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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today

Mar.31.17

Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today

by Ryan Andrej Lough

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Pálinka in Magyarország

Budapest. Late March, early evening. I return to the circus of the U.S. tomorrow. I spent most of the day on an industrial island of post-Soviet ruin, soaking up the rays on the sandy shores of the Danube. It’s been unseasonably warm, but that’s become common in our epoch. The warm sun pairs well with cold beer when you’re trying to slow time. As the sun began to dip, a sense of natural progression leads to a bar.

I’m in the city’s 13th kerület, or district, recounting the last week here over a tall, cool Pésci and a side of meggy pálinka, a sour cherry brandy. We’re at a dingy basement haunt I know well, Dongó. The two libations combined are still under 800 Hungarian forint at this joint. That’s less than five bucks for a half-liter of beer and a shot; an upside to Budapest that always brings a little joy.

Except for the prices, this basement haunt has changed considerably since I last visited, in August 2015. For many years, Dongó had been a haven: for the city’s literary types, socialist thinkers, musicians of the more classical ilk, and all those who sought refuge from a confusing world over a few fairly cold beers. Now, however, that intellectual and quasi-socialist spirit seems to have left. In 2017, the outspoken nationalist and nativist-leaning conversations of Dongó’s clientele fill the air, and there is a slight sense of unease. Throughout my last week in Hungary, I’ve noticed this shift, most pronounced within the confines of drinking and eating establishments, which, in my opinion, is where you find the beating heart of most societies.

I lived in Budapest for several months in 2015 while working on a film. I fell in love with the city, and the country, for all that it was, and is: a territory that has been consistently reshaped, physically and culturally, by several different empires and influences over the span of millennia. I tried to obtain a residency permit to stay. It was a 90-day process, but two weeks before it was finalized and I could call Budapest home, my visa processing was suspended indefinitely. Not because of my status, but because in August 2015, the flow of incoming refugees was seen as a crisis by the Hungarian government, and so anyone attempting to enter Hungary was denied official entry unless the person was of Hungarian origin. I was forced to leave immediately, as I had overstayed my time in the Schengen Area in order to complete the residency permit process.

I had the good fortune of having a country to return to at that time. Many others—the refugees that were attempting to enter the country, many from Syria—did not have this good fortune. As I was departing Budapest during the thick of the migrant influx in Europe, I witnessed the physical quarantine of refugees and migrants that the government had been rounding up. These humans, these families, were left to bake in the heat without water on the hot August asphalt near the central train station. This was the first time I really took notice of the current Hungarian administration’s policies.

Hungary has long been a battleground between eastern and western ideologies, and in many ways it still is. The monumental ruins, structures, and façades of empires past, grayed and cracked from time, give a sense of where Budapest, Pécs, and the other great Hungarian cities once stood within the world’s societal pecking order. Soviet monuments litter the country, in villages and urban centers, reminding many of the transitional and turbulent occupation during the Cold War. Despite the tumult, the Hungarian spirit persists. It’s a tough, resilient core, coated by a sour, humorously pessimistic shell, motivated by a need to retain a sense of cultural identity in a land that always seems to be shrinking. This uniquely Hungarian persona is charming, and it’s hard not to fall in love with an underdog. However, the party in power, Fidesz, and the current (and only) rival party, the ultra far-right Jobbik, have shamelessly used this need for a cohesive cultural identity while exploiting chinks in the social armor, and have ruled for the last several years with autocratic policies under the guise of making Hungary great again.

I asked several Hungarian citizens what they thought of the current political climate, both young, progressive intellectuals, and the more nationalist, nativist types that prefer a conservative approach. Many people from across the spectrum told me that they are worried about the influx of Muslim migrants because they don’t share Hungary’s western cultural values, specifically gender equality and gay rights. Others stated that unless Hungary focuses on helping Hungarians, the country’s economic and cultural influence will be perpetually stymied by outside influence and manipulation. But many other responses to my inquiries were barely responses at all: nothing to offer, or no interest in the details. How has an intellectual center of Europe become so willingly disassociated and ambivalent to their government’s actions? Even as the Hungarian government is setting up border prisons and rounding up “illegals” in a Gestapo-like manner, many citizens seem unaware or uninterested. As I prodded deeper, it became clear that a disproportionate percentage of Hungarians are unaware of what their government is doing.

