‘Tis all in the apples

I was a great fan of Bulmers back in the day. I loved the stuff. But over the years as my stomach ages and my taste buds get a little more sophisticated, that love has waned. While I still enjoy a glass every now and then, I can’t handle it like I used to. I’ve been looking for a replacement for a few years now but find everything too sweet. Or too dry. Or too sharp. Or too gassy. And I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried craft ciders. I’ve tried English ciders. I’ve tried Hungarian ciders. I came close once with a French cider, but that was a short-lived long-distance relationship.

The other night, at the opening night of TBEXIreland, I was exploring the stables at Killarney Racecourse. The horses were away and the stalls given over to food and beverage producers from the area, courtesy of Taste Kerry. It was there I ran into Rupert and his cider from Longueville House in Mallow, Co. Cork. [As a complete aside, every Rupert I’ve ever met has been tall – is there something in the name?] It was love at first sip. No artificial sweeteners. No additives. No colourings. No sulphates. No preservatives. Nothing but Irish apples and natural yeast.

I did the whole tasting bit. I sniffed and swirled and let the apples soak into my tongue. I did a mental checklist of all the descriptives I could use, checking for notes and bouquets and heritage. A line from a cider review by Charlie Harvey came to mind: robust with a good kick of apple balanced by some nice farmyard notes. Sounds good but in all honesty, I wouldn’t know a farmyard note if it sang to me. I can’t lay claim to be an cider aficionado. I just know what I like. And this I liked. A lot.

I asked him what the secret was to making a good cider. It’s simple. ‘Tis all in the apples: cider apples. They don’t use eating apples or cooking apples or any other sort of apples other than cider apples. Other cider makers might use cider apples but they’ll then add some regular apple juice to the mix for sweetness. Not Longueville. They only use Dabinett & Michelin, heritage, heirloom cider apples.

I went back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths: they were small glasses. Had the queue not been forming behind me, I’d have been brazen enough to ask for a bottle to take with me. But, Rupert assured me that Longueville House Cider is on sale in SuperValue right now – 3 bottles for €10. I thanked the travel gods that I’d booked check-in luggage to take back with me.

And there’s more: Longueville Mór  (slightly stronger than the Longueville House cider with an AVB of 8%). This cider is fortified with brandy. Their brandy. Yes, they do brandy, too. I liked the cider and brandy mix but I’m not a great one for neat alcohol. The brandy is very much a brandy and judging the sighs of satisfaction from those around me, it’s a good one. Me? I preferred the house cider.

Curious, I did a quick search to see if any cider heads had reviewed it. And I found this on Cider Says:

First Impression:  Light orange amber hue.  Very low carbonation.  Smells of cider apple juice, yeast, and a hint of funk.

Tasting Notes:  On the sweeter side of semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness, acidity, funk, and tannins.  Hints of bitterness and sourness.  Notes of tannic rich cider apples, barnyard, brown sugar, orange, leather, yeast, and honey.  Moderate length finish.  Moderate apple flavor, sessionability, flavor intensity, and complexity.

And while still curious – What does sessionability mean? – I was delighted to note that my new love is similar to cider from Normandy, France, ‘such as Christian Drouin Pays d’ Auge, due to the richness, flavor notes, and funk’. Whatever funk is.

Now, all I need is for someone in Budapest to stock it.

Longueville_cider

 

Longueville House, Mallow, County Cork, Ireland P51 KC8K
Tel: +353 (0)22 47156
US/CAN toll free tel: 800 323 5463 info@longuevillehouse.ie

 

 

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Hitting the spot

Where has the summer gone? Is it my imagination or is time flying by ever so quickly, much quicker than years ago when it seemed as if we’d all the time in the world to do whatever it was we had to do. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the aging process. Or perhaps it’s because many of us don’t have weekends any more. With growing expectations from employers that we be online and available nearly 24/7, the days blur into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years.

Some time ago, a colleague decided to take two weeks’ holiday. He told the boss that he’d be unavailable. He was going somewhere to switch off: no laptop, no smartphone, no connection to anyone other than those he was with. He wanted a break. The boss was a little piqued. Surely he could find time in the day to check his emails? And if it took an hour to answer them, was that too much to ask? My colleague needed to get with the programme. To come in line with twenty-first-century living. He needed to live up to expectations. But my colleague was adamant. He got his two weeks.

Not being part of the structured work system, some might argue that I’m on a permanent holiday. I can work from wherever I have an Internet connection. The downside is that I’m always working and rarely, if ever, am I completely offline for more than a couple of days. My choice. My lot. My decision. But summer has a way of being summer. In Ireland at the start of the season, I was basking in a cool 14 degrees when friends in Budapest were melting in 40. At breakfast one morning I noticed how everyone was in their summer gear – sundresses, shorts, t-shirts, sandals – even though it was cold and wet outside. No matter the weather, summer is summer.

