2016 Grateful 34

You don’t just wake up great one day. That’s not the way it works. What you get out of life is directly related to what you put into it. So if you think you can cut corners, skip workouts and deny your body the fuel it needs, there will be benches for you to ride and records for you to miss. But it you believe that excellence is something earned, tear open a bag. We’ve got work to do.

Ok – they had me until the ‘tear open a bag thing’ because gullible and all as I am, I don’t really believe that tearing open a bag of Oberto Original Beef Jerky is going to radically change my life, or get me off the bench and breaking records. But as advertising blurbs go, it’s not bad.

20160507_105714_resized

And it got me reading all of the back of the bag. The jerky contains beef from one or more of the following sources: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay. Quite an eclectic set of cows.  Oberto is a Seattle-based  family owned company, in business since 1918, so they must be doing something right. They say their jerky has 13 g of protein and is 97% fat-free with no added MSG. It’s also gluten-free and all natural – no artificial ingredients they say, just beef, sugar, water, beef stock, salt, spices and natural flavorings, natural smoke flavor and vinegar. And it’s MINIMALLY PROCESSED!!!

This was what made me open the bag in the first place.

Last weekend, I’d ventured over to Buda to try out a new vegan restaurant. Vegan Love. Not because I’m vegan or anything approaching it, but I was with a friend who is vegetarian and another who is leaning in that direction. And there is something about eating vegetarian or vegan that makes me feel … well … righteous. Vegans, by the way, have a plant-based diet. No eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. 

[As an aside, did you catch the hoohaa about the California Vegan-cafe owners who were discovered eating beef this week, beef from cows they raised on their own farm? Honestly. They’ve even had death threats. So much for my vision of the Vegan community being a peaceful lot. And as for not being allowed to change your mind? mmmmm]

Anyway, we ordered and ate.

Cardboard trays and wooden cutlery? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have regular ceramic  and stainlesssteel that could be washed and reused rather than cutting down trees and then having to trust the recycling process? Perhaps there’s a logic there that I’m missing. No one else seemed to have an issue with it as the place was heaving, and it continued to heave in waves for as long as we were there.

azsiai_vegan_burger_copyWe all had the same thing: the shiitake mushroom quinoa burger, with chips. And the chips were great. The salad was fresh. But the burger tasted processed. As if it had been through hell and back before it landed on my plate. I did a quick search on vegan foods and processing and found the site Wake the Wolves. And yep, seems like that’s one of the inherent risks in eating out if you’re vegan. I read the article and was again (that’s twice in one day) take by the blurb at the end.

Remember that FOOD IS INFORMATION and the food choices you make today will play a direct role in the quality of your skin, your ability to lose/gain weight, your mood, your ability to absorb nutrients, and so much more. Avoiding processed foods and EATING REAL is one of the best (and most immediate) things you can do to improve your health right now.

So I’ve decided. Rather than becoming vegan or vegetarian or whatever, I am going to be a nonprocessedatarian and do my damnedest to keep my intake of processed food to an absolute minimum.

With that decision safely behind me, this week I’m grateful for friends returning from abroad who took the time to fill my shopping list and go the extra mile and bring a variety of jerky. I’m grateful that Oberto was one of them.

2016 Grateful 35

Am just a tad gobsmacked at how gobsmacked I am that Germany has come up with the bright idea of putting traffic lights in the ground so that people on their phones might have a better chance of seeing them. How clever is that? And how sad.

phonelaneIMG_4357 (800x600)Smombie – a mutation of smartphone and zombie – is a new word used to describe the hordes of people who walk around on glued to their phones. A clever mutation. But so sad.

IMG_4418 (800x600)IMG_4358 (800x600)IMG_2265 (800x600)IMG_2267 (800x600)In China, there are pedestrian lanes for those using smartphones and those not using smartphones. Another clever reaction to how life is changing but again, a sad reflection of society today. And it has to be true. I read it all in the Guardian.

So much of what’s around us goes unseen. We’re glued to our screens. Phones, Kindles, Tablets. And while we’re busy staying in touch with our worlds, the world around us goes unnoticed.

IMG_4354 (600x800)Ages ago, someone somewhere commented on my thing for taking photographs. They said that I never really look at anything. Never really see it. Never really appreciate it. I argued at the time that my search for one great photograph meant that I looked at so much more, and noticed so much more, and saw so much more because I was always engaged with what was around me.

