2018 Grateful 19

I wasn’t all that pushed about seeing the Pope, even though both of us were in Dublin the same weekend. I’d run into him while in Naples a few years back so had already seen him in the flesh. But the TV was turned on early yesterday to watch live coverage of his arrival in Dublin and I’ve been glued to it ever since. The whole spectacle is captivating.

Pope in Naples

In the run-up to the Papal visit, the country was divided: those who openly welcomed Pope Francis and those who thought he needn’t bother. Rumour had it that a lot of the no-popers booked tickets for the events at Croke Park and at the the Phoenix Park with no intention of going – a form of silent protest against the Church’s complicity in covering for those involved in the clerical child sex abuse scandals around the world, against the Church’s exclusion of LGBT from the universal family, and in particular  the mother and baby atrocities perpetrated in Ireland through the Magdalene Laundries. A rather selfish form of protest I thought – depriving others who might genuinely want to see the pope of the chance to do so. There is a generation in Ireland still utterly committed to the papacy and for many of them, the opportunity to see him was a dream come true. Those empty seats saddened me while the umbrellas emblazoned with the call for Women Priests that grew out of the Ha’penny Bridge heartened me. By all means, make your voice heard – did it have to be at the expense of the dreams of others. That said – perhaps the empty seats were empty because the interest wasn’t there. That’s sad, too.

More still believed that the €30 million or so spent on the visit would have been better spent on addressing homelessness and in-home poverty in Ireland. And to each their own. No one opinion is any more valid than another.

Me? I’m quite taken with him. When he came out of the Pro-Cathedral and chatted to a family outside, he threw back his head and laughed heartily at whatever was said. He doesn’t do things by halves, this chap. He’s driving round in a Skoda (and not a big one either) rather than something fancier. He insists on having the windows down so he can see the people. He greeted clients of the Capuchin homeless shelter individually, making each of them feel special. He took the time to get as close as he could to the punters (creating a security nightmare for those in charge of his safety). He went off script when so moved. All this and more leads me to like him. He’s 80-something. He’s tired. It’s a gruelling 36 hours. And he’ll have a fight on his hands when he goes back home.

In Mayo this morning, he said:

I presented to [Our Lady] all the victims of abuse, of whatever kind, committed by members of the Church in Ireland. None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories. This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg the lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many in God’s family. I ask our blessed mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.

Am sure that for many this fell way short of calling for accountability of those in the Church who helped cover up this abuse. But yesterday, in a private meeting with six survivors, he apparently said people who abused children were caca – a term the translator explained as what you find in a toilet bowl. That he feels their pain, I have no doubt. But he’s a man at the head of a corrupt institution with a strong conservative faction that rails against his every step forward. There’s a limit to what he can do but he is doing something. He’s giving hope to so many people – and you can’t put a price on hope.

He spoke in the Pro-Cathedral to couples who were just married, soon to be married, and married for eons. He talked about the institution, about raising children in the faith. He connected with people at all levels. He remembered those in the North. He mentioned those in prison. I just wish he’d had a word for those who feel excluded from the Church – the divorced, the LGBT community, and others who for whatever reason don’t feel part of the family this past week has been celebrating. Yet his audible emphasis on the word ALL whenever he used it referring to the faithful gives me hope that he is simply crippled by the corporation that is the RCC.

Today, old footage from John Paul II’s visit back in 1979 is playing on TV. The crowds are not the same. Health and Safety, which didn’t exist as a concept back then, has limited the numbers this time to 600 000. But given the times we live in, would many more show up? The streets yesterday weren’t as packed as I’d expected. A returning victorious football or rugby team would have attracted more spectators. Yet for so many, getting a glimpse of this kindly man, hearing what he had to say, touching his hand – this meant the world to them.

Two things resonated with me the most. First was his visit to the homeless shelter. There, he commended the Capuchins for asking no questions – for not judging – for helping the vulnerable without taking away their dignity. If only we could all do that. If only we could suspend our judgmental selves – park them – and simply help, no questions asked., no strings, no caveats.

