Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama-Solinski in '08. Deceased Klezmer Violinist Riles the GOP.

I found this bit of ignorant Republican wingnuttery on the morning news surf today, which I present as an example of the level of intelligence that the GOP campaign offices are able to attract these days. Last week Republican talking points included attacks on Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) who is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing in America, the political practice of organizing communities to act in common self-interest. Alinsky was active in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s, mainly working in civil rights issues. So of course, he's a terrorist, even though he's been dead since the Nixon era. What is fun, however, is the not so surprising fact that Republicans can't spell...Solinski? As in Josef Solinski, the early 20th century Klezmer fiddler? Who would have guessed that a Jewish fiddler from Galicia who recorded several gramophone sides before the first World War would become the focus of the final week of the GOP's campaign effort. Was Solinski secretly palling around with Bill Ayers and Obama even before there were any Communist parties in the world?Elie Rosenblatt & Pete Rushefsky playing Solinski's Rumenisher Fantazie, from their CD "Tsimbl un Fidl: Klezmer Music for Hammered Dulcimer & Violin" available on CD Baby. And remember to vote for Obama, because if Naftule Brandwein wins, the terrorists win. Or something like that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Republicans have Lost: Now The Next Terror Problem.

May I take the opportunity to insanely rant? As a US citizen, I have to express my unbridled joy and relief at the thought of Democratic Party candidate Barak Obama becoming the next US President after nearly a decade of one of the worst, anti-democratic sorry-ass excuses for a Presidency the United States has ever seen, and this list includes include such luminaries as Andrew Jackson (illiterate, genocidal racist) and Millard Fillmore (literate, racist) and Richard Nixon (anti-literate, racist.) The present Republican campaign has degenerated into little more than a fatalistic racist tantrum that looks to split the Republican Party in the near future into two wings: one representing the old Eisenhower/Goldwater/Reagan branch of conservatives, and the other following the highly disturbing trend led by lead right wing asshat Sarah Palin of courting extreme right wing support among closet US neo-nazis, militia sympathizers, and Christian Identity Movement supporters. Palin is now really taking the “maverick” approach, departing from the daily Republican party talking points and branding the democratic party – almost assured of victory – as terrorist supporters and communists.Branding your enemy as a communist has a long history, but as somebody who actually lived for a while under the rule of a communist state and had my rather antic run-ins with a few of those last true believers in the late 1980s, it rings hollow to hear people who never met a communist in their life ranting against the specter of a Red Menace. As somebody who has watched Hungarian politics since the late 1980s, Commie-baiting is one of the trends that defines neo-con campaigning in the 21st century – in a society without any real commies. Why? Because middle aged geezers usually run election campaigns, and these guys are still responding to the great threat of their childhood nightmares: the Commies.I was raised during the Cold War, and the Commies played as big a role in my early childhood nightmares as did Godzilla, the Crawling Eye, and Frankenstein. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis: my family packed the car to evacuate New York and all I could take was my toy Tonka dump truck. I remember watching the Barry Goldwater Republican campaign TV ad in 1964 in which atomic mushroom clouds greet a Democratic election victory. I visited Hungary as a kid in the 1960s. I remember the Russian tanks tooling around civilian roadways in Veszprém, the secret police following our family to dinner, and the twice weekly nighttime artillery practice bombardments the Russians used to exercise in the skies over Veszprém until well into the 1970s. On the other hand, I also remember the visits from the FBI agents to our home in the Bronx when my Aunt from Budapest came to see my Mom after twentyfive years of separation. And who would forget the Radio Free Europe TV ads showing a huge Red Army soldier crashing into people’s homes with an axe yelling “NYET!” to the huddled family listening to Elvis on the shortwave. Communists were scary.But guess what? It is 2008, and the communists are gone. Sure, there is North Korea, and Cuba, and in some strange, perverted way we can include China as still having something vaguely resembling a communist system. Absolutely none of these societies would be familiar to Marx, Lenin, George Lukács, or even Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks. The generation born after 1975 grew up in a world that was seeped in anti-communist rhetoric, but lacked any commies to aim at. Communism was already a dead system by 1990. Yugoslavia proved it. China confirms it. Cuba is not a threat. Hugo Chavez – a parody of Latin American anti-imperialist bravado, but no, not a Communist. North Korea? Let’s not even go there.The most