2016 Grateful 4

Sometimes, life gets a little overwhelming. Twenty-four-hour days aren’t nearly long enough to do everything that needs to get done. And when my to-do list spirals out of control and spills over onto a third page, I have a tendency to sing my theme tune more often than usual.

Until this past weekend, I didn’t even know I had a theme tune, an utterance that has been popping out of my mouth with little bidding for years, usually when things are in danger of getting on top of me. Mine is simple – it goes something like this: oi, oi, oi-oi-oi. The inflection and the tone might vary but the words never change.

During the week, I took myself off to Kuplung (a great little venue on Király utca) to see Frenk – a Hungarian singer I’m particularly fond of. I first saw him play with Budapest Bár at Sziget a few years ago and have been a fan ever since.

One of my favourites of his is a duet he does  – Where the Wild Roses Grow – it’s guaranteed to improve my mood, no matter what state things are in. But the song on his playlist that is a tonic for all my woes is his version of Iggy Pop’s Tonight.

And it would seem that his mood determines how he sings it, too. I like it best when it’s just him and his guitar. There’s not much to the lyrics but there’s a verse that resonates and speaks of a quiet that is all too elusive.

No one moves
No one talks
No one thinks
No one walks, Tonight

There’s lots to be grateful for in Budapest – and one that ranks up there is the sheer variety of things to do in the city. On any given night of the week, there’s someone (many someones) singing or playing music somewhere. The gigs are affordable (often free) and can be found in all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Last week, too, I finally got to see Tchaikovsky’s Nutcraker at the Opera House and for the first time heard Bartók Béla performed by the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the fabulously restored Lizst Ferenc Music Academy.

Wasn’t it Plato who said music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul? No matter – I had a mad week last week and this coming one looks even worse. The few hours I spent in good company with great music were restorative… and Lord knows, I’m in need of restoration.

 

Taste among the tat

Walking through the city in late October, I spotted my first Christmas tree. I tried to block it out, to pretend it wasn’t there. But the minute November arrived, there were too many to ignore. Even the city’s Christmas Markets seem to be ahead of schedule this year – didn’t they usually open the first weekend of Advent or am I losing my mind completely? Whatever happened to saving Christmas till December? Why are we in such a rush to make it all happen?

It’s getting increasingly difficult to field the effects of global consumerism. While Americans might save Christmas until they’ve dealt with Thanksgiving, their retail habits have made it across the pond. This year we had Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two traditional mammoth shopping days that I’ve always associated with America. Perhaps I missed something, but it seems that this is the first year I’ve seen such sales in Hungary. I could be mistaken though. Anyway, I shouldn’t as upset as I am at the tide of consumerism that is sweeping my corner of the world. But it saddens me.

And if fast-forwarding the Christmas spend and adopting US retail sale practices weren’t bad enough, we’re also drowning in a sea of cheap oriental tat. Try finding a decoration or a piece of garland that hasn’t been made in China – there’s a challenge. Consumerism has married sameness and the couple are thriving.

In search for something a little different this Christmas, I revisited Arioso at Király utca 9. What began as a flower shop back in 2002 has expanded to include a café and a gift and home décor range that embodies good taste.

b5Swiss couple Katja Schläfli and Martin Aeschlimann came to Budapest back in 2000 to visit some friends. They noticed the plethora of florists in the city and rightly understood how much Hungarians love their flowers. Back then, Swiss knowledge of the region stopped short at Vienna so Budapest wasn’t on anyone’s radar. They liked what they saw and decided to open a Swiss-style florist on Király utca. They chucked in their jobs and moved east, knowing just four people and nothing of the language or what was in store.

b4Even with both having a background in the business, it took time to find the right suppliers, to build up relationships with them, to develop a client list, and to gain people’s trust. They quietly went about the business of producing floral works of art and slowly word-of-mouth endorsements began to pay off. Today, with more than 25 trained staff on board, they’re responsible for the floral creations in places like the Four Seasons and the Kempinksi, where they’ve just opened a small gift shop.

