Welcome to Budapest
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
I am in Hungary, the land of my maternal ancestors, for the Budapest EPT. I was delighted when this new stop was announced on the European Poker Tour, as I have always wanted to see the place where half my grandparents came from and (shamefully, if predictably) it took a card game to get me here.
Sometimes I feel like the amazing locations on the poker tour are wasted on gamblers. We fly off to Barcelona, Baden or Dublin, and spend our whole time playing cards in darkened rooms or watching TV movies in the hotel. I go home thinking I might as well have been in Luton. This time I’m really making an effort to leave the casino and get a feel for the place. I’ve already crossed the river from Pest into Buda and walked round the castle, got lost in a few streets, bought a tin of paprika, had a drink in a curious underground bar with graffiti on the wall and Karma Chameleon on the stereo. I was barely off the plane before I was eating a strudel of goose, cabbage and cranberry. (Starter, main course and pudding all wrapped up in one handy 18,000-calorie parcel.) Some people might consider that a weird meal, but it’s exactly the kind of thing my grandma used to make. Even the language (which differs from English surely more than any other in Europe?) is ringing distant bells from the old grandparental home in Stanmore.
But still, Hungary (like L.P. Hartley’s past) is a foreign country and they do things differently there. Gender relations are a little more old-fashioned than I’m used to.
This morning, PokerStars had a press conference and I lined up in a little row with a selection of male players - Marcin Horecki from Poland, Denes Kalo from Hungary, and the local guys who run the casino. They were all asked various questions about their confidence as they start the tournament, their best previous results and so on. When the compere reached me, I wasn’t quite expecting the question I got.
“You look like Kate Winslet”, he generously began. “Do you have any secret weapons - apart from the breasts?”
Jeez, I didn’t really mind. I’ve been playing poker a long time; I’ve had worse. But not usually from an official interviewer. When the conference finished, the interpreter was sweet enough to apologize for having to translate that question.
“It’s like women’s lib never happened”, laughed a friend of mine.
“In Hungary”, said the interpreter, “it didn’t.”