The second was his call for a revolution of love, for us to rediscover tenderness and I assume, its twins of gentleness and kindliness. How far removed we are as a world from this sort of simplicity. His visit was a grateful reminder of how life could be.

 

 

 

Inspiring Parenting by Dorka Herner

Inspiring parenting

I live a life without issue. I have no children. I wasn’t living in Ireland when my nephews were in nappies so I’ve minimal experience with babies or toddlers. I’ve babysat on very rare occasions; I could count the number of nappies I’ve changed on both hands. I think that when God was dishing out the maternal genes, He shorted me. Some would (and have) argued that my lack of desire to have kids is quite selfish as, according to them, by virtue of my being a woman, it’s almost a duty to procreate.  Whatever.

I’ve been known to rail at the preferential treatment given to parents in the corporate world. As the lone single, childless member of staff, I drew all the evening duties  – I had nothing to go home to. I rarely got to take my leave in the summer as I didn’t have kids who were out of school and needed to be entertained. I drew the short straw on many occasions, losing out to those women who had taken their duty more seriously. I got over it though, as I doubt it’s something that will ever change.

I still get het up at Mass though, when parents allow their kids to run riot. Can you really reason with a three-year-old? I think not. Were they at a concert or a play or somewhere everyone else had paid to get into, the rest of the audience wouldn’t be as accommodating. I doubt they’d stand for the disruption. Why the kids are not kept at home until they’re old enough to sit quietly is beyond me. Parents could easily take it in turns to go to Mass. It’s not like they’re doing anything by way of prayer anyway, as they spend their time shushing little Johnny, bribing him with his favourite toys, and smiling indulgently as he provides the background screams to the sermon from the pulpit.

Why then, you might wonder, did I find myself reading a parenting book of all things?

I was introduced to author Dorka Herner by mutual friends when she was looking for someone to read the English translation and comment on the language rather than on the context. What would I know about bed-wetting and sugar allowances? A mother of five who’s also a practising psychologist, Herner writes as she speaks. Her funny, tongue-in-cheek accounts of her own parenting experience are a far cry from the prescriptive texts that I’ve seen on the shelves of friends who are first-time parents themselves. Her focus is more on living with children than textbook parenting. She’s short on advice, preferring to give personal examples from which others can learn. I found it all highly entertaining… and very human.

Herner sees parenting as a joint effort – she has learned so much about herself from her interactions with her kids.

Whatever my children do, it says something about me as well. More often than not, it says a lot of things. If my five-year-old doesn’t go to sleep alone, am I the one who needs our evening cuddles? If I am disturbed when he is bored, do I see myself useless if I don’t have enough tasks to do? If I think they are careless, am I the one who is too [much of a] perfectionist? For me, getting to know myself, or shaping the way I function, is an exciting and efficient way to form my kids’ behaviour.

It’s an easy read, and an insightful one for parents and non-parents alike. Hidden amongst the parenting insights are comments on relationships and sharing space with other beings. It gave me a better feel for what parents go through. Selfishly, it’s a book I wish more parents would read. It might make life a little easier for those of us who have to deal with their kids.

As Herner says:

Situations, solutions, and parenting styles are neither good nor bad in themselves; we add the qualifying adjectives. Shouting can be positive, cuddling can have drawbacks, illness can bring kindness, or good advice can harm. When I have an eye for seeing new levels in everyday happenings, I can fully enjoy my parenting years.

Available on Amazon.

Inspiring Parenting by Dorka Herner

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 20 | Pears

I’ve always thought the word ‘bounty’ to be a peculiarly Protestant word. Not specifically Luthern, or Methodist, or Church of England, just generally Protestant. I associate it with harvesting and harvest time, a season much celebrated by the Church of Ireland at home. The bounty of Mother Nature, that whereby we eat and live. I see farmers markets, the like of which I visited recently in Warsaw, as a drip feed towards a collective bounty. Farmers balance those who don’t have gardens and the wherewithal to grow their own food. There’s a sharing. Yes, of course, money changes hands, but there’s still a sharing.

