Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last 5 Books...

By Pauly
New York City

I've been on a reading binge again...
Last 5 Books I Purchased...
1. Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
2. The Swing Voter of Staten Island (The Five Books of Moses) by Arthur Nersesian
3. Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine by Jonathon Schanzer
4. Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with the Grateful Dead by Steve Parish
5. Garcia: A Signpost To New Space by Charles Reich and Jann Wnner

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Couple of Work Pics

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

My biggest regret when I head out to Las Vegas for work, especially for the World Series of Poker, is that I focus all of my attention on the Tao of Poker and making deadlines for freelance clients that the content suffers on my other sites particularly... Tao of Pauly. It's an extremely frustrating thing that I must endure and weather.

Anyway, Michalski took some photos the last few days. I want to share two with you.

Working in media row with Otis, Jen, and Fipchip

With Lou the Dealer

A couple of us had been betting on which poker dealer would deal the final and winning hand of the WSOP broadcast on ESPN. There were three or four selected for the final table including Lou (pictured above). Michalksi actually picked Lou and his friend Linda. I had the other two dealers. I lost.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pest > Buda > Pest > NYC

By Pauly
New York City

Here's a story about my last day in Budapest...

On Sunday morning around the to 8am hour, I cleared out dozens of empty beer bottles left over from the party. I aired out the apartment and the brisk air chilled the room and eradicated the smokey leftovers from a long evening of spliffs and cigarettes. It was finally time for sleep. I crashed for a couple of hours. Might have been my best sleep in Budapest. I probably had less than 20 over the week. I could have slept a bit longer but forced myself to wake up and write.

I wandered downstairs to Vamhaz street and was taken aback at the isolation of my neighborhood. Almost empty for a Sunday late morning. Quiet. The Burger King was open and empty. I wandered around the corner to the cafe. I ordered a ham and cheese panini (which was bad) and drank orange juice (which was food). I walked across the Szabadsag bridge into Buda. It was hot. Over 65 degrees and I slid my jacket off my torso. I slung it over my shoulder and smoked a spliff on the bridge. Within minutes, I stepped foot on the other side of the river in Buda. I was at the southern part of Gellert-Hegy (Gellert Hill) which included the Citadella. The top of the hill included breathtaking views of the cities below and the Danube winding its way through the land.

I made my way along a path to Rock Kapolna or the Rock Church that was carved out inside the massive mini-mountain. The church was empty aside from a couple of tourists. I sat down in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary which seemed to be illuminated from all angles by a warm glow. I glanced at the rugged ceiling. Rock. All around us. A church carved inside the rock. Pews. Bibles. Altar. Candles. My eyes focused at a massive crucifix that hung over the altar with Jesus impaled on the wood structure. It was almost life size and the face wailed in agony.

Flashbacks bombarded me about my upbringing. Dozen years in Catholic grammar school. The Jesuits in high school. The nuns. The priests. All those Sunday mornings as an altar boy. I tried to recall the last time I was inside a church. Barcelona last year with Nicky? There was a church around the corner from out flat in El Born. No wait, it was the famous La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Spain and churches seem to go together. I never expected to be in a church in Hungary. On a Sunday of all days.

I tried to remember the last time I was inside a church on a Sunday. I couldn't. When was the last time I even went to regular Sunday mass? Sure, there might have been a random Christmas mass but I'm not an avid churchgoer, or even an occasional one. I stopped going when I stopped being an altar boy after the 8th grade ended and I headed to high school. The Jesuits forced us into the church on Park Avenue during high school for various ceremonies. Aside from weddings and funerals and 9/11 memorial services, churches are not usually on my list of places to visit.