When they opened on Király in 2002, the majority of their clients were foreigners. Today, 80 per cent are Hungarian, testament indeed to how much of an inroad they’ve made in the market. Their workshops are in demand and their interior design advice much sought-after.

b2Back in 2011, they opened a café (and in summer, a lovely courtyard), giving people extra time to enjoy the atmosphere that is exclusively Arioso. They serve their coffee accompanied by a flower. A lovely touch, an attention to detail that you quickly come to expect from the pair whose philosophy is very much entwined with beauty and quality. They don’t simply sell flowers and home accessories from Holland, Sweden, Iceland, and Germany – they sell feelings. And if I had to choose one word to describe their offer, it would be elegant.

A second shop followed in MOM Park to cater for clients on the Buda side and, with a web shop offering the convenience of online shopping, Arioso definitely caters to consumer needs while eschewing the sameness too often found elsewhere. Their Christmas range is just in and worth checking out. www.arioso.hu

First published in the Budapest Times 2 December 2016

 

 

Virtual condolences

Many years ago, when I showed up at a friend’s mam’s funeral having never met the woman, I had some explaining to do. I was living in the UK at the time and what for me was the most natural thing in the world to do, raised eyebrows over there. After much discussion and consultation with various friends of various persuasions from various backgrounds, we came to the conclusion that in Ireland we go to funerals for the living, not for the dead.

I’ve been to loads of funerals having never met the person in the coffin and thought nothing of it.  I went to support someone close to them – a sister, brother, daughter, husband, wife, cousin, aunt, uncle. It didn’t much matter. And for some, the church was bursting at the seams with hundreds spilling over into the car park. I wonder how long more this will last.

rip_ieWhen my parents pick up the paper, they turn to the obituaries first, to see whose dead, to see if there are any funerals they should go to. A few years ago, Ireland’s undertakers went online and now we have www.RIP.ie – a one-stop shop for those who don’t get the papers any more. Up-to-the-minute funeral details and other ‘end of life matters’. I thought that was pretty progressive. Handy, too, if you missed the 1pm funeral roll-call on the local radio.

obit2Today, a mate of mind pointed me to www.legacy.com, as US site that boasts the ‘largest collection of US obituaries and condolences’, presumably in the world. You can find your funeral, send flowers, and sign the book of condolences. So you don’t even have to go to the church.

obitAn excellent repository of life stories and memories that could well be of comfort. Great, admittedly, for those too far away to travel, but I wonder how long it will take for the church numbers to dwindle to the immediately family and will that be better or worse.

Friends of mine who’ve been in the receiving line after a funeral where everyone present goes up and shakes hands with the bereaved, tell me it was comforting to see the support and the genuine love and affection expressed. Me? I can’t imagine anything worse, and thankfully, I’ve yet to experience it.

In between work I’m supposed to be doing today, I keep coming back to this online condolences thing… and wondering …

And while I’m dithering, I’m off to dig out my copy of JP Donleavy’s book – The Lady who Like Clean Restrooms

The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever to Be Rumoured About Around New York. Mrs. Jocelyn Guenevere Marchantiere Jones sweeps onto the scene as the doyenne of an estimable house and fortune in Scarsdale. Although her South Carolinian, socially registered grandmother disapproved of anything above the Mason-Dixon line, Jocelyn still honors her code of behavior: ”Your snobberies are the most preciously valuable asset you will ever have in life, cherish them well. Avoid unbrave men and when you’re away from your own trusted lavatory, only go to the cleanest of places.” But Jocelyn’s certainties are tested when her husband leaves her for a bit of ”fresh flesh.” Ever the lady, Jocelyn proposes modest terms for the divorce and holds her course through financial collapse. What follows is a freewheeling tour of our heroine’s ”unexpurgated thoughts” as fortune bounces her down the peculiar social ladder that separates Scarsdale from Yonkers, Yonkers from the Bronx — and the New World nouveaux riches from the ”dignified homeless indigent.” Donleavy proves himself as much the master of a certain New York social set and train corridor as he is of the psyche of a fresh-mouthed 43-year-old Daughter of the Confederacy. The reader cheers for Jocelyn as she fends off her friends’ husbands, brandishes a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and lives for her trips to Manhattan’s museums. But her search for the city’s cleanest restrooms becomes increasingly desperate, leading Jocelyn finally to a funeral parlor and a quite shocking reversal of fate.

