Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bradt City Guide to Bratislava

In-depth, insider details about this overlooked and underrated city.
The first guide published in the UK that is devoted exclusively to the Slovak capital, rather than just dumping it in a few pages at the back of the 'Czech & Slovak Republics' guide.
Published in the US by Globe Pequot.
Price: £6.99
ISBN-10: 1 84162 142 0
Available from Amazon, Borders & Books etc., Ottakar's, Stanfords, Waterstones and all good bookshops...
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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Budapest's first great epic novel

As an homage to Pedro Almodóvar, one of my all-time favourite film directors, whose latest masterpiece Volver opens in the UK this week, FourBees presents a list of her favourite films of all time.
FourBees worked as a film critic for a drearier than dreary weekly newspaper in Budapest for seven long years (1996-2003), watching press screenings at the ungodly hour of 10am and then having to think of something vaguely amusing to say about some dullard Hollywood pap.
Strangely, with global warming, famine, prostitution, paedophilia, child labour and all the horrors of the modern world to occupy our waking hours, my film and restaurant reviews always drew the most response in nerdy letters to the editor, commenting on how I had failed to understand the universal significance and profundity of Lord of the Rings.
The attacks were often directed at me personally and were pretty vitriolic and mean-spirited, which leads me to wonder what all those sad expats were doing in Budapest.

Maybe they should get a hobby, or get out more – and at least invest in a sense of humour and irony.

The Best Films Created EVER in the History of the Cinematic Universe, the world and all creatures therein (4Bees szerint)

Volver 2006 (I've seen it now and it is indeed estupendo) – Pedro Almodóvar
La mala educación (2004) – Almodóvar
Hable con ella (2002) – Almodóvar
Todo sobre mi madre (1999) – Almodóvar

Carne trémula (1997) – Almodóvar
La flor de mi secreto (1995) – Almodóvar
Kika (1993) – Almodóvar
Tacones lejanos (1991) – Almodóvar
Átame! (1990) – Almodóvar
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988) – Almodóvar
La ley de deseo (1987) – Almodóvar
Matador (1986) – Almodóvar
Jamón, jamón (1992) – Bigas Luna
La teta y la luna (1994) –Bigas Luna
Krótki film o zabijaniu (1988) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Krótki film o miłości (1988) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Dekalog (1989) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Trzy kolory: Niebieski (1993) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Trzy kolory: Bialy (1994) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Trzy kolory: Czerwony (1994) – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Spoorloos (1988) – George Sluizer, based on Tim Krabbé’s novel 'The Golden Egg'. Don’t bother with the dire 1993 Hollywood remake The Vanishing, despite the same director.
Monsieur Hire (1989) – Patrice Leconte (Georges Simenon novella)
Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (1990) – Patrice Leconte
Le parfum d’Yvonne (1994) – Patrice Leconte
Ridicule (1996) – Patrice Leconte (note to ed. never meet your heroes in person, ultimately disappointing and depressing)

La fille sur le pont (1999) - Patrice Leconte
La veuve de Saint Pierre (2000) - Patrice Leconte
Abre los Ojos (1997) – Alejandro Amenábar
The Others (2001) – Alejandro Amenábar
Mar adentro (2004) – Alejandro Amenábar, starring one of my three favourite actors, Javier Bardem, the others being James Mason, for the voice and Denzel Washington for the overall gorgeousness and dignity
Fresa y chocolate (1994) – Tomás Gutiárrez Alea y Juan Carlos Tabío
La Vida es silbar (1998) – Fernando Pérez
Megáll az idô (1982)— Peter Gothár
A tanú (1969) – Péter Bacsó
Egymásra nézve (1982) – Károly Makk, novel by Erzsébet Gálgóczi. It speaks volumes about how homophobic Hungarian society is, even now. They couldn’t find local actresses to play the two lead characters and had to use Polish, which is a bit ironic, given the potato-faced twin-Pres & PM in power there now.
Napló gyermekeimnek (1984) – Márta Mészáros
Napló szerelmeimnek (1987) – Márta Mészáros
Napló apámnak, anyámnak (1990) – Márta Mészáros
Kisvilma, az utolsó napló (2000) – Márta Mészáros
Nostalghia (1983) –Andrej Tarkovsky
Zerkalo (1975) – Andrej Tarkovsky
Solyaris (1972) – Andrej Tarkovsky (Stanislav Lem novel). Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 version, was a rare example of a respectful, moving remake (unlike The Vanishing, see above)
Delicatessen (1991) – Marc Caro et Jean-Pierre Jeunet
La cité des enfants perdus (1995) – Marc Caro et Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet, heart-warming and life-affirming; anyone who fails to be moved by Amélie is a bilious old curmudgeon.
Le Placard (2001) – Francis Veber, Daniel Auteuil is a comic genius as François Pignon, his facial expression are classic ‘Pignon est (vraiment) mignon…’
Don’t Look Now (1973) – Nicolas Roeg (Daphne du Maurier)
Eureka (1984) – Nicolas Roeg
The Sweet hereafter (1997) – Atom Egoyan
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) – Jay Roach (written by Mike Myers). I have the hots for Dr Evil.
The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) – Jay Roach (written by Mike Myers)
Goldmember (2002) – Jay Roach (Mike Myers again)
Some Like it Hot (1959) – Billy Wilder
Now Voyager (1942) – Irving Rapper
Rebecca (1940) – Alfred Hitchcock (Daphne du Maurier novel)
Marnie (1964) – Alfred Hitchcock
Vertigo (1958) – Alfred Hitchcock
North by Northwest (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds (1963) – Alfred Hitchcock
Magnolia (1999) – Paul Thomas Anderson
Lantana (2001) – Ray Lawrence
Far from Heaven (2002) – Todd Haynes
The End of the Affair (1999) – Neil Jordan (Graham Greene novel)
Lolita (1962) – Stanley Kubrick (Vladmir Nabokov novel)
The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick
Utomlyonnye solntsem (1994) – Nikita Mikhalkov
Doctor Zhivago (1965) – David Lean (Boris Pasternak epic)

