If memory serves me correctly, something it rarely does these days, it was this weekend two years ago that I took a bus trip out of Budapest, a trip that would have life-changing consequences. When I bought my ticket to visit friends in Zala county, little did I know that I’d end falling in love with the village and buying in to their idyllic way of life.
When they first upped sticks, selling their flat in the city to move into and renovate a ramshackle country manse, I thought they were mad. Although just 10 minutes off the motorway, Balatonmagyaród isn’t exactly a hive of activity. There are two shops (of a sort) serving a population of about 430. One, opposite the church, seems to trade in bread and UHT milk with very little else on the shelves. I bought the entire stock of washing-up liquid one day – both bottles. The other doubles as a dohany nemzeti (a cigarette shop), a coffee shop, and a pub. It’s standing room only when the first six through the door take their seats.
But during the week, various suppliers come through the village in their vans, each with their own distinctive jangle. My favourite is the butcher van (with its Old MacDonald tune) staffed by a young couple who come on Wednesdays. They have sausages to die for. The breadman I’m steering clear of, as I don’t need that daily temptation. The frozen food guy will have to wait until we get a freezer. And the household supplies won’t get any business as I have that hording gene that ensures I always have a bottle of whatever I need in reserve.
In the 2-hour drive from the city, I play my country music and sing my head off to Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt and the like. If the mood takes me, I think along to Blues. But when I pass the county line into Zala, I start to breathe more easily. When I drive through the village of Zalakomar and come out the other side (right now greeted by a haze of yellow with fields planted with oil seed rape) I can feel every ounce of tension dissipate. That couple of miles before I hit our village is one of mounting excitement. What will have budded in the garden? Will the carpenter have been to put in the windows? Will Gyöngyi Néni (my neighbour) have left some eggs on the doorstep? Will the view over the Kis Balaton have changed?
The house is a work in progress. It’ll take a while (as in years) to get it to where I want it but that’s okay. The process is one I enjoy. When work has stalled, I find myself shopping for old furniture. I’m trying my hand at shabby-chiqing and plan on giving upholstering a go, too. I get to do the inside; the outside I’ve left to himself.
I’m not a gardener. Never have been. Laziness saved me from uprooting weeds only to discover this week that they are actually irises. But the fruit trees are budding and we haven’t a clue what we have. Peaches? Cherries? Plums? Apples? It’s all a matter of wait and see. And that’s the beauty.
Time down here takes on new meaning. Everything is laid back. They say they’ll come around 8 on Tuesday – but which Tuesday, whose 8? Things happen when they happen. On days I have work, I work; all day and half the night, cooped up in my dark room that just got a fabulous new window. My coffee breaks I take on the terrace.
We eat when we’re hungry, stay up half the night watching West Wing dvds, get up when we feel like it. There’s no schedule. There’s nowhere to be. There’s nothing to do but live.
Two years ago, when I got on that bus, I never for a minute imagined that this would be the part of my life that I miss most when I’m not living it. And if JFW and CsRW hadn’t paved the way, I’d not be here. So this week, with the new windows in place and the painter set to start next week, I’m truly grateful for that May day invitation two years ago. Who’d have thought that I’m really a country girl at heart.