I don’t spend nearly enough time on rooftops

Venetian pavement 2009

A man walks up Krúdy Gyula utca carrying a pair of chopsticks… No joke. I was stting outside Fictiv enjoying a Saturday evening constitutional, and had his progress in full view. Eyes down, he would stop very so often and use the chopsticks to prise coins from the pavement joints. What a way to make a living. Two memories came to mind: one of this footpath in Venice and another of the start of the old Mary Tyler Moore show.  In stark contrast, she always walked with her head held high. Her view of the world was slightly different to most.

(C) Steve Fareham

Back when I was living in London, S&P came to visit. We were wandering around Piccadilly as S wanted to see the Piccadilly divers. I was convinced she was raving. I have a thing about statues, and couldn’t believe I’d missed something that obvious. I was sure she had the wrong address. But there they were. My problem? I’d never taken the time to look up.

While in Zagreb last year, I spent an amazing afternoon at the cemetery and took lots of carefully chosen photographs. And yet, just last week, when looking for photos, I came across one I don’t remember. I remember taking it, but I don’t remember seeing it.  I don’t remember it being so deep.

Looking at another of Kerényi Zoltán’s photo albums, perspective comes to mind, yet again. Taken from the rooftops of Budapest, they give a completely different focus to the city. I though I knew the city well, but there are some vantage points that I cannot place. I’ve probably passed them a hundred times but have never seen them from this particular angle. I don’t spend nearly enough time on rooftops.

As Ani Difranco said When I look down, I miss all the good stuff. When I look up I just trip over things. It’s all a matter of perspective.

What? A beach? In Budapest?

‘You must have been to Kopaszi Gát?’ An innocent enough sounding question but asked with an American accent with just a soupçon of surprise, it took on a whole new meaning. I pride myself in getting around this city and finding the good places, so not knowing there was a beach practically on my doorstep disturbed me. And like a Doubting Thomas, I had to see for myself.

A walk across Lágymányosi híd, down the steps, across the road, and onto Kopaszi Gát is like a heading to the country without having to take the car. This ‘half-island’ was first built after the flood in 1838 to protect the industrial area to the right. It didn’t really come into its own until a development company from Portugal saw its potential in 2003 and started… well…. developing it.

Think 15 hectares of beautifully landscaped parks, lots of trees, shrubs and rope-sided walkways. There are places to bike, to walk, to run, to sit, to sleep, to play, to read, to eat, to drink, to boat, to dance… It has everything. Including its own sandy beach. Had I not seen it myself, I’d have scarce believed it.

The American in question, RC esq., had recommended a café called Pulp Fiction. Now, interestingly, only the previous evening, I’d been embroiled in a conversation with a Hungarian friend on the merits of NOT translating street names and place names to English. My argument: I can’t find Freedom bridge on a map, but I can find Szabadság híd. This was a case in point. How was I to know that the Hungarian for pulp fiction is ponvayregény? So I went to the Bistro instead and will leave Café Ponvayregény for another day.

And there will be another day. This little oasis of green manages to do the impossible. Looking out over water on either side, the foliage frames the scars of an industrial landscape and makes them almost palatable. This is, apparently, a brownfield development site and this park is just the start of bigger plans for the area.

And it gets better – we stopped off at the Ludwig on the way back to see the Moholy-Nagy László Art of Light Exhibit. Although a little disappointed that more of his photographs weren’t on display, the bonus showing of Bridget Jones – the Edge of Reason was hilarious… even if I’m still not getting the connection between the two.

Over before it began

Two memories collided last week to bring a slight halt to my gallop and give air to a peculiar vulnerability that I share with Stephen Fry.

Many, many years ago, when working with the Bank of Ireland in Dublin, one of the lads in the office made a throwaway comment to the effect that my death would make the headlines. It was simply not in my nature to ‘go gentle into that good night’. Every now and then something happens to remind me of this.

A few years ago, Dublin Bus found its sense of humour and introduced some signage onto night buses that gave tourists cause to think that pole dancing was the new  fetish among Irish women. That, too, stuck in my mind. I have a distinct memory of trying to convince the inimitable Mr Evans to have an ‘open pole’ night at his Club here in Budapest. I’d even gone so far as to suggest Tuesday nights at 10pm. I figured that there had to be some other women my age who harboured fantasies of performing on stage – just once. A bucket list thing.

