2013 Grateful 14

I do some of my best thinking in bed. I’ve always been particularly fond of my eiderdown and when I graduated to a duvet, I thought all my birthdays had come together.I’ve been known to take to my bed mid-afternoon, if the world becomes a little too unwieldy. I’ve been known not to surface until late afternoon, if nothing else beckons. I’ve even been known to spend a whole weekend alternating between bed and sofa, surrounded by books and DVDs, quite happy in my own company. And I never see it as a waste of time. To the contrary.

Bed, as a refuge, is much underrated. A tendency to spend too much time in bed is often seen as a sign of depressi0n. I’ve suffered from depression and know the signs that herald a major downer – thankfully it’s been years since my last bout – but my fondness for my bed is something different.

snoozeAt a workshop recently, one of the participants gave a presentation on sleep and sleep habits. They maintained that science has proven beyond doubt that the snooze button is dangerous. Apparently we’re much better off leaping out of bed when we first awake  rather than hitting the snooze button and getting that extra ten minutes of partial slumber. I consciously set my alarm for an hour before I have to get up just so that I can create the illusion of having a lie in. And according to science, I’m depriving myself of true wakefulness, and reducing the affect of proper sleep. Odds are, according to the research, that I will always feel tired.

But the flip side is that during that hour, I get to have what I rarely experience during the day – a period of undisturbed thinking. Be it planning what to pack for  trip, or deciding what to cook for a dinner party, or mentally scripting the opening lines of a book that will one day be written, this bed-time is invaluable. In that period of semi-wakefulness, I have had some of my best ideas, resolved many difficult problems, and come to life-changing conclusions about my life and those with whom choose to share it. My bed is more than a refuge – it’s a thought sanctuary, an ideas incubator, a therapist.

duvetWhen I was an active member of the corporate world, I was an avid proponent of duvet days and think that any company worth its salt should offer a limited number of duvet days to each employee, days off that can be taken when going to work becomes a chore, something that cannot be faced or only faced with supreme effort. This is not a new idea. The first recorded instance of the term duvet day that I could find dates back to September 1996 when the Financial Times ran this paragraph:  To staff at Text 100Italic, a PR company, there is a third option. They can take a ‘duvet day’. Each employee is allowed two days a year when they can play hookey with their employer’s blessing.

What’s the point in showing up for work if your heart isn’t in it, if your mind is on another planet,  if you know you’ll spend the whole day doing nothing but watching the clock. Why not simply stay at home? As an employer, I wouldn’t want you around and I certainly wouldn’t want to have to clean up the mess that would inevitably result from your distractedness.

As my own boss, I have granted myself an unlimited number of duvet days and, as a result of my taking myself up on my own generosity, I am reaping the rewards of clearing thinking, increased productivity, and a more positive frame of mind.

This week, I’m grateful for my 1850’s bed and the comfort it offers. I’m grateful, too, that when I go to bed and draw the duvet around me, it’s as if I’m closing the envelope on yet another day. Whatever problems I might have are shelved until the morning, when they may or may not be solved. Despite my best efforts to do this all day every day, this is one of the few times when I am actually present – living the moment. Forget the diamonds, the designer handbags, the fancy car – all it really takes to keep me happy is a comfy bed and a decent duvet.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Alienating tourists

There’s a small part of me that has the makings of a conspiracy theorist. I have what I like to think of as a healthy scepticism when it comes to government and organised religion. I tend to look for the why, the motivation, the compulsion that makes such entities do what they do, and then I try to make sense of it. I’m rarely successful.

(c) http://consciouslifenews.com/

(c) http://consciouslifenews.com/

One mystery that has been niggling me for years now is absence of wheelchairs in Budapest. I can count the number of times I’ve seen someone in a wheelchair trying to navigate this city (and practically all were tourists). The fact that many of the metro stations are inaccessible unless you’re upright and walking goes some way in explaining this phenomenon. The fact that so few places have wheelchair access goes some more. I know I’ve told friends who have difficulty getting around that Budapest is not a particularly accessible city. But applying the law of averages, there must be people living in Budapest who are wheelchair-bound. So where are they?  Don’t they ever go out?