My photos may never win prizes. They’re often out of focus. I might look at them once and never again. I don’t print them. Or put them in albums. Or really share them, except in blogs. But in taking them, I see. My camera makes me look up. It makes me look around. It makes me pay attention. And I’d mucIMG_4355 (600x800)h prefer to be looking through a lens than looking at a phone.

And when I’m not looking at doors, or graffiti, I’m looking at shop signs. Particularly old-fashioned trade symbols that tell stories about what’s being made, when it started, who’s in residence. So much detail. So much missed.

I think I’ll keep looking up, and keep looking around, and be grateful when I don’t trip over or bump into someone. It definitely beats the alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Grateful 36

Bloody brilliant. That’s it. Can’t think of anything that describes last night any  better than that. Bloody brilliant.

Booking tickets for a gig online is quite the challenge when your Hungarian is a good as mine. I never quite know what I’m getting so I hazard a guess. I booked platinum passes for this weekend’s Get Closer jazz festival figuring they were mid-range price-wise and should be okay.  I was sure we’d be standing by the stage. Instead we were upstairs, second row balcony.

We  went to the wrong venue (my bad) but had plenty of time in hand to find the right one (my good). A first time for me to be in the lovely mOmKult. We were in the first twenty or so to arrive shortly after 6 pm and when the first of four groupsn lined up took to the stage, I was a little dubious about how long I’d last before falling asleep. I’m not all that into improvisation and it seemed to my uneducated ear that the drummer in the Chris Devil Trio was just a tad too into what he was doing and the other two lads weren’t getting a look-in at all. Add that to the rig-out the guitarist was wearing… talk about a distraction! But hey, others were clapping so it was obviously just me.

Second up, after some delay, was Csaba Tóth Bagi and the Balkan Union. The crowd had gotten a little bigger and the atmosphere was starting to warm up.  Csaba was born in Serbia and looks a little Hawaiian. He has a voice that belongs to an old soul. Amazing. Reading up on him, it seems as if the world has been watching him for years. His name is bandied about in the same sentences as the likes of Ennio Morricone, Al Di Meola, and Butch Thomas. An impressive performance and one I’d happily see again, and again. Together, the four lads looked more like a country and western band than a jazz quartet – so much for appearances. Each one of them was as talented as the next. A stunning performance. Will definitely be keeping an eye out for them.

I commented to BF that if the line-up kept improving exponentially, we were in for a treat. We were running about 45 minutes late at this stage. Band No. 3 never appeared. But the place was filling up – still nowhere near full – but filling. It was later still before the headline trio made their appearance, the ones I’d come to see. The GFS Trio.

With Indian Trilok Gurtu on percussion, Italian Paolo Fresu on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Cuban Omar Sosa on piano – it was gobsmackingly brilliant to watch. Gurtu is simply amazing on percussion – what he does with a tin bucket of water defies belief. Fresu, looking like a cross between Ireland’s Eamon Dunphy and Seinfeld’s Cosmo, ties himself into fantastic contortions as he becomes one with his horns. And Sosa takes playing the piano to a whole new level – he had four keyboards in front of him and was playing two together most of the time. They seem to play Budapest every year so next year is already in the diary. 

This gig is the first of what promises to be a summer of gigs. Next up is a broadway celebration on Friday. Then May starts with  Manhattan Transfer at Mupa and ends with the musical Cabaret. June is US jazz great Stacey Kent playing outdoors down on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). July is VeszprémFest with Lisa Stansfield on Friday and Jamie Cullum on Saturday, both outdoor gigs. Am also hoping we get to see Les Miserables down in Szeged. And then there’s Roisin Murphy and Kodaline playing Sziget on 13 August. I’ve never before been so organised.

After last night’s performance, I’m grateful that Budapest attracts so many good musicians and that their gigs are affordable and often in spectacular settings. R0ll on the summer – this time, I’m ready.

 

2016 Grateful 37

Sometimes, we journeystay in relationships for the good of others and to the detriment of ourselves We put up with situations for a quiet life, not caring about the damage we are doing to our souls. We sacrifice, we struggle, we stay, thinking we are doing the right thing. And slowly, we die. Alone in our misery. Unhappy.

Selflessness can be over-rated. People can give so much of themselves that they have nothing left to give to themselves. We can accomplish so much more if we are strong, sorted, sensible. And yet all too often we fail to prioritise our own health and wellbeing. We put others before ourselves. Understandable, yes. Especially for those with children and dependants. But what happens to our dependants when we break down, when we have neither the physical nor the emotional energy to care? What then?

