Santiburi, Chiang Rai, visitor or tourist

2018 Grateful 13

I’ve been trying to figure out how long it’s been, he said. Seventeen years, I replied. Almost to the week, I added. Mad really.

Having bumbled around Bangkok, assimilated Ayutthaya, and cooked in Chiang Mai, we arrived in Chiang Rai earlier this week as visitors rather than tourists. And there’s a difference.

Visitor or tourist?

As tourists, we’re at the mercy of guidebooks, search engines, and guest reviews. We read other peoples thoughts on what to do and where to go not knowing if we share similar tastes or ideals or are complete opposites. We make educated guesses as to what we’d like to do and see based on the experiences of others. Perhaps we’re guided by a Top 10 list of things to do or Top 10 list of things to avoid. Perhaps we’re simply into ticking boxes, taking photographs, and then tweeting the world to let them know what we’ve been up to.

Our meals are usually taken with our fellow tourist(s). Our conversations revolve around what we’ve done today and what we’d like to do tomorrow. We become each other’s world. Our phones, giving us audible directions, betray us as strangers. The maps that we fold and unfold mark us as tourists. We’re on a mission of sorts, a mission to see and do and record that same seeing and the doing.

But when we visit friends, even friends we haven’t seen in 17 years, we’re visitors, not tourists. We share their days, their routines. We see places not on the tourist route, places locals go, like a tiny Thai restaurant that only opens on Fridays to serve fresh pizza until they run out. Or a local pub owned by an ex-copper, where you bring your own whisky and buy your soda there. Or a small shop, packed with handmade traditional skirts and shirts and teas and all sorts, where fair trade is a fair deal. We get the inside scoop on protocols and preferences. We get to hear about life and living and how cultures mix and mingle. We get to relax, knowing that if we don’t get to see it this time, we have a bigger reason to return.

So much has changed in both our lives in the years since we last met in Valdez, Alaska. There’s a constant catch-up going on that involves rather than excludes our partners. Backstories become part of the explanations. A mutual appreciation grows. I came to meet one friend and will leave with two. Evening meals have turned into cooking lessons for me. I’ve Pad Thai down, and Lad Ka, too. We will, of course, reciprocate their hospitality when they visit Europe. I’ll need to brush up on my pörkölt and my csirke paprikás and learn a little more about Hungary’s history so that I do the country justice. I’m already looking forward to having them stay.  

So, visitor or tourist? Well, I enjoy travelling. And I enjoy being a tourist. But I prefer being a visitor. This week, I’m incredibly grateful to J&P for being so generous with their home, their time, and their knowledge of all things Thai. Kapun ka.

2018 Grateful 14

This day, about 13 years ago, I was lighting candles in St Thomas’s Cathedral in Chennai. The lovely SF was very ill at the time and I was lighting one for him, even though he’d told me repeatedly that he wasn’t a believer and that the candles I lit were for me and not for him. All was good. As I touched the taper to the wick, time stood still and I was overcome by an anguish I’ve not felt since. I went from smiley, happy, to gut-wrenching hysteria. A quiet hysteria though – I wouldn’t have wanted to make a scene. It was over in seconds. I hadn’t a clue what had just happened.

Later that day, when we got back to the hotel, I had a message from SF’s mate to say that he’d died earlier about the time I was lighting my candle. I reckoned he’d passed through on his way over just to say Ha! Told you!

This week, while in a temple in Bangkok, I came across a prayer bell of sorts. People had bought charms and hung them from a bell-shaped form to create a bell of prayers. Many had written their names and the date on them; more again had written their prayer. And from those I could make out, career topped their list above health, wealth, love, and family.

Never having had a stable, trajectoried career myself, I found this difficult to relate to. I’ve never wanted solid, steady, secure, preferring the ifs and maybes that allow a little flexibility in the hours and days I work and the places in which I choose to set up shop. I like new. I like different. Or at least I thought I did.

