Get your green on

Get your green on

St Patrick’s Day 2020 falls on a Tuesday. In countries where it’s a national holiday, like Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, Tuesday parades will be in order. In Budapest, the parade and festival will take place on Sunday, 22nd March, but the day itself will be marked by the city’s Irish pubs (noted here in alphabetical order lest I be accused of favouritism).

What the Irish pubs are doing

Beckett’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, a beacon for Irish abroad since first opening its doors in 1994, is now six years in its new home on Liszt Ferenc Tér 11. Its namesake, Samuel Beckett, is probably best known for his contribution to the Theatre of the Absurd, Waiting for Godot. And I’m sure many have had Godot-like moments in this establishment. With a nod from the playwright himself who advised the world to ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order,’ Beckett’s has quite the line-up, with U2 tribute band INKA-H at 8pm on Friday the 13th; a Six Nations rugby feast on the 14th (Coronavirus permitting), and then Sunday, they’re offering a Hangover Sunday Bloody Mary Breakfast Special with live music that night by John Murphy. On Tuesday, the day itself, there’ll be an all-day party.

Davy Byrne’s Irish Pub is having its first St Patrick’s Day in Budapest. Those with a literary bent might remember James Joyce mentioning the Dublin Davy Byrne’s in both The Dubliners and Ulysses. For many years, the Duke Street pub attracted some of the greats of Irish writing – Brendan Behan, Patrick Cavanagh, Myles na gCopaleen. It was known to serve Michael Collins and host meetings of the outlawed Irish government back in the day. The Budapest Davy Byrne’s (Jókai u. 4) is on track to making its own history. It has live music Saturday night after the rugby and on Sunday, 15th March, there’s a comedy night headlined by Irish comedian Brian Gallagher supported by Joe Dowlin and James Rankin. Start time 7.15pm. On the day itself, there’s live music from 7pm. On the 18th, a St Patrick’s Day themed quiz night will challenge those with a still-functioning brain. Paddy McMullen will be back with more music on the 22nd after the parade.

Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant recently celebrated 10 years in the city where it has carved a niche for itself on the tourist trail with many tourists and pub alumni coming back year on year. The original Jack Doyle had quite the resumé. The Corkman was a boxer, a singer, an actor, a lover, and a drinker. He was a name amongst names. He came to blows with Clarke Gable over actress Carole Lombard and his ex-wife Movita Castaneda would go on to marry Marlon Brando. Noted for saying, ‘a generous man never went to hell’, Doyle would have found no shortage of people to listen to his stories in Jack Doyle’s Budapest. JD’s has a full calendar with live music from 22:30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and from 20:00 on Tuesday, the 17th. It, too, will be showing the Six Nations matches on the 14th, if they’re played. Located on the pedestrian street Pilvax köz 1-3, it’s best to use the street address of Varoshaz u. 10 if you’re in a taxi.

More to the day than drinking

If, over the week, you find yourself craving a full Irish breakfast but can’t face the thoughts of going anywhere near a pint, check out ÍRish Budapest on Kiss János altábornagy 54. This family-run café/restaurant caters for vegan, coeliac, and all other tastes. With Irish soda bread a firm fixture on the menu, this new venture has quickly gained a reputation for serving up the ould rashers and sausages with a side of Irish banter.

If you’re planning on making your own breakfast and but don’t want the hassle of baking yourself, get your  Irish soda bread and scones from Áran Bakery on Wesselényi utca 23. They taste as if they’ve come from an Irish mammy’s kitchen. Tesco stocks Kerrygold butter and Lidl does an Irish country butter that passes muster, so you’ll be set.

The glam side of the festivities

With the day itself done and dusted, celebrations will continue on Saturday, 21st March, with the St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner at the Marriott Hotel hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle and sponsored by Pannonia Bio. This annual Black-Tie event is a fixture on the Budapest social calendar and a great excuse to get dolled up. An evening filled with fine food, live traditional music, entertainment, and dancing, this year it features the Tóth-Mayo Duo, Kearney’s Dogs, and DJ Woods. In aid of the IHBC Charitable Foundation, proceeds will support local communities in Budapest and all over Hungary. To reserve a ticket, email [email protected]

And the festival begins

Sunday, 22nd March, is the day many people are waiting for: the 10th annual St Patrick’s Day Parade.  This year, the call to gather is for 13:00 at Erzsébet tér. The parade will depart at 15:00 headed by a band of pipers. With thousands expected to join the festivities, it’ll take about an hour to wend its way through the streets of Budapest. This is a free event for the whole family.