Last week, I was grateful that I had shared an inaccurate post that led to the discovery of a wonderful poem, one that has stayed with me all week. This week, I’m grateful that a comment on that post led to the discovery of yet another one I think worth sharing.

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save the only life you could save.

 

2016 Grateful 38

Today, on Facebook, I did as I do on occasion – I shared someone’s post. A poem attributed to  Pablo Neruda that resonated with me, a poem about how we are dying slowly. In my original post, there was a misplaced apostrophe that bugged me. But not enough not to repost. I parked the anal me because I wanted to others to read it. And learn from it. And take note. So I hit the share button. 

aaaaaaa

Within minutes, I had a message from a mate telling me that it was incorrectly attributed. Along with the original. Maybe the Pablo Neruda version is a rework of the original by Martha Medeiros? I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve read it and read it and read it again and I like it more with each reading. I like it enough to share.

Die Slowly
by Martha Medeiros

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones i’s rather than a bundle of emotions,
the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel,
who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,
about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandons a project before starting it,
who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,
he or she who doesn’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
dies slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

Today, I’m grateful that I pushed the button. Had I not, I might never have known Martha Medeiros. I’m grateful for the reminder that life is for living. And I’m so grateful that the Martha’s original didn’t have a stray apostrophe.

2016 Grateful 39

After a week beset by broken cups, glasses, and printers, a week coloured by extreme mood swings that had me (and those around me) confused and disoriented trying to keep track of whether I should be laughing or crying, I have decided to face the inevitable… I can put it off no longer …  menopause looms.

With serious reservations about whether my emotional togetherness will weather the storm, I have to admit to being more than a little anxious. Not so much about the major decisions called for (think HRT or not HRT) or the physical discomfort entailed,  but more about the irrational behaviour. What, you say? I’m no stranger to irrationality? mmmmm

What I know about ‘the change’ as it’s so coyly referred to at home, could be written on the inside of a cigarette box (and yes, I foundered). Recent forays into the experiences of others have left me more than a tad nervous about what lies ahead.

Right now though – in what has been a pretty stable 36 hours, emotionally anyway – a reprieve from the madness, if you will, I’m so very grateful for a little humour and the chance to warn you of what’s to come.

Meno1

 

 

2016 Grateful 40

Back in January 2009, having moved into a newly refurbished flat that was no where near as finished as I’d hoped it to be, I had forsaken my right to call the landlord when something went wrong. I was the landlord.

Far from the near ecstasy I’d expected, I was feeling a little blah. Somehow I’d thought that being a property owner came with a newfound sense of maturity, an entry into the adulthood that had so far escaped me. But I felt no different.

I wasn’t depressed. I’ve suffered from depression and I don’t use the term lightly. It was more of a general WTF feeling. The anticlimax of reaching a goal, realising that life hadn’t changed all that much, and wondering what next.

I was in contact with a number of people around the world who were following my move to Budapest with some interest. Back then, I wrote real letters. I’d spend an afternoon in a bar over a few pints, penning away on my foolscap pages (lined, of course) and then braving the post office. Someone mentioned blogging. Explained that I could write and post and let people know what was going on. If they wanted to read, they would read. And it would give me something to do.

So I started.

On Friday, I posted my 1000th post. Hard to believe. What began as an account of my renovation/refurnishing morphed into a travel blog peppered with random reviews, a grateful series, and some general commentary on stuff. It’s fascinating to see what catches people’s attention. My most popular post-in-a-day with 407 hits in just one day began like this:

Down3I fell completely, madly, hopelessly in love today. I’d met him before, briefly, a couple of years ago, and while mildly taken with him then, it was nothing compared to what I experienced today. A drop in the ocean. A grain of rice in a paddy field. A grape in a vineyard. Today, I fell hook, line, and sinker. He’s cute. He’s blonde. He’s constantly smiling. And he’s two.

[Update: Finn now has a lovely little sister and is still making the world smile.]

My piece on Ágnes Gereb got more than 1100 hits…

While the rest of us have been busy getting on with our lives, most likely taking our freedom and ability to travel from A to B completely for granted, Dr Ágnes Geréb is still in detention, of sorts. Can it really be five years since I first wrote about her? Yes. I checked the dates. My piece published in the Budapest Times on 25 October 2010. And that’s as good as five years ago.

[Update: Ágnes is still battling for that same freedom the rest of us take for granted.]

