Anita Altman, R.I.P.
Although I never knew her as well as many others of you, I'm saddened to hear of the death of one of the towering figures in the Budapest expat scene, Anita Altman. For details, see an obituary in the Budapest Sun, her long-time place of employment.
I encourage others of you to share memories of her here.
Just came across a year-old email from Bruner inviting me to join this enterprise and, better late than never, decided to follow the link this far.
I'm theoretically living back in Berlin these days, but I haven't been there much recently. I just finished making a documentary that will be broadcast on UK Channel 4 on 29 November. It's called "2 Tone Britain" and it's a sort of essay about music and multiculturalism, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Specials and their 2 Tone record label. So that's kept me in London for a while. Next project is probably going to be the Time Out Marrakech Guide. I'm a bit fed up with doing these Time Out books, and this is only the second I've done since 2000. (The other was the Berlin guide, earlier this year.) But Morocco has become one of my places, not least because for the last couple of years I've had a girlfriend who lives in Casablanca, and I welcome any excuse to spend a bit of time there.
The only other recent project of any lasting significance was a book that came out about a year ago. "New Romantics: The Look", a series of illustrated essays about bygone club culture.
So, that's all my news. Greetings to everyone! If anyone wants or needs to get in touch, I still have the same email I've had for the last ten years, and the same mobile phone number I've had for the last eight years. I may be nomadic, but I'm very easy to get hold of.
Pestiside Stirs the Shit for AmCham and Peter Freed
Pestiside.hu's Erik D'Amato has stirred the shit in Budapest last week with a long, boring but heart-felt exposé about the election of the president and board members for the American Chamber of Commerce there. In the piece, which apparently got spiked by one of the expat weekly rags for which he originally wrote it (he didn't mention which, in an email he sent me), he points out that the Chamber of Commerce is American in name only, in that most of its officers are at this point from other nations, and most importantly, he skewers Peter Freed, a long-time Budapest expat with a special place in the hearts of many readers of this humble site for reasons I won't go into (oh, okay, he screwed me and the other co-founders of Budapest Week out of our rightful stake in that once-great publication), concerning perceived conflicts of interest, as both a candidate for president of AmCham and a vendor to that same organization. In a follow-up piece, D'Amato claimed a proud victory for his shameless agenda blogging, noting that Freed lost the election, with several readers crediting his investigation as a decisive factor. You go, boy! (And next time you see him, Erik, give Freed my regards, and a knee in the gonads, if you have a chance.)
If all that sounds too petty and tedious, check out his coverage of the Hungarian Playboy Playmate of the Year event instead.
Henry Copeland's in CBS MarketWatch
In this CBS MarketWatch report, Henry Copeland's informal research reveals "Who are blog readers?"
Who's reading those millions of blogs? Henry Copeland, founder of Blogads, wanted to know, for obvious reasons. He wants to be able to tell advertisers using his network of Weblogs who's reading them. Last week, he used SurveyMonkey to collect information. Here's what he found: 61 percent of the responding blog readers were over 30 years old, 75 percent make more than $45,000 a year, 79 percent are male, and half of them have contributed more than $50 to a cause or candidate. Copeland makes no claim that his research is thorough or even reliable. Responses came from 17,000 volunteers. Nonetheless, "I conclude that blog readers are, themselves, a distinct and important new demographic cohort: blogThe survey results.
Dork Zygotian Update
When I first set up this blog, my fondest wish for it was to get Dork Zygotian publishing again. It's taken some doing, but I've had success at last, of a sort. Bob Cohen, Dork's old roommate, managed to track him down and has extracted a few essays from him. Dork steadfastly refuses to deal with computers enough to sign on to TypePad and post for himself, and for reasons I don't understand, I haven't been able to convince Bob to do so, either. So, reminiscent of the old sneaker network of the Budapest Week newsroom, Dork has passed the essays to Bob who has emailed them to me, so I'm posting them here on Dork's behalf.
Above, Bob also kindly passes on a rare photo sighting of the reclusive Zygotian. The photo's a bit grainy (Hungarian film), but I believe that's Dork in the middle, with one of his smuggled animals and one of Bob's old girlfriends.
Below is an essay Bob forwards, giving a general update on Dork. I've made minimal effort to clean up any of Bob's or Dork's spelling, punctuation, etc., as it's part of the authentic charm. If Laura, Eric or Des want to freshen their hands at copy editing, they should feel free.
