there are quicker ways to get from one to the other, but the No. 9 is direct, no changes. It’s familiar territory.

Last week, himself had an appointment in Óbuda and I went with him. He likes his apps and had figured out the quickest, if not the most direct route to take. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. His plan involved the 4/6 tram to Margit Híd and then changing to the No. 17 tram. Same direction, same part of town, but a slightly different route. The 17 tram runs up Bécsi út cutting right through Kolosy tér, parallel to the No. 9 which takes Lajos utca. It had been a few years since I’d actually been in Kolosy tér itself and I was surprised.

Its namesake, György Kolosy, was alive and well and practicing law when during the revolution of 1848 he got himself into a spot of bother and fled to Transylvania. Like Jókai, he, too, escaped dressed as a woman. He hid out for a couple of years before surrendering to the Austrians and being executed. Some 50 years later, Kolosy tér took his name.

At this end of the square, too, at the intersection of Lajos utca and Nagyszombat utca, you can find the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. Back in the day, its arena was bigger than the one in the Colosseum in Rome. The things you learn, eh?

IMG_4753 (800x600)IMG_4735 (800x600)IMG_4746 (800x600)There’s a sculpture of Ferenc Puskás kicking a ball around with some kids across from the aptly names Puskás Pancho Sports Pub, which is just up the street from the old stalwart, Symbol. There’s also quite a strange sculpture that looks for all the world like a bunch of very, very large boobs. Am not quite sure what to make of it.

From high-end boutiques to the Bookr bookstore, from fine china to quality leather goods, there’s plenty to spend your money on. And if you’d rather eat, you’ll be spoiled for choice. The neighbourhood has it all, including three sushi restaurants.

Some of the ones I used to frequent have gone, closed down, their spaces taken by newer, shinier models. The Taste of India is the dreamchild of Kunal Verma who hails from Delhi. He’s doing his bit to bring the real taste of India to Budapest rather than the westernised fare we have become used to. And he’s doing it very well indeed. It’s worth going out of your way to see for yourself.

Pódium is at the heart of Kolosy tér. This garden bar is bike friendly, dog friendly, and people friendly. It has a great range of drinks, good barbeque, and live music. In short, everything a garden bar needs.

IMG_4762 (800x600)

Closer to Szépvölgyi út, there’s the Buda Gourmet bistro and market. This stylish restaurant, next door to an upmarket Prima, is set to offer strong competition for the downtown Sunday buffet lunches featured at the likes of the Kempinksi and the Gellert. I hear tell that Saturday and Sunday brunch at the Buda Gourmet has featured crocodile and rib eye. And that’s a rumour I intend investigating in person. Soon.

First published in the Budapest Times 27 May 2016


Yesterday I didn’t open my Filofax and missed Tuesday completely. I never got to where I was supposed to be. Today, technology is taking its revenge for my refusal to embrace it. I can’t delete emails from my work account and I can’t send text messages from my Hungarian number. Ye Gods!

DahlFor some reason, Roald Dahl came to mind. I have no clue why. I can’t make the connection between anything that’s happened and him except perhaps that my Filofax is red leather and through some maze of musings I got from there to Little Red Riding Hood? A stretch, I know. But I have no clue how my mind works.

If you’ve not read his Revolting Rhymes, you’re missing out.

A sample:

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf – a poem by Roald Dahl

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma’s door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, ‘May I come in?’
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
‘He’s going to eat me up!’ she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, ‘That’s not enough!
I haven’t yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!’
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
‘I’ve got to have a second helping!’

Then added with a frightful leer,
‘I’m therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.’

He quickly put on Grandma’s clothes,
(Of course he hadn’t eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma’s chair.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
‘What great big ears you have, Grandma.’
‘All the better to hear you with,’
the Wolf replied.
‘What great big eyes you have, Grandma.’
said Little Red Riding Hood.
‘All the better to see you with,’
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I’m going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She’s going to taste like caviar.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said, ‘
But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on.’

‘That’s wrong!’ cried Wolf.
‘Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.’

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ‘Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.’

And if you liked that, check out what he has to say about Goldilocks! Guaranteed to fix the technology blues.