I know I’m in summer mode when I start to plan everything I want to do over the three months or so from June to August. I make a list of places I want to visit, seasonal restaurants I want to try and other summer-dependent spots I want to take in. The plan being that once tried and tested, I can then take my summer visitors to enjoy them, too.

But invariably, there are some gems I discover too late, just as they’re about to close, their money made, their season over.

A friend of mine recently spent 11 days walking around the Balaton – some 244 km. She’s a natural researcher and had done her homework before turfing up to some village or other. She wanted to discover the best of what’s out there so that she could then share her finds. Two in particular are worth noting. For next year.

The lakeside village of Vonyarvashegy is on the north shore of the Balaton and is home to about 2000 people. The strand is well-tended, a lovely open spot offering access to the lake for people with disabilities. Popular with German tourists, it has a bigger-than-usual restaurant offer, perhaps the smallest of which is The Spot Grill & Bar. In its third year of operation, this little gem opens from 21 May to 10 September, offering trout, chicken, salads, and the requisite Balaton burgers. Probably tired of people dithering between ordering a burger or a langós (both summer favourites), the chef decided to join the two and instead of a burger bun, has encased the patty in a langós. Genius. The desserts, both of them, are seconds material. The tiramisu (the Italian pick-me=up) could have come from Treviso, Italy, and the cheesecake, served in a glass, is delicious. The cocktail list is decidedly upmarket with the Cosmopolitan made from cranberries – something hard to find in Hungary. Added to the excellent food, the simple décor, and the fresh feel of it all is the excellent service. Robert has it nailed – always available, never intrusive, and very helpful. The Spot could hold its own just about anywhere. Class all the way.

The much smaller village of Káptalantóti swells in size for the Sunday market, Liliomkert. Hundreds of visiting tourists and summer residents (mainly German) descend on the place, turning the village into an obstacle course and the local fields into parking lots. With everything from a jar of honey to a kitchen dresser on offer, the place is a mecca for those looking for a piece of Hungary to take home. Nestled in the heart of the Badacsony wine region, the village has several vineyards of note, my current favourite being the Sabar Borház.

The enterprising local tourist board has organised a hop-on, hop-off wine bus that leaves the village 7 times daily every two hours to visit local vineyards.  A daily ticket will set you back 1500 ft. A must for next year. This year, I settled for a stop-off at Istvándy Winery. The restaurant was booked solid, which is no wonder, considering that everything on the menu is locally sourced – even the beef, which come from the herd of grey cattle looking over the fence. The panoramic vista of the Balaton and the vineyards is stunning. And, testament to the attention this family-run business pays to its customers, those of us sprawled on picnic blankets (supplied) on the hill below the restaurant didn’t feel the slightest bit cheated. As we ate our toasted sambos (mangalica pork and trout were the two on offer that day), sipped our grape-juice fröccs (so tasty I could actually fool myself into thinking I was drinking wine), and enjoyed the view, it struck me that life couldn’t get much better.

The summer is nearly over. The cool evenings are setting in. And as the autumn raises its head over the parapet, I can enjoy my favourite time of year knowing I have a head start on what I’ll do in summer 2018.

First published in the Budapest Times 8 September 2017

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2017 Gratefuls 17 and 16

I was awake every other hour last night having a nightmare of the sort I thought I’d left behind 10 years ago when I signed off from my last corporate job. In my dream, I was working for a large tech company. I’d been assigned to two projects. With two bosses. And both needed work done by Thursday at 5pm. It was Wednesday at 4.30pm in my dream. I had plans that evening (freelance work). There was no way I was going to get everything done for both of them or much of anything done for either. I woke in a cold sweat but fell back to sleep almost immediately.

The next dream chapter had me waking early in my flat and heading into work to see if I could get something done. But the company was on lock-down. It had turned into a prison and I didn’t have a pass. I spent an age trying to figure out how to break into the prison to get to my desk. I woke in a cold sweat but again fell back to sleep almost immediately.

The final dream chapter was me trying to sneak past the wardens (my bosses) and out of the prison. I hitched a lift in an army tank and took off cross-country, barrelling through everything in our path, heading for the airport. Then the church bells went and I woke up. Finally.

It’s been a manic two weeks. Friends from Alaska, the lovely S&LM, were in Budapest for just  couple of days. Plans to go see the Balaton were shafted as their trip was cut short because of a technical issue that grounded their plane in Anchorage. We had one evening and another full day /evening to catch up and see the city. The years melded into minutes. We figured it had been 16 years since we’d spoken in person but that didn’t matter a whit. It was great catching up on who was doing what and taking a step back into a life I’d long since left behind. Old friends, good friends, great times.

That was followed by a weekend of visitors down at the house. The front door revolved; as one party left the next arrived. Taking the time to sit and enjoy the garden, to relax in good company, that’s something I’ve not been doing enough of late. The lovelies V&K brought their dog, Sophie, and while I’m nowhere near ready to take on such responsibility, I’d happily dog sit her any day. That pure, unconditional love and joyous abandon are quite something. And we discovered that the farm track at the end of our garden can be followed clear over to the island. Nice.

