The lads have bought a bar. A neighbourhood joint in the IXth district. I was surprised. They’ve put in their time as punters in hostelries around the world, but I’d never figured them for publicans. One’s an architect. Another works in disaster response coordination. The third’s an academic, and the fourth, well, he makes things happen. A Canadian, a Geordie, a Brit, and an American, all have been in Hungary for the best part of 20 years. They speak the language, they love the food, and they get the people. But perhaps most importantly, they have an innate respect for tradition. Read more
Corvin Sétány is alive and well. New places are opening on a regular basis. The latest addition that I’ve noticed is Nine Tables, which has taken the spot previously occupied by Bombay Curry Bar, next to Costa. Presumably a Spanish sister to the self-billed American restaurant on Tompa, this piqued my curiosity so much I tried it blind. No sneak peek at the menu beforehand. No price check. No review check. Sadly, I may well have learned my lesson.
True to its name, it has just nine tables, three of which were occupied the night the four of us turfed up, with a reservation. Granted it was early in the week and not a great dining-out night but still, the area has more than its fair share of tourist traffic so I’d have expected more people.
The wine offer was decent enough with a nice array of reasonably priced Hungarian wines to choose from. Interestingly though, the standard glass was 1.6 dl. Not the usual 1 dl or 1.5 dl, but 1.6, I wondered if this was being different for the sake of being different or it if was simply a typo. It must be difficult to divide a 75 dl bottle into 1.6s. But I wasn’t there to do the math. At least I thought I wasn’t.
The menu was limited but enticing. Lamb. Salmon. Prawns. Steak. A little pricey I thought but hey, it’s not every day I see lamb on a menu in Budapest. When we ordered, our waitress cautioned us that the portions were small – tapas-sized – so we might want to reconsider. Wow. Tapas-sized portions at full-main prices? mmmm…
I like my tapas. I like the idea of sharing different dishes. I like the idea of tasting a variety of stuff. We ordered the lamb, the salmon, the prawns, the chorizo, the croquettes, and some fries, warned as we were that food would come as it was cooked and not all together.
We were four. The first dish up, the croquettes, had three croquettes. We got three prawns, too. And the paper bag with the (cold) bread that came with the chorizo had five slices.
I despaired. Obviously, the whole concept of initiative was missing from the training. Four people sharing a dish designed for three? How difficult would it have been to say – This dish comes three to a plate. Or better yet, this dish comes in threes but we can add an extra one (and charge accordingly)? I felt as if I was back in short socks and mammy was dividing the last sausage between the cousins.
It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether we’re evolutionizing out of our ability to think independently. Have we become victims to rote training, standard operating procedures, and a blind acceptance of This is simply the ways it’s done. Period. Are today’s service-industry workers allowed any leeway to apply common sense or is theirs simply the job of applying the rules, literalizing the menus, and sticking rigidly to the offer. The last time I remember calling this into question was also on Corvin Sétány in a sushi restaurant that refused to slice its rolls. Perhaps it’s something in the air.
Nine Tables or no?
The much-anticipated lamb (two cutlets) was bland and overpriced. The whole experience was disappointing. When I wasn’t in conversation and looked around the room, I was drawn to the two skulls on the bar or the TV above it. I’m not quite sure what the game plan is with this restaurant, but it wouldn’t be getting my vote for somewhere to go unless I simply fancied a bowl of excellent fries (really nicely done) and a decent glass of local vino.
Way back, many lifetimes ago, when I was young and inconsiderate, I took a flight from Scottsdale to LA or was it from Las Vegas to Seattle? I can’t quite remember. I know I was stateside and going home to wherever it was I called home at the time. It was back in the days when you could still smoke on a plane. And yes, I’m ageing myself there. I’d been separated from my mate as we hadn’t booked together and found myself in the back row of the plane sitting beside an Irish priest. We had a whale of a time. We talked, we laughed, we drank, we smoked. We sorted out the world and then some. No one would have thought it was 3 pm or whatever it was over whichever state we were flying. But for others it was a flight from hell.