dangerous ideological trends in the world today are not Communism but instead those that mix racist, negative nationalism with religious fervor in pursuit of a mythically determined future state populated by a mythically “pure” group: “real” Americans, “real” Serbs, “real” Magyars, “real” Jews, “real” anything. Anyone familiar with anthropology will tell you: there ain’t no real anything, anywhere. “Race” is not an accepted anthropological concept: it is a culturally and historically defined social construct. We are all mixed. We all in this soup together, bra. Nobody is pure anything. This is why the number 88 bothers me this week. What is really nasty is the rise of neo-Nazi ideology in the background of right wing radical groups in the world – in the US as in Hungary. Neo-Nazis are well organized, and have utilized the internet to attain an ideological unity that crossed national bounds. The growing Hungarian Garda are featured on the pages of the American Nazi party web site as a proud example, while cagily denying any Nazi connections to the domestic press at home.And if you see an 88 spray painted on a wall, take note: these fracking bastids are in our area. Last week Hungary celebrated the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, an occasion that has become a annual street riot for radical Hungarian nationalists and neo-nazis in Budapest. This year the police managed to keep order, but at night on October 23, the cops took discovered a car parked by Nyugati train station loaded with three home made petrol bombs linked to timers. They arrested the owner, a former Hungarian Olympic contender with links (his parents, no less) to the radical neo-nazi group Lelkiismeret 88 (Self Conscience 88.) This group has been identified as a major role player in street disturbance in Budapest for over ten years. The 88 stands for an internet code used to denote the eighth letter in the alphabet: H. 88=HH, as in Heil Hitler. The corollary is that AP news ran a story today that: Law enforcement agents have broken up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 88 black people, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives said Monday. In court records unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn., federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school in a murder spree that was to begin in Tennessee. 88 Americans. 88. Who should we be afraid of? Who should we be putting behind very strong cold iron bars? Unknown Towelheads? Immigrants? Nonexistant Commies? Or Neo Nazis? The most dangerous problems that face Hungary and the USA and the rest of the world are not simply problems with radical muslim extremists, but with extremists of any stripe. Osama bin Laden lives in a frigging cave in Pakistan. Hopefully, with a new President, he will be dead meat within a year. The newer real enemy is closer to us. Neo-Nazis. Whether in Hungary or the US, it is time to be rid of them. It doesn’t matter whether they are incompetent or laughable. Someday they will not be. Someday their bombs may go off, just as one did in Oklahoma City in 1995.It is time for the courts in Hungary and the US and Europe and all over the world to define them as a terror threat and deal with them as such. We are about to see some real change in America: and the radical right seems to see things in the same way.88. It means Neo-Nazis. They are a worldwide problem. As the New York subway signs say: If you see something, say something.

Next week: Folk dancing and langos recipes....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Signs of Intelligent Life

American billiards! Two nasty old geezers huddled over a pool table, what an invitation. This sign is one of many of the dissappearing signboards that used to cover the inner districts of Budapest before the ... er... ever more modern era. Budapest still has a lot of interesting borad signs, particularly along the side streets and outer districts, but public folk advertising is fast disappearing. Some of the older shop and service signs hang outside businesses that have been shuttered for years, whicle some still function anouncing services that are just too unique to categorize.
This one advertises a machinist workshop, repairing sewing machines, household wares, knife and scissor sharpening, and mead grinder blade shaprening, with a picture of a faulty espresso coffee pot tossed in for good measure.
Where would be be without our friends the pidgeons? The Hungaria Pidgeon Center announces its will to be "United for the Pidgeons!" They seem to sell a lot of bird seed. I personally do not want to be united with any pidegons. Nor do I know anybody who would. My personal favorites are dental office signs. Each seems to be unique, and I have taken so many photographs of the good ones that they really demand their own blog post to do the art justice. Here we see a relatively content tooth, but there are also versions that show the agony of dental pain, or even the results of a badly repaired denture or worse. In any case, there is a new blog in town worth visiting for more oddments of Budapest culture: Mokus Pokus is run by Matt E., known to many of us for his runnings in theEnglish language literature circles of Budapest, and this month he's rating some of Budapest's subterannean cultural centers: the Metro holes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

God Shed his Grace on Thee.

