2018 Grateful 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2018 Grateful 22

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

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

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

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

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

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the NYC set at Korda Studios

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

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

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

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 23

It was a no-bark, three-shirts-a-day weekend. The village dogs couldn’t be bothered barking as I went by and even with three showers a day, I was still melting. Add that to the extremely annoying biting flies that have fallen in love with my ankles and you might see why I was having a rare moment of WTF – what was I doing here? That said, the annual Village Day on Saturday made me take a step back and appreciate the value of village life in Hungary.

The villagers were out in force. The day’s programme landed in our mailbox on Thursday so we had a full list of events from morning till night. Everything was scheduled. The Karate demo got 20 minutes from 1.40 till 2 pm. A local drama quartet had 15 minutes for their sketch that I think had something to do with cheating wives and watermelons. Some operetta singers visiting from Pécs got a full 45 minutes, every one of which they did justice to. And it all ran to schedule, marshalled ot the minute by the local librarian who’d get my vote for Prime Minister. We had singers, dancers, and musicians as entertainment but I suspect this was to mask the more serious business of the gulyás cooking competition. I can only assume that the judge was not a local judge; living in the village after having chosen between the team from the Mayor’s office or the young pensioners could be dangerous.

The traditional costumes with the hand-pleated petticoat skirts and beaded headdresses were out in force. And my heart went out to them. The Holy Souls were flying out of purgatory at an alarming rate given the mountain of heat trapped between those layers. Full-legged tights and long-sleeved shirts had to make it hotter than hot. Fair play to them for sticking with it, though. Fair play. I’d not have done half as well and certainly wouldn’t have lasted the pace.

Hungarian folk costume

Hungarian folk costume

They clapped. They laughed. They sang. They embodied the community spirit and made sure that the songs and dances would live on. Young and old alike took to the stage and in the wings, some even younger dancers took their cue from the professionals.

It’s nice to see tradition alive and well and lived rather than displayed. This wasn’t an exhibition. This was real. And despite the heat and the flies and the discomfort, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have been. For this, I’m grateful.

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

2018 Grateful 24

A strange thing happened this morning. After a night laden with thunder, lightning, and teeming rain, the village had a clean feel to it as we walked to mass. The thunder was still making itself heard and rain threatened but it was warm enough. The congregation was smaller than usual, probably to due with the weather. We slotted into our usual seat and then, just as mass started, a young couple with a baby arrived and sat in the seat in front us.

I’ve seen them around before and think I’ve sussed out the connection – his mother (I think) lives locally, and they visit on occasion.

We had a priest this week. I’ve given up trying to figure out the roster between our village and the neighbouring ones. Most weeks we have a deacon, who although has only half the mass to say (the Eucharist and such having been prepared earlier) still takes longer than the regular padre. Give a man a pulpit and you know not what you’ll get.

The usual pattern of little old dears surrounded us. Normally, these women wouldn’t crack a smile if  Ági Néni went up to Communion with the hem of her skirt accidentally tucked into her knickers. They’re serious about their prayer and come to mass armed with prayerbooks so heavy they all walk with a slight tilt – and they use them. But when the baby arrived, everything changed. The priest was no longer their sole focus. God was forgotten. Their faces broke into broad smiles as they sneaked surreptitious glances at the child, who was tidily seated in his buggy in the aisle.

All was going well until he got bored. And he started making noises. The parents smiled indulgently at him. I had to hold my blood pressure in check. It’s a pet peeve – why people allow their kids to make a ruckus in Church but wouldn’t think of allowing them to do so at, say, a theatre. I can’t believe I’m saying this… but when I was young (yes, I’m cringing!) and too young to go to mass quietly, mam went to one mass while Boss minded us; he went to another later or earlier. There’s a mass on the hour in any of five neighbouring villages so there’s plenty of choice. I found myself asking why… why didn’t one of them go to 9 am in the next village over? They could bring the baby down after mass to meet the nénis.