Back then, I was living with a TV so I spoke more loudly than I do now. I have a theory. Those who live with TV speak louder than those who don’t. They have to, to be heard above the background noise. So ours wasn’t just a conversation à deux; all of the adjacent rows got to hear it, too. When the plane landed, a woman sitting a couple of rows ahead of me turned back to me and said:
Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.
I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. Then. But the bones of 25 years later, she’s come back to haunt me.
Travelling from Dublin to Budapest last week, I was on the flight from hell. I had the misfortune to be on a less-than-full flight. You know the ones that offer plenty of scope for musical chairs? I sat in front of an Irish lad and a Hungarian girl. She had the window. He had the aisle. He had two mates. She was on her own. His mates soon moved to the adjacent aisle seat and the middle seat between the two. And for nearly three hours the four of them kept up a non-stop flow of conversation. And they were all TV people.
We had the usual what do you do, where do you work, how long have you been living in Dublin (from them). And what do you do, where do you work, and is this your first time in Budapest (from her). It wasn’t long before she discovered that her mate Rosie used to work with one of them in London. It’s a small field, apparently. I can’t tell you how amazingly, mind-blowingly, gobsmackingly awesome this was. Only about a 100 in London all told and they all know each other. Some sort of monopolies economists. As the cans of beer popped open, more than froth came to the fore. Old stories of Mr in the Middle (a film director) stealing knickers for his girlfriend from a shopping centre, stories he hotly denied. My boy on the aisle had been unemployed for ages (ex-Microsoft) but had finally gotten a job last May and was off probation. The economist on the adjacent aisle told us four times why the marketing book he was reading was such a good read. In between times, herself filled them in on all what was to be seen in Budapest. She works for Air BnB in Dublin. Been there years. Great English. I had my doubts though when she was telling them that palinka is a type of vodka and I had to hold myself back when she started recommending places to go – all obvious tourist traps. Szimpla Kert and Szechenyi baths – really?
On a flight that lasted just shy of three hours, we had seven minutes of blissful silence. Seven minutes. Then they regrouped, rehashed, and repeated all that had gone before.
I couldn’t hear myself think. I tried proofreading some text and had to resort to reading aloud in an effort to keep focused on what I was doing. The Serbian chap beside me must have thought he’d died and gone to English-language hell. How much worse could it get. I tried reading but kept losing my place. I tried sleeping but that wasn’t happening. I watched the chap in front of me turn around numerous times and glare disapprovingly but to no avail. They were oblivious to everything and everyone.
I was them once. On a flight to LA or Seattle. With a priest. I was inconsiderate, loud, and full of self-interest. I didn’t care who I was disturbing because I simply didn’t realise I was disturbing anyone. My world was all about me. When the chap next to Mr Adjacent Aisle got up and moved, they engaged in an all-too-brief moment of self-reflection, wondering if it was something they’d said? Hello! I wanted to scream Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was everything you said so loudly. But I didn’t.
I was tempted to turn to them when we landed and pass on yer woman’s words:
Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.
No. Better to cut that karmic thread off at the seam. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And while I finally see the value in headphones, I’m a little disturbed by my unwillingness to engage.
I caught some form of crud during the week, a nasty chest infection that seems to have moved in and taken over. Not for love nor money could I face getting up this morning at 7.20 to make it to 8 o’clock Mass. I figured the good Lord would forgive me but as the day wore on and I finally did surface to see the light of day, himself figured it would be a shame to waste it. My time in the village is limited this month to two weekends – I needed to make the most of them.
We headed into Balatongyörök around 3.30 pm to catch the sunset over the lake while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry at the lovely Promenád Kavéház. Judging by the lone slice of banana cake, the couple of chocolate wedges, and the handful of macaroons, we weren’t the only ones to have had this idea. The offer was thin but the view was amazing. Looking out across the lake over to Fonyód was like looking across a massive pane of glass. Blue sky. Calm water. Crisp air. Lovely stuff. Back around 1900, Charlie thought so too. He’s quoted here as saying something along the lines of ‘I’ll never forget that moment when I saw this fairy country… I stopped as if my feet were roots.’