One of the most read posts, with close on 700  curious to know more, also involved people. It began:

IMG_0341 (800x600)I love a good speech. And I love a good wedding. And it doesn’t get much better when you have both together. One of the lucky ones who got to see the gorgeous Dora Nyiregyhazki marry the equally gorgeous  Edward Quinlan in Budapest yesterday, I was struck, not for the first time, by the wonder that is marriage.

[Update: Mr and Mrs Quinlan are still poster children for the institution of marriage.]

A piece on migrants in Hungary also got a lot of attention:

refugees_walk_beside_motorwayHungary has made the news in Ireland. When I was there last week it seemed like all anyone was talking about was the migration situation. Pictures of Keleti train station. Pictures of Szeged. Pictures of the fence. Pictures of families sitting, waiting for an uncertain future. The one overriding question asked of me was “Is it as bad as they say?” And the only answer to that is no. It’s worse.

[Update: Syrian refugees (and many others) as still fleeing to Europe and Europe is still dithering about what to do.]

Given the month that’s in it, and in memory of the man who never failed to make me laugh, I can’t not mention Ronnie (RIP).

IMG_3375 (600x800)Each year, for the last four years, Ronnie Thompson would come to Budapest in March. The Londoner visited at other times, too, but it was his March visits that I best remember. Ronnie wouldn’t have won any prizes for being the tallest chap in the room, but he made up for it by being larger than life itself when he headed up the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in the city. Ronnie was our mascot – our leprechaun – our piece of magic that made the day special.

[Update: Ronnie was spoken of fondly at the recent St Patrick’s Day parade and was missed by many. Hope he was having a dram or three upstairs as he looked down on the shenanigans.]

All human interest. All stuff I like to write about. But I have a varied audience. Some are regular readers, some dip in and out, some save and catch up in bulk. When I travel, I write for a core few who, for whatever reason, don’t get to move around as much as they used to. And while those posts may not rack up the numbers, they’re even more important … to me. They’re my postcards, my letters from abroad, my way of staying in touch with people I’ve met along the way. People who have contributed to making me the person I am today. For better or worse 🙂

Thank you for reading.

2016 Grateful 41

There’s a lot to be said for being Irish. We have a finely honed sense of self-deprecation that means we laugh at ourselves before anyone else can put the boot in. Our mammies are a collective repository of such gems as:

  • A little birdie told me
  • How’d you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tasted it?
  • Don’t make me get up
  • There’s enough dirt in those ears to grow potatoes!
  • If you fall off that wall and break your legs don’t come running to me!

And we all recognise the following traits:

ST P

And while there are times it mightn’t be all that great to be Irish in Ireland (do we have a government yet?) it’s always good to be Irish abroad. This weekend in Budapest was a particular case in point.

I like to dress up. I like the long frocks and the heels and the black ties. I like the round tables, and the pomp and ceremony that goes with it all. But there’s a fine line between boring and brilliant – and these event can go either way. This year’s St Patrick’s Gala Dinner was the best of the four (?) I’ve been to. And to think that I nearly didn’t go! Me and 227 others sat down to eat at in the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel with an illuminated Buda Castle district as our backdrop. The views were stunning.

IRishBy way of entertainment, the Irish dancing was more of the Flatley kind than the traditional embroidered costumes and ringlets I was expecting. And while some traditionalists might have preferred the latter, I was mega impressed with what was on show. A lone male dancer held the stage, more than ably assisted by a bevvy of Hungarian females with figures to die for and talent oozing out of their heels. Speeches were short, sweet and to the point and the traditional music throughout the night was there – not too much there, but there. Irish music students from the Kodaly Institute were also on hand with some beautiful renditions of Irish songs – the Rattlin’ Bog went down a treat. Finishing off with a DJ was inspired – it was like a brilliant wedding …. without the bride and groom. Mind you, I did wonder at the Argentinian steak for the main course, but then remembered the Che Guevara was of good Irish stock, so that covered that:

The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels. —Ernesto Guevara Lynch, speaking of his son, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

GOod FridayIt was a late one. A very late one. And not for the first time, I wondered at our insatiable need to party on, and not stop till we drop. We had a pre-party, the party itself, and an after party. Give the considerable number of collective years of experience to hand, I have to admit to being more than a little impressed by our staying power. (Thanks to TJ and DJ for hosting.) Am already sorting a table for next year…

Sunday was understandably slow in starting but it, too, managed to wheedle the last ounce of energy from those still feeling the effects of the night before. The St  Patrick’s Day parade has become a feature of March life in Budapest and thousands showed up at Szabadság tér to follow St Patrick as he led the procession through the streets of the city to end up at Instant where more than a dozen bands set up shop in various rooms and corners to entertain the masses. From traditional pipers to pagan punk bellydancers, folk, trad, blues were all covered, too. Everyone was sporting a bit of green (even if this was simply looking green at the gills) and the general bonhomie was tangible. A brilliant day.

