Living room: Have a seat

A few years ago, I came across a diary I had written when I was 16. The certainty of my writing left no room for discussion. I had obviously given a lot of thought to what I wanted from life and, in that innocence peculiar to 16-year-olds who have never been given reason to question why life wouldn’t deliver exactly what was expected, I was sure it would all go to plan.

I was going to be a teacher, married to teacher, living in Co. Wicklow. The plan was to have two kids, a boy (Tadhg/Irish for Tim) and a girl (Maud), by the time I was 27 and be ready to retire and travel the world some twenty years later. I was even going to drive a powder-blue VW bug.
Then, unlike now, I had a clear idea of what I wanted. Now, unlike then, I’m ever-so slightly more realistic; my certainty somewhat battered and bruised. None of it happened. Not the marriage, not the kids, not the house in Wicklow or the VW bug. I am teaching about three hours each week though, and did lecture  in Incident Investigation for a couple of semesters at the community college in Valdez. So, at a stretch perhaps…..
I was reminded of all of this when I took this photo of my ‘sitting room’.

 

Have a seat

Have a seat

 

When I first started imagining how the flat would look – during that rather anxious period of time when I’d signed the papers, paid the money and was about to start renovating – I had envisioned my dining table in this corner. I had it wired for wall lights so that when dining, I could just light that part of the room, creating a more intimate atmosphere. And then, of course, the table turned out to be so gorgeous that I just couldn’t hide it in the corner. So this became the ‘sitting room’.

I searched for a long time for the sofa and armchair. I wanted it to look old  but not be old (sitting on horsehair never appealed to me, particularly when the provenance of the horsehair was in doubt). I wanted it to look stylish but not modern. And I wanted it to be green. My mother’s eagle eye spotted these in Domus (a relatively upscale furniture emporium in Budapest). I ordered them in November and they arrived in late January (Hungary has its own internal time clock).

 

So much of Budapest is ‘happened upon’. I found this Chobi rug while walking down Rákóczi út, which separates the 7th and 8th districts (Budapest has 23 districts in total) between Astoria and Keleti (the Eastern) railway station. In 1906, it was named after Ferenc (Francis) II Rákóczi, who led the Hungarian uprising against the Habsburgs from 1703 to 1711. He had the rather cumbersome title of  ‘The Prince of the Estates Confederated for Liberty of the Kingdom of Hungary’ (so, what does your fellah do for a living? Well, he’s the prince of the…..) and he was also Prince of Transylvania. The uprising didn’t go to plan and the poor chap was exiled. He spent the remainder of his life in Turkey. Back in 1906, when his remains were brought back to Hungary, the funeral marched along this street.  Today, you can see remnants of its former splendour with some truly amazing buildings. Some, like the Volksbank building, have been beautifully restored. (If you ever get a chance to see the conference room in No. 7, have a look – it’s fantastic.)

 

As you walk down Rákóczi út, towards Blaha Lujza tér, there’s an Middle-Eastern-styled Souk on your left.  It’s heaving with carpets. On top of one pile, I spotted this Chobi. It sounds a little affected perhaps, or even downright silly, but I was so chuffed with myself that I recognised it for what it was and actually knew what I was looking at. The place is run by a chap from Afghanistan who moved over here in 1992 and is now married with kids. His sister works there, too. I went through the usual ‘is this your final price’ routine but my heart wasn’t really in it. It was already a very good price and I was happy to pay it – it would transform that corner of my room and tie it all together.
Not quite a circle

Not quite a circle

Mind you, I had trouble imagining a circular rug in that space. I have trouble with round things: during the renovations I was extremely adamant that my taps should be angular and not curved; my sinks the same. Even my bath. But this rug, being handmade, isn’t exactly round. Actually, it’s slightly misshapen, which adds to its charm.