2016 Grateful 32

I’m not stupid. I mightn’t have the greatest mind God ever created, but I’m not stupid. I might do stupid things occasionally, and even say stupid stuff, but I’m  not stupid. What I am is gullible.

I’ve stopped reposting Facebook stories because they usually turn out to be hoaxes – credible hoaxes but hoaxes nonetheless. I double-check the genre stamp on books I read to be sure that they are fiction and not true stories. And I usually ask for a second opinion in matters of any importance.

But Stephanie Barron – you got me.

JAI was given a series of books as a gift some time ago and am only now getting around  to reading them. In the first, Barron explains how she’d been asked to edit a collection of diaries by Jane Austen that had lain undiscovered in an old manor in Maryland for years and years and years. In her Editor’s note, she writes of how she’d visited her friends, the Westmorelands,  at Dunready Manor, as they were renovating. She gives details of the renovations and the work  that led to the discovery of the fragile yellowed papers penned by Jane Austen, ‘a distant relative of the Westmoreland line’. She even tells of discussions about donating the manuscripts to the Johns Hopkins University and how the Bodleian library in Oxford was also in the running. She had me from the git go.

I read the first  – Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor – and from the opening lines I was convinced I was reading Austen.

When a young lady of more fashion than means has the good sense to win the affection of an older gentleman, a widower of high estate and easy circumstances, it is generally observed that the match is an intelligent one on both sides…

JA3Like Barron, I have little trouble believing that had Jane Austen been alive today, she’d be a right up with there with the best detective writers going. Her incisive brain, her wit, her independent streak, her caustic commentary on life all make for great observations and even greater stories. She was one smart lady.

JA2I laughed out loud. I bookmarked. I underlined. Again and again I marvelled at the choice of words and the wit. The Editor’s notes remind me of Jasper Fforde’s in his Thursday Next series – they both educate and enlighten. Not alone was the first book a great read and an excellent piece of detecting, it filled yet another gap in my history – the whole French/British thing of the early nineteenth century.

But Barron wasn’t editing original Austen diaries; she was channeling the words of the great lady herself. Or so she says. I don’t know what to believe any more.

So, one down. A second started. And  eleven more to go. What’s not to be grateful for? If I don’t return your call or show up for lunch or dinner, I’ll be out with Jane doing a bit of detecting.


Escaping the city

Summer is coming. Short of moving to the Southern Hemisphere, there’s little I can do to avoid it. I’m not a hot weather person. There’s a limit to the clothes I can take off, but there’s no limit to what I can put on. Give me subzero temperatures over 40 degrees any day.

The occasional hot day we’ve had so far has attuned my delicate sense of smell to the onslaught of odours to come. I have already packed my perfumed cotton handkerchief in its sealed plastic bag in preparation for the day I get trapped on the tram under a malodorous armpit. It will come. It always comes. Like death and taxes, it is unavoidable.

But this year, I have a Plan B. I’m quite taken with the idea that a lot of families living in Budapest have a holiday cottage somewhere outside. I, too, plan on escaping the city on its hottest days and taking myself off to the countryside. I’ve written before about the calming delights of the forest in Gödöllő and expect to visit regularly this summer. I’m also keen to go back to Ráckeve and perhaps explore a little more of Csepel Island. And then, of course, there’s Szentendre.

Ask almost any tourist who has been to Budapest what they did while they were in the city, and chances are you’ll get the triad: walked the Castle district, went to the baths, and did the ruin pubs on Kazinczy utca. Those who were here a little longer than a two-day weekend might also add that they managed to fit in a day-trip to the riverside town of Szentendre. And while it’s lovely in its own way, I can’t say that it’s ever really done much for me. But Szentendre Island? Now, that’s a completely different story.

IMG_4776 (800x600)This 56 km2 island in the middle of the Danube, not far from Budapest, is an oasis of lush foliage and green fields, banked by clear, flowing water. Connected to the mainland by a single bridge, it is also accessible using the ferry service from Tahitótfalu, Vác, or Dunakeszi.

The island’s history can be traced as far back as 896 AD. It seems to always have been an agricultural area, supplying the nearby cities of Buda and Pest with produce. As we drove around, I was reminded of the green fields of Ireland and had little trouble imagining rural village life, Magyar-style.