Throughout the week, I traveled out of the city to neighboring towns. From the window of trains, as the concrete turned to foliage, I noticed a society crumbling into economic despair, a market slowly crumbling since the fall of Communism. I saw ramshackle villages and rusted out and abandoned industrial zones. Nationalism was fervent in these areas. Roma people are ghettoized as outsiders on the fringes of the cities and towns, and the “native citizens” commonly fly the flag of the old Hungarian Empire as a show of support for Hungarian Unity. Some municipal signage in these villages outside of city centers is written in the old runic Magyar language, legible only to Hungarians who proudly and actively support far-right nationalist traditions. One thing was clear to me in these towns: this rural population either does not know of or is not concerned by the allegations of autocracy being lobbied at the current government, or the criticism levelled at the nation’s reactionary response to the refugee crisis.

Over the last few years, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government and his political party, Fidesz, has absorbed or gained control of all Hungarian media. And the Hungarian media reports only propaganda that benefits the Fidesz government. There is no Hungarian coverage on the border camps, the immigrant beatings, the human rights atrocities, or the other authoritarian actions committed and enacted by the government. Several publications from around the globe cover these stories, when they can gain access or find a trusted lead, but that is becoming rare in a time where the Orbán government and its allies have strangled the media with an iron fist. These stories covered by large, reputable publications can be found as front-page news throughout the world, but not in Hungary. While I’ve been in Hungary, as the news of the border camps and the inhumane treatment and reports of tortuous methods employed by the guards within these camps are leaking out, I couldn’t find any information without searching five or six pages deep in Google search, and that only when using carefully selected key words. When using a Hungarian internet connection, typing “current news in Hungary” or something similar into any search engine produces only saccharin, weightless, feel-good blurbs and Hungarian national unity puff-pieces. There is absolutely no coverage from external sources if the stories casts any question about the policies of the current administration. Orbán, for a time, has succeeded in controlling the media and creating an uninformed and confused society.

There is a rising political and cultural counterbalance. Another political party, Momentum, has sprung up in Hungary in recent months. Momentum is a grassroots political party, started in a dingy basement by young activists weary of the authoritarian practices that have dominated the Hungarian parliament since the Soviet era. Their policies and agenda are an obvious rebuke to the Orbán regime, and they have gained a considerable following in the last few months throughout the country. Given the tight control of the media by Fidesz, Momentum spreads their information through social media: Facebook, Twitter, and smaller alternative news sites like the Budapest Beacon. For many in Budapest, and the whole of Hungary, Momentum brings hope. The wariness that most Hungarians carry as a badge of honor, however, doesn’t allow this hope to rapidly foment into rabid fervor. Instead, it’s a slow build. Something to keep an eye on. Additionally, assistance-related and fact-based sites, like Migszol, have begun popping up in Hungary in recent months, attempting to bring attention to the authoritarian practices of the Orbán regime, and providing information to a population that may be unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes, a common occurrence in areas outside large urban centers.

Things change, obviously, and we’re all a part of that change. This basement tavern isn’t as interesting to me as it once was. Maybe I was a bit foolish to expect that this place would’ve retained the same charm and character after nearly two years away. I’m going to head over to the outer neighborhood of the 8th kerület, known for its large population of Roma people, lower-income creative types, and young thinkers, and an exceptional café known as Csiga. My former neighborhood. It’s a dear friend’s birthday tonight, and we’re due to have a few more drinks in good company before I leave this confusing, pessimistic, wondrous, and beautiful city again. But certainly not for the last time.

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

Oct.20.17

Mourning the Death of a Muckraker in Malta

by Steven Bonello

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Beer in Marsascala

In Malta, everyone will probably remember where they were when they heard that investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated. She was killed on Monday, shortly after leaving home, when her white Peugeot 108 exploded. Her son, Matthew, was still at home; he heard the explosion and tried to save her. She was 53.

