2015 Grateful 1

Hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close. So much has happened. So much has changed. And it all went so quickly. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older. Of aging. Time flies. It seems like yesterday that I started this year’s Grateful 52 and now the countdown has ended.

Many of my friends had significant birthdays this year; many more see the half-century next year, myself included. And yet in my head I’m still 32 and will always be. I was asked over drinks this Christmas if I had a choice, which one would I pick:

a) €4 million
b) To  go back to being 20 knowing what I know now

Apparently it’s a polarising question with most women opting for the dosh and the men opting for a do-over. I can’t speak to that. But I’d have taken the €4 million without hesitation. There’s no way I’d want to go back and do over.

I’m grateful that I have few regrets and those I have are negligible in the grand scheme of things. I’m grateful, too, that people read this blog and comment and interact and let me know that I’m not just writing for my own amusement (although I think I still would even if no one read anything I wrote – it’s therapeutic). Thank you, though, for engaging.

And a present for you – in case you haven’t heard it already:

carolsChristmas carols are my favourite part of the season – I like the oldies, the classics – and I like, the new ones, too. This one – The Flight – was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge as part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was sung for the first time this Christmas and is written by Hungarian-born George Szirtes.

The child on the dirtpath
finds the highway blocked
The dogs at the entrance
snarl that doors are locked
The great god of kindness
has his kindness mocked
 May those who travel light
 Find shelter on the flight
 May Bethlehem
 Give rest to them.

The sea is a graveyard
the beach is dry bones
the child at the station
is pelted with stones
the cop stands impassive
the ambulance drones

We sleep then awaken
we rest on the way
our sleep might be troubled
but hope is our day
we move on for ever
like children astray

We move on for ever
our feet leave no mark
you won’t hear our voices
once we’re in the dark
but here is our fire
this child is our spark

Words: George Szirtes
Music: Richard Causton


2015 Grateful 2

Tradition is a wonderful thing. It lends a certainty to uncertain times, anchors us in times of change, and wraps us in the comfort of familiarity. Every year, the party at Craigford brings together a bunch of usual suspects, some of whom I won’t have seen all year. But even if a year has passed, it seems more like weeks than months since we were all together last.

Every year, those of us who are free, show up in the afternoon to transform the house from December to Christmas. One of my jobs is to hang the Christmas cards. Another is to iron. A third is to  help out in the kitchen. This year we were ahead of schedule, and ready a full five minutes before the first guests arrived. It’s nothing if not hectic.

The inimitable DD has a tradition of his own that he brings along. Each year, we get one of his hand turned wooden Christmas ornaments, collectibles that everyone looks forward to. A souvenir of the year that has passed, something to help us remember the year that was.

Gin me2 (480x640)GF’s mince pies and sausage rolls and LN’s beetroot roulade are staples around which the table is set. An open fire is a must as PM needs somewhere to heat the wine. This year, a new tradition was inaugurated: the Christmas G&T garnished with halved cranberries and springs of rosemary served in a large wine glass. And an old tradition let go: the annual Kris kindle.

For years now, the Craigford party has been my Christmas marker, the night that starts the Holiday festivities.  A real Christmas tonic that brings to mind that classic poem  by Edgar Guest:

A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.

Now that Christmas has officially started, I’m grateful for the wonderful bedfellows – friendship and tradition. And I’m thankful, too, to be able to add to my gin repertoire. Here’s to you all…


2015 Grateful 3

With so many of the world’s corporates searching for cheaper and cheaper labour, outsourcing has become a way of life. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing how long you can stay competitive is something that has seeped into most aspects of our lives. There’s only so much you can cut before there’s nothing left to cut. I know. Up the road from me, a couple of Polish girls who have been turning out delicious sandwiches for three years and even more delectable cakes are throwing in the flour and shutting shop. They’re not making any money, in spite of the hours they’re putting in.

Years ago, in a previous life, I remember contracts being negotiated that left very little by way of margin for my Indian colleagues. I wondered then how they were making ends meet. And I wonder now.