IMG_4777 (800x600)IMG_4787 (600x800)From north to south lie the villages of Kisoroszi, Tahitótfalu, Pócsmegyer, Surány, Horány, and Szigetmonostor. Pócsmegyer is home to the Berczelly Mansion, a one-storey Baroque style mansion built by the Esterházy family in the late seventeen hundreds. The springs of Szigetmonostor supply a lot of Budapest’s potable water. But it was Surány we wanted to see, and in particular, the beach.

The tiny village of Surány, with its gorgeous little church and outdoor pews doesn’t boast much in the way of city-style entertainment. There’s a pub one side and a büfé on the other. Because the pub doesn’t do food, they don’t mind you bringing in a takeaway. How civilised is that?

IMG_4782 (800x600)It does have a couple of beaches, lovely sandy stretches that run alongside the Danube. The water looked cool, clean, and inviting, so different to the same river that runs through Budapest. Some old-style employee summer complexes stand witness to IMG_4778 (800x600)the days of yore and indeed many of the houses are still original … from the small, two-roomed stone cottages to the more palatial riverside family homes. And, of course, if things ever get too quiet, there’s always Szentendre.

By car is simplest, but it’s doable by public transport, too, making it a perfect bolthole for those hot summer days when the air in Budapest stands still and the madding crowd gets too much to handle.

First published in the Budapest Times 20 May 2016

A café conducive to thought

The first thing that strikes you about Café Toucan is the space. It is light, airy, and relaxing, so conducive to thought and chat. You might think that the last thing this city needs is another coffee shop, especially near one near Corvin Negyed, a part of the city which must have close to a dozen such establishments with more opening every day. But Café Toucan is a little different. It has soul.

IMG_4816 (800x600)

IMG_4818 (800x777)Open barely more than a month on the ground floor of an office building at Üllői út 25, you’d be forgiven for not knowing it was there. If you’re not working in the building, attending the Corvinus Preparatory School, or walking by it on your way to the Museum of Applied Arts, then it’s unlikely you’ll have seen it. But if you’re in the area, it’s worth taking the time to find it.

Ádám has been a barista for years. Róbert used to sell medical equipment. Both share a passion for coffee. So these enterprising 30-year-olds decided to do what many of us only ever talk about – they decided to work the dream. With his years in the trade, Ádám already had a fair idea of what great coffee tasted like so the pair teamed up with Le Piantagioni Del Caffé, an Italian coffee company with estates in Guatemala, Peru, India, El Salvador, Brazil, and Ethiopia. Each month, you can choose from two of their 100% Arabica coffees and educate your coffee palate.

The lads make the healthy-looking sandwiches and rolls but get their cakes and cookies from the local Classic Farm Bakery. The selection of goodies also caters for those on paleo or gluten-free diets and team up nicely with the hand-pressed red, yellow, and green juices they make themselves.

IMG_4813 (800x600)

IMG_4812 (800x600)The airy space is furnished using old pallets that the lads put together. I took a fair few photos as I had little trouble imagining doing something similar. I was particularly taken with the wall planters.

They’re shaping up for the summer and will have an outdoor terrace in one of the building’s inner courtyards. This should open next week, assuming the weather cooperates.

They’re also open to ideas for using the café as a performance space. Drop by and see what you think.  Free wifi, plenty of light-filled space, excellent coffee, and great snacks at a reasonable price – simplicity at its best.

Open Monday to Friday 8am  to 6pm and the occasional Saturday.

2016 Grateful 33

I’ve long since wondered at the difference between jealousy and envy. I can feel it, but I find it difficult to describe. I’ve read that envy is a two-person situation, for example, you have something I lack; and jealousy is a three-person thing, whereby I’m afraid you will steal someone (or something) from me.

Looking back over my life to date, jealousy paid me a brief visit just once back when I was in school. Laughable really. And completely forgotten about until I reread an old diary a couple of years back. Envy though is a more regular caller. It usually doesn’t stay very long but there are those occasions when it pops in, uninvited, and makes life a tad uncomfortable.

Right now, I’m envious of Luke McCallin. I never knew the man existed until a couple of weeks ago, when the Internet in all its glory decided we should meet. Obviously something in my Google search patterns made it think that I needed to get to know him.

