And not a pair of knickers in sight

IMG_4149I’m not quite sure what happened this evening. I can’t decide if I’ve had a great night or simply one that will take a while to recover from. I think I’m in shock.

The last time I saw Sir Tom in the flesh, as it were, he was strutting his stuff on stage in the RDS in Ireland back in the early 1980s.  Girls my age were losing track of their grannies as the old dears rushed the stage to cast their knickers at the King. His trousers were painted on him. And when his oversized rhinestone beltbuckle caught the light, you could have seen it glitter from Mars. Women older than my mother seemed to have lost their reason. I distinctly remember a group of women from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association flinging a pair of enormous bloomers onto the stage embroidered with ‘We love you, Tom’. I was fascinated. The music was great; the entertainment value was excellent; and when I got over the bout of prudishness brought on by the gyrations, I kinda fell for him… in an I’ll-keep-my-eyes-shut-and-you-just-sing-to- me  kind of way.

De Wimmen bought me tickets for tonight’s gig in Budapest .(Yes, I know the photo says Prague but had I seen this photo before mentioning that I wanted to go, I wouldn’t have gone. The Budapest PR posters were a lot kinder. To say that he’s had a nip and a tuck here and there goes no where near the truth. It is scary. Really scary. Really, really scary to see what a 69-year-old man can look like, if he has money.) Anyway, we all headed off to Papp László (KG and her lovely new boots and me) and were in our seats just before 8pm for the warm-up act: Felicity Rawlings. Great voice. Nice girl But no Delilah. And I was there for Delilah.

Sir Tom took his own sweet time coming on stage. And I was getting a tad fed up. It was 9.10pm before the band arrived and then another five minutes of strobe lights and SFX before the man himself appeared singing Sugar Daddy, a song penned for him by Bono and The Edge. It was downhill from there. Six modern, poppy songs later (all from his new album 24 Hours) we finally get Delilah. And this is where my confusion started.

I’d been slowly seething, like an auld wan, about not getting what I’d paid for (even though technically I hadn’t paid for anything). I’d expected a trip down memory lane, to drop in and see if the old home town looked the same and to learn all about never falling in love again, maybe even see what was new with pussycat. Instead, I was watching some ould lad in leather strutting his stuff on stage as if he was 29, not 69, and Mick Jagger he ain’t.  Tom’s wiggle was a very poor imitation of a bad waggle. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for doing as much as you can for as long as you can but honestly… this was embarrassing. The man has a fantastic voice –  still as good as it ever was (the eyes-shut trick still works). He was certainly on form and when, an hour later, I finally got a sniff of the green, green grass of home, I started to relax a bit. It seemed as if the modern stuff was over and he was back to the fellah I met all those years ago.

But as we flipped back and forth between old and new and detoured through the southern United States (I had to open my eyes at this stage to make sure it was still him on stage), I lost myself in an internal debate about concerts. Ticketgoers pay to see a performance and have expectations. Performers are in it for the money and to promote their new stuff. You’d imagine that it was all about satisfying the punters’ needs. So why then, when the crowd was on its feet, in rapturous applause for an oldie, why didn’t he stick with the tried and true instead of all this flash?

I’ve been to four really great concerts in my time: BB King many many years ago in Dublin; Kris Kristoffersen in Dublin a few years back; and both Leonard Concerts, this year (Budapest) and last (Amsterdam). All were low-key with minimal, if any, SFX or lighting effects. Tonight was electric…literally. Louder than loud.  Why? Why? Why? …. Delilah. 

The Knighthood didn’t make the crassness disappear and the women love him all the more. The crowd was on fire. They wanted more and more and more (oops, that’s Joe Dolan, isn’t it? I’m getting my shapers mixed up!) But I really didn’t know what to make of it all. Yes, of course, plug the new album (and respect to the man for still putting it out there), but a little more of the good stuff would have been nice. Actually, in fairness, the title track 24 Hours has a hint of Johnny Cash about it… and had I heard it at home, I might have been rightly impressed. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just too old for anything but the unplugged version. Bitching aside though, he did actually play all his big hits… it’s just that he didn’t have that many!

A garden of freshly cut tears

IMG_2967Budapest, Hungary. Monday, 31st August, 2009.

“We don’t know when we will pass this way again, so we’re going to give you everything we got.” In his mid-seventies, face deeply etched by a life that has been lived, Leonard Cohen gave us his all, and more besides. He was on stage for three hours, played six encores, and held a mainly non-English-speaking audience in the palm of his hand for every minute.  In Dublin, additional dates had to be added; I think he sold out three concerts, if not four. In Budapest, another thousand people could have easily fit in the arena where he played one night only.