Work, what work?

2016 Grateful 5

The Internet has come under fire this week for contributing to the election of Donal Trump as the next President of the USA through fake news and filter bubbles. Both Google and Facebook are now taking measures to address this – a little like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. But hey, it’s something.

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake any more. With so much information out there, it’s nigh on impossible to be certain of anything. Poems, quotations, and thoughts are attributed to myriad people and even those sites that claim to be definitive sources disagree. Is it any wonder that I am ‘confused in a world of fake illusions’.

Having been schooled by one of Hungary’s best Hungarian-English translators, I’m quite vigilant about crediting translators but that vigilance is often thwarted because they’re rarely mentioned.

I want to share a poem with you this week, posted by a friend in Switzerland: It is forbidden by Alfredo Cuervo Barrero. I did my due diligence – to make sure that Alfredo Cuervo Barrero actually wrote it and to find the name of the translator.

In my trolling, I discovered that the poem first appeared online on July 23, 2001 on the website deusto.com [which no longer exists] and that it has (often) been mistakenly attributed to Pablo Neruda. Despite some serious effort on my part, I couldn’t find the name of a translator, anywhere.** So to post or not to post?

In an age replete with do’s and don’ts, I thought this litany of laws, were they enforced, would make for a better world. I’m grateful to the lovely ASV for sharing it and in a week where my menopausal mood has made me not want to be around myself, it’s given me a lot to think about.

It is forbidden by Alfredo Cuervo Barrero

What is truly important?
I look for the answer inside myself
And it is so hard to find it
False ideas invade my mind
Used to disguise what it doesn’t understand
Confused in a world of fake illusions
Where vanity, fear, wealth
Violence, hate, indifference
Are the worshiped heroes
I am not amazed there is so much confusion!
So much distancing from all, so much disenchantment
You ask me, how can one be happy
How can one live among so much deceit
Each one has to answer for themselves

Though for me, now and forever:

It is forbidden to cry without learning,
to wake up one day not knowing what to do,
to be afraid of your memories.

It is forbidden not to smile at your problems,
not to fight for what you want. It is forbidden
to abandon everything because you are scared of making your dreams come true

It is forbidden not to show your love,
It is forbidden to make someone pay for your debts and to be in a bad mood.

It is forbidden to leave your friends,
not to try to understand the memories made together,
and call them only when you need them.

It is forbidden not to be yourself in public,
to pretend with people you don’t care about,
to be funny just so they will remember you,
to forget all the people who really love you.

It is forbidden not to do things by yourself,
not to believe in God and forge your own destiny,
to be afraid of life and its commitments,
not to live each day as if it was your last sigh.

It is forbidden to miss someone without
Cheering up when remembering them, to forget their eyes, their smile,
just because your paths stopped embracing,
to forget their past; paying it only with their present.

It is forbidden not to try to understand people,
to think that their lives are more valuable than yours,
not to know that each one has their path and their glory

It is forbidden not to create your own story,
not to have a moment for people who need you,
not to understand that whatever life gives it can also take away.

20161126_160221_resized

[**Since posting, I’ve been told that this was translated by Gonzalo de Cesare, Director at Euro-LatinAmerican Institute for Justice and Rule of Law, Peru.]

The good gig and the Good Book

I love a good sing song. Be it on the back of a bus or in the bowels of a bar after hours, there’s something about trotting out the ballads that speaks of home. And I can’t even sing. Mind you, I can’t remember the words to all the verses of any song, but I’m bloody brilliant with the ould choruses.

No wonder then that when I came across Tara O’Grady and her Black Velvet Band, the chorus of the Dubliner’s 1967 classic of the same name started streaming through my head. I went in search of more. And man, what a voice.

taraThe Wall Street Journal calls her ‘imposing’. IrishCentral calls her an ‘Irish American Jazz Powerhouse!’ And the New York Music Daily says she ‘leads one of the most badass old-time swing bands you’ll ever hear’. That the name Tara O’Grady has been mentioned in the same breath as Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, is probably more telling than the numerous awards and hits the lady has to her credit.

