Sunday, December 28, 2008
You can listen here.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
A totally gorgeous concession to the festive period. Others might choose Fairytale of New York, but I've never heard anything as hopeful, as giddy, as weak-at-the-knees as this.
The specialness of St Etienne has been articulated a thousand times over, and I've never felt quite comfortable grappling with the grammars that rightfully belong to a certain kind of student from the early 1990s. Listening to St Etienne provokes a sense of second hand nostalgia usually only available from childhood memories experienced via an overweening older sibling. Even more disorientatingly, they seem to hit the sweet spot of a whole plethora of historical moments simultaneously. There's some great bits in here: Tim Burgess employing the indie-bloke monkey-walk on the race to the church, planting a kiss on the everso mature and sophisticated Sarah which misses the mark by miles.
Of course, this kind of utterly key sentimentalism about pop music is a site like Freakytrigger's stock-in-trade; read what they say about I Was Born on Christmas Day here.
And, of course, Merry Christmas!
Friday, December 12, 2008
There is something definitive, I think, about the gusts of pastry glaze and fag smoke that emit, at pavement level, from underpasses and metro stations here. Budapest, however, does also come in other flavours.
Before this week, we had yet to really breach Buda further than atmospheric transport interchange, Moskva Ter, largely due to the gargantuan, though no less atmospheric, Mammut Mall, which draws us in, every time, from square's northern edge. (You might call us Mall Conneisseurs: we've visited three of the largest in the Budapest metropolitan area already, each time, as if on a whim, by accident, 'oh look where we are!').
On Monday, however, we scaled - no - scrambled - no - tramped up the Gellért Hill to the Citadella then over, via Deli Station (where in 2006 we missed the airport bus and endured a hair-raising and wrenchingly-expensive early morning taxi drive to Balaton Airport) and the Mom Park Mall (ouch, caught!) to the Roszadomb. In the Buda Hills, the city does a brackish, lemon yellow, stucco'd thing rather well. These suburbs are famously bourgeoise, positively chi chi, an enclave of residential confections strung over the hill that's named after the flowers that dervish poet Gúl Baba, entombed nearby, is credited with introducing to the city.
Yesterday I went tramping solo on Margitsziget. This long, straggly island on the Danube has an altogether different feel. In season, it's a pastoral pleasure palace, with baths, spas, lidos, tennis courts, bike tracks and incongruous contiki-style kiosks doling out canned drinks and (utterly gross) oversized pretzels to the sweaty. In winter, most of its attractions are closed and hemmed in by wire fences or functioning undercover, to protect tennis courts and outdoor pools from rain and autumn leaves.
What's left is astonishing in its own right; modernist leisureworld architecture outcropped against skeletal trees, with the Buda Hills rising beyond on one hand and the concrete towerblocks of the Újlipótváros that line the Danube on the other.
Monday, December 8, 2008
So: Mikulás. I have nil capacity for doing a poorly-wrought rendition of non-English festival tradition this morning. All I know is gleaned from Wikipedia: go read about this folktale-with-menaces here. Suffice to say, I think you can probably guess who ended up with the virgács :(
Saturday, December 6, 2008
So, the second of this grand (some might say seminal) series has been delayed by a very unfortunate discovery. See, the common-or-garden cake is not the only baked good the cukraszda has to offer. On worse for wear mornings - of which, due to the thoroughly clement pricing of boozables around these parts there are a few - one naturally prefers the soothing combo starch n' carbohydrate to confectioner's cream, egg custard and the like. Thus, one would choose the scone-ish pogácsa, a cannon ball of salty pastry topped with cheese or similar. Some days ago, Joe discovered that these leadweight carb-bombs featured pork fat shortening pretty high up on their list of ingredients. Therefore, in the attempt to retain what is left of my hard-won vegetarianism (for I have no doubt that I am inadvertantly absorbing pork fat by osmosis most days), myself and the pogi-for-short can no longer be friends.