There’s no drip feed in our garden – there’s no metering of her measure. It all comes together. At once. Mother Nature has had a right old time in our garden this year. The plums were few and far between, the peaches even scarcer. The cherries were half of what we got last year and the apples? Well, we’re still waiting. But the pears. Man, the pears. This year they’ve gone mad.

At a conservative estimated, we have at least 200kg of pears to be processed or given away. The problem is that when everyone else in the village is in the same boat, no one wants to take anything. Just yesterday, himself proudly returned an egg box to her next door with 10 of his own tomatoes in it (yes, eggs in Hungary come in batches of 6, 10, 20, or 30). She’d helped him plant them. The offering seemed a fitting tribute. But then she gave him 20 of her own. To compare.

Yesterday, I picked and peeled and cored and chopped. I froze pears in slices. I froze grated pears for cakes. I made pear chutney. I poached six large jars worth of the yellow buggers. I even made pear and walnut bread. And that took care of 50kg. The remaining 150kg are destined for the pálinka still. An experiment. His domain.

Come winter, I’ll be glad I did this. I like the idea of subsistence living. I’m all for reducing my dependency on mass-produced foods. I’m a supporter of shopping local. I’m into second-hand and vintage. I prefer old and recycled to shiny and new. I’m all in favour of making life simple.

Village life

Yet rather than taking all this for granted, I’m increasingly conscious of how lucky I am. That there are so many people going without in the world drives me to make sure that nothing we have is wasted. I find myself saving the smallest portions of leftovers, reluctant to throw anything away. The ‘new’ gate in the back garden was cobbled together from scraps of wood. The ‘new’ door in the barn was refashioned from one that came out of the house. I have a vague notion that an old shower frame might well end up as a grape arbour.

And while we’re harvesting and processing, the starlings are pigging out on the apple tree next door on the other side. We rarely see those neighbours. They’re never there. And if they are, they’re there when we’re not. Their fruit goes uncollected, left to be pecked, to fall to the ground and rot. For the last couple of days, a murmation of starlings has descended on the tree chattering at full volume, doing their damnedest to pick it clean. I’m in awe of such blatant gluttony. But they have to eat, too, right? Why, I wonder, have I been conditioned to see this as waste?

Her next door is engaged in a running battle with the birds. She regularly goes out into her fields banging an old tin can, causing a terrible racket, making the birds hightail it to the quieter pastures. But then her livelihood is at stake. She depends on her crops to live; what she reaps this summer she’ll need to get herself through till the next. She sees the starlings are her enemy. I see them as noisy friends, as entertainment. But for us, the harvest is not nearly so serious. It more a matter of making good with what we get. And for those on the other side, the fruit clearly doesn’t matter to them at all. It takes all sorts, each of our perspectives governed by our needs.

The farmer up the road at home brings my mother fresh eggs. In return, she bakes him an apple tart or some brown bread. Her next door occasionally drops in some fresh eggs and in return she gets a loaf of whatever bread I’ve made – this week it’s pear and walnut – which she has just begun to grudgingly accept. Yes, my mother will never be dead as long as I’m alive. There’s a happy co-existence. Last year’s fence war has been all but forgotten. The world outside continues to run amuck. Egos prevail. But in the village, there’s a balance, with give and take and all sorts living side by side and making do. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 21

Sometime last year I booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran play in Warsaw. I knew nothing of his music. I thought Galway Girl was a song he covered rather than wrote. But the hype that surrounded the announcement of his European Tour – which by the way sold out in record time with extra nights added in a number of cities, including Warsaw – made me curious. And I had friends in Warsaw whom I hadn’t see in a long time so it all worked out.

Fast forward through the intervening months and it came time to book train tickets and make the trip. My friends, in the meantime, had absconded to Zanzibar and had it been easy to sell the tickets, I’d have done so. But our names were on them. And transferring them to someone else had to be done in person – so I’d have to go to Warsaw anyway. So we went.

