2014 Grateful 42

How I could have held my head high and called myself Irish when there’s so much that I didn’t know about St Patrick is beyond me.  I can’t explain this recent obsession with the man. Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis of sorts. Never before was I so curious about him and yet despite all my research, I still have little more than a cup of tea and two biscuit’s worth of information. I started off being a tad embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, given that I’m Irish through and through, but in hindsight, I doubt very much that I’m the only Irish person with such a knowledge deficit.

IMG_3413 (600x800)I never knew, for instance, that St Patrick was the patron saint of paralegals and engineers. Or that his patronage extended not alone to Ireland but also to Nigeria and Montserrat. I had never heard that it took him so long to drum the religion into us that the walking stick he had stuck in the ground took root and grew into a tree. And while I am familiar with the wearing of shamrock and perhaps a harp on St Patrick’s Day, I’d never heard of the two St Patrick’s crosses.

For years I’ve been trying to persuade people that the shamrock is not a clover only to find that for years I’ve been wrong. The name shamrock comes from the Irish seamróg, which is the diminutive version of the Irish word for clover, meaning ‘little clover’. Another bubble burst… the embarrassment.

Despite being known the world over as St Patrick, Patrick was never formally canonised by a pope. And I never knew that when he died there was a fight to see who’d get the body – the Battle for the Body of St Patrick went over my head. Or that when he was buried he was watched over for 12 days and nights, or more like 12 long days as night never came – it was daylight the entire time.

IMG_3396 (800x599) (800x599)The first St Patrick’s Day parade was in New York back in the 1762 when some Irish soldiers serving with the British Army apparently marched across the city to a pub in Manhattan. Funny … the first one in Budapest was in 2011 and we ended up Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant.  mmmm… maybe it’s all finally beginning to make sense.

At the end of what has been another hectic week, I’m grateful for the fact  I have retained enough Irish to be able to wish the blessings of St Patrick’s Day on you all. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir. Wherever you are tomorrow, how ever you’re celebrating, know that I’ll be with ye in spirit. And if you’re in Budapest – mine’s a Jameson and ginger!

Top talent on Thursdays

How the various expatriates living in Budapest engage with this city is a source of constant amusement … for me. I know some who rarely venture outside established expat circles. I know others who will go to great lengths to avoid expats altogether. Me? I ebb and flow.

Some friends returned to Budapest earlier this month, having lived here for a year a while ago. Both were taken aback at how even after their 12 months of active exploration, the city as still coughing up new sights. It’s as if it is constantly morphing into something new; circumstances contrive to entice you into an area you’ve never ventured into before; and even old haunts offer up something unexpected.

I was in Jack Doyle’s last week, an Irish pub on the corner of Pilvax and Varoshaz utca. There’s a regular music session on a Thursday night where two of my favourite Hungarian men – Attila and Csaba, collectively known as The Jookers – entertain the punters and create a welcoming space for those who want to sing or play themselves. It’s one of the many times where I find myself wishing I could hold a tune for longer than two seconds.

Top talent on ThursdaysI’m familiar with the concept of open mic nights and have yet to be disappointed in a Thursday night at JD’s. When I have visitors in town, it’s on my list of places to go. But what I hadn’t fully appreciated is the wealth of talent this town has to offer. There’s no denying that the two boys are brilliant musicians in their own right and that the regulars who get up and entertain are gifted themselves. But the drop-ins, the random acts that pass through – that’s what adds spice to the evening. You never know what you’ll get to hear.

One after the other, they sang their hearts out last Thursday night. Hailing from Ireland, England, Australia, Scotland, America, France, and everywhere in between, they sang covers and their own songs, too. We had it all – from the Mountains to Mourne to La Boheme; from Tracy Chapman to Mary Black. Everything worked. My goose bumps were plumping.

If you’re at a loose end on a Thursday night, you could do worse that popping into Jack Doyle’s after 10pm. There are no guarantees though. I can’t promise that every night will be as good as last Thursday … next week might be even better.

First published in the Budapest Times 29 November 2013

2013 Grateful 19

I mixed up my Paddys. I thought I was going to Kobuci to see Paddy, he who sometimes plays in Jack Doyle’s. I had visions of a rousing ballad session with more than a hint of Irish. Having dinner beforehand it was obvious from the general conversation that I’d mixed up my Paddys.