It was cold though. At least I was feeling the cold until I was beset by a hot flush. They’re the bane of my life these days. I never know what to wear and seem to spend my time taking off and putting on my clothes. It’s a pain in the proverbial. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night or managed to stay in one room for any length of time without having pop outside for a breather. I’m wishing it would all be over. Menopause is proof in my mind that God isn’t a woman. Still though, in cold weather, said same flushes can be a blessing in disguise. And true to form, on the walk around the viewing point, I was nicely warmed.
We popped into Aldi to pick up a few things before getting 6 pm mass in Keszthely. Wandering the aisles with plenty of time to spare, I was all happy … until I flushed again.
Sweet mother of divine Jesus, I cried. Just give me two flush-free hours and I’ll be happy. Just two. Surely that’s not too much to ask!
I was more than a little pissed off. Dehatting, descarfing, degloving and then unzipping and derobing is a major inconvenience, especially as it all has to be put back on minutes later.
We headed over to Magyarok Nagyasszonya templom (Our Lady of Hungary church) for 6 o’clock Mass. Waiting for the priest to show up, it felt like the coldest church I’d ever been in. Not a radiator or electric heater in sight. It was so cold that I could see my breath.
I’d had a near missing coming into the place. The full complement of lights don’t go on till 5.45 but we’d mistimed it and got there five minutes earlier. I opened the main door and stepped in – and down. I ask you, what sort of idiot architect puts a step at a door threshold? I went sprawling but managed to right myself before I hit the floor and better yet, managed to contain the inevitable expletive to a whisper. Just as well, because the acoustics were good.
At 5.55 pm, there was only ourselves and two old dears in the congregation. I was beginning to doubt there was Mass at 6. But then the crowd appeared, all of a sudden and all at once. We caused some consternation as of all the empty pews in the place, we’d sat in one that had regulars. I was too cold to move or care and as they squished in regardless, the element of body heat wasn’t lost on me.
The priest was late. It wasn’t until he made an appearance at 6.05 that the seat pads were switched on. I’ve only ever seen this in Hungary. The seat pads are heated – like electric blankets. The rest of me might have been frozen solid but my bum was nice and toasty. It’s the weirdest thing.
I borrowed himself’s hat, thanking the protocol that frowns on men covering their heads in a church but encourages women to do so. I figured I’d have no more than 15 minutes before a hot flush kicked in and then I’d be nice and warm. Himself was thinking the same. I radiate heat when it happens. Some not in the know might take it for a miracle of sorts. But nothing. Not a damn thing. Then I remembered the prayer I’d uttered aloud in Aldi. It’d only been gone and answered! The luck of it all.
After a week that seemed like it would never end, I’m grateful to have been cautioned – I need to be more careful what I pray for.
If you’re in Keszthely, the church is worth a visit as it has some spectacular old frescoes. But watch the step.
The first month of the new year isn’t even in double digits yet and already I’m beset by a feeling of foreboding that just won’t go away. I can’t quite put my finger on it but 2019 has none of the hope or expectation that its predecessor had. It’s not like anything is wrong; it’s more a feeling that things could be heading for a downswing and the chances of avoiding or averting whatever’s in store seem small, if non-existent. I’m not depressed. I’m not paranoid. I’m not even fatalistic – I’d be more than happy if I’m wrong. It’s just a sense I have that it’s going to be a year to remember and not for any good reason. Only time will tell. It’s been a while, years in fact, since I’ve felt this way and thankfully, I know from experience that I have a coping mechanism that works. I need to delight in the ordinary. I need to lose sight of the big picture and concentrate on the little things.
