Guest room: And room for a guest or two…

I didn’t sleep very well last night. I’d read a beach book in one sitting and bawled through it… you know, the usual story: wife dies, dad takes kids and moves home, runs for judge, solves a murder, stands up to the bigots and racists and falls in love with the local lesbian. It was way too much emotion for my little mind at that hour of the night. So, instead of counting sheep, I tried counting my visitors. Since I moved to the Ghetto in November last year, this little room has seen 11 sets of visitors. That is the collective word for visitors, isn’t it? Set? Or is it ‘lot’? mmmm…..

IMG_0725Anyway, 17 people have stayed with me in the last 7 months.  In all my travels and all the flats I’ve had, this has to be a record. Ok, so visiting Alaska would have involved a little bit of planning, California ain’t to everyone’s taste and Chichester… well, enough said! Safe to say, though, that Budapest is proving to be extremely popular. I even have some visitors on their second or third go around. Not bad at all! On at least two occasions, I dropped someone off at Terminal 1 to take the Ryan Air flight to Dublin and then bussed to Terminal 2A to meeting another lot coming in from London. Talk about revolving doors! Am sure my neighbours are wondering what’s going on. It’s not like they can even put an ‘average’ age to the faces… it runs the full gamut from 17 to 70 but they all have one thing in common – they love life!

Mind you, if my visitors show up in pairs, then I’m a little less inclined to do a full guided weekend – I figure a quick whip around on the first night so that they can get their bearings and find their way home is grand. Then it’s map, keys, catchyalater. I mean, ‘cmon, if I’d had to walk through the marzipan museum 11 times, or had to spend a total of 27.5 hours in the House of Terror, I’d be suicidal by now. Wining and dining I can find time for… then I get to try something new, too. I’ve even suggested on two occasions that they fly into Bratislava and out of Budapest. I catch the train to Slovakia and we stay over one night before coming back to Budapest,IMG_1849.

Guest bedrooms are always a difficult one – striking that balance between oestrogen and testosterone  when it comes to colour, style and taste can be challenging. I found the duvet cover in Chichester and it tied in so nicely with the slates (bought in Co Clare years ago on a roadtrip with Macker) and my celtic cross (a rather odd find in Valdez, Ak) that it had to be the feature for the room. Everything else was built around it. It’s my homage to home – two homes actually, Alaska and Ireland. My gran’s graduating certificate from Oxford, the deed to my little plot of land in Kennicott, Alaska, a picture of the house my mum grew up in that was used by British Airways in an ad campaign…. stuff I’ve been carting around for years! The chairs I found in a second-hand shop at the back of the Grand Market. A good find. The cushions came from parna, a treasure trove of great vintage linens, and are hand-embroidered here. So intricate and yet so simple.

If you look really closely, you’ll see my window box. For weeks I was the only one on my emelet (floor) without flowers on my sills. I didn’t want to give in to peer pressure, albeit silent, but I was beginning to think I was living in the valley of the squinting windows. So I compromised. Boxes yes, flowers no. Trees and shrubs instead. That’s conforming with a lowercase ‘c’!

You might as well live

Once upon a time, the world was bright and new, and Dorothy Parker was one of the brighest and newest people in it. She was an elfin woman who had two kinds of magic about her. Her first magical quality was that no one could ever consider her dispassionately, and the other was that no one could precisely define her. So says John Keats in his unofficial biography of Ms Parker You might as well live.

Having recently achieved my Competent Communicator  certificate from Toastmasters International, I’m steadily working my way through the advanced programme with a view to attaing my Bronze by the end of the year. That bit about me not being ambitious is a blatant lie 🙂 Anyway, my task for the meeting last Monday night was to read a piece of literature and infuse it with feeling while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.  No tall order, especially when you’re wrestling with these bloody print-on-demand books that flap around like beached whales. But what better piece than Ms Parker’s A telephone call. Like so much of her work, even though written in the 1920s and 1930s, it is as apt today as it was then. I love it and I loved reading it. So much so that I’m seriously contemplating developing a one-woman hour-long show on the life and works of the great DP.

Yes, such is Budapest. It brings out the best in you; pushes you to the limit; dares you to venture into places you’ve shunned before. Not since the heady days of 6th class, at the tender age of 11, have I strutted my stuff on stage – and then it was as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. And yes, I know I can’t sing… and neither could Christopher Plummer. But I rather fancy doing a turn at one of JFW’s autumnal salons. Get your tickets early as it’s sure to be a sell out. I knew that LBD would come in handy one day!!!

Updated pages: Bedrooms/and room for a guest or two

The trees on Üllői út

More than a year ago, on April 15, I signed the papers for my flat in Budapest. It marked the beginning of what I saw as a new era – one in which I would truly come into my own. No more working for big corporates, selling my soul in 8-hour segments. No more having to ask for a day off. No more resenting time wasted on those unproductive days that should have been spent under a duvet. Signing that contract was more than a simple act of purchase. Yes, I was buying a flat, but more importantly I was buying into a new way of life.

img_1644So, I was buying in the wrong part of town, at a time when prices maybe were higher than expected, when the exchange rate wasn’t exactly going my way but I was buying. I was putting down roots. I’d finally made the decision that I’d managed to avoid thus far. I was settling down. More than a year later and that decision finally feels right. Not that I for a minute believe I’ll end my days on Üllői út – but for the moment, this is home. And for the first time, it’s starting to feel like home.

I cooked lamb dinner Easter Sunday. I dragged the kitchen chairs into the living room and we sat around the dining table… that centrepiece of civility. It was lovely. Each of us brought something to the table. Each of us in Budapest by choice, be it choosing to come or choosing to stay. Balcony doors open, cool breeze blowing through, fine wine, good company, great food. Companiable silences punctuated by police sirens and ambulances. Background music mixing nicely with the steady beat of traffic. The view from the balcony into the 9th district was heady.

The 9th has been renovated to within an inch of its life. New street lamps reflect off the shiney new-build walls. Old and new sit side by side creating that intangible cosmopolitanism that is the mark of Capital city. It struck me that I could be living anywhere, in any big European city, and I was at once pleased with the thought and yet somewhat dejected. This one should somehow be different.

And then I looked to my left and saw Üllői út in all its glory. It runs southeastwards from Kalvin tér all the way to timg_16492he airport. At the Kalvin tér end, there are lots of neo-classical buildings (including one by the famous Ybl Miklos – No. 17). Where it intersects the Korut, there’s the Museum of Applied Arts and as you travel further out, Semmelweiss University and ‘the offices’. It seems like new buildings go up overnight. What makes it though, is the trees. Standing to attention on either side of the road, like a guard of honour resplendent in their green uniforms, they are truly magnificent. And that particular evening, they smelled of home.

Tonight, the lovely MI, who has introduced me to so much here in Budapest, introduced me to Kosztolányi . We had been talking about the trees. Yes, I am home.

The yellowed fields are withering, trees of Ulloi út
My moods like suns of autumn sink;
soughing and slowly blows the wind
and kilts the past spring’s root.

O where, 0 where does fly the youth?
You sad leaved trees, 0 tell the truth,
trees of Ulloi út

 For more on Üllői út, see my recent article in the Budapest Times

Updated 14 May 2011 : I walked up from Kalvin tér today, along Üllői út and for the first time noticed this plaque to the great man himself. It surprised me. I’ve walked that street many times and I wonder why I’ve never noticed it before. And why today? Perhaps because I’ve finished reading a collection of his stories? Perhaps because I was looking up and around instead of down at the street? Perhaps because I’d stopped, just then, to let someone by. For whatever reason, it was nice to see and nicer still to see that Üllői út can still surprise me.