Just as he has so many times in the past, Rick Bruner recently asked me if there is any way to contact Dork Zygotian. Bruner, saying something about republishing some of Dork's old articles, knew full well that he was digging in dangerous ground. Bruner angled his question so as to avoid any of the personal risk inherent in meeting with the famously volatile Dork Zygotian. As always, Rick dumped the disagreeable job of dealing with Dork in my lap. Some things never change.
Dork Zygotian is a writer, linguist and -- it may now be safely admitted -- international exotic pet smuggler whose weekly columns and feature articles for the seminal 1990s English language weekly Budapest Week were a source of outrage, scandal, and mild amusement among the international community of post communist Hungary. He was also a shady dealer, a creature of the shadow world of post-communist East Europe, a rake and rogue who gave up the writing of bad checks for the writing of Budapest Week columns.
As Zygotian's former editor and ex-roommate, I do occasionally -- and reluctantly -- stay in touch with the irresponsible freelance writer, but mainly our relationship is much the same as it stood a decade ago. Dork owes me money. Having disappeared on one of his frequent and mysterious trips around the far fringes of East Europe, one day Dork will show up on my doorstep and proceed to beg, borrow or steal whatever cash is in my house, drink my liquor, and steal my girlfriends, while his pet monkeys laugh and fling ordure around my house. He makes a few very expensive phone calls, helps himself to a few of my hats, and departs as abruptly as he arrived, always leaving behind huge bills, stubborn bathtub rings, and a manila envelope containing some of his recent screeds.
Although I have always been personally revolted by Dork's domineering, sneering cynicism -- not to mention his disgustingly free way of expressing himself with a Bic lighter and a bowl of bean soup -- it's not easy to break my ties to him. I am related to Dork through my maternal line, in the convoluted Zygotian genealogy that mingles Moldavian Armenian with Gagauz, Hungarian, and Jewish blood.
As those of you who met him in the early 1990s know, Dork Zygotian is a very difficult person to get along with. Dork's world is a virtual rat's warren of odd peccadilloes, paranoid tendencies, and uniquely lax personal hygiene habits. Although frighteningly intelligent (he speaks over seventeen languages fluently and received the Carlson Award for his work on Gagauz syntax) Dork is, it should be pointed out, a royal pain to have around. Alternating bursts of nervous, productive energy with periods of being lazier than a tree sloth, Dork remains a passionate technophobe, a true Luddite who could become physically ill at the mere sight of a modern editorial office. This made it almost impossible for him to maintain a physical presence at the offices of Budapest Week. It also caused him to completely rule out the idea of maintaining any Internet web presence, such as the blog suggested by Rick. To this day, he avoids direct e-mail contact, preferring to hijack my personal e-mail addresses with impunity, often getting me into absurd situations with officials of various nations engaged in the admirable international effort to ban the smuggling of exotic pets.
Working with Dork Zygotian has never been easy. During the time he was submitting pieces to the Hungary Report, Zygotian managed to inspire an anti-Dork Zygotian e-mail list among the Hungarian émigré community of Canada. I remember hearing the name Zygotian denounced by speakers at a right-wing Hungarian nationalist MIEP rally. I still bump into Dork occasionally. He has neither changed nor improved. Dork is still a living feature of the Budapest demi-monde, bumming free drinks while living off the illicit sale of his dwindling stock of pygmy marmosets.
During his last visit to Budapest, Dork left me a few of his old clippings to forward to Rick. Most of them are pretty dated. They were intended as weekly columns and often refer to current events and social conditions that are pretty obscure today. But Rick Bruner asked for them. And when Rick Bruner asks, dollar signs light up in my eyes.
-- Bob Cohen
Just to clarify, Bob, who the hell said anything about dollar signs? Just to be clear, this is a not-for-profit blog. I'll buy you an Unicum and a grilled chicken next time I'm in town.
Here are the newest Dork essays Bob forwards:
Hip HIPA Hurray!
Photo by Mark Milstein
Click photo to enlarge
The Hungarian International Press Association (HIPA) has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary! I feel like a proud father. (The creation of HIPA and the organization of its initial meetings was largely the brain power and elbow grease of myself and Hungarian publicist Ferenc Blaskovics.)
I don't actually recognize many from the photo of the event beside Kester (standing in the back), Duncan Shiels (seated, left), Florence La Bruyere (seated, right) and Adam LeBor (standing, back right corner). A few other faces look familiar (I know I know the guy in the red shirt all the way to the right, but I can't place him (is that Nick Thorpe?)). Please ID any others you can.