A few weeks back, I took the car for a spin through the local carwash. The last time I’d been there, the chap in charge all but pulled out what few hairs he had left in desperation at my stupidity. Am sure that his account of ‘that idiot woman’ kept the local pub entertained that evening. Okay. My bad. But no, I didn’t for a minute think that the car had to be out of gear and the handbrake had to be off for it to move – wasn’t that the whole point of automation? Of course, in retrospect, it’s completely sensible. The car has to be free to move through the wash; it doesn’t just get up on a track and trundle along unaided. But who would have thunk it, eh? My Hungarian wasn’t quite up to understanding the finer mechanics of the workings of a carwash but after a few shouts, yells, and wild gesticulations, I got the message. Finally.
And he remembered me. I left an impression. I could see the universal upwards eye-shift that screams – oh, no, not her again. But then he spotted himself beside me and relaxed. All was well. I had a man in the car who’d tell me what to do. How was he to know that I don’t need to be told twice? Bless him.
Anyway, as I sat looking out at what was going on, it struck me that way back whenever, some bright spark sat down one day and dreamed up this idea. It’s a spectacular piece of work really. The rollers, the runners, the hoses, the jets, the pipes, the pullies, the nozzles, the water, the suds, the foam, the drying columns, the fans … each piece playing its part in an operation that had my car looking like new in a matter of minutes. Harmony in motion. I wondered who was behind it.
It seems there are a number of contenders for the title.
Back in 1914, in Detroit, MI, Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle opened what they called an automatic laundry. But the only automation going was human. As the car went through a tunnel (being pushed by a few chaps, no doubt), one guy soaped, another rinsed, and a third dried. It wasn’t until 1940 in Hollywood, CA, that someone had the idea to pull the car through the tunnel using a winch. And it was later again, in 1946, that Thomas Simpson came up with the sprinkler idea, but still, some poor sod had to do the rubbing and the drying.
Here’s where Google divides. One site says that Paul Maranian, opened Paul’s Auto Wash in Detroit – the world’s first automatic car wash – in 1948. But a second says it was the Anderson brothers of Seattle, WA, who finally went fully automated in 1951. Archie, Dean, and Eldon didn’t have the benefit of social media to spread the word and it would appear that in 1956, some parts of the USA still hadn’t gotten wind of their invention. Dan Hanna, from Portland, OR, which is really only down the road from Seattle, while on vacation in Mexico became fascinated with the workings of the local carwash. He went back home, got his mother to mortgage the house, and opened his own Rub-a-Dub in Milwaukie, OR. By 1959, according to the Hanna website, he had a working model of ‘the first mechanized car washing system’. Automated vs mechanized. mmmm….
That took me off on a whole other tangent.
According to those in the know, mechanization saves the use of human muscles whereas automation saves the use of human judgement. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’ve failed repeatedly and spectacularly when taking aptitude tests where cog A turns in one direction, cog B turns in another, and I’m supposed to figure out which way cog C goes. I’m damn near useless with any sort of instructional diagram. I need it in word format. My brain simply doesn’t interpret diagrams, but even with this limitation, surely mechanization would come before automation?
It doesn’t matter a whit to me, really, which came first or who gets the credit for what. I’m grateful that my coping mechanism still works and that I can still be distracted if I find delight in the ordinary. Who knows what I’ll learn this year!
2018 is drawing to a close. 2019 is almost upon us. Himself and the two headed over to the healing forest in Slovenia earlier this morning. I’ve stayed behind to catch up on work and meet some deadlines. Tonight we’ll sit around a table with friends and eat lamb, cooked Moroccan style. Fish and poultry will swim or fly away with our luck, so we’ll avoid those. We’ll have lentils just after midnight to make sure we’ll have luck and prosperity for the next 12 months. We might even bury a coin or two in the garden this evening and dig them up on the morrow. We already have a stalk of blessed straw from the village crib in our wallets. Superstition, I hear you say. And you’re right. But in these turbulent times, I’ll do what I can to mitigate the insanity. 2018 has shown me just how irrational the world has become, how self-centred its people are, how much we have lost sight of the bigger picture in an effort to preserve our own sliver of society. I’d like to think that 2019 will be a year of a collective awakening to what’s really important in life but I have my doubts. Something tells me that we haven’t seen the half of what’s to come.