Perhaps I’m still jet-lagged. Or maybe it’s the heat. Or then again, it could really be the strangeness, the newness, the difference that I’d thought I wanted, but five days into this Thailand trip, I woke up wishing I was in the village, in Balatonmagyaród, far from the teeming masses. I have a knot in my stomach the size of a baby elephant’s eyeball wondering if the train tickets we have for today’s 10-hour+ journey north to Chiang Mai are fake. I woke up anxious, no longer trusting my ability to spot sincerity and separate the genuine from the disingenuous. The events of the past few days have been a little  much. No threat to life or limb but my soul got a bit of a bashing. If I could fast forward 24 hours, I would. And that’s not good.

It’s been years since SF passed and yet my one wish for us would be that we could have just one more pint and say the unsaid. Had I added my prayer to that bell, it wouldn’t have been for career or health or wealth or love but for a little more time with those who matter, and more appreciation for the mundanities of life.

2018 Grateful 15

I’ve gone a whole week without doing myself damage – am impressed with myself. I woke up knackered this morning but I think it was because I was dreaming about chasing the recycling truck down the street. Exhausting stuff.  Temperatures dropped 13 degrees overnight from a lovely summer 27 yesterday to a cool autumnal 14 today. I’m not complaining. This is my time of year. I love autumn. That cool crisp air, the geese-laden skies, the frog chorus from the lake. All good stuff.

It marks a setting in, a holing up, a getting ready to batten down the hatches and hibernate. Mind you, I’ve never let the seasons affect my hibernation but still, autumn is when it comes into its own.

I spent a gruelling few hours each day this week readying the garden furniture for its winter holiday. They’ll all be packed away in the barn, newly oiled, for a well-deserved rest as I plan to get a lot of use out of them next year. Painting linseed oil on garden chairs is about as close as I can come to meditation. The mechanics of it all are mesmerising.

On Chair 1, it struck me that this week marked the two-year anniversary of picking up the keys for the place in the village. Two years. It seems like a lifetime ago, as if we’ve always been here. The general consensus was that we’d use it the odd weekend. No one was more surprised than I at how quickly I took to country living. I have to be pried out of the place. Reflections on life in the village set me up to tackle the table and the lounge chair. I was making great progress.

There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a work in progress completed. As each rung of the chairs darkened I came one step closer to the end. A little like life really. I’ve been through the 18th birthdays, the 21sts, the engagements, the weddings, the housewarmings, the christenings, the noughty birthdays, the big wedding anniversaries.  Now I’m at the edge of the funeral era where funerals are the most common meeting occasions. I started on Instagram a few weeks back for one of my other blogs – www.dyingtogetin (be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts) – and posted an image of a gravestone from a cemetery in Geneva. It put my school French to the test but what a lovely sentiment. I think it was on Chair 2 that I started wondering about my own epitaph, what it would say about me – and it wasn’t until Chair 3 that I remembered I’m going to be cremated.

The chicken from next door kept me company for Chair 4. She’s looking rather motley, a tad dishevelled, somewhat defeathered. I think the other chickens are picking on her and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps they’re picking on her because she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps she’s just moulting. Like everything else, there are at least three sides to any story – mine, yours, and theirs. I’ve had to cut back on my tweet reading because I’m finding it hard to decipher the actual story these days for all the sides they have.

By the time I got to the final chair, my back was killing me. I was cranky and irritable, and beginning to feel like my nose was lined with linseed oil. I swore I wasn’t doing this again next year. I’d have to figure something out. I’m just not as supple as I used to be, not that I was ever supple at all, but I’ve been looser than I am now. And then I remembered that this time next week, I’ll be three days into a month of daily Thai massages. That’ll put the s back into my upple. And do my back the world of good. And get rid of the knots and the stress and the pains.

Ah yes, chairs oiled and ready for winter. Me, soon to be oiled and ready for pampering. What’s not to be grateful for.

 

PS – I’ll be moving over to www.anyexcusetotravel.com for the forseeable future so if you want to continue reading, be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts.