 

On the advice of JFW – who has an extensive collection of carpets and seems to be able to use them to create spaces in places where you couldn’t imagine space in the first place – I thought about it. And, the next day, I went back and bought. I am getting rather used to have art on my floor rather than on my walls!
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Later that day, I hit a shop on Tuzoltó utca, where JFW had gotten a good deal on a bookcase. It’s an odd place. More like a house clearance centre than an antique shop. It is very much a question of rooting around to see what treasure you might unearth. And it was here that I found what I hope will be the first of many ‘occasional tables’ (although technically I think that with the drawer and the height, it doesn’t qualify as an OT). While it’s not the best restoration job in the world, it’s still a rather charming piece from about 1910. And I do like my drawers! I particularly like the metal accents on each side of the drawer (hard to see in this picture) and the bar across is black wood, which ties nicely with the black on the legs of the main table.

 

It is all coming together rather nicely. BTW The plant’s name is Harold (a housewarming present from the W-Fs). He seems to be doing okay (if by ‘okay’ you mean that he’s growing as many new shoots as he is losing leaves). I don’t have a very good history with plants – perhaps because I’ve never found any who like country music.

Living room: China cabinet

My mother has a china cabinet at home. I still wonder why she refers to it as the  ‘china cabinet’ when there’s no china in it. It’s full of Waterford glass and various trophies us kids won at school. I’ve never been a great lover of fine china; it’s always been a tad too delicate for my liking. I prefer good solid pottery like Kiltrea.

While the world may see me as solid,  methinks I may just have an unacknowledged, deep-seated subconscious  longing for it to recognise the delicate me. The manifestation of this inner conflict has been puzzling people for years. I remember, when working in the Bank in Dublin, walking in on a conversation where my male colleagues were trying to figure out why they felt driven to mind me – to look after me… after all, it wasn’t as if I was the delicate type.

I mentioned this in passing some years later to a mate of mine who flies jumbo jets for a living and he admitted that it used to bug him, too. There were other girls both of us knew who were half my size and, at first glance, a lot more delicate (in actual fact, most of them were as capable or even more capable of handling life than I am/was), and yet it was me he felt a compulsion to help…this puzzled him. After all, it wasn’t as if I was the delicate type. I haven’t thought about this in years and yet I’m now wondering if that’s what’s behind the sudden urge to buy a china cabinet and stock it with fine porcelain?  Maybe the heady fumes of history are getting to me. On the other hand, it could simply be the fact that I’ve never had an Art Deco table to sit around and now I do and solid pottery just won’t cut it.

In any event, buying a china cabinet seemed like an excellent idea, particularly when one presented itself on the very same day I found my table. And, coincidentally, in the very same shop! Not quite a two-for-one deal or a buy-one-get-one-free; they’re not even the same style… but somehow they seem to go together.

Beidermeir china cabinet

Biedermeier china cabinet

It’s a Biedermeier, dahling! To think that just a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have known a Beidermeir from a Baroque. I was more an Ikea gal who climbed up a couple of rungs to Domus (the furniture arrives in one piece) and now finds herself shamelessly hobnobbing with relics of centuries past. And everything I know I learned from my mate JFW – the Biedermeier King.  I finally get it, JFW: that inexplicable excitement that comes with finding the right piece for that spot or finding the right spot for that piece. It’s addictive. I’m already fighting a nagging worry about what I will do when it’s all over… when the flat is furnished… when I have no more reason to search… what then?

Look at the picture and then close your eyes. Imagine it full of china. A full dinner service with a light green pattern I think, perhaps with a gold edge to it and possibly even a matching tea service.  I am secretly entertaining the hope that I will stumble across the perfect set of Hungarian  Herend pottery in a job lot at some flea market and that no-one but me will realise what it actually is.