After a quick trip to Ireland (work) it was back to Budapest for the Minnesotans, MB&JG, who began their three-week European holiday in Budapest. Deluged by deadlines, I’ve been working during the day and catching up with them in the evenings and it’s been wonderful. Burning the candle at both ends, though, is something I was well able to do twenty years ago, but alas, no longer. Two consecutive nights on the town were enough to dampen my wick. I’ve fizzled out. But we got a lot in – some great dinners, good wines, the Budafok wine festival, Ian Siegal playing in the pouring rain at Kobuci… They’ve left for the Balaton. I head to Ireland again tomorrow – in and out – and then will join them Wednesday to head to Croatia from where I’ll fly to the UK on Sunday for a quick lunch before heading on to Ireland again. In the meantime, every available minute will be spent working. I’m in the middle of a feast, workwise, and just at the point where a famine looks very appealing. But I’m reminded of something SR said to me a few weeks ago – make time for people – they’re not always around. I heard of three deaths in one day this week – and it was a sober reminder that life is fleeting.

It’s a matter of priorities, they say. But prioritising is easier said than done when the projects I’m working on are like babies to their owners who want to be kept abreast of every development and are waiting anxiously to view the finished product. Responsibility to deliver weighs heavily. And the load is exhausting. Am pretty much booked up till late November and then I plan to hole up somewhere and recuperate. Till then, I’ll continue to be grateful for the friends who visit, the work that’s waiting to be done, and the dreams that keep me grounded.

 

A niche too far?

Budapest has emptied. The tens of thousands who descended on the city have gone home. Sziget is over and by all accounts, it wasn’t nearly the success it has been in previous years. The week-long music festival has been running for 25 years and this is the first year it hasn’t been run by Hungarians. Or so I’m told. Apparently, the same US crowd who run the weekend Coachella festival in California have taken it over and their influence was visible.

I went myself, for the first time, back in 2014 and had a blast. The novelty was quite something. To see such a well-organised temporary city within a city was evidence of the extraordinary logistical feat involved in catering for daily crowds of up to 80 000 with few, if any, incidents of public disorder. I went then because I got a free ticket. This year I paid because I wanted to see Jamie Cullum again, having thoroughly enjoyed his gig last year at the Veszprém Fest.

He was on stage at 4pm, so we set out about 2 to have an hour or so to wander around before having to pay attention. This time, himself was the virgin. It was Day 1. Pink had played the day before on Day 0 and the five-day passers wouldn’t arrive till the next day. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many as I’d expected and the crowd was somewhat subdued. I saw far more chairs and blankets and lots more sitting around this year. Perhaps it had to do with the heat. It could also have been the music though.

Jamie, God love him, is brilliant. But outdoors at 4pm in 30+ heat ain’t his gig. Still, though, he gave it welly and his 70 mins were great. A short break and then Tom Odell took the stage. They’d said I’d like him but he didn’t do it for me at all. Biffy Clyro, though, they were brilliant. And for all the mad roughness that their appearance screams, they’re gentlemen. Now them, them I’d go see again. And I’ve note to self made to get a CD for the car. They’re driving, stay awake, sort of stuff. I have it on good authority that they got their name because one night, sitting around stoned (hey, it’s what I heard), one of them asked the other to pass a Cliff Richard fan pen, the Cliffy biro. It came out the Biffy Clyro. It makes a good story.

Between acts, we wandered around and looked at what was on offer. Much the same as 2014, there were some additions – like the fun fair. With the Italian marionettes. There’s also a museum quarter where all the museums in Budapest had taken a stand. Skanzen, the traditional Hungarian village centre from Szentendre, was there, too, complete with its games from the past. Various causes were well represented and this year they seem to have had a full theatre and a comic gig or three. I was taken with the recycling efforts but despite handing out free portable ashtrays and offering rewards for bringing back bags of trash, the place was littered with cigarette butts and empty cups. It wouldn’t have taken much had everyone picked up after themselves, but as I say, this year seemed different.

I was very disappointed in the wine village – a paltry offering that was overpriced. And the food…. what we hadn’t wasn’t great but of the hundreds of outlets, we only tried two, so it could well have been the luck of the draw. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But in talking to some Irish friends who’d gone the VIP camping route this year (as opposed to bring your own tent as they did last year) they, too, noticed a difference. More drugs. More booze. More trash. And the music was more mainstream but very much focusing on electro (is that the right term?) dance. Last year, they said, they’d had to juggle to get to all the gigs they’d wanted to see (there’s about 1000 in all over the course of the week), but this year, they’d time on their hands.

Hungarian friends tell me they stayed away because they didn’t recognise the big names. I thought it was just me, which wouldn’t be surprising. But those they knew weren’t their scene. Seems like it’s niching up and playing to a particular crowd – Scandinavians and French.

