2016 Grateful 1

As yet another year draws to a close, I find my reaction to 2016 summing itself up in three letters: WTF? Yes, I have a tendency to wish my life away at times and I’m working on valuing every day as it comes, but this is one year that I’ll be glad to see the back of. I’d been warned by some mystic or other that it would be a bad year for men – in that a lot of them would die. And they weren’t wrong there. I can’t speak for the figures but the number of famous lads who popped off the face of the Earth this year is a little staggering – Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen …. and the latest only the other day – Rick Parfitt. And we still have a week to go. Am glad I’m not male and famous.

It was a year of crazy decisions that will have consequences for years to come. Voters went a little mad methinks, revolting in their way against what they saw as the status quo. And while it would be a boring world indeed if we all agreed on everything, the foundations have been laid on which the future will be built – and right now, I can’t say I have a lot of faith in tomorrow.

Man’s inhumanity to man seems to know no bounds. Wars and atrocities continue unabated in Syria, Yemen, Israel, Palestine, the Philippines…. the value of human life seems to be spiraling downwards. Christmas shoppers in Berlin, concert-goers in Paris, a man in his 60s getting out of his car in Dublin – the last-day lottery. Personal safety is becoming thing of the past.

Homeless figures in Dublin are staggering. As they are in many other cities around the world. And this while buildings stand empty in the clutches of the receivers. If I had one wish for Christmas it would be that we’d have less of ‘We can’t do it because….’ and more of ‘We can do it, if….’ That would be some present for the world.

20161225_104221_resizedAnd speaking of presents, I got an amazing one this year from a very dear friend in California – a simple handmade paper star bearing the word, restoration. Naturally, there’s a story behind it, but there’s one ahead of it, too. This is the word that will guide me in 2017, a word that has already taken root inside me.

While the world was losing its marbles this year, my little world was tripping along rather nicely, thank you very much. It did a minor 180 degree spin with life taking on a momentum of its own. Quick decisions were made, the kind that have lasting consequences. I seem to have accumulated more material trappings (a house, a car, a hula hoop). And while I had thought I wanted travel and freedom and the excitement of never knowing where to next month,  I find myself craving the countryside, the quiet, the calm.

For the first time in living memory, I can think of somewhere I’d rather be this Christmas. The rather is marginal, mind you, but it’s there. I find myself reevaluating what I mean by home and where it is. Nancy Reagan said once that homes are really no more than the people who live in them. And while it’s really great to be back in Ireland, I’m looking forward to going home soon. Yes, it’s a home-in-the-making, but it’s one I’m extremely grateful for.  Who’d have thunk it, eh? Could I be growing up?

Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

 

 

 

2016 Grateful 2

From posh cocktails on the Southside to garlic chips in an inner-city chipper – a night out in Dublin has it all. Especially if it’s with de wimmen – all frocked up.

20161215_175248_resizedAmbling up Dawson Street to meet the rest of de Wimmen at Peruke and Periwig, we stopped in at the Mansion House to see the live crib. Every morning, a farmer from north Dublin brings in a couple of sheep, a goat, and a donkey. He can’t believe that some kids in Dublin have never seen real animals up close and in person. The mind boggles. The grounds of the Mansion House, home to Dublin’s Lord Mayor, have been transformed into a winter wonderland. Perfect to set the mood.

In then to Peruke and Periwig, a rather posh stop-off on Dawson Street with three floors carefully kitted out to look like your great-grandmother’s living room, had your great-grandmother been part of the landed gentry of the day. They boast a very extensive cocktail menu with their original take on a lot of old classics. And they know their stuff. Last time we came to drink. This time we came to eat, too. And it was all rather lovely. We had three hours before our table was needed for the next shift so we couldn’t get too comfortable but a 6pm start meant we could still get mileage out of the sparkly tops.

As we paid the bill we talked about where to next. I mentioned an older old friend of ours whom we hadn’t seen since my birthday and said it would be good to catch up with him. A septuagenarian of regular habits, we knew he’d be in one of two pubs  – one in town, another in the ‘burbs – so we hopped it a taxi and went off in pursuit. The taxi driver was highly amused at the the thoughts of us moving from Dawson Street to Dorset Street but was happy enough to drive us around. He listened as we ran through various plays we’d seen and actors we liked and theatres we’d visited (which just happened to be the subject we landed on as he drove off) and told us we should do a vlog. YouTube, he said, would love us. We might even get more people going to the theatre and get ourselves free tickets.  He’d been highly entertained.