2018 Grateful 16

Well, that was the longest five-day period I’ve put in since I did my leaving cert all those years ago. The days seemed to drag interminably and my brain was doing weird things. I’ve not had a concussion before. I thought I was grand when the CT scan was clear, so I just did what I’d usually do. A comment on my last blog post telling me that I shouldn’t be writing or reading or engaging with screens of any kind threw me a little. But hey, sure I was grand.

When I woke Thursday, the world had tilted a little. Ever so slightly. But it made walking in a straight line somewhat difficult. It didn’t help that I had collected  my new glasses that morning. I couldn’t tell the difference between concussed teetering and varifocal wavering. Truth be told, I felt a little drunk.

Lesson No. 1 – Do not try to get used to a new prescription while concussed.

I took the tram over to the Medical Center and lodged my litany of complaints: nausea, headache, dizzyness. She told me that I’d received a nasty bang and was more than mildly concussed – I’d been upgraded to moderate. I was to go to bed and sleep as much as I could. I wasn’tto read, write, watch TV, or drive. No computers, phones, laptops, or kindles. I wouldn’t feel like eating but I was to drink 3 litres of water a day and take my painkillers every 4 hours.

Lesson No. 2 – When you’re concussed, all you can do is sleep.

The trouble was that the bed I wanted to be in was 200 km away and the only way to get there was by train. I set my alarm to go off 15 minutes before I was due to arrive and fell asleep not two minutes later. When the train arrived, I felt much better so decided to go grocery shopping. Usually, I’m quite systematic about this. I know what I need and can do the circuit in 10-15 minutes.  No dithering. But my brain was confused. I was addled. And as I bounced around the aisles, nothing would come into focus. Did I need or didn’t I became questions of magnanimous proportions. I bought stuff I usually avoided and didn’t get what I needed.

Lesson No. 3 – When you’re concussed, avoid making decisions as they make your head hurt even more.

When we got to the house, I made a vain attempt to put away the groceries. I reached for the biscuit tin and found two lone chocolate chip cookies languishing inside. I popped one into my mouth, telling myself I needed the sugar. Apparently, when you’re concussed, your brain uses up all the glucose in your body as it needs the energy. I emptied the packet of larger bickies into the tin, shut it, and put it back. Two minutes later, I had a crisis of conscious that scared me senseless. I had visions of that lone chocolate chip being set upon by the bigger cranberry-and-white-chocolate bullies. I saw him being shunned, ignored, and even smothered. I took a breath and reasoned: perhaps they were nice bickies who would see he was different to them and be curious, welcoming, and nurturing. But I’ve turned cynical lately. I’ve seen too much sidelining and discrimination. I did what I had to do. I opened the tin, picked him out, and ate him. I told myself it was for his own good. Life in this detail was too much to deal with so I went to bed.

Lesson No. 4 – Concussion does mad things to your thoughts – but it’s temporary.

I slept for 17 hours straight that night, with all sorts of weird dreams. In one, Elon Musk was holding open auditions. He was on a mission to find new talent and then sponsor their career to stardom. He was looking for his next protegé. The talented Mark D was in the line-up. He was to conduct a symphony he’d written: Tesla Roadster in 7th Gear. Everyone else was milling around, anxious to get on with it, dressed to the nines in tuxedos and ball-gowns when in walks Mark D, seven hours late, and dressed, as Musk said himself, as if he were about to give a tutorial in an Oxford study. The whole thing was being staged in a farmyard. The neighbour donkey woke me before I found out what happened.

In another, I was working with a novelist, a married man, father of two, who was living in a closet in a hotel room. He’d hang his kids up at night while he and his wife folded themselves into their separate drawers. The room’s occupants didn’t seem at all put out by this. When we met in the ensuite bathroom, he told me that he wanted to retain the rights to veto the casting, were his book ever made into a movie. He wanted to be sure that Freddie Mercury played the role of the nun who singlehandedly saved a species of spider from annihilation. I have a vague memory of debating whether or not I should tell him that Freddie was dead.