When residents of Bélapátfalva raised their voices against relocating disabled residents to smaller houses in the community, it didn’t make the headlines. That Hungary is years behind schedule in its deinstitutionalisation of disabled people was of little concern. Separation, not integration, seemed to be the consensus. Fast forward now to Szilvásvárda where 300 of the 1700 or so residents recently opposed the sale of a number of houses to the Szociális és Gyermekvédelmi Főigazgatóság who plan to use them as homes for forty people with disabilities, people who are currently living in Bélapátfalva. And the reason for this opposition: elriasztanák a turistákat (alienate tourists!)

My reaction when a Hungarian friend told me about this was nothing short of incredulity. I actually laughed out loud in disbelief. Alienate tourists? Western tourists? People who live with disability as part of everyday life? C’mon people, get a grip. Yes, I know… it’s only the opinion of a few … but it has conjured up all sorts of horrible images in my head involving locked doors and barbed-wire fences. I’m looking at Budapest with different eyes now, exploring how restricted my options would be were I in a wheelchair. And I don’t like what I see.  

First published in the Budapest Times 27 September 2013

2013 Grateful 15

I’m not a great fan of social media. Part of me thinks that instead of bringing us closer together, it’s driving us further apart. I loathe the addictive behaviour that comes part and parcel with owning a smartphone. I abhor the idea of 24/7 availability and the expectations this creates. I detest the fact that all too often people in my company would now prefer to text others not present rather than fully engage with me. Perhaps I’m losing my touch.

I worry that Facebook has birthed a generation where envy is rampant, where peer comparison is the norm, and where we look at other people’s lives wondering what we’ve done (or not done) with our own.

While the writer in me admires the brevity of 140-character tweets, the raconteur in me mourns the loss of the colourful prose that used to lead to a final, often irrelevant, point. So keyed up and keyed in are we today, that we no longer have time for long-winded stories and in our  conciseness seem to be relegating swathes of anecdotes to the untold.

And yet, social media has its moments.

Me as a maid in My Fair Lady

Me (back right) as a maid in My Fair Lady

Some months ago, when I was home in Ireland, my mother mentioned that she’d given my email address to a classmate of mine who was one of a few organising our 30-year school reunion. I didn’t pay much attention at the time as I’d no intention of going. Thirty years is thirty years, no matter how you look at it. People move on. They go their separate ways. I’d forgotten the names of many and doubted very much if any would remember anything about me other than that my father had the misfortune to head the investigation into the disappearance of the racehorse Shergar – and I’d heard enough horse jokes to last me a lifetime.

When I saw the date and realised that I would be in Israel, I was relieved. Online one night, looking for some diversion, I searched for the group page on Facebook, curious to see the changes time had wrought. Old photos, old faces, old names popped up. And daily, the numbers interacting with the page grew, the stories started, and the past resurrected itself piece by piece. But alongside that came the updates – marriages, kids, homes, careers – and for the first time I saw the power that Facebook and its ilk has when it comes to reconnecting people.

The Debs... 1982

The Debs… 1982

Before social media, we’d have been communicating by written letters and phone calls – both of which are way too easy to ignore. I’d most likely have read the invitation, checked to see if the few I’ve remained in touch with were going, and if the answer was nay, then I’d have binned it. But with Facebook, the interaction is continuous, the conversations are in real time, and the thoughts of attending a 30-year reunion are now hugely appealing – but I’ll be in Israel. And I’m strangely disappointed.

This week, although I never thought I’d see the day when I’d admit to this in public, I’m grateful to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for facilitating the bringing together of so many people, for giving us a forum to reconnect, and for aiding and abetting in the publication of photos that have kept me amused all week. I’m particularly grateful though to the organising team; to those who decided to run with this and are doing such fantastic job of reconnecting so many. Nice job, lads.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

 

 

Gabbing on new horizons

I met a woman recently at some birthday drinks or other who, at the time, had been in Budapest for six months. To my shame, I can’t remember which international organisation she worked for, or even where she was from herself. What I do remember though is that the Hungarian friend who was with me was the first Hungarian this woman had met socially. After six months!

Her week was planned around international expat activities, so I couldn’t fault her for being tribal (as I have so many Irish I’ve come across on my travels stateside – those who seem to want little more than to recreate a mini-Ireland around them and in doing so become even more Irish than they ever were at home). She did meet plenty of people from different countries, just not Hungarians.