The_Man_From_Berlin_cover-678x1024Born in Oxford, McCallin has worked as a humanitarian aid worker for the UN and now lives in France with his wife and two kids. Back in 2013, he introduced the world to Gregor Reinhardt, the protagonist in his first novel, The Man from Berlin

McCallin describes Reinhardt as a German intelligence officer, a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. Haunted by what he has seen, tortured by recurring nightmares, wearing the uniform of an army he despises, he has ever fewer reasons to live. The book, set in Yugoslavia, tells us of his struggle to fight for the few convictions he has left. As he works for the German Army, we glimpse the inner workings of his conscience and the tentative hold he has on a reality that is both horrific and compelling. One reviewer calls Reinhardt ‘that most elusive literary contradiction: the good German wearing a Nazi uniform’. 

My history classes missed out on the Ustaše. I don’t ever remember hearing about them before or else what I heard was so awful that I chose to forget. They were a right bunch of Bsd*&S&Ds. There was a lot of competition in those days to see who could be the most inhuman of humans and this Croatian fascist movement was definitely in the running. Through Reinhardt, McCallin has closed a gap in my education.

Pale HouseSo, green with envy after finishing McCallin’s first novel, I spent quite a while marvelling at how completely I had bought into Reinhardt. He’s on my list of fictional characters I would happily invite to dinner. Although McCallin  is a skilled novelist. I was a little worried that the sequel, The Pale House, might not live up to my expectations but if anything, it surpassed them. The Ustaše can see the writing on the wall and are making their post-war plans. Men, quite normal just six years previously, have turned into soulless embodiments of evil. The mind boggles at the scope of the atrocities and the randomness of the cruelty. At one stage, I was quite shocked by the hatred I felt. The thought that there might be circumstances in which I might actually condone any sort of cruelty really upset me. But such is the power of McCallin’s writing and such is the credibility of his characters.

And although green with envy at McCallin’s ability to write, I’m grateful for the education. A tad nonplussed that Google seems to be doing my thinking for me, I’m grateful too for the introduction to Gregor Reinhardt. The third in the series is due out in December, so you have time to catch up.

The Grateful series is now in its fifth year. For more on how it started, see the original post.


We are our dream

We need to take life seriously. We’re all on a one-way ticket that can expire at any moment. We came with nothing, we should leave with nothing. We need to be serious about life. We need to dare to be ourselves.

The thoughts behind those words are not new. Pick up any book on visualisation, actualisation, or realisation and you’ll find the same sentiment couched in self-help rhetoric. But when they wrap up a fascinating account of how two young people finally ran out of excuses and set out in January 2000 to fulfil their dream, they take on new meaning.

IMG_4792 (800x722)

IMG_4811 (712x800)

Their dream was to drive from Argentina to Alaska in six months. It would take them nearly four years. On a budget of $20 a day, they started out in a vintage car and headed north. Just 55 km into their journey, they ran into trouble. One of their vintage wheels needed specialist attention. As luck would have it, the next town had a blacksmith who knew what was needed. As he did the work, they got to chatting. Herman and Cande Zapp told him about their dream to drive to Alaska. When it came time to pay, he wouldn’t take their money, saying simply that he wanted to be part of their dream.

In a compelling couple of hours last Sunday at Lumen Café, as the Zapps told us their story, we also became part of their dream, a dream that continued beyond Alaska. Before they had set out, friends and family had warned them of the evils that lay ahead. They could be robbed, hurt, even killed. But no one told them that people would help them, take them in, listen to them, teach them, share their worlds with them, and want to share their dream.

A man printed 7000 calendars using their photos for them to sell one Christmas. Another shipped their car from Central to North America. Some others clubbed together to buy them much-needed new tyres for their car. In North Carolina, expecting their first child, they were inundated with strollers and car seats. In Costa Rica, they glued the covers on their hastily printed book at a table at an international book fair as they autographed and sold copies to pay for petrol. No one asked for money. No one asked for anything more than to be part of their dream. The stories, all told with humble appreciation for the good in the world, mounted up.

And while at face value, it might seem as if the Zapps are the ones to be grateful for all the kindnesses others have shown them, I think the reverse is true.