In a third, I was on a cruise with the Pope and his entourage. It was an all-singing, all-dancing Vatican romp with a new single about to be launched. I had a press pass, there to specifically cover the lyrics as claims had been made that they were simply a modern-day rendition of an old Robbie Burns poem.

There were lots more – including showing up for a job as second-in-command to Barron Hilton in my PJs and then ruining the interview by insisting that he was Ronan Keating trying to pull a fast one.

Lesson No. 5 – When you’re concussed, dreams will be more vivid than usual.

I stayed off the screens – didn’t use my laptop, or my kindle, or my phone. It was like stepping off the world for a few days. Himself read me my messages and replied to those that needed replying to for me. When I wasn’t sleeping, I made some jam, cleaned the kitchen, and did some laundry. I had to do something. But I had to be careful of sudden movements. I moved in slow motion, got incredibly frustrated, and tired easily. I’m back online today but just for a couple of hours. Then a couple of hours more tomorrow. And so through the end of the week.

Lesson No. 6 – Recovery is a slow process that all the wishing in the world won’t hasten. 

I’ve heard stories of those who haven’t had a scan after a blow to the head – be it a fall or a bang or whatever. And weeks or months later, when the undiagnosed brain bleeds come to light, it’s touch and go. My scan was clear. I’m adjusting to the new glasses. I can handle the bright sunlight outside. And am finally back reading. One chapter at a time.

Thank you for your thoughts, concerns, and good wishes. I’m very grateful.

 

Ah, sure I’m grand

About midnight last night, I was walluped across the head by a chap I’d never as much as said hello to. My glasses went flying to the floor and had there been room, I’d have taken a nosedive with them. When I screamed to my Jesus, the chap turned and looked at me, and said sorry.

We were standing, ready to disembark from the late-arriving RyanAir flight from Dublin. The woman in 1C wanted to get her bag. He was in 2C. I was in 3C. Neither of them had much by the way of a reach, but rather than wait or even ask for help, she tried to stretch across. He then went to help. I was in conversation and wasn’t paying much attention until he swung wildly and caught me on the top side of the head with yer woman’s suitcase. If it weighed under the 10kg limit, I’m a size 8.

Jesus! I roared with the pain of it all. They looked back to see what the commotion was. I bent down to retrieve my glasses, thinking that if they were to have broken, it was a good day to break them as I’d a new pair to pick up today. But they were fine. My mate told him what he’d done and he apologised, three times. What could I say but

Ah, sure you’re grand.

What is it about us former convent-school girls. Why can’t we make a fuss when a fuss is needed? My head was throbbing. The force of the weight had clicked my jaw together and my teeth felt as if they’d been assaulted. My eye was thick and my cheek even thicker. But the more he apologised, the more appeasing I got. Anything to avoid a fuss.

By rights, I should have told the flight crew, gone to the airport doctor, and then gone to the ER to get checked out. All this I learned today when I did go to the doctor.

I went to have her check my finger and the lovely scar tissue that’s building up. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t infected. And sure while I was there, I thought I’d mention, in passing like, the clatter I’d gotten the night before. She ran the usual follow-my-finger, watch-the-light, touch-your-nose neurology checks, only tutting a little at the light thing. I’d passed. Then she had me stand, feet close together, hands by my sides, eyes shut. I lasted 2 seconds before falling to the left. I was impressed. It was a  spectacular fail.

She apologised and told me I wouldn’t like what she was going to say next. And I didn’t.

An ambulance? Are you mad? I’m grand, I came here by tram. I’m fine.

But you mightn’t be, she said. There could be all sorts wrong with you. You need a CT scan. You need to go to the trauma centre immediately.

Do I have time for a coffee?

I didn’t hear that, she said. If you’re not going by ambulance you’re to take a taxi.

Across town at 4 pm? I’d be quicker on the metro, I said. She wasn’t impressed. I don’t think she’s had many patients who’ve been taught by the nuns to hold their whist and offer the inconvenience up for the holy souls in purgatory.