As far as cake goes, however, things are still grand (and if they're not, and, in fact there are morsels of duck tail studded through every one, please don't tell me). Today is Mikulás, which I shall post about at length later. Suffice to say, excitement levels at Kazinczy utca 7 were pretty high - this not only being something a bit like an extra Christmas but also the kind of aimed-at-children tradition-fest with a PG-rated folktale backstory that I'm a total sucker for. Occasion enough, then, for a trip to Muvesz, the fin-de-siecle, confectioner's cream paradise that I may (ahem) have mentioned previously.
I had francia kremes, a tower of pastry, egg custard, confectioner's cream and caramel glaze which is now, I'm almost certain, my very favourite cake.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
1. Confidential to the clothes horses: H&M here is, like, as good as it was in Britain 5 years ago.
(Backstory: Way back in, erm, 2001, "London of the North" Leeds was the shopping Mecca for Hull's rag tag youth. At that point, without simulacra'd High Street (read: be-roofed wind tunnel) St Stephens, we were a little lacking. Favourite favourite for me was always H&M, which Hull sadly lacked, and whose multicoloured eurofashions always seemed pretty exotic. And, importantly, cheapex)
2. Subway, I think, has the same yeasty-and-tomato odour the world over. Except you'd ask for the pleasingly-transliterative szendvics here, natch.
Anyway. Photos! Then, back to it.
More on my Flickr here. Budapest is a total embarassment of picturesque, and I have become quite the shutter-bore.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Hungarian Museum of Ethnography does exactly what municipal museums do best: take a mack-off, extraordinary building in the centre of town and fill it with a wagon-load of assorted artefacts, objets, bequests and ephemera ordered chaotically but sensitively by a curator with a sense of humour.
We last visited here in 2006, and were rather taken with the Old House exhibition, specifically the Best Room, the area of a nineteenth-century Hungarian peasant's abode reserved for best - chock full o' their posh china, embroidered sheets, ceremonial jugs &c. Thereafter, we followed their example: the mould and damp-ridden cupboard that held the collective detritus of our Norwich flat became our very own Best Room.
Monday, November 24, 2008
So I had drafted an entry here bemoaning the rice cake n' sandwich n' crisp-based cardboard dinners I've suffered since arriving here. Not necessarily, I should add, because - as popularly held - the Magyars are raving carnivores (although in all honesty ahuh, they really dig meat and yup, they're a landlocked country), but mostly due to supermarket anxiety, language problems and timidity. I'm a vegetarian of 11 months standing (yup, I'm one of those squeamish, sentimental latecomers) and with a culinary blindspot and a total lack of cookery imagination and nous, hunter-gathering is a challenge even back in the UK.
However, all that's by the wayside now since, thanks to some detective work by Joe, we found a curry house just around the corner from our place. In fact, I'm pretty sure it must be phantasmic: it's a hole-in-the-wall Indian, with a wood panelled interior, neon sign, canteen tables, friendly owner. The menu is brief and no-nonsense (which, in a pretty shallow way, pings my authenticity meter) and food is cooked to order - we spent our fifteen minute wait eyeballing two girls lolling on the next table who split a pappadum and a mango lassi with two straws. The food was straightforward and big and good and, well, I think - at the very least - we can safely say that if Joe ever throws down his pans n' pinny and refuses to cook, at least I won't perish from dry mouth.
Bp just keeps on serving it up. Last night we went to see Frenchies Jack of Heart (bestockinged frontman, marvellous) and The Magnetix (knackered, falling over, wonderful) play on a boat on the Danube, tethered under the Erzsébet híd. The word on the street is - natch - all in Hungarian, so our gig intelligence was rather less sophisticated: a poster on the toilet door at Joe's favourite bar.
Joe's notes the innate suitability of the Frenchies and garage here, and I think he's dead on. Garage rock French-style replaces US-UK blokishness with a playful element of high camp. As a teenager, flummoxed by the ineffability of taste, I leant heavily on the descriptors masculine and feminine to explain why I like, say, Blur over Oasis and I think this kind of gendering, crude as it is, still stands.
