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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.

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

Jun.27.17

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

by Russ Rowlands

Presidente in the Dominican Republic

“Dame una fria.” Gimme a cold one.

“Uno cien, amigo.”

“Gracias.”

I smiled and put a 100-peso bill on the counter, grabbing the ice-crusted bottle of Presidente pilsner.

Much power is invested in that little phrase, dame una fria. A Dominican friend told me about its significance on my visit to Buena Vista, in the Central Range mountains.

“Only Americanos say una cerveza,” Emmanuel explained.

A medium-sized bottle of Presidente should cost 100 pesos (just over US$2), as advertised on every bottle cap, but at most shops I was paying anything from 110 to 140 pesos. Emmanuel told me that if you look like an Americano, and sound like an Americano, then you can afford Americano pricing, and the clerk will add whatever ‘tax’ on top of the 100 pesos that he thinks you’ll pay without causing a stink.

“You don’t look like an Americano,” Emmanuel said, shrugging, “so you might as well not sound like one.” It was a good piece of advice.

A month later in Santo Domingo, the capital, someone recommended that I check out the ruins of San Francisco monastery, specifically by night, on a Sunday. San Francisco is an impressive pile of red-brick rubble that makes up part of Santo Domingo’s World Heritage Site within the Zona Colonial historical district.

I had already explored the Zona by day, soaking up 500 years of colonial history, contentedly sipping frosty Presidentes from a paper bag. Languid groups of tourists snapped photos while locals wisely went about their business indoors, out of the sun

But following the recommendation, I experienced a different side of the Zona as I set out to find the ruins of San Francisco one Sunday night. Every corner was thronged with jubilant Dominicans, chatting in circles on plastic chairs or standing around food carts waiting for steaming empanadas. I could hear a live band over the happy cacophony of the crowd, the rumbling bass undoubtedly doing damage to centuries-old mortar. A few tourists drifted through the streets, but the celebration was clearly not some pony show staged for visitors.

The press of sweaty bodies got tighter and tighter as I approached the ruins.
People were accommodating, happy to move out of the way if possible, but by the time I reached the last block I could have easily crowd-surfed my way to the front.

Colorful spotlights lit a stage in front of the massive, half-crumbled nave of the monastery. A brassy, 12-piece salsa band was blasting a high-pace tune at the crowd, who sang along as they danced on a platform built over the ragged old cobbles of the street. Food vendors hawking homemade tostones wandered through the plaza, which was book-ended with bright green Presidente tents. I pushed my way into a tent.

“Dame una fria!”

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

Jun.26.17

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

by Stacey Knott

IPA in Accra

Almost five years ago, I poured a pint of Scotland’s Black Isle Blonde for a Ghanaian chef who came into the bar I worked at in Edinburgh. We bonded over our love of the beer, and he told me all about his country, which I was, coincidentally, about to visit.

This new favorite customer of mine, named John, raved about the hospitality of his fellow-Ghanaians, and how much I’d love it there, promising to connect me with his friends and family.

Fast-forward to June 2017, the chef and I are married, living in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and we’ve found something to rival that Scottish beer we both miss so much.

It’s a hot afternoon, and after being stuck in the usual Accra traffic, we turn down a pothole-riddled, dusty road on the outskirts of this sprawling city to meet brewer Clement Djameh, the owner of Ghana’s only microbrewery. Before we begin our personal tour of the Inland Microbrewery, which takes up part of the bottom floor of a residential house, Clement points out a small crop of sorghum growing outside.

It’s this grain that makes up his beers—it thrives in semi-arid regions—like Ghana’s impoverished northern region.

Clement wanted to use it in his beer to help farmers in Ghana, taking it from a subsistence crop to industrial use. His beers are brewed with 100 percent malted sorghum instead of the usual imported malted barley, commonly found in beers here and across the globe.

He sells his beers for private functions in Ghana, where people buy it by the keg and rent the equipment to serve it, including the dispenser and fridges.

With the tour over and the blazing sun setting on another day, we step outside and, with Oladapo Loto, a visiting brewer from Nigeria, we taste one of these sorghum brews.

Cool glasses of Clement’s IPA are handed out. The foaming top recedes and as John and I take that first sip, his eyes widen.“Whoa, this is so good. This reminds me of that Black Isle Blonde,” he says.