The National Stadium (PGE Narodowy) is a massive venue, holding some 58,145 (official for football matches) / 56,826 (UEFA capacity) / 72,900 (concerts) punters. The back half of the seating wasn’t open but the floor was rammed with teenagers who had queued since 1 pm for a 5 pm admission and an 8.45pm appearance. They wanted to be up front and centre. Us? We had seated tickets in the rafters and were in no rush anywhere.

Had I done my homework, I’d have known his stage time was 8.45 to 11 pm. I incorrectly assumed he’d appear at 8 pm (it was a Sunday night), so we got there about 7.30 pm in time to catch the last of his warm-up acts, a gal by the name of Anne-Marie. To give the girl her due, she can carry a tune. But when she brought out the vodka (Polish of course) to do shots with her band to mark the end of a very successful tour, I was less than impressed. Really? With a multitude of impressionable teens in the audience, what was the message? Cool to do shots? Okay, I know they’re probably all drinking anyway, but I’m of the mind that stars with a young following have a responsibility to show some decent example. Yep – I was one of the oldest there.

When our boy Ed didn’t show to my schedule, I started to get a tad upset. And when he eventually sauntered on, without a care in the world, I was on the verge of seething. But then he started to play.

Now, as regular readers will know, I can’t hold a tune to save my life so I’m won’t even begin to comment on how good, bad, or indifferent he is as a musician. But as an entertainer, he has it nailed. Just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, coupled with some funny insights in to the 2% of the audience that were there under duress (reluctant boyfriends and super dads) endeared him to my cynical self. The guy has class. And he described me to a T. We’re quite alike apparently when we’re at gigs. Ed and me. Everything goes on in our heads – not a hint of enjoyment shows on the outside. But, hey, anyone who can quieten a crowd of 72k screaming teens gets my vote for audience control.

The National Stadium doesn’t have the greatest sound system in the world – either that or Ed’s diction is a tad off. Some of the lyrics were difficult to make out but the crowd didn’t seem to care. They sang along. Every word. Every single word. Except for that one quiet song when he told them to sssh. And I think it was during that song (whatever it was) that some young lad up in front got down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend. It takes all sorts.

Ed Sheeran Concert WarsawCigarette lighters are a thing of the past. Now it’s flashlights on mobile phones. And the Warsaw lot were organised enough to have white lights on the top tier and red ones on the lower one – creating a waving Polish flag. The flashlight effect was given a flickering look by holding up sheets of white A4 paper in front of their phones. From my vantage point, it was quite spectacular (ok, so not everyone was in on it, but it did look great). When he had them wave and pump their arms, the mosh pit looked like a sea of worms. For a minute, I felt queasy.

Knowing Poniatowski bridge (Most Poniatowskiego) over the Vistula River would be closed before the gig ended and that 72 000+ people would flood out of the stadium starting from when he played his last song, we left early. Just two songs early, mind you, but that didn’t stop the wave of sympathy from the young ones. No matter. The music was so loud, Ed followed us across the bridge towards the Centre so we missed nothing but the hassle.

I enjoyed it. Our Ed’s done well for himself. I like the fact that his first support band were some Polish friends he’d roomed with when he was 18. I like that he’s engaged to his high-school sweetheart. And I like the fact that it’s him, his guitar, and his customised looping machine that makes all the noise. Everything we heard, he assured us, was live. The bit about him being homeless has been exaggerated. In his book, he explains:

There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song Homeless and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’

I caught Jamie Fox talking about him on the Graham Norton Show. And I liked his story, too.

It worked out well. It was a fitting end to a good weekend. I won’t be buying a CD or downloading him any time soon, but I will be in danger of singing along. For a young fellah who struggled like many others to make his mark on the world, the boy’s done good. And he’s still a nice lad. Lots to be grateful for there.