In Agra recently, I was hijacked. Nothing new there. Whether it’s a private car hire or an auto-rickshaw, if you’re not behind the wheel you are at the mercy of whoever is. Having witnessed the splendour of the Taj Mahal and hearing how the craftsmen from Kabul had taken 21 years to decorate the marble walls in slivers of precious stones, I simply had to see how it was done. Or so I was told.

After the oblIMG_1921 (600x800)igatory tea, I got a short introduction to the history of the factory – it’s been in the family for generations and uses the same traditions that were used to build the Taj Mahal. Then I got a short introduction to the various stones used in the Taj and where they come from. The onyx from Belgium threw me a little but hey – what I know about stones, precious or otherwise wouldn’t fill the tip of a chisel. Then I had a crash course on how it’s all done. I may be missing a few steps but bear with me.

IMG_1922 (800x600)IMG_1924 (800x621)The stones are cut into tiny slivers using machines that look like they came out of the dark ages. The finished pieces are sold according to how many individual pieces of stone it took to make the design so this bit is important. The white marble is then washed so that sweat stains don’t mark IMG_1926 (800x600)it. The pattern is set and then pressed so that the outline is left on the stone. Then the master craftsman takes over. He gets to carve the pattern 2mm into the stone. Apparently he can work for about 30 minutes before needing to break for 90. The work is very fiddedly and I would IMG_1927 (600x800)imagine there’s blood, although I saw no evidence of this – it’s just my imagination. Each individual piece is then glued into place using a glue made from tree gum, rice water, honey and a secret ingredient. The whole process takes days, weeks, months, depending on the size of the piece. How can this make economic sense?

With the basics in hand, I was then taken inside to the showrooms. Aladdin’s cave comes to mind. Of course, by now I know that it will be anything but cheap. The stage has been set. The man hours noted. And regardless of what the boys are being paid, each piece takes an age to put together.

IMG_1937 (800x600)IMG_1941 (800x600)I sat and oohed and aahed all the while repeating that I had no money. And no, I had no credit on my credit card, either. I converted my Hungarian wage to rupees and I could see that he wasn’t impressed. I held strong … for about an hour. And then I saw the piece I’d love had I the money (the hexagonal green marble table inlaid with mother of pearl) – a stunning number that had 8950 individual pieces and could be mine for just €8000. Door to door. But even at that price, I couldn’t make the sums add up. The workers must be working for pittance.

The more I saw, the more I liked and the more I appreciated the work that went into it all. All hand done. Laboured over. Painstakingly worked. And I caved. I bought a piece he said I could use as a chopping board – just like his mother did. Yeah right.

I’m torn though. Yes, it is worth every cent I paid but what are they being paid to produce it? Is it just one man getting rich through it all? It’s hard to know. Should I not have bought? But then no customers mean no work at all and is some work better than nothing? The angst.

table agraAnd while the moral arguments gave me a headache, I am grateful that I got to see it all, how it was done. I’m grateful that I’ve not yet been deadened by the false economy of mass production. I’m grateful that I have it in me to appreciate a job well done. And I’m particularly grateful to Emirates for their generous baggage allowance. Without them, it would still be just a photograph.

I also got a sneak preview of how the Taj Mahal changes in the various light of day… stunning.

IMG_1931 (800x600)


On a full moon

On a full moon

2015 Grateful 4

Some memories, no matter how deep they are buried, refuse to stay buried. Way back when, on my first (and I think my only) package sun holiday, anklets were all the rage. Everyone was wearing them. Never really one for staying on trend, for some reason I was determined to get in on this one. The sun was probably getting to me. I spent ages with one trader from Algiers, who promised that he had the most extensive range of anklets on the street. His blanket was covered with them. All sorts. All colours. All sizes. And I tried them all. And none of them would fit. Of course, the more embarrassed I got, the more anxious he became to make a sale. Eventually, he sat back on his haunches, and gave his diagnosis: I had fat ankles. And then he gave his prognosis: It was very unlikely that I would ever find an anklet to fit me; the only possible treatment was to buy a necklace and loop it around twice. I ran.

Since then, whenever I think of reincarnation, I thinking of coming back with ankles. Real ankles. And if memory serves me correctly, in my very brief appearance in SC’s Budapest Short on Leprechauns, when asked what my one wish would be – I said ‘ankles’. Fixated I am.

