Living in the ghetto

img_15871It’s only now the penny has dropped. When I first started talking about moving to Budapest, one recurrent theme in the advice offered by soon-to-be-friends and those more experienced in the BP property trade, was ‘don’t buy in the 8th district’. Lord knows I heard it often enough for it to sink in. And I was sure it had.

Last week, the lovely MI invited me to dinner and asked me where I’d like to go. I wanted to stay local – I am conscious that most of my socialising is done over in the 6th and if I’m to lend any credence to my localism advocacy, I need to start patronising some back-street hostelries closer to home. We set off from the flat and instead of following my usual route up Ulloi út  to the Korut, we turned right into what seemed to be one massive construction site. img_1625

While picking our way through bricks and mortar, breathing in the heady fumes of fresh concrete, I was struck by the incongruity of it all. It reminded me so much of when they first started ‘rebuilding’ inner city Dublin. Lots and lots and lots of new buildings going up, with lots of old ones having been demolished.

The restaurant, on Náp utca, doesn’t believe in advertising itself. On my own, I’d have walked past it. Inside it was dressed to kill. Yet we were the only diners. Friday night. Just us. In the ghetto. The 8th district.

We had drinks in the courtyard (udvár) and it felt slightly peculiar to be sipping on a rather nice Villanyi Rosé while the neighbours in the flats above the restaurant sat on their balconies, enjoying a cigarette and an after-work cocktail, while looking down on us from on high.

While walking through the same area the next afternoon, what got me most was the juxtapositioning of old and new and I wondered, for the fifty-millionth time, where the planners were!!!!!! When I was searching for my flat, HM knew not to even show one if I could look out any window and see a new build. Even though I lean more towards tradition than modernity,  I like modern architecture. I can appreciate good design. I don’t think we need to replace like with like in a vain attempt to make time stand still. I do img_1616believe, though, that there’s a very fine line between tat and taste. And when it comes to designing a new building that will sit admist those long established, just a tiny bit of thought would make all the difference.  

I am sure that of the new builds in BP have been pilfered from the Costa dels – monstrosities in shape and form, painted in colours that look wonderfully chic on Burano but gaudy in the Budapest sun. img_1617

Irish journalist Peter Murphy (think  Damien Lewis with a pen), wrote an excellent article for the Budapest Sun recently – Where the names have no streets. It will tell you more about the 8th that I ever could.

In the meantime, life is good and all is well. The search for furniture continues. I’ve finally posted a picture of  the piece that made my heart stop and I have added a rather quaint 1920’s stool and some really lovely etchings to my collection (still to be blogged). In the meantime, I’m weighing up to forints to see which way to go with my bookcase.  Decisions, decisions.

Venice, masks and Stendahl’s syndrome

I was in Venice this week for a few days – flew out Tuesday and back last night in time to see that Ireland still has a chance to repeat the 1948 Grand Slam next Saturday. Commiserations to the Scots… but sure there ya have it!
Anyway, to Venice….
Back in 1817, a French Romantic novelist Henri-Marie Byle who wrote under the penname ‘Stendahl’ was visiting Florence. While visiting the Basilica of Saint Croce, he was so overwhelmed by its beauty that he had a turn. He later wrote in his diary: Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart. Life was drained from me, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves’. I walked with the fear of falling. It wasn’t until 1979 that the condition was diagnosed and named ‘Stendhal’s syndrome’ by an Italian psychiatrist, Dr Graziella Magherini, who noticed similar psychosomatic conditions – racing heat beat, nausea and dizziness – amongst first-time visitors to the city.

Had I not lived in Alaska for so many years and seen beauty in is rawest, most majestic form, I, too, might have suffered from Stendhal’s syndrome during my four days in Venice. It truly is a remarkable city.


Gondolas in front of Rialto

Gondolas in front of Rialto

 From the air, it looks like a fish: the fat body containing the sestieres (the six districts that form Venice) of Cannaregio, Santa Croce, San Polo, San Marco and Dorsoduro with Castello making up the tail. It lives amongst the lagoon islands of Murano, Burano, San Giorgio Maggiore, Lido, Torcello, Guidecca, Sant’Erasmo and San Michelle. Cycling is forbidden and cars are few and far between, generally left parked in the Piazzale Roma, from where commuters travel onwards on foot or by boat.  You can take the vaporetto (a waterbus) on both canals. To cross from one side to the other on the Grand Canal between bridges, you can take the traghetto (a gondola in which you stand up rather than recline regally).  And there’s always the water taxi. You can, of course, hire your own gondola for a romantic trip through the rios. That experience I thought I’d save for later!