What I was actuallpaddy ky going to see was a gig by Paddy and the Rats. And the confusion didn’t stop there. With names like Paddy O’Reilly, Sam McKenzie, Joey MacOnkay, Bernie Bellamy, Vince Murphy, and Seamus Connelly, I was expecting a six-pack of Irish lads on stage, but when I spoke with Bernie afterwards, he was obviously Hungarian. So I’m still clueless.

From what I can gather, the boys hail from Miskolc and banded together in 2008, listing their genres as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, Sailor Punk. What I know for sure is that the gig was bloody amazing. It’s been a while (my first Firkin gig in BP actually) since I’ve seen grown men body-slamming, or girls being shouldered by their lads, or every foot in the place rocking. I had a permanent grin on my face and with the mantra ‘bloody amazing’ rollicking around in my brain as the rest of me seemed to be going in fifty million directions – yet all perfectly coordinated. The music gets into your bones.

paddy5Paddy O’Reilly, whoever he is when he’s at home, had the crowd in the palm of his hand – literally. He choreographed them like they were puppets on a string. I say ‘them’ because although I was there, I stood back, by the bar, to avoid the frenzy and watched with a peculiar mix of pride that I think only someone as romantically Irish as I can be could feel – a pride that our music has run the gauntlet, somersaulted across cultures and borders and landed so firmly in Hungary where it so obviously enjoyed.

paddy4The accordion work on Pilgrim on the Road was amazing. And while I struggled to catch the words (a combination methinks of accent, enunciation, and acoustics) Never walk alone is still rattling around in my head. As for the bagpipes, the fiddle work, and the drums… am already itching for more.

This week, I’m grateful for the invitations I get to go places I’ve not been before, for the exposure to music I’d never discover on my own, and to those who hang tight till the wee hours and make these forays so much more enjoyable. And even if I was the common denominator in the series of accidents that befell the city this week … ta very much, lads. I had a blast.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

2013 Grateful 37

One of my favourite TV sitcoms of all time is Cheers!  For years I had a thing for that Boston bar, and the incorrigible Sam Malone. I loved Carla’s attitude and figured Cliff to be one of most entertainingly boring guys that ever walked a postal route. But Norm, he was my favourite.

It wasn’t so much the story line (what story?) but the sense of community it portrayed. That quintessential meeting place where ‘everybody knows your name’. For a while I harboured dreams of having my own pub, where I would reign in the same supreme fashion as Sam Malone, minus the balding spot and the male equivalent of the irritating Diane. One of my favourite men in the whole world has a bar in San Francisco that is a little along the Cheers line in that he knows his regulars and his regulars come in because of him. And when I go there, they know me, too. It’s nice.

I’ve reinvented myself enough times over the last twenty-five years to know that having my version of ‘Cheers’ in whatever city I’m currently living, is important. That feeling of walking through the door and being greeted by name is something many bars don’t give enough credence to. When I first moved to London, every day for a week, at the same time, I stopped in the same pub to have a pint and a cigarette before heading back to my digs. Every evening, the same bartender was on duty and every evening I was his only customer. I ordered the same thing each time and when, on Friday, he still asked what I would like, I gave up.

Back after seven years in Alaska, I was in Dublin on the night of the Ireland/Scotland rugby game. Out on the town with my mate Macker, I had one goal: to find someone who remembered me from seven years before. We visited all my old haunts. In Neary’s on Chatham Street, I recognised the bartender – Pat Lennon. He asked for my order without blinking an eye in recognition and I was so disappointed. But when he returned with our drinks and said: ‘Well, Mary Murphy! Long time no see. Seven years? Where have you been all this time…’ he made my weekend.


Now some would have it that I live in Jack Doyle’s – my Budapest version of Cheers. Some believe that I’m a regular and spend far more time than is good for me propping up the bar seven nights a week. Truth be told, I might venture  over every couple of months or so to catch the Jookers on a Thursday night, or to watch a match. I’m more likely to drop in for lunch or coffee during the day, especially when I get a craving for Elek’s goat’s cheese salad. But every time I go there, no matter how long it’s been since my last venture forth, I’m greeted by name. And I’m looked after.

There was some debate when Charles and Elvi first opened the place as to how authentically Irish it was. Certainly, it’s a far cry from the traditional spit-on-the-floor shebeen, decked out with wooden booths and red-headed, freckled bartenders that some might see as the epitome of Irishness. But as I pointed out then, there’s more to an Irish pub than traditional wood panelling. What makes a good pub of any nationality is its sense of community, its regulars, its staff. Such places are hubs where people connect on many levels and divulge as much or as little of their personality as they are comfortable with. When you’re not living amongst kith and kin, pubs like JD’s  in some, odd way, can often substitute  for home. Maybe I should start going there more often!

