Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New Year! Boldog új évet mindenkinek! La mulţi ani!

On December 31, did we worry ourselves about the state of the Hungarian economy, the wretched new press law that had just come into being administered by a state secretary whose only former publishing experience consisted of publishing the Hungarian franchise edition of Penthouse magazine? Did we stay awake agonizing over the next moves of our pugnacious Great Leader as Hungary prepared to take its revolving seat as President of the EU? Did we watch the new President of Hungary make a travesty of the words to the Hungarian National Anthem as he gave his New Year’s speech? No we most certainly did not. We did what thousands of Hungarians do on December 31. We went to the horse track.I don’t know when the trotting races became a New Year tradition in Budapest, but it is an invisible, almost unnoticed ritual that stays largely hidden from the view of foreigners – which is kind of like Rio de Janeiro keeping Carnival hidden from outsiders. This used to held at the old race track just behind Keleti railway station, but the new park, located in outer Zuglo, suits the crowd just fine as a way of reminding us of the snowy Siberian steppes from which our ancient Ugric-Magyar ancestors fled so many millenia ago to find a brighter future sitting atop horses, a trend that eventually led to horsing our way into the Pannonian plains and eventual membership in the EU and lots of very tasty pastries and cakes.
Thousands of Hungarians bundle up and descend on Budapest’ Kincsem Park in the afternoon to freeze their butts outside while ducking inside every half hour to warm up while making bets and glugging hot spiced wine. It is a sea of Magyars in funny hats, downing all manner of Hungary’s wide selection of cheaper and less delectable liquors in a vain attempt to party in the snow.And Party they did. This was a long-needed antidote to the stereotype of the sad, dour, pessimistic Magyar. If you have never seen a few thousands of Hungarians out for some serious Hungarian fun, try it sometimes. It doesn't happen everyday, and when it does, looks out! We stayed for a few races but I don’t gamble and so it was more a chance to watch Hungarians having fun – something you don’t see very much outside of the Croatian coast these days. Families with kids, teenagers, old grizzled denizens of the horse track life, Chinese immigrants, Gypsy familes, they were all here. And we got a chance to see… Lagzi Lajcsi!
The king of Hungarian Wedding Rock! Singing in full playback mode – a common form of entertainment in these partst in which a performer jumps around stage while a tape of them plays, giving them the chance to talk over their own singing. The crowd loved it and sang along. My own tastes in music allow me only so much Lagzi Lajcsi, so later we were off to the Instant Bar downtown for New Years with the Kocani Orkestar.
About a decade ago, when a lot of cool young Serbs chose to find refuge from the Kosovo War by moving to Budapest, Budapest started to import live music by the simple expedient of calling in Balkan Gypsy brass bands. I mean, after all, they are not located very far away and they have a knack of getting a party going for a lot less of an investment than hiring some name reggae band or risking your party on some local folkies. If you want a party, you hire a Balkan Brass band. This pretty much guaranteed that our New Year's Eve party would not suck. Our Croatian Contingent (Captain and Madame Squid) was along for the party, and Captain Squid hadn’t heard the program specifics beyond “some Macedonian band will be playing.” He was in Yugo-heaven when he saw it would be Kocani – he could never afford to go to see them when he was a kid in the old Yugoslavia. For FT2000 (about $9 USD) that’s not a bad way to go out for some insane Macedonian Gypsy Brass band party music. Of course, it was “a version” of Kocani… apparently, the band had become so successful that they can appear simultaneously in several forms at any given time… but we were fully satisfied with the version we got, full of dented tubas and screaming Gypsy trumpets and a lot more Turkish influence than you usually get from Serbian based Gypsy brass bands. After a midnight set we headed off to be with our friends at the Sixtus Kapolna, one of the seventh districts smaller watering holes where we are “inner circle” and thus we got in for the closed party.And lo and behold, there was a nice warm cauldron of Lentil soup waiting for us - Hungarians, along with Italians, believe that starting the New Year off with a bowl of lentils (which resemble little coins, get it?) ensures that you will see wealth in the upcoming new year. With explanations like that it also explains a lot in terms of economic failure in these two nations as well.


Cari said...

Completely off topic... do you have sources / credits for your photos, or are most of them scrounged?

I'm doing Dvorak's Gypsy Songs in recital and I'm thinking of offsetting the "orientalism" of them with some real photos accompanying the surtitles... some of your pics are great.

lmk if you have larger photos archived or if I can use them?


--Cari McAskill

dumneazu said...

Cari: Most of the photos here are my own, and if you want to use them in large format email me at zaelic AT gmail.com and tell me which you need.