The Festival After-Party will take place at Akvárium Klub from 16:00 with all the ceol, damhsa, bia, deoch, agus craic you can manage. Yes, music, dancing, food, drink, and fun are the order of the day. Tickets are available now from the venue. 1800 HUF in advance or 2500 HUF on the day. The first 500 tickets get a free Guinness hat or t-shirt.

When the Normans invaded Ireland in 1066, they settled so well that they were described as Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin (more Irish than the Irish themselves). Over the last ten years, more and more Hungarians and people from all over the world have been joining the annual celebrations in Budapest. This year is set see a record turnout, so get your green on and be Irish for the day…or the week.

Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 March 2020

And after we went to press, I heard that The Celtic Barber will be dyeing hair and beards green and will be serving their patrons Jameson and Guinness. Lads, there’s no better day to get a haircut or a beard trim.

And since then the Gala Dinner and the Parade and the After-Party have been cancelled 🙁 and best to check with the pubs before heading out on the day – so much can happen between now and then

The Celtic Barber

I’m having flashbacks to 1994 and the birth of the term ‘metrosexual’. The portmanteau of metropolitan and heterosexual describes a man who has discovered moisturiser and manicures. The marketing world had suddenly woken up to the fact that men had money and liked to spend that money on looking good. Real men were now looking after their skin, their nails, and their hair.

Fast forward a couple of decades and add social media to the mix. Men today compete with women when it comes to posing for selfies, checking hair and profiles. And with beards very much in fashion, barbershops are trending.

In 2018, 813 barbershops opened in the UK, up on 624 in 2017, pretty much the same time as they took off in Budapest. Ireland had reached its barbershop peak in 2016. Note: A barber is not the same as a men’s hairdresser. Both cut hair but your barber will give you a shave, shape your beard, and trim your moustache, too. Men are preening for the pampering.

Curious to see what the madness was about, I ventured up Kiraly utca to No. 90, home of The Celtic Barber in search of the Irish connection.

During Tom Hyziak’s 15-year hiatus in Dublin, he popped over to Budapest for a Formula 1 weekend and then ventured down to Siófok for a few days R&R. That same week in 2014, Mezőkövesd-born Eliza Baranyi was home on holiday from Paris. The two met in a bar and liked the look of each other. In a matter of months Eliza had left the snootiness of the French capital for the more laid-back vibe Dublin had to offer. There, this Polish man and Hungarian woman set up home. Tom was working as a quality controller while building up his online business selling racing-car parts and Eliza needed something to keep her busy.

She’d worked beach bars and restaurants for five years in the Caribbean Islands and then spent seven more working as a personal stylist in Paris. She wanted something different. A friend of hers had started barbering and drafted Tom’s head for practice. Eliza went along to see and figured why not. She did a course, then practised a little at a Romanian’s barbershop in Dublin before going to work for The Grafton Barber. The family-owned company first hung up its pole in 1961 and is now the largest chain in both Ireland and the UK. Eliza learned from the best. Her colleague, a Ukrainian named  Dimitry, shared with her his passion for beards. I suspect she’d already mastered the banter, but her time in Ireland honed her skills even further.

‘I can jump on anyone’s mood’, she told me. ‘I can find something to talk about with just about everyone.’

In October 2018, the pair were ready to move on. Eliza wanted her summers back. Tom wanted to be nearer his native Wrocław. They headed for Budapest with the notion of opening their own barbershop. The Celtic Barber was born.

I’d passed at least five other places advertising haircuts and such for men on my walk from the Körút and wondered at the level of competition in the city. Tom quickly pointed out that there are barbers and there are barbers.

‘Many of them have no idea of the history behind the barber pole,’ he said.

Count me with them, I thought to myself, but I know better now.