2019 will be a tumultuous one for me. January and February are already as full as the myriad flights I’ll be on. It’s shaping up to be a year of reunions and farewells. With ageing parents and elderly friends, I’m even more conscious of the need to refocus on what’s important and not waste my time. It was a thing that age defined our departure from this world but it seems as if the resounding Irish funeral echo of ‘they were a good age’ is being replaced by ‘they were too young to go’. None of us can tell what’ll happen tomorrow. Today is all we have.
That said, I’m grateful to be in the village, my safe place where the world rights itself, surrounded by good friends. I’m grateful to have the wherewithal to dress the table and see 2018 out in style. And as we stand on the upstairs balcony at midnight, watching the fireworks go off in the villages around the Kis-Balaton, the words of John O’Donoghue’s blessing will echo in my mind.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
Happy New Year. Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. Boldog új évet.
I wasn’t a half hour in the door from the airport when my 92-year-old father turned to me and said :
Something came into my mind today and I wanted to ask you about it.
Oh oh. God only knew where this one was going. I had a quick think and couldn’t come up with anything I’d said or done recently that would give rise to boss questioning me.
And then he started:
A was an archer who shot at a frog
B was a butcher who killed a wild hog
C was a captain, all covered in lace
D was a drunkard who had a red face
E was an esquire with pride on his brow
F was a farmer who followed the plough
G was a gamester who had but ill luck
H was a hunter how followed a buck
I was a innkeeper who loved much the booze
J was a joiner who built up a house
K was King William who once governed this land
L was a lady who had a white hand
M was a miser who hoarded up gold
N was a nobleman gallant and bold
O was an oyster wench who went about town
P was a parson who wore a black gown
Q was a queen who was fond of good flip
R was a robber who wanted a whip
S was a sailor who spent all he got
T was a tinker who mended a pot
U was a userer, a miserable elf
V was vitner who drank all himself
W was a watchman who guarded the door
X was expensive and so became poor
Y was a youth who didn’t like school
Z was a zany, a poor harmless fool
Did you know that? he asked.
I’d never heard it before. It was something he had learned more than 80 years ago as a child. And it had just popped into his head. I Googled it and found a few versions that vary in the telling. In one, I was an Italian, O an organboy, P a policeman, and Q a quaker.
It’s Tom Thumb’s Alphabet. The earliest printed record of it is 1712. As it grew in popularity, some lines were considered to have a harmful effect on children. Y was a youth, that did not love school was one example. So the alphabet was replaced by that by Benjamin Harris, published in the New England Primer.
It brought to mind the recent hoo-ha about Fairy Tale of New York and It’s Cold Outside. Even in the 1700s words and phrases were outliving their usefulness. But that said, perhaps the idle fool being whipped at school would be lost in the telling today, too.
This week, as Christmas in Ireland is in full swing, I’m grateful for the flights of fancy on which my dad’s memories take me.
I had my day all planned out. Dentist 9 am. Physio 9.45. Coffee with B at 11.30. Lunch with C at 1 pm. Home to pick up ~40 kg of groceries to deliver to Zs for her charity drive at 3.30 pm. Back home by 4.30 to pack for a trip, picking up some brown paper to wrap the last of the presents on the way. Drinks with I at 7 pm and then bed by 10. Everything timed. Everything set.
I got to the dentist 20 minutes before my appointment. I had my book. It was warm. I was grand waiting. But then she ran over. At 9.35 she said she could see me but I had a physio appointment in ten minutes. She asked if I could come afterwards, at 11.30. B had cancelled the coffee so I was free. But I couldn’t eat for two hours after a cleaning, and lunch wasn’t cancellable. So no dentist.
After physio I went home, planning to pick up an Advent wreath for J and some brown paper. They were out of paper. I got the wreath. And I lost a glove. When I left for my lunch date, I retraced my steps, used my muddled Hungarian to mime the glove loss with a singularly unhelpful shop assistant and got lucky.