I was struck by the ludicrousness of this. Here she was, living in Hungary, and rather than getting a sense for how the locals live, what they eat, where they go, what they do (I mean, why else would you move to a country if not to learn and broaden your horizons?), she had opted instead to live within a UN-like cocoon where every nation but Hungary seemed to be represented socially. And yes, I can see the necessity of this in some other countries where expat compounds are de rigueur, but in Budapest?

And it’s not like she was stuck for choice.

EmeseThere is plenty of cross-cultural stuff to do in Budapest. The city is a haven for arts and literature, for music and dance, for speed-dating and pub quizzes. My personal favourite, the Gift of the Gab, is now in its fourth season. It continues its quest to see who in Budapest has that ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to and believe them. The audience and competitors are truly international (and include many Hungarians!) with non-native-English speakers giving native-English speakers a run for their money when it comes to entertainment. Every forint donated goes to support an orphanage in Göd. If you’ve not yet met a Hungarian socially, or simply want to expand your horizons, join us on 25 September at the Cotton Club.

First published in the Budapest Times 20 September 2013

The calmness explained

In 1963 this drug was released and became astonishingly popular: between 1969 and 1982 it was the most prescribed drug in America, with over 2.3 billion tablets sold in peak year of 1978 … and  Leo Sternbach, the man who discovered Valium, was born in Opatija to Hungarian parents. Now, that might certainly explain the air of relaxation about the town, were I to completely discount the fact that it was off-season and what few tourists that were left (with the exception of my good self) were well into their dotage.

Harboured as I was just beside the lungomare, I had ample time each evening to wander the promenade and get a feel for the town. I decided that I would never want to visit at the height of summer. There were just enough tourists around for it to be bearable. I can well imagine that trying to navigate the 12-km stretch of sea-frontage would be nigh on impossible in the summer months. As it was, I had to step aside occasionally to avoid a tour group, but for the most part, it was pleasantly populated. Just enough to make it alive, and not too many to make it uncomfortable.

IMG_7473 (597x800)IMG_7477 (600x800)Like Copenhagen and the little mermaid, or Budapest and the little princess, or Brussels and the mannequin pis, Opatija, too, has its statue – the maiden and the seagull. As the story goes, back in 1891, a certain count Arthur Kesselstadt and his wife drowned at sea. His family erected a statue of Madonna Del Mare on the reef to guard his soul. The original Madonna Del Mare was moved to the Croatian Museum of Tourism in the Villa Angiolina (some say by the Communists, but what would I know…) and a replica placed outside St James´s Church. The Maiden was erected in its place in 1956 (and, to my mind, is a definite improvement) and only recently did people discover who had modelled for sculptor Zvonko Car – a secret that had been kept for 55 years.

IMG_7487 (800x600)IMG_7484 (600x800)Just around the corner, more or less, in one of the many parks to be found in the town, I came across an interesting mural referred to by the guide herding the group in front of me as the town’s pop-art exhibition. It was an odd mix of characters, many of whom I didn’t recognise, either by face or by name, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a likeness to James Joyce amidst them all. Apparently he regularly took tea on the terrace of the Hotel Imperial. That man certainly got around. Other famous guests included  Chekhov, Puccini, and a post-tonsillitic Gustav Mahler.

I can see the attraction – the grandeur of the hotels and villas, the fresh seafood, the temperate climate, and the floral-tinged sea air. And while I didn’t see anyone famous during my sojourn, and doubt very much that modern-day Optaija is a refuge for the rich and famous, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days by the sea.

2013 Grateful 16

‘The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the miraculous also.’ Perhaps Dostoyevsky was on to something… why does the world find it so hard to believe in miracles?

Miracles and the miraculous come hand in hand with being Catholic. I grew up draped in miraculous medals, believing in miraculous cures. Einstein reckoned there are two ways to live a life: One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I lean towards the latter. And my miracles have all been pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things, but happen they have and happen they do, even if I sometimes take them for granted.

Witness_3dI was reminded of this lately when working on a translation from the Polish – a beautiful book with photographs by Janusz Rosikon and text by Grzegorz Górny. I’ve known Janusz since 2007 and have had the pleasure of working on a number of titles with him. I’m a great fan of his photography, an admirer of his faith, and while we might agree to disagree on politics, I have a lot of time for him and what he does. I met Grzegorz for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was suitably impressed. It’s easy to see why they work so well together – both similar yet different, complementary yet individual – a good team. And it’s always nice to meet the voice behind the words, particularly when those words actually say something.