Up until Pope Alexander III stopped the practice in the 1100s, monks and priests were the go-to people if you wanted some bloodletting done. Back in the day, bloodletting was seen as a cure for everything from epilepsy to the plague. Imagine having a vein cut open so that the bad blood causing whatever ailed you could escape. Some monks and priests used leeches rather than lancets – equally vile. Anyway, when the job was going abegging, barbers stepped up and became known as barber-surgeons. They’d give their patients a pole to clench to encourage the blood to flow faster, hence the pole; the red-and-white stripes came from the bloody bandages. All rather gruesome. Today’s iconic barber poles show that there’s a real barber in residence, someone who’s skilled with a razor, has mastered the skinfade, and knows their way around a beard. Cue Eliza.

Walking into their shop on Kiraly utca is like stepping into a little corner of Ireland. There’s beer in the fridge, whiskey in the press, and coffee on the table. The walls are full of Irish memorabilia. Sure anyone could do that, you might say. And yes, you can have kits of Irishness shipped anywhere in the world. But what’s harder to transport is the craic, the banter, the easy-going commentary that suggests we’ve been friends for years.

They’ve poured their hearts into the place and it shows. Between them, they speak Hungarian, English, French, and Polish. Over half of their clients are foreigners, a nod to the changing face of the capital. Many are Irish students, perhaps upping their game for the Budapest scene.

Eliza’s professionalism and her streak of perfectionism mean that they don’t need to advertise – their clients do it for them. That they’ve gone from zero clients to a client base that keeps Eliza and their other barber, Ben, busy for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week says it all. Walk-ins are welcome but to avoid disappointment, make an appointment. They’re so busy that they’ve work for three full-time barbers but with so many other shops in Budapest, the pickings are thin. And they need someone who knows their trade and can speak English, too.

Both of them speak with a certain wistfulness about Ireland and their lives there. They think of it as a second home. Indian author Anita Desai reckons that ‘wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow’ and Tom and Eliza are living proof that this is true.

I never thought I’d regret being a woman and not having a beard. I made an appointment for himself instead.

First published in the Budapest Times 14 February 2020

 

7scents

I have a peculiarly impulsive sense of smell that has led me to stopping random people and commenting on the scent they’re wearing. Women usually smile, take the compliment in their stride, and volunteer the name of their perfume. Men, once they get over my brazenness, seem inordinately chuffed that someone even noticed. Read more

No foreigners here

Christmas came early for many people in Budapest this year with the election of the beautifully named Gergely Szilveszter Karácsony as mayor of the city in October. New Year in Hungary is known as Szilveszter and Christmas translates as Karácsony. And yes, I checked. He was a June baby. Read more

Coming home

I have a weakness. I have several weaknesses in fact, but more than any of the others, this one I find impossible to resist. You can keep your wine. You can have your chocolate. You can save your flowers. What gets me every time is bread. Fresh bread. With a wad of Irish butter. There is nothing tastier. It works. Every. Single. Time. And it’s not just an Irish thing, it’s a Hungarian thing, too. Well, maybe not the butter. Read more

The Dogs’ Breakfast Group

It does my heart good to hear non-Hungarians talking in terms of giving back to the country that has become their adopted home. I’m a firm believer in social responsibility and the importance of doing what you can to bridge the divide between Magyarok and külföldiek. I’m all for the cross-cultural pollination of ideas, perspectives, and customs.

For many, though, living in an expat bubble is common enough. And while some support charitable causes and others volunteer with local charities, few attempt to start something that will live beyond them when they leave.

I had a coffee recently with Australian-born Robyn Flemming. We met in person several years ago when her nomadic life brought her to Budapest, and we’ve been aware of each other virtually since then.

Amongst her many passions, which include photography, travel, running, and writing, Flemming is a Dog Lover. Those capitals are deliberate. Currently dogless, she’s embarking on a new venture in Budapest that will give lots of dogs the chance to meet other dogs and lots of dogless dog lovers the chance to meet them, too. It’s her way of giving back. ‘I’m incredibly grateful to Budapest for opening its arms to me.’