Back home to pick up the food, I double-checked that Zs was home. She wasn’t. She was in Ikea. The meet was postponed two hours but I couldn’t wrap as I had no paper, so I ironed. Then, at 5, I left with two loaded wheelie bags that refused to come to heel. Like incalcitrant puppies, they had a will of their own. I checked that I had everything. Keys, phone, wallet, metro pass. No metro pass. I’d lost it at some stage after taking the metro that morning. It had 10 days left and 8 loose tickets. I wasn’t happy. I walked in circles around my kitchen invoking all sorts of hell and damnation. Had anyone been looking in the window, they’d have thought me mad.
At the tram stop, the ticket machine kept asking for exact change. I fed in more coins than I needed as I didn’t have the exact change. I wasn’t winning the battle. Three trams came and went. And the fight went on. I asked a fellow traveller for a 10 ft coin. She gave it to me with a smile, the first of the day and it was after 5 pm. But the ticket machine wasn’t having any of it. I took a photo of the screen to show that I’d paid in my money and then the next one showing it out of order. I planned on showing this to the controller if questioned. I was spoiling for a fight with someone who could talk back.
Getting off the stop, one of my wheelie bags upended. The crowd boarding the tram was unforgiving. My inner fishwife came out. I was beside myself. I recognised the day for what it was: a hormonal mess. As each little piece fell apart, a little piece of me went with it. Menopause is a bitch.
I don’t want to take hormones. When it gets so bad that I lose my sense of reason, I buy a packet of cigarettes. Trying to get up the steps and through the narrow door of the Nemzeti Donhánybolt with my 40 kg of groceries wobbling on leashes behind me was a spectacle. I came crashing through the door to the soundtrack of muffled curses in two languages.
I delivered the food, boxed it, and left for home. I’d have 20 minutes before I had to leave for my 7 pm drinks date. Time for a cigarette and a coffee. Time to magic up some calm and reason to douse those hormones.
I thought of the opposition MPs fighting for the right to be broadcast on Hungarian national media, and the thousands of protestors on the streets objecting to the new labour law. I thought of the Muslims in China who are being force-fed pork and alcohol in an effort to reprogram them and the way this piece of news hasn’t yet received international traction. I thought of my friend G whose brand new product Dragekiss has been counterfeited by unscrupulous Asian outfits and the long road she has ahead of her in her fight for justice. I thought of friends and acquaintances battling with their particular ailments and illnesses, of varying severity and hope. I thought of Saturn losing its rings. Of José Mourinho losing his job. Of the world losing the great Laverne. And I told myself that my day wouldn’t even register on the national or international crap scale. I heard that line from Kipling repeat itself again and again.
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…
And I thought f*&! it. My circus. My monkey. My hormones. I’d get over it. It’s days like these that wine is made for.
Nothing makes me feel more ‘of’ a place than running into someone I know on the street. That sense of knowing someone from somewhere else immediately robs the place of its foreign feel. I don’t have to know them well, or even to have known them for long, it’s the knowing that cinches it. I was nearly a year in Budapest before I first ran into someone I knew on the street, before that foreign feeling left me. And even today, chance meetings in the city are a rarity, a symptom perhaps of different lives being lived at different paces. But a few weeks back, while over in Buda, I ran into British artist David Stuart Sutherland. Unusually, both of us had time to spare, time for a quick coffee and a catch-up. It’d been years. Many years. Back when a mutual friend was living in Hungary, we’d socialised a bit. I’d a faint notion that he painted and took photographs and was into some sort of whacky music, but I didn’t know the half of it.
In the years since we last met, Sutherland has come into his own. Focusing exclusively on his art, his interplay with mixed-media painting, analogue photography, and sound belies an innate curiosity about stuff. Yes, stuff. Plain, ordinary, everyday stuff. Standing one day with the guts of a Hoover bag in his hands, he upended the contents. There among the dust were pieces of his son’s Lego, splotches of colour that greyed out the already grey dust. Where I’d have seen a mess, he saw a pigment. The result was a 25 cm x 25 cm piece called Ash Vacuum: vacuum cleaner dust and paper on canvas, a piece I’m secretly coveting. Sutherland doesn’t limit himself by paint when he makes paintings. His thing is to mix found materials. A 1966 ledger he found on the street in Budapest, the forerunner of the modern-day Excel spreadsheet, resulted in a series of three pieces entitled Harbor, and heralded his venture into ‘found’ art.
