Victorino Matus, big spender.Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By VICTORINO MATUS
Have you ever had two dinners in one night? I did, more than 20 years ago, in Budapest. My buddy Todd and I had gone backpacking through Europe, hitting 11 cities in 30 days. As students, we were careful not to overspend, staying at pensions and hostels and crashing at my former host family’s house in Germany. By the time we reached Budapest, our last stop, we’d saved more money than we’d anticipated. We were also tired of living on the cheap, so we decided to stay at a three-star hotel (for $50 a night) and, on a whim, ate twice in one evening.
The first meal was at a place called Pizza Jazz. As I recall, the pizza was decent, but not quite filling. Luckily, across the way was a Dairy Queen. That’s right—a mere five years after the fall of communism, Hungarians already had access to banana split blizzards. And how can anyone resist a blizzard? Of course, I’d forgotten DQ also serves burgers and fries, and I couldn’t help wondering if they tasted the same as they do back home. (They did.)
Admittedly, the image of two American tourists with nothing better to do than have a double dinner seems a bit decadent—especially in those environs. But we didn’t care. The exchange rate at the time was extremely favorable to the dollar. In fact, by the second day, it dawned on us that we had converted more of our money into forints than we should have—and they’d be worth so little in dollars that transferring them back was pointless. This is when our trip turned into Brewster’s Millions. We had more money than we could spend and not enough time to spend it.
So we abandoned the fast food (up to then, our culinary adventures had included Burger Kings in Munich and Paris and Pizza Hut in Prague) and hit the city’s finer dining establishments. We ate like Habsburg emperors, although the only dish I still remember is a goose leg platter. The comedian Larry Miller once mentioned his father’s sage advice to be a decent tipper, “but don’t tip like a gangster.” Well, we tipped like Al Capone and John Gotti. Everywhere we went, the Hungarians were gracious. At one place, called the Apostolok restaurant, our waiter was so grateful to get our business that when we visited a second night, he shoved aside his colleague who was just about to seat us. “Gentlemen, so good to see you again!” I recall him saying, or words to that effect (few of the locals we encountered spoke much English).
A few days later, we were headed back to Vienna, where I was studying and Todd would take a plane back to the United States. I remember sitting on the train with a slight sense of defeat, having failed to spend all my forints. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have wasted so much time in the hotel room watching reruns of The A-Team and Hardcastle & McCormick in German.) A few moments later, Todd entered the train car carrying something large, wrapped in paper. “A gift,” he told me, with a big smile on his face: a white Hungarian beer stein. It was enormous, unwieldy, and, frankly, not that attractive. He gave one of his sinister laughs, knowing he had triumphed by outspending me. And the last thing I needed was to try to stuff a giant beer mug into my 70-pound backpack bursting mostly with dirty laundry.
The unfolding crisis in Greece reminded me of this adventure. “First Sighting of Drachma in the Wild, Via Credit-Card Mystery,” ran the headline at Bloomberg Business: A reporter in Greece noticed on his credit card statement an expense not in euros but in that country’s retired currency. The episode was ultimately blamed on a technical glitch, but many wondered how a currency conversion would play out. The answer is not well. The drachma would be worth approximately half the value of the euro. Add to this spending levels that have already plummeted because of limited cash flow. Indeed, about the only people to benefit might be the tourists, whose dollars and euros (or drachmas) are desperately needed.
I’ve never been to Greece so I don’t have any drachmas on me. But in the event another European country decides to exit the euro, I do have a fair number of lira, guilders, pesos, francs, marks, and schillings, not to mention a giant wad of yet-to-be-retired Hungarian forints. During my backpacking days, I kept all these currencies in an oversized wallet I wore under my shirt (a variation on the money belt). Today, they can be found in my parents’ house, on a bookshelf in my old bedroom. They’re all crammed into a giant Hungarian beer stein.