One can live in hope. Apparently John Paul II and Princess Diana both had some Herend in their china cabinets… they’d feel right at home at my gaff if I ever got the chance to invite the dead to tea. I wonder if Churchill had a fondness for it, too?

art-deco-dining-table

Living room: Chobi carpets

When I was in India early last year, I found myself effectively kidnapped on a number of occasions by rickshaw drivers who were working on commission for carpet sellers and gift-shop owners. It didn’t matter how many times I asked  to be taken directly somewhere, there was always the inevitable detour. And, being a firm believer in Churchill’s ‘never run when you can walk, never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie down’ philosophy, they had ample opportunity to hijack my lazy ass. Serves me right really.

On one of my course-free days, I struck a deal with a driver to take me sightseeing, thinking that a full-day’s hire might be enough to induce him to stay away from the shops. It wasn’t. He took me to a carpet shop. I’d been to so many at this stage that he had to go inside and get the owner to come out to see if I was a ‘repeat customer’. Apparently, the drivers only got their coupon for ‘newbies’ and with three coupons they could get a shirt for their kids. So really, what was an hour out of my day.

But this shop was different. Hanging in the middle of a large blank white wall, just over the main door, was a carpet woven in various shades of creams and browns. It showed the inner courtyard of a temple. The shadows, the light, the texture of the brick, the cracks on the floor, each detail had been carefully woven into the tapestry, for that’s what it was. A tapestry. Not just a carpet…

I was so enthralled and stood looking at it for so long that the owner brought me a chair… and then a little table.. .and then a pot of tea… and I sat for ages just looking at it. He turned on the lights and turned them off again. And on again. He closed the window shutters and opened them again. And shut them again. Each time, the change in light did something to the carpet and my perspective changed, ever-so slightly.  Occasionally he came close enough to whisper a price in my ear. We started off at $20,000 and eventually, when cold tea was running through my veins, we were down to $8000 and I was wondering what I could sell to raise the money. Sheer madness, but I was hooked.

Later that week, I ended up in yet another shop. I have to hand it to the salesmen in Bangalore – they’ve done their training and they know what they’re about. This chap explained how carpets were hand-knotted and dyed with vegetable and plant pigments. He told me that in India, as with the tartans in Scotland, each family/village has its own pattern. The only carpet I’d ever heard about was the plush, thick-piled Axminster that was such a status symbol in Dublin in the eighties. And, to be honest, I’d never really given carpets much thought.

Then my mate JFW, who has accumulated quite a number of carpets since arriving in Budapest, explained how you can use a rug or a carpet to define an area. This way, you can effectively use the whole room creating,  as it were, rooms within a room.

There was little point in wishing I’d bought while I was in India. I had signed on the flat but hadn’t yet had the keys last spring and anyway, I was even more clueless about what I wanted then… So it was back to square one. I’d notice the ‘sale’ sign on the BÁV window on Jasai Marie tér, on the Pest side of Margit híd (Margaret Bridge) telling of 20% off all carpets and rugs. Upstairs, hanging over the banister, I found my chobi.

Chobi_carpets

My first Chobi 263 x 204

‘Chobi’ is the Farsi word for ‘colour like wood’ (one word replaces three – ummm I wonder if that’s why the Creed sounds longer in Hungarian than it does in English?) The rugs hail from the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The wool is generally hand-spun and the rug itself hand-knotted.  By anyone’s reckoning, that’s a lot of work and a lot of knots.The dyes are made entirely from fruit, vegetables, roots, tree barks and dried fruit shells, making Chobis the most labour-intensive of all tribal carpets. The colours range from soft muted tans and browns to rich coppers, deep maroons, and sage greens. Mine is a deep orangey maroon with sage green and creamy gold colours throughout. It is stunning. And I love it.

But back to the BÁV as it’s the fist time I’ve taken you there. There are a number of them in the city. The one in Jasai Marie tér is one of the biggest and takes up three floors. From what I can gather, they used to be State owned – places where the Government sold goods that had been seized by customs because the owners hadn’t gotten the necessary permits –  but now they have been privatised. You can give your antiques to them on consignment and then they sell it for you to … people like me! Unlike Ecseri, there’s no bartering – the price has already been contracted between the seller and the BÁV so that’s what you pay. Mind you, if you have faith and patience (I have lots of the former and very little of the latter), you can hang on until what you want goes down in price (sometimes this happens if it’s not selling – mind you, it always seems to happen to stuff you don’t want) … but you take the risk that someone else is doing the same. It’s like an ebay auction except that you never know when the auction is going to end!