We rounded off our evening at the Music Box where Ripoff Raskolnikov was doing the business. I’d already seen him earlier that week at Kobuci Kert for his birthday gig. But I wasn’t worried. When he and Nagy Szabolcs (keyboards) get together, they don’t play set pieces. It’s more of a ‘what’ll we play next’ sort of thing. which is good if you’re a regular – you never get the same gig twice.

Sziget? Yes. For a day. But only if there’s someone you really want to see. The experience has become expensive, very expensive, and many are being priced out. The offer is more limited and while the novelty factor is still there, I doubt I’ll be in a hurry back. That said, if Ed Sheerin were to head it up, I’d be there. But if it’s going down the dance route, he’d hardly be their first pick. Let’s wait and see.

 

2017 Grateful 20

I had it all planned. For months. Ever since Ripoff said he was doing his annual birthday gig in Kobuci Kert and I decided to have my birthday drinks there. Tickets were bought months ago. All sorted. Invites sent out. People had planned. But the universe decided it wasn’t to be. Massive thunder and lightening kicked off about 5pm and the city was under a sheen of water. We made it as far as the metro station, dodging a deluge of spray from passing cars speeding through puddles. And just as we were about to board, the phone call came. Gig postponed. Till Monday. Plan B needed.

For the last number of years I’ve had my b’day drinks in the local pub and why should tonight be any different. Facebook posts were amended. Phone calls were made. Texts were sent. And more than 20 stalwarts braved the rain to come to Grund.

I’m on record as saying I don’t need stuff. I have enough to last me a lifetime. But the stuff I got was great. Tasteful. Designery. Lovely.  The candles, the ornaments, the plants. And from others, I got experiences. We’ve way too much fruit in the garden in the village. And while the lovely EB was giving me recipes for pear sorbet, I was promising the fruit of my pear trees to K&A to turn into pear cider. Considering I’d gotten a personalized bottle of their apple pálinka, it was the least I could do.

 

I love the creative. I love people who dare to take the piss out of me and what I’m doing. But it takes someone who is sure of where they’re at with me to do that. I made mention of HC a few blogs ago, him who instigated what is now known as the Athlone Accord. Well, he did creativity in spades. For his birthday, he got a a guitar-shaped fried-egg shaper. For mine, I got this.

Considering my consternation about what it so has only recently been deadened by an acceptance of what is, I was particularly piqued by this gift from the the S’s, parents of the three loveliest children I’ve met … ever. And me without a maternal bone in my body. This is screaming for hammock time.

But of everything I received this evening, this has originality written all over it. It came prefaced with the Trump message at the top of this blog. And I was scared. I’ve been banging on for years about experiences being the best presents (with consumables racking up a close second – loved the wines and the dinners) but stuff I can write about??? Magic.

For those of you who don’t read Hungarian – I get a lesson in how to drive a bus (a full-sized bus) and then get to take 30+ of my mates (if I can find 30 brave souls) on a one-hour drive! How cool is that?

I’ve just turned 51. I got the wrong pizza at lunchtime. My gig got rained out. But 20+ people braved the thunder and came to drink with me under a tarp at Grund. We partied. They left. Some stayed on and came back to mine. Those diehards have finally left, and now I can go to bed, grateful, very grateful, that I have friends.

The cancelled gig is on tomorrow night. The trip to the village has been postponed. And I get another night in the city.

 

Hungary happened

I’m not a great one for making plans. Most of my major life decisions were taken on the spur of the moment. I’m definitely a heart-over-head type. There’s a closetful of clichés that talk about regret, and intuition, and going with your gut, and if I had a rule by which to live, it would be to go for what feels right. At the time.

Some 10 years ago, I decided to see what it would be like to spend time in Budapest. I knew nothing of the city other than a glimpse I’d had on two separate weekend trips some four years apart: one in the dead of winter and the second in an unseasonably warm spring. I liked what I saw. I liked the feel of the place. And I’m on record as saying that I believe Budapest has an energy about it that I’ve not found anywhere else. I’ve been at my most productive here and somehow, everything seems possible, even when I’m banging my head off a bureaucratic brick wall and decrying the city’s ability to make the simplest act hair-tearingly complex.

I’ve seen the city change. District VIII is a case in point. Ten years ago, it was probably the least desirable address to have in the city. Today, with the development around Corvin Negyed, Corvin Sétany, and the walk between Klinikak and Nagyvarad tér, it’s one of the most attractive. The castle district has undergone a facelift as has the parliament and a host of other buildings and churches that dot the skyline. Shops and restaurants and cafés have come and gone but the delightful old stalwarts are still there, places which take enjoying a cup to an art level.

The politics hasn’t changed much. The pendulum swung a little left and then a little further right but it keeps swinging. Antisemitism, never far from the surface, is obvious to greater and lesser degrees. Likewise, the pervasive attitude to the Roma. Public involvement in how the country is run has enjoyed various upswings and downswings with the passivity scale hitting minus figures at times. Hopefully, though, it’s on its way back.