I was at a pub in the resort town of Marsascala, enjoying a pint of Kilkenny with a journalist friend. We were just at that moment discussing Caruana Galizia when I got a call from my wife telling me that friends were messaging her with the news. I didn’t believe it; I told her it couldn’t be true. But after putting my phone down, I overheard snippets of conversation from the next table, stuff like: “if you live by the sword…” I knew then that it was true. When my shocked friend confirmed the news on her smartphone, it was just a formality.

I first met Caruana Galizia 26 years ago, when I wrote her a letter asking her whether she would write a short note for my second personal exhibition of drawings. That led to her introducing me to newspaper cartooning, something I’ve done ever since. Incredibly, for a small place like Malta, I had only run into her once since then—about two months ago at a local trattoria.

Caruana Galizia was both lionized and hated in polarized Malta. She was a merciless critic of Malta’s ruling Labour government, in particular the two government personalities involved in the Panama Papers scandal, both of whom refused to step down, and both of whom enjoyed the continued support of the prime minister, Joseph Muscat. But she was also scathing about Malta’s main opposition party, and its new leader in particular, whom she accused of having financial links to a brothel in London’s Soho.

The current Labour government was re-elected earlier this year after a snap election, called as a vote of confidence after Caruana Galizia published stories about the prime minister’s wife taking kickbacks from Azerbaijan’s ruling family and stashing the cash in a secret Panama account.

Under this government, Malta has experienced rapid growth. A building boom has been fuelled by skyrocketing rental rates and the need to accommodate an influx of foreign workers. The other side of that coin has been a withering of national institutions, scandals involving government ministers, shady deals with Azerbaijan, and the sale of Maltese passports under the so-called Individual Investor Program, while Malta-born citizens are denied the right to know who their new compatriots are.

This is the first time a journalist has been assassinated on the island. Malta is in shock. The nature of the assassination was brutal, even for Malta, where car-bomb murders happen from time to time.

DCG_last_words_(1)The last words Caruana Galizia wrote on her blog before she was killed have been spray-painted on a wall in Malta.

Most friends I have been talking to are confused, and still can’t quite believe it. The assassination was no doubt a professional job, perhaps pointing to hired, imported hitmen. The motive is still unclear. Caruana Galizia had made many enemies over the years, but the general feeling is that no Maltese would really have gone this far. People are speculating that the murder might have been ordered from outside. There are whispers that she was about to break new stories involving international crime rings.

All this is happening in a vacuum. Information about the murder has been scant, and in the days after Malta’s highest-profile assassination, the Commissioner of Police—regarded by many as an incompetent stooge—was notable only for his silence on the matter. The police finally called a press conference on Thursday evening, but answered no questions. The prime minister has gone on record to say the FBI and Dutch experts will be joining local investigating forces, which only reinforces the locals’ poor perception of the police. A police sergeant’s Facebook post celebrating her death hasn’t helped.

There is also a feeling that, as with other brutal crimes in Malta, this one will remain unsolved, and forgotten after the international spotlight moves away.

After we heard the horrible news, we finished our drinks in a hurry and, perhaps unforgivably, failed to toast the memory of a very brave woman. All I remember saying to my journalist friend was: “Fuck! And I have to do a cartoon about this next Sunday?”

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

Oct.19.17

#Resist in Virginia, with Love and Proper Beer

by Alex Court

Imperial IPA in Virginia

“By the power invested in me by absolutely nobody I declare you husband and wife!”

Once those words left my lips I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I’m no priest, but in a last-minute reshuffle I had been asked to preside over the ceremony of a couple of very good friends in the heavy Virginia heat, and I needed a congratulatory drink to calm the nerves.

Slipping past the international crowd that had assembled for the special occasion, I reached the bar and spotted a beer I’d never heard of: Dogfish Head 120 Minute.

Hoppy and tasty and cold, it hit my lips and I realized why the couple had selected this beverage to get the party started. An American bride of Ghanaian and Filipino heritage was marrying a British chap from Sheffield, a city well-known for “proper” beer.