Massive amounts of organizing went into both events. Kudos to all those involved. I’m exceptionally grateful that all I had to do both days was show up and be Irish.

2016 Grateful 42

When I get something in my head, I’m like a chicken with a speck of blood.I start to fixate. I have even been known to obsess. Sometimes, though, life interrupts my efforts to realise whatever it is I’ve gotten wrapped up in and something else takes over. But not always.

Having discovered that the House on the Rock wasn’t one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations, I was determined to visit a building that was. Taliesin, his home place, was closed for the season so I had to look farther afield. Apparently some proud owners of Wright’s houses are happy for people to rock up to their front door and ask for a viewing but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. If I owned one, I can’t think of anything more annoying.  But GP, the queen of Wisconsin, came to the rescue.

IMG_3757 (800x600)IMG_3779 (800x600)In the city of Milwaukee there’s a church – the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. It was one of Wright’s last major commissions. He actually died before it was officially opened, which is a shame. A shame that he missed seeing the effect it has on people.

I was also eager to see it because I had heard that it was what Ayn Rand based the Stoddard Temple on in her book, The Fountainhead. But that bubble has burst. Stoddard, apparently, was based on a Wright-designed church, but on a 1906 Unitarian church he designed in Oak Park, Illinois – Unity Temple. [Fascinating article here on the Rand/Wright relationship.] But I didn’t know this when I was there. The one I was sitting in was built to human scale, with no traditional religious imagery (or minimal imagery, if you discount the floor plan being in the shape of a Greek cross). It matched.

IMG_3764 (800x600)IMG_3773 (800x600)It is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve been in. And so comfortable. Not a word I’d usually associate with a church. But why not? What is it about church architecture that says no to comfort? Perhaps people might spend more time in them if they were more IMG_3776 (800x600)welcoming.

The pre-service (if that’s what it was … ) started at 8.30 am so we had an early start to be sure to be there on time. When we arrived, the car park was nearly empty – not a good sign. And there were just four others in the church, not including the priest (cantIMG_3766 (591x800)or?), who was already in full voice. Did I mention it was Greek Orthodox?

I was clueless. We sat. We listened. I got lost. People started arriving around 9.20 and the mass itself started at 9.30. And people kept arriving. Conversation happened all the while. Old and young alike stopped to say hi to friends and neighbours. It was all very convivial and so not Roman Catholic. The choir in the upper balcony was in fine fettle. The congregation resembled the cast of My Big Greek Wedding and was remarkably white. It made for some great people watching. Two hours into it all, things were still going strong. But the pews were comfortable. I said that, right? As neither of us had been baptised into the Orthodox faith, we couldn’t take communion. This was clearly stated on the leaflet. But we could partake in the bread afterwards (even if I’m still not sure what that was about). It wasn’t easy to figure out the ritual or to understand all that was being said and sung. But it did feel holy. In a surreal sort of way.

I was particularly taken with how relaxed everyone was. And how right the church felt. How usable. How for the people. I’ve been in modern churches and not liked them much. I think they often fail to capture the spirit of it all. I’ve been to fabulous old ones, too, that while stunningly gorgeous, are just a tad too ornate to be real. But this was different. It was simple, usable, and cosy without being small. It didn’t take much imagination on my part to see the Man himself stopping by and sitting down for a chat.

Back in 1958, in a letter in which he refers to the church, Wright had this to say:

The edifice is in itself a complete work of modern art and science belonging to today but dedicated to ancient tradition—contributing to Tradition instead of living upon it.

This week, thousands of miles removed from Milwaukee, I’m grateful that I had the chance to experience Wright’s work. The last time I spent so long in a church was in Prague, one Easter, when I had to turn to someone standing beside me and check to make sure I was at mass, in a Roman Catholic Church. It went on forever with 13 readings … in Czech. That I resented. This was different. This was special.

