Pickiness rewarded

I’m not known for my patience. I want everything to happen yesterday, or today. Tomorrow brings me out in hives. It never arrives.

When I bought my flat all those years ago, I said that I wasn’t going to move in until everything was finished. Everything. Had I stuck to that, I still wouldn’t be living there. Friends who had bought before me laughed, knowing that getting it right sometimes never happens.

I was ecstatic when I found my dining table – and I didn’t for a minute stop to worry about it not having accompanying chairs. I would have no problem finding them. Or so I thought. Seven years later I was still looking.

I came close, once. They were the right colour, the right height, the right look but they were too delicate for some of the bods I know and I didn’t want to be eating my soup wondering when the spindly legs would give way. I almost bought two carvers once, but JFW talked me out of it. Too expensive. They’d have done me though, I’d have settled. But I didn’t.

chairsThen on Sunday, while exploring the basement of the fabulous Bálna (the whale), the delights of which were only recently introduced to me by RG (thank you), I discovered a paradise of antique shops. One of them had four Art Deco chairs. Okay, I’d have liked six, but four would do (and actually four works better). They were just what I’d had in mind for all these years. Years of regular tours of the antique markets and BAVs. Years of regularly checking online. Years of hauling chairs down from the kitchen when dinners became dinner parties.

I’m not known for my patience, as I said. But today, I’m glad that I waited. I’m glad that I didn’t settle for an ‘it’ll do’.

whalewhale2But back to the Bálna. If you haven’t been you should go. Take the lift right to the top and then make your way down the stairs. It’s fabulous. The old customs warehouses have been joined/encased in a huge glass eggshell, designed by a Dutch architect Kas Oosterhuis. It’s stunning. There is lots of exhibition space and still some empty retail space (which is a shame) and it opens on Sundays (and last Sunday it had live music). Outside, on the terrace, on the banks of the Danube, there are bars and restaurants and cafés. Be careful though – one of them advertising chicken wings gives three measly wings for 1900 ft (€6) so you’re definitely paying for the view. The burgers at the last bar (a brew pub boasting 80 kinds of beer) are good value and tasty, even if the chairs outside aren’t designed for lounging 🙂 Definitely worth checking out.



Bedroom: It started life as a plant stand

In the States recently, I came across vertical book stands for the first time. These were quite modern, and quite expensive, and quite impossible to pack in a suitcase that came with a luggage allowance, not to mentioned the two-week lead time needed to order.

Back in Budapest, there’s an antique shop just up the road from me that I spend quite a lot of time hovering outside. It’s small, and usually has customers when I pass so I’ve never had the wherewithal to go inside. Last month,  I saw this plant stand in the window. And I got to thinking that it would work just as well as a book stand. I thought about it for a couple of weeks, doing the ‘if it’s still there next Friday’ thing… and it was. And it does. Admittedly it’s not in an ideal location and will take a while to settle into that corner, yet it’s a nice ‘reworking’ of a 1920s Art Deco pot stand that hasn’t never been touched up… or so yer man tells me.

Bedroom: Booze and babes

I finally succumbed. After much hmmming and hawing I gave in. I saw this original Marcus Goldson painting at an exhibition last week and it literally screamed at me, begging me to buy it. I thought of my flat and wondered where I could possibly put it. Now that I’m one of the landed gentry (and modest to boot), I can’t just be taking any old thing home with me – it has to have a place; it has to fit in; and it has to be strong enough to speak for itself.

Therein lay the problem. The only space available that would suit was my bedroom wall. I’d have to demote the existing photo to the living room and put this in its place. That wouldn’t be too hard. But, in Feng Shui terms, that part of my flat is also my heart centre – a place where everything should be in pairs. Well, these two women are a pair, but they’re two women. I doubt very much if I’m about to cross over – never say never of course – but I figured that were I so inclined, it would have happened by now. So my question was whether I’d be consigning myself to spinsterhood if I hung this painting on that particular wall.

I took advice. I did. (Sincere apologies to those of you who up ’til now believed me to be a woman of sense!) I sent a photo to my Feng Shui woman and asked the question. As I suspected: not ideal for a bedroom. But then you wouldn’t know my bedroom was a bedroom until you stepped inside – you can’t see the bed from the living room and I keep the doors open so it would get full viewing. And it deserves an audience. She suggested I try it there and if it didn’t work, I could move it. Trouble is, it’s there or nowhere. And buying an original piece is not like buying a poster.