But his work is not just about physical media that can be fashioned into something for people to look at. Sutherland is also into sound as art. In 2014, he founded the audio-visual group m o n o f o g with Tamás Ilauszky. The pair of them dug out some lo-fi, junk instruments and started playing. Their work looks at acoustic bodies as art objects as well as sound makers. And here, too, there’s the thread of found art and a homage to our disposable world. Imagine a fiddle bow tickling the spokes of a bicycle wheel and you’re one step closer to picturing what they do. If you need to hear it to believe it, have a listen to their track, Dodo do do, on Sutherland’s website https://www.davidstuartsutherland.com/sound-works. It’s heady stuff.
With photography part of everything we do these days, some say that that the art itself is dead. Mind you, didn’t they say that about painting, too? With the millions of photos posted hourly on social media (an average of 95 million photos were uploaded each day on Instagram alone in 2018), everyone with a smartphone fancies themselves a photographer. Digital has done wonders for the democratisation of photography but how much of the art itself has been diluted by editing tools and filters? I wonder. Sutherland is old school, though. He’s analogue all the way. His black-and-white photos of the city are shot on a MicroPress 5×4 Xenar 1:4 camera with a 7/134 Schneider Kreuznach lens. He develops the sheet prints in his home studio and then makes the contact prints. His series Budapest F32 is in Mai Manó House, the Hungarian House of Photography, over on Nagymező utca (signed, dated archival prints are available for sale: my picks are Vajda and Liszt). There’s an old-world feel to these contemporary images that grabs hold of you. It’s like being transported back to a place where people had both the time and the inclination to stop and look and listen. There’s something about Sutherland’s work that resonates; it’s almost as if he’s been around before.
The curator at Rugógyár Galéria thought so, too. Earlier this year, Sutherland was chosen as part of the gallery’s Innen és Túl az érzékelés határain (From here and beyond the limits of perception). He was in good company. Featuring abstract paintings from 1947 to 2018, the exhibition showcased the works of three artists: Tamás Lossonczy (1904–2009), Árpád Szabados (1944–2017), and David Stuart Sutherland (1966–) himself. It sought to find the parallels between the three artists, to find a share visual language, and in doing so to show how even though we come from different places and live in different times, our views of life can be similar. To share the same wall space with Lossonczy, who learned the tools of modern art from Picasso in Paris in the 1930s, had an almost poetic feel to it. Back in 2005, Sutherland and his wife Judit took their infant daughter to Műcsarnok, a contemporary art museum in Budapest. There, they fell in love with one of Lossonczy’s paintings. They positioned her pram in front of the painting and snapped a surreptitious photo. Little did Sutherland know that some 13 years later, his own paintings would be hanging beside those of Lossonczy in a new gallery on Szarka u. 7.
Sutherland’s work is being exhibited as part of the December Group Show at Rugógyár Galéria, alongside paintings and sculptures by Daniel Horváth, Szilárd Cseke, Tamás Lossonczy, Árpád Szabados, Balázs Veres, Henrik Martin, and Ágnes Hardi. It runs from 11 December.
As Christmas approaches, shopping lists grow longer. Decisions on what to buy for those special people can wreck your head. Consider giving the gift of art this year. I’m making it easy for you; I’ve given you my three Sutherland picks 😊
Nollaig shona daoibh go léir | Boldog karácsonyt mindenkinek | Happy Christmas to you all.