Thankfully, I’d arrange to meet the very capable KG afterwards for coffee so the Doc was happy enough to release me to her care.

I broke my promise, though, and took the metro. I could blame it on the bang on the head. Sure I wasn’t in my right mind.

At the hospital, we checked with security and took the lift downstairs as directed. The statue we passed on the way should have prepared us for what was in store, but I wasn’t really paying that much attention. As we were getting out, some poor chap in a wheelchair was getting in – he looked like he’d had better days. Leg in a cast, arm in a sling, a bandage on his head. There were lots of people milling about, dodging trolleys being wheeled hither and tither. I could feel the anxiety unravelling inside me and as the hours of waiting stretched ahead. But then we saw a sign for CT and MRI and buzzed ourselves through that door into a place I recognised. I knew we’d crossed the line from public to private, from insurance to out-of-pocket payment. And I was right. But faced with the choice between a bill for about €60 or a free 8-10 hour wait among the wounded masses, I was glad I’d gone to the ATM on my way over.

Some 2 hours later, I’d been scanned and released. No lasting damage apparently. Just a mild concussion.

I’ve a superstitious vein running through me and have a thing about leaving through the door I came in so we made our way back into the milieu. We passed a body laying on its side on a trolley facing the wall. It was covered from the neck down with a black bin bag, I said a silent prayer for the poor soul, wondering if they were alive or dead, but not waiting to check. I’m not a medic.

I was lucky. I had the wherewithal to pay. And although I’ve earned it, the privilege weighed heavy on me. Had I not, I’d still be there, taking my chances, and hoping to get released this side of midnight.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 17

Google, there’s such a thing as too much information. I had thought I spent hours yesterday processing my quince harvest, making quince jelly and quince butter, only to find that they may not be quince at all.

Wikipedia tells me that the quince is

a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature.

Mine are definitely yellow but look nothing like pears. There are two trees out front – I thought both were quince but her next door tells me that the windfalls I have ripening on the windowsill are not worth eating – the tree is for decoration only and indeed, it does have some lovely flowers on it when in bloom. But I was sure the fruit was quince. One tree still has green fruit, the other bright yellow. Those had to be quince but they look more like small apples than pears.

Then I found a picture of the Constantinople apple quinces and breathed a sigh of relief. That effort hadn’t gone to waste.

They’re a quirky little fruit, loaded with all sorts of medicinal properties. Shakespeare called them “stomach’s comforter.” Some other tidbits I gleaned from a couple of hours searching for a likeness include:

  • Quinces in England were first recorded in about 1275 when Edward I had some planted at the Tower of London.
  • Seeing his beloved in the courtyard of the temple of Aphrodite, Acontius plucked a quince from the “orchard of Aphrodite”, inscribed its skin and furtively rolled it at the feet of her illiterate nurse, whose curiosity aroused, handed it to the girl to read aloud, and the girl finds herself saying “I swear by Aphrodite that I will marry Acontius.” Apparently even saying it aloud meant she had to go through with it. I read all the ones I picked and nothing.
  • The humble quince has been considered the catalyst of the Trojan War, as told by Greek legend. [I could find no more on this.]
  • Puréed quince can be used as a substitute for brown sugar or raisins on oatmeal – a healthy start to your day.
  • Quince is best known for its strong, tropical and fruity aroma. This fruit was an inevitable part of wedding ceremonies in Ancient Greece. Bride consumed quince to ensure pleasantly smelling, “perfumed lips”.
  • The world’s largest quince weighed 2.34 kg (5 lb 2 oz), measured 21.5 cm (8.5 in) in length and had a circumference of 68 cm (27 in). The quince was grown by Edward Harold McKinney (USA) in Citronelle, Alabama, USA in January 2002.
  • The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for this fruit.
quince jelly