Sadly, Mr Evans has moved back to the UK so that avenue has closed. However, the lovely MI, remembered hearing of this dream and signed me up for pole-dancing classes here in the city, in the shadow of the Synagogue. No special clothes needed. So, other than the initial cost of the classes, no further financial outlay was required. I was curious, and, dare I say, a little excited, about giving this a go. Apart from anything else, it’s supposed to be great exercise – a blessing in a somewhat unusal disguise. Apparently I would learn techniques that require muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and  strong body coordination. And half of Hollywood’s A list has had poles installed at home.

I turned up. On time. The first shock to my system was the bevvy of beauties waiting in the rather cosy reception dressed in briefer-than-briefs briefs and shorter-than-short shorts. And tanned. All of them. All over. No special clothes….mmmm…  my spaghetti-strapped top and my tracksuit bottoms would render me decidedly overdressed. But I had made it this far. I was attracting some curious side-long glances but put this down to the fact that I wasn’t a native, tanned, twentysomething…

We changed. And after a few self-conscious minutes where I failed miserably to fade into the background and was trying instead to adapt the nonchalance I’d recently come to associate with Stephen Fry [I’ve just finished his latest autobiog], the class began. The room was walled in mirrors. There was no escaping me. For the warm-up exercises, I focused directly on the instructor, watching her every move as my limited Hungarian wasn’t up to following her spoken instructions. So closely did I watch that I’m sure I could have been had for static stalking. But I did ok. Not the most graceful swan on the river by any means, but I held my own and did just fine.

Then came the poles. You could circle them easily with your thumb and index finger. About 4 metres high, each one was secured by four bolts into the floor and another four bolts into the ceiling. One was a little loose. The instructor, all 40kg of her showed us the first series of moves  – she reached up and caught hold of the pole, arm fully extended and then, feet off the floor, swung herself around and around until she landed. All her weight was suspended by her wrist as she floated through the air like a ribbon on a maypole. It was then that I started to flashback to those headlines. I had 25kg on the person closest to me in size and was overwhelmed with a vision of the roof falling in as my pole collapsed under my weight, killing all and sundry. When they cleared the rubble, they would find my hand still attached, and my father would know what I’d been up to.

Now, were I less self-confident, I’d have stayed in the class and tried to muddle through. Instead, I excused myself, and left. I’d lasted twenty minutes; long enough for me to draw a pencilled line through that particular bucket list entry.

In a fashion that is a little like cleaning the flat before the cleaner arrives, I figure I need to lose 20 kg before I next attempt to hang out of a pole – be it on the Night bus to Swords or wherever. So, I did what I’ve been threatening to do for years – I bought some gym shoes. One step at a time.

Bedroom: More bedroom than boudoir

IMG_4860mmmm… again I wasn’t entirely convinced by this rearrangement of furniture but I’m used to it now. By all accounts it’s less claustrophobic and more like part of the flat than a separate room. Who am I to judge – I only live there!

Still, albeit a little begrudgingly, it does make a difference when you look in from the living room and see the chest of drawers rather than the wardrobe – a lot less intimidating and more people friendly. I wonder if there’s a lesson there for me?

Hallway: Feng shui’d

IMG_4854Sha Chi  is bad feng shui energy, aka killing energy or attacking energy.  Think sharp walls, angles, long hallways flowing from the main door to the outer windows – think my hallway. And, to exacerbate the problem, my pictures were hung in one long line. If ever there was a poison arrow…this was it.

I wasn’t at all amenable to moving the pictures around. I quite liked the long, straight-line effect, but I’d promised myself that I would follow the feng s instructions to the letter and, after much procrastination, spent the whole day rearranging my pictures.

