Saturday, July 29, 2006

A visit

So, this week the heat here in Budapest made a transition from excruciating to embarrassing. The reason, we had guests.

Andy and Aggie made a detour through our fair city on their way from Croatia to Greece. On a map such a route doesn’t make much sense, but with the rise of budget air travel the shortest distance between two points is no longer a straight line.

They were great guests. The fact that Dora and I live on the top floor without air-conditioning did not come up too often in conversation. The fact that Szóda went through their bags, leaving bite marks in most of Aggie’s cosmetics, was not dwelled upon. And most importantly, we all had an excellent time. They arrived late on Tuesday. We went for beers and caught up. It took us until two in the morning, even though I had an eight-thirty lesson the next day. Somehow that wasn’t too much of a problem, because I made it through the day, even managing to show off some of the sights during the afternoon. Then the night arrived. After an excellent meal at Két Szerecsen we went to Hold Udvar on Margaret Island. We drank, played ping-pong, danced, and reveled until 4:30 that morning (once again I had work in the morning, but I don’t get guests very often).

Again, they were great guests. I hope they had as much fun as I did. I know Dora did, she was an animal at Hold Udvar.


I want to get in an entry with a real life adventure from last month. I got two sailing-trip log-entries in before we started getting ready for that party, but the end of the trip needs to be documented.

We were circumnavigating Ischia, the largest island in the Bay of Naples, on an excruciatingly calm day. In order to move forward at all we had to use the motor for the first two hours. Andras does not like to run the motor. He goes sailing so he can sail, not tool around in an underpowered motorboat. Fortunately, once we reached the western side of the island we were moving with the current, and as a result we could run without the motor at an astounding 2 knots. It was a relaxing last day of sailing – until…

We were heading toward the harbor at Ischia Town when I saw the first flash of lightning over Monte Epomeo. Then the wind picked up. At first it seemed we would catch a nice stiff wind and beat the storm to the harbor, but then the gusting started. Then it started to rain. Then the gusting started to make me nervous. I’ll admit, as a less experienced sailor – ok, as a completely inexperienced sailor – I was losing faith in the stability of our little craft. I could feel the center of balance lifting up out of the water at times. “A three hour tour, a three hour tour…”

Andras, however, kept the cool that is so important for the captain to keep. He told me to hold off on bringing in the sails until he had us pointed squarely into the wind. Well, he didn’t actually tell me this, he just did it and told me what to do when it needed to be done. It is only through the benefit of hindsight that I can now understand what was going on. It was a flurry of activity, all while being pelted by a cold rain and blown around by storm winds. When I felt on top of things, it made me feel like a badass. Then I would have to walk out to the mast and pull a line in; the badass feelings evaporated all too quickly.

In the end, however, we got to the harbor. No slips. Damn it. We went back out and cruised to a second harbor. No slips. Damn it all. We were tired and hungry. We decided to anchor just outside the harbor in a relatively calm spot. The boat was rocking, but not so bad.

Before we went in for our trip’s last supper, I had a coffee with rum and a hot shower. Of course, we then had to ride the dingy to shore in the rain, canceling the effect of the coffee, rum, and shower. We hiked around a little, found a place with good pizza, and went back to look at the boat. Things didn’t look good. The sea was choppy. The boat was being tossed around quite a bit. And the dingy was bobbing up and down even while inside the harbor. Andras decided to put the girls up in a hotel, and without really consulting me (his right as the captain), he decided that the two of us would risk the dingy ride back to the boat where we would spend the night. The ride was rough, and the boat was rising up and down in the water as we boarded, but we got on board without injury. Andras’ decision was the right one. I slept fairly well, waking up on occasion to be sure the anchor was holding. In the morning things were calm again. We headed back to the mainland, and sadly the trip was over.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eric Clapton

Saw Clapton last night. Fantastic show. Robert Cray opened, and he came out to do a few during Clapton’s set, but the encore was the real highlight. Apparently the previous two shows did not include an encore, but the crowd was going nuts, and after a few minutes the whole band, including Cray, came out to do a asskicking rendition of “Crossroads”. The guitars were great all night. We got some nice piano solos. Overall, it was nothing but a joy.