He wanted out of his buggy and mam obliged. The priest was showing mild evidence of irritation (I’m with you, Father) as he tried to compete, volume wise. The little old dears were bending over backwards in all sorts of contortions trying to make the kid smile. It was at once annoying and amusing. The mass was lost on them. Their prayers forgotten. Everyone was focused on the kid.

When it came to the offering the sign of peace, the Santa Claus lookalike who sits opposite traversed the aisle to shake hands with the toddler, a big smile on his face. This ageing church had been imbued with new life. And as everyone filed out after the final blessing, there was a noticeable spring to the collective step.

I’ve lived a life without issue. That particular door never opened and for that I’m grateful. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone other than myself in this life. But every now and then I get a glimpse at what I might have missed. And I smile. I smile a smile tinged with ‘if only’ but laced in gratitude. Yep – even I was making faces at the toddler in the end.

Wedding in the Algarve

2018 Grateful 25

I’ve been to a fair few Irish weddings in my time and there’s a sameness to the proceedings that seems to be favoured. A pattern. A few scoops in a bar close to the church beforehand where everyone gets together before heading to the ceremony. Then the meet and greet in the churchyard with a subsequent meet and dissect afterwards. Didn’t the bride look amazing? Wasn’t the priest just great? Did you see what so-and-so was wearing?  Then it’s off to the hotel for the wedding breakfast, the reception. Usually there’s a drinks reception in the grounds, weather permitting followed by the traditional wedding fare: Soup or prawn cocktail followed by a choice of beef or salmon (no doubt the inspiration behind the name of the racehorse who won the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2004 and was three-time winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup). Dessert might be baked Alaska or even profiteroles. Then tea and coffee to go with the wedding cake. The wedding band would get everyone on the dancefloor after the speeches and the DJ would kick off the afters, when those not invited to the main event would show up for the hooley … and the cocktail sausages. The party would no doubt continue in the resident’s bar till the wee hours, making breakfast the next morning a rather turgid affair. And then we’d all be gone. Home to send in the rolls of film and wait two weeks to check the photos.

Give or take a few details and menu choices, this format is pretty standard, even today. But Irish weddings in Portugal? They’re of a different sort.

We turfed up in Burgau late Thursday afternoon. It was our first time in the Algarve and we’d taken our time getting here, driving down from Malaga across Andalusia. Most of the wedding party were staying in Praia da Luz, a few short miles from our fishing village. That evening, the bride’s parents hosted a BBQ in the villa they’d rented for the duration. [It’s on the market for a cool €4.5 million, and the mosquitos are included at no extra cost.]  Some two years earlier, many of the same crowd had been at another family wedding in Portugal, so it was a case of remembering names and faces and putting them both together. After that, it was as if the two intervening years morphed into a matter of weeks. What a pleasant change it makes to catch up with people at weddings rather than at funerals. Most of those there were making a holiday out of it, using the wedding as the focal point and then doing their own thing before or after. That’s one of the many plusses of getting married abroad. It’s a natural sift – those who really want to be there make the journey.

Igreja da Luz de Lagos

Photo: Steve Jacobs

On Saturday, Kelly’s Pub was the meeting point from 12.30 with the ceremony set to start at 1.30 in Igreja da Luz de Lagos, just around the corner. The yellow-and-white facade was set off beautiful by the Portugese sun and the photo opportunities, no longer obstructed by the trampoline set that usually lives in the churchyard, were many. The style was quite something with a couple of the lads wearing rigouts that might net them a prize at the Galway Races.

The local priest was an animated chap, not at all backward about coming forward. The bride, nearly 30 minutes late in arriving (only so many hairdryers can be run at the one time, ladies), came in for some good-natured rebukes as did we, the congregation, who were far too chatty for his churchiness: music or chat, he said, not both. Fair play though – he gave a great homily, with a humourous lesson for us all, something akin to my bullet theory.