Wandering around Laad Bazaar in Hyderabad is quite the experience. [Laad means lacquer, by the way.] It’s colourful, loud, and full of bangles.  I was there during the day but having watched the video of a night visit, I know I definitely have to go back to Hyderabad and see the Old City by night. There are more than 40 shops on the one street, some of which have been in families for generations. It’s an old market, a very old one. It’s where Bollywood comes to buy its bangles. Mind you, I wouldn’t have recognised a Bollywood star if they’d come up to me and introduced themselves by name. But I have it on good authority that they’re regular visitors to the bazaar.

IMG_1716 (800x600)Tourists were few and far between. I had an address for one store that specialised in glass bangles, but Krishna was with me and I was feeling the pressure NOT to wander. He’s a lovely lad, but a tad impatient. We tried one stop but they had no glass bangles at all. They were quite insistent though and I had to start the trying on process. Surprise, surprise. They couldn’t find a bangle to fit me. Son called over Dad and Dad in turn called Grandad and the three of them stood discussing the challenge. Other customers were earwigging and throwing surreptitious glances my way as Dad decided that a plastic bag would do the trick. He stuck my hand into the bag while Son tried to slip on the bangle over it. One pulling, the other pushing, me grimacing in pain. Okay, okay, I have wide hands. Not fat ones, or big ones, just wide ones. Wide knuckles. They eventually  gave up and sent us to another shop.

IMG_1717 (600x800)There, they didn’t try the plastic bag trick but they did try everything else, including hand lotion. They seemed mesmerised. Wide hands are obviously not the norm in Hyderabad. By this stage, I was a little tired of being the attraction, so I didn’t hang around. But the search will be resumed next time I’m in town.

IMG_1664 (800x600)Hyderabad is also famous for its pearls, with an entire street – Patther Gatti – lined with shops selling all sorts of pearls in all sorts of settings. And yes, I know it’s miles from the sea. I did ask the question. But apparently, back in the day when the Nizam-ul-Mulk was in charge (about 200 years from the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century), they brought pearls from the Arabian Gulf to Hyderabad. Today, in the village of Chandanpet just outside the city, almost everyone is a pearl driller – a craft that requires a certain skill. Some of the pearls that I saw were tiny.  And when the first set I fancied was in danger of choking me, Aman assured me that he would extend it a couple of inches – no problem. Before I bought (and not for me as I know it’s bad luck to buy pearls for yourself) I had him take a cigarette lighter to random pearls to be sure they were real. It’s not that I doubted him – he was lovely – it was more that I would hate to think I’d be taken for a ride. [I’m well aware of my gullibility – every saleman’s dream I am – and the self-beratement that comes with being had does my head in. I really should do my homework.]

All I actually wanted to buy on this trip, though, was a kurti – a tunic top worn over leggings that are scrunched up at the ankles. Indian women look so pretty, so vibrant, so colourful. And I figured I could cut a dash in one over the festive season. Strangely though, it’s only men serving in the government-sanctioned tourist shops, and lovely though they are, they just don’t get it.

‘Yes, ma’am, we have all sizes.’ And  indeed they did. And everything in my size fit to perfection, except the bust. And it’s not as if the poor lad didn’t try. He must have pulled out ten different styles in fifty different colours. And none worked. I remembered this from last time, too.

So, what have I learned? From my research, I have concluded that the average Indian woman has petite hands, a slender neck, and a small chest. And I just don’t fit the mould. For me, it’ll have to be custom-made. But then I had more time and even after going to the the tailor and specifying exactly what I wanted in terms of neckline and roominess, I was flattened and my decolletage censored.

It’s been a mad week  full of  sensory overload and people, lots and lots and lots of people. I’m sick of hearing myself talk. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends (what’s new?) trying to fit in as much as possible and still work and I’m mentally and physically exhausted. But it’s a good kind of exhaustion. A healthy kind. One that comes from an onslaught of new and a deluge of different, one  that has given me a new perspective.

One of the greatest things about travel, particularly to places that are so different from my norm, is that it gives me a chance to miss things, to miss people, to miss places that I might sometimes take for granted. And for that opportunity, coming as it does in the delight that is India, I’m truly grateful.