So I hmmmed and hawed some more and asked some others for their opinion. It was unanimous – not an ideal place. But the painting spoke to me. It spoke to me of friendships – of that closeness between women that sees us through the trials and tribulations of life. That closeness that allows us to be both bitches and best mates, our inner selves laid bare, sans makeup, sans accessories.

And these two women are real. And they went to this pub on Puskin utca in District VIII in their nighties. How I wish I’d known them. The more I looked, the more I saw me and my mate Lori. Or any one of the wonderful whacky women I know who keep me sane. And I knew I had to take it home – to hell with the consequences, the expense, and spinsterhood.

It arrived today.On a bicycle. A good omen.

The detail. The drip. The bread and dripping. The beer. The fags. The palinka. It was two and a half months in the making. The more I see, the more certain I am that it was meant for me. Back in the far recesses of my mind there is a thought that buying original artwork is a symptom of maturity. Maybe this painting heralds the start of the next chapter in my life, a chapter full of  joy found in simple pleasures; a chapter replete with laughter and enduring friendship; a chapter where unconditional love and acceptance features prominently. Let the journey begin.

Living room: A horse in the corner

I have finally completed my feng shui homework and it’s taken me so long that I can’t really remember why I needed a horse in the corner of my living room, the corner where my reputation sits. I have a vague recollection of the feng shui maestro explaining that ló  is Hungarian for horse. And that I should pay careful attention to the type of horse I put there as udvarló (literally a courtyard horse) is Hungarian for suitor. I daren’t venture any further in to what might be verging on Freudian interpretations of similarities between horses and suitors. Suffice to say that I took her at her word and have been searching since August for a horse I could bond with.

I tried all my usual haunts – the BÁVs, Petőfi Csarnok, the antique shops around town, even my mother’s living room – but it wasn’t until I was walking up the main street in Chişinău, Moldova, a few weeks ago that I found what I was looking for. It was sitting under some plastic, sheltering from the rain. The stall owner was also sheltering somewhere because he or she never made an appearance. I stood a while and looked and decided that I’d pass by this place again on my way back and in the meantime, would think about him. And so I did – and almost immediately, out popped not one, but two stall owners and the haggling began. My horse was born in 1960 in St Petersburg in Russia. He’s silver plated (there was a number 9 used repeatedly but I’m not at all sure what that relates to – something to do with the silver) over something heavy… sitting on a wooden base.

Such is the economic situation in Moldova that a lot of older residents are selling off their silver and brass to make ends meet. That in itself is quite sad to see and I wondered then, and I still wonder, what sights my horse has seen. If only he could talk. Am well impressed with him though. And I was fortunate enough to have enough euro in my wallet to take him home. My stall owners, having exhausted their English and my French, nabbed someone from the street to translate. She seemed to think I was getting a good deal. But that didn’t matter really. Good deal or not, he is just what I’ve been looking for and now has pride of place in my living room, underneath one of Kerényi Zoltán’s photographs, on his own pedestal. What more could an udvarló want?

Bedroom: More bedroom than boudoir

IMG_4860mmmm… again I wasn’t entirely convinced by this rearrangement of furniture but I’m used to it now. By all accounts it’s less claustrophobic and more like part of the flat than a separate room. Who am I to judge – I only live there!

Still, albeit a little begrudgingly, it does make a difference when you look in from the living room and see the chest of drawers rather than the wardrobe – a lot less intimidating and more people friendly. I wonder if there’s a lesson there for me?

Hallway: Feng shui’d

IMG_4854Sha Chi  is bad feng shui energy, aka killing energy or attacking energy.  Think sharp walls, angles, long hallways flowing from the main door to the outer windows – think my hallway. And, to exacerbate the problem, my pictures were hung in one long line. If ever there was a poison arrow…this was it.

I wasn’t at all amenable to moving the pictures around. I quite liked the long, straight-line effect, but I’d promised myself that I would follow the feng s instructions to the letter and, after much procrastination, spent the whole day rearranging my pictures.

First off, I had to buy more frames because now that I was going for the grouped effect, I didn’t have enough. Then I had to plan my strategy and lay them out on the floor so that I could ‘plan’ the rectangles.  Then I had to measure and try to get a line. At one stage I seriously missed having someone to boss me about  – a little left, a little up, no, too much – as it was, I had just myself to blame when it took three gos to get it right and only myself to congratulate when it worked first time. All in all, I think it was quite successful – if I discount the fact that I have myriad old holes to fill (I’ve heard tell that toothpaste works a treat?!)  and need to touch up the paintwork and have to find photos for the place-holder frames. The unions would love me – a successful day’s work is one that creates the need for yet another day’s work.