The first day I saw it, I didn’t buy it. I had to think about it. Yes, it might have taken ages to make and it certainly was very, very beautiful and it would go perfectly underneath my table. I could already see the chairs I had yet to find for my table upholstered in the same burnt orangey red.  And I could get an invoice for it and pay for in on my euro credit card and take advantage of the excellent exchange range which would really make it considerably cheaper than if I had bought it four months ago when the forint was at 230 to the euro instead of the 280 it’s hovering around today. Ah, the justification. The guilt. So I checked another carpet shop just to see what their chobis were selling for… and I figured I was getting a deal at the BÁV. I just wouldn’t be flying to New York any time soon!

Hallway in black and white

I think it was when I was going through my ‘country mansion’ stage that I first hit on the idea of a black-and-white hallway. Not the most original idea in the world perhaps, but one that has been a long time in the making.  I am particularly blessed that this long hallway (nearly 7 metres) is perfect for showing off my B&W photos. Each one has a story or a memory encased in it.

There’s a photo of the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. When I was in college I would get the bus back to Dublin on a Sunday evening and I always new I was home when we drove past the Ha’penny Bridge. Even today, it’s my gateway to the capital. Once I pass it I know I’m either coming or going. There is also one of the Cliffs of Moher, so beautifully pictured in the opening scene of Ryan’s Daughter. This is, perhaps, one of my favourite places in Ireland. Years ago, before the visitors centre and car-parks beckoned tour buses en route from Shannon Airport to Galway, it was a rugged, lonely, windswept place where, with a little imagination, you could almost see America. You could sit for hours without being bothered by another soul. Alas, no longer. It’s still an amazing place though and the photo that Ms McCabe took of it, a copy of which now hangs in my hallway, still manages to calm the most anxious of days.

There’s also one of the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford that was taken for me by a wonderful man from Brazil whom I met while doing my MA (one half of the eponymous Alberto and Sabrina duo).  That year was special in more ways than one. The MA in International Publishing drew students from all over the world and made for some fascinating conversations and lasting friendships. Oxford itself is a remarkable place to live… for a year. Home to the ubiquitous Colin Dexter, him of Inspector Morse fame; the Bodleian Library; the  Radcliffe Camera; the dining hall featured in the Harry Potter movies… there’s a never-ending treasure trove of interesting people, places and stories to find. And, as a student, plenty of time to find them!  A year was just right for me – any longer and I think I would have found the divide between town and gown a little too wide for my liking.

There are three of Anna Nielsen’s stick men prints (one she gave me as a present – an original, one-off, to commemorate the Irish presidential elections in 1997). Danish by birth and now living in Ireland, she’s a very witty artist with a rather distinct style. And there are more, so many more, including one of me  in my younger days wearing little more than a smile, cavorting on the couch with… an ashtray.

If I were heading to a desert island and could only bring one picture with  me, it would have to be Feny Karoly’s photo of Marton László’s statue of the Hungarian poet József Attila. It was taken in winter, when it was snowing. I had the very good fortune to work on Marton László’s autobiography shortly before he died last year. He was a remarkable man and a remarkable artist. I’m still discovering the real-life versions of statues he wrote about in his book. But this one of József Attila is my favourite. I have spent many a morning sitting with him, chatting about life and what’s going on. Not surprisingly, he’s an excellent listener. One particular morning, I failed to notice a couple of tourists who had sat on the far side of him. I was ranting about men and relationships or something equally thrilling and was being quite frank with him – he’s that sort of chap. It was only when I stood up to leave that I realised he wasn’t the only audience I had. I’m not sure which amused them most: my situation or the fact that I was spilling my guts to a statue.