In Witnesses to Mystery, the pair delve deep into the relics of Jesus Christ, asking the time-old question that every believer and non-believer alike must have asked themselves at one stage – Are they real? Could they be real? They travelled the world over, discovering along the way that these relics were attracting attention not just from Christian pilgrims but also from academics: historians, archaeologists, philologists, anthropologists, paleographers, chemists, physicists, anatomists…all curious to prove one way or another whether the relics on display in various churches from Krakow to Rome are genuine.

Relics were two a penny in the Middle Ages when myriad fakes were sold to those who needed something to believe in. And as the author wonders – Does not the presence of numerous forgeries, however, suggest the existence of an original? Are mass reproductions evidence of attempts at imitating a genuine relic? The term simulacrum in postmodernist use indicates a copy without an original. Could Christ’s relics be regarded as simulacra, as reproductions of things that don’t exist? Or are they in fact real objects, with which Jesus of Nazareth once had contact? – hundreds of thousands of believers regularly turn out to see relics on display around the world  and the faith of millions is vested in touching something that Jesus Himself is thought to have touched. The Shroud of Turin is on my bucket list and I still remember the feeling I had when I got to touch Padre Pio’s glove. I’m a believer.

I have long debates with two friends in particular about religion: one is a scientist, the other a realist; neither lay claim to having faith in a god. And the argument always falls back on me saying ‘I don’t need to know; it’s enough to believe.’ For many this is a cop-out and to each their own. I believe in God – a God independent of any man-made religion – and He and I have a good thing going. It works for me.

So perhaps, in my case, the boys were preaching to the choir – I didn’t need much convincing. And although I knew about the Shroud of Turin, and the Longinus Spear, and the Veil of Manoppello, I found myself turning each page with a growing interest in what the scientists discovered when they ran their tests, a mounting curiosity about what the various expert investigative teams found when they crunched their numbers. And as one chapter led seamlessly into another, I became more and more convinced that faith is about believing. That some things are beyond explanation. And that just because we can’t explain them, that doesn’t mean they are any less real.

It’s a beautiful book that transcends belief and asks questions that sometimes cannot be answered. The photographs are stunning, the text insightful, and the overall effect leaves a lasting impression.

This week, after relocating my ‘office’ temporarily to Croatia, I’m grateful that not alone can I work from anywhere with an Internet connection, what I do is interesting and varied. I get to work my own hours, to travel, to meet people like Janusz and Grzegorz and to work on projects like Witnesses. And it pays the bills! Now, if that’s not a minor miracle…

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

The magic flautist

The first time I set foot in Hungary, back in 2003, I recognised the affinity that is peculiar to the Hungarians and the Irish. It goes beyond literature and art, beyond folklore and tradition. It’s something that resides deep in the souls of both peoples, something intangible.

Of course, literature and art have their space. Bloomsday celebrations of Joyce’s work are huge in Szombathely. The Weeping Madonna at Győr – who apparently cried tears of blood on 17 March 1697 after the Irish Parliament voted in favour of the Banishment Act to rid the country of its clergy – is further testament to an age-old connection between the two countries, this one based in a shared sense of Catholicism. And a retired diplomat I met recently told me of 400-page treatise written by a Hungarian scholar on the similarities between the two languages – Gaelic and Hungarian.

But it is in the Hungarian adoption of Irish music that I find the most inspiring. In Kobuci kert recently I first heard Paddy and the Rats. Hailing from Miskolc, the lads bill their genre as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, and Sailor Punk. Between the six of them, their energy could keep Budapest in lights for a day. Paddy himself had the audience in the palm of his hand, in true Irish story-telling form. I was blown away.

IMG_7393And yet, good and all as they are, my heart is with Firkin who played an hour-long gig at the recent Sparking Wine Festival in Budafok.  Although it had been a while since I’d seen them live, they hadn’t lost their magic. There’s something quite surreal in hearing old Irish songs belted out in Hungarian. And, in fact, on more than one occasion, I could have sworn the lads were singing in Gaelic. Perhaps there is a connection between the languages after all.

IMG_7403 (600x800)Were I to be totally honest, I’d admit to being a little enthralled by their flautist. There’s something magical about János Péter; it was as if he’d sprung from the netherworld of the sidhe (the fairy folk), brimming with mischief and life. I can’t help thinking that had we more of his energy, we might manage to lift ourselves from the political doldrums that currently ensnare us.