 

 

 

2016 Grateful 43

IMG_3494 (800x600)IMG_3482 (800x600)IMG_3495 (800x600)In Wisconsin recently, I had cause to give the descriptive ‘new’ some thought. I knew that New Jersey was named after the Channel Island of Jersey and had always thought that New York was the American version of York – but not so. It was apparently named after the Duke of York. Had I  known that Glarus was a canton in Switzerland, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to hear that New Glarus in Wisconsin was called after it, too. But I didn’t know so I was surprised … surprised to see so many cows in an American town.

It was originally settled back in 1845 by some 108 Swiss pioneers who came to the USA in search of a better life; Switzerland was experiencing a depression of sorts at the time. Since then, others have followed – and IMG_3480 (800x600)still follow – to the point that Swiss-German is still spoken, the street signs are bilingual, and people can dance the polka. If you look up, you can see cows, too. Twee? Yes. But who am I to criticise – there are enough plastic leprechauns around the world to make anyone blush.

IMG_3523 (762x800)IMG_3510 (800x600)IMG_3471 (800x600)IMG_3503 (800x600)But all things Swiss aside, the town is most famous locally for its beer. The New Glarus Brewing Company‘s signature brew is  – yes – Spotted Cow. But it also has some other unusually named offerings like Two Women and Moon Man (CG, EZ, ZsG – you get samples; GG you get the marketing mags :-)) We did a self-guided tour and commented both on the clinical lack of smell and on the rather expensive samplers on offer in the tasting room. Just as well I’m not a beer-head.

There are  more than 100 microbreweries in the state and some vineyards, too, which surprised me given how bleedin’ cold it was. Hardy grapes they must be indeed. [I was delighted though to nab a bottle of Death’s Door – that good Wisconsin gin so highly recommended by my gin man at Castle Leslie – and at just $22, it put the amount of tax levied on Irish booze into stark perspective.] New Glarus was deserted – practically. But it didn’t take much to imagine how jammed it would be in the summer. Best avoided at the height of the season methinks.

IMG_3571 (800x600)But there was more to new than New Glarus. While in the state, I was introduced to a Brandy Old Fashioned for the first time and learned that WI drinks more brandy per year than all other states combined. The BOF comes in two forms – sweet and sour. For the sweet, you put a sugar cube in a glass and sprinkle with bitters. Then add an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Add some ice, top with brandy and a splash of club soda. For the sour, just replace the cherry with an olive; my preference. I had quite a few over the course of my few days in state and the best was definitely in Norm’s Hideaway– a fab neighbourhood bar on the lakeshore in Fort Atkinson, where I had my first ever Friday night fish fry. Walleye is a new fish favourite. Served with potato fritters and apple sauce, it was quite the mix. There was a wait – there’s nearly always a wait, but as Norm himself says:  Sit back, relax, and look at the wait as a time to enjoy a cocktail of choice and the company of those you’re with instead of getting impatient at us for being busy! I didn’t need to be told … not even once.

IMG_3925 (800x600)So a Brandy Old Fashioned and a down-home fish fry headed up my list of ‘new’ only to be beaten into second and third place, respectively, by frozen custard. Yep – frozen. Not the yellow runny Bird’s Eye stuff served piping hot that I grew up with or the lumpy cold stuff that goes into custard tarts but flavoured frozen custard that in my case took the form of a Turtle Sundae – frozen vanilla custard, warm caramel, topped with salted pecans and the dreaded cherry (ever since someone told me that maraschino cherries were preserved in formaldehyde, I’ve detested the things). Culver’s has been serving up fresh frozen custard since 1984. Their’s is an interesting story. My first was courtesy of the lovely GB  – a must-eat, he said, and he was right. My second was at the rival Kopp’s in Milwaukee. That one was so big (three scoops) that I had to share with MJP – herself a Kopp’s fan. On a mission now to find the best in the state, my third was from the award-winning Michael’s in Madison – which unlike the other two venues, ticked all the boxes in my imaginary American diner (a hat-tip to BP for the recommendation).

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But taste tells. And in the end, it was the Kopp’s one that did it for me. Perhaps because I got extra pecans. I wondered at my nephew’s mission to find the best hazi lemonade in Budapest when he visited last summer  – but he has something there. The search for the best certainly adds flavour to a holiday.

This week, as I bask in the warm glow of the extra poundage that came with such hands-on research, I’m grateful for the new experiences, the new tastes, the new flavours, the new friends. Life doesn’t get much better.

And one more cow…

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