Heavenly Creatures (1994) – Peter Jackson, yes he was good then...
An Angel at my Table (1990) – Jane Campion
The Piano (1993) – Jane Campion
The Portrait of a Lady (1996) – Jane Campion
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – Peter Weir
Living out loud (1998) – Richard La Gravenese, very moving and melancholy and starring two of my favourite actresses; Holly Hunter and Queen Latifah. Apparently based on two Chekhov novellas...hmmn.

I had a great time compiling this list when I should have been working, writing the first great Budapest novel (ha, ha).
These are all films I could happily watch over and over again.
Please feel free to comment on how pretentious, facile, superficial, banal, intelligent, well-read, well-versed, highly-educated I am and how there is an unforgivable paucity of American directors in my list.
You know me so well, after all.
...and anyway, I fart in your general direction, to quote a character in Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Budapest and paprika

Vegetables in Budapest can be pretty revolting.
If you don't believe me, pop into Tesco or the vile Spar and admire the piles of stinking potatoes, sprouting and greeny black, the soft, rotting onions, mildewed broccoli and cauliflower and wizened fehér répa (white carrot, not the same as parsnip at all.

In fact it's the oh-so-fashionable parsley root, although don't tell the nénik at Bosnyák tere market or they'll whoomp up the price).
Don’t even get me started on the sheer horror of fôzelék.
What other nation takes a delicious vegetable such as a pea, carrot, spinach leaf or even lentil and turns it into a thing of unspeakable horror?
Hungarian chefs have little respect or enthusiasm for vegetables.

A perfect example of this attitude is the fôzelék, a horrendous transformation of a healthy thing such as a plate of spinach into something inedible, a pappy mush for toothless invalids.
To make a fôzelék, you take fresh vegetables, such as spinach, French beans, peas and carrots, pumpkin, lentils, sóska (mouth-puckering sorrel); all delicious and packed with flavour and vitamins, not to forget the inherent fartable roughage.
Then boil it up to within an inch of its life for days and days so that every trace of goodness, texture or taste evaporates.
Mix up a good chunk of zsír (lard) and white refined flour and add a large dash of salt to create a nightmarish roux or rántás, which you add to the pulp.
Serve luke-warm with a greasy kolbász floating listlessly on top.

Where the Magyar redeems himself is in the garden market.
While pears and apples are best suited to damp countries like England and Belgium, the soft fruits of summer such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are divine and plentiful in the heat of the stifling, airless Karpát medence.
(The strawberries and raspberries are always rotting, oversized and tasteless but you can’t have everything).
The apples also are a nightmare; Jonatán should have been strangled at birth.
I’m not a fan of watermelon although Mr Drone comes from a family of magyar watermelon peasants stretching back as far as the Honfoglalás, so I have to get a football-sized slice down occasionally.
Perfect for inducing a dose of the runs, in my not-so-humble opinion.
The other great fruit is the Magyar tomato or paradiscom, which in Hungarian also significantly means ‘paradise’ (cf. the film 1492: the Conquest of Tomato) which in summer are so full of flavour they burst through their skins with sheer exuberance.
The paprika (bell pepper or capsicum, not the powder here) is the other great item of Hungarian food. TV paprika are so-called, not because they are snacks for couch potatoes, although they are that too, because they are tölteni való or ‘for stuffing’.
Fresh paprikas, bursting with vitality and Mittel Europa exuberance (an oxymoron if ever there was one) such as the squat, deep red pritamin paprika, knock the tasteless California peppers that shamelessly flood Europe, right out of the window and into the turds on the pavement.

Hungarians are still a little scared of eating their fruit and veg raw and often boil up tomatoes and peppers into lecsó, a stew that in a vague way resembles ratatouille, but without the courgettes, and the aubergines, and the garlic, and the culinary verve.
The photo shows some approximation of a Magyar TV paprika that I found in a Turkish corner shop in Bruxelles, in the beautiful main square of Forest/Vorst.
This is FourBees half-hearted homage to the Magyar paprika.
(It probably trundled all this way on a lorry direct from Bulgaria....)
A FourBees photo.
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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bjork goes beserk

Bjork by Dawn French

FourBees loves Bjork, the Vicar of Dibley is pretty cool too.
Please vote for June Whitfield for our next Queen of England.
Edina in Ab Fab: 'Inside me there's a thin person struggling to get out'
The mighty June Whitfield as the mother: 'Just the one, dear?'

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Banská Bystrica and Chaka Khan: the missing link

Chaka Khan & Rufus - Ain't Nobody

The greatest love song of all time from one of the best singers/live performers.
Chaka Khan is deeply underrated and underappreciated.
A bit like Slovakia, in a way...
The band is shit hot too.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Blackheads in Riga

Pockmarked beauties, scene one
Here is the beautiful House of the Blackheads in Riga.
I have a big buboe on the end of my elegant nose at the moment so I can empathise.
FourBees is buzzing all over the Baltics.