Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Fogotten Trip

So, the weekend is here again. Dora’s parents have arrived from the States. There’s a shitload of family birthdays to celebrate this time of year (it is perhaps a bit overwhelming, especially when you considerer my own family’s casual attitude toward birthdays – oh, by the way, Happy Birthday Courtney!! A day late, but it’s a busy time of year for you, I know.). And I’m getting ready for the school year to start up. So, I am plenty busy, and Dora is off to Poland for a work-sponsored training, and it is all a little overwhelming.

But the Poland thing reminded me of something I forgot to write about. Two weeks ago Dora and I celebrated our second year as a married couple in Poland. We drove up through Slovakia, a beautiful drive through the Tatra Mountains.

I did take a wrong turn about five hours into the drive and tagged an extra 90 minutes onto the trip. We saw a badass castle as a result, but the detour was a bit frustrating. My navigator was asleep when I went off course. She woke up to tell me I should have been more careful, but then we missed the turn a second time while backtracking. That’s when we realized that the Slovak people need to mark their roads better.

You hear that Slovakia! Mark those roads!

They can’t hear me…

Anyway, Krakow was the main destination, and it was worth it. It’s a beautiful city. There are pictures. If you want to see ‘em click this sentence. We saw the Jewish district and the Old City Centre. Very nice. “Here’s a famous church, here’s where some bad things happened, and here’s an example of architecture that was recently refurbished after it got blown up on forty separate occasions.” Did you know Poland stopped existing as a country for a while and then it just came back? I didn’t know countries were allowed to do that.

The food was good, but I think we should have asked someone for a traditional Polish place. We ended up at a bistro that was more French than anything else.

Then the next day we had two choices for a day-trip: Auschwitz or this famous 750 year old salt mine. I want to see Auschwitz at some point, but not on a wedding anniversary. So I opted for the salt mine and Dora agreed. People had told me the mine is amazing. And… well – No, wait, it is amazing. No, really, it is an impressive site. Don’t get me wrong, Dora and I were both duly impressed, but it’s a mass-tourism destination. And that means there’s the lines, the crowds, the cheap souvenirs, the overpriced fast food, and all the other trappings that come with a one-of-a-kind UNESCO protected destination.

Impressive, yes.

Ideal for a quick romantic getaway, not in any imaginable way. We stayed positive and appreciated it, blah, blah, blah, but we should have gone hiking or spent another day in the city.

We spent our last night in Zakopane, a village in the Polish Tatras. It was really more of a ski town, but the place was bustling with hikers and the like. We had good Polish food and a rude waitress in a place that made me long for the ski season, wooden walls, live accordion, and traditional Polish dresses as uniforms (might have explained some of the rudeness).

And then we headed back. A nice trip.

Since then there’s been the Radiohead show, a lot of work, and now you’re more or less up to date.

What about you? What have you been up to?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Saw a show

We saw Radiohead at Budapest’s Sziget Festival.

What to say? Um… Well, they remain my favorite band. Knowing that I went in with this bias, perhaps the following should be taken with a grain of salt.

I couldn’t have dreamt up a better set list then the one that was played on Saturday night. I remember the “Kid A/Amnesiac” tour fondly. I saw the Garden State Park show in 2001. I still think highly of the albums that the tour was promoting, and of course the show leaned on them heavily. The Sziget show, however, pulled from nearly every album, as well as throwing us a couple of new songs.

I fell for this band in ’97 with “OK Computer”, and I’ll admit to having hoped that Saturday’s show would draw heavily from that album. I figured it wasn’t unrealistic, seeing as the band isn’t promoting any specific album on this tour. So when they opened with “Airbag” I felt certain that there exists a concert genie who heard and granted my wish.

I was actually walking into the festival’s main stage area when “Airbag” sounded the beginning of the show. (Mark, Charlie, and I had been awed by a little four-piece Hungarian blues combo doing Rolling Stones covers, and we waited until the last minute to get to the big show.) The stage itself was enormous, and very far away. The audience was shoulder-to-shoulder all the way out to the food vendors. Dora and I had broken away from the crowd we were with. So, as we made our way closer to the stage, Dora was texting those we hoped to meet up with. As the band started “National Anthem” we found Donnie and Agi (Dora’s co-workers). If you know the song’s bassy distorted opening guitar riff, you’ll understand what got my blood pumping. I told the group that I didn’t want to spend the entire show looking for other people. They all agreed, and we made our way to a decent vantage point off to the right of the stage. We weren’t close, but we weren’t too far either.