First published in the Budapest Times 13 September 2013

When the wheel stops turning

What if I were to build a house in the middle of nowhere … would people come and be my neighbours? How long would it take before there was a hamlet? Weaned on the Little House on the Prairie, I’ve long had a fascination with the origins of places, how they started, and who was the first person ever to build in what now might be a sizeable metropolis. The one who began the begun…

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In Opatija, a town in western Croatia, that man was Iginio Scarpa. A man of means from the neigbouring Rijeka, Scarpa built Villa Angiolina in the mid-1800s. In 1872 the railway came and some ten years later,  Friedrich Julius Schüler, the boss man at Southern Railways, started building the grand hotels and villas that are still there today.

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Walking up and down the promenade that separates the Adriatic from the town itself, these once single-family homes are a reminder of what life was like back when the Opatija was a holiday destination for the rich and famous (Austrian Emperor Franz Jozsef was a frequent visitor apparently.) All boast a clear view of the water and it doesn’t take much imagination to add some parasols and posh-frocked ladies to complete the picture. It’s like stepping back in time.

 

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The first thing that hit me was the smell – salted air tinged with laurel. It’s beautiful. Its beaches might be concrete slabs laden with sun lounges and umbrellas, a tad reminiscent of Malta, but the water is clear and fresh and the fish swim right in to the shore. The prom is lined with cafés and restaurants and the tourists (from what I can gather) are mainly German-speaking. With an above-average Cosmopolitan hitting my glass for just under €5, you’ll not find me complaining about prices.

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Situated as it is within easy reach of other towns along the Adriatic, Opatija’s promenade is part of the 12 km lungomare that connects the town of Volosko and Lovran. It’s less than 100 km from Trieste in Italy, and Ljubljana in Slovenia isn’t that far either. The possibilities loom large.

Opatija has a tameness about it that might be more to do with it being slightly off-season than anything else. Yet this is what I came for: the feeling that time has stopped, that the wheel has stopped turning long enough for me to catch my breath… that and the seafood!

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2013 Grateful 17

My interest in soccer died when Jack Charlton retired as manager of the Republic of Ireland team. When players started earning obscene sums of money for prancing around a pitch and giving Oscar-worthy performances of being injured in a tackle only to bounce up bright as new seconds later, I gave up on soccer and pledged my allegiance to the more manly sport – rugby.

IMG_7331 (800x600)I had forgotten how engrossing it can be, though, to watch a soccer game …live. Especially when the teams that are playing are young, not yet corrupted by fame and fortune, and still in possession of the dream – the dream to play their hearts out and win.

Létavértes is a small town of about 3000 people close to the Hungarian/Romanian border. Its team plays in the third division under the auspices of Debrecen. Under the watchful eye of ZS, they have been doing well this season. Yesterday, they played an away game in Budapest against Ferencváros’s second team (Fradi 2). I was one of the six-country cohort that went along to cheer them on and I am so glad I did.

IMG_7342 (800x600)I’d been a little reluctant to go to a Fradi game as I’d witnessed the first team’s reception in Nyíregyháza when they had an away game there a few years ago. Armed police escorts, brawling fans, and mob-like chants – all very intimidating. While Fradi might rank up there amongst the best teams in the country, its fans are famous for their racist, anti-Semitic cat calls and a hooliganism that could stand alongside the worst of what British football has every produced.

But I needn’t have worried. There might have been 100 people in the grounds of Gozdu Palya in Népliget and the vast majority were supporting the home team. Yet there was nothing intimidating about any of them. When the teams went through their opening rituals, I was amazed at how young they looked. Their eagerness to get started was infectious. Their neon-coloured football boots created a rainbow affect against the green of the grass, and it was all go from the start.

IMG_7332 (800x591)LétaV played their hearts out. They attacked. They took opportunities. They made the breaks. And they missed. Yet with just two minutes to go, they were one up. And then Fradi scored two goals in quick succession. It was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking to see a young team have their neon-clad feet swept from under them (a magnificent No. 27 subbed on and he just 18 years old,  and I’d give it to No. 7 and No 13 for the dogged determination they displayed) . Their star player, a young Brazilian, in a No. 19 jersey, was the most marked man on the pitch and while not quite on his game, he was amazing to watch. I’d forgotten the skill that soccer requires. I’d forgotten the dexterity that top players have. I’d forgotten that, all things considered, it’s still a game worth watching.