There are supposedly more than 500 bridges in the city and I’d say we crossed most of them. It’s a veritable labyrinth and next time I go, I’m going to do away with the map and just wander. If you get lost, you simply look up to find a yellow sign pointing the general direction of San Marco, or Rialto, or Piazzale Roma. Half the fun is finding your way home and it is so easy to walk around in circles for hours, ending up right back where you started. It’s all about the journey.

Sunshine on a calle

Sunshine on a calle

 Growing up with roads and streets and squares, and having coped with the út (road), utca (street), and tér (square) in Budapest, it took a while to get my head around the Venetian toponyms: liste (main steets), crosere (crossroads), calle (a narrow street, some hardly a shoulder width, running between houses), rama (short calles, often cul-de-sacs), ruga ( a straight calle full of shops), salizzada (the first paved calli), rio (canal)  rio tera (a canal that has become a calle), fondamenta (a calle with houses on one side and a rio on the other), campo (square), corti (squares hidden inside groups of houses), sortoporgego (a passageway through a building).

Looking down the calli, particularly in Cannaregio and Costello, you see clotheslines strung between the buildings on either side with bunting-like laundry flapping in the breeze. The smell of washing powder mixes headily with the salty smell of the sea. Shoes sit on windowsills and fur coats hang in windows to air. Every inch of space is used. Venice has no more room – what’s there is being renovated – but there is no room for expansion. In the ghetto, they coped with expanding numbers by building upwards, the first skyscrapers. The doors vary so much is size that you have to wonder who lives behind them.

The buildings, old and weary, stand proudly, defying the water to do its worst, the lower third battled scarred and watermarked. The city floods at least twice a year and you can see the evidence. Neat stacks of tables wait patiently for the time when they will be set end to end to create paths above water level when the floods come. Stories abound of Venetians coming out of the cinema to be faced with a ‘wade’ home, the more cavalier men piggybacking their dates.  Everything we have on road, Venice has on water: fireboats, ambulance boats, police boats, medical boats, delivery boats, garbage boats. It really is something else.

 We spent our days wandering the streets, popping in and of shops and churches, having the occasional ice cream and the odd coffee. As ‘spending a penny’ in Venice can cost as much as €1.50, having a coffee and using their loo seemed more economical. There are all sorts of hidden charges so your bill is rarely what you expect. It is cheaper by far to eat and drink standing up then to sit down, inside or outside. We just had to have lunch on our last day at a little trattoria in San Toma that had a big sign in the window saying ‘NO COVERT CHARGE’…. a typo or a Venetian with a sense of irony?

The mind boggles at the skill and craftsmanship that went into building those churches. Some of them are massive – you’d fit five Irish churches into the one at Frari. And there are so many of them. We got mass one evening and ended up staying for vespers because it would have been rude to leave. It was my first time at vespers and a shame that I didn’t understand a word of what was being said.

img_15072Sadly there are more tourists in Venice than there are residents. Government support for artisans and craftworkers translates into lots of working studios for painters, jewelers, and mask makers who seem to do it for the love of it rather than for money; customers almost seem to intrude. Like everything else, the genuine articles are endangered by cheap imports from China. Tourists are faced with a choice of spending €20 on a mask from a trader or €120 for a real, hand-made-in-Venice one. Given that it is an expensive city overall, many take the cheaper option (and no, you don’t even have to ask which one I went for….) Perhaps more could be done to highlight the fakes… knowing you’re buying a fake is one thing; thinking you’re buying the genuine article is another. On Murano, shops have signs in their windows saying they use only local glass. Those that don’t have these signs… well, you’re pretty safe in assuming that they’re importing the funny stuff! This ethical consumerism can be expensive!

After a couple of days walking the streets of the sestieres, we took to water and went island-hopping (and yes, it is possible to get lost on water as well). Up until a few years ago, San Michelle was where Venetians were buried; now it’s full so new bodies are taken to the mainland. Amongst the famous buried on this island are  Stravinksy and his wife Vera. It was sad, in a way, to see his grave laden with flowers and hers quite bare. How difficult is it, I wonder, to be married to fame? Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky are also at home there. The graves seem to sprout flowers … the Venetians take care of their dead.

Glass sculpture

Glass sculpture

 We then headed to Murano, home of the famous murano glass, with its glassworks and street sculptures. Boats laden with boxes addressed to Holland, New York and even South Africa, lined the canals. They will ship anywhere. And it was so very, very tempting. But sense reigned and I limited my purchases to a Christmas tree ornament. Next stop was supposed to be Tortello, but we missed it. We went to the end of the line, disembarked, had a beer, and came back to Burano. Missing your stop at sea is a little like trying to turn back on the freeway.

