Thinking of moving?

Statistics tell us that there were 173 million blogs in teh world in October 2011. Lots of blogs. Some pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, some functional, some interesting, some rubbish, some for cliques with niche interests … and then there’s Expat Blog.

Actually, this is more like a a web portal than a blog. It was launched in 2005 by expatriates, for expatriates. Its aim is simple: to help people living or or moving abroad, wherever they are from or wherever they would like to go. It has over 420 000 members (including yours truly) from 206 countries and 400 big cities.

The website offers various tools to help expats or those planning to acquire the moniker: discussion forums, blog directory (a great way to learn about life in another city or country) guides, photo albums,  a business directory, classifieds. It also has a jobs and housing section.  The job offers site is particularly interesting as you can access job offers for a particular country by job category and contract. You can also upload a CV and contact potential employers. See the example for Hungary job offers.

The Hungary Housing section has accommodation for rent, sale, or sharing. You can see pictures of the apartment and get in touch with the person via Expat blog (you need to be a member of Expat blog to post an ad). It’s a one-stop-shop for anyone contemplating a move abroad. And from what I’ve been hearing on the ground, seems like there’s lots of people on the move.

Grateful 36

One of the nicest things in life is home-cooking. And of all the home-cooking there is, Sunday lunch is probably the most special. That time when two, three or four generations come to the table and stay a little longer than usual, talking about the week just gone and the one about to unfold. In Ireland, when I’m home, we have roast lamb (my mother spoils me). In Hungary, when I cook Sunday lunch, I, too, have roast lamb (if I’ve been lucky enough to find some). Last Sunday, for the first time, I ate rooster.

The poor thing can rest in peace knowing that his every last morsel  was cooked and eaten – from his comb to his feet to his balls – nothing was wasted. Many moons ago, an eco-friendly cook urged me to buy whole poultry and not just legs and breasts and thighs – she pointed out the wanton waste involved in piecemealing chickens and geese and ducks. And it never really hit home to me until I saw this rooster, in his entirety, sitting atop a bed of boiled carrots, parsnips, celariac, and swede. He was the basis for the soup, which we put together ourselves by adding some noodles, some veg, some meat, and then covering it all with broth and a tiny piece of hot paprika.

Next up was the pörkölt – with yet some more of our friendly rooster, served with homemade noodles and pickled vegetables, cucumber salads, and beets. Everything from the garden – including the homemade horseradish (the best I’ve ever tasted).  I’ve seen the effort that goes into making these noodles and I’ve suffered the resultant pains from trying (once!) to make them myself. Respect Mrs Sz. Respect. I bet if I’d sneaked a look in the kitchen bin last Sunday, there’d have been nothing much to see in the way of packaging. I could literally taste the freshness.

At this stage I was wondering where it would all fit. I toyed with the idea of a quick jog up the street to make room for more, but it was raining. So I suffered blissfully through the rántott hús (breaded meat) flattened to within a centimetre of its life (poor chicken). Served alongside delicious shredded potato cakes and a gorgeous salad with eggs straight from the chickens in the yard – possibly even from the same chicken! Look at how yellow those yolks are.  I could have quite contentedly plopped myself on the couch with this bowl on my lap and whiled away the afternoon idly contemplating the meaning of life between scoops. But I’d seen the heaped plates covered in tinfoil that Annus néni had brought with her and I had a sneaking suspicion that dessert lay just ahead.

And I was right. Coconut squares and apple tart.  Coconut is somewhat of a novelty here in the pastry business (as in this is only the second time I’ve come across it: there’s a pastry shop in District VIII that is quite famous for its coconut somethings). But it was the apple pie that made me think I’d died and gone to heaven. For once I was glad that Hungarians add tejföl to everything. Now, my pidgeon Hungarian meant that my direct questioning of the cooks was limited to listing out the ingredients I recognised, and then adding a stray és (and) and looking quizzical when I needed some blanks filling in. It worked. I have the recipes. What I don’t have is access to their back yard and garden.

This week, I’m grateful for the fact that even though I’m 1894 kilometres from my mother’s Sunday lunch table, there are those in Hungary willing to open their homes and invite me to pull up a seat to join them at theirs. Ezer köszönöm.

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]

Coincidence or progress?

I don’t get many callers. Hardly ever has anyone passed by my flat and just decided to call in because they were in the neighbourhood. This isn’t Ireland. People generally phone ahead to see if I will be home and to gauge my mood before venturing forth. Last week, I had a delivery and the chap was complaining that my buzzer wasn’t working (or at least that’s what I thought he said). Yesterday, I was expecting a visitor. I checked my intercom and it was dead to the world. So I did something I usually don’t do unless in dire emergency – and this hardly qualified: I picked up the phone and called the Management Company.