The gig also QED'd the thoughts on music and cultural difference (a pretty grand title for thoughts liberally sprinkled over beer at Szimpla, but nonetheless) we've been having during our time here. The reason for the inexorability of the UK pop industry overseas is only partially Anglophone pop imperialism; it must also be something to do with how UK pop introjects British culture's self consciousness and fashions it into irony or longing or scathing, with examples too obvious to illustrate.
Oh, okay, like him here (any excuse):
Anyway, teenagers from Paris and Kiev and Florence and Johannesburg and Osaka &c &c &c are all sweet on UK pop exports because they're drawn to those elements, that worldview, that are being pubescently produced in them but aren't so readily available from pop at home in cultures that aren't eternally afflicted with the awkward dance. I think that's why Brits abroad find European pop (obvious shite - Sash!, The Finger Song - aside) such a shocker: it's done straight, there's something missing. And Brits simonising their own weirdness, well, that's not a British trait at all, is it?
Jack of Heart and The Magnetix are currently on what looks like a thoroughly gruelling European tour. You can catch them in Belgrade tonight or follow pictorally here. A bazillion props to organisers RNR 666 - my first gig in Budapest was utterly marvellous.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
However these matters are likely to be of more specific interest to me due to the neigh-on constant peril caused by Bambi legs, clumsiness and an utter lack of spatial awareness than to anyone else. So, my better judgement dictated Cake Reviews (which may well extend to pastries, scones and fried dough items too). After six days here, I admit there's a bit of a backlog, but here goes.
1. Eszrerházy Torta, Muvesz
Now this was no common-or-garden bakery fodder. This was cake in the service of my 25th birthday, a walnut sponge n' creme construction. Joe got Black Forest Gateau (how gauche!) and assumed that I was disappointed with mine. No, this torta was a refined lady with a linebacker's gait. Good.
2. Almas Pite, Jókai utca
Now this was breakfast the day we were very graciously shunted out of our apartment at 8am by a painter and decorator chap. Know us? Well, then you can fill in the fun we had at meet n' greet time: he spoke German and Hungarian and our linguistic arsenal amounts to a smattering of French, Italian and Spanish. Despite three years of German at secondary school (thanks, Mr. Tordoff) I could not avert a wagon train of misunderstanding and social farce. For those interested, we now have a "feature wall" in buttermilk yellow.
Anyway, back to the cake. We stumbled around doing pretty poor impersonations of hunter gatherers until we arrived at this bakery on Jókai utca. Hungarian bakeries, like their butcher's shops, don't make too much of a distinction between "eat here" and "takeaway", meaning we found ourselves pulling up a kid-sized stool around a micro table in the corner of the shop. The coffee came with a scoop of Dream Topping-esque fluff deposited on top and, more importantly, the cake was a wet-ish, savoury sandwich of not-too-sweet stewed apples and some kind of pastry - rough puff is what my pasty cheffing expertise is telling me. Word to baked good enthusiasts: bakeries in Hungarian are marvellous. Their cakes are the complex, day-glo, articulated lorry type you really only see in the UK on a cake stand as part of a £25 afternoon tea, and they also do biscuits and something a bit like a mini scone (pogy, haha!) by the kilo.
*Hmm, are these italicised intrusions getting annoying yet? It's not just me pulling some cosmopolitan show-off moves. Of course, it's partially that, but it's also providing around 97% of my non-transactionally/socially necessitated language practice. Linguaphone, up yours! Also, you don't seem to have a Magyar edition...
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
...as a very wise man once told me. This is the strudel at Muvesz, a marvellously fin-de-siecle kávéház on Andrássy út, the monster boulevard that stretches between Erzsébet ter and the Városliget (City Park). Joe thinks it's changed, become too bright, too slick, too breakbeat/acid jazz. For me its much the same: astonishing coffee n' cake and served with an enormous dollop of Properness that makes my Hyacinth Bucket-ish heart sing. Still the kind of place where watching a Man of Distinction freeing his coat from the hatstand and re-robing can make you audibly gasp with admiration.