First off, I had to buy more frames because now that I was going for the grouped effect, I didn’t have enough. Then I had to plan my strategy and lay them out on the floor so that I could ‘plan’ the rectangles.  Then I had to measure and try to get a line. At one stage I seriously missed having someone to boss me about  – a little left, a little up, no, too much – as it was, I had just myself to blame when it took three gos to get it right and only myself to congratulate when it worked first time. All in all, I think it was quite successful – if I discount the fact that I have myriad old holes to fill (I’ve heard tell that toothpaste works a treat?!)  and need to touch up the paintwork and have to find photos for the place-holder frames. The unions would love me – a successful day’s work is one that creates the need for yet another day’s work.

Living room: A Blue Peter Chandelier

For those of you not acquainted with Blue Peter, it’s the world’s longest running children’s TV programme. It first aired on the BBC in October 1958 and was famous (at least in my memory) for making stuff. You could make anything if you just had glue, paper, scissors, and some tape. Personally, I think it was what inspired MacGyver.

Anyway, it’s what came to mind when PF suggested that I ‘fashion’ a chandelier for my living room. With 4-metre-high ceilings, I’d need something rather substantial; something authentic and rather substantial would cost serious money… money I didn’t have. He also made the point that up until you cross the threshold of my living room, my flat screams ‘contemporary’. Once you step inside, it goes all old-fashioned. It needed a transition – a link between the two worlds. Personally, I thought this was a little rich but hey, I’m not in the interiors business – what would I know? He suggested that if I continued the big, white ball theme that runs from the front door, down the hallway into the living room, I could have just that. A transition.

But it wasn’t as simple as getting three more big, white balls from Ikea. We had to make the mount. I used the term ‘we’ advisedly as all I did was source the jig saw (a belated thanks to PE) and the MDF. Now, I know from experience that when I have an idea in my head that I want to  materialise, all the explaining in the world just won’t do it. It has to happen before people can see what it is I’m on about. I had no clue where this was going. But I was sure of two things. (1) PF is an architect and knows his stuff. (2) I was sick to the back teeth of looking at a bare lightbulb. So much after much blood, sweat, and a few tears, voila!  I have a chandelier. One that is more than just a light – it’s a transition piece, a statement piece, a one-of-a-kind. Cheap at half the price!

Something old, something new

It’s not often that I get to see how a number of choices meld together to create something that actually works. Even more so when you’re making those choices in the hope that it will all come together but you know that it could just as well go completely wrong as go completely right. I’m jazzed. I struck lucky.

At lunch last week, the inimitable Mr F started waxing lyrically about this photograph he’d gotten as a birthday present. When explaining to me that  it captured a Russian tank on fire in front of McDonalds on Blaha Lujza tér didn’t work, he pulled out his iPhone to show me another photo of WWII parachutists in the sky over modern-day Budavár. I still wasn’t getting it but infectious as his enthusiasm is, I knew it was worth following up. So when he sent the link, I clicked – and I began to understand what he meant by superimposing old photos on new.

Rószák tere 1936 and 2011

Kerényi Zoltán started posting to this album earlier this year. Nothing much happened for a few weeks and then some blogger picked it up and it went viral. I must have been out of the country to have missed it. He gets some old photos, finds out where they were taken, goes back to the original spot, takes a new photo, and then inserts the old into the new. The difficultly is no so much finding the original places, apparently, but finding the right lens, angle, light to make the fit work. The result is this interesting take that gives you the best of both worlds – a window from the present to the past. Suddenly the juxtapositon of a burning Russian tank and the golden arch of McDonalds didn’t seem so implausible.

Halászbástya 1975 and 2011

I have this inexplicable need for things to be signed. American author Evan Esar maintains that a signature always reveals a man’s character – and sometimes even his name. Perhaps that’s what intrigues me. Be it a book, a painting, a photograph, a ceramic ashtray, I want it signed by the person behind it. It makes it more real. And for signatures, you need matting. Trouble is, this word does not translate into Hungarian. Nor can you buy precut matts in assorted sizes. There’s a market there for someone. And it’s nigh on impossible to find a readymade frame in Budapest that has not been made in China.

Getting photos or paintings framed in Budapest is right up there with tooth extractions on my list of least favourite things to do. Choosing the matting and the frame; deciding on the size, the look; taking the effect I want it to have out of my head and articulating it in such a way that I get what I want and praying that what I want actually works – that all adds up to stress. Bringing someone along for a signature (or a second opinion) is even more stressful as I’m likely to be talked into choices I know won’t work. But work they do. Am jazzed. Nice work Mr K. Nice work. Am so glad I ignored the denim blue.