Once upon a time, David went calling on Melissa. He knocked on the door.
She asked ‘Who is it?’
He anwered ‘It’s me.’ Nothing happened. She didn’t open the door as he expected.
Somewhat disconcerted, he knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
And again he anwered ‘It’s me.’ But still she didn’t open the door.
Now, David, being a smart lad, figured that giving the same answer would in all likelihood get the same result. So he decided to change his approach.
He knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
But this time he anwered ‘It’s you.’ And the door opened…

Padre José Manuel Pacheco reminded us that the secret to a successful relationship is that each puts the other’s happiness before their own. [As an aside, apparently 15/16 of the weddings he has slated this year are foreign (mainly Irish and English) with only one Portuguese. Church weddings, it would seem, are no longer that fashionable in Portugal. It was surprising at first but then even in our village of Burgau, you’d be hard pushed to find a local native who seem to have given over their space to French, English, Irish, and Dutch.]

The newly married couple exited to the La Bamba played by String Quartet Solutions with the rest of us in tow. Waiting outside were glasses of champagne with strawberries. Again, the photos. And the oohs and aahs. And all the emotion that goes with seeing a couple so obviously well matched start out on a journey that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. They’re a well-balanced couple, who like their champagne, their Hendicks gin, and their Dominoes pizza. And they have a sense of humour – true Dubs, the entire wedding party was decked out in the GAA blue of the Dublin team.

Wedding in the Algarve

Then it was off to Quinta dos Vales wine estate for the reception. The place is a relatively new winery, with the first vines planted in the 1980s and the first wines sold commercially in 2003. Today, it’s a winery, a sculpture garden, an event venue, and a place to stay. Mixing and mingling in the courtyard gardens before the breakfast, we were serenaded by a fab sax player, entertained by the variety of sculptures on display, and libated with champers and white sangria. I was particularly taken with the wooden furniture made from wine barrels, tooled by the hands of Serhiy Khomyak. One of his benches is now on my lotto list. Parasols were provided to sheild the fair Irish skins from the sun and with the fairly breezy day we had, more than one passing reference was made to Mary Poppins.

Wedding in the Algarve

The breakfast was a far cry from the traditional Irish fare with a selection of local meats and cheeses to start with followed by a choice of fish/meat/veg, and topped off by a selection of traditional desserts. ‘Twas a lovely take on a taster menu complemented by wines from the estate. The wedding cake was a cheesecake – 10 wheels of various cheeses stacked in a tower. A brilliant idea – one to be shamelessly nicked.

Weddings are a funny thing, when you think of it – a meeting of the ages, with the aunts and uncles and friends of the parents, then the friends of the bride and groom, and then their nieces and nephews. The band had their work cut out for them to cater for all tastes and styles. They were great craic. The photographers were kept busy as the jivers took to the floor with a dash and the kids did the Floss (a dance banned recently by one school in the UK).

By all accounts, the party went on till early morning. Long gone are the days when I’d be amongst the last ones standing. It then continued the following day in Praia da Luz at the Ocean Villas resort where a fully catered BBQ with an open bar and a roast pig on a spit worked the miracle cure a lot of people needed. The park, overlooking the ocean, was a perfect setting for the culmination of a perfect weekend.

Wedding in the Algarve

Wedding in the Algarve

This wedding was perhaps the first time I was conscious that I’ve graduated the oldies – the friends of parents. My staying power certainly ain’t what it used to be, although I can still give a night a good run for its money. But when I’m reminded in conversation that they’re only 23 or 25 or 27 or 30 and realise that had I taken a different path, I could have kids that age, I see tomorrow in a different light.  And while I might have, on occasion, spoken with the voice of experience, I was also reminded of things I don’t want to forget.

The young lad who mislaid his passport on Thursday and had decided not to ruin his weekend by stressing about it. He’d deal with it when he got to the airport on Monday, he said. Fair play, I thought, as I flashed back to the meltdown I had when I lost my passport in Las Palmas a few years back. The young lady who worked as a healthcare worker with dementia patients has a book of advice and empathy in her for those new to the illness. If my mind ever fails me, I hope I have a nurse like her. The newly graduated teacher soon to start their first job and full of ideas to imbue the Irish language with new life and make it a language their students choose to learn.  If I had kids, I’d want them to go to their school.

