Sunday, 19 June 2011

Flea market heaven

The spring health regime is not complete without a spring wardrobe.
Having decided to take up jogging, tennis, healthy eating and Tai Chi, I knew exactly where I could purchase all the required items in the same location and for a very reasonable price too.
Budapest’s Józsefvárosi piac is known these days as the Chinese Market, from the large quantities of both goods and vendors that hail from the Far East. It is massive, now the biggest of all Budapest's market places.
The market can be found just past Kerepesi cemetery, behind the yard for Józsefvárosi railway station and is easy to reach by tram from Blaha Lujza tér.
If Budapest seems deserted on a Sunday morning, it is because most of the population has relocated to Józsefvárosi's acres of trading country, a mammoth site filled with endless lines of stalls, selling everything under the sun, but mostly trainers and sports wear.
There is no problem guessing which tram stop to alight at, since nearing the destination, a thousand varieties of the plastic super-strong Hong Kong laundry bag or those chemical hold-alls from Finland suddenly form a wall by the exit and petite Chinese grandmothers emerge from underneath and carry the load a few paces to the market's entrance.
The market's busy entrance even has a large sign in Chinese characters and there are also messages warning the visitor what is allowed and what not.
A grumpy security guard, dressed from head to toe in combat gear shows little interest when we pass through the metal detector and the accusatory whine starts up, 'It must be your umbrella' he says with little concern.
No sooner are we inside, than a money changer shouts "Hello, hello, dollar, mark" in my ear and waves a wad of green Bartóks at me.
Józsefvárosi is not the place to come for an antique watch or an undiscovered master.
The vendors here concentrate solely on new stuff, mostly clothing, and in large quantities.
Besides selling to the general public, the traders also provide many Budapest family stall holders with wholesale goods - mostly clothes.
Every sign shows two prices - egy and sok (‘one’ and ‘many’) - price for one unit or bulk buying.
A Vietnamese lady tells us that 'sok' means twenty 'nagyon szép' (‘very beautiful’) t-shirts or more, but unfortunately I reach my limit after ten pairs of black striped sports socks.
Working your way through the market requires strength, endurance and considerable patience.
A slow snake of customers winds its way along the narrow passage between stalls. This is made even more claustrophobic when it rains and sheets of plastic up above turn the passage into a tunnel.
A barrage of traders, dragging sharp, pointy trolleys in their wake continuously come the other way and the cries of ‘Vigyázz, vigyázz’ (‘watch out, watch out’) in a dozen different accents fill the air.
If you make it down to the far end you are rewarded with delicious smells which waft from the many food stalls that provide sustenance for those who spend their entire lives here.