It’s impossible not to smile on Burano. Famous for its lace (and yes, I succumbed to two scarves) its colourful houses are so cheerful. Bright, bright pinks and blues and yellows and greens – residents must compete to find the gaudiest colours possible and then paint with pride.

By a rio in Burano

By a rio in Burano

 The town square in the evening is full of kids playing, adults chatting, and a palpable sense of happiness and well-being. A lovely spot.


The sounds in the city are quite typical: church bells and conversation. But in Venice, there is another one: the sound of what I thought to be rolling luggage. And then I realized it was rolling shopping bags. While you can find any amount of craft shops and churches, restaurants and bars, it’s hard to find a supermarket or a corner shop. You just follow the bag lady!  And these wheelie shoppers are young and trendy, male and female – it’s not just the purview of English or Hungarian old ‘granny’ types… it’s almost fashionable!bag-ladies-at-rialto-fish-market

And the locals certainly have style. Italian men dress so well. Even a trip to the fish market warrants careful thought and preparation. They are manicured and tailored without being effete. The gondoliers have a style of their own about them, too. One restaurant maître domo enticed us to sit a while with his dramatic rendition of ‘my mind is open, my heart is open, my restaurant is open…’ When Venetians pass each other on the street, the conversation starts as soon as they see each other, and continues well after they’ve passed each other by. Those Venetians you see apparently talking to themselves (with no visible mobile phone mics) are just talking to the person behind them walking in the opposite direction.

Of course, no trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to Harry’s Bar. It’s the reason I went and the reason I’ve been going for years but only now got there. The home of carpaccio and the bellini, Harry’s Bar was a home from home to Hemmingway. It’s a quiet, unimposing bar/restaurant on the corner of Calle Valerroso. The prices are astronomical, and deliberately so. They’re designed to separate the genuine article from the fakes – those that want to sit for a while where Hemmingway sat, enjoying the palpable legacy of greatness as opposed to those who read about it, know something of the man, and want to add it to the list of sights seen. While we were there, so many came in, sat down, opened the menu, read the prices and left.  The waiters were so used to this, they didn’t blink an eye. Thankfully, I had a credit card and had come a long way and waited a long time to taste my first bellini… and I’ll be back.

So it’s back to normal this week… St Patrick’s Day looms and I’ve plans to gather some folks and drink to the snake-schuker. You never know who might turn up.

Bedroom: All I want for Christmas is a clerk’s chair

img_1001Don’t be deceived. This may look like an ordinary chest of drawers to the undiscerning eye, but it’s actually so much more. One of the joys of trawling through antique shops, junk shops, and flea markets is that you get to find out, first hand, how tetchy the staff are about you opening and closing drawers and presses (cupboards for the Americans and English). Some verge on apoplexy if you so much as lift the edge of a macassar whereas others would happily let you see if you could crawl into the wardrobe and bring your friend with you. That element of childish ‘let’s see how far I can push it’ is quite amusing and certainly adds to the experience. As does wandering around wearing a backpack… amazing how some of us get our kicks eh?

On those rare occasions when you open up a drawer or a door and find something unexpected, it’s even better! Then you can oooh and ahhh out loud, and when the other shoppers gather around, you know your hand is the one on the handle and you’re the one with first dibs.

Such was the case in the BAV on Jaszai Maria tér a couple of weeks ago. February 12. I’ve been looking for a chest of drawers. Any I’ve seen have been either in poor condition or very expensive. Or the drawers weren’t deep enough. Or it wasn’t high enough. Or the handles weren’t pretty enough. This one I liked the look of, and liked the price. And when I opened it, it practically called my name. And everyone else heard it, too. In a matter of seconds, there were two others around me, chattering away and looking as if they were wondering how to make me disappear.


How cool is this eh? The front of the top drawer is opens out to form a writing table! Now, with my short legs, I can stand and write quite comfortably. Not a long letter though, more of a short note, or maybe a cheque. Any lengthier correspondence will require a clerk’s chair…

When it was delivered, I found a CD of Beethoven’s Violin concertos in one of the little drawers. An added bonus! I just love it. The other three drawers are deep and wide, so it’s just perfect for me. It is missing its keys though – so four more to add to the list. I could make a career out of key shopping!