Continue reading below to see Kester Eddy's email account of the anniversary party (Kester is HIPA's newly elected president), as well as some of my own recollections of the early days of HIPA that I sent to Kester as an email for him to read to those assembled.
From the feeback last night everybody seemed to enjoy it, certainly seemed a great atmosphere to me, so thanks to everyone who came and helped make it go.
For those who did not make it, we had around 30 faces, some from pre-history (Nick Thorpe, Duncan Shiels, Florence La Bruyere, Tibor Vidos, me....) to recent arrivals (Mark Milstein, Gareth Corsi...) with a smattering from all years in between. Agi and Eszter (of course), and Amar, whose staff did a great job on the catering side. (At the end we had a group photo or two, including all the restaurant staff. The cooks in particular seemed thrilled to be acknowledged and invited out for their picture to be taken with the group. Thanks Mark.)
I originally invited Amar to say a few words about the cuisine, but he said let it speak for itself, so after tucking in for an hour Duncan and I gave a short, very potted history of HIPA's first decade, including pre-natal stage, with some input from Rick Bruner via email.
Florence added a little known anecdote about Medgyessy which nearly meant an end to diplo relations between Budapest, HIPA and Paris, and Nick stood up to say even his wife thinks we are a good bunch (so we can fool people after all).
Whether many of us will be here to commemorate the twentieth birthday of HIPA I don't know, but I wonder if we can turn this date (well, say the last Friday in January) into a regular event ?
That way, old hands thinking of visiting Budapest around this time could actually plan any such trip around the event.
Here, meanwhile, are some of my own recollections of the early days of organizing HIPA, from an email I wrote to Kester before the event:
As for HIPA, by all means, give them my regards. The only anecdote that stands out in my mind about the whole thing was my forgetting to show up at the inaugural meeting. To remind you, HIPA was actually, as I recall, the idea of Hungarian political publicist Ferenc Blaskovics, and I eagerly went along with it -- or we both had a similar idea simultaneously, or something. I did my part to rally my foreign-press contacts to attend the kick-off meeting. I think we might have had a brainstorming session or two (in some beery pince, I vaguely recall) first to assure ourselves there was indeed interest. So we then scheduled the official first meeting at which we would elect officers, etc.
Somehow, however, I was scheduling two things simultaneously -- a reporting junket / vacation with Adi, and this HIPA meeting, and I failed to observe they conflicted. I was sitting on a train down to Slovenia when I suddenly sat up and shouted, "*$&@! What's the date?" Meanwhile, back in Budapest, so I've been told, they sat around waiting for me for 45 minutes, assuming I would chair that meeting, till Duncan stepped up and volunteered. Naturally, he was subsequently elected president, which I never regretted, as he did a great job leading it that first year and I had more than enough on my plate back then. Anyway, certainly an amusing start to things, from my point of view, in retrospect, anyway.
Also, I remember cooking a Thanksgiving dinner in the restaurant of the Hungarian Press Club for HIPA members and Hungarian Press Club members, some 75 people or something, as I recall. I was most grateful that not a single American besides my dad showed up, so they couldn't observe how far off a real traditional Thanksgiving dinner it was. Was working with the head chef of the Hungarian Press Club, who was completely baffled by the point of this odd meal. Worst was the pumpkin pie, cooked not in small round pie pans, as it should be, but in large industrial rectangular pans. The pie crust (always the hardest part of a pie -- I always buy them pre-made in the store here when I make pie these days) was like shoe leather. All the diners, however, seemed to be very impressed. Or, at least they were very polite about it.
Would love to hear the recollections of any of the rest of you on this (especially Duncan, as he saved my bacon that night), or comments on how it has progressed since then.
But Woodard does not blog!
Greetings comrades. Enjoyed catching up with you all through your respective posts. Is it my imagination, or is there some strange Budapest-San Francisco axis here?
As most of you know, I left Budapest in 1995 for graduate school, but returned to Zagreb for the Monitor on graduation a year later. Since then I spent four years in DC and a year on the US-Mexico border near Brownsville, Texas before returning to Maine, my native state. Here, inspired by my time in Eastern Europe, I wrote a book about the Mainers' national greatness, how the cruel Massachusetts people stole our lands, and what the map of New England *should* look like! (Viking, who will release the book in May, doesn't describe it quite this way.)