Half-way down the hall

Half-way down the hall

Anyway, back to the hall. It took a long time to find just the right tile. I wanted it to shine but not to mirror; to be muted but not dead; to  be textured but still smooth. And then the size… why make it so difficult to choose? Luckily, I know a very good architect living on a bit of land off the north coast of Scotland who knows exactly how I deal (or don’t deal) with choices and he was very helpful. There are, believe it or not, occasions when I actually like being told what to do. He also drew up a couple of designs for the tile and I rather like what we agreed on. I particularly like the ‘runway’ affect of inset halogen lights along the base of the wall.

That lovely black, pillar-like thing is actually covering a rather ugly pipe that comes through from next door. My flat was original part of a large corner apartment that is now four separate flats of varying sizes. This was quite common apparently. A man selling a flat in Korsztasorsag tér explained it quite simply:

The Communists decided I didn’t need such a big flat.

I could have raised the floor to cover the pipe but then I would have had to shave some height off the doors. I could have lowered it but it’s sitting on a lead plate and for all its size (about 31 cm juts out into my hallway), it seemed like it could be masking a world of hurt so I left well enough alone. I briefly entertained the thought of taking a pottery class to make a life-sized statue of a dalmation to sit over it and hide it… I even went so far as to share this thought with some of my friends here and it was quickly pointed out that ‘there’s a very fine line between good taste and no taste’.

I finally found this ebonized wooden stand at the BÁV and thought it would be perfect. And, although not quite deep enough, it works beautifully. I won’t go into how much it cost. I did watch it for a few weeks hoping it would come down in price … but it didn’t. So when I was in buying my big Chobi, I was overcome by the whole ‘may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb’ thing and threw caution to the wind.

On top, if you can make it out, is a granite, shallow-dish vase. It has a circular hollow with  little tiny prongs onto which you stick your flower stems. According to the chap who made it, flowers rot because we put them in too much water. They need to have about an inch of the stems covered… and then keep cutting back as that piece rots. Not exactly rocket science, but who’d have thunk it eh? I bought it on one of many trips to Blenheim Palace …on this particular day I was accompanied by one of the most amazing women I know – Ashoka fellow Elna Kotze.  The flower in the picture is pussy willow. There’s a lovely old Hungarian woman who brings her stool with her and sits at the bottom of the steps at Arany János metro station selling bunches of flowers that she brings in from the country. She hand-ties them into little bouquets and holds them out as you’re passing and happen to catch her eye. It’s one way of cutting out the middle-man! And she’s hard to resist!

I must walk up and down that hallway ten times a day and it’s like travelling through time. There are hundreds of memories and associations in each step. Friends who were with me when I bought photographs in Prague and Portugal; those who took photos for me in Ireland and the UK;  one gifted Hungarian friend TI who painted one for me, and the endlessly patient KG who hung the damn things (is there really such a thing as a straight line?) It’s a lovely space and just how I imagined it would be  – although in my country mansion, I had a round hall with a vaulted ceiling and a wrought iron staircase… well, it’s almost there.

Living room

Inspiration for the living room

Inspiration for the living room

Back in 2001, just before I left Alaska and the USA to return to Ireland, I took a last-minute whirlwind tour of the south. Along with my good friend RosaB, I flew into New Orleans and hired a car. From there we headed to Biloxi, Mississippi, over to Birmingham, Alabama, across Northern Florida and into Savannah, Georgia.

One of my lasting memories of the city was the sweltering heat – it was November and it was in the eighties. We took a carriage tour of the city and our driver apologised: ‘if only you’d come last week; the weather was warmer then’!

Savannah is laid out in squares – 21 if I remember rightly. And being in the South, it’s, well it’s so southern… polite. Yes ma’am. I have a morbid fascination with wars. And prisons. And cemeteries. And ghosts. I found this painting by Kathleen Gorenflo in a gallery on River Street.  The widow in the picture is visiting her husband’s grave. He was killed during the Civil War sometime between 1861 and 1865 and you can just see his ghost behind the tombstone. The picture haunted me. I’ve been packing and unpacking it for eight years and now it finally is hanging up, on the wall. My wall. In my living room. In my flat. In Budapest.