Like a lot of capital cities, Budapest is often perceived as epitomising the whole of the country. Those who have visited on a weekend break will claim to have been to Hungary in the same way as Dublin tourists think they know Ireland and Parisian visitors think they know France. But if I’ve learned one thing over the course of the ten years that I’ve been spending time in Budapest, it’s that Budapest is not Hungary, not in its entirety. It’s like a city-state within a larger state, where time runs faster, imbued with an urgency and a sense of must-do or must-be-seen-to-be-doing that sets it aside from other cities in the country.

Like every other country on the global map, Hungary has its detractors and its supporters. Blanket statements of Hungarians being miserable, never smiling, always complaining, amuse me. I file them in the same bin as claims that every Irish person is an alcoholic or every German was born with a punctiliousness that borders on pedantry.  They’re simply not true. But perhaps, if you were to view the city’s inhabitants on any morning, when the army of workers wends its way to their desks, then yes, perhaps the smiles might be missing. As they are in London, or Dublin, or Paris, or any major city where the populace moves in synchronised droves at given times.

I read a series of posts recently from expats who had lived or spent some time in Hungary and apart from a few positives, they were overwhelmingly negative. The Hungarian fear of foreigners. The high levels of corruption. The chronic homelessness. The poor wages. The high costs (relative to other EU countries like Spain and Italy). The unwillingness to help strangers. The language difficulties. And I’m sure that all complaints are valid, not imagined, but very real to those who wrote in. I can still remember bawling my eyes out in frustration walking down the körút having failed dismally to make myself understood and having been dismissed unceremoniously from a shop by a sales assistant who told me that I was too big for their clothes.

But it’s unfair to say that a Budapest experience constitutes the Hungarian reality, just as a Berlin experience isn’t Germany and a Pretoria experience isn’t South Africa.

Bureaucracy is a symptom of city life. Harried people live in fast-paced cities. Those looking in from the outside tend to focus on the centre of policy, on where the politicians meet, on where the cruise ships dock. International reporting is naturally drawn to the headliners. And the result is a pixelated picture of Hungary that however accurate in isolated detail, leaves a lot to be desired as a complete image.

Go outside the city. Visit other cities. Go to Veszprém or to Keszthely or to Vác and see how different they are. Spend time in the villages and market towns and see how inordinately helpful people are. See the lengths they go to, to circumvent the petty bureaucracy because they have the time to see how inane the rules are. Witness how non-English-speaking locals make Herculean efforts to understand and make themselves understood. They, too, have the time. And time makes a difference.

Ten years ago, a tarot card reader in Brighton told me that I’d spend 10 years in Budapest. I didn’t believe them. That’s wasn’t part of the plan I didn’t have. But life has a way of taking over and things simply happen. Hungary happened.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 August 2017

Something to think about, with Ealy Mays

What I know about art could be written on the back of a postcard. My approach is simple: if it speaks to me, I like it. If it says nothing, then no matter how much the artist is revered by others, no matter how many times they’ve been exhibited or how often they’ve been critically acclaimed, I can’t get excited.

I go to exhibitions of work by the greats so I can decide whether they speak to me. So far, I’m drawing blanks. While individual paintings speak – like Whistler’s Reading by lamplight (which is technically an etching), or Van Gogh’s Head of a skeleton with a burning cigarette, or Monet’s The Magpie – I cannot say that I’m a fan of any one painter’s body of work. I don’t prefer a particular style, or rate a particular form (although I am rather partial to pen-and-ink). But that might be about to change.

A couple of years ago, a young Hungarian friend of mine, Timea Klincsek, introduced me to the work of Ealy Mays. She was quite excited about it. Living in Paris at the time, she had met Mays through a Polish friend Barbara Brzoska, who was, in a sense, his agent. Mays and Brzoska had met in a bar one night in 2012 and got to talking about art and broken hearts. She went to see some of his exhibitions and became a fan. The following year, when Mays had a falling out with his agent, Brozska stepped in and began organising exhibitions for the artist around the city. In 2014, Klincsek joined what is now the Ealy Mays Attelier (EMA) team and, together, the two young women restored Mays’ faith in agents. They collaborated with rising stars in the fashion and jewellery world to create events that appealed to diverse audiences. Brzoska brought with her a background in Art History and her familiarity with the Parisian art scene, while Klincsek, having studied Fashion and Journalism, added new strengths to the team. [Official website: ealymays.com]

The two young women were impressed with Mays’ honesty. He, in turn, showed them a side of Paris they wouldn’t normally have seen. He introduced them to American, Russian, and Mexican art history, and through his social and political commentary, exposed them to new worlds. ‘His work doesn’t just reflect his own community, but captures experiences of many different cultural backgrounds, making his artwork a never-ending journey. There is always something new to discover both in his art and in his character’, says Klincsek. Mays does what other artists often fail to do: he makes people think.

