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Reminiscent of another world

What I know about living under Communism I’ve learned from books. I never lived it. But I can’t help wondering how those who lived that life and had relegated it to the past are feeling today. Read more

Doomsday or holiday?

Many things about Hungary – and Budapest in particular – fascinate me. I can’t fathom, for instance why the BKV feels it needs to tell me, a great fan of public transport and a regular passenger, that I can take one wrapped sapling tree with me when I travel. I can’t for the life me of understand the logic behind the ticketing system in the post office. And try though I might, I can’t quite see the need for nine types of wine spritzer (dependent on the ratio of wine to water) other than finding creative ways to celebrate the fact that Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian, invented soda water. But what baffles me most are the supermarket queues the day before a national holiday.

supermWhat is it about the Hungarian psyche that drives it en masse to the supermarket the day before a national holiday? What sustains it as it waits patiently in ever-lengthening queues to pay for groceries that are far from staple necessities? And why does this happen the day before every, single, national holiday?

I will hold up my hand and admit to a mild dose of consumerism-driven panic the first time I witnessed the grand-scale closure of all shops on a national holiday. I had been warned, admittedly, but I paid no heed. But then I realised that my local corner shop stayed open and the carton of milk that I thought I’d have to do without for a whole day was in reach. That same corner shop also had eggs, bread, and bacon, alongside beer, wine, and (back then) cigarettes. Panic averted. Yes, I might have had to pay a few forints more for said same items, but at least they were available.

sumerpmI can think of better things to do on a holiday than hit the shops to shop-shop, so the mass closure of all retail establishments for 24 hours doesn’t impact my life at all. Ditto with the bank and the post office. So why the queues?

All I can think of is that it is a reflection of times gone by. Perhaps it’s ingrained in the DNA of those who have lived under Communism? Perhaps it’s hereditary? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the option to spend is removed, however temporarily. I just don’t know.

I’m a hoarder … of sorts. I must have a spare bottle of washing-up liquid, a spare tube of toothpaste, a spare moisturiser, deodorant, shampoo… a spare everything. I hate reaching for something to find that it’s empty, that I have to disrupt my day and go out to buy a replacement. The alternative – not doing what I had planned to do when I’d planned to do – is unthinkable. In an effort to find out why I’m like this, I read an article a while back on the neuropsychology of consumption – about why we shop. The authors (Stetka and Yarrow) posit: ‘Buying usually involves relationships in one way or another. The motivation for almost everything we buy has something to do with connecting with other human beings.’So perhaps it’s not the fear of running out of food that feeds this almost maniacal need to stock up in the face of a national holiday, but that it could be our last chance to socialise for 24 hours?

English novelist J. G. Ballard reckons that ‘people nowadays like to be together not in the old-fashioned way of, say, mingling on the piazza of an Italian Renaissance city, but, instead, huddled together in traffic jams, bus queues, on escalators and so on. It’s a new kind of togetherness which may seem totally alien, but it’s the togetherness of modern technology.’ Perhaps that’s it… it’s not the goods per se that are the attraction – it’s the act of queuing, something that is practically guaranteed no matter what time of day you go.

First published in the Budapest Times 9 May 2014.

A slice of Communist pizza

I’m all for quirky. Give me somewhere different, with a twist, over conventional design any day of the week. Throw in some good pizza and some half-decent wine, and you’re on a promise. Make me cross the river to Buda… well… that’s a different story.

I don’t have an aversion as such to crossing the Danube and going out on the other side. I’ll do it. But I’ll rarely instigate it. Not one to generally refuse an invitation, I was happy to apply for the requisite mental visa and join the lovelies for pizza one night last week, having been promised an experience.

It was somewhat amusing to think that my Aussie/Irish mates, after a few months in Budapest, have sussed out places I’d never heard of. But I swallowed my pride and went forth into lands unknown. I’d never realised that at the back of the two Mammuts, a couple of blocks up from Millenáris, there’s a pedestrianised area lined with pubs and restaurants. A lot like Liszt Ferenc Tér but without the pretentiousness; and a lot like Raday utca, but less pricey. I was in my element, but this was only the warm-up.

20140403_195533_resized (800x600)20140403_195204_resized (600x800)Our pizza was being s20140403_201743_resized-1 (800x600)erved at Marxim Pizzéria és Pub on Kisrókus utca, a cellar bar/restaurant in the II district. Decorated with barbed wire, chicken wire, flags and 1950s murals, the place does Communism to a C. The menu is creative and cleverly done, offering ewe cheese vs the usual mozzarella. I laughed out loud at the piss-taking pussy-pussy Monica and Bill but settled for sharing the Maximalista – with  tejföl (sour cream), sonka (ham), brokkoli (broccoli), sajt (cheese), bacon, and fokhagyma (garlic).  I had a little plate envy though – I’m quite partial to a fried egg on my pizza.  They come in two sizes – 23 inch or 30 inch – the latter nicely sized for sharing, the former not big enough to worry about doggie bags.

Across the aisle, four lads drank beer, ate pizza and played cards. From a side-cellar came the echoes of birthday celebrations. At the back, a table of ten were sorting out the world’s problems. Out in the garden the early summerers braved the chill. The murals, posters, and the graffiti were a great distraction. The place had it all. The service was friendly but not intrusive. The prices were reasonable. The wine was a little warm but nothing that a few cubes of ice didn’t fix. And the pizzas were the best I’ve had that side of the Danube… actually, come to think of it, either side of the Danube.

4/6 tram to Mechwart Liget and then walk towards Széna tér taking the second turn on the right. It’s up on the right, No. 23,  just past the Feny utca intersection.