JDsThis week, after popping into JD’s for lunch on Thursday and catching up with Elvi and Viktor, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that in my travels over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to find my version of Cheers! in whatever town or city I’m living in at the time – that place where  everybody knows my name.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Do you want to come up and see my etchings?

He didn’t actually ask me that. I can’t translate what he did say because I only got the gist of it and I’m certain there wasn’t an ulterior motive in sight. But it’s the phrase that sprung to mind when Goya von Gerendássy Ács György, known and loved by many as simply ‘Gyuri’,  invited me up to his studio to see his art work.  The phrase is a bastardisation of phrases in  Horatio Alger, Jr. The Erie Train Boy, a novel by Horatio Alger, first published in 1891. In it,  a woman writes to her boyfriend:

I have a new collection of etchings that I want to show you. Won’t you name an evening when you will call, as I want to be certain to be at home when you really do come.

The boyfriend then writes back:

I shall no doubt find pleasure in examining the etchings which you hold out as an inducement to call.

IMG_1266But back to Gyuri …  I run into him pretty regularly in Jack Doyle’s and as my Hungarian slowly improves, we have more to say to each other. I knew he painted. But I had no idea what. I was really just curious to see how a working artist lived. I am also the first to admit that my art lexicon is limited. I have a vague idea of surrealism, impressionism, and such but am generally clueless, preferring to find solace in what I actually like rather than what I should like.

IMG_1250 (800x600)Gyuri started his artistic life by winning some children’s drawing competitions. He took drawing classes at the Kálmán Könyves Grammar School in Újpest, under the auspices of Béla Gábor. From drawing, he moved to  silver and goldsmithing and then to graphic design. When the exhibitions kicked in, Gyuri started work at Képzőművészeti Kivitelező Vállalat (Fine Art Production Company)  as a sculptor producing small-scale decorative sculptures and reproductions of original museum art pieces. He worked on sculptures of  Zsigmond Kisfalusi Stróbl, Imre Varga, Pál Páczay and László Szabó. For a year at the end of the 1970s, he was a goldsmith at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and discovered that the Mediterranean lifestyle suited him. If he had his way, Gyuri would introduce the siesta to Budapest during the summer, napping mid-afternoon and then staying up half the night (hmm… sounds familiar!).

Since 1997 he has been painting again – mainly commissioned work – and taking part in exhibitions organised by the Független Magyar Szalon (Independent Hungarian Saloon).

IMG_1263 (600x800)In an interview published on, his work is described as having some ‘impressionist and surrealist characteristics’. He says he makes decisions  by listening to his mind, which means that he listens also to his heart. His art searches for answers to questions like what road should we take in the world, why are we here? When a goldsmith in Florence, he found beauty everywhere; everyone was an artist, he says.  And Budapest could be that way , too.

It’s probably no surprise to learn then that this quiet, unassuming, and very talented man is a lineal descendant of the great Spanish painter, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. His dad studied art in Paris and was an art advisor and restorer at the Fine Art Museum in Budapest. His godfather was Kálmán Németh, the Kossuth-award-winning wood sculptor whose house can still be visited in his hometown of Fót.

IMG_1269 (600x800)While his art is bright and colourful, Gyuri doesn’t just want to influence people’s emotions, he also wants to make us think. One exhibition catalogue described him thus: ‘His pictures are the results of the eruptions of  emotional states that have been smoldering for a long time. They are the erupting volcanoes of thoughts that have been niggling for a long time. Finally, these could manifest themselves on canvas on one afternoon.’ But according to Gyuri, he’s as much a surrealist as an impressionist. In our rampant consumer society, when it seems as if everything is conspiring to do our thinking for us, he wants us, his viewers, to start thinking. In one picture, he painted the House of  Parliament (above) surrounded by tin houses on both sides of the river, drawing attention in his own quiet way to the social problems in the city.

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Gyuri lives and works in Budapest  and is very attached to the city because of its cultural and intellectual tradition. Széchenyi, Petőfi and Kossuth come to his mind when he walks the streets. Erzsébet tér used to be home to the Nemzeti Szalon – a 1920s exhibition space, where both amateur artists and art school graduates showcased their work. His wish for the area in which he lives? A place  where both artists and their fans could meet; an exhibition space, a coffee shop, a restaurant, somewhere that is open all night.

In the meantime, if you see him in Jack Doyle’s, say hello.