He is fond of saying that ‘every new idea comes from an old book’. And while he often quotes his father’s advice of imitate, initiate, and create, he insists on originality in thought, form, and composition. Resisting the urge to conform and caring little about the opinions of art critics, Mays’ originality is what makes him special.

Born in 1959 in Wichita Falls, Texas, USA, Mays started painting at the age of 4. When he was 8, he had a piece exhibited in the White House. Yet despite such auspicious beginnings, he would forsake his passion and choose instead to follow the path carved out by his father and two older brothers, medical doctors all. He opted to study medicine at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Mexico, so that he could indulge his passion for art. While he studied, he painted. His Last Train to Chihuahua, an evocative portrayal of a revolution-era train arriving at a station, received a lot of coverage by the local press.

Back in the USA, his work came to the attention of Jacob Lawrence, the most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the twentieth century. In a letter of reference to the Studio Museum in Harlem, Lawrence described Mays as a ‘pure painter’, emphasising his natural talent and his audacity in never following the crowd. Not bad, considering Mays hadn’t received a whit of formal training.

In search of an ‘intellectual environment to think, to breathe, to paint’ Mays moved to Paris in the 1990s where his series The Migration of the Superheroes was twice exhibited at the Carrousel du Louvre, once in 2005 and again in 2007. Mays sees himself as a social critic. His work embodies ethnicity, politics, history, religion, and satire. And yes, it makes you think.

Now living back in Budapest, Klincsek decided it was time that her home city got to see Mays in person. And again, she’s quite excited. Although the art and collector circle in Budapest is not anywhere near the scale it is in Paris, there’s a curiosity in the city, an appetite for new work, and a willingness to introduce international artists to Hungarian art lovers.

As a self-confessed neophyte, I’m quite taken with this piece A Savior is Born and had I $20 000 or so to spend, it would be on my wall. I’m even more enthralled by Cosmic Cloud, a piece that took me places and gave me lots to think about. I’m hoping these two will be included in Mays’ Budapest debut. Think outside the box – an Ealy Mays retrospective 1987-2017, showcasing 30 years of his work, opens at the Pintér Gallery (Falk Miska Utca 10) on 20 July and runs until the end of the month, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6pm and Saturdays, 10 am to 2pm.

I’m looking forward to meeting the artist in person; I believe he will be in attendance most days. I’m also looking forward to seeing Brzoska and Klincsek in action. Their passion, their drive, and their determination in promoting Mays’ work is admirable. He’s fortunate indeed to have two great women behind him.

First published in the Budapest Times 7 July 2017

2017 Grateful 29

Many moons ago, friends shared a house with a girl who’d come back from her weekends at home saying what a fantastic time she’d had. Everything had been brilliant. Great craic. Amazing. Then one weekend, when she stayed in town, they got to see that her version of brilliant, amazing, and great craic didn’t quite live up to what they’d envisioned. I’ve been there, too. I’ve done that burning-the-candle-at-both-ends thing in an effort to have a good time. I’ve sought out the amazing, the spectacular, and the craic and turned my nose up at the quiet, more restrained weekends others enjoyed.

Perhaps it’s old age, maturity, or just growing up – but lately, it’s the simple things in life that I get the most fun out of.

(c) L. Nugent

The lovelies were visiting from Dublin this weekend. We picked them up from the airport on Friday, and took them down to the village to see the new pad. Barely giving them time to unpack, I put them to work picking and pitting cherries. That evening, we bbq’d before driving the 50 minutes to Zalaegerszeg to see the great Ripoff Raskolnikov in action at the Pop-Up Café, a lovely little venue tacked on to the side of a community centre. [Frenk is playing there next weekend – I can see it becoming a regular haunt.] It was a brilliant gig – and I use the word intentionally. The lovelies were well impressed with this talented lyricist who could give Tom Waits a run for his money. [I’ve chosen two songs that I think Imelda May should sing, and I’ve made a note to write  and share this with her. I think she’s with it enough to answer or at least read an FB post. If anyone has an email address for her, holler. What a great new image she has eh?]

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast and some more cherry-picking, we stopped by the Balaton Airport for a nose. Tucked in behind a disused army barracks, it’s quite something. Flights still fly from there (RyanAir used to land its Dublin flight there back in the day and I’m hoping they’ll start using it again). But if I landed there on my first visit to Hungary, I think I might have some misgivings. And if I had money, I’d be looking at what could be done with those buildings … so much scope.

Next we headed over to see the lads at Florridora’s – the masters of Cream Teas. There we spent a lovely couple of hours catching up over pots of Earl Gray and plates of lavender shortbread, coconut sponge, rocky road, and traditional scones with whipped cream and raspberry-and-lemon jam. They now offer a catering service and will come to your home to prepare and serve a cream tea for your friends, colleagues, neighbours. A cracking idea – and they travel – and they bring their own china.