Deep breath. They answered. I asked, hopefully, in Hungarian, if they spoke English. Nem! And a very loud NEM at that. Usually at this stage, I’d hang up and then call one of my Hungarian-speaking mates to do the work for me. But this time, I perservered. In very halting Hungarian, I told her who I was, where I was living, and why I was calling. I had to be a little creative about the doorbell and the telephone as I couldn’t remember the word for intercom.I hung up hoping I wouldn’t get back from the Clinic to find my front door painted a bright shade of purple.

Three hours later, I came back. And my intercom was working. Coincidence or progress? I know which one I’m going for 🙂

The cave people

Driving around the island of Malta a couple of weeks ago, I was suprised to see what looked like caves in the hillside. I’ve read David Ball’s The Sword and the Scimitar and know that during the great seige, the Jewish community took to the hills and lived in relative safety in the caves. Seeing them is a stark reminder of a way of life that is long since dead.

Cave dwelling (or troglodytism), was very popular here during medieval times, too. In the mid-1500s many Maltese lived in caves. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1830s that the last cave dwellers were forcibly evicted by the British. At Ghar il-Kbir we can still see these caves and get some idea of how people lived back then. Cave mouths dot the hillsides, opening into used-to-be homes like this one at Ximxia hill.

And how about this for a radom connection: Caves + dwellers = Cavedwellers, the movie where Aidan Quinn plays an abusive husband – which reminds me of The Eclipse where Aidan Quinn plays an abusive boyfriend. What is it with Aidan Quinn? Or, more to the point, what’s with my fascination with Aidan Quinn playing the bad boy?

Clemency and choice

Some people took issue with me regarding a piece I wrote for the Budapest Times a while ago. It had to do with choice – and a woman’s right to choose.

Dr Ágnés Geréb was since arrested, tried, convicted, and is now in prison. Somewhat ironically, what she was imprisioned for has now been legalised so technically her crime is no longer a crime.

The situation:  On February 10th, 2012, the Budapest Appeal Court announced the verdict in the case of Dr. Ágnes Geréb (an OB/Gyn as well as a midwife) and four other Hungarian midwives. The terms of Ágnes Geréb’s sentence of two-year imprisonment were tightened, a ban on practicing doubled to ten years.

No less than full clemency is needed (although, one wonders, in the absence of a President, who would grant a presidential pardon?) Dr Geréb is a pioneer, to be championed not incarcerated. She was the first in Hungary to let fathers into the labor ward, allowing families to experience the miracle of birth together. She assisted several thousand normal births without complications, and facilitated the beginning of numerous happy lives.

So far, more than 6000 people from all over the world have signed a petition for clemency. Remember, it is the ability to choose that makes us human. Not one given to putting my name to anything without due thought and consideration, Ágnés Geréb does not belong in jail. She should be out assisting those women who have chosen to give birth at home She should be out facilitating a Hungarian woman’s right to choose.

Grateful 37

For the last ten days, I have shared my space with one, two, at times three men who were attempting to revive my aging woodwork and repair the damage I did to my walls when Feng Shui demanded that I rehang my pictures. For the most part, we got along just grand. I turned a blind eye to the dust and the dirt and gave thanks that they at least covered the furniture before starting work. I played musical beds as they moved from room to room and I got used to stepping over chairs and books and bags to get to my kettle. I told myself repeatedly that it would soon be over.

The work that I do to pay for this painting is rarely accomplished in one day. There are few finite tasks that I can start, work through, and finish in a day. Most are part of a continuous chain of events, just one link in what will develop into something tangible months down the road. It’s rare that I get that sense of satisfaction from completing something. So when I was presented with a mound of door handles and key plates to shine and polish, I was ecstatic. Completely engrossed in my work, I didn’t notice the hours go by. The satisfaction I got from seeing my face reflected in the surface was positively orgasmic (well, not quite, but nearly!)

So, instead of looking at the inches of dust that have accumulated over the last few days and screaming silently at the thoughts of making them disappear; instead of looking at tiles and parquet that need to be resusscitated and groaning at the back-breaking work that will involve; instead of dreading the loads and loads of laundry that lie ahead of me and the accompanying ironing, I’m actually looking forward to it all.

Now that might well say something about the state of my social life – but hand on my heart, this week, I’m grateful that my flat is a tip. I’m grateful that I will have two solid days of the kind of work that offers immense satisfaction. A begining, a middle, and an end. And no, I wouldn’t want to do this for a living – but every now and then it’s good to do something concrete – something where you can see the difference your work has made.

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]

Guess who’s coming to dinnner

I am the first to admit that I will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the technological 21st century. A toddler picked up my antiquated Nokia phone the other day and couldn’t figure out why the screen wouldn’t change when he brushed it. How far beyond redemption am I when a three-year-old thinks I’m a dinosaur? I knew the day would come when I’d find myself harking back to the good old days, reminiscing about how it used to be… I just didn’t think it would come when I was still this side of 50.