I sat in the rock chapel. It was musty and hot. I sweated profusely and had a brief conversation. I talked towards the crucifix over the altar. Perhaps I was talking to myself or the higher being, whether it's God or not. Who knows? The conversation was brief. For months and years, I have been on a journey of self-discovery. I have done a lot of soul searching particularity over the last couple of month. I was in search of answers and some sort of clues to elevating myself to the next level. I had always hoped that the next stop on my rigorous travel itinerary would lead me to a moment of clarity or inspiration. That necessarily did not happen. Rather, it was a confession of sorts but more of a clarification of forgiveness. I had not to a formal confession to a priest in over a decade. Maybe two? That's a lot of sinning. A lot of intense Catholic guilt clogged up my intestines. Old school confessional look like toilet stalls for a reason. You take a immoral dump and the penance that the priest gives you is a piece of toilet paper to wipe your ass clean.

I said my piece... I know that I'm a fuck up and made plenty of mistakes, too many to count. But in the end, it's all about forgiveness and compassion. A little of Jesus and a little of Buddha. I made promise to myself that I'll do a better job improving my karma over the next few months. That will be one of the many objectives as I formulate a plan for the next 3-6 months.

For a moment, I stopped sweating. I left the church with a semblance of inner peace. It didn't come without a price. Forgiveness isn't free. I slipped a donation in the box and even gave a bum in front of the rock church a couple of forints.

I decided to walk up to the top of the Citadel. There were numerous paths... some conventional and others off the main route. As like most of my life, I opted for the path less traveled and avoided the main pathway that was cluttered with tourists from all over the world. I mean, we all end up at the same destination. I'd just rather take an alternative route, see something different, and get a little lost along the way. It's a lot more interesting and a heck of a lot more original. That decision to wander around set the tone for the rest of the day as I actively chose to get lost and wander the hills and streets of Buda.

I made my way to a graffiti ridden wall. I paused for a second, wiped the sweat from my bald spot, and snapped a photo. A small kid wandered up to me with a Gatorade bottle that was filled with water. He could have been seven or eight and spoke in Hungarian. He stopped bothering me as soon as I said, "Sprechen sie Deutsches?" I guess he didn't like Germans. I was left alone to take photos and wander.

I sat down on a bench right after a steep climb up a wooden stepway. I was winded. All those cigarettes and spliffs killed my lungs. I wiped a stream of sweat from my forehead and realized that we were really high up on the hill. I could see the Danube raging below but the Citadel was still a bit farther of a hike. I wasn't on a set schedule. I jotted down some notes and wrote for a bit while I caught my breath.

The Citadel was packed with tourists. A couple of buses arrived and people trickled off each bus. Some headed for the souvenir carts others stood in odd places and took photos. I waited my turn to snap a couple of pics of the Danube. I realized that thousands if not millions of people have stood in the same spot and snapped the same fuckin' photo of the Danube below. In fact, I recently saw one that a friend took. In fact, two friends took a very similar pic when I checked out their Budapest photo galleries shortly before my visit.

I wandered away from the herd and took off down another side path that was empty. I quickly found myself surround by trees. I walked for a couple of minutes before I saw anyone else. An elderly couple passed by me. I stopped and looked up at all the tall trees. A breeze whipped through and the golden leaves began to flutter down from the brittle branches. It was snowing shades of yellow as leaves gently wafted down and all around. I took my time and walked down from the massive hill. I got lost again and didn't care. I took more photos and stopped occasionally to jot down a note or two.

I found myself at the edge of the Erzsebet bridge. I almost considered crossing but realized that I liked the vibe of Buda more than Pest. I stayed in Buda and wandered along that side of the Danube. I felt very fortunate to have a leisurely Sunday stroll along the Danube. A tinge of loneliness fell over me. I usually have that during solitary moments of cool because there were plenty of times I thought about how certain friends or Nicky or Derek would enjoy the things I saw or the places I had been. At the same time, I thought about everyone who was in Budapest covering the assignment with me who were on planes at the exact moment and heading back to their homes in different countries. I was lucky because I had that extra day to enjoy the sites of Buda instead of rushing out.

