I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve made a determined effort to learn Hungarian. I’ve gone to classes twice a week. I’ve taken an intensive course and even got an A on my final paper. I’ve had private tuition with various teachers. I’ve tried CDs. I’ve bought books. And still, so many years later, I’m still struggling. Read more
It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at the table in the Jungle Mansion. One of their 13 friendly local raccoons is messing around outside. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s an unseasonable California. The talented SRP is playing the piano. She’d asked what my favourite piece was. I didn’t have to think. Panis Angelicus. She’d not heard it before, but went online, downloaded the sheet music, and played it. Beautifully. Such unpretentious talent is humbling. Read more
January has been a busy month. I was in Hungary doing communications/public speaking workshops each Tuesday and then doing the same in Ireland each Thursday. My brain is addled. I’m now in Malta gearing up for more of the same. I’ve been preaching the importance of vocal variety, eye contact, body language, facial expressions, gestures, pauses, voice projection and the myriad other elements that go into good communication and watching participants improve week on week. All very rewarding. Read more
I’m secretly in love with Martin McDonagh. I’ve never met the man but I did live in his neck of the woods in London for a while and I like to think that we might have reached for the same carton of milk in a corner shop at some stage. Or perhaps we sat sipping coffee at our respective tables, scribbling away. I like the way his mind works – the quirkiness of his plots and pieces. He got me playwise at the Beauty Queen of Leenane and won me over heart and soul with his movie In Bruges. I saw his play, The Lonesome West in Hungarian (Vaknyugat), with English surtitles, and was blown away at how well it translated and how much the Hungarian actors got him. They could have been Irish. I only recently saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a movie that set me on the trail of the talented Sam Rockwell – but I digress. Read more
I have fond memories of learning how to make St Brigid’s crosses when I was in primary school. The best part was finding the swampy grounds where the reeds grew. Growing up in Co. Kildare, St Brigid (aka Mary of the Gael) was a household name – our very own saint. Patron saint of the county and patroness of Ireland, she had quite the life. Read more
I learned a lot this week, such is the nature of my work. During my workshops, I listen to short presentations from people on topics of their choice – and that choice can range from keeping a hedgehog as a pet to the role of network slicing in artificial intelligence and just about anything in between. On occasion, the presentations give me pause for thought. One on Young’s double-slit experiment sent me on a track this week that uncovered the concept of quantum woo, i.e., the justification of irrational beliefs by an obfuscatory reference to quantum physics. While I may have been accused of being irrational when I was younger and more prone to flights of fancy, my name has never, to my knowledge, been mentioned in the same breath as quantum physics. I simply don’t have a science brain. But I do have a strange relationship with the whole conscience thing. And I was intrigued.
Make yourself a coffee and come back and watch this. Read more
Yup. Sometimes I hate being right. It doesn’t happen often, but happen it does. And when it happens, when I hate being right, it’s usually because the universe has smacked me in the face with a wet fish and told me to wake up and start listening to myself. The last time I ignored my inner voice, it cost me my wallet.
Many many moons ago, I fell ill. No one knew quite what was wrong with me. I spent a couple of weeks in Cherry Orchard (built as a fever hospital and where contagious diseases and such were treated). Anyway, released with a clean bill of health and no diagnosis, I resorted to faith healers. On the advice of a friend (long since dead) I went to visit a nun in Drogheda who was a diviner. She told me that I was suffering from metal poisoning and that I should replace all my metal filings with porcelain ones, never wear jewellery around my neck or in my ears, and watch what I ate. For the latter, she told me to get myself a crystal and work with it. She warned me against using it for anything else though – sure that’d be against my religion.
I hightailed it to Temple Bar (before it was Temple Bar) to what was probably the only crystal shop in Dublin and I bought my crystal. I’d buy a second many years later in Palm Springs. And I usually carry one or the other with me.
I’m not asking you to believe what I believe or to do what I do – I’m simply telling you this for the sake of my story. I have a crystal and I use it regularly to find things or decide whether or not I should be worried about something or to see what is making me ill.
Late last year, I went through the mind-crippling experience of buying new glasses. I opted for two magnetic dots – one on each lens – to which I could attach my sunglasses. The sunglasses were cut to fit the frames and at around 27 000 ft, weren’t exactly off-the-shelf cheap. I last saw them on the 4th of January. I had lost the hard case they’d come in but had the glasses, now packed in a thin, soft, felt envelope. I didn’t need them for a week or so and it wasn’t until the 10th that I went looking for them. And they were nowhere to be found. Three of us spent an age turning over the flat. I’d already turn the house upside down to no avail. I checked shoes, bags, and coats. I looked in boxes, in presses, in drawers. I even checked the freezer having once found my car papers stuck to the bottom of a tub of ice-cream. I emptied bins, sifted through rubbish, double-checked the car. But nothing. Nada. Nincs.