IMG_4808 (800x600)

Just 16 years into this new millennium, our world is a pessimistic one. We are wary of each other, distrustful, constantly on our guard. We expect the worst to happen and so inevitably it does. We are too proud to ask for help and too often deny others the opportunity to do us good, to show us kindness. We are so mired in a subsistence reality of our own making that we have forgotten how to dream.

Some might wonder at the sanity of staying on the road with four children. Some might question what those children are missing in terms of formal education and stability. Some might look askance at the idea of asking for help for what to a cynic might seem to essentially be to fund a whim. But the short time I spent in their company convinced me that the world needs people like the Zapps to restore our faith in human nature, to remind us of the innate goodness of people, and to spark the dreams inside us that have lain dormant for far too long. We are our dream.

Buy their book. Be inspired. Spark your dream.

First published in the Budapest Times 13 May 2016


Who’s yer man?

I thought I had a handle on most things Irish. I thought I knew my writers, my poets, my rebels – the main players at any rate. I thought I knew enough to at least recognise a name, even if the biography that I could put with it was a tad thin. But was I wrong. So wrong.

IMG_4500 (800x600)At the 1916 commemoration here in Budapest (yes, Ireland, other countries commemorated it, too), I sat through an enjoyable 70-minute documentary, 1916: the Irish Rebellion. It was broadcast around the world, live from the National Concert Hall in Dublin. An initiative of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame in collaboration with RTÉ, it was narrated by the lovely Liam Neeson and was a great refresher of what happened 100 years ago.

While I’m still not convinced of the influence 1916 had on the rest of the world, it did teach me things I didn’t know, or had forgotten. And it introduced me to one Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, known to all and sundry as The O’Rahilly. While others afterwards were commenting on the historical worthiness of the film, I was asking: Who’s yer man? The O’Rahilly? Why did I never hear of him before?

IMG_4484 (800x592)Some weeks later, I was in Dublin doing a 1916 walking tour. Under the able guidance of a young History graduate from Kilkenny, we walked and talked our way through the Dublin of Easter 1916.

He was a breath of fresh air. It was obvious from the get go that he loved his history and had an enviable ability to make it interesting. Rather than recounting dates and giving potted biographies of the players, he told us a story of men who believed, who had a vision. And he told it to us as if he was talking about lads he knew and knew well.

Talking about how the boys kept badgering Germany to give them guns, he said: Sure we wrecked the Germans heads.

Telling us how Britain saw WWI as something to divert their attention from the Irish, he said: The British Prime Minister and the King of England were freaking out over Ireland.

Commenting on the various skills that the rebels brought to the table, most of them being intellectuals and artists, he said of Pearse: He couldn’t shoot, but he was great for the half-time team talk to gee up the men.

Illustrating how the general public in Dublin had no clue what was going on, with British soldiers firing up O’Connell St and our lads firing down, he said: On Easter Monday, people went down to the bridge [O’Connell Bridge] for a gawk and a gossip.

Explaining how revolutionary the Proclamation is in terms of how it puts the rights of men and women on an equal footing, he old us that: James Connolly was all into girl power.

He’d close his eyes as he told us stories as if he was remembering being there himself. Never, ever, ever before has history taken on a life of its own in my company. The lad’s a genius.

IMG_4470 (600x800)And we got some interesting tidbits. I didn’t know that one-third of the British Army in WWI was Irish born. Or that the The Irish Republican Brotherhood was viewed as a nursing home for old Fenians. I knew things were bad in the city but hadn’t realised that the child mortality rate in Dublin was worse than in Calcutta with 6/10 children dead before they turned 10. Or that in 1916, there was worse poverty in the city than in Cairo. I’ve often wondered why we have Gaelic football but never knew that it was because soccer wasn’t tough enough for the Irish and this was our answer.

I never knew that the world’s first broadcast came from the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy on O’Connell St: Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising. Before he was executed, Thomas McDonagh apparently offered his executioners cigarettes saying ‘it’s a dirty job lads, but someone’s got to do it.’ Arthur Shields, brother of film star Barry Fitzgerald, who fought alongside Pearse went on to play Pearse in the 1936 John Ford film  The Plough and the Stars. I bet that was far from his imaginings back then. And to think that I’d never noticed the bullet holes in Daniel O’Connell!

