2017 Gratefuls 10 and 9

I ran into Bono one night back in the early 1980s, in the TV Club in Harcourt Street in Dublin. I hadn’t a clue who he was. He didn’t impress me then and doesn’t do much for me now, either. But for years, other than occasional one-sentence comments made in passing with Nicholas Cage, Martin Sheen, and Mark Harmon, that conversation was as close to fame as I’d gotten. Fast forward a few decades to my first month in Budapest. I was invited down to the Balaton to see Bródy János in action. My friend was driving him down and I was going along for the ride. After the gig, in which he wowed young and old alike, we had dinner with the village mayor. English was as scarce as goose liver was plentiful. In my mind, I reckoned Bródy was the Hungarian version of Irish singer Christy Moore, both of whom use their music as a social commentary. [Am thinking Oblivious, which was, of course, written by Mick Blake, and They never came home – one of a few songs of his that were banned.]

Back in the 1970s, Bródy wasn’t at all backward about coming forward, speaking out again Communism with a nuance of innocence. His tongue-in-cheek approach was all the more effective for its implicitness.

In June 10, 1973 at a massive beat event in Diósgyőr, Bródy turned to fans and said “We also wish to thank for the work of the police forces. Yes, I’m serious, as there was many of you who already came here yesterday from Miskolc, many of you who couldn’t sleep anywhere, wanted to spend the night out in Avas. For them, the police provided shelter, even if not as comfortable as the bed at home, and let them out today morning, asking them if they slept well, and wishing them fun for tonight.”

I’ve run into him occasionally over the years. He even dropped by my birthday and sang for me a few years back. I had few favourites, like Szabadnak születtél  (Born to be free) and Egy hétig tart (It lasts for a week), both appealing to the hum-along in me. Last night, I went to see him in concert at the Budapest Kongresszusi Központ – an early Christmas present.  Me and almost every pensioner in town had made the journey, it would seem. The average age had to have been 60 – and it was brilliant to see the crowd lapping it all up. He’s a powerful performer.  Okay, so his voice has seen better days but he still has that presence., that almost grandfatherly sagacity that lends itself so well to  being heard.

His latest album Ráadás (Encore) has gone platinum (he accepted an award for it last night) has plenty to say, with tracks such as Magyarok közt európai (Hungarians are European) and Felföldiné estéje (It’s a nightmare); the latter really hit its mark.

Had the Hungarian lyrics not been running across two big screens on either side of the stage, I’d have been lost. But there was enough for me to make a guess at what the songs were about. As for the between-song commentary, that I had to judge from the audience’s reaction. I sensed, though, that one song – Birkaország (Sheep Country) might have struck a raw nerve, ‘A birka burka ára drága, Hát büszke légy, ha birka vagy’ (sheepskin is expensive, be proud to be a sheep).

To Bródy and Christy and Ripoff and all those musicians who write lyrics that ring true, give hope, and speak out, I’m grateful.

And, at the end of what have been a manic couple of weeks in an equally manic couple of months, I’m doubly grateful that I’m beginning to see the light. I have a lie-in scheduled for 10 November and so far, all going to plan, that’ll be the start of two glorious weeks in the village where the sum total of decisions I have to make will amount to little more than deciding which book to read or what movie to watch.

A reminder of what the Grateful series is.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

2017 Grateful 11

I was baptised into the Catholic Church. And for the large part of my adult life (when I got to choose whether or not to go to mass) I’ve been a regular Sunday mass-goer with the occasional mid-week celebration thrown in for good measure. I had a couple of years where I didn’t go. I was living in Alaska at the time, so perhaps it was a combination of simply not bothering and not having a regular priest that put paid to my religious attendance – I can’t remember.

I like going. But I prefer going to mass in a language other than English, as that way I can’t understand the sermon and I don’t get upset at a priest wasting 10 minutes of golden speaking time on a captive audience by not making his sermon relevant to twenty-first-century living. A few years back, for one liturgical year, I posted and recorded my own 3-minute sermons – sermons I’d have given on the day, had I been a priest, something that’s not likely to happen in my lifetime.