Gone are the days when we might have a quiet dinner together, sorting out the world’s problems or catching up on who’s doing what with whom. Now it’s me, you, and your smart phone – ergo me, you, and all your friends. And your friends, constantly interrupting our conversation with e-mails and texts, seem to get more of your attention than I do. Perhaps I should just give in and get a smart phone.  Or perhaps I should just be more choosey about who I hang out with.

Disconnected

I have a friend in Ireland who doesn’t have a mobile phone. She doesn’t have a Facebook account. She doesn’t Tweet or Blog or have a private email address. And she seems to get along just fine. She’s a well-adjusted, active member of society. She manages to stay connected and not miss out on parties or events. She’s more current on current affairs than many others I know. She’s always on time because she has no way of letting people know that she’ll be late. And what’s more – she has time to do things. Things like decorating, or picking wild mushrooms, or gardening. And when I have dinner with her, I get her undivided attention. And I like it.

Inconsiderate

By our very nature, we like attention. We like to be the focus of conversation. We like to be heard. Oscar Wilde reportedly said that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about. We fall in love with those who make us feel like we’re the only other person in the room. We are drawn to those who listen to us, who make us feel that we have something to say that’s worth hearing. We choose to spend our time with those who make us feel special. So why then, when we come into possession of a smart phone do we turn into stupid people – rude, inconsiderate, and downright ignorant at times.

Yes, of course, this was happening ever before the smart phone came into inexistence…to a certain extent. But in the last twelve months, it seems to me that it’s spiralled way out of control. And I am sick of it. Last night I had dinner with a mate of mine who was keeping one eye on me, another on the conversation, and a third on the text conversation he was having with a mate of his. I pointed out how rude he was being. He said that his mate was the sort of mate who needed a quick response. I pointed out that I was sitting right there, had asked him a question, and would like a response, too. He said that I could see him but his mate couldn’t. So therefore, his absent mate deserved more attention that the one at the table (me). For all the attention I got, I may as well have been sitting at home at my kitchen table, with dinner for one and a mirror propped in front of the milk jug to create the illusion of company. At least I’d have had a decent conversation.

Obsessed

I had thought that the Hungarian obsession with mobile phones was a lot more intense than the Irish one, but alas, it’s not so. Both nations seem equally damaged. Dinner in Dublin or dinner in Budapest – the only difference is the bottom line on the bill. Both peoples are addicted to staying in touch with those absent and in danger of alienating those present. And what’s worse is that no-one but me seems to have a problem with this behaviour.

What is wrong with the world? Is it too much to ask of you that you show a little respect for the company you’re keeping? I go to great lengths to stock up on amusing anecdotes. I read voraciously to stay current on what’s happening in the world. I live life to the fullest and am happy to make mistakes so that you can benefit from my experience. My goal as a dinner guest is to provide you with witty repartee, insightful comments, and interesting conversation. The least you could do is switch off your phone and pay attention.

First published in the Budapest Times 20 April 2012

23/4/2012 – And fresh from Australia from Biddy

Too little, too late

As cigarettes creep towards a whopping €10 a pack in Dublin, and Budapest begins to get used to the new smoking laws, I’ve only now discovered something I’d love to have known about, were I still smoking.

For the last few days, I’ve been sharing my flat with a painter who has been doing and continues to do trojan work on my wood. He’s a lovely lad who actually knows what masking tape is! He has a body-wracking cough but intends giving up smoking when his second child is born in December. At least, that’s what I think he intends. My Hungarian is being stretched to its limits and it’s not beyonds the bounds of reason that what he’s telling me and what I’m understanding are two completely different things. But then, I can say that about most of my interactions with the opposite sex. I have to admit though, that I’m rather enjoying the experience – having to use my Hungarian, that is. Perhaps I should just take myself off to some tiny village where English has yet to be heard and immerse myself in it all for a week or two. Am sure that by the end of it, all those language lessons I’ve had might actually start to bear some fruit.

But I digress. Back to the fags. I’ve never been able to roll my own. I seem to lack the required dexterity. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have. And wasted a lot of tobacco and papers in the process. So when me man showed me his set-up, I was well impressed.

The initial outlay for the gadget is less than €5. The bag of baccy is about €8 and the box of ready-rolled cigarette papers with filters is about €1.50. So, once you have the gadget, you can knock up a carton of fags of the price of 20 in Dublin.