I’m not sure of the vintage – I’d say Victorian – any of you have any ideas? I thought it might have been a Bachelors chest, but it doesn’t have the shallow top drawer for the shaving foam! It’s old though. And I wanted something old and gold to put on the top. I’m getting quite protective of my tops lately and don’t want it ruined by an oil ring from a makeup bottle.

img_0999Now, you know how Sundays are my ‘day of rest’ – literally. Sam Waterston himself couldn’t drag me out of bed before noon (mmm actually, he would be a very good reason for me to stay in bed even longer).

Well, this Sunday just gone, I was up at the crack of dawn and getting off the metro in Szechenyi at 7.50 am heading for the Petofi flea market. My first time. And what an experience! A new venue on my guided tourist route.  Anyway, I was with the Queen of Vintage who was shopping for linens and I found this embroidered table runner. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The detail is exquisite. And if I’m to believe the woman who sold it to me, it once lived in a castle owned by them who had the monogram RB. And sure why wouldn’t I?

Getting a name for myself

Picture it. Saturday morning. Downtown Pest. The tourists, those brave enough to stumble out into the cold, are wandering through Raday útca wondering why their mates told them this was the ‘hot spot’ in town. Their mates, no doubt, had visited in summer, when Raday is indeed a hot spot. Packed to capacity with café table and chairs, it’s the main restaurant drag in town. You can eat your way around the world and find somewhere new and more exciting every night. This time of year though, it’s deserted. Not even the bravest soul with the warmest blanket would last long in the biting cold of Budapest. Nonetheless, there were a few around, with cameras, to witness my ‘bringing the lamp home’. Yes, another lamp.

This one was too big to take on the tram; and I was too cheap to buy a ticket for it to travel on the metro. So, I walked it home. And it was heavy. I  set it down to wait for passing traffic to clear; whatever about getting myself knocked down…. An unsuspecting couple came around the corner and did a stop and stare while another chap across the road pulled out his camera. Honestly, you’d think no-one had ever seen a girl take her lamp for a walk before!

New pages: So ugly it’s beautiful; All I want for Christmas is a Clerk’s Chair.

Bedroom: Low lights and high ceilings

Who would have thought that 4-metre-high ceilings were high enough to make a resonably sized light seem rather small? It surprised me no end. There I was thinking this latest acquisition would drop too far down…   It’s a little worn in places perhaps, with a crack or two in the bowls – it’s been around a little while, though it’s no-where near as old as its roomates.

img_09661I haven’t paid much attention to lights until lately – and now that I’m in the market for a chandelier (csillár) or two, I’m amazed at how many there are and how fine the line is between taste and tat. Some of them look amazing in the distance and not so wonderful up close. Mind you, the tallest person I know would have a hard time getting up close and personal with this light!

One lovely thing about this city is that you can stumble on an Aladdin’s cave every day of the week. There are so many nooks and corners selling everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. And, like the Zebras’ survival mechanism (pack up close so the lions can’t tell one of us from the other), some of the larger lighting emporiums are just too much! It’s impossible to pick. That’s why the smaller shops or those that only have a few lights are the best bet.img_09651

The BAV on Margit Korut in Buda is one such place. It is on the verge of ‘too much’ yet has just the right amount to whet your appetite without dulling your senses. To really appreciate the aesthetics, you need to see a light on its own. Just it, the ceiling and the room it will inhabit. What can look so right in the shop (I have three of these failures) can morph into something hideous on the journey home. I was lucky with this one.

What I like about it is the quirkiness (and the price helped a lot, too – a markdown from 45000 ft to 30000 ft ($130, €100, £90)). The hanging baubles are just the right side of naff and hopefully will catch the sun during the day. It was the organgey-green vein-like pattern that swung it for me, though. Perhaps there’s something for the shrink to analyze there!

Bedroom: A sleeping beauty

A bed isn’t simply a bed. It’s a refuge. Considering we spend at least a third of our life in bed, we should spend more time choosing just the right one.  I happened across mine in Ecseri market… the headboard and footboard were just lying up against a wall. It didn’t look like much at first glance and, as with all good things, a little closer inspection revealed much.

img_09681Each corner is embossed with a rather intricate metal figurine. The inlaid design on the footboard is rather lovely, as it the headboard itself. It was missing its original latts, although the mahogany frame was still in good nick. It’s not an Ikea-mattress size. At 140cm x 190cm, it’s slightly shorter than your average bed, but then, I’m slightly shorter than your average basketball player (and the only basketball player I know is a 76-year-old Jesuit priest!)