On being Catholic

I’ve taken schtick over the years for being Catholic, for being party to a religion that has been damned over and over for turning a blind eye to abuse, for aiding and abetting Nazis in the aftermath of WWII, for atrocities in Franco’s Spain (CJ Sansom’s Winter in Madrid, albeit a novel, was eye-opening). The list seems endless at times. Let us not forget that the Roman Catholic Church, like most religions, is a man-made institution and subject to human faults and failings – not an excuse just something to bear in mind. My relationship is with my God, rather than with my church. My church and I differ on a number of issues, as do my friends and I, too. My religion is my faith. That it bears the Catholic brand is something that doesn’t put in on me one way or another.

Without weighting the various atrocities and scandals associated with the Catholic Church in order of perceived atrociousness or level of scandal, one that has bothered me consistently over the years is the part the Vatican played in the Ratlines and Pope Pius XII’s associations with Hitler. John Cornwell’s article in Vanity Fair back in 2013 left me reeling. Perhaps this is why I’m always inordinately pleased to discover someone of church ranking back then who did some good, who stood up  and lived their faith.


God has no country

In Killarney recently, I happened across a man I’d never heard of. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a Kerry man, aka The Vatican Pimpernel or The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, a man immortalised by Gregory Peck in the movie, The Scarlet and the Black. His was a fascinating life. His life is also immortalised by actor/director/playwright Donal Courtney (uncle of the talented actor/musician/songwriter Jess Leen – one to watch) in his play God has no country. [This is on my must-watch list for Irish theatre – has anyone seen it?]

Stationed in Rome, back in the early 1940s, the Monsignor toured POW camps in Italy tracking down those reported as missing in action. Using Radio Vatican, he’d then try to let their families know that they were still alive. He became a familiar figure. When those who had been released in 1943 post-Mussolini were in danger of being recaptured now that the Germans were at the helm, they reached out to him. [Did you know that the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was the only English-speaking embassy to stay open in Rome during WWII? I didn’t. ] His band of merry men (and women) included other priests, agents of Free France, communists, and some nobility. Together, they hid thousands of Allied soldiers and Jews in hideouts around the country. The Monsignor would travel outside the Vatican in disguise but when the Germans finally figured out who he was, he had to stay within the Vatican to avoid arrest.

The local head of the Gestapo and the SS in Rome apparently drew a white line on the ground marking the point where the Vatican ended and Italy began, a line the Monsignor should not cross. When he was caught and imprisoned after the War, Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler had one regular visitor – O’Flaherty. The visits had an effect, as in1959, he converted to Catholicism, baptised by the Monsignor.

When Rome was liberated, the Monsignor and his helpers had  soldiers and Jews from some 25 countries under their protection, evidence of his belief that God has no country.


The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial

A memorial to the great man was unveiled on 30 October 2013 in Killarney in the hope that

[…]this and future generations will be inspired by Hugh O’Flaherty’s  incredible deeds and example and will in turn play their own part in making our world a better place.

Slowly but surely word of his daring is leaking out as hordes of visitors stop and read and take photos to tweet and blog and share at with a greater audience. Just like I’m doing. Not for the first time, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a tourist in my home country and grateful, too, that I’m still discovering the joy that is Ireland.


2017 Grateful 12

I’m generally quite positive, upbeat even. Except when I’m tired. Or hungry. Or feeling ill. Then I can’t stand to be with myself let alone socialise with others. I retreat inwards. Any attempt to boost my mood or chivvy me back to normalcy is met with an almost childlike churlishness that borders on embarrassing. My usually low tolerance level sinks even further to the point where I’m better off left alone. I’ve been around myself long enough to see the signs and know when to hole up, recognising the valour in a strategic retreat to my world, population of one. But sometimes, such a retreat isn’t possible.

In Croatia a few weeks back (where has the time gone?) I’d spent a lovely morning and early afternoon on the olive oil trail. But as time went on, I realised, albeit too late, that tasting olive oil on an empty stomach was just asking for trouble. I was driving. I was hungry. And had I anything at all in my stomach, I would have welcomed a good throw-up. As I battled with my dry heaves all I could think about was food.

We made a beeline for Rovinj, a fishing port on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula. We arrived. We ate. And I returned to the land of civility and something approaching niceness.