Quince jelly

quince butter quince paste quince cheese marmelo

What the butter looked like before I put it in the unregulated oven to dry out…

So after hours (and I mean hours) of slogging over a hot stove (and it 27 degrees outside), I have three jars of quince jelly and a slab of not very successful quince paste (as it’s known in Australia) or quince cheese (as it’s known in the UK), or quince butter or marmelo (as they call it in Portugal. The half-jar of extra jelly won’t last long. The stuff is delicious and I’m not a jam woman. The quince butter as I said didn’t turn out as expected as I don’t have a regulator on the oven so it cooked too much. But I’m going to give it another go next week when I have all ten fingers to work with and have the wherewithal to take on the quince bush again. And if there’s enough fruit left to try another batch when I get back on Wednesday, I’ll be ever so grateful. Of quince, I want more.

The recipe I followed… or tried to follow…

2018 Grateful 18

People ask me why I blog. No one reads anything any more, they say. It’s all pictures. So I went on Pinterest in an effort to drive traffic to my blog. I doubt it’s worked as I’m not giving it the attention it needs. But then Pinterest was yesterday’s news, they say. Today it’s Instagram. Spare me. I know we live in a world driven by social media and an insatiable need to connect, but it’s doing my head in. I tried Twitter and apart from giving me something to do if I’m stuck in a queue somewhere, that hasn’t helped much either. I know I rarely click through to read what’s been posted because the story is so often in the headline. And my Twitter feed during the Pope’s visit made me question why I ever felt the need to know what some people think. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Anyway, I decided to give Instagram a go – but only for my latest blog devoted entirely to cemeteries, epitaphs, and gravestones.  That way I can keep track of how successful (or not) it is. I’m not holding my breath. For me the effort needed doesn’t warrant the return, but I’ll give it bash for a few months and see.

So back to why I blog if so few people are reading?

Friends in far-flung places are curious about what I’m up to, particularly life in the village. Those posts seem to resonate. Other acquaintances liked the Budapest Times series. Those who travel have switched over to my travel blog – an offshoot of Unpacking My Bottom Drawer – where I now post all my travel stuff. Trouble is, if I’m not travelling, I don’t post so subscribing to that is a little like binge watching a box set – all or nothing.  Readership on that is sketchy, but for me, it’s a record of where I’ve been and what impressed me – an aide memoir, if you like, one that’s there for public consumption.

That’s a lot of why I blog – to keep a record of fleeting thoughts and quiet moments; of people, places, and events; of books I’ve read and plays I’ve seen. My memory is slowly dissolving to the point that I can read something I wrote 10 years ago and wonder who wrote it as it rings not the faintest of bells.

But it’s the Grateful series that really keeps me anchored, the one I can’t miss, the weekly blog that keeps me focused.

Back in 2012 when I started the series, Grateful 18 was about a trip to Eger and how ‘my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds’. In 2013, I was grateful for my love of reading and for those authors whose ability to paint pictures with words transports me to other worlds from the comfort of my couch – and in particular Peter May and the lovely Finlay McLeod. In 2014, in Week 18, I had a meltdown (I’d forgotten all about it) but was saved by a young friend, Deak Attila and was grateful that age is not a barrier to friendship. In 2015, I was

…keeping fairly constant company with a lovely man who has the most amazing green eyes and even more amazing hands. He’s in his mid-fifties, Jewish, Israeli, and absolutely and utterly fascinating. He goes by many names but the one I like most is his real one – Gabriel Allon.

Now, that I remember well. Wow. The following year, when Grateful 18 came around, I was in Rosslare revelling in the quacky and the zany having visited a house that had been shipped to Ireland in pieces from Paris in the 1900s and then put back together. In 2017, I was in the village enjoying a watermelon prayer flag a friend had crocheted and reminding myself to make better use of my time.

This year, 2018, I’m grateful that I’m in the habit of being grateful.