I made my way to Moszkva Terrace and sat at an outdoor cafe. It was filled mainly with tourists. I wrote a bit. Inside near the bar, a TV aired the NYC marathon on the EuroSport channel. I lost time and realized that it was mid-afternoon. The sun would be going down soon. I was tired from all the walking and fatigued from late night parties two evenings in a row. I said good-bye to Buda and walked over to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. After a quick tour of that area, I grabbed the tram back into Pest. I knew it would be taking me near where I lived but didn't know exactly where. I didn't bring my guidebook with me. I had a detailed street map but it didn't have tram lines. I decided to wing it.

I love riding the trams in Amsterdam and I did the same in Pest. I cranked up my iPod and I watched people and checked out streets that I had never seen before let alone knew existed. I got off one stop earlier than I should have. That was fine. I wandered through the Jewish quarter until I found my neighborhood.

I went upstairs and took a long hot shower. I let the day sink in. Wandering a city that I had never been before. It's one of my favorite things to do in life. There are so many more I'd like to see. Such little time. Maybe I'll get to explore more in the upcoming months.

I did my football picks and took a nap. I woke up an hour later when I was bit by something on the elbow. Mosquito? Spider? I wandered outside and grabbed a plate of chicken paprika. I thought about finding a bar that aired football games but decided against it. I had to clean up the apartment. I had to pack. I could have wandered around some more, but I wanted to spent my last evening writing with the windows open. I had a ton of work to catch up on, but that would have to wait until I returned to the States. Work will always be there, but I probably will never set foot in Hungary or Budapest ever again. I tapped into the vibe. The source. Finally. And I didn't want to let those waters of inspiration run dry. Maybe they would follow me for the rest of my journey. Sometimes, I lose it and wonder when it will ever pop up again. That's why I keep moving forward until I stumble upon another pool.

I stayed up as long as I could and fell asleep for a couple of minutes sitting at my laptop. My fingers were too tired and making too many keystroke mistakes. I decided to stop and take a shower. The sun was up. I was out of cigarettes and vitamins. I finished packing and began to upload photos. The door bell rang. It was my ride to the airport. I went down to the Hungarian woman who was my landlady. She did not speak English and only Hungarian and German. I figured out that she wanted to know if I made any long distance calls. I told her, "Nein." She gave me my deposit back and I left the building.

My driver got me to the airport in less than twenty minutes. The check-in line took longer than I wanted. Immigration and security were a breeze. I exchanged the rest of my forints. I ate a croissant and an iced tea. I realized that I wouldn't get back to NYC until Monday night and that the only meal I'd get would be from Delta. I made a bee-line for the cafe and bought a chicken/cheddar cheese cibatta sandwich.

My flight was not packed... about 80% full. There was a baby nearby that cried at the beginning but kept quiet the rest of the flight. There was a group of women sitting behind me. Americans. From upstate New York. Loud. They wouldn't shut up. About thirty of them. A few sat in the front of the plane so there was always a steady stream of old ladies walking back into my section. I popped two Xannies. Whenever I'd drift off to sleep, I'd get elbowed by one of the ladies as they constantly walked back and forth.

The Bose headphones could not drown out their incessant chatter. I nearly punched one of them out when they were filling out custom forms.

"How do you spell scarves?" one shrieked. "Is it with an F or with a V-E?

She repeated that phrase every five seconds for twenty minutes straight.

Delta did not have that hip individual entertainment center and TV in front of you like KLM, JetBlue, and Quantas. I was forced to watch Get Smart again. I fell asleep in the theatre when I sawGet Smart the first time with Nicky in the summer. It wasn't a very good flick. I watched the end of it when I flew to Amsterdam and I had to sit through it on my flight to Budapest and again on the way home. They also showed a bad Brendan Fraser flick (I think it was called Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Mama Mia. The old ladies would not shut up about Mama Mia. I was out of drugs and thin on patience. The flight could not get back to America sooner.