Living room: A Blue Peter Chandelier

For those of you not acquainted with Blue Peter, it’s the world’s longest running children’s TV programme. It first aired on the BBC in October 1958 and was famous (at least in my memory) for making stuff. You could make anything if you just had glue, paper, scissors, and some tape. Personally, I think it was what inspired MacGyver.

Anyway, it’s what came to mind when PF suggested that I ‘fashion’ a chandelier for my living room. With 4-metre-high ceilings, I’d need something rather substantial; something authentic and rather substantial would cost serious money… money I didn’t have. He also made the point that up until you cross the threshold of my living room, my flat screams ‘contemporary’. Once you step inside, it goes all old-fashioned. It needed a transition – a link between the two worlds. Personally, I thought this was a little rich but hey, I’m not in the interiors business – what would I know? He suggested that if I continued the big, white ball theme that runs from the front door, down the hallway into the living room, I could have just that. A transition.

But it wasn’t as simple as getting three more big, white balls from Ikea. We had to make the mount. I used the term ‘we’ advisedly as all I did was source the jig saw (a belated thanks to PE) and the MDF. Now, I know from experience that when I have an idea in my head that I want to  materialise, all the explaining in the world just won’t do it. It has to happen before people can see what it is I’m on about. I had no clue where this was going. But I was sure of two things. (1) PF is an architect and knows his stuff. (2) I was sick to the back teeth of looking at a bare lightbulb. So much after much blood, sweat, and a few tears, voila!  I have a chandelier. One that is more than just a light – it’s a transition piece, a statement piece, a one-of-a-kind. Cheap at half the price!

Something old, something new

It’s not often that I get to see how a number of choices meld together to create something that actually works. Even more so when you’re making those choices in the hope that it will all come together but you know that it could just as well go completely wrong as go completely right. I’m jazzed. I struck lucky.

At lunch last week, the inimitable Mr F started waxing lyrically about this photograph he’d gotten as a birthday present. When explaining to me that  it captured a Russian tank on fire in front of McDonalds on Blaha Lujza tér didn’t work, he pulled out his iPhone to show me another photo of WWII parachutists in the sky over modern-day Budavár. I still wasn’t getting it but infectious as his enthusiasm is, I knew it was worth following up. So when he sent the link, I clicked – and I began to understand what he meant by superimposing old photos on new.

Rószák tere 1936 and 2011

Kerényi Zoltán started posting to this album earlier this year. Nothing much happened for a few weeks and then some blogger picked it up and it went viral. I must have been out of the country to have missed it. He gets some old photos, finds out where they were taken, goes back to the original spot, takes a new photo, and then inserts the old into the new. The difficultly is no so much finding the original places, apparently, but finding the right lens, angle, light to make the fit work. The result is this interesting take that gives you the best of both worlds – a window from the present to the past. Suddenly the juxtapositon of a burning Russian tank and the golden arch of McDonalds didn’t seem so implausible.

Halászbástya 1975 and 2011

I have this inexplicable need for things to be signed. American author Evan Esar maintains that a signature always reveals a man’s character – and sometimes even his name. Perhaps that’s what intrigues me. Be it a book, a painting, a photograph, a ceramic ashtray, I want it signed by the person behind it. It makes it more real. And for signatures, you need matting. Trouble is, this word does not translate into Hungarian. Nor can you buy precut matts in assorted sizes. There’s a market there for someone. And it’s nigh on impossible to find a readymade frame in Budapest that has not been made in China.

Getting photos or paintings framed in Budapest is right up there with tooth extractions on my list of least favourite things to do. Choosing the matting and the frame; deciding on the size, the look; taking the effect I want it to have out of my head and articulating it in such a way that I get what I want and praying that what I want actually works – that all adds up to stress. Bringing someone along for a signature (or a second opinion) is even more stressful as I’m likely to be talked into choices I know won’t work. But work they do. Am jazzed. Nice work Mr K. Nice work. Am so glad I ignored the denim blue.

