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Month: September 2004

Budapest: the changing city

By the river in BudapestI first visited Budapest some five years ago. Like this visit, it was a brief, two day stay on business. By coincidence I stayed in the same hotel both times, and the walkway between the river and the hotel became something of a marker for the progress in the city in that half decade. That walk, photographed last week, is on the right. (Click on image for a larger version.)

Back in 1999, the city was in the throes of opening itself up to outside investment for the first time. Human nature being what it is, the locals found every possible means of extracting money from people. I first became aware of this while flicking through the hotel magazine, and finding the back half of it stuffed with extremely unsubtle adverts for prostitutes.

The prevalence of the city’s sex trade became obvious at the end of my first day there, when another journalist and I excused ourselves from post-dinner drinks in a restaurant in the city centre and walked along the river back to the hotel. Every five yards down that walk, we were propositioned. I was shocked, embarrassed and angered in turn. (I was much more callow five years ago than I am now.) The journalist walking with me, a man well into his middle age, was delighted and then disappointed, when he realised that he’d brought precious little money with him. It was just as well. Bringing back an STD as a souvenir of a work trip is almost certainly no fun at all.

Five years on, the scene had changed. The whoreverts had disappeared from the hotel magazine, and in all the city literature I could find, bar that given out by taxi touts at the airport and the official welcome pack from the city we got in our delegate bags. Clearly, the market has evolved. Minimise the street tarts, and target the wealthy businessmen who catch taxis and attend conferences. The evening certainly reinforced that impression. I sat outside the hotel, happily enjoying a beer in the surprisingly mild evening air, and noticed that there wasn’t a single prostitute in sight. In an hour’s observation, the only vaguely suspicious types were a couple of (fully-dresssed) young women who were lingering outside the hotel to the mixed amusement and annoyance of the doormen.

Five years. Long enough to gentrify the sex trade.

Incredible views of a Fantastic Four

sept04suestorm.jpgNice piece on the slightly disturbing reaction of some comics industry professionals to the casting of the Fantastic Four movie:Comment: Film Four

In particular, the released image of Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, has created a buzz of commentary, so of which borders on the offensive. I’ve thoughtfully added the image to this post, for the reference of discerning readers considering the issues.

Comics artist and writer John Byrne said this about it:

Personal prejudice: Hispanic and Latino women with blond hair look like hookers to me, no matter how clean or ‘cute’ they are.

There’s far too much wrong in that one sentence for anyone’s liking, I suspect.

Still Alive

Yes, I am still alive. The recent silence is the result of an insanely busy week and a half, which has left me not one single free evening in the whole of that time. I hope to be getting on with some of the Budapest pics and thoughts later on this evening.

In the meantime, it appears that I lost a reader, for DavidH says the following in a Casino Avenue comment:

Yes, ‘One Man’ does seem to have got a bit side-tracked from his usual decent standards with his fancy for the right to kill. Shame really – that’s one bookmark less.

To be honest, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t want to read this anymore simply because I expressed a viewpoint different to your own, well, farewell. You won’t be missed. Democracy is about debate, about discussion of opposing viewpoints and about trying to understand other people’s viewpoints. I’m not writing this merely to reinforce people’s existing beliefs and I hold the ability to listen to others to be at least as important as the ability to express your own views.

Tired, busy and about to fly

Wow. Some conferences are really tightly scheduled. This was one of them. I’ve only had a couple of hours free in the last 48 hours to explore the city at all, and I spent most of it taking photos. They’ll have to wait until I get back to Britain. I’ll try to get a few up this evening, but don’t hold your breath.

I don’t know. When did they decide that conferences overseas should be work?