20161215_214917_resizedWe found our mate in what we all knew as Joxers but it’d been a while and it had now reverted to its original name – The Long Island. Another living room came to mind when I saw the altar-like effect in the back corner underneath the TV showing the darts. All a little mad. And while the boys in P&P had been full of information about their menu, the lads here were just full of chat. Service was great. And the banter was everything.

We stayed still those working the next day called a halt and when we ambled out on to the street to get a taxi, I was overcome by a craving for chips. And I wasn’t wanting for company. We descended on the local chippie – a Turkish place with one customer (from Transylvania) and a chap from Pakistan  behind the counter. The changing face of Ireland.

20161216_002739_resizedWe ordered two kebabs and garlic chips, which we devoured with far more gusto that we had the posh meal earlier at P&P, an irony that wasn’t lost on us. You can dress us up and take us out and we can do the posh restaurants and the fancy cocktails, but we get just as much pleasure from a few jars in the local followed by a bag of chips.

This week, I’m grateful that my world isn’t segmented, that I’m not boxed in. I’m grateful that I have the wherewithal to ratchet up or down depending on what the occasion requires. And I’m grateful, too, that I have the type of friends willing to ratchet with me.

 

 

2016 Grateful 3

I’m gullible. I can be easily persuaded and often times find myself committing to stuff I really don’t want to do. Take last week, for instance. I had something to do and some place to go on Friday but I let myself be talked into going to a gig on A38 as well … for two reasons. (1) I’d never been and (2) my crush of 2016 was playing.

a38On the night, we ran around like the proverbial blue-arsed flies trying to do all we had to do and still make it to the ship at a reasonable hour. Yes, A38 is a boat, anchored by Petőfi híd, in the Danube.

On stage tbdhat night were the magnificent Braindogs. The collection formed to play a tribute night to Tom Waits back in 2004 and have been doing gigs together every so often ever since, and always on Tom Waits’s birthday. What a line up. London-based Soul-blues singer Ian Siegel (whom Tom Waits seemingly holds in very high regard, ranking him up as one of the best around); the brilliant Ripoff Raskolnikov from Graz (who some say could have been one of the greats worldwide had he had the ambition – now there’s a man who has mastered the meaning of ‘enough’); the ever-so gorgeous and talented Kiss Tibor from the Hungarian band Quimby and a regular with the Budapest Bár; Varga Livius, who also plays with Quimby; the mad pianist Nagy Szabolcs; and of course, my man Frenk, who this time left down his guitar and took up his drumsticks – so talented that man, so talented. It was a great night, despite my misgivings. And to think that I’d nearly cried off and given my ticket away. What I’d have missed!

A little into the gig, the penny dropped. We had tickets to another gig on Sunday night at Muzikum Klub to see a blues guy I’d never heard of (no surprise there, given how musically illiterate I am) – and it turns out that it was the very same Ian Siegel.

1060Word has it that had Siegel been born into a different generation and been gigging in the 60s, we’d be talking about him in the same breath as Van the Man and Joe Cocker. But the 70s were his playground.  Two years after he was asked unexpectedly to sing with this cousin’s band one night (he was a roadie with them at the age of 16) he picked up a guitar.  He was bitten. After  dropping out of art school and busking in Berlin, he started doing the circuit. His was a slow burner. Opening for Bill Wyman in 2003 finally got him the attention he deserved. He toured with Muddy Waters’s son Big Bill Morganfield and finally made it to the states in 2006 after topping the Soul/Blues/Jazz charts in Holland the previous year.

Of all the gigs he’s played, it was his guest appearance with 92-year-old jazz pianist Pinetop Perkins and some of the other remaining members of Muddy Waters’s band at London’s Jazz Café in 2005 that stands out. Later, at a festival in Norway, the boys returned the favour and joined him, unplanned, on stage. That I’d have loved to see.

This week, I’m grateful for the music – again. Last weekend it was Tchaikovsky, Schubert, and Bártok. This weekend it was The Braindogs, and Ian Siegal. You can’t say I’m not doing my homework. I’m grateful, too, that it’s all so affordable, so plentiful, and so much fun.