Now free from writing duties I'm preparing for a set of assignments in Budapest next month. If any of you are in town in mid Feb, let me know.
-- Colin (www.colinwoodard.com)
OK, I've posted
Yes, I remembered my mother's maiden name and revived my login info. But I don't have anything great to say, particularly about Central Europe. Hmmm. Hmmm. I guess this stuff can't be forced. OK, OT, here's a cartoon about blogging. And, to turn the volume down, here's a post about the death of a friend. (Via Buzzmachine.) Guess this is definitely a "no category selected" post.
Not that Michael Jordan...
Looks like Michael Jordan, who raised a lot of eyebrows in Budapest with his name, is now a New York-based freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker specialized in the Middle East. Came across some info on this page.
Jen Brown with a new name
from her demo DJ album
(I changed my last name from Brown to Clemente - which is my mother's maiden name. This was necessitated on part, due to an identity conflict with another Jennifer Brown with a very similar birth certificate)
Nice to see some familiar faces here. I took my first trip back to Budapest this fall after over three years away. With boyfriend Jim in tow, I had the good fortune of running into many old friends and feeling like a part of a life-long network, but the time there was too short. We hopped on the Balkan Express for my other favorite CEE destination - Belgrade, which had developed - in wake of recent political changes - its own burgeoning expat community. Onward ho to lovely Byzantine Lake Ohrid via Skopje and inward to moving and shaking Pristina. Some of these sights and sounds will make it into print someday soon. Valuable experiences shall not be wasted! ;-)
But what has occupied my time in the past 3.5 + years has been the corporate world - the other side of the fence. Yes, the once bohemian wanna be in me has transformed into a main cog in Big Blue's PR machine. But never fear, I have not grown stale. More on that later....
San Francisco's been good to me. I'm enjoying a sense of stability that comes both with age and finally settling on one city. For my Magyar fix, I go to the Bistro East Europe, in the Excelsior District. If any of you in SF haven't been there yet, give it a go. You'll never know how much you're going to pay, and you may end up having to serve yourself from the kitchen. Truly authentic!
So reviewing my personal expat history for anybody who is interested, I spent 91-92 in Szeged Hungary as part of my senior college year abroad, returning in 92-93 to teach journalism, literature and english at a foiskola and worship the Budapest Week staff from afar.
The following year, I did an MA program in international journalism at American University in Washington D.C. and was hired by Brent Shondelmeyer, who preceeded Henry Copeland as the BBJ's editor. Realizing the weekly news pace was not my forte, and growing tired of business reporting, I opted to try my hand at freelancing. Thanks to the support of the Budapest expat journalist community, I had strings, leads, flings, scandals, free lunches and all sorts of entertainment to keep me well occupied for many years.
At 26, the foolishness of youth and the need for browner pastures drew me to Belgrade, where I predicted the inroads of the internet would lead to a quick revolution - likely leading to the outsting of Milosevic. I was a few years to early, but got to march in the frigid cold for months with fellow ravers, students, hippies and entrepreneurs after the local election theft of 96. Though Milo didn't budge, I have a few stories to tell. I dabbled in internet journalism, covered hard news for the Christian Science Monitor (looks great on a resume, pays shite), and sharpened my Slavic toungue. My sometimes silly little rants, entitled "Surviving Belgrade" are still available for gawking at: www.beocity.com/surviving.
After about 14 months of this, I had enough. The place was toxic. I returned to Budapest where I went back to freelancing, then got involved in a very dodgy startup publication called Seven Days and Nights in Budapest, which could be a category all its own. It was so dodgy, that Peter Freed himself was slapping a lawsuit on 7DnN publisher-cum-criminal-cum-some famous rock and roll star's girlfriend Lisa Moorehead. Tired of being ripped off and chasing the freelance pay, I chucked it all and took a PR/Marcom job at KPMG in Budapest. It was a break well deserved and led to the IBM gig.
In San Francisco, you can find me DJing at an Oxygen Bar, rebuilding a DUKW with Jim at the Shipyard and harnessing chaos for our yearly Power Tool Drag Races.
One final note, I was diagnosed in August 2002 with Multiple Sclerosis. I've remained pretty asymptomatic but would like to know if anybody else has any health issues that could have stemmed from living in an area with a high amount of environmental toxins and a heavy carb/fat diet.