The meal was blah. Rubbery lasagna. The dessert was some sort of carrot cake. I drank a lot of ginger ale and they handed out a slice of pizza and ice cream as a snack before we landed.

Immigration and customs went quick. My bag was one of the last appear. I wandered outside to the taxi line. It was a clusterfuck. The portly lady running the line had no clue how to do things. Poorly organized. She had people stand in a line the wrong way, so people could walk out of the baggage claim area and cut to the front which added to the confusion. She assigned me a cab that was an SUV when there were three parties with four or more people standing behind me. That was the last SUV in line. I offered to take the smaller sedan that pulled up behind the SUV. I walked over to that cab and she screamed at me as I opened the door. She refused to let me take that one and tried to close the door. She was pissed that I was trying to quash what little power she held.

There were a few regular cabs in line behind me. I did the logical thing and offered up the bigger cab for the family of four behind me. More space since they had a ton of luggage. Basically, that's her job to do and she wasn't doing it. I opted for the smaller cab to help out a bit. The family understood what I was trying to do. The woman who worked at JFK? Not one fuckin' clue.

My cabbie from the Sudan laughed when I slid in as she still screamed at me. We arranged a flat fee as the driver pulled from the curve. I asked him to drive fast and I got what I wanted. The guy drove like a maniac and I fastened my seat belt. He even drove on the shoulder in a few places. It took almost an hour for the entire trip but it could have been two hours in that ugly rush hour traffic. I gave him a huge tip.

I wandered upstairs. I had a small pile of mail. I opened up my backpack and unloaded my gear. In less than 44 hours, I'd be returning to JFK to fly to the west coast. In that brief amount of time, I had a ton of shit to do before I took off on my next journey.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Budapest Photo Gallery

By Pauly
New York City

I finally uploaded all of my pics from my trip to Budapest. Check out the Budapest gallery.

I have dozens and dozens of other galleries from various other trips and music festivals and different collections of food galleries and Pauly paintings. Click here to view all of my galleries.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Daily Budapest Droppings

By Pauly
Budapest, Hungary

Although I had a five day assignment, this one worked out more smoothly than previous overseas gigs. Multi-day poker tournaments are usually played with a dinner break and in Europe sometimes those can last two hours. Lucky for us, the EPT Hungarian Open did not include a dinner break which meant shorter days at the casino (ten or so hours a day instead of 12+). The downside was that we had weird eating schedules.

The other good part of this assignment was that I lived in a rented apartment instead of staying in a hotel. Schecky pointed out a couple of options. I got in contact with the owner who was from Germany. He had a two bedroom flat within walking distance to the casino for an amazing price. They arranged a car service to pick me up at the airport and he even called the day that I arrived to make sure everything was fine. Staying in an apartment gave a sense of normalcy in my abnormal life.

I usually rose around 9am or to write or catch up on other work in our massive living room that had 16 high ceilings and parquet floors. I woke up Dana around 11am or so to get ready. We were caught in a dreadful cycle of crashing around 6am every night hanging out and listening to music and talking and drinking and partying which meant we were dragging ass all morning.

Our flat was located on Vamhaz street near the Great Market Hall in District V. It was under heavy construction which included the entire Szabadsag bridge and the majority of my street leading up to Kavin Ter. Half the street was covered in dirt as construction crews replaced massive pipes below. We'd have to navigate our way towards one of the streets that ran parallel to the Danube, which was about a block or so from the apartment.

The walk to the Las Vegas Casino was around twenty minutes down a winding shopping street that catered to tourists. Plenty of crappy Hungarian folk art souvenir shops were sprinkled in the collection of old buildings, department stores, tourist trap restaurants, and dozens and dozens of money exchange booths.

