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Resolutions and bucket lists

My one and only New Year’s resolution is to whittle away at my bucket list. I’m increasingly conscious of the limited time we have on this Earth and the danger of putting off until tomorrow what could be done today, as sometimes, quite unexpectedly, we run out of tomorrows. And I don’t want to be caught on the hop. There’s little danger that my bucket list will ever be cleared in its entirety as more often than not, each time I strike something off, I add something to it. But hey, it keeps me active.

trottingFor six years now, I’ve been promising myself that I would go to the races on New Year’s Eve in Budapest. I’m a semi-regular at the track during the summer, when entrance is free and temperatures occasionally bring more than the horses out in a sweat. On Wednesday last though, temperatures hit minus 12. It was bloody cold. Considering the last time I was at Kincsem Park it was in the high 30s, this was quite a change and somewhat of a shock to the system.

Usually the crowds are pretty sparse. I’ve often wondered how the track keeps going, operating at what is so obviously a serious financial deficit. On New Year’s Eve, though, they charged 1000 ft on the gate (am not complaining; compared to €30 or more in most parts of the world, €3 was insignificant). And it seemed as if the world and its mother had braved the cold to see the races. Attendance is estimated at around 20 000 and most of them were betting, as the long queues for the tote and the loos attested to.

trotting 2Mulled wine and live music contributed to the party atmosphere as the Budapest skyline across the track lit up with fireworks and a cacophony of horns and bugles added to the general noise and melee. The atmosphere, so different from the quiet of the summer’s racing, was electric. I’m not a huge fan of trotting as I prefer to see my horses parade around the ring before I place a bet. But given the temperatures, reason was cast aside and I went for a 2-7 befutó (reverse forecast) on all races – it’s not a strategy that worked but it kept me interested.

Looking at the Kincsem Park website for some photos, I was amused to see how ingenious it is with its English translation.

Many things, however, can be easily understood even if they’re in a different language. Knowing the basic vocabulary of the context helps a great deal. With that in mind, we provide here the most common expressions and words along with their meaning in the hope that with the help of these you can navigate through the site more easily.

Now, that’s my kind of logic.

So, 2015 has begun and my quest to eliminate random entries from my bucket list will continue as the opportunities present themselves. God willing, I’ll get my 365 tomorrows this year.

 

 

2013 Grateful 21

I’ve lived to tell the tale. I’ve survived yet another birthday week. For those of you not yet old enough (or fortunate enough) to have experienced this particular phenomenon, first introduced to me by the inimitable DF in Washington, let me outline the basic concept. Once you pass the tender age of 40, instead of forgetting about birthdays altogether, you have what she calls a birthday week – you celebrate for a whole seven days. Nothing like a series of late nights and revelry to keep old age at bay.

IMG_6904 (600x800)Mine started on Saturday, 3rd August, at Kincsem Park – an open invite to join me at the races saw hats being demothballed, picnic baskets being aired, and the inner gambler in some emerge. It was hot, bloody hot, too hot to sit on the grass with no shade so we picnicked in the stands – just by the finish line. While we were awash with food and wine, we were a little light on tipsters. But with 10 races on the card, we had plenty of time to figure it out. Kincsem Park is a great day out, any day. Add some old friends, some new friends, and some good wine, and it’s even better. A swathe of taxis took the hard core to Grund – a garden bar in the VIIIth district – and then for a 2am snack at a great little place on Ulloi. Sunday, as it should be, was a day of rest and recuperation.

IMG_6976 (800x600)Monday was about being nice to me – hair do, manicure, long lunch, phone calls abroad. Tuesday, the day itself, started off with lunch at Kompót, my new favourite place to eat in Budapest. And then it was over to Buda (on a day pass!) to Kobuci where a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute band kept the floor heaving despite the temperatures. People came and went all evening and again, it was great to catch up with those I’ve not seen in a while. I like this idea of open invites – you never know who will show up. Another late one though as Szimpla beckoned and then some more dancing … at a great little place on Ulloi.

IMG_6956 (800x599)The week progressed with more lunches, dinners, coffees, and catch-ups. The cards came through the letterbox and transatlantic phone calls added to my days. And then on Friday, it was off to Szeged by train to see Porgy and Bess. More on this spectacular experience later. Back in town yesterday, for the official close of my 2013 birthday week, I found myself giving thanks to the good Lord for the people who have come into my life…. and stayed a while. For their generosity of spirit and that added extra they bring with them: different perspectives that challenge, provoke, and entertain and further enrich an already blessed life.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir

 

A bookie’s money is only ever on loan

Civilization is drugs, alcohol, engines of war, prostitution, machines and machine slaves, low wages, bad food, bad taste, prisons, reformatories, lunatic asylums, divorce, perversion, brutal sports, suicides, infanticide, cinema, quackery, demagogy, strikes, lockouts, revolutions, putsches, colonization, electric chairs, guillotines, sabotage, floods, famine, disease, gangsters, money barons, horse racing, fashion shows, poodle dogs, chow dogs, Siamese cats, condoms, peccaries, syphilis, gonorrhea, insanity, neuroses, etc., etc.

No, that’s not my opinion – I pilfered it from Henry Miller because I was glad to see that he included horse-racing in his list. (I’m hyphenating it, because my trusted OED says to do so. Picking a dictionary is a little like choosing a religion – you have to keep the faith!)