So, where to next?


2015 Grateful 5

There was a time in Ireland when every child of primary-school-going age had been to see Eugene Lambert’s puppet theatre. It was a mainstay on the school-tour circuit, something not to be missed. Located in Monkstown, Co Dublin, it was founded in 1972 by the man who would make puppetry an art in Ireland.  He was inspired after visiting the Prague Puppet Festival apparently. The family business is now being run by his son Liam.

Puppetry has come on in leaps and bounds since then. Joey, the War Horse, in the movie of the same name, is way down the puppetry evolutionary scale. His creator, Adrian Kohler, of the Handspring  Puppet Company, says that ‘puppets always have to try to be alive. ‘

Ubu1I had the opportunity recently to see the South-Africa-based Handspring in action. They are currently touring Europe with their play: Ubu and the Truth  Commission, a powerful commentary on the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa that was first performed 18 years ago. The puppeteers are in full view but the puppets are so life-like they take centre stage. The deep gouges in the wooden faces reflect the light in such a way that they seem to move – facial expressions become real. Most eerie.

Ubu2The victims are all played by puppets, the predators by humans. Much of the word play was lost in translation – which is unfortunate. She asks him to pass the salt. His guilty conscience kicks in and he answers: Who said it was assault? Confronting the general about his late nights and implied infidelities, she screams at him: Who owns your heart? This is just one of many questions asked during the play that got me thinking. Questions that I wouldn’t normally think twice about.  Such is the power of good theatre.

I was surprised to learn that the first TRC was not in South Africa, but in Chile. And although in theory, it works for me at some level, I was left wondering at the imbalance of it all. The victims, mostly parents whose children had been murdered by those ‘just doing their job’, got to face those who had robbed them of their futures. Complete disclosure was needed. And the actions had to be politically motivated. ‘No dirt could be left under the nails after such a complete manicure.’ But is there really such a thing as forgiveness without cost? Or is it a lofty ideal that so many strive for and fail to reach? The general commenting on the TRC notes that ‘my slice of old cheese and your loaf of fresh bread will make a tolerable meal.’ Worth thinking on.

For any parent to outlive their child is heartbreaking. What is left for them? Much like what was left for South Africa?

Video footage and photographs, alongside animations and music played in the background. Seeing photos of dead children and videos of assaults all added to the horror. As the victims testified in front of the Commission, interpreters translated. Closed off in a class cage, the neutral loneliness of the interpreters was intended to epitomise the neutrality of the  TRC.

Ubu as a character first appeared 130 years ago from the mind and pen of a 17-year-old french student, Alfred Jarry, in a play about his science teacher. Although it opened and closed on the same night, it would have far-reaching consequences for theatre worldwide.

Ubu Roi (Ubu the King or King Ubu) is a play by Alfred Jarry. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, causing a riotous response in the audience as it opened and closed on December 10, 1896. It is considered a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms, and conventions. For those who were in the audience on that night to witness the response, including William Butler Yeats, it seemed an event of revolutionary importance. It is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century. It is a precursor to Dada, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices — in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.

I sat through the performance with one question running through my mind: Do I have what it takes to forgive – completely forgive?  I wonder.

This week began in Budapest and ended up in Bangalore. Such is my world. Such is globalisation. With travel as easy as it is, alternative theatres like Traffo can bring companies like Handspring to Budapest who bring with them questions that broaden our world and get us thinking. That’s something to be grateful for.


2015 Grateful 6

Do you like his music?
No idea. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him sing anything.
So why are you here?
A fit of madness back in March coupled with a vague sense of recognition. I know the name Botticelli from somewhere.
mmmm… it’s Andrea Bocelli…

I’ve had that conversation or something similar many times in recent years. I’ve long since admitted to being musically illiterate. Oh I can name my country stars – a leftover from watching Country Music USA while living in Alaska – but to the rest of the post-1980s music world, I’m a stranger.

Last night, I stood in the cold as the crowds slowly filtered into Papp László Stadium. We have ISIS to thank for the new security measures that saw a 7pm concert kick off at 7.20 with people still taking their seats at 7.55. So be warned if you plan on going anytime soon. Go early. The searches were cursory at best – women simply unzipped their jackets – nothing like a little gender bias when the safety of the world is at stake. And while it was inconvenient and slapdash, considering what might be took the sting out of it. Have at it lads.