And, as an early resolution for 2017, I’m going to continue experimenting and call on my music-heads in Budapest (you know who you are) to keep me posted on stuff I might find interesting.

PS Ripoff Raskolnikov plays Muzikum on 22 December and I’m RAGING I’m missing it

 

2016 Grateful 5

The Internet has come under fire this week for contributing to the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the USA through fake news and filter bubbles. Both Google and Facebook are now taking measures to address this – a little like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. But hey, it’s something.

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake any more. With so much information out there, it’s nigh on impossible to be certain of anything. Poems, quotations, and thoughts are attributed to myriad people and even those sites that claim to be definitive sources disagree. Is it any wonder that I am ‘confused in a world of fake illusions’.

Having been schooled by one of Hungary’s best Hungarian-English translators, I’m quite vigilant about crediting translators but that vigilance is often thwarted because they’re rarely mentioned.

I want to share a poem with you this week, posted by a friend in Switzerland: It is forbidden by Alfredo Cuervo Barrero. I did my due diligence – to make sure that Alfredo Cuervo Barrero actually wrote it and to find the name of the translator.

In my trolling, I discovered that the poem first appeared online on July 23, 2001 on the website deusto.com [which no longer exists] and that it has (often) been mistakenly attributed to Pablo Neruda. Despite some serious effort on my part, I couldn’t find the name of a translator, anywhere.** So to post or not to post?

In an age replete with do’s and don’ts, I thought this litany of laws, were they enforced, would make for a better world. I’m grateful to the lovely ASV for sharing it and in a week where my menopausal mood has made me not want to be around myself, it’s given me a lot to think about.

It is forbidden by Alfredo Cuervo Barrero

What is truly important?
I look for the answer inside myself
And it is so hard to find it
False ideas invade my mind
Used to disguise what it doesn’t understand
Confused in a world of fake illusions
Where vanity, fear, wealth
Violence, hate, indifference
Are the worshiped heroes
I am not amazed there is so much confusion!
So much distancing from all, so much disenchantment
You ask me, how can one be happy
How can one live among so much deceit
Each one has to answer for themselves

Though for me, now and forever:

It is forbidden to cry without learning,
to wake up one day not knowing what to do,
to be afraid of your memories.

It is forbidden not to smile at your problems,
not to fight for what you want. It is forbidden
to abandon everything because you are scared of making your dreams come true

It is forbidden not to show your love,
It is forbidden to make someone pay for your debts and to be in a bad mood.

It is forbidden to leave your friends,
not to try to understand the memories made together,
and call them only when you need them.

It is forbidden not to be yourself in public,
to pretend with people you don’t care about,
to be funny just so they will remember you,
to forget all the people who really love you.

It is forbidden not to do things by yourself,
not to believe in God and forge your own destiny,
to be afraid of life and its commitments,
not to live each day as if it was your last sigh.

It is forbidden to miss someone without
Cheering up when remembering them, to forget their eyes, their smile,
just because your paths stopped embracing,
to forget their past; paying it only with their present.

It is forbidden not to try to understand people,
to think that their lives are more valuable than yours,
not to know that each one has their path and their glory

It is forbidden not to create your own story,
not to have a moment for people who need you,
not to understand that whatever life gives it can also take away.

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[**Since posting, I’ve been told that this was translated by Gonzalo de Cesare, Director at Euro-LatinAmerican Institute for Justice and Rule of Law, Peru.]

2016 Grateful 6

I bought a washing machine a couple of months ago and every time I go play scrabble, Facebook throws out an ad for a washing machine. I’ve been reduced to venting my frustration at the ineptitude of its advertising algorithms by screaming at my laptop: I’ve already bought a bloody washing machine. I don’t need another!

I checked on flights to Barcelona recently and now, when I read an article online, ads pop up for cheap fights to the city. I detest Google and Facebook and all those other online entities who take my data and then feed me stuff they think I should want to know. Back in 2012, I wrote a post for Diplomacy.edu entitled Google… stop thinking for me.  Today, 2016, Google still ain’t listening.

But occasionally, just occasionally, I get a result.