The Gül Baba Turkish büfé makes an enticing meaty kebab for Ft300 - a pitta bread stuffed with meat, salad and a spicy sauce. Next door, a young boy is ladling an assortment of meat chunks, cabbage, noodles, mushrooms and what looks like seaweed into plastic bowls ready for reheating in the Kinai Büfé - Chinese eaterie. The third stall in the row, Nilus offers more Doner kebabs with Egyptian spices.
Diners stand at chin high stalls, trying to eat and not be mown down by traders pushing giant boxes on wheels. Many stand around smoking and chatting in this microcosm of human society.
The sound of Russian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Romanian, Serbian, Turkish, Chinese and Vietnami voices speaking their own languages as well as Hungarian creates a heady, exotic mixture.
Apart from one incident which was reportedly against heavy-handed security techniques, all the different nationalities appear to enjoy each others company and mix peacefully.
The trainers are on offer for ridiculously low prices, but a closer inspection reveals that many of the famous brand names have one or two letters different from the original, you can find tape-recorders by ‘Panasoanic’ and ‘Adiads’ jogging pants.
In the pouring rain, one customer asks the security guy where he bought his elegant long green plastic raincoat, which he wears over the regulation paramilitary outfit.
Between mouthfuls of kebab, the bouncers direct him to a stall nearby.
The market is the place to go for slippers, sports clothing, electrical goods, cheap T-shirts, jeans, pants, socks and sandals so you'll look like a local in the swimming pool.
There are many bargains among the clothes but no antique treasures or holiday souvenirs
We examine some black Adiads running shorts with bright yellow stripes around the leg.
They are only Ft1,000 but miles too big, ‘Nagyon szép, nagyon jó’ (‘very nice, very good’) insists the Chinese trader.
Józsefvárosi market is also a good place to find electrical goods.
Harassed Hungarian parents come here at weekends to buy their children the latest playground craze, the laser pens. ‘Both my sons have to have them,’ says a lady out shopping, ‘They aren't real lasers of course, for Ft1,500, but they are so popular now, I can't say no’.
Besides the pens, there are many versions of pocket computer games and food liquidizers on offer.
For more electrical goods, get back on the number 28 tram and head out to almost the end stop, where you find Kôbányi bazár, which used to be known by many as the Russian market, however it seems that now less traders come from such great distances and many have moved to Budapest.
Anya from Tblisi, Georgia has a stall selling electrical goods.
On offer is a plastic-looking juicer called Nushi. Made in China, it only costs Ft3,500, although it doesn't look like it would stand the strain of pulverizing too many carrots. Exotic looking and friendly, Anya she says she lives in Budapest now but brings the stuff over from Tblisi. When asked if this is legal, she shrugs, looks unconcerned and says, ‘Well, no not really’.
Near the entrance, which is guarded by a building with two-way mirrors and signs in four languages forbidding everything, an extended family of Romanians are having a party. It is Marius’s birthday and his mum Radika known as ‘the boss’, as she oversees many stalls down the right hand side of the market, has bought a big chocolate cake, which she slices up. Many customers are keen to buy a slice, but its only for family and friends. The group came from Nagyvárad but now live here in Budapest.
The birthday celebrations include a lethal plum pálinka, champagne, wine and cola, plus nibbles of pogácsa amongst the knickers and socks on display
The customers here seem quite poor, they stock up on clothes and household products, cleaning products and foods - packet soups, raisins and Turkish soap.
Many come from Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, all neighbouring countries by bus every day, it is a hard life and many of the older traders now appear to have given up and stay at home.
At one time, Kôbányai bazár was a good place to find unusual knick-knacks from Russia and Ukraine and resembled the lively market behind the cigarette factory in Debrecen. Nowadays, it seems to be all training shoes and tools. Long rows of covered stalls are regulated and there is no longer the heady excitement of the hunt for a treasure.
In the middle is the food area, the Csülök csarda (‘Pig’s Knuckle Inn’) and the Dudó ételbar offer Hungarian foods, breaded and fried things, and delicious-smelling home-made sausages, washed down with a fröccs (white wine spritzer) or a mulled wine in winter.
Down at the far right hand corner, traders lay out pieces of curtain on the ground and display carved wooden objects, more spare parts and metal clockwork children's toys that have seen better days.
The mixture of languages is more Slavic here, although we also hear Romanian, Romany and some Chinese amongst the Hungarian. The mixture is sometimes charming, ‘Eto nye kisci, eto bolshoi’ (‘this isn’t small, it’s big’) one elderly Russian lady insists when I say the jumper for Ft1,700 looks abit too tight under the arms.
A customer buys a haversack off Irina who comes every day from over the border in Ukraine on the coach. It is a hard life and now she has nothing to carry her goods home in.
She will have to sell everything a little cheaper to get rid of it today, she says.

Treasure hunters usually try the Ecseri market, situated half an hour's bus ride away in a distant suburb of south-east Budapest.
The market is fairly deserted during the week, but comes alive on Saturday when serious collectors mingle with tourists.
At Esceri you are less and less likely to find a bargain, the prices start in the thousands for beautifully-restored gramophone record players, china figurines, paintings and all manner of furniture.
Stalls selling jeans and leather jackets starting at Ft6,000 blend in with heaps of machinery spare parts, where a man with the lowest, smokiest voice in the world holds court and surprises German tourists when he croaks, ‘Tessék’ (‘can I help you?’).
Here, you can still find oddities like communist badges for Ft100, black and white picture postcards showing another, more elegant world.
Pleasures of the modern world are provided by the excellent lángos stall, where the hot doughy frisbees come with sour cream and grated cheese and the garlic liquid is dripped out of a jam jar using a feather strapped to a twig.
The stall in the middle of the covered section is also very popular for its pörkölt (stew) and palacsinta (pancake) selection.
Ecseri has a huge outdoor section where you can find all sorts of furniture, from chests of drawers, cupboards and cookers to bedsteads, chairs and lamp stands.
We even find a 12-inch bronze plaque of the late Lord Rothermere's father. ‘He was a great friend of the Hungarian people,’ says the trader when we inquire about the price.
For a less wallet-punishing Saturday morning, we head for the ‘flea market’ in Petôfi Csarnok (PeCsa), where hobbyists, collectors, traders gather at weekends. Until recently a lot of poor people also gathered outside on the vast concrete space, and sold goods laid out on the ground.
When the rules were tightened, the market shifted back inside the walls of the Petôfi Csarnok and those that couldn't afford the stall rental headed off somewhere where they did not have to pay rent, back to Hunyadi tér or the even more downtrodden Teleki tér.
With the individual traders now inside, both they and the customer have to pay a fee to get in.
PeCsa is a good place to find dinner plates, badges, children's toys and clothes.
On Friday afternoon there is no sign of the group of traders who gather in Hunyádi tér. Ildi néni says ‘I think it's disgusting the way the police kick these poor people out. Some people can't even buy a kilo of bread until they've sold something in the market. But the police don't let them sell here, because they don't pay any tax’.
Behind Oktogon, very poor people, scratching a living selling things scavenged from bins, other flea markets and allegedly a lot of stolen stuff, things taken from mum's sideboard or people's own personal property that they need to hawk for the price of a meal.
People trying to make a living this way, get moved on continually by the police.
The Batthány tér vendors, who mostly appeared to sell prescription drugs: packets of algopyrin (Magyar aspirin), contraceptives and dangerous looking heart pills, were moved on.
They went to the outside free part of PeCsa.
The ones that couldn't afford to move inside then went to Hunyadi tér and the really poor hang out in Teleki tér, where the homeless sit and drink from a communal giant Sprite bottle, oblivious to the lack of customer traffic in this area.
On Monday morning at 9am, a few people, all men stand around.
There are pieces of material on the muddy ground with a few squeezy plastic toys, electric cables and an odd left shoe. One trader Jenô says, ‘I come here most mornings, but don't sell much, mostly stuff that I find hanging around’.
He says he usually gets stopped by the police then gives up for the day, ‘I go to the market get some bread and something to drink then we sit around. That's free at least’.