I saw him live in Amsterdam last year. An outdoor venue. Me, JD and a few thousand aging hippies, high as kites, standing in a field, in the rain. That night was special for many reasons and is forever etched in my bones. I knew I was in the presence of greatness, of humility, and of something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  Tonight…tonight, I finally got it.

What Leonard Cohen has is respect. He puts it out, he gets it back. He wasn’t sure when he would pass this way again, so he gave us everything he had. And more. He thanked us, as he did in Amsterdam, for keeping his songs alive all these years. There was none of this ‘Budapest, I love you’ crap that modern-day megastars seems to enjoy bellowing at an audience who have paid through the nose to hear their pitiful, between-song rhetoric. There was none of the egotistical prancing and strutting around the stage (Grafton Street, God, and what’s-his-name come to mind). There was none of the flashiness or pomp that is too often used as an excuse for talent. Am I jaded? Perhaps a little.

The man kept it simple. He bowed to his band. He repeatedly acknowledged their talent and how important they are to him. He even thanked his bus drivers and the girl who looked after their hats. The man knows people; he appreciates what he has; and he understands the importance of humility and respect. So his voice isn’t what it used to be but the poetry that is his music is all the richer. I heard words tonight that I’ve never really heard before although I have ironed my way through his songs a hundred times. But the experiences of  mindless singing along and really listening to what’s being said are light years apart. Tonight, I had the time to listen.

Back in the day, we’d light our matches or wave our cigarette lighters in the air at concerts: the ultimate accolade. Tonight, the luminous screens of mobile phones lit the arena, as people recorded songs to listen to later. I was reminded of something Tiziano Skarpa wrote about in his book Venice is a Fish. He reckons that as tourists, we’re too busy taking photographs to really see what it is we’re looking at; too busy capturing the memory to really experience it at the time. And I wonder, of those who could understand the words, how many really heard them.

Tonight Leonard Cohen spoke to me and said: ‘My darling…I hope you’re satisfied.’

Yes, Leonard, I am.

Eating out with architects

IMG_2726Every Wednesday morning for the last eight weeks or so, I have been wandering through the 8th district, at the Kálvin tér end… on Múzeum utca. After class, I’ve walked past Épitész pince and have never ventured in. Last week, I decided to treat myself to lunch as my curiosity won out. Budapest is full of surprises. Behind high walls lie beautiful courtyards (udvar). Romanesque colonnades are nearly two a penny and the city is swarming with statues. Vibrant colours on painted walls are offset by so many shades of green that even Johnny Cash would have paused for thought.

The daily menu (napi menü) is a very reasonable 970 HUF for three courses (about €3.50, $5, £3) but clever as they are, if you opt for this, you have to eat inside in the pince (cellar). It was a glorious day and I was rather taken with the statues, the greenery, and the ivy-clad walls, so I treated myself to roast goose leg with baked cabbage and apple, and onion potato and sat outside. Plate piled high, I was transported back to my days in Valdez, Alaska when food portions for one would feed three. It was excellent. Everything I wanted and more.  IMG_2729

Épitész is Hungarian for building and this building houses the School of Architecture. I didn’t know this at the time, which makes my train of thought that day even more curious. Mind you, perhaps the group of four solid-looking chaps pouring over blueprints of some kind should have rung a bell. But hey, I was still in aperture land!

Eating on your own, without a book to keep you company, can leave you wondering where to fix your gaze. Even the most exquisite plate can only hold your attention for so long. Between bites of fresh orange and apple, I couldn’t help noticing what a wonderful architect nature is. Admittedly, the building itself IMG_2724is lovely and it comes with a picturesque courtyard, regal statues, an amazing wrought iron staircase, and well-trodden stone steps. Somehow, though, I felt it had grown into itself. Ivy covers the walls and frames the windows; the occasional red flower makes the greens seem even darker than they are. The marble statues are almost human, reflecting as they do years of inclement weather. Long, trailing creepers hang from glass ceilings, weighed down by time. The pebbled courtyard still echoes the horse-drawn carriages drawing up to take the ladies of the house to the ball.

I could live here. And maybe in a previous life I did. But then, if that were true, I’d have know what  Épitész meant…mmmm

If you find yourself in Budapest, take the 47/49 tramIMG_2721 to Kálvin tér or get the No. 3 metro (blue line). FromKálvin tér head down Múzeum utca to  Ötpacsirta utca. Turn right and look for the yellow building on your left. Open every day except Sunday.