Many of the couples I met had been together since they were 15, or 18, or 21. Ten years and more. They’d known each other since they were infants. They were sure and certain and comfortable in their relationships. The older couples had an energy and a molliness that was enviable. Some of the stories are best left unwritten. After a long weekend of sun, sea, and spirited singing, I came away with a renewed optimism for tomorrow and a rejuvenated faith in the sacrament of marriage.

And for this, I’m truly grateful.

For more on the Grateful series.

For more on the trip across Andalusia.

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 26

It’s bloody hot. And instead of cooling down, it’s getting hotter as the day goes on. It’s to hit 39 by 7pm this evening. Welcome to Córdoba, the prepping ground for Seville where temps are to be even hotter. We’re on a road trip through Andalusia and today has been the first day that I’ve really felt the heat – enough to do the Spanish thing an stay inside in the afternoon: la siesta and air con – a heady mixture.

Another mixture I’ve discovered is the famed 50/50 from the Bodegas Mezquita winery. It’s a mix of their white Fino, a lovely staw-coloured dry wine made just like sherry but for DO reasons can’t be called sherry, and a very sweet Pedro Ximenez. When you mix them, half in half, you get the best of both worlds – dry and sweet.

After reading somewhere that a Japanese tourist had what he called his best meal in all Spain in their restaurant on Cruz del Rastro (they have three in the city of Córboba), we had to try it. And while the service seriously rated (the delightful Pepa was on the ball), it didn’t quite beat the experience at Antonia’s in Jerez.

But they have a great motto:

Lo mejor de la vida siempre se comparte ¬ the best of life is always shared.

And how true that is. For many years, I preferred to travel solo. And not from some super-considerate desire not to inflict my travel self on someone else but because I didn’t want to deal with someone else’s preferences, particularly if they didn’t coincide with mine. On my first ever sun holiday, my friend wanted to spend all night partying and all day recovering by the pool or at the beach. I wanted to get on a bus and see the mountains. I wanted to do stuff. But she wasn’t remotely interested. I could, of course, have simply said as much, but in my misguided youth, I was loathe to do anything that would upset anyone. I thought going on holiday meant being attached at the hip. Instead, I feigned illness, waited until she left, and then on the back of my remarkable recovery, skipped out and went rambling for the day making sure to be back in time for tea. Ridiculous in hindsight but at 18 it made all the sense in the world.

From then on, I travelled on my own. Three weeks interrailing across Europe sealed my fate. The only thing deciding my day was the train timetable. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and I loved it. I did miss being able to share the moment though. Or to relive it months or even years later. But that was the price I paid for having it my way – all the time.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed a little. I’ve gotten a little better at compromise. I have friends I can travel with – those who are happy enough to do their own thing and let me do mine and equally happy to spend time with me if both things coincide. I’ve lucked out with himself, who shows no compunction about taking off on his own, leaving me time to myself. We have similar thoughts on where to stay and what to do. I drive, he navigates. I sleep in, he goes out and gets coffee. He likes the heat, I don’t. And if I want to see something that he’s not remotely interested in, or vice versa, there’s no question of feeling obliged. Right now, he’s off out in 35 degrees sussing out somewhere for drinks later. And I’m inside, with the aircon, loving the cold. What’s not to be grateful for.

 

Sunflower Sutra

Nothing quite lifts my spirits like a field of sunflowers in all their glory. Last year, a field outside the village was set in flowers; this year, it’s in corn. I have to go further to find my fix but there’s no shortage of them in Zala county. I’m not quite sure what it is about them that is so restorative. Perhaps it’s the whole heliotropism thing: they follow the sky from East to West when they’re young but as they age, they stay fixed towards the East. And they’re the only flower with ‘flower’ in their name.

The Internet is rife with sunflower seedlings:

SunflowerThey’ve inspired artists like Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Klimpt. They’ve inspired poets like William Blake. But my favourite find in my reading today is the Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg – too good not to share.