The place was packed. Fuller than I’ve ever seen it. And all for a 57-year-old blind tenor who spoke just six words all evening – He said ‘thank you’ three times. But man, can that chap sing.

Blessed is she who never expects anything, for she shall never be disappointed. It was like unwrapping the most amazing gift on a random Tuesday that wasn’t my birthday, or Christmas, or an anniversary. It’d been a busy week, and I was in dire need of some sort of spiritual resuscitation. Something to dispel the blues. And he delivered.

There is so much about the man that I hadn’t known.  He’s been nominated for every award going and with his album, Sacred Arias [the biggest-selling classical crossover album by a solo artist of all time], he made the Guinness Book of Records for holding the top three positions on the US Classical Albums charts. But not one to be boxed neatly into just one category, Bocelli’s pop album Romanza is the best-selling album by an Italian artist of any genre in history.

He was born with poor eyesight and a football accident at the age of 12 robbed him of what little he could see. He remembers colours though, and flowers. It was strange seeing him on stage with his eyes closed but then if he can’t see, why would he open them? I was struck by how beautiful he is – not in a front-page of GQ sort of way, but almost angelic. I can see why he was once named one of  People‍‍ ’​‍s 50 Most Beautiful People.

Accompanied by the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra  and the Budapest Opera Chorus conducted by Marcello Rota, there must have been close to 150 musicians on stage. Cuban soprano Maria Aleida Rodriguez made an appearance as did Hungary’s Szekeres Adrien and a woman in a horrendous blue dress who murdered Somewhere over the Rainbow [the only downside of the evening]. The guitar duo CARisMA took me back to my NIHE days with their rendition of Cavatina (the theme from the Deerhunter). 

ABThe concert tour was to promote his latest album Cinema. As a backdrop, we saw video footage of Bocelli in various roles and it all added to the ambience. I was mega impressed.

He sang the classics:  Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera;  Nelle Tu Mani from Gladiator; and Brucia La Terra from the Godfather.  We also had White Christmas, Cheek to Cheek, Turandot – Nessun Dorma, Maria from West Side Story, and a host of other classics. It seemed to get better and better before gradually tailing off towards the end (that woman in the blue dress again) and then resurrecting itself for a grand finale. I was particularly impressed with The Lord’s Prayer, which he sang for the Pope in Philadelphia a couple of months ago.

AB1Those in the know reckoned that he’d close with  Time to Say Goodbye which he recorded as a duet with Sarah Brightman. The single went on to sell over twelve million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. He sang it but then he gave three more encores and left to a standing ovation that must have lasted five minutes.
So with all these records, I’m left wondering how I could have confused him with an Italian painter? Sometimes I surprise myself. Nevertheless, I’ll be eternally grateful that I got to see the man live on stage and even more grateful for the infusion of wellbeing that came with the price of  the ticket.




2015 Grateful 7

Who’s yer woman? The tall one. Three pairs of eyes vectored on the poor girl as we tried in vain to place her. Names were tossed out and discarded – too short, too tall, not the right accent. Between us we couldn’t figure her out. Given that we’d been to school with everyone in the room and had probably spent five years in her company, that was bad.

RU2Two years ago, the Class of ’83 had its 30th reunion. I missed it. While everyone else was rolling around the floor singing Rock the Boat, I was watching some Balkan friends being baptised in the River Jordan. Each to their own. By all accounts it was a great night, one that made great inroads into the next morning. I had to make do with the photographs. It felt a little voyeuristic  – or worse, looking at a mugshot book down the Garda Station asking myself if I knew this person or that.

RU3This year, half of the class turned 50, so another reunion was in order [any excuse for a party, I hear you say and what’s wrong with that?] This time, I made sure that I’d be home for it. Not as many showed up apparently [some only got as far as the bar and hadn’t made it up the stairs by the time I left so the reunioning was going on everywhere]  but those that did were in fine fettle. Fifty seemed a state of mind rather than a reality. It was like being back in the prefab classrooms that were Scoil Mhuire, before the posh new school was built.