The goalie, who reminded me a little of Packy Bonner, did his damnedest. Mind you, he didn’t have a lot to do as Fradi were never really in the game (until those fateful final two minutes) with any amount of offensive. The LétaV lads seemed to be doing all the work.

IMG_7348 (800x600)It was soul-destroying to see their three points disappear in a puff of latent adrenalin. And to see them slink off the pitch, despondent, when they should have been walking tall…it was gut wrenching. They played by far the better game and were by far the better players. But on the day, it just didn’t go their way.

As we sat in a nearby bar waiting for ZS to appear, they walked by on their way to the bus that would ferry them back to Debrecen. We cheered. They looked. And we realised that they thought we were taking the mickey. One of ours was in a green shirt – the Fradi colours. Who was to know.

Next time, as a fan group, we need to get our act together. We need to rehearse our cheers that will out-do the moronic Fradi chants that bordered on the neanderthal. We need to colour coordinate in red and white. And we need to get to know the names of the players. Shouting top volume to egg on No. 27 ain’t quite as powerful as telling Lászlo or Tamás to get the boot in.

The fan club – Wales, England, Ireland, Catalonia, the United States, and Hungary – as a body were so very proud of our lads and how they played. And as they left the pitch, we felt their pain. But we’ll be back. And we’ll travel to Debrecen if needs be.

IMG_7364 (800x637)This week, I’m grateful to the players at Létavértes for reminding me of the golden days of Italia ’90, when we’d barrel in to the Lord Mayor’s in Swords, two hours before kick-off, just to be sure we had a seat. When all anyone talked about was where they were going to watch the match. When the entire country came to a standstill for 90 minutes as we watched our boys, en masee, fight for glory. Those who’d taken holidays to go to the opening games called home looking for extended leave. And if they didn’t get it, they quit. They called home asking for loans to finance their extended stay and if they didn’t them, they remortgaged their houses. Companies brought in TVs and beer so that their staff would at least work up until 30 minutes before kick-off. The country, probably for the last time in recent memory, was united behind Jack’s Army. Those days indeed were the glory days. And it was soccer that knit us all together.

And while you can’t compare the European championships or World Cup antics with a second division game in Gozdu Palya, it did it for me. The lads at LétaV have rekindled my interest in soccer and reminded me of how good it is to be young, and energetic, and in charge of life. I sit tonight, somewhat chastened; embarrassed at how easily I give up at times, especially on things I want so badly. Their will, their tenacity, and their determination were an inspiration. You might have lost that game, LétaV, but you’ve won so much more. Go n’éiri an bothair libh.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

And another year begins…

With twelve years of Catholic convent school buried deep in my distant past, September still represents the start of another year. But now, instead of covering my copybooks in brown paper and kitting out my pencil case with a lead-like despondency at the thoughts of upcoming battles with science and maths, I start making plans for the autumn – my favourite time of year. The influx of new blood into the city brings with it a vibrancy that lifts me out of my sun-induced coma and injects new life into a weary soul.

I was over at Immigration this week getting a new registration card. I whiled away the hours trying to identify the number of nationalities waiting for their number to be called and marvelled at the diversity of people choosing to make Budapest their home. I lit upon a trio of young Irish women, new veterinary students, who’d just arrived. Amused by their valiant attempts to pronounce their addresses, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that they’d already found the Irish bars in town. Some priorities never seem to change. Yet while having the craic was definitely on the agenda, their exhaustion, tinged as it was with a heady sense of excitement, leant an air of anxious anticipation to their chatter as they discussed how early they had to show up at class the next morning and the daunting workload that lay ahead of them. I don’t envy them the hard slog that lies ahead, but I do envy them their newness.

nemzetiI still have not tired of this city. I might not care for its politics, or the recent spate of what smells a lot like nationalism. I might not like the fact that while I can see through a sex shop window, the windows of the Nemzeti dohánybolt are darkened, leaving me to wonder which is, indeed, the greater vice. I might not like the fact that free market forces appear to be waning and that, as one amusing Facebook comment stated, we might soon see the occasional Nemzeti Sárga Festék Bolt as taxi synchronise their colours.

But for all its frailties, Budapest is still a spectacular city, home to much of what’s good about this part of the world. And for the new souls just landed, its hidden depths are waiting to be explored. Go n’éiri an bothair libh.

First published in the Budapest Times 6 September 2013