8:14 AM, Jul 13, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
As he has for much of his post-presidency, Bill Clinton was on the road again in June, traveling to Europe at the end of the month for various conferences and other public appearances. After a few days in London, the president popped over to Paris for a day or two to shop at Hermès, a well-known luxury boutique. Such trips, however, do not come cheap. Hotel contracts for the president's Secret Service team for the Paris leg of the trip alone came to over $48,000.
4:29 PM, Jul 5, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The vote in Greece is running 60 percent “No” on the terms of its creditors. The same experts who had been predicting a close vote will now explain why it was a runaway in favor of … well, who knows. But count on the usual confident voices to sort it all out.
1:42 PM, Jul 3, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will not find a home in France. The French government has announced today it will not grant asylum to the fugitive.
"France has received the letter from Mr Assange. A closer examination shows that given the legal elements and the material situation of Mr. Assange, France can not act on its request. The situation of Mr Assange presents no immediate danger. He is also the subject of a European arrest warrant," the French government writes in a statement released by the Elysee Palace.
5:42 PM, Jun 30, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The crisis in Greece remains … a crisis. After five years, during which time everyone who was paying attention said it was a crisis. And, of course, the crisis went unresolved.
The fabulous destiny of Saïd Arif.11:42 AM, Jun 12, 2015 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
The new novel Les Événements (The Events), by the French author Jean Rolin, tells the tale of a France that has descended into a chaotic and multifaceted civil war involving jihadist, nationalist and Marxist militias, in various and fluctuating combinations, as well as remnants of the regular army.
9:43 PM, Jun 6, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
The boss marks the D-Day anniversary with Ronald Reagan's words (and more!):
12:00 AM, May 30, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
There is an important difference between European and American appetites, in addition to those for fast foods: risk taking. “Investments in Start-Ups Pick Up Pace,” reports the New York Times after surveying the high-tech financing scene here in America. “Europe Struggles to Foster a Startup Culture,” reports the Wall Street Journal. It seems that in contrast with “multiple rounds of fund-raising [in the U.S.] in months, rather than years,” Europeans are “valuing prudence … and leisure time over flamboyant risk-taking.”
The 'Thatcher Effect' in action.8:35 AM, May 8, 2015 • By DOMINIC GREEN
Friday morning, David Cameron returned to Downing Street as Britain's prime minister. After a campaign of unsurpassed tedium, the General Election came alive last night with the first exit poll, and a Conservative victory out of nowhere. For weeks, the incumbent Conservatives and the Labour opposition had been neck and neck.
7:21 AM, May 7, 2015 • By MICHAEL MAKOVSKY
Friday marks the seventieth anniversary of Victory in Europe, or V-E, Day, when the Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender after six long years of war. No one should have savored that day in 1945 more than Winston Churchill, the wartime British prime minister.
Europe’s migrant crisis. May 4, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 32 • By DOMINIC GREEN
Springtime in the Mediterranean: The skies are clear, the waters are calm, and the migrants are drowning. In 2014, the U.S. Border Patrol estimated that 307 people died while being smuggled into the United States from Mexico. So far this year, more than 1,650 people have drowned as they attempted to cross Europe’s most porous and dangerous border, the Mediterranean. In 2014, the Border Patrol “rescued” 509 migrants along the Mexican border.
5:55 PM, Apr 20, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Bill de Blasio is trying to insert himself into the foreign policy arena. The New York City mayor, more specifically, has commented on the deaths of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
"Drowning deaths off Libya are a man-made tragedy. EU must get serious about tackling the problem at the root and caring for those at home," de Blasio says on Twitter.
7:45 AM, Apr 6, 2015 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
As reported by the Austrian daily Der Standard, some fifty Bosnian soccer fans broke into a chant of “Kill, kill the Jews!” during a pro-Palestinian rally in Vienna’s central Saint Stephan’s Square last week. The incident appears to have occurred on Tuesday, when the Bosnian national team was in town for a match against the Austrian team.