The casino was two bridges away. That's how I explained people the location of my flat. The casino was just off the Chain Bridge neat Roosevelt Ter. The Danube can be crossed by a series of bridges which separate the Buda and Pest sides of the river. In fact, Budapest is actually two cities divided by the Danube. I lived and worked in Pest while I could see the rolling hills of Buda across the river.

A tram that ran along the street near the Danube, but we walked to the casino in order to grab some food and drinks for breakfast along the way. Almost every morning we popped into Subway. I picked up a six inch and gobbled it down before I got the casino. One night we got off work early and Dana went to the grocery store. She bought Hungarian wax peppers, pasta, sauce, and bacon. She whipped up a batch of pasta with a spicy bacon marinara sauce. I ate that one morning for breakfast which hit the spot.

Aside from one morning of shitty weather (where the skies opened up and pissed down hard on us), the weather was unseasonable warm for this time of year. We had a few sunny days which mattered since we got to experience a bit of that warmth before the work days in the basement of the Sofitel/Las Vegas casino complex where the poker tournament was held. Europe has already initiated day light savings time (a week earlier than North America) so it would be dark by 5pm. Any daylight is welcomed.

We got plenty of free drinks in the media room including ginger ale which helped on the first day when I was wicked hung over. For the first time ever at the EPT, we were given assigned seating in the media room. Lucky for me, the guys next to us (Matt and Rod from Pokerlistings) were friends. It was sort of planned out that the English speaking media reps were in my row (in a five row conference room) made up of the Irish, Scots, Canadians, Brits, and me being the lone American in our row and the entire room. The Italians were huddled together and the Hungarians were right behind us with a couple of solo journalists from Portugal and Poland. Benjo sat in the back with the French and the Germans. My photographer was Hungarian and spoke great English. He usually photographed fencing so this was a change of pace. He did a stellar job considering it was his first time shooting poker. The sister site (Hungarian Poker News) had a couple of reporters working the event. They assisted me on getting to know the local Hungarian players which helped me out immensely.

Around 4pm or so, I'd get a craving for food. Hungry in Hungary. The casino/hotel served super pricey food. A cheeseburger and fries cost something like $17. We'd end up rushing to the local Burger King on one of the short breaks in the Vorosmarty Ter nearby. Rod went almost everyday and I tagged along with Matt and they'd bring back food for Dana. I managed to rack up a not-so-impressive Whopper count. They call them Dupla Whoppers in Budapest. They also charge 80 Fornits for a single package of ketchup or mayo. I could get a value meal for around 1,300 Fornits or $6.50. The main reason I don't eat fast food in the States (with the exception of runs to In & Out Burger) is that sometimes I'm forced to eat fast food on the road out of necessity, price, and convenience. That was the case in Hungary.

I craved a proper American breakfast (bacon and eggs and toast and bagels) and would be void of one the entire trip. Since we finished work no earlier than 10pm every night, food choices were limited. There was a sushi joint located near the Four Seasons. It was open to Midnight and we ate there twice including once on Benjo's birthday. The gang at PokerStars bought Benjo a cake for his birthday. We all sang Happy Birthday in the media room which made his face flush beet red.

One evening, Dana and I ate Italian food. The lasagna was tasty and cheap. I swear that our Hungarian waitress was hitting on Dana. She gave the old line, "Have I seen you before? Did I serve you?" Dana had never been to Budapest before and it was the first time was walked into that eatery. Dana has one distinct feature... the tips of her hair are dyed red. I guess that turned our waitress on.

Another evening, Dana cooked up bacon back at the apartment and we feasted on that delicious late night snack. It was super salty but much better than the stuff I ate in Australia or other parts of Europe that pass off ham as bacon. It wouldn't be until Saturday night before we had a traditional Hungarian meal. The chicken paprika was delicious... a a great cut of chicken which added to the flavor of the dish that was served with homemade gnocchi.