For us non-Men of Distinction, us Cheaper Dates, there's lángos, a fried doughnut-come-pizza pie-come-pancake-come-churro, smothered in raw garlic and sour cream and available from metro stations, markets and street vendors.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
We did it. We're here! On the back end of a week of chronic social discomfort and headspin, I'm reclining in my Euro-tastic new apartment in the Erzsébetváros. Although I had planned to document the initial adaptation process, inside-outside anthropology-style, I (with a characteristically drippy excuse) simply couldn't find the appropriate notepad.
We now live off an ochre-ish courtyard in Budapest's VII district, in a studio apartment with a bath in the middle of the room. Now, armed with a 18HUF yellow exercise book, allow me to take you on a tour of our new neighbourhood. Roll your eyes heavenward as your host - very definitely the awe-struck provincial - marvels at the 24 hour supermarket (0-24 élelmiszer) at the end of her street, the utterly decent bar across the way and the mack-off (second biggest in the world) synagogue down the road.
This is Szimpla Kert, a gigantic romkert (ruined garden) and almighty jawdropper a stone's throw away from our pad. Entered through an unassuming set of industrial strip doors, it's an abandoned building transformed into a late bar and cinema, festooned with all manner of picturesque debris, de-tuned televisions, heeeeavy fag smoke, car parts pot plants, grafitto, flotsam, jetsam, &c, &c.
For future reference, you can view pictures of confectionary, buildings and fairground kitschery, as well as pseudo-exploitative photos of my boyfriend, Joe, (amongst other things) at my Flickr here.
* And the relevance of the picture at the top of this entry? Well, I like to sample my cultural difference at the supermarket - here the milk (tej) is sold, udder-style, in bags. You slide it into a jug, snip the top, then chill in the fridge.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Thanks to the BBC's cultural strand I think I've just found my ideal man. I'm suspicious, though, that he was concocted in a lab, so just so is he.
He's Jake Thackray and floats so many of my boats I am truly ashamed that the BBC had to point him out to me at this late stage. A chansonnier with a Yorkshire brogue, a vaudevillian with a polo neck, Jake does saucy Northern grotesques every night at the Gaiety Theatre where Benny Hill and Georges Bataille meet.
Here's him doing Georges Brassens' Brother Gorilla.
A number of edible products are available to us in the woods:
Muscle-burning pie, locomotives to cook our meals and a curious black ink sauce.
The ocean has historically been a giant pantry
with newly-converted woods of muscles
and locomotives of pie.
An enormous storage room.
Welding your food-crust to the sweetest experience.
Fastening your romantic attitudes
to a usually ephemeral experience
to unusually brief ends.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
We saw Nalle, who were just wonderful, and came off like fifteen year-old, multi-instrumentalist wiccans going hell for leather in the school music room.
P.S. And if, like me, you fear the Newsome effect, stick with it, I promise Hannah Tuulikki's voice is less babytalk and more word-chewing.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
This is my Granddad, sporting a tee shirt commemorating 1985 Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch collab Death Valley 69. My Nana (just out of shot) discreetly disapproves of this choice of shirt, too prim to admit why.
Ron has had it filed alongside Get Your Kicks on Route 66, as part of a stack of souvenir tee shirts from tourist jaunts to the States. In fact, it was collected by my Uncle Phil during his days as a security guard in the Smoke. My Granddad has been wearing it, nonplussed, since 1985.
I'm now in Hull, taking a fortnights holiday in being eighteen years old. Last night, I went to the Adelphi (which is, strangely, alongside the English Department of the University of East Anglia, one of the places I feel most at home) to see Han's band The Rocky Nest. With the sudden departure of a guitarist and a drummer, they were reluctantly forced to perform as a trio acoustic-style.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Although a beautiful and lovely place in its own right, it made it into my Countdown as the location of fondly-remembered late night/early morning pastoral-style hi-jinks a couple of years ago.
