Friday, October 27, 2006

Gone Till November

Rick and I are off to Romania, and doubtful we'll get a chance to update. Tune in, same bat time, same bat station, after November 3.

If you are in NYC, make sure to catch (or join) the Zombie Army as it terrorizes the Village Halloween Parade, rocking the Thriller dance all the way. We'll be there with you in spirit, guys . . . Stay Sick.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Children of the Night

Rick and I are in the process of planning our Halloween trip to Transylvania. We're heading to Dracula's home town, and so perhaps we should have expected that even in the process of planning, we would be sickened.
Even disgusted.
Yes...yes...perhaps we should have expected that.
But we never could have expected THIS:

From the website of the Kismet Dao Hostel, Romania:

Why not try The Shagging Room? A private room with a queen sized metal framed bed, dresser, TV and a balcony. The Sun rises on this side for an easier morning shag. Many Towels provided. 3rd floor.

Eeeeeeew. Many Towels...

OK, I'll make the joke so you don't have to: "Children of the night. What Music they make."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Man on the Street

Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets. It’s a big, big deal. Every museum in town is hosting an exhibit on the revolution, people everywhere are wearing the Hungarian colors. The city is covered in symbols of the uprising: Hungarian flags with a hole cut where the hammer and sickle had once was.

The anniversary also falls in the midst of a major political crisis, originally provoked by leaked tapes of the Socialist PM admitting he and his party lied . The conservative party Fidesz wants the Prime Minister to resign. At the very least they’d like a national vote to recall him. The Prime Minister says this would be anti-democratic. Fidesz calls the Socialists the spiritual heirs of the Soviets. The Socialists portray themselves as enacting tough reforms, bringing Hungary up to EU economic code.

It’s no surprise that Fidesz wanted to hold a rally today. The government tried to get them to change their minds. They refused. I can’t pretend I fully understand the situation. Here’s what Rick and I have witnessed:

-Yesterday we visited a 1956-themed street fair in a part of town. It was by Corvin circle, right near our house; somehow I never associated the plaques adorning this circle with past tragedies. It was a great event: accordions, classic cars, a 1956 museum, kids playing on giant Soviet guns. There was even a “movie-shoot” vacant lot. Kids dressed up in “revolutionary” style jackets that hung down to their knees and climbed on old Soviet tanks. Parents snapped photos. Adorable. Rick and I reflected that this was the best possible use for tanks.

-Today the mood was different. Around noon I returned to the same spot, where there was either a rally or official commemoration. Hundreds of people. I saw a pack of about 10 skinheads. Lots of Hungarian flags, including one with an outline of “greater Hungary” and one paired (bizarrely) with a confederate flag. People were shouting “Kossuth Ter!” That’s the name of the square in front of Parliament, scene of recent protest activity, which police cleared for today’s commemorative events. I got creeped out and turned home. It seemed like some protesters were trying to inspire the crowd to march towards Parliament. There was an angry mood in the air—excitable and nervous. A little later on television, I saw police and protesters clashing on this street.

-Also on Hungarian TV: police lob tear gas at protesters and shoot rubber bullets. Usually the Berkeley in me knee-jerks “pig!” at this kind of news, but I am so clueless (and so freaked out any time I see skinheads) that I actually don’t know who to be more scared of, police or protesters. Also on TV, protesters steal one of those Soviet tanks (!) and drive on police. I actually found that reassuring. In America if someone stole a tank they would be killed. The fact that they got away with it here made me feel like the violence can’t be so extreme.

-Not weird enough for you? Also on Hungarian TV: official 1956 commemoration ceremonies, much like the opening ceremony for a summer olympics. A ballet dancer in a silver unitard, suspended from a hot air balloon, floats in front of Parliament, photographs of doomed 56 protesters projected onto her bubble.

-Rick and I took an after-dinner walk. Do these protests just feel like a bigger deal because they are closer to our apartment? At the main intersection near our house (home of our metro stop) there’s a phalanx of policemen with riot shields. We walked a bit towards the center of the city and ran into a big protest at Ferenciek Tere. Huge flags, floodlit streets, lots of people. We hear the pop of what we think are tear gas canisters, yet folks seem to be running towards, not away from the scene. No one seems very scared (although many seem drunk.) Later, back at home, we see this scene repeated around the city on television.