Orange, Virginia was the venue they had chosen well in advance, and they had invited people with all kinds of cultural backgrounds. Everything had been planned before August, when white supremacists marched just 30 miles away in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us.”

As I swigged back that bottle of beer the alcohol helped me relax. The speech I had just delivered mentioned the importance of celebrating multicultural and interracial love, and the importance of doing this now, in Virginia.

Finding the right words had not been easy for a white British bloke like me, partial to avoiding all kinds of conflict, but my wife—who is American and black—helped me find them.

As I asked the barman for a second beer, the mother of the bride thanked me for the kind words I had said about her daughter and son-in-law and promptly dragged me to a photo shoot.

Arranging couples in front of the camera, the photographer wanted one of the bride and groom and my wife and I. Four people—two black ladies and two white chaps—smiling wide on the steps of a glorious homestead.

We were not putting our bodies on the line at a rally against white supremacists, but as the camera snapped away, I thought perhaps we were protesting against hate in our own little way.

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

Oct.18.17

Absinthe, Meet Tropical Slushie Cocktail

by Anna Hiatt

Cocktails in St Augustine

Down the bar from us sat a 20-something couple. She’d ordered what looked like an adult shaved ice. Taking picture after picture, she said with a laugh, “I don’t want to drink it.”

What’d she order, I asked the bartender. A Cabana Boy. The bartender took a banana leaf and deftly looped it in a circle, placed it in the glass, and began to fill the lowball with shaved ice—just like the shaved ice we’d had at the beach the day before. It had been soaked with almost sickly sweet passionfruit and mango syrup. Sickly sweet, but delicious, just enough to cut through St. Augustine’s midday heat. She spritzed the shaved ice with absinthe from what looked like a perfume bottle and set the drink in front of me.

I sipped my Cabana Boy and wondered if I should have passed on the second cocktail. I asked the bartender about the incoming hurricane. “People love to panic,” she said calmly. Last hurricane, a second bartender told me, he’d taken shelter at the bar; nothing would bring down the Ice Plant, a former ice factory. The plant was chilled as though the building still stored blocks of ice. I shivered, hunched on my bar stool, did the tipsy calculus, and decided to drink faster. The longer I let it sit, the more the shaved ice would melt, the more I’d have to drink, the longer I’d have to stay in the cold. Let’s get out of here, I motioned, back into the warm night.

The next morning, the pressure had changed. Pea-soup air. Hurricane Irma was coming. We ducked into Catch 27 in downtown St. Augustine for blackened snapper sandwiches and blackened snapper tacos and beers.

We left the restaurant to do one more drive through the city. The storm was coming in from the south: it was still a Category 5 and hadn’t yet torn up St. Martin’s. St. Augustine had quieted after Labor Day weekend, and in the days before Irma. Windows were boarded up, or being boarded up; I wondered if the Ice Plant’s bartenders would take refuge in the old ice factory. We admired a boat moored in the Matanzas River that runs along downtown.

A few days later, after we’d flown out, Hurricane Irma moved in. From my apartment in New York, I watched video footage from St. Augustine and scanned Instagram for evidence of the storm, and what it had done to our little paradise. The streets along the water flooded, though the water quickly receded; the remaining boats in the Matanzas River rocked hard. I couldn’t see ours, and I wondered when, or if, it had been moved. Our oasis momentarily disturbed, but still filled with stubborn Floridians.

The Ice Plant
110 Riberia Street St. Augustine, FL 32084
Cabana Boy: $12

Photo: Mallory Brooks for VISIT FLORIDA

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

Oct.17.17

Remember, People: Do Not Get in the Car with the Self-Professed Bad Man

by Michael Standaert

Beer in Ngapali Beach

Last year, long before the current wave of terrible violence began, I was in Ngapali Beach, a white-sand, beach-resort town in Rakhine State, having drinks with Sara—a hotel manager—and a local artist.

Our conversation got around to the “troubles” a few years ago. After news spread that Rohingya Muslims had raped a Rakhine girl, a Buddhist, violence ensued. As a result, tens of thousands of Rohingya had been moved to camps to the north of Ngapali Beach, around Sittwe.