Years ago, in Australia, Flemming had a dog-loving friend visit on holiday from Canada. To entertain her visitor, she invited all her dog-owning friends to bring their dogs to a breakfast. They met at a local dog-friendly café and had a blast. The Dogs’ Breakfast Group was born. ‘Naming something is very powerful. It gives it energy,’ she said.

Robyn Flemming isn’t a woman who does things by halves. She’d contacted local businesses to sponsor doggie bags for the dogs involved and generated enough buzz to get the attention of the local press. They made the papers. At that first Dogs’ Breakfast, 13 dogs showed up with their owners in tow. After a few months of regular meetups, the numbers grew. The group moved to a leash-free park with BBQ facilities. Everyone brought sausages to cook for the dogs. The clue is in the name – the dogs’ breakfast – it’s all about the dogs. Like humans, dogs make friends. And like children, it’s important for puppies to learn to socialise with other dogs, too.

The concept took off. Flemming put together a regular newsletter, The Border Tail. It featured dog biographies written by owners in their dog’s voice. There were profiles of local veterinarians. Devo the Wonderdog had a movie review column, and the Style Hound gave fashion tips in a column called ‘Fur, Fangs and Fashion’.

Flemming organised an art exhibition called The Dog Show and asked local artists to contribute dog-themed pieces. It caught local, state, and national attention with coverage from press, radio, and television. Riding the Calendar Girls phenomenon, she initiated a photoshoot of some of the group members (including the city mayor) with their dogs. The photo, entitled The Hunting Lodge (The Dogs Breakfast Group) shot by Jules Boag, was shortlisted for the Australian National Photographic Portrait Prize in 2007. The group had reach.

(c) Jules Boag. The Hunting Lodge is a portrait that references the Old Masters. The sitters pose in a style reminiscent of a Velázquez subject. The chiaroscuro reminds the viewer of Rembrandt or Caravaggio. Overall, the unusual shallow variable focus and perspective unnerves the viewer on a subconscious level and asks the viewer to consider David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge. The viewer looks for clues: who are these people, why are they gathered, why are they so dressed up and why is the woman naked in the middle?

When the local council wanted to turn part of the off-leash park where the group met each month into a children’s playground, they were consulted – the Dogs’ Breakfast Group had become a stakeholder in the local community.

Flemming left Australia in 2010 to travel the world. When she first visited Budapest in 2013, she fell in love with the city, its people, and its dogs. ‘Budapest has grabbed me by the ankles and won’t let go’, she said.

Dogless in Budapest, Flemming is missing canine company. So, she’s decided to start a Dogs’ Breakfast Group here, too. When we spoke, she was planning the first one for the last Sunday in September. The plan was to meet at Hősök Tere by the statue at 9:45 a.m. for a walk starting at 10. I don’t doubt for a minute that she got a crowd and that it will continue. As she says herself: ‘If you put enough energy behind something, it can’t not go somewhere and generally, if it’s well-intentioned, it goes somewhere good.’

Joki. (c) Robyn Flemming

I’m dogless by choice. When I was still wearing knee-socks, we had a dog, a Corgi called Rinty. He was run over by a car on my granny’s farm. Then we got another dog, a Jack Russell called Monty. He ate poison that had been laid for stray dogs preying on a neighbouring farmer’s sheep. After that, I was dogged out. My relationship with dogs since has been very superficial. Those I’m around a lot grow on me, though – some more than others. Truth be told, they fascinate me. We recently stayed in a house with six dogs, including two Dane Mastiffs. The smallest of the six, a Dachshund, was the Lead Dog. No one had told her she was tiny. No mental limitations there.

I can see a Budapest Dogs’ Breakfast Group gathering momentum. The dog owners I know in the city are a breed apart. They recognise in each other that same unbridled love for their canine friends. Through their dogs, they strike up instant friendships that pay little heed to skin colour, religion, or political persuasion. It’s all about their dogs. In truth, they’re an example to everyone. If we all made life about something/someone other than ourselves, how much better the world would be.

Interested? Reach out to Robyn Flemming at [email protected]. Facebook: Budapest Dogs’ Breakfast Group.