The IPA is smooth and full-bodied. It’s a golden caramel color and doesn’t have the harshness I often find with the local, commercial beers here in Ghana.

While we savor the brew, we talk politics, economics, and corruption—the usual fodder for a Thursday evening. Oladapo and Clement tell us about the 24/7 obsession commercial brewing becomes. But microbrewing gives Clement more freedom.

Interestingly, there’s nothing like this in Nigeria, Oladapo tells us.

“If it was in Nigeria, by now it would have exploded,” he says, to a chorus of “Then start one!”

After visiting Clement’s, he might just do that.

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

Jun.22.17

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

by Anthony Elghossain

Tea in the Nineveh Plains

The men stir their tea. They speak, stare, and listen. Then, they stir some more.

Some strangers—now fellow-travelers and, indeed, friends—and I have been traipsing around the Nineveh Plains all day. We’re on our way to Mosul. The Western journalists among us are covering the final act in the war to liberate the city, but I’m just here to understand how certain minority factions are positioning themselves for the politics of peace.

The exhilaration of the first few hours have faded, and I’m bored again. “Research” gets repetitive. Race down a road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a circle, stir the tea, and listen to men with guns. Race up another road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a square, stir the tea, and listen to more men with guns plot the future—without moving past the past.

I want to drink the tea. But I let it sit there, on a rickety table. They’ve brewed a pot of loose Assam tea: black tea, boiling water, a stick of cinnamon—but no mint, sadly. These folks have heaped mounds of sugar into tiny glasses, and now they’re stirring and stirring, but not sipping. I wonder briefly if the tea is poisoned.

Perhaps Louis, an Iraqi Christian with a soft spot for Saddam and the old Ba‘ath regime, will take the first sip. But he keeps stirring—and speaking.

“Baghdad can guarantee autonomy,” he tells the militiamen gathered in a tin tent outside a village that was home to tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians, before ISIS took over. Various forces—a U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi national army, Peshmerga, and the innocuously named “popular mobilization units”—cleared the area in October 2016. But folks have been slow to return. “You need to behave carefully over the next few months. Only Baghdad can give you what you want.”

Others aren’t so sure. “Jonathan,” a militiaman from the Shabak community, grimaces and confers quietly with a visiting lawmaker. A commander holds court. Meanwhile, a pair of prim UN staffers, with their pressed khakis and bleached shirts, take notes.

Across the tent, two Assyrians talk. I don’t speak Neo-Aramaic, but can tell they’re chatting about me: “Anthony,” “Lebanese-American,” “researcher,” and—to summarize—“what the fuck is he doing here?” A friend, who’s ushered me around Nineveh and Mosul, whispers: “Maronay”—meaning, Maronite, a largely Lebanese Christian sect. Surprisingly, the designation opens a door. The man smiles and asks me which of the rival Lebanese warlords I prefer.

I demur. He asks about the Mountain War of 1983. We’re outside of Mosul, where the man’s compatriots are fighting for their future, but he’s grilling me about Lebanon’s past.

“Don’t you have enough to worry about here?” I bite back, with a smile. He laughs.

I finally take a sip of my tea. Now I understand why no one is drinking it. This tea is as sweet as syrup. I add water, stir, and try again. I stir, clumsily, for an eternity. “You should let the sugar settle,” whispers a friend, “if you actually want to drink it.”

Too late. The commander’s watching. I keep stirring and begin to speak. “This is delicious, thank you.”

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

Jun.21.17

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

by Alessio Perrone

Cider in Cornwall

We had driven five hours from London to get to St Ives, on the western tip of Cornwall, England. On single-lane roads on which we were the only car, past cliffs looking over the Celtic Sea, under bridges with faded EU flags tied onto them, flapping in the wind—the last remnants of a referendum in which Cornwall voted overwhelmingly to leave.

In St Ives, we waited another 30 minutes to find a seat at the Sloop Inn, a small, crowded pub on the beach, established in 1312. St Ives is quiet; walk down its narrow alleys through the white houses, and you can even hear the wind blowing. But the Sloop Inn was noisy. Ale flowed, a busker played, a tourist took pictures of everything.