But go see for yourself – Tara O’Grady and her Black Velvet Band will be playing at a reception hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle at Beckett’s Irish Pub on Liszt Ferenc Tér, Saturday, 3rd December at 8pm.

So. Tara O’Grady. Ireland. Hungary. What’s the connection?

Believe it, or believe it not, this Irish-American jazz singer who lives in New York, is coming to Budapest with her signed copy of the Houdini family bible, which she will deposit in the House of Houdini in the Castle District (Disz tér 11), returning the book and its spirit to Houdini’s native city. How she came to own it is a story in itself. Stick with me.

houdiniTara’s mum, Mary, was friendly with her New York neighbour, Marguerite, a retired nurse who worked for Dr Leopold Weiss. Dr Weiss had a brother Ehrich, who would later be better known as Harry Houdini. The good doctor was quite fond of Marguerite and regularly gave her gifts, much to the chagrin of her husband, Robert. One of these gifts was a bible, signed by his father and his soon-to-be-famous brother, in March 1893 (when Harry was 21). [The Weiss’s were Jewish and the Doctor probably figured that Marguerite, being a Catholic herself, might appreciate the gesture.]

Visiting her friend sometime in the late 1970s, Mary noticed a large book in the basement. When she expressed an interest in what turned out to be the Weiss family bible, her friend happily gave it to her. Her husband certainly didn’t want any reminders of the good doctor and his misguided affections.

houdini-bibleThe book sat on her parents’ bookshelf for most of Tara’s childhood. And, except for Tara, no one showed much interest in it. She came across it again this past summer, took a photo of the signature and posted it on Facebook. The book’s rarity became known. Harry Houdini’s family bible had come into play.

In her search for an appreciative home for the artifact, Tara came across the newly opened House of Houdini in Budapest. Following conversations with the museum’s founder David Merlini, himself an escape artist, she decided to bring it back to the city in which she herself had studied in her university days. The book will be handed over at a invite-only press conference in the museum on Saturday, 3rd December at 11am. Merlini, Prime Ministerial Cultural Commissioner Géza Szőcs, and Irish Ambassador to Hungary Pat Kelly will be on hand to welcome Tara and the bible to back to Budapest.

Later that evening, she’ll be in Beckett’s, as I said, performing her original songs and arrangements of what she calls Celtic Jazz with some of Budapest’s best jazz musicians, including trombonist Attila Korb. Whatever else you’ve planned for that evening, escape. This is a gig not to be missed. Seats limited. Book yours by emailing info@ihbc.hu

First published in the Budapest Times 25 November 2016

2016 Grateful 6

I bought a washing machine a couple of months ago and every time I go play scrabble, Facebook throws out an ad for a washing machine. I’ve been reduced to venting my frustration at the ineptitude of its advertising algorithms by screaming at my laptop: I’ve already bought a bloody washing machine. I don’t need another!

I checked on flights to Barcelona recently and now, when I read an article online, ads pop up for cheap fights to the city. I detest Google and Facebook and all those other online entities who take my data and then feed me stuff they think I should want to know. Back in 2012, I wrote a post for Diplomacy.edu entitled Google… stop thinking for me.  Today, 2016, Google still ain’t listening.

But occasionally, just occasionally, I get a result.

Had my e-book leak1nding library not compiled data on my preferences and tracked my reading patterns, I might never have met Adrian McKinty, an Irish novelist, born in Belfast in 1968. An obviously intelligent bloke – law at the University of Warwick and politics and philosophy at the University of Oxford – it comes through in his novels. After a spell State-side (Harlem, New York, and Denver, Colorado where he taught high-school English) he’s now living in Melbourne, Australia. I’d never heard of him. His name didn’t ring even the tiniest of bells. But everything else I was ak2looking for was taken so when one of his books popped up on a list of recommended reading, I checked it out. 