Dora’s seeing another concert tonight, Robbie Williams. I didn’t get a ticket, not because I couldn’t. I turned down a nicely priced one this morning, but it’s not a show I need to see. Don’t get me wrong, of the pop musicians out there right now, I think Williams is one of the only interesting three-dimensional figures playing on an otherwise flat and flavorless pitch. And I’m sure his show will be a good one. The word spectacular comes to mind, but I saw Herbie Hancock last month (he closed with “Chameleon”, awesome in the true sense of the word) and then Clapton, and I’m learning a lot about the kind of shows I enjoy. I had a sincere smile on my face for the duration of both of those shows. I did not take the time to critically reflect on the choices the musicians were making because every choice they made felt like the right one.

I remember when John Andonov and I used to go to see these blues shows at the Memorial Union in Madison. I normally had a little something something in my system, and I’m fairly certain I repeated the following theory about music 47 times (and each time with the same awestruck enthusiasm): “Dude, John, dude, listen… In a novel or a play or a film, if you can predict the next moment, then the artist is failing in some way or another. But! But, in music, if the song, even during a solo or a jam, if the song is doing the right thing, then you should be able to feel where things are going. So, it’s like predictable is good.” I’m not ashamed of this analysis, despite the obviousness of it, because I had to make that realization at some point, and John was nice enough to listen... every time. I’d add some caveats nowadays. I don’t think pop music fits into the category of music I was describing back then, mostly because it is all so predicable now: One beat throughout, a simple breakdown instead of a bridge, some vanity vocal embellishments if the singer had the chops (computer effects if not), and a sample from something people used to enjoy but will now associate with the work of some hack producer.

Anyway, I don’t think Robbie Williams fits into the negative mold I’ve cast above, but he is more an entertainer than an artist. Last time I was at a show like that was over Christmas. Dora’s folks took us to see Gwen Stephanie. She's another one I don’t mind so much, and I’m glad to have seen her. But I did check my watch a couple of times during the show… and she only played for 65 minutes. I guess I want more of the music and less of the spectacular. I’m tempted to say that makes me sound old, but I don’t think I felt much differently when I was back at the Union with John.

Anyway, it was a great show last night.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Had us a party.

If you’ve ever bought a keg of beer in the States, you’re familiar with the large onus American beer distributors put on the small-scale buyer. You need to put down a deposit on the keg, provide your own tub, fill the tub with ice, rent a hand pump tap, and then pump the beer out of the keg with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Here in Hungary they make drinking beer much easier. I went to the brewery outlet and picked up a keg. With that keg I was given a CO2 tank and a tap that runs the beer through refrigerated tubes – no deposit and very little hassle. The amazing thing is, despite all this great service, barely anyone in Hungary buys kegs. At our party the general consensus was that the keg was ingenious, but a novelty. Everyone was happy the keg was there, but I don’t think we’re going to start a trend.

That, however, proved to be the only disappointment of the party. The event was an overwhelming success. A very mixed crowd started drifting in after four, and by eight we had nearly fifty people eating appetizers, kebabs off the grill, drinking beer, cocktails, and spirits. The festivities continued until about two in the morning. We chalked up a visit from the local police, who proved to be the nicest cops in the universe. They actually insisted that we keep the music at the party-friendly level it had been at all night. The only reason they visited was because Arpi, an excitable friend of ours, got a little too excited while defending the valor of his favorite Hungarian football team. The language got a little earthy, and some neighbors with children put in a call. The only other bump in the road was when Hari, Dora’s MBA schoolmate, started trying to DJ. I had put together a nice eclectic play list for the event, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the music. But after a beer or two too many, Hari thought he was DJ-fucking-Shadow or something. He kept starting a song and changing it after ninety seconds. When I told him to stop, he gave me a thumbs up and changed the song again.

Lessons learned, lock the keyboard before people get drunk, always get a keg, and don’t get Arpi going about Fradi.