It’s double matted – the bottom mount is a pale green, which is now the colour of my walls. The frame is a goldish bronze tinged with a copper green. It’s not an antique but it has an ‘old-world’ look to it so I wanted an ‘old world’ feel to my living room. Take a look and see what else I found.

Living room: Dinner parties

95x190 (x260 when extented)

The first time I brought an American boyfriend home to Ireland, in 1996, we went to dinner at my friends’ house in Dublin. The N-Ms  have a great big dining table and eight of us sat around until the small hours of the morning, talking, laughing, eating, drinking and having a ball. It was the first time I met my now sister-in-law; my brother was home from a UN tour in Bosnia; I hadn’t seen the N-Ms since they’d gotten married and moved house; and I was hoping to persuade M&M to come visit me in Alaska. The lovely TW was in his element drinking pints with the lads; it was a great night. I loved it. So much of life is transient but memories like this last a  lifetime.

I love to cook. I love to entertain. And I’m particularly fond of making new memories, so one of my ‘must-haves’ was a dining table that would seat at least eight people.  I found this wonderful Art Deco piece in Ecseri flea market in a shop run by the lovely Appel Péter. (In Hungary, the last name goes first.) My mate JFW has bought a lot of stuff there and he brought me out to introduce me personally. I quickly learned that you don’t just see something, pay for it and take it home. It’s more involved than that…as indeed, is life in general in Hungary. There’s a first price, second price and final price. So much depends on how much you love it, how badly they want rid of it, what else you’re buying and what the humour of the day is like. This table started out at 650,000 HUF (about £2200/€2320/$3000). And no, you’ve haven’t missed a lottery win. I still don’t have that sort of money! But we had to start somewhere.

It is a lovely piece of Art Deco, beautifully restored, dating to the 1920s/1930s. If it could only tell stories. What secrets has it heard? What indiscretions has it witnessed?  Where was it made? Did it have to travel far? I quite like the idea of it living for years in an apartment on Andrássy – perhaps in one of the ambassador’s residences.

Andrassy út runs from  Erzsébet tér (Elizabeth Square) to Városliget (City Park). It dates from the 1890s and underneath runs the first metro built in Continental Europe, the M1 or Yellow Line, which opened in 1896. Most of the neo-renaissance houses and palaces were occupied by aristocrats, bankers, landowners and historical families by 1884. This long road was first named after Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, and then after Stalin (Sztalin út). When he was denounced, it was changed to Avenue of the People’s Republic until finally, in 1990, it went full circle back to Andrássy út. Funny how that happens!

It’s  a long, long road. From Erzsébet tér to Oktogon is mainly commercial but hosts the State Opera House and many designer, up-market shops. From Oktogon to Kodály körönd the road widens with an allée (a pedestrian path down the centre), and includes residential areas and universities. Kodály körönd is currently being restored and it’s here, if I ever win the lottery, that I would like to buy flat. And it’s here I think my table might have lived.  From Kodály körönd to Bajza utca, Andrássy widens even more and the residential palaces (some of which have been turned into hotels, galleries and occasional restaurant), are fronted by gardens. From Bajza utca to Városliget, there are more villas encompassed by gardens, and it is on this stretch that you find most of the embassies.
One of my favourite sights in Budapest is that which greets you at night if you get off the M1 at Hősök tere (Hereos’ Square). Climb the stairs and be prepared to be mesmerised.  A little like how I feel when I open the door to my living room about midday and see the sun bouncing off this table.

Bedroom: The piece that made my heart stop

I never thought it possible that I could get excited about a piece of furniture. I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me that I’d be spending more time in flea markets and antique shops than in boutiques and salons. But it’s true. This renovation has created a monster.