Now, seriously, which of these two men would you like to see as America's next President?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

5769! The Year in Atonement!

Yes, Yom Kippur has come and gone, and all around the world Jews are cleansed of their bonds and have atoned for their, well, something like "sins." We don't really have a concept of "sin" in the way that, say, Sarah Palin or Bart Simpson might consider "sin", but heck, when we get nasty it is a relief to know that soon after summer we get the chance to atone for breaking all the tribal laws that make us Jews to begin with. As part of my atonement, I'd like to share with you some of the sins that I enjoyed during the last year. Bring on the treyf!Pure Spanish jamon, a gift from our globe trotting friend Lisa. Fresh, salty, thick, and not very kosher. If this isn't a sin then I don't have a clue as to what a sin consists of. Adultery, coveting, sloth, greed... those are child's play compared to this. Many, if not most of my "transgressions" consist of eating things that do not conform to the Jewish dietary laws of kashrus. No, I am not a kosher Jew, not by any broad interpretation of the definition. Perhaps I am not alone in this, as evidenced by a particular rabbi's son with whom I spent time with in Weimar this summer.Now, don't get me wrong. I spent approximately fifteen years of my life in righteous pork denial, to the level that I wouldn't allow pork to be present in my house and would often use the term "pork breath" as an insult. Not entirely kosher, mind you, but definately anti-pork. Maybe an occaisonal eel. An awful lot of clams, I'll admit, and crabs?... don't even start with crabs. I ate a bit of catfish, sturgeon on occaision, and Gawdalmighty cheeseburgers by the dozen, but no, never pork. A lot of stewed curried goat. But no pork, whatsoever. This state of mind mysteriously disappeared when I moved to Hungary.There really wasn't any doubt that being kosher wasn't going to be an issue when I moved to Hungary. While we have an active kosher Orthodox community, and a lot of my buddies keep the pig at a distance, my years in the land of the Magyars have - shamefully, I admit - been one long swine-fest, a veritable roll in the sty of culinary life, and damn... whatever bonds I was bonded by sure taste good when I broke them.Now, I don't eat pork out of any anti-religious attitude. I eat pork for protein, and because I like eating animals, particularly smart ones that rescue hillbillies from burning shacks in West Virginia on occasion. I also eat pork out of convenience. Train travel, for example. East Europe doesn't really do beef - it takes too much land to raise, and isn't cheap. Or tender. Or available much of the time. So, as in Poland, you eat the meat that you can raise in your backyard and sell to truckers along the highway in front of your house.Actually, this year I can happily atone for the sins of my Father(s)... who took me out to an International House of Pancakes in Teaneck, New Jersey and personally oversaw my consumption of the all American I-Hop breakfast... thanks, Pop!I can atone for the sins of eating other non-kosher forms of delicious food. Usually, traveling in Muslim territory means no pork. Fine. But that doesn't mean I can't transgress over a plate of succulent stuffed mussels as served in Istanbul... no scales at all... bottom fish as the working class of Philadelphia would call them....All in all... a wonderful year to atone for!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Unslovenely Slovenia

