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An old Rocker Adrift in Budapest

David Holzer meets up with his brother and heads out for a Budapest reunion full of rock and roll, culture and food.

The A38 cultural venue on the banks of the Danube.

Fifteen years ago, I was in a band with my younger brother. What I did was like singing, only different. He was, and remains, an excellent guitarist and songwriter. He’s also a great cook and a beer aficionado. 
When he announced he was coming to see me in Hungary, I knew I had to find some live rock and roll, great food and a decent beer bar for my brother in Budapest. I managed to find all those things, but our day didn’t quite go according to plan.
The live music was going to be the grand finale of our day. I’d arranged for us to go the filming of a TV show called Akusztik at the A38 boat moored on the Danube just by the Petofi Bridge. The band doing their stuff was called Republic. All I knew about them was that they’re a Hungarian rock band and they were my partner’s father’s favorites.
It was only when I double-checked the email from Petőfi TV that I realized filming started at two in the afternoon. On a Tuesday. This is not a “mad, bad and dangerous to know” rock and roll time of day.
If Republic are typical of the form, the thing about Hungarian rock is that, as far as I can hear, there’s no “…and roll” to it. Their songs featured folk chords rather than those derived from the blues. Alongside standard rock instrumentation – guitar, bass, drums – you’ll hear all kinds of stringed instruments. This gives the music a mournful, keening feel even when the band is rockin’.

Excellent Venue

There’s no doubt that Republic are a tight, slick band. They mix flamenco-style guitar in with the rock and folk and some of their songs were almost memorable. The audience of around 100 knew the words, clapped and swayed and generally enjoyed themselves.
While little brother checked out Republic’s gear and tried to stop himself from being too sniffy and dismissive, I zoned out. A38 is an excellent little venue and I imagined how great it would be to see a band that rolled as well as rocked and whose lyrics and between song banter I could understand. Looking at the listings for March, it seems like there’s plenty of opportunity to let it rock.
I have to admit that we crept out before the band finished, hopped on a tram and headed back into the city. It was a perfect day to show my brother Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) and I wanted to see the Sando Miller “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” exhibition at Műcsarnok (the Kunsthalle).
“Malkovich…etc.” features the actor reproducing classic photos with Miller adopting the iconic style of people like Warhol, Diane Arbus and so on. It’s a nicely post-modern idea and I guess that, if you know your photography, you will have fun seeing how Miller does it. I couldn’t quite see the point, although I was impressed by Malkovich’s willingness to enter into the spirit of the project. His Marilyn is unnerving.
The best thing about visiting “Malkovich... etc.” was, for me, wandering around the Kunsthalle itself. If you haven’t already done so, I’d suggest you visit. There’s an exhibition of work by Hungarian artists who’ve either received or who are hoping to win what’s called a Derkovits Prize award this year.

More Provocation

Much of the work was bright and colorful and there was very little conceptual art, thankfully. The only slight disappointment was how safe the work was. I could have done with rather more provocation.
Mind you, after our walk up through the strange canyons of streets between Erzsébet krt. and Hősök tere I don’t think I could have taken much more excitement. We took the weirdly quaint Metro One line back to Deák Ferenc tér and went looking for the Fülemüle restaurant.
One of the many things I love about Budapest is that it’s possible to find excellent traditional Jewish cooking. This is extremely hard to do in London, at least in the center of the city.
My brother had never tasted Hungarian Jewish food and I’ve recently discovered cholent. This is the incredibly rich Jewish bean and smoked meat stew often served with a hardboiled egg. The cholent at Fülemüle is the best I’ve ever tasted, even if my experience is limited to two occasions. I made a decent dent in the version served with the restaurant’s own home-hickory-smoked beef and a delicious liver sausage. My brother had duck with red cabbage and onion mashed potato.
We waddled out of the restaurant utterly contented, managed to stroll very slowly back to our hotel as night fell on Budapest. It wasn’t exactly a rock and roll day but we certainly enjoyed it.

To discover more about these venues, visit www.a38.hu, www.mucsarnok.hu and the Fülemüle Étterem Facebook page.