1850s French empire complete with remants of the original manufacturer's sticker

1850s French empire complete with remnants of the original manufacturer’s sticker

Recent visitors to Budapast EK and JG talked about their purchases ‘speaking to them’. And I can relate to this. Except that when this wardrobe was sitting in a shed at Esceri among lots of other furniture, half-hidden by a table and tucked away in the corner, it didn’t so much speak as whisper. And it was a very soft whisper. But it registered.  I went back again to see it and then, after many phone conversations that seemed to involve the nation (really me saying and having others say for me  ‘I don’t have the cash’ ) I gave in. I admit I occasionally allow myself to feel pressurised into buying things and can, on a bad day, buy something purely because whoever I’m shopping with likes it. On these bad days, I can’t make a decision to save my life and am happy to do whatever. Thankfully, they’re few and far between and are causing less trouble the older I get! (That stool with legs made from jeans tucked into workman’s boots, and a seat made from a check shirt and braces still haunts me!)

It wasn’t until it was delivered to the flat and took up residence in my bedroom that it really started speaking to me – and it speaks volumes.

I remember years ago in Myrtle Beach visiting a Ridley museum and spending ages in front of the funny mirror that made you look really thin. I couldn’t decide if I liked what I saw. Having spent years dieting to get that ‘perfect figure’, when I saw how I’d look, I couldn’t decide if I liked the look of me. Mind you, it hasn’t stopped the sporadic dieting but at least it did kill any aspirations I had to squeeze into a size 10.

If you stand in front of these mirrors, where the doors overlap, you cannot see your reflection. And yet, move a millimetre to either side and there you are. Magic.

And magical it is. I can’t explain it really. There is just something incredibly beautiful about its fine lines. Something timelessly classic about its bearing. Something ageless in its beauty. And yet it’s solid. And very ‘there’. It has a presence. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like my mother! mmmm…

And my heart missed a beat…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to own my own place.  Over the years, the ‘place’ in question has moved from a stone cottage in the West of Ireland, to a crofter’s cottage by a loch in the highlands of Scotland. I’ve had visions of a log cabin in Alaska and a house with a large lan’ai overlooking the ocean in Hawaii. I’ve thought about a terraced house in Dublin and a two-story flat in an ex-Council towerblock in London. A flat in Rome or a mountain retreat in Macugnaga have both appealed, depending on whether I was in my city or country mode. I’ve considered vineyards in France (very briefly), sheepfarms in New Zealand, and even an organic farm in Wales. I have, at various stages, fantasised about being  Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born; Barbara Good in The Good Life; Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City; Maggie O’Connell in Northern Exposure; Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man; Diane Sugden in Emmerdale; and a host of other leading ladies, each with a lifestyle and a ‘place’ of their own that seemed to fit the me that was me at a particular time.

My ‘bottom drawer’ was born in the early 1990s when I won a green card to the USA in a lottery and took a two-year career break from the Bank of Ireland in Dublin to live the Californian dream. It was a whole new world. A world with lots of ‘stuff’. I remember buying a set of miniature sculptures of golf poses made of nuts and bolts. I had visions of them sitting in a display cabinet in ‘my place’ once I’d bought it. Thankfully, my taste has improved dramatically in the intervening years and while I kept one of them as a reminder that tat is simply tat,  no matter how exotic the location in which you find it, I’m a little more selective now.

I’ve added to this drawer over the last 18 years – pictures, cutlery, linens, wall-hangings, sculptures – and have finally bought a flat, in Budapest, Hungary. I’m in the process of unpacking my treasures and buying new bits to furnish it. I was strangely detached from the process, as if I was doing it for someone else – although I knew that someone else was me. I have waited so long to own ‘my place’ and have searched so hard to find it and yet somehow, I wasn’t sure if it was the panacea I had expected it to be. And then today, this morning, Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 9.17 a.m. in Budapest, Hungary, I took delivery of a piece of furniture that made my heart stop, just for second. And I just had to share the journey.