Published in the Budapest Times December 2018
I got a right old slap in the face this week. Shocking really. I’ve been dwelling on it for days. A mate of mine rang me from Tanzania one evening and we had quite the chat. I asked what life was like over there as we plan on visiting him next year. On a personal note, I was particularly interested in how he was faring in the romance department. I wondered if there was a new man on the scene. Being gay in a country where homosexuality carries a 30-year prison sentence is no joke. I wondered how he was doing and how much the draconian laws affected his life. [According to Amnesty International, four African countries still have the death penalty for homosexuals.]
He’s keeping a low profile, he said, but thankfully, he’s not living in the capital. Last month, according to a report in The Guardian, hundreds went into hiding to avoid the witch hunt currently underway in Dar es Salaam, where Paul Makonda, the city’s administrative head, has called for people to out their gay friends, neighbours, and relatives. The US embassy has advised US citizens in the country to review their social media posts for content…just in case. Mad, I thought. And very worrying. How could anyone live in those sorts of circumstances?
Anyway, I was recounting this story to another friend of mine, who said: ‘I assume you won’t be going there, then.’ And before my brain kicked in, I heard myself reply: ‘Of course I’m going. I’m not gay. I’ll be fine.’
I’m not gay. I’ll be fine.
Sweet mother of Divine Jesus, how did I get to this low point? When did I start thinking that as long as it wasn’t being done to me, I’d nothing to worry about?
To say I was disgusted with myself is an understatement.
Many years ago, I came across a quotation by Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
It affected me deeply. I have serious issues with Azerbaijan and doubt I’ll ever set foot in the country again after that Azeri murderer debacle. I try my damnedest not to buy anything made in China because I’ve taken umbrage at its censorship laws. After some soul searching in October, given what’s going on with the Rohingya, we decided not to go to Myanmar, even though we could see it across the water. Realistically, if I took stock of the human rights record of every country I visited and avoided those with a blemish, I’d find my map of travel opportunity much smaller. But that’s not what’s bothering me. It’s the quickness with which I came back with the answer that has me concerned.
I’m not gay. I’ll be fine.
A few weeks back, in a comment on something I’d posted on Facebook, a former colleague (and friend, or so I thought) called me a racist. No explanation was given. Just a statement: ‘You’re a racist.’ That same week, because I don’t happen to think George Soros is evil, another friend lumped me into what they call the Zombie Minions. Not usually one to give a rat’s ass about what people think of me, these two labels hurt me deeply.
Just about any policy or political post I read today on social media has a litany of comments following it that vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Ad hominem attacks are rampant. People’s characters and/or personal attributes are being attacked to discredit their arguments. Criticisers are not engaging with the subject of the debate but the person debating it. It’s mean. It’s nasty. It’s debilitating. Unfortunately, it’s rapidly becoming the norm. There seems to be a prevailing sense that ‘I’m right and if you don’t believe as I do, then you’re wrong.’ In this black-and-white world, I’m finding it hard to find even two shades of grey, let alone fifty.
In one comment on an anti-Trump post recently, someone pointed to a page on the US State Department’s website which lists all that’s been achieved since getting into power. Arguably, Obama had set the groundwork, but still, these were accomplished with him in office. I read the list and spot-checked, looking for alternative sources to support the claims. And they’re there. So why then can’t those against the man and all he stands for admit the accomplishments but ask what they’ve been achieved at the expense of? And has it been worth the price? Isn’t that a better basis for discussion?
I’m slowly losing the will to engage. I’m having visceral reactions to the strident posts I read on Twitter and Facebook. I’m sick to my stomach of the anger and the hate and the superiority of the arguments. I’ve blocked, muted, and unfollowed but then I wonder if I need to read/hear all sides to keep track of what’s going on and not get lured into that self-righteous box of moral certainty.
I’m not gay. I’ll be fine.
But is it too late? Am I already there? Have I tucked away my principles until a more convenient time dawns?
I still plan to go to Tanzania. I want to see my friend. It’s been too long. But now I’ll do so consciously.
This week, I’m grateful that we had the chance to talk and that I had this recalibratory moment. Now more than ever, I need to keep my wits about me, to keep thinking for myself, and not fall victim to the hype and hysteria I see and hear every day.