 

 

Volunteers needed for the Nursery Project

‘Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something [we] do in [our] spare time.’
Whether Marian Wright Edelman, American children’s rights activist and president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund was paraphrasing Mohammed Ali’s much-quoted adage ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth’ is neither here nor there. What matters for me is the message.

A frequent concern I hear from expats who have moved to Budapest is that it is so difficult to volunteer. Many – especially those hailing from Ireland, where a CV that doesn’t mention a spell of volunteering, simply doesn’t rate – grew up with volunteering as a norm. But perhaps because of language difficulties or a lack of connections, they struggle with finding meaningful ways to volunteer their time in Hungary.

One Hungarian has been working to change that. In close cooperation with business chambers like the Irish Hungarian Business Circle and the Canadian Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and charities like the Robert Burns Foundation and St Andrews Egyesület, alongside private sector players like Clarke and White Property, Zsuzsanna Bozo has been coordinating a number of volunteer drives, with one in particular that would be close to Marian Wright Edelman’s heart: The Nursery Project.

Wasn’t it Aristotle who said: Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man? Arguably, were we to adjust the relative age of Aristotle’s 7, we’d be looking at what? 18? But nonetheless, I’m of the mind that a  child’s formative years are the ones that lay the foundation for the adult they will become. Children are the future, our future. We need to ensure that they get the best start possible, in a safe, clean environment that conducive to learning.

2016 – Zabar, Nógrád county

When Bozo revisited her childhood nursery school in Zabar for the first time in more than 35 years, she saw that the village nursery was in dire need of an upgrade. The educational toys were limited but the nursery staff was making do, maximizing what few resources they had. A more pressing problem, though, was that the kids couldn’t shower at home, as many of the houses in the village didn’t have running water. Their clothes told a sorry tale of poverty and deprivation. Determined to make a difference, Bozo coordinated a volunteer effort that saw the refurbishment of the nursery, the installation of showers, and the donation of a washing machine/dryer. She and her team made a huge difference to the lives of these young people. Read more.

2017 – Szilaspogony, Nógrád county

Given the great response from the volunteers and the nursery in Zabar, Bozo found a second village in need of help.  The local nursery in Szilaspogony looks after 24 little ones who come from really difficult backgrounds. Unemployment is rife, with the government’s communal work scheme providing families with limited resources. Working in concert with the mayor’s office, who agreed to paint the playroom, Bozo raised support to cover the materials needed. Over 50 volunteers visited the village on 16 December 2017 to assemble furniture and put it all together. It was a marvellous experience and one I’m proud to have been part of. Plans are in place to plant a fruit garden for the kids, and sponsors are being sought to help make it happen. Read more.

2018 – Wesley János Nursery, Budapest VIII district

One of this year’s nursery projects is underway currently in Budapest in district VIII. Right now, teams are working to remove the old wallpaper and plaster the playroom. A new plasterboard wall is going up to create a smaller changing room. Another team is coming in to lay a new concrete floor and change the flooring. Between 4 and 18 August, walls and doors are being painted (volunteers needed)  and the laminate flooring laid (specialist needed). Then from 30 August to 1 September, the volunteer crew will descend to put together the furniture and finish it off ready for the children to start back on 3 September. Time, money, and materials are needed. You can check the Nursery Project website for a list of what’s needed. Get in touch directly (levelektelaponak@gmail.com) if you think you can help with the more essential things like:

  • The purchase of 25 sqm of tiles for the bathroom and money to pay a tiler along with putting up shelves to hold the kids’ glasses and towels (estimated 250 000 ft).
  • The purchase of 25 fitted sheets, covers, and pillowcases for the nursery beds (or material to make them, as a seamstress has volunteered her time).

And if you or anyone you know has a particular bent for DYI, the following are needed:

  • 2-3 painters to paint the entire ceiling, and walls. Materials provided (16-25 August).
  • A carpenter to install insulating wall panels along the walls to keep out the cold.