Had my e-book leak1nding library not compiled data on my preferences and tracked my reading patterns, I might never have met Adrian McKinty, an Irish novelist, born in Belfast in 1968. An obviously intelligent bloke – law at the University of Warwick and politics and philosophy at the University of Oxford – it comes through in his novels. After a spell State-side (Harlem, New York, and Denver, Colorado where he taught high-school English) he’s now living in Melbourne, Australia. I’d never heard of him. His name didn’t ring even the tiniest of bells. But everything else I was ak2looking for was taken so when one of his books popped up on a list of recommended reading, I checked it out. 

Three books, a train journey, and seven days later, I’ve finished the Dead Trilogy and have become quite partial to Michael Forsythe, the main character. I’ve learned more about the Troubles in Northern Ireland than I ever did from a history book. I’ve gotten an insight into the phenomenon of Irish gangs in New York. I’ve felt the senseless stupidity of exacting a grudge-like revenge. I’ve gotten some sense of the futility of life when ideology clouds reason and turns logic into the lyrics of a song that plays like a broken record.

I was born the year the Troubles began, in 1968. That world of violence was all I knew – people murdered, maimed, kneecapped, bombed. I don’t remember a time without a major atrocity of some kind every week.
I think if you grow up in a culture where the army is out on the street sighting you with rifles, it has to have some kind of psychological impact.

Told in the first person, the trilogy rings true. Quite possibly because McKinty is writing about a world with which he is all too familiar. The path Forsythe takes might well have been a path he could have taken himself, had things been different.

In the crime fiction section, you may just find a novel that talks about the place where you’re from and speaks to you about your life – or the life yours could have become if a little misfortune had come your way.

ak3Occasionally, the narrative skips ahead a few years, with Forsythe talking about what he would do in the future and far from annoying me and ruining the suspense, it alleviated the worry .Yes, of course, I knew it’s a trilogy and he had to be alive at least until the third one started, but these occasional reminders did the heart good as the battle raged.
The murals and the walls in Belfast now wear a different paint. Memories of a night in a Working Man’s Club in Andersonstown all those years ago came flashing back. Marion Coyle, Eddie Gallagher, Rose Dugdale, Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey – all household names in our gaff in the 1970s. The Sundays in July when my dad would head out in full uniform to Bodenstown Cemetery where the Republicans convened for their annual pilgrimage at Wolfe Tone’s graveside. It was all there but yet not there. Real but at the same time very unreal. A sense of unfulfilled anticipation for which we were grateful.
I love the trilogy form. I like the idea that you can establish a character in book one. And then in the second part, you can take the characters down to their darkest point. And then in the third part, you have total freedom either to give them redemption – or just to kill them.

And he did. All that. And more. McKinty has a lovely turn of phrase, a noir-type mastery of dialogue, and a bevvy of descriptives that beg a second savouring.So this week, for once, I’m grateful for the algorithm that coughed up this trilogy. Worth a read. Definitely worth a read.

2016 Grateful 7

It’s hard to go back, they say. Things never quite live up to how you remember them. If they were great, they’ll be not so great. If the place was gorgeous, it’ll be a little less gorgeous. If your time there was miserable, it’ll be even more miserable.

Sure, I’ve gone to places and loved them and then gone back years later to find it had all changed, or it was smaller, grubbier, not nearly as nice as I remembered it. It could well have been, of course, that the company was different, or my mood had changed, and the place was still exactly the same. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it; I simply move on.

That said, when I go back somewhere and it’s even better than I remember, that’s bonus. Something to be grateful for.

A number of years and a lifetime ago, I was driving down by the Balaton on a Sunday morning and happened across an outdoor market in the village of Káptalantóti called Liliomkert. I remember being impressed at the time and thought that if I were down that way again, I’d definitely drop by.

Fast forward three years or so, and the same market came up in conversation with a friend whose mum lives in the village. Down by the Kis Balaton, this time, on a Sunday, we decided to take as spin over and check it out. It was a bank holiday weekend, so all the vendor stalls were taken. The place was heaving. The weather was cooperating and the sun was shining. It was a glorious day.

I came, I saw, and I spent my money. Three times, I got so carried away with being able to hold a semblance of a conversation in Hungarian, that I walked away without paying. Three times they called be back, looking for money. But such is life in the countryside that no one was all that bothered. They’d have caught up with me sooner or later.