Violent milk

Just 30 km from the Balaton in the direction of Kaposvár lies the little town of Somogyvámos where  Krishna Völgy (Krishna Valley) sits. Its 260 hectares houses a cultural centre, an eco farm, a village (complete with temple and school) and 150 Krishna devotees committed to living in accordance with the ancient Vedic scriptures. When I mentioned to  Foodie friend of mine in the UK that I was going to visit the Haré Krishnas at home in Eco Valley, she immediately started talking about milk. Here in Hungary, as at George Harrison’s old mansion in Hertfordshire in the UK, cows enjoy a sacred life. There is a strict no-kill policy. No matter how old, how decrepit, how useless, the animals live out their natural lives…and do so quite happily, it would seem.

Each animal has its own name. I was personally introduced to Radhika and fell madly in love. (Don’t tell me you’re surprised?) Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Haré Krishna movement, set up farm communities almost from the git go [and there I was thinking they simply danced in the streets]. His idea of ‘simple living, high thinking’ is realised by the community in Krishna Völgy who are striving, in so far as practically possible, to be self-sufficient. Srila Prabhupada, like all persons so inspired, apparently had a stock of quotable quotes – morsels of wisdom that might, on first hearing, seem somewhat inane, but on deeper reflection, capture huge concepts in tiny phrases. You can’t eat nuts and bolts. No, you can’t. A simple statement – but think of what it implies: by being dependant on  bulls and cows, by working the land in order to be self-sustainable, and by protecting these animals in harmony with the natural laws of God, Haré Krishnas utilize this life in a conscious fashion [the keyword for me in all of this is ‘conscious’].

But back to the happy cows and their gifts of milk, butter, curd, yogurt, and cheese. And don’t forget the urine and the dung, both of which are used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Dung is also used as fuel for cooking and many believe it to be a powerful antiseptic [others disagree]. Late last year, the Guardian ran an article on two extremes – a proposed new 8000-head dairy farm and a small farm of just 44 cows and oxen (on the aforementioned former home of Beatle George Harrison). And, having discovered ahimsa [slaughter-free] milk, they asked a panel of experts to do a taste test between it and supermarket milk. No surprise which won.

So, I met the cows here in Hungary (one even gave birth the day I was there) and they are beautiful. And with each one having its own name, they’re very real. My granny had a farm and I’m well used to cows and calves and cows calving. Some had names but as kids, we were never encouraged to get attached to them as one day, we’d most likely be meeting them at the kitchen table. Talking to cows as if they were, well,  human, seemed a tad peculiar. And not for the first time, I found myself wondering at the innate human kindness that has been subversed to a greater or lesser degree in many of us, all in the name of progress.

I started reading up on ahimsa milk [according to the website: no bulls or cows were slaughtered or exploited to produce it] and discovered that this isn’t quite what it says. Ahimsa (Sanskrit: Devanagari; अहिंसा; IAST ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violencehimsa). And can there really be such a thing as ahimsa milk? According to Dusyanta dasa, picking a carrot and feeding it to a cow who is producing milk is violence by the human and the cow… ergo the milk cannot be non-violent (ahimsa).

Oh yes… I can see eyes being rolled to heaven and can hear vague murmurings of ‘she’s lost the plot’. But no, I haven’t stopped drinking supermarket milk – it’s not practical for me to do so. But I do think of Radhika as I drink it. And I am convinced that if we were all just a tad more aware of what we do and a tad more willing to accept responsibility for our actions, the world would be a creamier place. mmmm….might milk have become my metaphor?

Put a stamp on it

I had a birthday this past weekend. I’ve had so many now that it should be old hat. Just another day. An excuse to get some friends together and roast the year that’s gone and toast the year to come. Somewhere between thinking ‘where has the time gone’ and ‘I’m really too young to feel so old’ I managed a few sane, and reflective moments that might actually be constructive enough to share.