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There are few outings I like more than a day at the races. At home, where it costs upwards of €30 to just get through the turnstile, it’s an absolute pleasure to walk through the gates of Kincsem Park and pay nothing. Zero. Zilch. Free entry. And to have the place practically to yourself is another bonus … of sorts. Nothing can quite compete with the atmosphere at the Curragh on the day of the Derby or the Christmas festival at Fairyhouse or the Galway races – there, the crowds add to it all. Yet there’s something very attractive about the leisurely pace of Kincsem Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in April.

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And it doesn’t matter that I don’t know one end of a horse from the other when it comes to spotting form. I fancy myself as being in the know but at the same time I know I’m only codding myself. I bet the minimum 200 ft but can say with some pride that I now have enough Hungarian  to know how to do a reverse forecast… and one even came up! I was well impressed with myself. Mind you, it was the only win I had all day 🙁 but as my mother would say – a bookie’s money is only on loan. It’s a shame that there are no bookies at Kincsem – just a tote… so the winnings will never be massive, but a win is a win is a win.

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Whether  standing by the track or viewing from the stands or even inside looking out from the bar, just being there is enough. And speaking of bars – the bar at Kincsem uses a very nice Bock rosé for its fröccs (spritzer) – cheap at half the price, no expense spared. Yet the place must be losing money hand over fist. But was I complaining? Hell, no!

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It’s a shame to see the old stand no longer in use. And it’s hard to imagine why it was built there in the first place, so far from the track. Perhaps things have changed since the park was in its heyday. I have very little difficulty imagining those days of yore and the horse-drawn carriages pulling up to discharge their gentile passengers, dressed in their finery. The place oozes a sophistication that is reminiscent of times past.

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Had I been born slightly smaller in stature, more petite (more? how am I kidding?), I reckon I’d have thrown my hat at a jockey or three.  I love the idea of that life. Dick Francis is about the only author whose books I read over and over and over again. I never get tired of them. Someday, somehow, somewhere I will be in the winners’ enclosure collecting a trophy when my horse crosses the finish line first. As it is, with the imagination I have, I can just about get the feeling of what it must be like to have so much invested in such amazingly majestic creatures. I’m not talking money here, rather time, emotion, and hope. The pride the owners, trainers, grooms, and jockeys must feel when their horse comes home in front is envious.

If you’re in Budapest this summer, take a Sunday out for Kinscem Park. You won’t be sorry. And, of course, mark your diary for the IHBC derby day on the first Sunday in July. I’ll see you there.

A wink from Lord Darsy

No matter where in the world you go racing, you’ll always see style. Derby day in Budapest was certainly no different. What was missing was the crowd. The Curragh, home to the Irish Derby, is guaranteed to be packed to the seams on Derby day. The city of Louisville in Kentucky has been hosting the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs racecourse for 135 years. The city itself takes on a carnival atmosphere during Derby week. As for the whole of Australia… when Melbourne Cup day comes around, the country comes to a standstill and for a few glorious minutes, the nation is united in one loud cheer. (Billed as the ‘race that stops the nation’,  I was reminded of this recently when I saw an old episode of Inspector Morse when Morse and Lewis visit a small town in the outback only to find it deserted – everyone is in the pub watching the race!)

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In Budapest last Sunday, everyone was somewhere else, too. Kincsem Park was practically empty.  Okay, so maybe the weather had a part to play. Fantastic thunder and lightning storms started the day and torrential downpours took us into early afternoon. At mass that morning, a massive lightning strike through the stained glass window lit up the priest as he lifted the Host for consecration. Amazing stuff. Still though, it did brighten up and the day was fine – but the people were missing.

KP can hold about 10,000 people so you can imagine how it looked with about a tenth of that. It’s a strange place that apparently makes a sizeable loss year on year and yet stays open. Wonder what business model they’re using! There is no entrance fee (contrast that with the €25 you pay to get in the gate to the Curragh on Derby day) and the minimum bet is just 200 HUF (less than €1). It’s tote betting only; there are no bookies, so in this respect it does lack a certain atmosphere. Half the fun for me at home was finding the right chap offering the right odds for the right horse in the right race. Still, mastering the Hungarian tote system was a challenge.

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Tét – win (your horse comes first)
Hely – place (your horse comes first, second or third)
Befutó – exacta (you pick the first two horses past the post in the right order – no messing around here!)
Hármas befutó – trifecta (you pick the first three horses in the right order – the moneyspinner)

I had a blast.  I had treated myself to a corporate day out (ironic really, as I am the corporation) with the Irish Hungarian Business Circle so had a VIP pass, lunch, wine, perfect vantage point, great seat and 10 races on the card. Did I mention the wine??? The highlight of my day was when the cup was awarded. The whole place stood to attention for the Hungarian National Anthem and you could have heard a pin drop. It was particularly poignant because Garabonciás (the Derby winner) has an Irish Dad – Black Sam Bellamy, and an Irish mother – Green Seed. Somehow it seemed rather fitting. Mind you, for all that, I hadn’t backed him. When I was down at the parade ring, No. 8, Lord Darsy, looked straight at me and winked… enough said!