I spent a glorious late summer day in Ljubljana this week, having taken the overnight train that runs through Zagreb on the way to Venice. I haven't been to Ljubljana in over ten years - it used to be a grey, provincial ex-Yugo regional town but has bloomed into one of Europe's most beautiful and trendy urban centers. The transformation is amazing - even the dull panel housing projects have been spruced up and modernised and there seems to be a cafe on every street corner, so you'll never have to walk more then ten meters to find a coffee.
I stayed at the Hostel Celica, which is located in a refurbished old prison, complete with bars on the windows. The rooms, however, have each been redesigned by different Slovenian artists, and as far as hostels go, it was definately the cleanest and most friendly I have ever stayed at. Nevertheless, I hate staying at hostels. I'm mean and crotchety, I don't want to meet lots of backpacking wiggers from New Zealand or Wisconsin and share their impressions of east Europe ("they... like... eat bacon every day!") and sleep next to a dozen pairs of sweaty socks in a room with no desk or chair to sit in. When traveling with Fumie we never stay at hostels, because a private room or cheap pension for two is generally the same price as two beds in a hostel, plus you don't have to share your room with a dozen aromatic Australians.
Up early and went straight down to the Ljubljana main market, located just outside of the old town along the river that runs through the center of town. It is mushroom season, and chanterelles are going for 16 Euro a kilo, while porcini are a whopping 38 Euro a kilo. That's a bit ridiculous - this has been a good porcini year in central Europe. I bought some fresh wild porcini at my local market in Budapest yesterday - they were a bargain at Ft 2000 a kilo (8 Euro.)
Slovenian cuisine reflects the fact that Slovenia is actually located in a cultural and climate hub of Europe: to the north you have the Hapsburgs and the Alpine influence (lots of filling dumpling dishes,) to the west the sea and the Italians (there is pizza and fried Kalamari everywhere) and east and south is the Balkans (meat grilled by people who like blood feuds.) Foodwise, that translates out to a choice between excellent Northern Italian style food and excellent Balkan fast food, usually fried up by emigrant Albanians and Bosnians. Burek, the meat strudel snack that is the world's best breakfast, was everywhere.Cevapcici are my nemisis when traveling in the Balkans: given the chance, I'll usually stick to the cevap and ignore everything else on a Balkan menu. Budapest is just slightly north of the cevap frontier: you can find it on Serb influnced menus at the Kafana, at the Jelen Bisztro at Blaha Lujza, and at the Castro, but cevap is street corner food. In Balkan terms, a civilized place means you never have to walk more than a hundred paces to find a cheap, freshly grilled tube steak sandwich prepared by somebody who is quietly scheming to eliminate the members of a rival family over some minor breach of tribal etiquette. Yummmm!
Apart from the food, Slovenia manages to include at least four different climate zones in the space of a country small enough to fit on your desk. You can go skiing in the high Julian Alps near Bovec, and in forty minutes be eating ocean fish beneath the palm trees along the Adraitic sea. I usually visit Slovenia for the trout fishing. Although the season is still open, I didn't have the time on this trip to wet my line, but on the trip home the train line ran parallel to the Savinja River, which was like having trout pornography streamed into my brain all the way home.Yes, I'll be back, possibly next May. The problem with fishing in streams that flow from Alpine mountains is that the snows melt in June or July (usually the best months for trout fishing) making the rivers flow deep and high, and wading is not only difficult, but dangerous, especially if you are fishing with Claude Cahn, whose fishing style combines the grace of fly fishing with the recklessness of base-jumping. The Slovenes deal with high water by tying huge weighted streamers and nymphs, things that seem like feathered matchbox cars just to get a few seconds of decent drift, and the whole sport gets reduced to a mechanical excercise in nymph fishing using barbless bricks. Of course, the fish are huge. My largest trout ever was a rainbow I caught in the Sava Bohinjka with Claude a few years back, before the age of digital photography...The small Slovene regional towns are worth a visit: any one of them would be a world heritage site if located in Austria or Germany, but in Slovenia cute, well preserved walled towns with a castle overlooking a bend in a river are a dime a dozen. My favorite, by far, is the aptly named Ptuj. Not, in fact, named after the English onomotopoetia for "spitting", this is the oldest city in Slovenia, settled during the Iron age by Celts and known to the Roman as Poetovio. I think this has got to be the most distinctive place name I've come across in Europe, rivaling such towns as Bastardo, Italy, and Fucking, Austria.