In closing, we’re OK, just confused.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Pickle in One Hand

Hungarian, they tell me, is full of word play and double entendres, almost impossible to capture in translation. But I sure do love it when they try.

From a free Budapest weekly magazine with a couple English articles:


Women tend to do things they have no stomach for. At least, it is said so. According to the rules of evolution, doing things you have no stomach for should result in growing that stomach, shouldn’t it? Anyway, certain women should really have more than one stomach to have enough place for all the things they eat. For example, men. They do have the stomach for them!

I cannot think of a more dangerous creature than a woman yearning for a poor and unsuspicious creature, a man. At first she has butterflies in her stomach, then she butters the man up, then comes the phase of flying into a rage (it is not done by the butterflies!) and in the end comes the attack! Sometimes this process makes men happy. Sometimes not.

If you ask me, there are few things more exciting than sneaking behind a woman who is standing barefoot in front of the open fridge, with a pickle in one hand and a chicken leg in the other. I am very hot on meeting this type of women, even though they might eat cold stew right from the pot. I’ve also got to confess that watching a woman biting grape off the bunch fires me up. A woman with her mouth full of food means not only a good company, owing to her being unable to speak at that moment, but also a pleasant spectacle. Don’t you believe me? Then believe your eyes.

According to the old saying, the way to a man’s heart leads through his stomach. Chefs know that it goes for the way to the woman’s heart, as well. Should you be in the black books of your beloved one or wish to pick a chic chick up—take her to a restaurant. Though eating out only once might not be enough, you can be sure she swallows the bait and a supper together will surely be super.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

…And bring your swimsuit

News Flash: Our Budapest friend Inna’s mom just bought a ticket, non-stop from NYC to Budapest, for $500. Another friend has found a March ticket for $400…

So yesterday was my “day off” from writing and I spent most of it at the Szechenyi baths in City Park. For those of you who don’t know, Budapest is famous for its natural thermal baths. Going to the baths is a national pastime—Hungarians are serious about it. Each bath has a menu of options, not just swimming pools, saunas and thermal baths but massages, mud baths, and a whole universe of treatments that I have never heard of, but which sound like they might involve electricity. The beautiful part is the baths are incredibly cheap, so anyone can and does go: grandmas, tourists, mechanics, businessmen, young mothers, teenagers. In fact some Hungarian companies give employees bath vouchers as a benefit (jealous).

This was my second Budapest bath experience. The first was the Gellert baths—those are the ridiculously lavish baths in Buda where Matthew Barney filmed the last installment of the Cremaster cycle.

Here’s what they have going for them:
-Crazy elaborate mosaics, gorgeous statues, sculpted pillars, painted ceilings, fancy wallpaper
-Art nouveau overload
-Pool of sparkling water
-Turn-of-the-century outdoor wave pool
-Classy sunbathing terraces
-Feeling like you’re in Daddy Warbucks’ mansion

The Szechenyi baths are a tiny bit more proletarian, but still housed in a palatial building in the center of a peaceful park.

-Beautiful outdoor swimming pools, complete with neoclassical sculpture fountains
-Old Men playing chess in the hottest outdoor thermal pool
-Amusement park whirly ride periodically appears above bath roof
-Current pool that carries you around in whirlpool style
-Labyrinth of indoor pools and indoor saunas, all different temperatures. I couldn’t find the end of the baths. Perhaps they don’t end.

I’m just saying, bring your swimsuit.

Post Script:
The other day we passed by some Americans, having the Quintessential American in Budapest conversation:

American Dude 1: So, the bar was like, three bucks. Dinner was…what, that whole dinner was, fuckin', seven bucks. The ice cream is…
American Dude 2: 50 cents. No, less.
American Dude 3:(drunk) You guys, my dad is like, really rich. He’s really…he’s just rich.

It was sort of charming, in a way. At least it wasn’t the Quintessential British Stag Party in Budapest conversation:

British Bloke 1:(drunk) Did you see the teats on that one? I like that! Fancy a shag with her, mate.
British Bloke 2: (also drunk) They do dress like sweet whores here, don’t they? Jesus, Mary and Joseph. (vomits.)
British Bloke 3: (of course drunk) Better go to the baths tommorow lads, do a bit of a detox, wot?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Red Letter Day

And so the summer finally dies away, our neighbors break out their fall jackets, the days grow shorter and the leaves start falling. At three months in Hungary, I’ve reached an important mile-stone: my first non-embarassing encounter with the Bakery Bitch.

Hungarian is hard. It’s harder than most languages. It has eighty million vowels and words ten miles long. It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to learn enough Hungarian to get through simple shop transactions. Most vendors are good enough to bear with me while I grunt, point and draw pictures in a desperate effort to communicate. The Bakery Bitch, in contrast, appears to take great pleasure in my discomfort. She rolls her eyes, smirks, and and makes snarky comments to her coworkers with. Imagine her shock when I rolled in this morning, told her exactly what I wanted, gave her correct change without checking the cash register, and thanked her politely in perfectly functional Hungarian.


Sarah orders in Hungarian

Bakery Bitch: (taken aback) Well, surprise, surprise. It talks!

Sarah: That’s right! You heard me! You know what that was, that was flawless Hungarian! You Know How We Roll! BIOTTTCH!

Bakery Bitch hands Sarah her rolls.

Bakery Bitch: She seems pleased with herself. But what will she do when I ring her up…in Hungarian?

Sarah: Sucka! I already added it up in my head! I KNOW the price, I don’t HAVE to understand you! UHHH! How’s it feel? How’s it feel? Oh, you got served! (Sarah mentally does the cabbage patch)

Sarah pays. Bakery Bitch hands Sarah her change.

Bakery Bitch: Whatever. She still talks funny.

Sarah: I am the Ruler of the Universe.

As the bard says, Today Was a Good Day. Rick fixed our window and figured out how to turn on our heat. I wrote freelance stuff, ate a delicious restaurant lunch with Rick, and went to bluegrass practice. God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Real Art

My dear friend Colleen is currently in her last year of graduate school, earning an MFA in choreography at a very prestigious school. She recently wrote:

“It's been an exciting two years and I've come a long way with my work as an artist. My long time collaborator, Karen Ivy, and I have been dabbling in the art of dance videos. We recently finished a project we've been conceptualizing for quite some time. We feel it has real promise. I've included the link below for you all to view, what I feel, is my best work yet.”

The video she sent was, quite simply, stunning. I decided that it had to be shared.

As you all know, I hate pretentiousness. But the power of this video demands serious discussion. Colleen’s postmodern critique of workplace culture deconstructs the physical language of the office environment by juxtaposing it with raw urban culture and colliding it with traditional gender stereotypes (giggling, jiggling, wiggling). The exuberance, the spirit, and the unbridled energy of the movement is a searing commentary on the taylorization of the workplace. The use of mass media uncompromisingly condemns the society of spectacle. When the only possible expression is the meaningless, when only the ironic is heartfelt, when only the commercial is touching, when only the irreverant is relevant—what then of mens' souls? This is a grim yet Important work that should send shockwaves through the dance world.

Please, take the time to watch this very important video:

Advanced choreography at OSU

Colleen is the performer wearing the striped costume. And to think, my last collaboration with her was a clown piece about rubber chickens! How far she’s come.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Parliament of Draculas

In honor of Friday the Thirteenth, I’m posting something I wrote just before the demonstrations and then never posted. Enjoy. Halloween is almost here! Transylvania here we come!

One of Budapest’s many pleasures is the Dracula building. Walk along almost any alley and you’ll find blackening old buildings slowly crumbling into dust. Oxidizing in the sun, caked in pollution, they drop cupid limbs like lepers. In neighborhoods of perky, pastel, disneyified restored buildings, Dracula buildings are menacing and ancient and evil. Suitable headquarters for the local gang of comic book villains, a good place to launch the neighborhood Satanic Youth Center.



This one is Dracuguese.

But without question, one building reigns supreme as Budapest’s Most Draculish Building. That building is Hungarian Parliament.


I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Hungary is run by a Parliament of Draculas. They flock to this, their stronghold, by night. Millions of flapping bat wings resound through the city as they shriek through the Parliament’s belfries. Some waft beneath the heavy oak doors in a sickly green fog. Others, taking the form of enormous wolves, leap through the arched gothic windows and land wild-eyed, snarling and slobbering in their seats. In the dim artificial light of the dome, a million red slitted eyes glint sinister. Thin red lips smile curl into contemptuous half-smiles. The air resounds with the sound of air hissing though a thousand sets of small, sharp fangs.

“I protesssssst. Thisssss bill is pure pork-barrel politicsssss!”
“Oh pleassssse. What about your highway bill last Sssssseptember? If it hadn’t been an election year, that never would have passsssssed!”
“Gentlemen, pleassssse! Remember, the Blood Bank is this nation’sssssss most vital ressssssssource…for DRACULAS!”

The gentle citizens of Budapest huddle terrified behind their sturdy doors, clutching rustic braids of garlic, waiting for the danger to pass. One day they will finally rise and march in a great, pale, torch-lid mob towards Parliament’s forbidding doors. Till then, we shudder when we look towards the horizon and see its dark towers jutting like fangs towards the night sky.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Under the Influence

Just before I left New York, Garth gave me a going-away present. It was a little book called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. He told me perhaps you will like this book, it is all about being a writer in Europe and knowing terribly interesting people and having terribly interesting conversations and then writing all about it. And it is a charming book to read on a Sunday first in bed and then on the porch and later in bed again. In this book Gertrude Stein tells about her famous friends Picasso and Braque and Juan Gris and Apollinaire, and how they came over for dinner and said something very witty, and how they remembered it years later when they met again in Italy. It is all amusing and very good gossip but the problem and it is a big problem is that one starts to think like Gertrude Stein. It is all well and good for Gertrude Stein to think like Gertrude Stein but it is somewhat less appropriate for others who are not Gertrude Stein to think in her voice. One gets to look at the little episodes in one’s life as if they were stories being told by Gertrude Stein in this book or in any other book any book that is written by Gertrude Stein.

For instance just yesterday Rick was at his computer where he is very often and as he often does he said listen to this, I have found something to listen to. It was a song about The Blob called Beware of The Blob sung by The Five Blobs. It was a very silly song with silly words about how The Blob creeps and creeps and seeps. It was in short utterly charming and I sang it to myself for days afterwards. Then again today Rick at his computer said look at this you must come look at this I have found something else. Do you remember that song about The Blob and of course I did remember that song about The Blob well that song was written by Burt Bacharach, he said, that is why you remember it so well.

I need a new book to read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

City of Rick

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vienna Bear vs. Budapest Bear: Cage Match

Rick and I just returned from a short jaunt to Vienna, the “Paris of the East.” It’s chock-full of palaces and castles and museums—much larger, more elegant, and expensive than Budapest. Of course, Austria is a Western European, wealthy, capitalist state, while Hungary is an Eastern European, post-communist, poor state. Both cities have their charm, but their cultures are very different. It’s kind of like—well, let’s just let the wildlife speak for itself.

Vienna bears enjoy fanciful tea parties dressed in colorful folk costumes.

Budapest bears are pressured from childhood to win Olympic glory…

...or sentenced to hard labor in Siberia, simply for looking too much like wolves.

Vienna bears promonade happily hand in hand, showing off that extravagant little parasol they picked up somewhere.

Budapest bears are forced to the front before they’re even big enough to hold a gun.

Vienna bears enjoy forming pop bands with precious miniature musical instruments.

Budapest bears crouch in the corner, wearing the helmet and gas mask they stripped off a dead Nazi, just praying they get a chance to take some fascists down before they die.

Callous Vienna bears run happily over the proletariat.

There are no more bears left in Budapest. Only frightened dolls…

...and bloodthirsty, man-eating horses.

All photographs taken on location in Vienna and Budapest. No bears were harmed in the making of this post.