2018 Grateful 19

I wasn’t all that pushed about seeing the Pope, even though both of us were in Dublin the same weekend. I’d run into him while in Naples a few years back so had already seen him in the flesh. But the TV was turned on early yesterday to watch live coverage of his arrival in Dublin and I’ve been glued to it ever since. The whole spectacle is captivating.

Pope in Naples

In the run-up to the Papal visit, the country was divided: those who openly welcomed Pope Francis and those who thought he needn’t bother. Rumour had it that a lot of the no-popers booked tickets for the events at Croke Park and at the the Phoenix Park with no intention of going – a form of silent protest against the Church’s complicity in covering for those involved in the clerical child sex abuse scandals around the world, against the Church’s exclusion of LGBT from the universal family, and in particular  the mother and baby atrocities perpetrated in Ireland through the Magdalene Laundries. A rather selfish form of protest I thought – depriving others who might genuinely want to see the pope of the chance to do so. There is a generation in Ireland still utterly committed to the papacy and for many of them, the opportunity to see him was a dream come true. Those empty seats saddened me while the umbrellas emblazoned with the call for Women Priests that grew out of the Ha’penny Bridge heartened me. By all means, make your voice heard – did it have to be at the expense of the dreams of others. That said – perhaps the empty seats were empty because the interest wasn’t there. That’s sad, too.

More still believed that the €30 million or so spent on the visit would have been better spent on addressing homelessness and in-home poverty in Ireland. And to each their own. No one opinion is any more valid than another.

Me? I’m quite taken with him. When he came out of the Pro-Cathedral and chatted to a family outside, he threw back his head and laughed heartily at whatever was said. He doesn’t do things by halves, this chap. He’s driving round in a Skoda (and not a big one either) rather than something fancier. He insists on having the windows down so he can see the people. He greeted clients of the Capuchin homeless shelter individually, making each of them feel special. He took the time to get as close as he could to the punters (creating a security nightmare for those in charge of his safety). He went off script when so moved. All this and more leads me to like him. He’s 80-something. He’s tired. It’s a gruelling 36 hours. And he’ll have a fight on his hands when he goes back home.

In Mayo this morning, he said:

I presented to [Our Lady] all the victims of abuse, of whatever kind, committed by members of the Church in Ireland. None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories. This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg the lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many in God’s family. I ask our blessed mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.

Am sure that for many this fell way short of calling for accountability of those in the Church who helped cover up this abuse. But yesterday, in a private meeting with six survivors, he apparently said people who abused children were caca – a term the translator explained as what you find in a toilet bowl. That he feels their pain, I have no doubt. But he’s a man at the head of a corrupt institution with a strong conservative faction that rails against his every step forward. There’s a limit to what he can do but he is doing something. He’s giving hope to so many people – and you can’t put a price on hope.

He spoke in the Pro-Cathedral to couples who were just married, soon to be married, and married for eons. He talked about the institution, about raising children in the faith. He connected with people at all levels. He remembered those in the North. He mentioned those in prison. I just wish he’d had a word for those who feel excluded from the Church – the divorced, the LGBT community, and others who for whatever reason don’t feel part of the family this past week has been celebrating. Yet his audible emphasis on the word ALL whenever he used it referring to the faithful gives me hope that he is simply crippled by the corporation that is the RCC.

Today, old footage from John Paul II’s visit back in 1979 is playing on TV. The crowds are not the same. Health and Safety, which didn’t exist as a concept back then, has limited the numbers this time to 600 000. But given the times we live in, would many more show up? The streets yesterday weren’t as packed as I’d expected. A returning victorious football or rugby team would have attracted more spectators. Yet for so many, getting a glimpse of this kindly man, hearing what he had to say, touching his hand – this meant the world to them.

Two things resonated with me the most. First was his visit to the homeless shelter. There, he commended the Capuchins for asking no questions – for not judging – for helping the vulnerable without taking away their dignity. If only we could all do that. If only we could suspend our judgmental selves – park them – and simply help, no questions asked., no strings, no caveats.