IMG_4481 (600x800)I never knew either that in 1900, Dublin had the biggest red light district in Europe, all cleaned up 20 years later by the Legion of Mary. And I didn’t know that what is now Bank of Ireland College Green was the first purpose-built parliament in Europe and has no windows on the outer walls because the clever architect put all the windows in the roof to avoid the window tax. And as for the GPO – the remodelling took 8 years. It had the first lift in Dublin when it reopened in March 1916. And a month later, the inside was completely burned out. Such luck.

But probably my favourite story of the lot was of a Swede and a Finn, soldiers on a week’s R&R in Dublin, who ended up as snipers on the roof of Trinity College. They spoke no English but by the end of the week, he said, they could say the rosary in Irish. Classic.

IMG_4501 (800x600)And he, too, spoke of The O’Rahilly. And his famous charge up Moore Street in an attempt to distract the British and give the lads in the GPO a chance to escape. His was probably the most famous quotation from the Rising:  Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock – I might as well hear it strike. Of all that was done in the course of those six days, his glorious madness was what stood out for me. He wrote to his wife as he lay dying in Sackville Lane, which would later be renamed O’Rahilly Parade (how come I didn’t know that!).  There was a plaque erected on the site in 1937 and a new one put up in 2005 – this one featuring a copy of the note he wrote as he lay dying, etched on the wall.

IMG_4503 (800x600)This was the end of our tour. The tears that came could have been from the biting cold, but I think it was from the emotion of it all. I’d never fully appreciated 1916 or the sacrifices made or the vision those boys had. To think that the whole country was against them but yet they soldiered on, convinced that this would change the minds of the Irish people and make them sit up and strike back in some form or fashion. How right they were.

If you’re in Dublin this year, do yourself a favour and book yourself a place. 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour. Leaves at 11.30 am from the International Bar on Wicklow Street Monday to Saturday and on Sunday at 1pm. €13 per adult. It’s worth twice the money and more.


Giving it welly

Back in 1972, he was driving a cab around New York City. But he had dreams. He had plans. He had talent. Three years later, Tim Hauser, Laurel Massé, Janis Siegel, and Alan Paul had their first national hit as The Manhattan Transfer. In 1978, Massé had a car accident and decided not to return to the group. Enter Cheryl Bentyne. Two years ago, Hauser went to join a heavenly choir and Trist Curless took his place. And forty-one years after their first hit, they played to a packed audience of all ages at Müpa here in Budapest and they’re still giving it welly.

AMT3At least three of them are in their 60s with the vim and vigor of people half their age. They put on a fantastic show, one where equal play is given to the three musicians – all of whom are excellent in their own right. And while their dress style may be stuck in the 1970s, their music – their four-part harmonies – is something timeless.

It’s easy to forget that those in the public eye nhave personal stories. For all their fame and fortune, they, too, are human, with everyday issues to deal with.

Bentyne was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2011 and with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2013. But now, after a successful stem cell transplant, she is in remission. Seeing her move around the stage with such agility and such enthusiasm was nothing short of inspiring.

Paul started out as a 12-year-old Oliver on Broadway and has been on stage since. He released a solo album this year Shu Bop that gives  a nod to classic doo-wop from the 1950s and 1960s. The song he did from it last night – My Heart Swings – was one of the highlights of the gig.

Siegel is quite the fireball. She rapped to Jungle Book’s I wanna be just like you: I can pick the lice from my lady’s head and feed her a banana … in bed. Brilliant. Like the others, Siegel does fantastic instrument impressions. Her double bass is right up there with her trumpet. And I learned something:

Vocalese is a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation.

This is brilliant to listen to and shows how gobsmackingly talented these people are. Their album, Vocalese, was nominated for a host of Grammy awards and won three. Last night, they did a few numbers in this style with Sing Joy Spring the one that did the most for me. Classic. A history of the world in just over 7 minutes. Not bad going.

amt2Arguably the youngest member of the group, Trist Curless joined full-time in 2014 to replace Houser. He had stood in for Houser a few years earlier when he had spinal surgery so was no stranger.  It can’t have been easy though, coming into a tight group who had worked and played together for decades. He, too, has an impressive voice. And the four of them together are quite a formidable talent. And so very appreciative of each other’s style, if the high-fives on stage were anything to go by. It really was a joy to watch.