Mini biographies floated around the room, snapshot CVs that accounted for the missing 32 years. Like me, not everyone had made the last one, so for some of us it was a first get-together – and we had to do it without the benefit of name tags.

Conversations that strayed into the ‘I always thought you were… ‘ zone were perhaps the most revealing. It’s amazing how much time alters our perceptions and how, back then, as teenagers, our visions of ourselves came nowhere near to those that others had of us. Had I known then what I know now, perhaps those times might have been less difficult, less awkward, less traumatic. But hey – that’s all part of growing up.

RU1I’ve been battling bronchitis for three weeks and was on the water. I figured I had till midnight before it all came got to be too much. But  last I did. I was impressed with myself. And more than a little amused when someone told me that they didn’t recognise my voice – thankfully, that high-pitched squeak isn’t really me, no. Judging from the photos, everyone else lasted way longer. I missed the boat … again.

Some say reunions are twee. Passé. Excruciating painful. I disagree. Even without the anesthesia of alcohol, I had a blast. I caught up with people who have popped into my mind over the years as I wondered what became of them. I got to chat with those I see all too occasionally. And I got to hear what everyone has been up to in the last few lifetimes.

To those who took the time to organise it all – you know who ye are – a massive thanks for going to the all that effort.  I’m really glad I took the time to go. Appreciate the invitation.

PS. The tall girl? We finally figured it out.

2015 Grateful 8

My life is bursting with good intentions. I am forever making notes to myself to see, do, go, call, write, ask… and a good 7 times out of 10, I never get around to doing anything but rebuking myself weeks later for not having seen, done, gone, called, written, asked …

museum-applied-arts-budapest1For weeks now, I’ve been reminding myself to go see the Home Sweet Home exhibition at the Iparművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Applied Arts), which, incidentally, is the third oldest applied arts museum in the world (or one of the oldest at least, depending on what you read). It runs until November 15 and time was running out. So late this afternoon, I went. And was dutifully impressed. 

I was with three American friends, all of whom qualified for a concessionary ticket. Am not sure I agree with stuff costing more to be young(er). But hey – at less than €10 for a full-priced combination ticket that gets you into everything, it’s nothing to be sneezed at.

The Home Sweet Home exhibition is actually three exhibitions in one. Tickets also  include  admission to  the BID – Collective Imagination (Imaginación Collectiva) and the Hungarian Design Awards and Design Management Awards exhibitions.

I was particularly impressed with a range of clothing designed for those with autism, based on studies of behavioural habits and favourite poses/relaxed positions. There was also a set of black-and-white ceramic tableware designed for those who are partially sighted; shopping bags made from fishing line and wire; and shoes that can be worn on either foot and so are only sold in ones.

I love design shops. I love seeing how creative people can take thoughts and turn them into something tangible. I love the possibility of it all.

Globalization, technological revolution, environmental issues, sharing economy – concepts that have shaped our mindset in recent years. But how does an abstract concept take form? How does the world leak into our homes, how does our micro-environment transform into a mirror of the society, and how are designers inspired by the big changes of history? HOME SWEET HOME exhibition tries to answer these questions – mainly through items by Hungarian designers, in an inspiring way for both general public and professionals.


The second exhibition runs a little longer. Lifting the Curtain presents the birth of modern architecture in Central Europe from a rather different perspective. [PF and CM – thought of you both – you’d have loved it.] It’s not about architects or styles, but more about  the networks of modern architecture and the influences that transcend borders. I hadn’t known, for instance, that back in 1944, as the Russians were getting closer and closer to Budapest, an entire class from the Technical University (including students, professors, and admin staff – some 1600 in all) were put on trains and shipped out of the country. The idea was to save a generation of engineers and architects who would return to rebuild the country once the war was over. Most ended up in Denmark as POWs before eventually returning to Budapest where the architects among them brought back some influences of Danish modernism. Who’d have thunk it?

Stolen wallet aside, it’s been a good week, one that ended in fond reminiscences. It’s not often I get to sit people who don’t know each other around a table and listen to them discover (and marvel at) how they all have Alaska in common. Or get to visit a home on Csepel Island that might have been transplanted from Valdez. Or actually get to do something before the window of time snaps shut on me. Yep – lots to be grateful for.