Next meeting of the Dogs’ Breakfast Group is on Sunday, 27th October meeting at 9:45 am at the statue in Heroes Square to start walking at 10 am.

First published in the Budapest Times, October 2019

 

The Other Balaton

I’m writing this from Balaton. Not the Balaton. But the one and only Balaton in the United States of America, a small town in southwest Minnesota. I’m not quite sure how I found the place, but once I discovered it existed, I couldn’t not go visit. The additional 640 km (400 miles) it would add to my trip were of little consequence. Curiosity had gotten the better of me. Read more

In abstraction: Jim Urquhart

On 20 August, Hungary celebrates its foundation and remembers St Istvan (St Stephen), its first king, who was inducted into the ranks of Hungarian saints by Pope Gregory VII on 20 August 1083.

Let’s fast forward to 20 August 1993, when Scottish painter Jim Urquhart arrived in Budapest in search of something new. It’s understandable that he was a little taken aback by the celebrations. He drove in, too late for the fireworks, and was left to make sense of the teeming crowds and the smell of cordite. Twenty-six years later, and recently inducted into the ranks of Hungarian citizenry, he’s still enjoying the mystery of everything Magyar.

Photo by Borbely-Urquhart Julianna

Urquhart’s life to date reads like a series of chance encounters and happenstance, each linked by his insatiable delight in the ordinary and an innate curiosity that has him opening doors others might walk by.

His friend, travel and art writer Michael Jacobs, had suggested he contact Árpád Szabados, then head of Magyar Képzőművészeti Egyetem (Hungarian University of Fine Arts), when he arrived in Hungary. Szabados’ mother was Scottish and had met his father, a Calvinist minister, when studying in Edinburgh. During Urquhart’s first week in the country, at the behest of Szabados, he joined a football team made up of artists and writers and other creative sorts. One introduction led to another and pretty soon he had found somewhere to live, somewhere to paint, and that special someone he’d later marry – his wife Julia.

Back in 1968, his time at Edinburgh School of Art was cut short – he wasn’t the type of student they wanted on their books. Not that he lacked talent, but more that his political opinions weren’t exactly mainstream. Urquhart left Scotland for London where his days were spent labouring on building sites, his evenings at his easel. In 1975, he graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from the Central School of Art and Design, which through many marriages is now the Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. Ever the pragmatist, he went on to do a post-grad in teaching and then, in his mid-thirties, found himself Head of Department and teaching art, painting with his students in the classroom and having conversations with himself wondering how he’d gotten there. He describes the whole experience of teaching art and being an artist as ‘somewhat schizophrenic’.

When he turned 40, Urquhart decided that administration wasn’t his forte. Some people are cut out for working 9-5, five days a week, with a few weeks off for good behaviour throughout the year. Not he. But wishes and dreams don’t pay bills or buy paint. He compromised by working as a supply teacher, subbing for full-time teachers when they took unscheduled breaks.

He continued to do this after moving to Hungary, returning to the UK to teach for 4-6-week spells, earning enough to keep him in paint and palinka for 3-4 months. Around 1997, things really came together. Gábor Andrási invited him to exhibit his work at the Óbudai Pincegalériá. Andrási’s endorsement would open even more doors for the Glaswegian.

In 2000, Urquhart was one of the few foreign artists invited to exhibit at the Millennium exhibition in the Műcsarnok (Palace of Arts), confirmation indeed that Hungary thought well of her adopted son.  In 2011, when artist Ilona P. Boros, curator of the Falumúzeum (Village museum) in Törökbálint, founded Asztal-Társaság (the Table Company), Urquhart was the only non-Hungarian invited to join the group of eight. Although no longer a member, Urquhart credits Boros’s excellent organisational skills for the invitations that followed to exhibit in Hungary and abroad.

It was a busy time. Soon, Urquhart found himself painting for the next exhibition. But when his mum passed away six years ago, his subsequent regular trips to the UK to check in on his dad played havoc with his schedule. Not that he begrudges a moment of the time he spends over there – he enjoys his old man and Hughie certainly seems quite the character. The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I first saw his work hanging in the apartment of a mutual friend. The piece was from his train track series. When he lived out by Kobanya Kispest, Urquhart would regularly cross the train tracks, rails of steel that clearly defined the space around them. They made him question the underlying matrix, the mathematics of the physical world, as it were. I still covet that painting and each time I visit my bad self harbours notions of spiriting it away in my purse but never remembers to bring one big enough.