Three books, a train journey, and seven days later, I’ve finished the Dead Trilogy and have become quite partial to Michael Forsythe, the main character. I’ve learned more about the Troubles in Northern Ireland than I ever did from a history book. I’ve gotten an insight into the phenomenon of Irish gangs in New York. I’ve felt the senseless stupidity of exacting a grudge-like revenge. I’ve gotten some sense of the futility of life when ideology clouds reason and turns logic into the lyrics of a song that plays like a broken record.

I was born the year the Troubles began, in 1968. That world of violence was all I knew – people murdered, maimed, kneecapped, bombed. I don’t remember a time without a major atrocity of some kind every week.
I think if you grow up in a culture where the army is out on the street sighting you with rifles, it has to have some kind of psychological impact.

Told in the first person, the trilogy rings true. Quite possibly because McKinty is writing about a world with which he is all too familiar. The path Forsythe takes might well have been a path he could have taken himself, had things been different.

In the crime fiction section, you may just find a novel that talks about the place where you’re from and speaks to you about your life – or the life yours could have become if a little misfortune had come your way.

ak3Occasionally, the narrative skips ahead a few years, with Forsythe talking about what he would do in the future and far from annoying me and ruining the suspense, it alleviated the worry .Yes, of course, I knew it’s a trilogy and he had to be alive at least until the third one started, but these occasional reminders did the heart good as the battle raged.
The murals and the walls in Belfast now wear a different paint. Memories of a night in a Working Man’s Club in Andersonstown all those years ago came flashing back. Marion Coyle, Eddie Gallagher, Rose Dugdale, Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey – all household names in our gaff in the 1970s. The Sundays in July when my dad would head out in full uniform to Bodenstown Cemetery where the Republicans convened for their annual pilgrimage at Wolfe Tone’s graveside. It was all there but yet not there. Real but at the same time very unreal. A sense of unfulfilled anticipation for which we were grateful.
I love the trilogy form. I like the idea that you can establish a character in book one. And then in the second part, you can take the characters down to their darkest point. And then in the third part, you have total freedom either to give them redemption – or just to kill them.

And he did. All that. And more. McKinty has a lovely turn of phrase, a noir-type mastery of dialogue, and a bevvy of descriptives that beg a second savouring.So this week, for once, I’m grateful for the algorithm that coughed up this trilogy. Worth a read. Definitely worth a read.

If only we hadn’t missed that turn

Back in 2008 at a conference in Budapest, I discovered Thinkers50, a biannual global ranking of management thinkers billed as ‘the essential guide to which thinkers and which ideas matter now.’ When the list launched in 2001, Charles Handy held the No. 2 spot. He was in Budapest to mark the publication of two of his books in Hungarian. I had the pleasure of introducing one of them – The Empty Raincoat (Üres esőkabát) – at the launch. We discovered, in conversation, that he was born less than a mile from me at home, in the vicarage on the other side of the crossroads. How small the world.

Even though that was eight years and what seems like a couple of lifetimes ago, I still remember the ease with which Handy interwove management practices and philosophical theory. He’s a born storyteller, blessed with the innate ability to distill complex thinking into simple speak without losing any of the message’s inherent power. By introducing me to the concept of a portfolio career, he gave me the gift of a ready explanation for what I do, something that had been heretofore impossible to explain to those who wanted a phrasal answer to the question: So, Mary, what do you do for a living?

book-jacket-a-masodik-gorbe-borito-300-dpi1_easy-resize-comHandy was back in Budapest again last week, this time to launch the Hungarian translation of The Second Curve (A második görbe). He began his introduction with a story.

In Ireland, driving through the Dublin mountains, on his way to Avoca in Co. Wicklow, he got lost. He stopped to ask a local farmer for directions. The man pointed down the valley and up over the top of the next hill, telling him that when he reached the top and looked down, he’d see a red building in the distance – Davy’s Bar. But 1 km before that, he was to turn right for Avoca. He got to the top of the hill and saw the bar in the distance. On he drove. But there was no right turn. Then he realised what the man had meant: he was to take a right turn 1 km before he got to the top of the hill. The idea of the second curve was born.

