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.