We ordered a local cloudy cider—a Rattlers Cyder, poured from a snake-shaped tap. Cornish cider isn’t much different from ciders you get elsewhere, just stronger. This one is fizzy and bitter.

We had just begun to taste it when Marshall arrived. A local man in his 20s, blonde, blue-eyed, with an incredibly round face and a blue hoodie.

“Mind if I sit with you, mate?” He’s had a few. “This is the best place in St Ives,” he said to nobody in particular. He started to ramble.

To Marshall, St Ives is the best place in the world: it has “the best” New Year’s celebrations, in which people dress up and head to the beach to watch fireworks (“Well, the best after London. And Edinburgh”); he thinks it has the best Cornish pasties, baked thick-crust pastries originally made for miners so they could eat their meals warm and with their hands (“Well, the best after the ones you get in the countryside”), and the best light to paint—a blade through your eyes when the sun is out.

“It is touristy, so you get all the shops and bars, but it doesn’t lose its Cornish identity, its character,” he said.

But it seems that Cornwall is changing. It’s still largely dependent on agriculture, but one by one, its sources of wealth have waned. Once, it relied on fishery and mining, but then, with foreign competition, those industries became unprofitable. Cornwall became one of the poorest areas in Britain. More recently, it has relied on tourism and EU subsidies. (Cornwall qualifies for poverty-related EU grants, but soon won’t be receiving those anymore.)

Tourism, though, doesn’t seem to be waning. In St Ives, the fishermen’s inns have given way to tourists’ residences and dozens of art galleries, as artists flocked here, lured by the light. Taverns have become bars and restaurants by the beach.

Some 45 minutes later, we still hadn’t had a chance to talk to each other. Marshall was telling us about an adventure he had in France with eight people in one car. Then he realized he’d finished his drink.

He mumbled something that must have meant “Nice to meet you and good-bye” and left us half-apologetically.

Our moment had gone. The busker had gone. The Inn was getting quieter, the wind chillier. The sun had disappeared behind the houses. We contemplated having another cider while we watched Marshall wobble away. Nah, not this time.

A Drink for Goa’s Hot Summer Nights and Torrential Rains

Jun.20.17

A Drink for Goa’s Hot Summer Nights and Torrential Rains

by Sonia Filinto

Urak in Goa

It was hot and humid. The monsoon season was still a few weeks away; just the right weather for downing a few pegs of urak.

Feni might be the more famous Goan brew, distilled from the cashew apple, but urak—the fruit’s first distillate—is the drink of choice for Goans in the summer months. Urak is distilled only from March to May, the cashew fruit-bearing season. It also has a short shelf life of four to five months. It has a fruity and mildly pungent aroma and flavor; it’s certainly an acquired taste. But it’s light and refreshing, and the cashew apple season coincides with the weather heating up, so it’s like the stars align to give Goans a drink to beat the heat.

One hot summer evening, a friend plugged in to the local bar scene suggested Joseph Bar. It’s an old hole-in-the-wall tavern in Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter in Goa’s capital, Panaji. Space is restricted, with patrons spilling into the narrow lane outside. The urak is excellent, so no one complains.

I happened to meet an acquaintance, who offered me his outdoor seat while my friend made himself comfortable on the curb. The waiter brought out our drinks. My friend drinks his urak with water, club soda, and a lime-flavored carbonated drink along with a sprinkling of salt and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon. Old-timers like my father enjoy their urak the purists’ way—on the rocks or with water. I like both styles.

As I drank, a feeling of lightness took over—not to be confused with the alcohol-fueled light-headedness that feni might cause: urak is a milder brew. It absorbed all the tiredness from my day; I had been at work since 6 a.m. As the evening progressed, the conversations around us showed no signs of ending. The crowd—locals and tourists alike—spread across the road outside the bar.

The waiter brought us the last of the prawn rissois. I told him that he looked familiar. My instincts were correct: he had worked at Clube Nacional, a legendary old club and events venue in Panaji, which had for years been declining but still had a popular bar—until the building started to collapse and everything closed down. The waiter was himself somewhat legendary, both for his long tenure at Clube Nacional and for his knack for remembering his customers’ preferred drinks. After a few other gigs in between, he had ended up at Joseph Bar.

He promised to serve us hot snacks if we came in earlier the next day. I didn’t make it to Joseph Bar the next evening, but I will soon.

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