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and
sat down under the huge shade of a Southern
Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the
box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron
pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts
of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, sur-
rounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of
machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun
sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that
stream, no hermit in those mounts, just our-
selves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums
on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray
shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting
dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust–
–I rushed up enchanted–it was my first sunflower,
memories of Blake–my visions–Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes
Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black
treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the
poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel
knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck
and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the
past–
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset,
crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog
and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye–
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like
a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face,
soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-
rays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried
wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures
from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster
fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O
my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human
locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad
skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black
mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuber-
ance of artificial worse-than-dirt–industrial–
modern–all that civilization spotting your
crazy golden crown–
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless
eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the
home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar
bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards
of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely
tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what
more could I name, the smoked ashes of some
cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the
milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs
& sphincters of dynamos–all these
entangled in your mummied roots–and you there
standing before me in the sunset, all your glory
in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent
lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye
to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited
grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden
monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your
grime, while you cursed the heavens of the rail-
road and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a
flower? when did you look at your skin and
decide you were an impotent dirty old locomo-
tive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and
shade of a once powerful mad American locomo-
tive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a
sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me
not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck
it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul
too, and anyone who’ll listen,
–We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread
bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all
beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we’re bles-
sed by our own seed & golden hairy naked ac-
complishment-bodies growing into mad black
formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our
eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive
riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sit-
down vision.
Berkeley, 1955

 

Festetics Palace Hungary

2018 Grateful 27

I have a newfound respect for homemakers, those who don’t venture into the world of paid work but rather stay home, keep house, and look after their families. I’m not talking about the wealthy, tennis-playing, charity-championing socialites who’ve probably never lifted anything heavier than a Hermes Birkin bag (the one by Japanese designer Ginza Tanaka has a whopping $1.9 million price-tag). I’m talking about the likes of her-next-door; she who works every hour God sends tending to her crops, her vegetables, her chickens…and her ageing mother. It’s damned hard work for very little return (if you’re counting the forints). She ageless – not because she looks amazing but because I can’t put an age on her. She’s seen the better part of at least sixty summers, but I could be wrong on that. She’s an authority on all things rural and the other day popped in to give me an in-the-garden lesson on weeds. She’d seen me looking at the flowerbed wondering what to pull.

My cider vinegar hasn’t exploded. My walnut and zucchini bread was a hit with my weekend visitors. And all things cherry are still being enjoyed. And while the cuts on my fingers have just about healed, the callouses live on.

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a tad obsessive about the garden and what it produces. Given my druthers, I’d stay here all summer, experimenting with jams and juices and trying to find the sweet spot in the oven  – that minute between just done and done burnt. But I need to be careful. I’m an introvert. People require energy that sometimes I find difficult to muster. And if I give in to my natural inclination, l mightn’t talk to anyone (other than himself) from one end of the week to the next. So when I have visitors, I get out. I show them around. I go do stuff.

This weekend, we hit the market at Hévíz again, I was seriously attracted to a statue of Our Lady but my friends, practised marketers themselves, said that the 100 000 ft ($360/€312) the chap wanted for it was ridiculous; 15 000 ft would have been more reasonable. And, they said, it wasn’t 100 years old either. I’d done as I always do – I’d fixed a price that I’d have been prepared to pay for it before I asked how much it was. I’d 30 000 ft in my head. It was still there as we left. But I did spot a very unusual picture of Jesus and Mary. Unusual because he looks remarkably young – a teenager even. And she looks all of the 17 years she was when she gave birth. [The crucifix I was given by a mate who inherited it with his flat – it creeped him out.]

Jesus and Mary

Heart of Jesus, through Mary thy Kingdom come

From there we went to Keszthely, to see the ceramic studio of Szalay Imré. This master potter is famous for his tiled stoves. Such is his reach that a ceramics chap in Melbourne, Australia, has been working on introducing the traditional Hungarian stove down under. In our rather disposable world, littered as it is with cheap, mass-produced tat from China and Turkey, it’s great to see such traditional crafts becoming more and more popular. We have two chimneys, neither of which is in a room we want a stove. But if we can figure out a workaround for the winter garden, perhaps we could have one there.