The second was his call for a revolution of love, for us to rediscover tenderness and I assume, its twins of gentleness and kindliness. How far removed we are as a world from this sort of simplicity. His visit was a grateful reminder of how life could be.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 20

I’ve always thought the word ‘bounty’ to be a peculiarly Protestant word. Not specifically Luthern, or Methodist, or Church of England, just generally Protestant. I associate it with harvesting and harvest time, a season much celebrated by the Church of Ireland at home. The bounty of Mother Nature, that whereby we eat and live. I see farmers markets, the like of which I visited recently in Warsaw, as a drip feed towards a collective bounty. Farmers balance those who don’t have gardens and the wherewithal to grow their own food. There’s a sharing. Yes, of course, money changes hands, but there’s still a sharing.

There’s no drip feed in our garden – there’s no metering of her measure. It all comes together. At once. Mother Nature has had a right old time in our garden this year. The plums were few and far between, the peaches even scarcer. The cherries were half of what we got last year and the apples? Well, we’re still waiting. But the pears. Man, the pears. This year they’ve gone mad.

At a conservative estimated, we have at least 200kg of pears to be processed or given away. The problem is that when everyone else in the village is in the same boat, no one wants to take anything. Just yesterday, himself proudly returned an egg box to her next door with 10 of his own tomatoes in it (yes, eggs in Hungary come in batches of 6, 10, 20, or 30). She’d helped him plant them. The offering seemed a fitting tribute. But then she gave him 20 of her own. To compare.

Yesterday, I picked and peeled and cored and chopped. I froze pears in slices. I froze grated pears for cakes. I made pear chutney. I poached six large jars worth of the yellow buggers. I even made pear and walnut bread. And that took care of 50kg. The remaining 150kg are destined for the pálinka still. An experiment. His domain.

Come winter, I’ll be glad I did this. I like the idea of subsistence living. I’m all for reducing my dependency on mass-produced foods. I’m a supporter of shopping local. I’m into second-hand and vintage. I prefer old and recycled to shiny and new. I’m all in favour of making life simple.

Village life

Yet rather than taking all this for granted, I’m increasingly conscious of how lucky I am. That there are so many people going without in the world drives me to make sure that nothing we have is wasted. I find myself saving the smallest portions of leftovers, reluctant to throw anything away. The ‘new’ gate in the back garden was cobbled together from scraps of wood. The ‘new’ door in the barn was refashioned from one that came out of the house. I have a vague notion that an old shower frame might well end up as a grape arbour.

And while we’re harvesting and processing, the starlings are pigging out on the apple tree next door on the other side. We rarely see those neighbours. They’re never there. And if they are, they’re there when we’re not. Their fruit goes uncollected, left to be pecked, to fall to the ground and rot. For the last couple of days, a murmation of starlings has descended on the tree chattering at full volume, doing their damnedest to pick it clean. I’m in awe of such blatant gluttony. But they have to eat, too, right? Why, I wonder, have I been conditioned to see this as waste?

Her next door is engaged in a running battle with the birds. She regularly goes out into her fields banging an old tin can, causing a terrible racket, making the birds hightail it to the quieter pastures. But then her livelihood is at stake. She depends on her crops to live; what she reaps this summer she’ll need to get herself through till the next. She sees the starlings are her enemy. I see them as noisy friends, as entertainment. But for us, the harvest is not nearly so serious. It more a matter of making good with what we get. And for those on the other side, the fruit clearly doesn’t matter to them at all. It takes all sorts, each of our perspectives governed by our needs.

The farmer up the road at home brings my mother fresh eggs. In return, she bakes him an apple tart or some brown bread. Her next door occasionally drops in some fresh eggs and in return she gets a loaf of whatever bread I’ve made – this week it’s pear and walnut – which she has just begun to grudgingly accept. Yes, my mother will never be dead as long as I’m alive. There’s a happy co-existence. Last year’s fence war has been all but forgotten. The world outside continues to run amuck. Egos prevail. But in the village, there’s a balance, with give and take and all sorts living side by side and making do. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.