I have it pegged as the Most Dewy Place on Earth. And as admission is by Honesty Box, payment is optional but the right thing to do.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
We're winding down our last days in Norwich. With a week and a half to go, my Boo is holed up in the Graduate Resource Centre putting his PhD to bed whilst I potter around, feeling about as a "chill" as I ever have, making wrinkle-nose gross faces at our flat's mould infestation, tinkering with my new swank camera, taking day trips, mentally compiling Norwich's Greatest Hits, toying with a PhD proposal.
Monday, September 22, 2008
On Saturday I watched More Than This: The Roxy Music Story. I'm certain the BBC only have the one narrative arc for these rockumentaries, interspersing the talking heads with stock footage of Thatcher, the Miner's Strike, football hooligans or the generalised white dog shit Britain of the 1970s, as chronologically appropriate. The social realist rags to outrageous riches yarn is British pop music's favourite bedtime story and Bryan Ferry's is pretty outré, “escaping” Tyne and Wear for art college, then London, Jerry Hall, Bel Air, Miss World, Marks and Spencer &c &c &c.
However, what interested me wasn't so much the fabulously strange records of Roxy's early career - Ladytron, Virginia Plain, In Every Dream Home a Heartache and Do the Strand – but their other lineage, the one that held vast appeal for the core 35 – 44 audience of medium wave radio stations specialising in smooth, contemporary classics. During my early nineties childhood, grotesqueries like Dance Away, Avalon and More Than This were still in heavy rotation on Yorkshire Coast Radio. As the hiss n' crackle soundtrack to summers spent in a tourer caravan on the coast of Filey, those records, along with Weather With You by Crowded House, Spandau Ballet's True, Hazard by Richard Marx and Save the Best for Last by Vanessa Williams, still smell of car sick, soft furnishings and boredom. And I'll never be able to associate them my Dad's copy of Virginia Plain on lilac 7”, which was the mainstay of our front room discos on nights that mum was at work.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I'm peering above the parapet to direct you to photographer Simon Robert's response to my look at his work-in-progress We English. That is, if you're interested in two Englishness pervs hashing out the finer points of the concept of nostalgia. And to urge you to look at the archive of Northeastern film and photography collective Amber who are pretty much too wonderful to write about (although I'll give it a go in the next few days, no doubt). Go look!
Monday, September 8, 2008
So, regular readers (scratch that, regular IRL listeners to my one glass of wine fantasy-ramblings) will know that in a matter of mere weeks myself and J will be transplanting the J&J Roadshow from dearest Norwich to Budapest, Hungary! As a subscriber to the fail-safe strategy of “talk about it enough and you'll have to do it” I've not been able to shut up about it. In fact, if you've been within a five metre radius of me these past six months, you won't have missed:
- Optimistic proclamations of the relative cost of living, UK vs. Hungary (it's half! I've calculated! Well, sort of...)
- Incoherent plans to become an internet millionaire/professional photographer/all-round good guy/actual grown-up before our projected lift-off date of late (very late) October
- Rapturous descriptions of the elegant balconnied, high-ceilinged, two-bedroomed apartment that will (hypothetically) be Chez Jenny come aforementioned date
- Foot-in-mouth attempts at transcultural understanding
- Graphic descriptions of the dental work I need before I go
- Tedious and unrealistic in-depth budgetary calculations
And, of course, its been a hive of careful preparation this end. J has the small matter of a PhD to put to bed, of course, whilst I've been scouting down the back of every available sofa for money to put into the emigrating kitty. On Friday, I passed my first leaving town landmark: I left the job where I've been reluctantly shilling my “general office skills” for the past six months, and as of today I'm fully freelance and fancy-free.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
R.E.S.P.E.C.T or How to Tell a Story Without Telling Your Readers What to Think
When do you need to tell a story and when do you let it tell itself?How far can you trust your readers to understand what is left unspoken?What is gained - and what is lost - by describing characters in the flesh?