Szalay Imré Hungarian tiled stove

Szalay Imré Hungarian ceramic tiles

We had the dogs with us, so we popped into Festetics Palace for a wander around the gardens. This Baroque palace began its life back in the mid-1700s and is really quite something. Such is its understated grandeur that it forces you back in time to think of days when it was a single-family residence and what life must have been like back then. [Upstairs. I’d have been upstairs.]

The last family members to reside in the Festetics Palace were Tassilo II’s son, George III (1882-1941) and his family. His wife, the Polish Countess Maria Haugwitz and their son, George IV (1940- ) left the palace in 1944.

We toured it a couple of years ago and I must dig out the photos. That was in the dead of winter. This time, we had the glorious sunshine of the Hungarian summer.

Festetics palace keszthely

Festetics Festetics palace keszthely

The view from the front lawn, though, is less than inspiring. Maria must have been long gone or else I’m sure she’d have lodged an objection to the monument to Communist architecture that drags the palace into the twenty-first century.

Grounds of Festetics Palace

I hadn’t appreciated the grounds before. They’re beautiful. And curiously, the occasional stone marker tells of trees planted by various heads of state from around the world. The one that grabbed me was a tree planted in 2004 by the then president of Vietnam. The Google translation I found of the event calls the tree in question ‘a sad lollipop’. Another calls it ‘a sad lizard’. Whatever it is, it’s a szomorú vörösfenyőt in Hungarian.

Festetics Palace Hungary

Festetics Palace Keszthely

The views of the palace vary – I had little trouble deciding what I would have done with my days, had I been in residence. Leisurely mornings reading under my choice of tree. Or perhaps taking tea in my choice of drawing room. Then planning the menu with the cook and deciding what I’d wear to dinner that evening. I might have spent some time in the library checking some random fact or other. Or even brought out my watercolours and tried to capture the house I called home. And this really was someone’s home in the last 80 years. How times have changed. I wonder what George IV is doing these days? Born in 1940, he’d be nearly 80. Curious minds want to know.

It was a busy week and a busier weekend. For the company of those who take me out of myself, I’m grateful.

Next week, I leave. We’re taking a road trip through Spain and Portugal, so this blog will be pretty quiet. If you want to come along, subscribe to email notifications of my travels from www.anyexcusetotravel.com. If not, I’ll see you when I get back.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing

I nearly crashed the car. Driving a road I’ve driven hundreds of times, I had to do a double-take. Were all the trees in the park wearing sweaters? Had the park benches been kitted out in knitted flags? Mad.

On the way back, I pulled in to have a look. And yes, Liffey Park in Newbridge has been yarn bombed in celebration of the creativity in the county. Love it.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing is also known as yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting. Wikipedia says:

[…] yarn bombing has become synonymous with the current feminist movement due in part to the reclamation of a traditionally feminine act (i.e. knitting and/or crocheting) to partake in the traditionally masculine and male-dominated graffiti scene. The women and girls who make up the yarn bombing subculture are diverse in race, age, sexuality, class, etc. and create space for themselves and their art everywhere from college campuses to public parks. This creation and preservation of space is what motivates some of the participants, some of whom have never been able to access a political art space before.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s a relatively new phenomenon, apparently originating in Texas back in 2005 when boutique owner Magda Sayeg covered the doorhandle of her shop in Houston with a knitted cozy. And from such small beginnings, a global movement has sprung. International Yarnbombing Day was first celebrated on 11 June 2011. Who knew.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

In a 2005 article published in the Royal Geographical Society journal Area, author Joanna Mann argues that  yarn bombing

[…]does more than feminise the city, for the whimsy with which it is imbued has the capacity to increase our attentiveness to habitual worlds in a series of micro‐political gestures.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s quite something. When I first came across it (can’t remember where) I remember thinking that it brightened up what was otherwise quite a dreary place. And admittedly, it is all rather frivolous – but it certainly attracts attention, is temporary in nature, can be easily removed, and makes for a happy place. Kudos to the Kildare Yarn Bombers. Job well done.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed