Monday, October 30, 2006

Squirrel Season

Last week in brief:

Distractions like beer, Zelda (where the fuck is the Hammer?) and cooking have played a big role. My head feels like a big knot of Christmas lights. Sure, it’s nice when they’re hanging up, flashing multicoloured goodness from a dark window, but they can be a bitch to untangle, and if you try to do it too quickly, a few lights tend to bust and not work again.

Last week in not so brief:

Vera recently acquired a new love interest and needed to have her flat to herself for a couple of nights and I felt like having a few good times with some familiar talking dudes. This meant during the week, I alternated between Vera’s flat and the flat where Andy and Laurie (who are an American couple who have been in Budapest for the a few months), live. Laurie studies business and Andy works as a programmer for a company back in California. Quite by accident, they quadrupled booked their spare room with a various array of out of towners and for a short time their flat became the unofficial Hotel California. First it was me, then Vince and Maya from Australia, then the two French guys, then a French girl and an American girl. One morning, as I was the last of the backpackers to leave the flat, I asked Andy: “now that you have your place to yourself, you might be able to get some work done”. He replied, “Nope. Gotta go to the train station in about an hour to meet some friends from the States who are coming to stay for a few nights”. Cue the Eagles: Welcome to the Hotel California. Swapping between Vera’s and the American’s flat has been made simple by their close proximity. I really must introduce them so they can adopt each other.

Monday October 23
Take a dull-bladed blender, turn it on high, throw in four large onions and place your face over the uncovered top. This might give you an idea of what teargas feels like. Although I didn’t get a canister fired directly in my face, I rode through an area where tear gas had been used 30 minutes earlier, and it still affected me. My eyes and nose were running and I really didn’t want to be riding my bike. I missed the main part of the riots (through not having a fancy press vest protecting me and my camera from the water cannon and having a prior dinner engagement), and managed to catch the tail end of the angry masses and the beginning of the clean up. The area where our group had had lunch earlier that day had been completely trashed (bins overturned, phone booths smashed, paving used as missiles, construction sites missing wood), all roads around Parliament were closed for three blocks, the stolen tanks were being rescued by the army and camera shy riot police were sleeping off the night’s efforts. By 9am Tuesday morning, the areas where the riots went through were completely clear. On Wednesday, I met an Irish guy who showed me some nifty shots he’d taken of rubber bullet wounds, angry young men wielding lumps of “fourbeetwo” and burning cars, only to lose them (and the card), later that day during a mishap with a fellow student’s laptop. Andy took some good shots from behind the front line, with his photo of a delayed pizza delivery scooter personifying the opinion that comparing what’s happening now to what happened in 1956 is an idea founded in bullshit. By the looks of it, if you’re depressed, you should forget the song I’ll do my crying in the rain and start a riot in Eastern Europe. You might get tear-gassed and rubber bulleted, but no one will notice your tears, you can take out all your frustrations by stealing tanks and throwing rocks at guys with big black shields. I might upload the rather uneventful video I shot when I have some better net.

What was I doing instead of rioting?
Rather than check out the front line of the riots during the evening (which in a way, I’m kind of regretting), I honoured a prior arrangement and joined Vera and a few friends at her flat for tasty Hungarian food and good conversation. Dave and Veronica joined us, with Dave’s friend (who was locked up for 2 weeks during the first round of riots), was a no show and Dave became a little worried that his friend may have put in a repeat performance. We ate, we listened some questionable Hungarian music, and over the sounds of far off gun fire and tear gas canisters exploding, we enjoyed a civilised evening. I’m still not convinced with some of the Hungarian music I’m hearing. I was impressed with the live stuff I saw at Sziget back in August, but my preference is leaning towards the dulcet tones of Mate Peter (read mat-a pei-ta). Apparently, he shares a similar cult following amongst Hungary’s youth as Kamal does back in Australia and has been described to me as Hungary’s answer to Tom Jones. Go the elf-like crooning and 70s funk I say.

I cooked up a big serving of nachos and our intrepid group ate at the flat before heading down to Simplar for a few drinks. We ended up meeting this Aussie guy who has been working as an Eastern European travel guide for the last few months. It got me thinking about how much I would hate doing call centre work in Ireland, knowing that there are tour guide jobs like this guys floating around. I’ll look into doing something like that, as I’m a big fan of work where I can put myself into it, rather than just another phone zombie.

I forget. I think it involved speaking English at a normal pace, cooking food and even making the occasional obscure cultural reference with an audience who understood it.

Not sure if this was Thursday, but we checked out the Hungarian baths. Good times, but no photos. Cool whirlpool bath outside, various mystery minerals and temp baths inside, with lots of wrinklies doing exactly what I'd like to be doing at 80. However, when I transfered to a different bath
after the steam room, I nearly passed out and had a repeat performance of this. Afterwards, our travel posse headed over to a house party hosted by fellow American Nick and his Hungarian flatmates. I found a corner of locals, sat with them and amused myself (and them), with my piss-poor pronunciation of Hungarian words. I was impressed with Nick’s attempts at importing American Frat party traditions and adapting them to local conditions (Parlinka jelly shots, Kaiser beer bongs). I left around 12 to get back to Vera’s place and we went to her local pub Kuplung (Clutch), for a few drinks, chatted about our mixed fortunes with family life and then returned to her place and made plum dumplings at 3am.

I showed the American’s Kuplung a cool place around the corner from their flat and in return they taught me flippy cups, a drinking game involving beer skulling and cup flipping skills. I’m not a big fan of drinking games, but this one is pretty entertain, is piss simple to learn and is rather addictive.

Our troop of English talking dudes made its way via the “dangerous and confusing” bus and tram route to the Budapest flea markets. The other guys were chasing a cheap space helmet, but were a bit bummed at the 700 Euro price tag. I was a little shocked by the amount of Nazi and Hitler memorabilia, but after talking to a few Hungarians, I get the feeling that there is a percentage of the population that agrees with his work during WWII. It’s been fun hanging out with an assortment of travellers again. Particularly with native English speakers and fellow Australians. Plus, Andy and Laurie are super chilled and cool to hang out with, and are not at all the stereotypical Americans you would imagine. Although with both of them having major deadlines with work and study, I felt a little bad being part of the group disrupting their time.

At 5:30 I met up with my new host (Spelt: Timea - Pronounced: Timmi) at the Chain Bridge, where she told me her place was only 4km from Budapest. I assumed she meant from the centre, but she meant from the city limits. This translated into a 30-something-km ride from the bridge in the failing light of an autumn afternoon. But it was cool, as there is a fairly sketchy bike track for most of the way. It may have been bumpy and inconsistent, but at least I was out of the way of the traffic. Timmi is a technical chemist and makes pharmaceutical drugs for a living. An old school friend from Szeged (200km south of Budapest), was visiting Timmi, which explained the hangovers they were nursing when I met them.

We cooked pancakes for breakfast, Zsuzsa returned to Szeged and Timmi and I drove to a place called Paty, a little village in the southwestern foothills of Budapest. We climbed a hill, saw the autumn landscape with a fiery sunset and got bucketed on by the first storm I’ve seen in two months. For dinner, I cooked the first pumpkin soup I’ve cooked in about a year and it worked a treat. I was very impressed with myself.

Monday (today)
This morning I visited a town between Halastalek and Budapest. There’s more shops, people and wifi and has made organising tomorrow’s ride towards Lake Balaton a little easier. I saw the flower markets I had passed on Saturday night, but this time I saw the big cemetery across the road, which put the markets in context. I sat near a church and soaked up some more default goodness and afterwards browsed a rather impromptu looking flea market. A couple of guys had decorated a retaining wall with second hand goods including hand strengtheners, walkmans and some rather suspect looking, slightly used Eastern European porno magazines. After I ducked into a supermarket across the road for some food, I returned to my perusing of the merch, and was approached by a portly Gypsy couple. As they got closer, they opened up a couple of bags and started doing the hard sell on the bed linen and Romanian socks hidden inside. Not in the market for either, I used some well-selected Hungarian “Nem Kur-ser-num” (no thanks), but they kept on with the hard sell. When I finally just said in English, “sorry mate, but I don’t understand Hungarian”, without missing a beat, the guy switched his sales pitch to English, but the women closed her bag, held out her hand and made a mime resembling eating as if it was a reflex to hearing English. The guy turned around gave her a dirty look, closed his bag and joined in on the begging routine. Rather than giving them cash, I offered them the apple and bread I had just purchased, only to be rejected with a another dirty look and cries of “No. Money! Money!”. I said no and pointed out that rather than buying/stealing the linen and socks, they could have bought/stole plenty of food. The guy laughed, patted me on the back and left. The women, sneered at me and followed her partner. I had a quick scout around a car yard for any Soviet era cars that may have been traded in and are now being resold for nicks, and found something I didn’t expect. A right hand drive, NSW plated Honda 600 coupe. I saw a big fire at a factory and have decided that I still want to be a fireman when I grow up.

There is no net at the place I’m staying at in Hal√°sztelek, but this morning I caught up on the news back at home. I’ve had a feeling over the last couple of internet-less days that something was happening in a galaxy far, far away. Last night, as if some kind of magic signpost, I said goodnight to my current host and asked what the book she was reading was about, assuming it was Hungarian. She held it up so I could read the cover: Lolita. She had just started it and said it was a bit creepy. Thanks to this and a talkative squirrel, I only slept a couple of hours last night and now at 3pm I feel ruined. I must look like death warmed up. Well, at least I’m warm. Maybe a beer might help make me look human. If you’re curious, get me (and maybe yourself), drunk and I’ll tell you all about it sometime.

cool stuff:
this dude (cheers chris, I remember seeing the start of this about 5 years ago)
Lost S03 e04 - huh?


Eleanora Martinez said...

Ah! Alas and alack for the plague that is limited downloads!! I haven't seen LOST yet!!!

gabriel said...

OOOO if you go to the Lake Balaton from Budapest, u must be cyclin' through Szekesfehervar, my hometown..which we all know was the capital a thousand years ago. and yea, Lost. im bored with it.

Eleanora Martinez said...

BTW I luurvvvve that photo!
It's waayyyy ace!