Set over four days in the charming upstairs library of the legendary Left Bank Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, Tobias Hill gives the inaugural Faber Academy course, an in-depth workshop for those beginning or in the process of writing a novel. In addition, the course will contain a unique two-part seminar on the importance of authenticity and voice in fiction by multi prize-winning novelist, Jeanette Winterson (more).
Participants will each receive a complimentary Moleskine Paris City Notebook.
Tobias! Winterson! Regular coffee breaks! Free notebooks! Internet discounts! Free glass of wine! What fresh hell is this.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
This morning, on a tipoff from a friend, we went to find breakfast at a newly-opened bakery at the end of Gloucester Street. Rounding the corner, we cased the joint: called Dozen: Artisan Bakery, white facade, tiny amounts of produce displayed on slate tiles, artful bread and so on. The counter was manned by Aussies. My next sentence we still pre-verbal as Joe shot me the "here we go again" look: 'I suppose you wanted twee confectioner ladies'. Well actually no, I thought, that's not the kind of authentic I was after this particular morning.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Adbusters loses cool over them polaroid-toting, soft porn-aping, keffiyah-wearing gits. Comes off like extract from highschooler's journal:
We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum.
We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.
Far more on the money is this: the Onion's Hipster Archive.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Professor Hex compiles strangenesses here
The Heavy Stuff searches for wonder with Husserl
News from a lost neighbourhood
File under: the Rightful Uses of the Internet.
P.S. On a related sidenote, here's a snippet from the most incongruous of publications, the Yorkshire Post, about West Yorkshire spiritualists.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The piece in question was a profile of 'meme hothouse' 4chan, one of an ever-proliferating raft of articles serving up bite-sized portions of the worst of digital culture (read: stuff young people like) with a hefty portion of wonderment, incredulity and the Emperor's new clothes. A old media/new media hatefuck, if you will.
I don't think I Can Haz Cheezburger was quite what internet visionary Vannevar Bush had in mind. Writing in 1945, Bush imagined tools for man 'to access and command the inherited knowledge of all the ages'. On the present, the internet's transparent democracy has rendered a portrait of the human psyche as giddy playground of neophiliac ephemera. Digital utopians huddle together at academic conferences and it falls to a bunch of tech-savvy US liberal arts postgrads to really take the internet for a spin through experiments in digital literature. The rest of us fiddle about trying to monetarise our blogs. Disappointing.
Anyway, when I returned home Joe's day-old copy of the Guardian presented this wretched front-cover piece of navel-gazing and all bets were off. You win, Tanya Gold!
Will Digital Literature Go Mainstream?
Observer Woman Makes Me Spit
I think I get your sentiment but I definitely don't dig your arrogant, ill-thought out new media opportunism.
June Sarpong’s new lipstick n’ politick blog, Politics and the City, is noteable as a hateful conflation of two particularly doh-brained phenomenae: the latecoming demographization of women as media consumers (see also the truly horrible Observer Woman Magazine, Mamma Mia, most things associated with the SATC jamboree 2008 ) and the compulsion to talk down to one's audience as some vaguely-imagined - possibly dribbling - lowest common denominator. The result could be subtitled, as Lost in Showbiz puts it, "Women: Is the News Too Hard for You to Understand?"
However, just as the internet taketh away, it giveth: the collective "wtf?" that met Sarpong's new venture at its launch two Monday ago was most heartening.
Anyway, good luck with your portal, June.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I spent vast swathes of the school holidays on the East Coast in a tourer caravan permanently pitched in a holiday camp close to Filey, the name of which no one could ever agree on the pronounciation of. We rarely made it as far as Whitby; its seventy mile-or-so distance made it just out of my travel sickness range. This past weekend, up that way visiting J's parents in Richmond, we got there - bagging the front seat of the car always makes childish kinetosis more tolerable.