I’m going through a phase at the minute, a painted phase. I’m quite taken with painted wood, something I wouldn’t have thanked you for eight years ago when I was doing up the flat in Budapest.  I was quite chuffed with this bench, a market find for the upstairs balcony. Come summer, I plan on taking my morning coffee sitting on it while looking down over the fields to the lake I know is behind the trees. Right now, it’s too bloody cold, although with the leaves gone, we can actually see the lake.

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And ever since I came across the idea of vertical bookshelves on a trip to San Francisco, I can’t get enough plant stands. As this is the only part of the house that has a wealth vibe (in Feng Shui terms), I needed something that would take a lot of very specific colours and a money plant to channel that chi. And ya gotta love the whole shabby chic thing… a great excuse not to sand and paint – just leave it. Peeling paint is all the rage.

Not quite sure what to do with a large white wall in a big kitchen space that will be redone (once the plant stand in the wealth corner starts producing money), I had a root through some carpets and kilims. And I scored this pair – hand-woven in Poland, with the original labels still attached. It adds some warmth, reduces the echo, and ties in nicely with some pieces I want to work on.

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There are few things I like more than a good market. Add the open air, some sunshine, and a little patience, and I am guaranteed a great day out. There was food, music, wine, coffee, pálinka, and lots to laugh about. Lots to be thankful for there. A must, if you’re in the neighbourhood.

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2016 Grateful 8

I’m sure, like millions of others, I’m giving away personal data online that is being mined for profit by those who’ve made the Internet their business. Do I read the terms and conditions that come attached with website registrations, software downloads, social media advertising? No. But not because I can’t be bothered, but because I don’t want to spend the time deciphering them.

And yet, my plan this week, a rather important one for the world, is to devote my free time to try to trying to decipher the Earl of Rochester’s Satyr against reason and mankind. Somehow, it seems appropriate.

I’m grateful for the Internet for coughing up a copy of this seventeenth-century poem and to the Earl for giving me something to do. I wonder what he’s thinking about today…

Were I (who to my cost already am

One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he’ll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes
Through error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake th’ escaping light;
The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.

Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense
Of pleasing others at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains
That frights th’ enjoyer with succeeding pains.
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools:
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
‘Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate.

But now, methinks, some formal band and beard
Takes me to task. Come on, sir; I’m prepared.

“Then, by your favor, anything that’s writ
Against this gibing, jingling knack called wit
Likes me abundantly; but you take care
Upon this point, not to be too severe.
Perhaps my muse were fitter for this part,
For I profess I can be very smart
On wit, which I abhor with all my heart.
I long to lash it in some sharp essay,
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay
And turns my tide of ink another way.

“What rage ferments in your degenerate mind
To make you rail at reason and mankind?
Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven
An everlasting soul has freely given,
Whom his great Maker took such care to make
That from himself he did the image take
And this fair frame in shining reason dressed
To dignify his nature above beast;
Reason, by whose aspiring influence
We take a flight beyond material sense,
Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce
The flaming limits of the universe,
Search heaven and hell, Find out what’s acted there,
And give the world true grounds of hope and fear.”

Hold, mighty man, I cry, all this we know
From the pathetic pen of Ingelo;
From Patrick’s Pilgrim, Sibbes’ soliloquies,
And ’tis this very reason I despise:
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he’s an image of the infinite,
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest;
This busy, puzzling stirrer-up of doubt [80]
That frames deep mysteries, then finds ’em out,
Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools
Those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose wings, each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe;
So charming ointments make an old witch fly
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.
‘Tis this exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and impossibilities,
This made a whimsical philosopher
Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs who
Retire to think ’cause they have nought to do.

But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent:
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.
Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right reason, which I would obey:
That reason which distinguishes by sense
And gives us rules of good and ill from thence,
That bounds desires, with a reforming will
To keep ’em more in vigour, not to kill.
Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat;
Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;
Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for food, that answers, “What’s o’clock?”
This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures:
‘Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

Thus I think reason righted, but for man,
I’ll ne’er recant; defend him if you can.
For all his pride and his philosophy,
‘Tis evident beasts are, in their own degree,
As wise at least, and better far than he.
Those creatures are the wisest who attain,
By surest means, the ends at which they aim.
If therefore Jowler finds and kills the hares
Better than Meres supplies committee chairs,
Though one’s a statesman, th’ other but a hound,
Jowler, in justice, would be wiser found.