So I brought out my crystal.
It told me that my sunglasses were in my office on a shelf. I looked. And I looked. And I looked. I took down books. I lifted journals. I leafed through papers. Nothing. But it insisted.
I had a decision to make. My crystal said I should wait – they’d turn up. I was running out of time. I’d need them for February but wouldn’t be in town to get new ones unless I ordered them last week. I said aloud, on more than one occasion – The minute I get the new ones, the old ones will turn up. As I was passing the optician, I rang the lovely PE who comes to clean my flat once a week.
Did my glasses turn up? I asked.
Not a sign of them, she said.
And this from a woman who cleans out toasters and dusts between the radiator and the wall. They were gone.
So I dropped into the Opti, shelled out the money, and ordered a new pair. She’d have them tomorrow, she said. I was flying that afternoon but I’d live without them till I was back. But then she called, a couple of hours later, and said she had them. I went to pick them. Got back to the flat. Started packing for my flight. Went to take my screen cover for my laptop from the shelf beside my desk and what did I find? THE BLOODY GLASSES.
I was right. Not quite to the minute, but near enough not to matter. And I hated being right.
That was last week. It’s taken me this long to get over the bruises I got from kicking myself. I’m grateful for the reminder to be more patient, to listen to my inner voice (amplified by my crystal), and to be more mindful about where I put things in the first place.
Back in 2005, a publicity stunt by SkyTravel introduced the world to Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, apparently the most depressing day of the year. The chap behind it all, Cliff Arnall, used the following formula to come to this conclusion:
where W= weather, d= debt, T= time since Christmas, Q= time since failing our new year’s resolutions, M = low motivational levels, and Na= the feeling of a need to take action. I can’t find what D is and have no clue what the units of measurement are. But hey – it’s a formula.
I’ve never managed to remember that this is the day on which I’m supposed to be at my lowest, if I fit the parameters. But I don’t. It’s cold outside. Bitterly cold. But I’m a fan of cold weather as there’s no limit to the amount of clothes you can put on [compare this to hot weather]. As for debt, if I don’t have the money for it, I don’t buy it. Time since Christmas is a given. I didn’t make any resolutions this year so there’s none to fail. My motivational levels are low – that I’ll admit. But then I’ve been carrying bronchitis for 10 days now without any sign of abatement. As for feeling a need to take action? I did leave the house today so that’s covered. All in all, I’ve had worse Mondays.
But perhaps somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I have been preparing for today, Blue Monday. The lovely MI gave me a gift voucher for a Swedish massage for Christmas. Unlike most vouchers, with their 12-month expiry date, this had to be used by January 31st, which made it a lot more likely that I’d use it. It’s a busy month travel-wise and my days in the city are limited so while I might like to think that I deliberately kept this treat to mitigate the moroseness of Blue Monday, truth be told, it’s the about the only day I’m in town in this month with time to spare.
I hiked over to Szövetség u. 2c, in the VIIth district this afternoon. It’s a street I’ve not been on before so there was a certain sense of adventure. As I usually walk up the right-hand side of Rakoczi rather than the left, it was a whole new experience (remember, I’m delighting in the ordinary these days). My appointment was with a Kilencz Sándor. His business card said he was a gyógy- és sportmasszőr (medical and sports masseur). None of this frilly, easy-does-it, gentle rubdown … at least I hoped not. He asked me if I’d had a Swedish massage before. I had to think. I wasn’t sure. I’m bad with labels. He looked a little concerned and told me if it hurt, I was to say. And I said – but only once!
Those of you who followed my Thai exploits will have read about about my Thai massage experiences and my eventual delight at getting through an hour without screaming. This was a different sort of pain, though. I couldn’t help wonder why the CIA and MI5 and those sorts of agencies who want to get people to talk didn’t simply employ a kneading of masseurs. The right pair of thumbs could be lethal. Swedish massages come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I reckon the one I got fell into the deep tissue category. I think he used the full range of techniques from effleurage, petrissage, friction, and tapotement, to vibration/nerve strokes and Swedish gymnastics. And did it hurt? Hell yes. It’s been a while since my muscles have had such a workout. But was it worth it? Absolutely.