And Rex, you’re here with us in spirit – we know. 


2015 Grateful 9

What’s this? I asked the waiter, pointing to what looked suspiciously like a piece of a chilli. It’s a chilli, he confirmed. But it was in my coffee, I replied, raising what little of the voice I still had in a question. Yes, he said, nonplussed, it says so on the menu.

We’d stopped in to the ever-so-awfully-posh New York Café for a cup of coffee, just because one of us hadn’t been there before and I figured that three years of boycotting the place (almost to the day) after my first and only visit was long enough to hold a grudge. For all its faults [price, service, attitude], it’s a beautiful space.

IMG_1513 (800x600)I spotted a Magyar Kavé on the menu – a Hungarian coffee. A new one on me. I read a little further. The ingredients: Tokaji Szárasz Samorodni (a dry Tokaji wine), méz (honey), eszpresszó kavé (espresso coffee), and csípős tejhab (spicy milk foam). I’ll have some of that, I thought. Hang the expense. Wine and coffee together? Could life get any better? 

It tasted strange, but good. And I kept drinking. And then I bit on something that, on closer inspection, looked a lot like a chilli seed. And then came the chilli. And then I called the waiter.

Chilli? In coffee? I asked, raising my eyebrows so high they hit the exquisitely ornate ceiling. Yes, says he, defensively, it says so on the menu. Really, says I, damn sure it didn’t as I’d already transcribed the entry. May I see?

Off he goes to get the evidence…

Well, not really, he said – it just says spicy milk foam. I don’t know about you, but when I think spices for coffee, cinnamon or nutmeg come to mind, not chilli.

It’s been a long, hectic, mad week of literary talks, play readings, workshops, logistical nightmares re flights and visas, and lost voices. I’m still speaking in croaky whisper, ignoring the phone as I can’t talk loud enough to be heard. But when I add last night’s pumpkin parade to the discovery of Magyar Kavé, I’m grateful that after eight years, this city still regularly surprises me.  Wine and coffee, in the same glass. Who’d have thunk it?



2015 Grateful 10

TAPSMany lifetimes ago, when I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, I wanted nothing more that to work on the slope. I wanted to be part of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and travel north, to the Arctic Circle. I wanted to do shift work at one of the pumpstations, make loads of money, and have time off to spend it.

Instead, I was temping with an engineering company in the city making okay money but working for a boss who put the micro into micro-management. I was obviously impressing them though because they figured it wouldn’t be long before I found something more permanent. They asked me to give them two weeks’ notice if and when I decided to leave. I agreed.

While working there, I spent my lunchtimes trying to get hired on with Alyeska, through their temp agency. One day, the phone call came. It was a Thursday afternoon. They had an opening at Pumpstation 9. Starting Tuesday. It was mine if I wanted it.

I said that I couldn’t go. I explained that I had promised that I’d give two weeks’ notice and that I’d be happy to go when that was up. A rant ensued. I was naive. An idiot. Did I think for one minute that if they wanted to let me go they’d be so considerate? Did I realise how hard it was to get a posting up the slope? Why was I being so stupid? If I didn’t take this offer, I’d go to the end of the list and chances are that I would never make a slope contract at all.

TAPS2I was gutted. I wanted to go, but I’d given my word. And no matter what justifications I used, I couldn’t see my way to breaking it. I never did get to work on the slope.

Fast forward to this week. One client sounded me out about possibly going to South America for a conference. Yes, please, I thought. But when I checked my calendar I saw that I’d two workshops booked that week. I was tempted to cancel, reorganise, postpone – it’s not often I get invited so far afield. But I’d given my word. I had to say that I wasn’t available. But I was gutted.

But then another client asked if I’d be free to go to India on a week that suited me any time before the end of the year. No hesitation there. I found two possible free weeks in December that would involve not attending just one social event, an invite that I’d maybe’d rather than committed to.  Happy days. No going back on my word. No disappointments. The proverbial doors opening and closing on schedule. Now I just have to figure out a way to add some days to either end of a packed 5-day programme. And if this is the only challenge I face this week, what’s not to be grateful for?