You see how far man’s wisdom here extends;
Look next if human nature makes amends:
Whose principles most generous are, and just,
And to whose morals you would sooner trust.
Be judge yourself, I’ll bring it to the test:
Which is the basest creature, man or beast?
Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,
But savage man alone does man betray.
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt
Nature’s allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise,
Inhumanly his fellow’s life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.

For hunger or for love they fight and tear,
Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear.
For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid,
From fear, to fear successively betrayed;
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:
His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;
The lust of power, to which he’s such a slave,
And for the which alone he dares be brave;
To which his various projects are designed;
Which makes him generous, affable, and kind;
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions in a forced disguise,
Leading a tedious life in misery
Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the bottom of his vast design,
Wherein man’s wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he acts, the ill he does endure,
‘Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,
For all men would be cowards if they durst.

And honesty’s against all common sense:
Men must be knaves, ’tis in their own defence.
Mankind’s dishonest; if you think it fair
Among known cheats to play upon the square,
You’ll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save:
The knaves will all agree to call you knave.
Wronged shall he live, insulted o’er, oppressed,
Who dares be less a villain than the rest.

Thus sir, you see what human nature craves:
Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves.
The difference lies, as far as I can see,
Not in the thing itself, but the degree,
And all the subject matter of debate
Is only: Who’s a knave of the first rate?

All this with indignation have I hurled
At the pretending part of the proud world,
Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise
False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies
Over their fellow slaves to tyrannize.

But if in Court so just a man there be
(In Court, a just man, yet unknown to me)
Who does his needful flattery direct,
Not to oppress and ruin, but protect
(Since flattery, which way soever laid,
Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);
If so upright a statesman you can find,
Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,
Who does his arts and policies apply
To raise his country, not his family,
Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,
Receives close bribes through friends’ corrupted hands—

Is there a churchman who on God relies;
Whose life, his faith and doctrine justifies?
Not one blown up with vain prelatic pride,
Who, for reproof of sins, does man deride;
Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretense,
With his obstreperous, saucy eloquence,
To chide at kings, and rail at men of sense;
None of that sensual tribe whose talents lie
In avarice, pride, sloth, and gluttony;
Who hunt good livings, but abhor good lives;
Whose lust exalted to that height arrives
They act adultery with their own wives,
And ere a score of years completed be,
Can from the lofty pulpit proudly see
Half a large parish their own progeny;
Nor doting bishop, who would be adored
For domineering at the council board,
A greater fop in business at fourscore,
Fonder of serious toys, affected more,
Than the gay, glittering fool at twenty proves
With all his noise, his tawdry clothes, and loves;

But a meek, humble man, of honest sense,
Who preaching peace, does practice continence;
Whose pious life’s a proof he does believe
Mysterious truths, which no man can conceive.
If upon earth there dwell such God-like men,
I’ll here recant my paradox to them,
Adore those shrines of virtue, homage pay,
And, with the rabble world, their laws obey.

If such there be, yet grant me this at least:
Man differs more from man, than man from beast.

by Unknown artist, oil on canvas, circa 1665-1670

by Unknown artist, oil on canvas, circa 1665-1670

2016 Grateful 9

Being Irish, I have an abiding sense of tragedy that sustains me through temporary periods of joy. Words to that effect have been attributed both Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats but I’m going for Yeats – they seem more poetic and less Wildey to me.

y4I’m a fan of the man. Have been for years. That’s not to say I’m any sort of authority on his work or indeed his life. I’m not. Definitely not. But ever since coming across the album Now and in a time to be, I’ve been a fan. Touted as a musical celebration of the works of WB Yeats, the playlist is classic, and all the more so because the man apparently believed that his poems should be put to music:

1. Under Ben Bulben – Richard Harris
2. An Irish Airman Forsees His Death – Shane MacGowan & Cafe Orchestra
3. Politics – Karl Wallinger
4. Before the World Was Made – Van Morrison
5. A Song of the Rosy-Cross – Mike Scott & Sharon Shannon
6. The Fish – Sinead Lohan
7. Gort Na Sailean (Down by the Salley Gardens) – Tamalin
8. The Four Ages of Man – World Party
9. The Song of Wandering Aengus – Christy Moore
10. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven – Nervous
11. The Stolen Child – The Waterboys
12. Yeat’s Grave – The Cranberries
13. Lake Isle Of Innisfree – W.B. Yeats
14. Under Ben Bulben – Richard Harris y3