The footboard is curved, arc-like, which gives it a lovely shape – a lot more interesting that the usual straight-sided offerings. I loved it and didn’t have a doubt in the world that I should take it home. I had some latts made and my very good friend MI worked her usual magic and found me just the right-sized mattress in some town outside Budapest. The saints were indeed smiling on me the day I met Ms M. The bed, having come in so many parts, finally came together last Tuesday.
And that’s when I last had a good night’s sleep. Tuesday night, after about an hour of twisting and turning, I was overcome by a fierce sense of anxiety bordering on sheer terror. I’m not given to hearing footsteps in the night so the urge I had to triple lock the front door and put the chain on took me by surprise. I pulled out ye olde trustworthy crystal and did a bit of divining. The bed had had a happy history – no major deaths or dismemberment. But it was facing the wrong way. Now, despite the fact that my neighbours and I are not on ‘pop in for a coffee’ terms, I still have some sense of civic duty and didn’t feel that 3am was the time to start shifting furniture. But first thing Wednesday morning, I moved the bed.
Wednesday night, I slept. No getting up in the middle of the night. I slept straight through and when I woke I was exhausted. I felt as if I’d had a fortnight on the tear. Thankfully, my 7.30am class had cancelled on me. Thursday night was no better. Friday, the shamanic Jeremiah D came to visit for the weekend. He may as well have been riding a white horse and wearing a suit of armour! When he spent some time in the room, he felt the energy and whilst not bad, it was definitely strong. On Saturday, after yet another restless night, we had a clearing ceremony: those lost souls crossed over, out the window, and on to the other side.
Sunday morning, I awoke at 4.30am (after two and a half hours’ sleep) and felt fully rested. I could have gotten up and started my day. I slept again and awoke at 7.30 feeling energised and awake. I’ve visitors this week so am camping out in the study. It’ll be Thursday before I get to sleep there again and this time, I hope to bask in the glow of the new csillár and enjoy a solid night’s sleep. I might even dream of those who have slept there before me… 150 years makes for a lot of stories!

Let there be light

After what was a dismal performance by my boys yesterday (Ireland, Rugby, Italy), despite the big scoreline, my humour has much improved. I found a very quirky chandelier last week at the BAV – this time, I went to the one over in Buda, just at the end of Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge). I brought it home on the tram… safely. It’s looking good. Also found just the right orange light for the bathroom and a wonderful wonderful chest of drawers for my bedroom. Photos and details to follow. Hope all is well in your worlds and that life is treating you kindly.

Flat updates: Low lights, high ceilings; Sleeping Beauty.

Bedroom: So ugly it’s beautiful

Every Saturday for the last five weeks, I’ve visited this antique shop near Szabadszag hid on Vámház korút. It’s one of those curious shops with two fronts. The first door opens into what looks like a rather small jewelry shop. Well, truth be told, it’s more like a pawnbrokers. But then you follow the carpets and wind your way back into the bowels of antiquity where you can find almost anything. It’s crammed with stuff… sofas, chairs, tables, mirrors, plant stands, pictures, cloths, china… everything that might have, at some stage, lived in a house. A veritable Aladdin’s cave. And priced accordingly. (It is certainly more expensive than the markets or the BAVs and I’m not altogether convinced that the stuff is any better.) Yet I’m quite taken with the place. I’ve even taken my visitors there on the way to the big market.

img_10031My normal decisiveness (and yes, please laugh…) deserted me: for five weeks, I hummed and hawed about whether to buy this lamp. My problem lay in deciding if it was really beautiful or just pure tat. My visitors were indecisive and of little help. The olde ‘not my taste, but if you like it….’ just doesn’t cut it. Eventually, I gave in. And my giving in had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the staff thought I was casing the joint. Honestly!

I think, or rather KAG thinks, that it’s a Rococo. And I believe her. The girl knows her vintage.

Okay, so normally, when of sober mind and body, gilt-edged roses just wouldn’t be my thing. Certainly, the tassly gold trim on the shade wouldn’t do it for me. And the green paint on white looks like dust from a distance. . But, c’mon, you have to admit, it has a certain something! I rather like the half shade though and the green is the same green as my walls

At the moment, this certain something, is my bedside light. It’s a tad lost in the corner though and deserves to shine in its own space. So I think it will eventually graduate to the living room.

I think the pink is just the right shade to pick up the colours in the Chobis. And the gilt will add to the gilt in the Widow’s frame. And, if all comes to all,  it will give people something to talk about!

A snip, methinks, at 24,000 ft ($102, €80, £70)

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!
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?