2015 Grateful 51

foreignerEveryone is a foreigner somewhere. I’ve been a foreigner for almost half my life. And while there are days when I wish that I fit in, that I could speak the language well enough to get by, and that I had an innate, almost intuitive understanding of all things cultural here in Hungary, there are other times that I delight in being a külföldi. And if I have to be a foreigner, being Irish is perhaps about as good as it gets. But then, I’m biased.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I don’t hanker for something from home – be it crisps or chocolate or tea. There will always beenIrish abroad comparisons in my mind, ratings and yardsticks that help analyse how I feel about something and offer some sense of perspective on an issue that’s bothering me. And yet when I’m in Ireland for any length of time, I find myself hankering for some things Hungarian. And when I’m somewhere else entirely, it’s a toss-up  as to which country I’m using as my meter.

I was in Békéscsaba this weekend – a town of about 80 000 people half way between the cities of Debrecen and Szeged, the second and fourth largest cities in Hungary, respectively. And, as is somewhat the norm in smaller cities and towns in Hungary, English isn’t as widely-spoken as it is in Budapest. But I got by. My myriad questions on local customs and traditions were met with patience and tolerance, with everyone happy  to take the time to make themselves understood and to help me understand. The hospitality shown was second to none. Because everyone so obviously wanted me to have a good time, there was little option but to enjoy. And enjoy I did.

I remember my first trip to India and how before our meetings started, I’d ask my hosts some questions about stuff I’d seen on TV the night before or things I’d noticed in the street. And far from begrudging me the time I was taking from their busy schedules, they went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that I enjoyed my stay. It was as if showing an interest in their lives unlocked a door that might otherwise have stayed closed.

The more questions I ask when I travel, the happier people are to spend time with me. French Nobel Laureate Anatole France reckoned that curiosity is man’s greatest virtue and he had a point. It’s only by asking questions that we can ever hope to understand what’s going on. And we don’t necessarily need every question answered, either. It’s enough to ask.

My mother reckons I was born asking a question – my initial wail apparently sounded very much like an elongated whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyy. In primary school, when I moved from one class to the next, my old teacher would warn the one who was getting me that I had a thing for asking questions. And it would seem that I’ve never lost it.

This week has been a good one. I caught up with some old friends. I caught up on my sleep. And I got to travel. Most of my questions were answered and those that weren’t are not keeping me awake at night. I met some really interesting, inspiring people who, by taking the time to talk to me, to answer my questions, have made my world all the richer. And for this I’m truly grateful.





2015 Grateful 52

When in the States last year, I nearly bought a bag made of recycled seat-belts. I’m a fan of recycled clothing. And at this stage in my life, most, if not all, the men I date have been recycled, too. But a recycled movie?


Hölgyeim és uraim (which interestingly translates into Ladies and Gentlemen but goes by the English title of Final Cut) is a 2012 stroke of genius by Hungarian György Pálfi. It’s billed as the ultimate love story between the ultimate man and the ultimate woman. And it had me enthralled from the opening credits.

recycled-movieThe story is simple – man gets up, showers, shaves, dresses, goes out into the street and literally bumps into the woman he was destined to meet. She’s a singer. They date. She throws off the former boyfriend. They fall in love, get married, and life happens. Your average run-of-the-mill story, nothing much to get excited about in the grand scheme of things. It’s all be written and filmed and sung about before.

But when your leading man is not one man but hundreds – everyone from Patrick Swazye to Charlies Chaplin, from Clark Gable to Brad Pitt, from Woody Allen to Daniel Craig and runs the gamut from a moody melancholic to a rebel without a cause, then that’s something different.

And when your leading lady is not one woman but hundreds – from Audrey Hepburn to Julia Roberts, from Julie Andrews to Kim Novak, from Sharon Stone to Greta Garbo, with all the prim sultriness and wanton womanliness that goes along with them, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Pálfi has taken clips from 500 or so existing films and spliced them together into one cohesive movie. It’s one to watch and rewatch and then watch again (but not with the kids around). It’s a visual onslaught. And a pure delight to recognise the various actors and films and see clips out of context and yet so in context.

I’m a sucker for romance. I’m in love with the idea of being in love. And I love the old classics. Meg Ryan, move over – when they get around to filming Sleepless in Budapest, I’m in there. Pálfi’s film jumps from silent movies to animations, from westerns to film noir, from musicals to futuristic odysseys. It’s a roller-coaster ride that you won’t want to end.

I’m marking 2015 as a year of catching up – of taking time to see the films I’ve wanted to see but have missed, to read the books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t had time, to realise a long threatening to visit friends in far flung places before any of us shuffles off this mortal coil. And so far, one week into the year, I’m on track.

Granted, Hölgyeim és uraim was a bonus – I’d never heard of György Pálfi or his movie until this week when it was given to me to watch by someone who has my cultural well-being at heart (köszönöm a tanítást) and it prompted me to dig out two others that have been sitting on my shelves for years.

Can you believe I’d never seen The Bucket List? Those two questions are echoing in my head

You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death.  When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’  ‘Has your life brought joy to others?

Food for thought there and never too late to change. And Sonny, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has me convinced that

Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.

This is something my late friend RB used to tell me when I was on rant and I’d never realised before where he’d found it. That made the movie all the more special. That, of course, and seeing love win out in the end. I did say I was a sucker for romance.

My first grateful of 2015 has to be that it’s never to late to learn some lessons. And they come at us from the most unusual angles. We just have to be open to receiving them. A throwaway sentence can make a massive difference if we hear it just when we need to. And a movie like Hölgyeim és uraim can do wonders to restore faith in what at times can seem like a tired old story written for someone other than you.