I’ve been missing the ministrations of physio RO’D, who moved back to Ireland a couple of years ago and in my world held the title of hardest hands. It’s hard to find a decent massage if you’re after deep-tissue work and need a pair of strong hands that know what they’re doing, Kilencz Sándor is your man. Namaste is surprisingly bright for a cellar salon. Decked out in turquoise and white, it’s got a sub-oceanic feel to it. Prices are reasonable with a 90-minute massage setting you back 8000 ft (~€25). And you really need 90 minutes to do him justice. There’s various deals to be had with a bundle of 5 massages for 35 000 ft and a bundle of 10 for 58 000 ft. He’s definitely worth checking out.
I’ve just made my first resolution of 2019: To make it my business to see him at least once a month. And no, it’s not spoiling myself – it’s a healthy option. From all I’ve been reading, regular massage reduces tension and anxiety and can help relieve depression. And it improves blood circulation and stimulates the lymphatic system. I have a regular lass down the village, but she’s not quite there when it comes to deep tissue stuff. And that’s what I really need. Had I been feeling the effects of Blue Monday, this would have cured me. I’m already feeling better.
About a year ago, on a flight from Munich to Malta, I did the unthinkable. I tore out a couple of pages from the inflight magazine. I’d come across a poem I really liked and wanted to have a copy of it to reflect on later. Which I did. Fast forward to November and I received an email from the poet, Giulia Privitelli, who had come across my blog. The book of poetry I’d mentioned – Walking in Circles – had finally published and she kindly offered to send me a copy. I thought no more of it. Until it arrived. It was waiting for me when I got back to Budapest in late December.
Walking in Circles is an ‘illustrated poetic journey’ that started in 2017. Privitelli teamed up with illustrator Steve Bonello to work on the project. Both pilgrims, they ‘intertwine their life experiences and art forms as they reflect on art, nature, childhood, growth, death; on feelings and thoughts that we cherish, question, and fear in a landscape that looks the same but is forever changing’. It’s a beautiful collection of poetry that is my go-to read as I travel around the city, each poem a tonic of thought and reflection that grounds me while at the same time freeing me from the limits of my reality.
But even more than the book, fascinating though it is, was the letter that accompanied it (reprinted, in part, with permission).
Once again, I thank you for sharing one of my poems on your blog. Even simply knowing that you took the time to read it on the plane gives me a certain sense of glee; to have ripped it out of the magazine, reflected upon it, and allowed it to reach into your own memory and experience…well, that is to have gone one step further. And that couldn’t have made me happier.
It might see like an (awe-fully) small thing to get so excited and giddy about, but it has always been the small things which get me all excited and giddy. The poems were written that way, too – one small observation, curiosity, episode – small things which trigger an unexpected avalanche of words, rolling into each other, forming something that resembles a poem. Just like your own blog, “there was no plan”. One brief moment becomes the memory of a day, that day becomes the memory of the week, the week becomes that of the month and the month becomes that of the year, and so on, year after year, for every moment we experience. Smallness has great potential, don’t you think? And it quickly becomes overwhelming. Small things may be shared because they are light; they allow space for an exchange to be made, for movement, for others; small things bounce off each other, shape each other; they cannot impose; they contain as they too are contained; small things, the smallest, may be part of anything, they can lead to anything. They are relatable. Small things may be so easily overlooked or discounted, but when discovered they can just as easily be fully absorbed, fully known and therefore fully appreciated; they build up towards a whole. And we, in our smallness, are part of it.
Jokingly (but also seriously) what is the spectactular if not an imperceptible number of tiny, different specks coming together? This is how I would rather look at our world because, honestly, I cannot think of anything more exciting, more beautiful, more necessary to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture! My eyesight isn’t the sharpest, but I hope to spend a lifetime looking for and discovering small things, just like you have when you opened the inflight magazine. […]
What a lovely, lovely message to end one year with and begin another. Perhaps the answer to the absurdity and chaos in which we live, perhaps the way to deal with the preposterousness of the players on the world’s stage, is to delight in the small things. To find that brief moment that becomes the memory of a day. Perhaps if we concentrate more on these small things, they will indeed lead to something – a calmer, saner, more hospitable, more considerate world.
I don’t recall ever asking you to share a blog post – but for this I make an exception. If this resonates in any way with you, please consider sharing. If we can all refocus on the small things, and delight in the ordinary, perhaps our collective tomorrow will be one to look forward to.
To buy the book, Walking in Circles
The lads have bought a bar. A neighbourhood joint in the IXth district. I was surprised. They’ve put in their time as punters in hostelries around the world, but I’d never figured them for publicans. One’s an architect. Another works in disaster response coordination. The third’s an academic, and the fourth, well, he makes things happen. A Canadian, a Geordie, a Brit, and an American, all have been in Hungary for the best part of 20 years. They speak the language, they love the food, and they get the people. But perhaps most importantly, they have an innate respect for tradition. Read more