Sara told me that during that time, right in front of where we were now sitting on the beach—where boys had been playing soccer just an hour before—a large group of local men had emerged from the shadows into the light from the bar, machetes in hand. They’d heard that “two boats with Muslims” were out there on water, and said if they came ashore they were going to kill them.

Sara finished her white wine and the local artist left after downing his lassi, and I was alone with the last of several caipirinhas. The bar keep made them strong and rummy, squeezed in several small limes and added brown sugar, on the right side of sweet.

There was still a little light, so I walked south down the beach to a clump of restaurants and ordered a local beer. A European couple, the only other customers, left after tiring of a slightly drunk local who was talking to them, wanting to take them to a disco. Each time he said disco, he’d wiggle his hips and shake his arms. Being alone after they left, I attracted the man, who sat down close to me and ordered a beer.

His name was Momo, he said. “I’m a bad man. Bad man. But good father. I own that restaurant there,” he gestured across the road, now dark. “I provide for my family. Take care of my parents, my wife’s parents.” But he was still a bad man, he laughed, because he liked disco.

I didn’t feel like walking back to the hotel, so decided to check the place out. We passed my hotel and about a half-kilometer on, took a left down a dark road into jungle. I could see neon and Christmas lights strung around a large wooden building. I asked if this was a disco, as he called it before. “KTV,” he said.

I decided I didn’t like the vibe of the place. It stank of mildew. Sweat. I stayed close to the door, which was still slightly ajar. He was talking with the doormen, asking about “girls, I want girls.” I could tell they were wary of having a foreigner in here while Momo was trying to line up KTV girls. The doormen were shaking their heads. I grabbed Momo and said, let’s go, some other time. He tried to tell me there are other places, but I convinced him to drop me off at my hotel.

“I’m a bad man,” he said as I shook his hand. He drove off, steady, not a swerve.

The Three Things You Must Do in Veracruz

Oct.16.17

The Three Things You Must Do in Veracruz

by Martina Žoldoš

Lechero in Veracruz

They say there are three things one must experience when visiting the port of Veracruz: the aquarium, the biggest in Latin America; live street music and dancing; and lechero, the famous coffee, served in the 200-year-old Gran Cafe de la Parroquia.

It’s was a typical Saturday noon, hot and humid, and visiting the aquarium seemed the smartest thing to do. We got badly sunburned the day before, so the beach was out of the question. Besides, cooling off in an air-conditioned space and admiring sharks, barracudas, rays, yellowfin tuna meant killing two birds with one stone: my daughter had been daydreaming about sharks since we first mentioned the possibility of taking a short trip to Veracruz.

After visiting the aquarium it was time for a big dose of caffeine, so we headed to Gran Café de la Parroquia, the original one, in front of the main dock. In the last few years, the city has witnessed an invasion of modern replicas of this café that lack both history and soul. I superstitiously avoided them, although this meant I almost always had to line up for a free table in the old one.

Ordering and serving lechero is a special process. One waiter brings you a strong espresso in a glass (not a cup). Then, you have to knock a glass with a spoon to call another waiter, who fills your glass with a stream of milk as he holds the pot several feet it. The origins of this peculiar way of serving the milk are a mystery, but the origins of knocking the glass with a spoon are well-known.

Back in the late 19th century, a streetcar passed by Emparan and 5 de Mayo streets every morning at 6 a.m. As the streetcar approached the café, the driver rang the bell to announce his arrival. The owner would order one of the waiters to run out and deliver the coffee, without the driver ever having to stop. This routine went on for many years, until one morning the bell didn’t ring: the driver had passed away. When the word spread that he had died, patrons and waiters of La Gran Parroquia stood up and knocked their glasses and cups with spoons to commemorate the driver and his long coffee habit.

As I was sharing this story with my parents, who were visiting the café for the first time, a woman in a traditional, colorful dress with a wooden board in her hands and a man with a guitar stepped in. The tune of La Bamba and the woman’s tapping began to fill the room.

Aquarium, lechero, and live son jarocho, all in one day.

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