Back then to the cherries and another al fresco dinner with the neighbours. Later in the evening, the guitar came out and the sheep next door were entertained. I still need to get to grips with this noise thing. I am ridiculously considerate of my neighbours and need to relax a little and take advantage of the fact that it’s my house dammit and if I want to be outside chatting at 11pm, that’s okay. Yep – I made it to 11 before moving the sing-song indoors. Next time, I might make it till 12. Gulliver’s jerkin wasn’t knit in a day.

Sunday morning after mass (I was accompanied up the road by a neighbour I’d not spoken to before and managed to hold my own in conversation – in Hungarian) I came home to a fab breakfast of baked eggs with asparagus. This would set us up for a morning at the Liliomkert market over in Káptalantóti where I ordered curtains from a Transylvanian néni who travels in every few weeks with her wares. We communicated through her 10-year-old grandson. Between my Hungarian and his English, I can only hope that I get what I think I ordered. I’d left my wallet at home so came away without the cinema chairs, the old locker, and the gold-framed mirror I’d set my eye on. Next time.

Traffic was so bad going into Keszthely that we turned off and headed inwards, over the mountains. What spectacular views of the vineyards and the rolling hills and valleys. We stopped for lunch on the way back before going home for a quick nap to ready ourselves for the last game of the season at Zalaegerszeg. Big Z is set to take over the team later this month and I’m looking forward to the season starting end of July. The VIP box is quite something. The stands were practically empty, it being end of season with nothing riding on the game. Just wait, though, till he works his magic. Hajra ZTE!!! It’s all to play for. We stayed in town for dinner – the first of many to come, I hope – before heading back to the village. This morning, before starting out for Budapest, we got some more cherries picked – the sour ones are now ripe and that tree is loaded. I’ve spent the evening accosting my neighbors and forcing ziplocked bags of megyes on them. The rest I pitted and pulped and bottled.

Perhaps by other people’s standards, we didn’t have a glamorous weekend. Nothing life-changing happened. No records were broken. Nothing remarkable and yet everything remarkable. Some sayings were added to the repertoire:

  • Have you met you? Said in response to a ridiculous denial of something that’s bleedin’ obvious.
  • A present from me to me. Used to justify an outlandish purchase.
  • Every pot has a lid (or in Hungarian – every hole in the sack has a patch to fit). Another way of saying, there’s someone for everyone.
  • I’ll have one more than no more. Used when having that last drink is never enough.
  • And my all-time favourite Steinism – You’re not putting hearts in babies. As in get over yourself – what you’re doing isn’t that important.

I didn’t want to leave. The next couple of weeks will be full on, both people-wise and work-wise. But this week was a good one. This weekend was my sort of brilliant. Good times spent in good company – this is what I’m grateful for.

 

 

AGGI rocks!!!

The world has gone off kilter. We’re in the midst of a big family feud that is pitting sister against brother, spreading to neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend. Our politics are polarising. Opinions are expected. It’s not fashionable to simply not know, to be neutral, to admit to being unqualified to decide. Sides must be taken.  And as we become increasingly quick to point out how others are different, consumerism is wielding its sameness over the world. Ikea-furnished flats, be they in Budapest or Adelaide or Dubai, lend a stagnancy to travel. Chain restaurants like TGI Fridays, with a presence on all five continents, are serving up the same fare. Clothing stores like Zara are dressing up the sameness from Albania to Vietnam and everywhere in between. Is it any wonder we’re confused?

I’ve noticed lately that I’m drawn to the odd, the peculiar. I’m craving the remarkable, the unusual. I’m sick of more of the same. My faith in tomorrow is weakening. I’ve been out and about, talking to people of all ages, from all walks of life, and were I to invent a new word to describe the mood in my tangential world, it would be ‘saimless’.

People are treading water waiting to see what will happen next, forgetting that life waits for no man. Plans have been derailed by various elections and failing pension funds. There’s an uncertainty in the 20-somethings, and indeed the 30-somethings, who seem directionless, flitting from one job to another, from one career to another, if they’re lucky enough to have either. Even the attractiveness of the much-touted nomadic lifestyle made possible by the Internet is wearing thin. Decisions are being postponed. Life is being put on hold.  Wait and see is what it’s about.

Yep, I’d made myself pretty miserable thinking of the perceived futility of it all. I wanted to take the world by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. Yell at it to wake up, to take charge, to get out there and make it happen. And then I met AGGI – her of the all caps.

(c) Paul Mc

The 22-year-old from Gyomaendrőd in Békés county moved to Budapest about six years ago. She’s studying English Literature and American Studies at Károli Gáspár University and plans to graduate early next year. Her dissertation focus is on Stephen King’s novel, Rose Madder, in which he deals with the bruising issue of domestic violence. She has a keen interest in gender issues and woman power and is determined her voice will be heard. Although born in Hungary, AGGI feels very much a citizen of the world and wishes that we’d all simply just get along. The concept of being foreign is one she abhors.