Desperate measures

I’ve been carrying SJ’s number in my phone for more than a year now. I’d never used it although I had thought about it plenty of times. But I was never quite that desperate. And then last week, devoid of energy, listless, restless, and on the verge of becoming soulless, I decided that the time had come to have my flat Feng Shui’d. Feel free to laugh or at the very least roll your eyes to heaven and wonder why is is that you’re surprised!

feng shui [ˈfʌŋ ˈʃweɪ] n (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and placement of a grave, building, room, etc., so that the maximum harmony is achieved between the flow of chi of the environment and that of the user, believed to bring good fortune. [from Chinese feng wind + shui water]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

I’d dabbled in it myself some time back – well, that’s a slight exaggeration. What I actually did was borrow a book from one friend and a compass from another in an effort to see if I could work it all out myself. [I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out which way was North – which explains quite a lot really, now that I think about it.] But so much appeared to be wrong in my flat that I hadn’t the heart to continue – Blue walls in the kitchen? Green walls in the bedroom? Yucca plants at the door? A long hallway? Short of knocking walls and repainting, I didn’t appear to have many options and as I wasn’t about to go there I chose simply not to believe.

But then I heard tales of the wonders SJ has wrought. She’s been practising in Hungary for 15 years and seems to know what she’s at. A resurfacing of old symptoms has me concerned – so concerned that as well as going down the traditional, well-trodden medical path, I am considering alternative ‘medicine’ of any kind…no matter how far-fetched it may seem. So I invited her in. She spent three hours doing calculations, walking the flat, taking notes, giving advice, explaining the whys and wherefores of what she was at. She moved furniture, suggested additions, and generally pointed out that according to the charts, the greatest space in my flat occupies the heart sector (mmmm… ) and the smallest part is in the money sector (double mmmmm…..). Pictures were taken done from the walls, some to find new homes in other rooms, some to emigrate completely. I have a beautiful hand-made Venetian mask, straight from a canal-side workshop…anyone interested?

To have her breeze through my home like a tornado – a home that has been painstakingly pieced together over the course of three years and tell me that the energy is wrong (be it chi, sha, or cutting chi) is a little disconcerting. To have her comment (in the nicest way, of course) that my dream of a gallery-type hallway had created a corridor of sha energy (not good) and would have to be reimagined, touched a chord. I found myself getting quite defensive at times and rather idiotically heard myself having an internal conversation peppered with ‘No, I bloody won’t!’ and then realising that I was paying good money for advice I was planning on ignoring. How stupid does that make me?

Her explanations of the energy left me rather muddled but I have decided to follow her instructions to the letter. I have chosen to believe. I look forward to massive changes in energy that are to come and to discovering the meaning of life sometime in the next three months. Watch this space.

Living room: Goodbye wires, hello wall lights

IMG_3752After nearly two years of looking at wires sticking out of the wall, I finally had enough. It was time to just bite the bullet and get some lights for the living room wall. Originally, the plan had been to put my table in that corner but then because the table was too nice to be tucked way,  in went the sofa. It was too late by then to rewire and plug the holes (I’d had enough!) Every now and then over the last couple of years, I’d brave a light shop. But as is typical when I am faced with too much choice, I could never decide what would work. I’d drag various friends with me in so that they could make up my mind for me but it never seemed to work.

Mary N., on a visit to Budapest before I’d ever moved in to the flat, helped me pick out the lights for the guest room. And they work well. So I figured I’d take advantage of her Easter trip to BP to sort out my living room wall lights. And she didn’t disappoint. It took about 30 mins to go through the shop and do the toos: too big, too small, too square, too round, too expensive, too funky.  I’d done a rekkie the previous week and had my choice narrowed down to three possibles. She chose a light I hadn’t even noticed…. one that was there and yet not there. Subtle, elegant, and not at all intrusive.

Back at the flat, Mr B was invited round for brunch, with his drill and the work began. Wires in Hungary weave a mystery of their own. The lights on are two loops and instead of meeting at the socket, all six wires have to feed into the light fixture. Which is fine if a) we’d realised this and b) we’d bought lights with the right-sized casings (see how much I’ve learned this afternoon!) But Mr B, to his credit, having already worked out at the gym that morning, was determined to complete this three-hour upper-body workout without having to go to the hardware store … again. Camels, and eyes of needles came to mind, but he worked it out and made it work.

Two lights up and all was well. Third light out of the box  and on the wall and oops… a different colour…white, not green! Same box, same serial number, same name, same size, same everything except the same colour. Fourth light out and it, too was different.

Now, bearing mind how irritated I get when I notice that my light switches are about 1mm higher on one side, it was amazing how quickly ‘different’ grew on me. Faced with the prospect of taking down all four lights (or rather, faced with asking Mr B to do this) and hiking across the city back to the shop in the hope that they might have two more of one of them – different suddenly came into vogue. Both lights on each wall are the same colour. All four are the same shape. And depending on how the sun is shining, they look anywhere from different to almost the same.

Job well done, I say. Thanks to all concerned for pitching in. Am dead chuffed that Easter dinner this year will be well lit!