Pianist Yaron Gershovsky is also the musical director and the speed at which his fingers pass over the keys is mesmerizing. I’d like to see Havasi take him on. Boris Karlov plays my all-time favourite instrument, the double bass. It has to have the sexiest sound around. Not exactly portable, but for me, it’s an essential part of any jazz ensemble. Steve Hass on drums was having way too much fun and again, his speed and dexterity were mind-blowing. I don’t think I’ve heard as much applause at a concert – ever. And it was constant.

Apparently 20 years ago, when they played a gig in the city, the audience refused to leave. They came back on, in their street clothes, and did another set. They did an encore last night, too, but hey, 90 minutes of giving it welly will take it out of the best of us. I know I couldn’t have lasted the pace.

It was an experience to see them in action. And it was inspiring to think that they’re still going strong. They’re poster children for living life to the full. And they get around. In 2012, Paul and Siegel were judges China’s online talent show – Rock the Web. Now there’s a concept.

And all this for the princely sum of 3500 ft (about £9, €11, $12). Not the best seats in the house, admittedly, but in Müpa they work. What’s not to love about Budapest?





2016 Grateful 34

You don’t just wake up great one day. That’s not the way it works. What you get out of life is directly related to what you put into it. So if you think you can cut corners, skip workouts and deny your body the fuel it needs, there will be benches for you to ride and records for you to miss. But it you believe that excellence is something earned, tear open a bag. We’ve got work to do.

Ok – they had me until the ‘tear open a bag thing’ because gullible and all as I am, I don’t really believe that tearing open a bag of Oberto Original Beef Jerky is going to radically change my life, or get me off the bench and breaking records. But as advertising blurbs go, it’s not bad.


And it got me reading all of the back of the bag. The jerky contains beef from one or more of the following sources: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay. Quite an eclectic set of cows.  Oberto is a Seattle-based  family owned company, in business since 1918, so they must be doing something right. They say their jerky has 13 g of protein and is 97% fat-free with no added MSG. It’s also gluten-free and all natural – no artificial ingredients they say, just beef, sugar, water, beef stock, salt, spices and natural flavorings, natural smoke flavor and vinegar. And it’s MINIMALLY PROCESSED!!!

This was what made me open the bag in the first place.

Last weekend, I’d ventured over to Buda to try out a new vegan restaurant. Vegan Love. Not because I’m vegan or anything approaching it, but I was with a friend who is vegetarian and another who is leaning in that direction. And there is something about eating vegetarian or vegan that makes me feel … well … righteous. Vegans, by the way, have a plant-based diet. No eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. 

[As an aside, did you catch the hoohaa about the California Vegan-cafe owners who were discovered eating beef this week, beef from cows they raised on their own farm? Honestly. They’ve even had death threats. So much for my vision of the Vegan community being a peaceful lot. And as for not being allowed to change your mind? mmmmm]

Anyway, we ordered and ate.

Cardboard trays and wooden cutlery? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have regular ceramic  and stainlesssteel that could be washed and reused rather than cutting down trees and then having to trust the recycling process? Perhaps there’s a logic there that I’m missing. No one else seemed to have an issue with it as the place was heaving, and it continued to heave in waves for as long as we were there.

azsiai_vegan_burger_copyWe all had the same thing: the shiitake mushroom quinoa burger, with chips. And the chips were great. The salad was fresh. But the burger tasted processed. As if it had been through hell and back before it landed on my plate. I did a quick search on vegan foods and processing and found the site Wake the Wolves. And yep, seems like that’s one of the inherent risks in eating out if you’re vegan. I read the article and was again (that’s twice in one day) take by the blurb at the end.

Remember that FOOD IS INFORMATION and the food choices you make today will play a direct role in the quality of your skin, your ability to lose/gain weight, your mood, your ability to absorb nutrients, and so much more. Avoiding processed foods and EATING REAL is one of the best (and most immediate) things you can do to improve your health right now.

So I’ve decided. Rather than becoming vegan or vegetarian or whatever, I am going to be a nonprocessedatarian and do my damnedest to keep my intake of processed food to an absolute minimum.

With that decision safely behind me, this week I’m grateful for friends returning from abroad who took the time to fill my shopping list and go the extra mile and bring a variety of jerky. I’m grateful that Oberto was one of them.