I was jonesin for herbal supplements. No vitamins. Boooo. I didn't think it was going to happen but a Phishy friend of the Tao found me a local contact and I got sorted out on Friday morning before work. That might have saved me because otherwise, I would have drunk myself silly. Vitamins means my insomnia is manageable and I also write better. It gets me into the right frame of mind.

We'd get back to the flat around Midnight most evenings. We tried to be good and not go out drinking to the wee hours every night during the work week. The bars were a bit pricey around the casino. Instead we'd buy a few bottles of Wernesgruner from the 24 hour store around the corner for a less expensive option. Dana picked a bottle of Jack Daniels at the Duty Free shop at the airport and polished that off. I'd chat with Nicky on Skype and tell her about my day. My new British laptop has a web camera so we were able to see each other via Skype.

Dana was a work colleague from London and the girlfriend of Snoopy, another well-respected member of the international press and one of my favorite British writers. Although Dana had been doing various freelance writing work over the last year, she was a musician and had been for many years. One of her last previous steady gigs was busking in the London tube. She had all these odd influences for a Londoner such as bluegrass and she never heard of a slew of American bluegrass/twangy bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band. We'd smoke cigarettes and talk about music. I'd play different tunes for her and she played some of her material that included solo work and a back up band. Check out Dana and the Greeks. Some good shit there including Motherfucking Whore.

Without my vitamins, it was hard to fall asleep. I tried every night and ended up lying in bed listening to my iPod. Dana is a night owl and she eventually fell out just before sun up.

On Friday night, we ate sushi with Benjo for his birthday. It was Halloween but you wouldn't know it in Budapest since they don't celebrate it. A group of us ended up back at our flat. We bought cheap Hungarian beer at the corner store and partied it up until sunrise.

On Saturday afternoon, the final table went relatively quick. One of the fastest that I ever covered on the EPT. A British player named Will Fry from Nottingham took it down. He intended on donating a percentage of his winnings (close to €600,000) to charity. He intended on helping raise the awareness of poverty in the third work.

Saturday night. Done with work. We got lucky and had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night in Pest. Dana and I raced home and dropped off our laptops and gear. We grabbed dinner at a local Hungarian joint. She ate goulash. I crushed a plate of chicken paprika. It's cooked in cream sauce with tons of paprika. They top it with a bit of sour cream which I particularity didn't like. The gnocchi was perfect to gop up all the extra sauce.

Dana and I sat at an outdoor cafe for beer and cake. We waited for the rest of our friends to finish off their recap articles and dinner plans. We all met up at a bar around the corner from the casino where we caught another break. A couple of players were at the bar and joined our group including one young pro from Norway who made the final table. He bought us a couple of rounds. The media on the European events are close-knit. Although they all come from different countries, most of the time everyone is far away from home, sometimes in a strange land. So it's natural that you stick together with your work colleagues on the road after hours.

The bar closed up shop early and we got kicked out. Although it was Saturday, it was also a national holiday. November 1 is All Saints Day and it's recognized in Hungary. People head to cemeteries en masse to light candles at the headstones of their loved ones and hang out there until sunrise. We had limited options and I offered to host everyone back at the flat for the after party. The apartment was clutch. No way we could have done that in one hotel room.

I lost €100 in various prop bets including trying to throw apple cords out my window at a bum/drunk passed out across the street. I also lost money on betting that Matt could not eat three Hungarian apples in ten minutes. That was an offshoot about the monster bet that Rod said he wanted to do... fifty apples in ninety minutes. We shot some videos. Stay tuned for those. Benjo and I also recorded four new episodes of Tao of Pokerati. And yes, stay tuned for those.

Even the guy who won the poker tournament stopped by the party. We raged until 5:30am. That's when Dana and Rod had to leave for the airport. As soon as everyone cleared out, I cleaned up all the empty beer and liquor bottles and all the wacky tabacky and tobacco lying all over the coffee table.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another Budapest Pic Dump

By Pauly
Budapest, Hungary

Here are some pics that I took over the last week...

Benjo and his birthday cake