Józsefvárosi piac - the ‘Chinese market’
Kôbányai út 16
Tram No 28 to one stop past Józsefvárosi station
Open: Mon—Fri 06—18
Sat—Sun 06—16

Kôbányai bazár
Maglódi út 18
Open- Mon—Fri 07—17
Sat—Sun 07—16
Tram no. 37 from Blaha Lujza tér, Népszínház út to Sibrik Miklós út

‘Ecseri’ - Használt cikk piac (‘used articles’ market)
XIX. Nagykôrösi út 156
Bus No. 54 from Boráros tér to Autópiac stop
Open: Mon-Fri 08—16; Sat 06—15; Sun 08—13

Petôfi Csarnok - bolha piac (‘flea market’)
Városliget (City Park)
Saturday and Sunday 07—14

VI. Hunyadi tér
M1 to Vörösmarty utca
not legal, so opening hours vary, mostly early morning.

Novak piac -Versény utca
Open at weekends

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Houdini was Hungarian

“The Genius of Escape who will Startle and Amaze!”

On 24 March 2011, Budapest could have celebrated the 137th anniversary of the birth of one of its most famous sons, except that few people know that the world’s greatest escapologist, Houdini was Hungarian.
Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weisz in Budapest on March 24, 1874, the third of five children born to Cecilia and her husband Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz.
Ehrich Weisz grew up to become Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist, illusionist, magician and self-promoter in the world. When Ehrich was four, the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Appleton, Wisonsin.
His father became the Rabbi in the town and later Houdini told everyone that he was born in Appleton, hoping that the public would accept him as an American.
However, family life in the new country was not very settled, the family had to move house often and Ehrich and the other children tried to help out financially.
The eight-year-old Ehrich took a paper round and also shined shoes. Ehrich’s passion for magic and showmanship originated from watching the performance of a travelling magician, Dr. Lynn.
In 1883, aged only nine, he first appeared on stage as ‘Ehrich, the Prince of the Air’ performing on the trapeze and also as a contortionist.
Three years later, he ran away to join a travelling circus and tried to build a career as ‘Eric the Great’.
When his family moved to New York, a year later, he moved back home.
After his father’s death in 1892, Ehrich took a number of menial jobs; as a messenger, an electrician’s assistant and as a locksmith’s apprentice, which was to prove invaluable training for his future escapologist profession. He also was very interested in physical fitness and won awards in athletics and swimming.
Aged 15, Ehrich read the autobiography by the French magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin.
The book changed his life.
As a tribute to his hero, he called himself ‘Houdini’ with the Hungarian style adjectival ‘i’ form meaning ‘Houdin-like’, and started performing magic shows for $12 a week.
In 1892, Houdini formed a double act with his brother Ferencz, who had changed his name to Theo and later performed under the name Hardeen. The Houdini Brothers first performed the ‘Metamorphosis Illusion’ at Coney Island, Houdini repeated this trick more than 11,000 times during his career.
In June 1892, while working at Coney Island, in June 1894, Houdini met his future wife, Bess, a singer and dancer with the Floral Sisters.
They were married two weeks later and Bess replaced Theo in the double act, which then became known as The Houdinis.
The couple worked for P.T. Barnum’s museum, for circuses, at fairs and even on Native American reservations.
Houdini did complicated card tricks but mainly concentrated on broadening his repertoire of extraordinary escape stunts. Houdini developed the ‘handcuff challenge’ act, offering $100 to anyone in the audience if they could produce a pair of handcuffs he couldn’t get out of, he never had to pay out.
However, Houdini’s target of fame and fortune still eluded him.
Houdini’s luck changed when he met the top booking agent, Martin Beck. Beck put him as headliner on the vaudeville Orpheum tour, where Houdini concentrated on escapes and illusions, with one attention-grabbing novelty act.
In each city, that the Orpheum vaudeville show visited, Houdini got the police to lock him up in the city jail and then he would escape, with great publicity. His weekly wage packet immediately doubled to $125.
In 1900, the Houdinis sailed to London for their first tour of Europe. Houdini grabbed the public’s attention with daredevil stunts such as escaping from handcuffs in Scotland Yard, jumping into the river Seine with handcuffs on and emerging from the waters without them.
Houdini soon became a star and the highest paid entertainer in Europe.
The couple returned to New York and bought a home there.
Houdini was mentally, as well as physically, very strong.