Most of all though, what AGGI wants is to be herself. Not a carbon copy of some other 22-year-old, pressurized by expectations to fit someone else’s preconception of who she should be. She doesn’t want to be told what she should or should not do with her life. She has a plan. She knows what she wants. And she’s making it happen.

A few months ago, AGGI teamed up with songwriters and fellow musicians Terry Etheridge (Tuesday Night Rodeo) and Joey MacOnkay (Paddy and the Rats). Introduced by mutual friends, the lads discovered in AGGI a unique voice, a quiet certainty of her worth, and a determination to make life happen. They’d been on the look-out for new talent, someone who stood out from the sameness that pervades the Hungarian music scene (and so much of the world).  Things are going well; they’ve already recorded six songs and are working on an album and they’re actively seeking band members. So, if you’re interested, get in touch.

AGGI splits her time between university, her part-time job as a cashier, and the recording studio. I was curious to know if the stage version of herself is very different to the one I was having coffee with. I noticed a little of the rock-chick going on, but hers is more of an understated style than her idol Pink. Yet the individuality is definitely there. When I listened to her music, I could hear strains of Debbie Harry in her voice and perhaps a tinge of Transvision Vamp in her music, but show me an artist anywhere who hasn’t been influenced by another and I’ll jog all the way to next Tuesday.

Her focus in high school was on business and economics. Today she’s studying English. Both will serve her well when she hits the market and the world opens up to her music. She writes and sings in English because it travels better. She graduates next year, but her career as a musician already takes centre stage. She’s lucky in that she has a supportive family who believe in her and what she’s doing. There’s no pattern set, no script for her to follow.  She gets to write it as she lives it. They’re happy for her to be the best that she can be. And she’s happy making it happen.

Ours wasn’t a long conversation. She was rushing to work, I was already late for a meeting. But in the time we did get to chat, AGGI did more to ease my angst than a week on valium. In her, I can hope. In her, I can believe. And I don’t doubt for a minute that she will make it happen.

Rock on, sister. Rock on.

First published in the Budapest Times 1 June 2017.

 

Ripoff

I … apparently … made a right tit of myself last week. I’m still processing it. I know I can get a little OTT when I meet someone or something I like – and like a lot. I’ve been known to enthuse a tad. But apparently this time I was positively gushing in my groupieness. I may have even used the word to describe myself. BLUSH. MEGA BLUSH. I just don’t do well when awed.

I still squirm when I remember being at a gig at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. A chance encounter with a fave author (Pat McCabe) complete with a witty throwaway line that he asked to borrow (the man using my words – I was in awe-city), was blown to smithereens when I asked the dumbest of dumb questions during his interview with Neil Jordan. Mortified. I’m still mortified.

Last Wednesday’s performance lacks the mortification element as it was only witnessed by four others, not four hundred. And while I’m still getting ragged about it, they’ll forget in time.

Three days after I was born, Ludwig (Lutz) Knoglinger was celebrating his 11th birthday in Linz, Austria. Little did he know that half a century later, in a bar in Budapest, our paths would cross and that I’d feel driven to tell him just exactly what I thought of him.

These days, he goes by the name Ripoff Raskolnikov (remember Crime and Punishment?) and while not nearly as famous as Dostoevsky’s main man, he certainly deserves to be.

It was a cold Wednesday evening in May. He was playing in Kobuci Kert, one of my favourite BP venues for live music. The crowd wasn’t as big as it could have been, had the weather been cooperating. We had a table near the front, as all three guitar-playing friends wanted to watch the man play. Me? I was happy enough to sit and listen.

I like my blues to have lyrics that make me think. And Ripoff writes beautifully. Everything is temporary. Lenin Street. And a favourite – It’s not easy.

I like it too, when I don’t matter. When I know that whoever is on stage would be giving it welly even if there was no one listening or watching. The way blues takes you inside, that visible inward folding, that’s what gives it soul.

I wish, though, that he didn’t speak Hungarian, that he stuck to English, as I was only getting a smattering of his between-song commentary, which, by the crowd’s reaction, was as funny as all git out. No. No. That’s stupid. Of course I don’t wish that he didn’t speak Hungarian; I just wish that I did. My bad.

It’s beyond me why he’s not world famous. He’d give Tom Waits a run for his money any day. I’d heard tell that it was more choice than circumstance and that I’d quite believe. He seems too laid back to crave the limelight. He said though that fame had passed him by. Or at least, that’s what I think he said. It was all a bit of daze. I was gibbering. He looked bemused. And as I said, I don’t do well when I’m in awe.

The good news is that he’s a regular to Hungary and is playing in Zala County on 2 June. And I can’t very well pass that up. [I’m sure I invited him to drop by for dinner.] The lovelies are in from Ireland that weekend so it’ll be an airport-gig run. Whatever I can do to introduce the world to Ripoff Raskolnikov I will do – I’m on a mission.

WOW… I’ve just noticed that he plays Kobuci Kert in August, on my birthday. Well, that’s that sorted, SJ. We’re staying put. For other gigs in Europe this year, check the website.