These are just three of the many nurseries in need of help all around the country.  All nurseries should be able to provide a clean, safe environment, quality education, and play time for the kids. The Nursery Project was created by volunteers to help raise funds to refurbish and breathe new life into children’s nurseries in Hungary.  Working closely with the local Mayor’s office and nursery staff, Bozo and her team of volunteers are making a difference.

If you want to get involved in any of these projects, by donating time or materials (educational games, sports equipment, and sanitary products are always needed), check out the website. If you have a specific skill that could be of use, let Bozo know. And if you think you simply don’t have the time to get involved, think a while on the words of eighteenth-century education reformer Horace Mann: Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 August 2018

2018 Grateful 22

When your bestie’s birthday is a couple of days before yours, it’s generally a good thing. Back in the day when we lived on the same continent, we’d celebrate in style. But when she shrugged off her mortal coil and departed this Earth way ahead of schedule, the closeness of our birthdays makes mine much more poignant.  It was hard, at first. Her memorial, some four months after her death, marked what would have been her 50th. I flew out to San Francisco to be there. It was a strange affair. Six years later, it’s still strange.

It’s not about survivor’s guilt. People die. Life will eventually kill us all. I have a rather pragmatic approach to death coupled with a somewhat morbid fascination with cemeteries I don’t fear it. I might certainly resent it, if it came too early (right now I figure 87 is my best-by year) but I’m not afraid of it. I’m more afraid of not living. Wasn’t it Cardinal Newman who said:

‘Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but that it shall never have a beginning.’

This fear of not living translates into what some might interpret as an inability to sit still. Or a reluctance to stop doing. Or an incessant need to be on the go. It’s been said of me (all too often) that I have a thing for burning the candle at both ends. And lately, on the rare days that I’m in Budapest, that could well be the case.

I keep two calendars (online and paper-based) which I often update after the fact. I also read a lot of crime fiction. Add the two together and you might just glimpse the shirttails of a need to be able to produce an alibi, were I ever to stand accused of something I didn’t do. As has become the norm this time of year, my thoughts focus more than usual on death and dying. I’m also on Book 6 of a six-book series by PB Byrne set in post-Civil-War Boston featuring the admirable Nell Sweeney, which I highly recommend. There’s death everywhere. I was struck today by the thought that were I to die in suspicious circumstances, say, this coming Friday, the cops would unearth my online calendar to check my comings and goings and take my birthday week alone, they’d rightly think that I’m living a blessed life.

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the NYC set at Korda Studios

Thursday, coincidently, was my monthly pamper day. Friday was one to catch up with a series of friends I’ve not seen in a while. It spilt over well into Saturday morning. That day continued with a trip to Korda Film Studios, just outside Budapest, followed by lunch in a family-run makeshift restaurant in Eygtek and a trip to the local baths that evening. Sunday, I spent volunteering at a local nursery before heading to the hills for dinner with friends who gave me a present of a fabulous old floral-painted  Hungarian shelf that has completely reversed my plans for the kitchen in the village. Monday, I visited one friend’s theatre, had lunch with another to discuss a book project, met a third for coffee (and received another piece of old floral-painted Hungarian furniture that has also changed what I’d planned to do with my office in the village). Then I had my hair done followed by drinks with she who has known me longest in BP. Today I was over in Torley for a guided tour and wine-tasting (a b/day present). And even though the tour was in Hungarian and for the most part lost on me, the time spent in the cool cellars far from the 36 degrees outside, were magical. The next few days are also full, with the highlights being a visit to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and an evening with the fab Ripoff Raskolnikov in Kobuci Kert. This then is topped off by a train trip to Warsaw to see Ed Sheeran do this thing.

Were my life always this manic, I’d not be worth a fraction of the envy some people might feel. But when you concentrate on living in the city for a few days each month, then that time is really all go and a nice complement to the days in the village where the most exciting thing that might happen is that a tomato turns red. Or the pears finally ripen. Or the moles go on holiday.

Death, any death, but particularly death that comes before its time, has a way of urging us to live life to the fullest. And for that I’m grateful.