It reminded me of making sausages in my grandad’s  butcher shop, many, many moons ago. I’m not really into gadgets but something this nifty would almost make me take up the fags again. Almost, I said! And yes, I know. Someone is going to tell me that this contraption is as old as Methuselah and that I’m sooooo behind the times. So be it. Just think of all the things that are old hat to you that I have yet to discover. Sometimes it pays to be a dinosaur. And sure isn’t it the simple things in life that give the most pleasure.

Said in passing

I was down in Tipperary town at a funeral with my Dad on Easter Sunday. Boss retired in 1989 after giving more than 42 years of his life to An Garda Síochána (trans. Guardians of the Peace – the Irish cops, polis, rendőrség, policja, whatever your semantic leaning). The death of a former Assistant Commissioner had brought the masses from near and far on what the priest described as the best day of the year to be buried – if you could choose a day and had to be buried!

Going down in the car (Tipp town is about 160 km from home) Boss was bemoaning the pomp and ceremony that is involved in funerals today replacing the simplicity of what he was familiar with. He spoke of being stationed in Tullaroan (Co Kilkenny) many, many years ago. A local seminarian Mick Fitzpatick dropped by the station one day and asked if was free at 11.30. He said he was. Mick asked him to go to a  funeral of this ould lad who been away from the village for years. He reckoned that mourners would be thin on the ground and Boss was being asked along to make up the numbers (reminds me of JP Donleavy’s The lady who liked clean restrooms).

Quite different from our neighbours in the UK, we Irish go to funerals of people we’ve never met. We go because we know someone related to them who is still alive. We go to funerals to support the living rather than to mourn the dead. And, according to Boss, the older you are when you die, the smaller the funeral. On reflection, it seemed a little macabre to be talking about death on Easter Sunday and it was a tad surreal when it dawned on me that my dad was, in fact, spelling out all he didn’t want to happen at his. No processions. No lofty speeches. No ‘one man on the altar lying about the man lying in the coffin’.  Just a plain, simple, funeral – like they had years go.

In the churchyard afterwards, a chap who had served with him back in the day, came up to say hello. He pulled Boss aside and said: I still remember the last words you said to me about a week before you retired. I took them to heart and tried to do as you said. And I’m going to tell you now what they were because I can see by you that you don’t remember. You said: I gave too much to the job – don’t you do the same. Amazing to think that something he said back in January of 1989 could still ring true some 23 years later. Boss did give a lot to the job – I barely saw him as a child growing up – murder, kidnapping, and mayhem seemed to vanish him in the early mornings before I got up and keep him out well past the time I had to go to bed. Such was the nature of the job.

And yet it’s a lesson we never seem to learn. What is it about us that we spend so much time trying to make enough money to have a better life and all the while that better life is passing us by? Generation after generation make the same mistake. For some, like my dad, the dedication is to the job – not the money. For others, the job is a means to an end and that end is money. When do we adopt the delusion that we are indispensible? Irreplaceable? When do we start thinking about ourselves in terms of our job, our career – when do we become whatever it is we do? And when, when do we finally realise that we got it wrong?

Grateful 38

I woke up on Monday morning with a feeling of disquiet that I just can’t shake. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m confused. I don’t know my arse from my elbow. I’m two month’s behind schedule with my dissertation which is due at the end of June. I’ve yet to start it. I have workmen in the flat so the place is covered in dust. I’m covered in dust.  I would sleep for Ireland – and for Hungary – if I didn’t have to be up at sparrowfart each morning to let the lads in. I’m sick to the back teeth of politics. I’m sick to my stomach of rude, petty-minded people who can’t punctuate. And I’m just plain sick from all the chocolate I’ve eaten this week.

I’m annoyed that I haven’t yet managed to learn Hungarian. I’m annoyed that I can’t read my mail with any degree of accuracy. I’m annoyed that I can’t find artichokes in water in this city. I’m sad that I lost my best mate. I’m sad that some people use the adjectives formidable and intimidating to describe me. I’m sad that Rory McIlroy didn’t feature in the Masters even though I picked Bubba Watson to win.

I’m angry that Orban is nationalising all recycling companies in Hungary come January 2013. I’m angry that petrol is so damn expensive. I’m angry that I can’t find my black onyx ring. I’m upset that I keep crying and keep crying because I’m  upset. I’m frustrated that I can’t finish anything I start and so have stopped starting anything at all. I’m pissed off, fed up, and mad at the world. And it’s Friday.

And right in the middle of a major hissy fit today brought on by something as serious as me breaking a fingernail, I remembered a poem by Rod McKuen that I memorised many moons ago:

It’s nice sometimes
to open up the heart a little
and let some hurt come in.
It proves you’re still alive.

If nothing else
it says to you–
clear as high hill air,
uncomfortable
as diving through
cold water–

I’m here.
However wretchedly I feel,
I feel.

This week, I am grateful for the simple fact that I feel.

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]