New Years Eve, Budapest-style:
We went to Kincsem Park for the New Year’s Eve horse races. The park is out in the city hinterlands, in an area dotted with enormodrome stadia and suburban retail developments. When we arrived, the park was empty and freezing, freezing. Through the grand Hapsburg-era entrance, where a ragtime-ish brass band played, there were more signs of life; hot wine, beer tents and sausage stands meant it must be party time.
Thousands of Budapestis arrived in dribs and drabs to watch rag-tag cart racing, show off their ski suits, neck beer picnics and catch of glimpse of Overdose, a 5 million euro thoroughbred and the day’s main attraction.
We supped expensive beakers of hot wine, exclaimed at the cold, caught the drips running off our noses and retired for curry and beer towards teatime.
Tuning into the grammar of the way that other places celebrate is bewildering. In the run up to New Year, we tried to gauge the flavour of New Year, Hungarian-style from the festive paraphenalia being shilled by street corner stalls: cardboard trumpets, streamers festooned with cartoon pigs, hole punch confetti and halloween masks. It all made a pretty incomprehensible sort of sense as we found ourselves in Vörösmarty Square towards midnight where I had to shush my Mother Hen-ish instincts as several different kinds of carnage went off all at once.
I guess we were expecting some kind of PG-rated civic fireworks display, Health and Safety checked and set to some bombastic classical standard, Rendőrség-tolerated street drinking and sausage vendors.
What we got was a fireworks free-for-all; every have-a-go Dad in the city seemed to come with their personal gunpowder stash and deployed their arsenal in the clearing outside Gebeaud.
Kids blew trumpets, the brave waved firecrackers, students conga’d and we – ever utterly susceptible to all kinds of carnivalesque public disorder – joined in, self-administering cherry brandy and 535 HUF (1.94 GBP) fizzy wine until it all got too much, and we beat a retreat first to a bar and then, toting Pom Bears, home.