With Helen not being here this weekend it was up to me to get on my bike and find out a little bit more about the city. Well, that was the plan, but massive amounts of snow across central Europe put paid to the bike so exploration has been very much on foot.
On Friday evening I decided to check out another one of the kert bars, and worked my way down a narrow, dark and empty street trusting that the address I had written down was correct. Eventually I arrived at the Szimpla kert, which was pretty obvious when I arrived because there was a stream of taxis outside emptying their contents and three security guys on the door. This particular bar is centred around a courtyard, roofed in fortunately, and it spreads out over quite a large area, with many different side rooms and bar areas. Furnishing is random, and all around are paintings, artistic lamps, graffiti, tea lights and a few screens showing bizarre videos. The one that caught my eye in the place where I found a perch was a 1980s black and white video showing Microsoft advertising Windows 1. A real period piece.
It was packed, and the contrast between that and its general wackiness and the emptiness outside made it all feel extremely surreal. It felt a bit like a bar at a festival, and sitting watching the general goings-on was very entertaining.
Then, on Saturday evening I had decided to go to a Balkan Beats event at the Godor Klub, where I had been earlier in the week for the winter cycling fashion show. This is actually a really interesting venue, and puts on lots of eclectic events, intellectual discussion groups, exhibitions and alternative/underground music. It also has an interesting history, as in the early 1990s the mayor of Budapest decided that this would be the site of a new National Theatre, so they dug a huge hole in the ground for its foundations but then the national government stopped the project. The hole stayed for quite a few years, becoming known as the 'National Hole', before acquiring a glass roof and being turned into this arts venue.
This event is apparently a regular, and on the bill were two Roma bands, Romano Drom and Parno Graszt. Romano Drom have been around for about 10 years, and are a more conventional band, with a contemporary take on traditional gypsy music. I really liked them, and everyone around in the packed venue also seem to be getting down on it as well. I recommend having a listen to them, for those of you who share an interest in such things.
When the second act, Parno Graszt came on I wasn't initially quite sure what to make of them. About six guys and two women stood in an arc on the stage with I think just a double bass and a small lute-like instrument. When they started playing I realised that they had a more traditional sound, one that I didn't initially quite take to as much, but then realised that around me the whole place had gone slightly crazy. Everyone it seemed had started doing the traditional dancing associated with the music, with their arms raised up, clicking their fingers, circling more or less gently, but some of the more enthusiastic men were slapping their thighs and shoes. Of course, it meant that it became quite a physical event, and I seemed to move around quite a lot as different sections of the audience became more or less animated. At one point someone got a bit upset because of the pushing and took a swing at someone else, so I wondered if things were going to kick off, but it all calmed down very quickly.
Going to a gig is much more anonymous than going to a bar as you can get lost in the crowd, and I thought I would just be disappearing into the general melee, but halfway through the set someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Where are you from?" Clearly, my dancing style had marked me out as an alien. Anyway, saying I was English seemed to elicit some interest and the information was relayed around a small group of people. One of the women then caught hold my hands and started to show me how to dance Roma-style, so I managed to stumble through that for half a song. Then later on somebody else nearby slapped me enthusiastically on my shoulder, gave me a big thumbs-up and a mighty grin indicating that this was a pretty good gig.
Apart from the sheer magic of the music and the dancing, I was also interested in what it said about the people there and their culture. Most of the people were young, and they seemed to be as caught up by the music as the more mature types there. In fact, several of the more energetic and stylish traditional dancers in the crowd must have been in their early 20s. I reflected on my own English culture, and struggled to think of anything like this that linked the generations. The Scots and the Irish certainly have it, but what about my own people? Anyway, as I watched what was going on I felt as if I was looking into a box that I had never seen before, and in some strange way felt proud to be part of a European culture that could produce such energy.
It was after midnight when the bands stopped playing, and I picked up my coat and set off into the snowy streets to walk home. People were coming out of bars and restaurants and having snowball fights as they walked along. It felt like a good place to be.