One of his favourite catchphrases was “My brain is the key that sets me free.”
He devised more and more outlandish stunts and ever more ingenious methods of escaping. He escaped from padded cells, death row cells, coffins, sunken packing crates, a enormous paper bag which remained intact, a roll-top desk, burglar-proof safes, a giant football, an iron boiler, a diving suit, a mail bag, a plate glass box, and one of the most unusual, a preserved giant squid!
Combining his early training in swimming and as a locksmith, Houdini astounded the public by jumping into San Francisco Bay with a 75-pound ball and chain shackled to his ankles plus handcuffs on his wrists.
He emerged unscathed.
In New York he escaped from a weighted packing case dropped into the East River, and repeated the stunt nightly in a huge tank in a theatre in town.
When he went on tour, Houdini knew how to attract attention and draw crowds to his shows. Before the evening performance, he would escape from a straight jacket while suspended by a rope from a high building above the gathering crowd.
Houdini returned to London many times and there, in 1914, created the famous ‘Chinese water torture cell’ act, in which he was dangled upside down by his feet in a locked tank of water.
As Houdini’s fame grew, so did his stunts. One illusion, ‘Jenny the Vanishing Elephant’ was the world’s largest and needed a special gigantic stage at the New York Hippodrome.
An all-round entertainer, Houdini also acted in silent thriller movies, and produced several films with himself as the lead.
In 1926, Houdini began a crusade against spiritualists and mediums, whom he considered charlatans, out to swindle grieving families of their money. He testified before a congressional committee investigating spiritualists.
Houdini performed a series of death-defying stunts such as swallowing needles and threat and then pulling them from his mouth and lying underwater in a sealed casket for 90 minutes, breaking the world record.
However, it was ironic that his untimely death came as the result of a seemingly minor problem, appendicitis.
On October 22, 1926, Houdini was preparing for a show at the Princess Theatre in Montreal when a student from McGill University asked if he was strong enough to withstand a punch in the stomach.
Houdini tightened his stomach muscles and a young man hit him three times, causing his appendix to burst. At the time, Houdini didn’t realise what had happened and continued the tour, despite great pain.
Nine days later, after performing at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit, Houdini collapsed and died from peritonitis aged only 52. The date was October 31 – Halloween.
Despite Houdini’s distaste for spiritualism, to this day people still hold séances in an attempt to contact the great escapologist, and the first international superstar of the 20th century.

(first published in 2004 in The Budapest Sun)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Miksa Róth - genius of stained glass

Walking through the rooms in the apartment where Miksa Róth once lived is a strange experience, as the man who spent his life making stunning stained glass windows and intricate mosaics in a myriad colours, apparently chose to live in surroundings that were entirely in shades of brown.
The bedroom, dining room and living room where the Róth family resided in Nefelejcs utca near Keleti Station have been preserved and restored to show visitors exactly how life was at the turn of the century.
Róth’s work can be seen in other rooms and the vivid colours, patterns and luscious designs of the glasswork and mosaics contrast with his day to day living conditions, the browns and beiges of the flocked wallpaper, tables, chairs, curtains and bed linen.
”After 10 years of expert work and dedication I think we can finally say we have a home worthy of the name of Miksa Róth,” said Mihály Ráday, head of the City Protection Association at the opening of the memorial house and museum.
Zoltán Szabó, Mayor of District VII said the collection contained “unparalleled value” but that more financial support would be needed to achieve the dream of creating a stained glass centre.
Born in 1865, Miksa Róth was 19 years old when he took over his father Zsigmond’s workshop and the craft of glass painting was still in its infancy. In 1855 English glass workers succeeded in creating an "antique glass" effect.
This coloured glass was suitable for the repair and restoration of the windows of medieval churches, as well as for decorating the new romantic, and the historically eclectic designs. By 1880, workshops were sprouting up in the capital, the most significant of which belonged to Miksa Róth, who at the turn of the century was providing work for 10 trainees, working on both public and private building commissions.