Mid-way through last year, I unchecked the ‘show birthday’ box on Skype and Facebook. Not because I am the shy, retiring type, but because I think that for all the good it does, Social Media is robbing us of so much. We no longer have to make an effort to remember and so when we do ‘remember’ it doesn’t quite mean what it used to. It was one of the best things I’ve done in a while. Yes, I automatically pulled the plug on, say, 50 viral birthday greetings, but every day last week, when I stopped off to pick up my post, I had a card or a letter from someone, somewhere in the world, who had remembered. Not only that – they had taken the trouble to buy (or even make!) a card, sign it, address it, and post their rememberance to me.

Because so much of my communication these days is electronic, I’d quite forgotten the simple pleasure that comes with real post – not just bills or subscriptions or junk mail, but real, down home, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned snail mail.

When I came back from the States in 2001, I started sending postcards to friends abroad who had never been to the places I was now getting the opportunity to see.  Yes, I blog about my travels, and yes I post the photos, but there’s something more personal about getting a postcard that says ‘while I was here, something I saw reminded me of you and I just want to share it’. My teenage self had a wall covered in postcards I’d received from friends travelling abroad – but this was back in  20 BTI (before the Internet).

This isn’t an ad for Hallmark, or a broadcast on behalf of post offices the world over. It’s not an attempt to stimulate a dying economy by getting out there and buying a card and a stamp. It’s just a reminder that all too often, in this needlessly complicated world of ours, it’s the simple things that give the most pleasure.

 

Desperate measures

I’ve been carrying SJ’s number in my phone for more than a year now. I’d never used it although I had thought about it plenty of times. But I was never quite that desperate. And then last week, devoid of energy, listless, restless, and on the verge of becoming soulless, I decided that the time had come to have my flat Feng Shui’d. Feel free to laugh or at the very least roll your eyes to heaven and wonder why is is that you’re surprised!

feng shui [ˈfʌŋ ˈʃweɪ] n (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and placement of a grave, building, room, etc., so that the maximum harmony is achieved between the flow of chi of the environment and that of the user, believed to bring good fortune. [from Chinese feng wind + shui water]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

I’d dabbled in it myself some time back – well, that’s a slight exaggeration. What I actually did was borrow a book from one friend and a compass from another in an effort to see if I could work it all out myself. [I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out which way was North – which explains quite a lot really, now that I think about it.] But so much appeared to be wrong in my flat that I hadn’t the heart to continue – Blue walls in the kitchen? Green walls in the bedroom? Yucca plants at the door? A long hallway? Short of knocking walls and repainting, I didn’t appear to have many options and as I wasn’t about to go there I chose simply not to believe.

But then I heard tales of the wonders SJ has wrought. She’s been practising in Hungary for 15 years and seems to know what she’s at. A resurfacing of old symptoms has me concerned – so concerned that as well as going down the traditional, well-trodden medical path, I am considering alternative ‘medicine’ of any kind…no matter how far-fetched it may seem. So I invited her in. She spent three hours doing calculations, walking the flat, taking notes, giving advice, explaining the whys and wherefores of what she was at. She moved furniture, suggested additions, and generally pointed out that according to the charts, the greatest space in my flat occupies the heart sector (mmmm… ) and the smallest part is in the money sector (double mmmmm…..). Pictures were taken done from the walls, some to find new homes in other rooms, some to emigrate completely. I have a beautiful hand-made Venetian mask, straight from a canal-side workshop…anyone interested?

To have her breeze through my home like a tornado – a home that has been painstakingly pieced together over the course of three years and tell me that the energy is wrong (be it chi, sha, or cutting chi) is a little disconcerting. To have her comment (in the nicest way, of course) that my dream of a gallery-type hallway had created a corridor of sha energy (not good) and would have to be reimagined, touched a chord. I found myself getting quite defensive at times and rather idiotically heard myself having an internal conversation peppered with ‘No, I bloody won’t!’ and then realising that I was paying good money for advice I was planning on ignoring. How stupid does that make me?

Her explanations of the energy left me rather muddled but I have decided to follow her instructions to the letter. I have chosen to believe. I look forward to massive changes in energy that are to come and to discovering the meaning of life sometime in the next three months. Watch this space.