We didn’t need to shove our way up front because the staging and sound were phenomenal. And besides, I’m tall; if I pushed my way to center-front, I’d ruin some short person’s show. The one drawback to being on the fringes: the audience out there was composed of the less-avid fans, people happy to chat through the two new songs, “There There” and “15 Step”. This was compounded by the festival setting, because a lot of these people weren’t fans really. They were festival goers who knew it would be foolish to turn down an opportunity to see Radiohead. I liked the new songs, but I was distracted.

When “Exit Music” started, however, I kind of got lost in the tune. It is one of my favorites. It was at this point that Donnie, who didn’t really know the band, pointed out, “This music is really very beautiful.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

They moved right into “Karma Police”, and Agi got excited because she knew that one. Dora told me that she was pleasantly surprised at how many songs she was familiar with, and I knew then that I’ve done my duty as a husband.

The show was just one good song after another. “I Might Be Wrong” followed by the new “Nude” and then “Paranoid Android” (the song that really caught me of guard in ’97 and made me listen to rock with a more discerning ear) and then there was a wonderful mellow-down with “No Surprises”. That song always makes me happy that I’ve found a woman like Dora who’s asked me to make life an adventure.

“The Gloaming” was creepy, as always, and it was also the point where the show separated the fans from the on-lookers from the music connoisseurs. The fans know and love it all. The on-lookers start looking around and thinking, “I though this was a rock band?” And for the connoisseurs, while they might not know Radiohead, it is difficult to deny the beauty of these more low-key songs. It went from “The Gloaming” into “How to Disappear Completely” and then “Pyramid Song” and “Lucky”.

For those looking to pick things up again, the band closed up the main set in an appropriate way. They reached all the way back to ’95 for “Just”. Then they jumped forward and back again with “Idioteque” and “Street Spirit”.

Well, when they left us on that note, the crowd demanded more. It was when the encore started that I realized I was at a festival, but I was listening to a full-length show. Nearly two and an half hours, and those last twenty minutes were spectacular: “You and Whose Army?”(Yorke didn’t have a lot to say politically during the show. I think with the bombing plot and the Israeli-Lebanon affair this was an appropriate call. But this song’s feeling says a lot all by itself), “2 + 2 = 5”, a real surprise with “Fake Plastic Trees” and the big close with “Everything in its Right Place”.

It will be a long time before I see a show to match this one. If you get the chance, see them on this tour.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Asking for help

I need to “speak” with some people who have worked for non-profits.

I’ve rediscovered my interest in volunteerism recently. As part of that I'm starting an action-research program aimed at bolstering non-profit and volunteer activity in Hungary. Some of the research will include email interviews with people who have worked for non-profits in other countries. I’m hoping some readers can help me with this. If you or someone you know has ever worked for a non-profit organization, and you/he/she would be willing to answer some questions in the near future, please leave a comment below.

Here’s details if you need ‘em:

After an informal survey, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not a substantial volunteer/community service culture in Hungary. This is not a fault of the people here. It is the result of history, economics, politics, and culture. Nevertheless, the new-ish market economy needs a strong non-profit sector and volunteer base to make up for the services lost since communism’s rejection. This is becoming clearer as Hungary's economic problems mount.

There is, as is always the case, a gap in community needs that cannot be filled by either the private or the public sector. The problem is, the transition from socialism was so fast, that no one had time to explain the importance of non-profit groups.

I have made it my goal to help non-profits and volunteer groups fill the service gap here in Hungary. One aspect of the project involves public relations. I plan to write a short article for the English-speaking papers, hopefully to have it translated for one of the local papers. Then I will, along with the students in one of my courses, perform a larger research project comparing Hungary’s non-profit/volunteer culture to that of other, more mature market economies. I’m hoping the research shows the importance of the work done in the volunteer sector.

Thanks for you help.