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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Verdict: Impressive.

Better than plum, burns like hell, pleasant aftertaste.

Apricots are fantastic, and so was the blaze this shot sent through my head. After the first fifteen seconds (squinting, pursed lips, cursing myself), only the taste of the fruit lingered. After the first fifteen minutes, just a pleasant daze. Plus, I slept like a baby.

Onwards to more flavors!

Szimpla Kávézó
Kertész utca 48
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

A few friends and I walked to this cafe-bar last week for what turned into a night of quiet drinks and conversation just existential enough for a Thursday night. We’d actually meant to reach what I now realize is Szimpla Kert but, having no idea of the two Szimplas, pledged all faith to GoogleMaps and ended up at the three-story nook on Kertész Utca. Just around the corner from its famous counterpart, Szimpla Kávézó is inviting and relaxing, lit with warm reds and a projector that fired a sequence of old police cars, donkey-drawn carriages, shopping carts, and kids riding bicycles.

"The cultural ennui of 1970s America as husky female voices croon jazz into the air"--my roommate Yaniv's verdict (with a smirk) when I insisted on quotable material from outside my brain.

We passed on the smoky basement and ground floor to settle in the mezzanine above the bar. Ignoring my quest to try every flavor of pálinka (no matter how foul), I took my first sip of mulled wine. Perfect choice in the chill and drizzle, à-la-Ithacation, that has taken over Budapest.  Most bars, cafes, and restaurants in Budapest serve it, and there is a fair number of street stands if you ever need it on the go–say, on your way to a class discussion about bureaucratic tyranny. Or something.


The prices were fair, the drink options not too scarce, the bartenders friendly, the seating comfortable, and the scattered artwork worth a decent chunk of conversation. I want to check out Szimpla Kert this weekend, but its neighbor is already a favorite for just sitting down for a drink and a few words. After my second red-dotted mug of wine, ours swung from the moral mammoth of parenting to Israeli politics to Pakistani identity and Armenian nationalism before delving into whether anyone wanted to go to the gyro place next door (yes, always yes). Before leaving, I did contribute to the wall art with my favorite Hungarian phrase so far.

Almost every class I’ve taken in the past two years has had some combination of the words authoritarian+postcommunist+violence+war in the title. Slightly dictatorial, sometimes gory, and always full of the most fantastic readings. The CEU variations on this theme? Weeeeell, they have my heart aflutter.

I asked to enroll in every transitional politics, Soviet studies, and human rights class offered. Request politely denied. But the three that I squeezed in between Beginner’s Hungarian and a mandatory survey of East-Central Europe do not disappoint even a little. The Challenge of Simultaneous Triple Transitions starts the week, with lectures on all of my favorite subjects by Kalman Mizsei, the EU representative for Moldova, Chairman of the Roma Policy Board at the Open Society Institute, former UNDP director, former FIDESZ advisor (hmm)–basically, a man well-versed in transition politics.  I’ve found a bit of less-than-friendly gossip about his work at UNDP, but since I haven’t spotted him abusing funds and lording over administrative corruption yet, I’ll leave the intrigue aside.

After the Mondays that I spend sitting in cafes and being too distracted to do any real work–though really, I’m fantastic at pretending–comes States, Networks, and Power in Post-Soviet Politics. Does the title spell out my happiness or should I elaborate? The professor is a Central Asia specialist, so this is a new view of familiar themes. My experience so far has been with professors that think they’re being unconventional by including any state besides Russia and Ukraine in this subject, so this class is incredibly refreshing. But in case this proves too tame, War, Violence, and the State provides enough havoc for the rest of my week. The readings make this class. As I so subtly hint in the title of this post, Hannah Arendt makes an appearance. (Disagreed with her last week–still recovering from the shock.) Fanon, Tilly, Foucault, Browning, and some colleagues complete the list, and by the time I make peace with their thoughts, the weekend beckons. No classes on Fridays. Hooray!

Only two complaints. First, the library rules–no bags, no coats, no drinks, and the enforced hassle of checking in any printed material you want to bring in. Where am I supposed to snuggle with my million-liter coffee mug and mountain of books? Have I been spoiled by Olin and Mann? (Considering that I’ve thrown midnight dance parties in both, maybe.)  Second, the printers and computers–they are unbearably slow, and I’ve already caused multiple to crash and/or jam. Oops.

After some enlightenment about Soviet nationalities policies in Tajikistan, I took a break and limped over to Széchenyi Bridge for some pictures to appease the tourist in me. And for Danielle, after promising photos and details for days (the latter forthcoming, I promise again). The sun was setting, the river calm, everything pink and peaceful and beautiful.

 

Per a thousand recommendations, I’m reading The Bridge on the Drina and entertaining a mild preoccupation with bridges. Luckily, Budapest humors me back. Each bridge, to boot, has a few stories (both real and mythical) to tell. Historical gossip will have you believe that their sculptor of the Széchenyi lions omitted to give them tongues and was ridiculed so much that he threw himself into the river.

I didn’t think it wise to tell anyone that their infamous soup tastes like borscht. On the same note, I tragically “forgot” to pack the “Got Goulash?” shirt my mother gave me for Christmas.

I had my first taste at a place called Eklektika, just down the street from the Operetta Theatre. First impression is pretty okay: filling but not heavy, and you can easily adjust spices and seasoning to your taste. I want to try it at other places across Budapest too to get a sense of all the variations. Ultimate goal: make Hungarian friends and plead for homemade versions.