(c) Elizabeth Handy
(c) Elizabeth Handy

As we set out in life, we have what Handy calls an education, investment, and preparation stage, the drive down into the valley. As we come up the other side, our lives progress, our careers blossom, we start making money. When we get to the top of our game, we inevitably start on the downward slope to Davy’s bar, home of the ‘if onlys’. What we need to do is to take the turn before we get to the top of the hill. We need to start setting up that second phase before the first one reaches its peak, so that when one curve starts its descent, the second curve begins its ascent. That 1 km represents about two years.

Each of us, he says, has three primary roles in life – to make money to live, to fulfil our duty to others, and to follow our passion. Once we have identified our passion, we can start setting up that second curve. And the third curve. And the fourth, depending on how long we live.  But too many of us miss the turn, so busy are we making money and doing our thing. Inside each of us, he believes, is a golden seed, a skill or talent that others might recognise before we do. The trick is to listen for it, to pay attention to it, to nurture it and set up that second curve, so that we’re don’t end up in Davy’s bar wallowing in ‘if onlys’. And the second curve applies not only to individuals, but to organisations and governments, too. World leaders, take note.

First published in the Budapest Times 18 November 2016

Gather up the brokenness

Voices from the past occasionally serve to prompt new avenues of reflection. I received a link today in an email, from a friend who was forwarding it from another friend, to an article written by someone we all know in varying degrees. (I know him least.) We vary, too, in our degrees of religious belief, from devout atheist to practicing Catholic. It would be hard, though, to argue which one of us was a bigger fan of Leonard Cohen and his music.

cohen2I’ve listened to his songs for years. In my twenties, his music was my first choice when it came to doing the ironing on a Saturday morning, which is probably why I still find ironing so therapeutic. In my thirties, he carried me through my great depression, making sense of the madness in a way that no one else could. In my forties, I got to see him live, in concert, three times – as if in celebration that I’d turned a corner and the future was bright. Unforgettable. So perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that now I’m peeking into my fifties and on the cusp of yet another chapter, that he marks the transition though the voice of another.

Fr Prof. Eamonn Conway is a priest and a theologian who discovered Cohen’s song If it be your will back in 2009, during a particularly dark period in his life. He wrote recently in the Catholic Times about Cohen and his lyrics, in an article that makes for interesting reading – interesting enough to share.

Promises made, broken, unfulfilled; fragility of mind, body and spirit; this is the enduring reality of people’s lives despite all our sophisticated attempts at self-protection and insulation.

Religion aside, Conway’s take certainly set me thinking. Worth a read.

2016 Grateful 7

It’s hard to go back, they say. Things never quite live up to how you remember them. If they were great, they’ll be not so great. If the place was gorgeous, it’ll be a little less gorgeous. If your time there was miserable, it’ll be even more miserable.

Sure, I’ve gone to places and loved them and then gone back years later to find it had all changed, or it was smaller, grubbier, not nearly as nice as I remembered it. It could well have been, of course, that the company was different, or my mood had changed, and the place was still exactly the same. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it; I simply move on.

That said, when I go back somewhere and it’s even better than I remember, that’s bonus. Something to be grateful for.

A number of years and a lifetime ago, I was driving down by the Balaton on a Sunday morning and happened across an outdoor market in the village of Káptalantóti called Liliomkert. I remember being impressed at the time and thought that if I were down that way again, I’d definitely drop by.

Fast forward three years or so, and the same market came up in conversation with a friend whose mum lives in the village. Down by the Kis Balaton, this time, on a Sunday, we decided to take as spin over and check it out. It was a bank holiday weekend, so all the vendor stalls were taken. The place was heaving. The weather was cooperating and the sun was shining. It was a glorious day.

I came, I saw, and I spent my money. Three times, I got so carried away with being able to hold a semblance of a conversation in Hungarian, that I walked away without paying. Three times they called be back, looking for money. But such is life in the countryside that no one was all that bothered. They’d have caught up with me sooner or later.