I was living in Valdez at the time, a small Alaska town whose shopping experience was (and perhaps still is) limited. Retail therapy was scarce. But at one stage, there was a music store and it was there that I came across the CD. I bought a copy and after listening to it, went back and bought y2two more. I then had them order in another couple as they made great gifts. I had no luck finding the CD in Ireland or since, for that matter. But I played it over and over and over again. It was while listening to The Waterboys version of Stolen Child that I got my stolenchild moniker.

Fast forward a few years to a dinner in Budapest with the Dix duo and an introduction to yet another compilation of the poet’s work put to music – The Waterboys album, An Appointment with Mr Yeats, reviewed to some acclaim. I listened to it a couple of times and then filed it. With my other CDs.

y5I prefer to work in silence so I rarely listen to music. Unless I’m driving. And I’ve not been driving much till recently. Now that I’m back on the road, the CDs are being dusted off and old joys are being discovered.

This week, I’m grateful to have a car. And while  I’m having to recalibrate my shopping habits given the rural nature of life, I’m grateful that the closest shops keeping convenient opening hours are 30 minutes away. So I get to drive. And I get to listen to music. And I’m really happy to have rediscovered an old favourite.

 

2016 Grateful 10

Dear Lord, give me time. Twenty-four hours in a day simply isn’t enough. Not this week. Or last week. Or next week. It should be alright by mid-November though, so if I can’t get more time, help me make the best use of the time I have.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this busy. So busy that eating and sleeping are taking a back seat. It doesn’t help that I view deadlines as immovable objects. Once committed, I have to deliver. I need to stop committing in the first place.

And yet, amidst all this burning of midnight oil, I’m reminded of a poem by Robert Frost – A Time to Talk.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

And I know that no matter what else is going on in my world, no matter how much effort it takes, it’s important that I make time for those friendly visits. They might be shorter than I’d like, or not as frequent, but they still need to happen.

So apologies if I seem a tad distracted, or am later than usual in returning a call or a text. Or perhaps I haven’t called at all. It’s not that I’m not thinking of you or wondering how you’re doing. It’s not that I’m not curious about how life is faring in your corner of the world. It’s just that I’m on a learning curve as to how best to manage my time and negotiating that first hurdle whose name is over-commitment.

But despite the angst and the sleeplessness and the bone-tiredness that’s currently my lot, I’m grateful to have the work coming in, to enjoy what I do, and to be able to see an end to it all.

pooh-gratitude

2016 Grateful 11

When it comes to presents, I like mine to be consumable. I’m a great fan of gift vouchers.  A recent gift of an Amazon Gift Card allowed me to meet the wonderful Poke Rafferty and explore life in Bangkok. A massage voucher took me to the Buda Hills, where I got to see the remnants of one of the first golf courses in Europe. And a trio of tokens for a chain of wine shops in the city opened up new vineyards, hitherto untasted. Yep – others might think gift vouchers as an easy way out, but me … I like ’em.

When it comes to housewarming gifts, I tend to go with tradition. Booze is always a good one. In Hungary, judging by the number of jars of honey I received when I moved into my flat, I think that’s a safe traditional pick for this part of the world.

Last weekend, I was introduced to a new line in gift giving, one that’s been around for eons apparently but to date had managed to escape my notice.

Bread: So that the house may never know hunger…or…so your cupboards will always be full

Salt: So life may always have flavor

Wine: So that you always have joy and never be thirsty (or always be in a good mood)

Honey: So that you may always enjoy the sweetness of life

Candle: So that you may dwell in light and happiness

It certainly beats a toaster in the creativity stakes. Am not sure about always being in a good mood though – that might get a little tiresome.

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And there’s more

Broom: So your home may always be clean … or … to help sweep away any evil and bad luck

Coin: So you may dwell in good fortune

Plant: So your home always has life

Wood: So your home has stability, harmony, and peace

And grateful though I am for the introduction to this particular tradition, I’m even more grateful that there was no rice!

PS. If anyone has any culture-specific gifts to add to the list, please share. Am officially curious.