Miksa Róth’s first significant work was in 1886 in Máriafalva (Mariasdorf, Austria) where Imre Steindl was leading the reconstruction of the Roman Catholic church.
Earlier Róth had studied the stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals on a tour of Europe.
During the reconstruction of many other national monuments, Róth designed Gothic stained glass windows at Keszthely for the reconstruction of the Roman Catholic church led by Samu Pecz (architect of the main market hall in Budapest) in 1896.
In Budapest, you can see examples of his beautiful work in the Gresham Palace (now the newly opened Four Seasons hotel), the Agricultural Museum, the Music Academy and the Andrássy Dining
Room amongst many others. The plans for the stained glass windows of the Parliament building were
prepared in 1890. Róth took into account both the staircase’s light source and the building’s interior decoration, and decided to use the Grotesque style originating from the Renaissance period.
Reflecting the multi-coloured nature of Hungarian architecture at the turn of the century, Róth created windows in many styles: Historic, Hungarian Secession, Art Nouveau, Jugenstil and Viennese Secession.

Róth’s craft was given a new inspiration when he saw the "opalescent" and "favril" glass made by Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose display at the 1893 Chicago World Trade Fair, entitled Four Seasons featured shimmering,
iridescent colours and an immediately popular natural marbling effect of the glass.
Róth was also influenced by the work of the English pre-Raphaelite artists, in particular Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. In 1897, Miksa Róth bought a collection of opalescent glass from the Hamburg
glass painter Karl Engelbrecht, and began to regularly order glass from his factory.
At the 1898 Budapest Museum of Applied Arts’ Christmas Exhibition Róth displayed glass windows prepared using a type of Tiffany glass, seen for the first time in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Róth won the silver medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 with the Pax and Rising Sun mosaics made with opalescent glass.
The Róth workshop then made a large number of stained glass windows with floral designs, whose success could be attributed to the nostalgia felt by people living then in large cities for the lost world of nature.
In Budapest the stairwells and lifts were brightened up with luxuriant gardens in place of the drab partition walls and dark corridors.
Middle class citizens even decorated their parlours with the symbolic motives of flowers: Irises, lilies, sunflowers, poppies and roses, birds such as peacocks and swans, and fauns, nymphs, fairies and female figures frolicking in gardens, arbours and riverbanks to recall the lost period of the Golden Age.
One of Róth’s most significant creations using opalescent glass was for cupola of the Teatro Nacional in Mexico City, which he carried out according to designs by Géza Maróti.With this work he showed details of geometric design of the Jugenstil and Viennese Secession which he also used in windows for Bank Building (1905 Ignác Alpár), the Gresham Palace (1907 Zsigmond Quittner and József Vágó) and the Music Academy (1907 Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl) . Róth worked with many of the best architects, builders and designers of the time.

For Ödön Lechner's magnificent Post Office Savings Bank building, Róth created an unusual mosaic, embedded into cement. In 1910, Róth created the gorgeous windows of the Culture Palace in Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures in Romania). In the Hall of Mirrors, scenes from traditional Székely fairy tales, ballads and legends are featured in the 12 stained glass windows which fill the entire length of the long hall. It is worth a visit to Marosvásárhely alone to stand among these magical and colourful designs.
Róth worked for a long time in conjunction with two artists from the Gödöllô artists’ settlement, Sándor Nagy and Aladár Kriesch Körösfôi. Together they created the Hungarian Secession style windows for the National Salon and the windows and mosaics for the Hungarian House in Venice. For the
Marosvásárhely Culture House triptych, also based on Nagy’s designs, Róth used a special medieval technique, employing thick leading and strong lines. From the 1920s Róth mainly received commissions from the Church and State.
He died in 1944 after a lifetime of bringing joy and colour to the world with his beautiful creations.

Miksa Róth’s apartment/museum- Róth Miksa Emlékház
VII. Nefelejc utca 26
Open: Tues-Sun 2pm-6pm
Tel: 341 6789