I’m going through a phase at the minute, a painted phase. I’m quite taken with painted wood, something I wouldn’t have thanked you for eight years ago when I was doing up the flat in Budapest.  I was quite chuffed with this bench, a market find for the upstairs balcony. Come summer, I plan on taking my morning coffee sitting on it while looking down over the fields to the lake I know is behind the trees. Right now, it’s too bloody cold, although with the leaves gone, we can actually see the lake.

20161030_150430_resized_2

20161114_203702_resized

And ever since I came across the idea of vertical bookshelves on a trip to San Francisco, I can’t get enough plant stands. As this is the only part of the house that has a wealth vibe (in Feng Shui terms), I needed something that would take a lot of very specific colours and a money plant to channel that chi. And ya gotta love the whole shabby chic thing… a great excuse not to sand and paint – just leave it. Peeling paint is all the rage.

Not quite sure what to do with a large white wall in a big kitchen space that will be redone (once the plant stand in the wealth corner starts producing money), I had a root through some carpets and kilims. And I scored this pair – hand-woven in Poland, with the original labels still attached. It adds some warmth, reduces the echo, and ties in nicely with some pieces I want to work on.

20161101_074149_resized

There are few things I like more than a good market. Add the open air, some sunshine, and a little patience, and I am guaranteed a great day out. There was food, music, wine, coffee, pálinka, and lots to laugh about. Lots to be thankful for there. A must, if you’re in the neighbourhood.

img_7236_easy-resize-com2 img_7237_easy-resize-com img_7238_easy-resize-com img_7248_easy-resize-com img_7250_easy-resize-com img_7255_easy-resize-com img_7252_easy-resize-com img_7253_easy-resize-com img_7256_easy-resize-com1 img_7235_easy-resize-com1  img_7231_easy-resize-com

 

 

Small halls and potholes

It was an intimate affair. About thirty discerning souls in the back room of Beckett’s Bar in Budapest on a cold, rainy, rather miserable Thursday night. Given the week that was in it, it’s probably not surprising that more didn’t venture out. Denial can do that to you. But tonight was all about the love. And the man on stage, resplendent his three-piece suit and spats … he was all about the love, too.

No one quite knew what to expect and those sorts of expectations can be difficult to manage. The audience was a global one with Hungary, Scotland, England, Ireland, Norway, America, and Australia (and possibly more) ready for whatever the wee man with the funny accent (a heady vocal cocktail laced with traces of Glasgow and Donegal) threw at us. Some, concerned that their English mightn’t be up to it, relaxed when Little John Nee admitted that his English wasn’t great either. We were in safe hands.

jn2_easy-resize-comWe’re used to being technically entertained – the lights, the amps, the pageantry that come with modern productions. But last night, we could have been in a town hall in the back-end of anywhere.  It was just him and us. He had his array of instruments neatly lined up on the stage behind him; we had our appreciation and our wonderment on tap, ready to pour.

jn4_easy-resize-comA storyteller who uses music and drama to tell his tales, Little John Nee took us on a journey through rural Ireland, popping over to Scotland on the Derry Boat for a look-see and then back again. He introduced us to people we’d never met but would know ten years from now if we ever ran into them. As we listened to his songs and stories, it hit me that what we were seeing bordered on innocence. No bells and whistles. Just pure, honest-to-goodness entertainment … from the heart.jn7_easy-resize-com

Storytelling is about holding the audience’s attention, about having them hang on your every word, about painting a picture that makes the sights and sounds and smells you describe come alive. And we were there. Everywhere Little John Nee went in that 90 minutes, we went with him. He gave us a gift: the opportunity to use our imagination, to let it take flight. Those of us born and reared in Ireland had no trouble at all reading volumes into the nod of his head, the tip of his chin, the roll of his eye. Those who had visited were back in the land of the familiar. And those who’d yet to make the journey started planning their trip.

His is a rare talent. He has a way with words, an innate ability to extract the best of stories from a combination of words like androgynous, brobdingnagian, cantankerous, and daffodils. We rode a wave of emotion with him, the peaks and the troughs. And afterwards, we felt good, better than we had a couple of hours earlier. Everyone was smiling. Reflective smiles that come with having been privy to something special.

Come back any time, Little John Nee. Next time, stay longer.

[Photo credit to Declan O’Callaghan]