Back in his late teens and early twenties, Urquhart was a true believer in abstract. He was a fan of the likes of Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, and for a brief while, Jackson Pollack. Then he came across the figurative work of David Hockney and found it very ‘disturbing’. Okay, he thought, figures have their place in a historical context, but in contemporary art? And drawings of everyday life at that? Hockney’s work sent Urquhart in another direction, one that married everyday observances with abstract thoughts and figures.

In his telephone box series, the abstract representation of a telephone box is set off by a dress of the same colour in a shop window in the background. The dress is his nod to the idea of a person – but when you put a person in a picture, they become the focus and this wasn’t what the series was about.

(C) Jim Urquhart. Used with permission.

Urquhart’s bathing series is his take on a historical concept and context. Rather than painting cherubs in the sky, his bathers have that same angelic sense but in the water. ‘Abstraction’, he explained, ‘the colours and the content…they’re like the vocals in a piece of music.’

(C) Jim Urquhart. Used with permission.

I’m particularly taken by his vapour trail series, inspired by his musings on where everyone is coming from and going to. He sees the streets of Budapest as valleys, sided by tall buildings, creating a triangle of blue intersected by the white aeroplane path – something akin to the Kandinsky triangle, and the abstract concentration of power.

(C) Jim Urquhart. Used with permission.

Rachel Lebowitz explains it well in an Artsy editorial:

Kandinsky’s philosophy about spiritual life and art is founded on the idea of a three-tiered triangle containing all of humanity […] The triangle is slowly—nearly imperceptibly—moving forward and upward, towards a higher level of enlightenment. […] The most spiritually elevated people exist in the top section and are, as such, the smallest group; they see today what others will not understand until tomorrow.

The apex of that same triangle is also seen in Michael Angelo’s The Making of Adam when God and Adam touch fingers, he told me. His art classes must have been interesting, I thought.

Commissions aside, Urquhart paints for himself. ‘It’s difficult enough to guess what people like to eat, let alone to try to second-guess what they’d like to buy’, he said. He sold one of his metro steps series to someone who had just recovered from a serious illness. In those steps, leading out of the darkness of the underground into the light of day, they saw a visual connection with their own escape from death.

For Urquhart, success isn’t measured in high-priced canvases or rave reviews. He’s not searching for international acclaim, although his paintings hang in rooms around in North America, South America, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, and the UK. He paints what he sees. His work chronicles the every day, the mundane, but at his hand, take on a new life. He loves to paint and paints what he loves: life as it’s being lived. His measure of success is being able to do what he wants to do on a daily basis.

In September, Urquhart will exhibit alongside two other Budapest-based British painters, Michael Pettet and David Stuart Sutherland. The one-night show, hosted by the British Ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, and his wife, Bridget, at their Buda residence, is sponsored by the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (BCCH). Each of the artists will have their own room and will be available to chat. Don’t expect to see too much by way of a written explanation of Urquhart’s art, though. As he says himself, ‘If galleries have to say a lot about your paintings, perhaps you should consider writing a book instead.’

 

First published in the Budapest Times

 

Adding some Scottish to the mix

The French philosopher Voltaire is reputed to have said ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.’ Presumably, he was talking about the French. Some three centuries later, the British in Hungary are looking in that direction, too, this time for ideas on how to revamp the long-established British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (BCCH). Enter Duncan Graham, one of the city’s best-known Scotsmen, and recently appointed Chair of the BCCH, the first non-Hungarian to hold the position in 15 years. Read more

Bence Molnár wearing his golden keys

The Golden Keys

I was a fan of the 1980s American TV series Hotel, which opened with establishing shots of the legendary San Franciscan hotel The Fairmont. I’ve a great photo of a much younger me and my bestie Lori sipping Bloody Marys in the bar hoping to catch sight of Anne Baxter, James Brolin, or Connie Sellecca. Read more