I knew nothing of where we were. Himself had heard vague rumblings from friends about how beautiful it was. On leaving Vodnjan he’d done his map thing and discovered that it wasn’t all that far away. It’s a lovely old town, everything packed in around the port, narrowing upwards, pyramid style, to the top of a hill where the Church of St Euphemia stands sentry. Fourteen islands lie off the coast, making me think wistfully of winning the lottery so I could buy one as a permanent retreat.

The church was built on the remains of earlier churches back in 1736. It is home to the relics of St Euphemia preserved in a sarcophagus that dates back to the sixth century but apparently remodelled in the 1400s. There’s a story behind it:

[St Euphemia] died on September 16, 304. Christians from Chalcedon [a town in Asia Minor] preserved the body of the martyr until 620 when the town was captured by the Persians. The sarcophagus with the body of St. Euphemia was then transferred to Constantinople, and placed in a magnificent church which was built in her honour by Tsar Constantine. In 800 the Iconoclasts (icon-slashers) came to power, and the Christians were forced to remove the relics of St. Euphemia. […] People say that a marble sarcophagus came floating in the sea to the coast of Rovinj after a big storm at dawn of July 13, 800. It is said that many people of Rovinj tried to haul the sarcophagus to the Church of Saint George, but no one succeeded. Finally, answering to St. Euphemia’s call, a small boy with two little cows managed to haul the sarcophagus up the hill.

Some of the works of art inside date back as far as the fifteenth century with the bell tower modelled on that of St Mark’s in Venice dating to the mid-1600s. It’s a lovely piece of architecture and a beautiful church. What makes it special though, is not St Euphemia but the welcome that is posted in seven languages inside.

You have set aside your usual work. You have left your homes and have set off on a journey filled with the desire to get close to nature, to enjoy your holiday and to relax. We hope that your stay in our country will be serene and restful and do you good.

It continues but gets a little tangled in translation. But what a welcome! A far cry from the closed doors of some churches. And given the furore that broke out in a village in Hungary earlier this week on the subject of welcoming visitors, it is worth thinking about.

As we wandered back down through the cobbled streets, we came across a plethora of artisan workshops, one more interesting than the next. Oh to win that lottery. I could have done serious damage to a bank account, if I had one worth damaging. The place was awash with tourists and the locals were capitalising on the trade. Fair play to them.

We didn’t do much other than wander around. I was enjoying being human again. When we go back – and we will – I’d like to see the Brijuni Islands from the Monkodonja Hill Fort. Isn’t it great to have the option, to have Croatia so close that I could take a notion to get into the car and drive over. And just do it, without have to worry about travel bans or border control, or whether I’d be welcome. For that sort of freedom to travel, I am truly grateful.



2017 Gratefuls 14 & 13

I think this is the third time this year that I’ve lumped two gratefuls into one. And not because I’m doubly grateful but because I simply couldn’t find the time to write. No. That’s an excuse. One that I wouldn’t accept from my students. We can always find the time for what’s important to us. And therein started an internal conversation that is resulting in some pretty drastic changes.

Blogging is important. I like the ritual. I like the regularity. I like sharing where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. It’s my way of keeping in touch with various people around the world who are a big part of my life; friends who have all contributed in some way to making me who I am. It’s also by way of a record for me because my memory is getting worse and it’s getting harder to keep track of things. The travel pieces, too, they’re morphing into a whole new project that should be interesting – more details later.

So, were I to practice as I preached, I could have found the time. I could have shaved a couple of hours off my already meagre 6 hours of sleep a night but as I need 8 hours of regular sleep to keep the nice button in on mode, this would’ve been dangerous. I’m already cranky, short-tempered, and low on tolerance. I could have cancelled any one of four trips I’ve taken in as many weeks – Slovenia, Croatia, Ireland, Austria – but then I might have missed out on something. I could have postponed my visitors and asked them not to come but then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of their company (whether they took pleasure in mine is another conversation entirely 🙂 )

I’ve banged on before about freelancing and those of you who are or have been in that line of work know that memories of the most recent famine push you to take on far too much in times of feast. But I’ve had to take a long, hard, look at my workload, and weigh up my rate of return on investment of my time. I could, I suppose, stop doing the free stuff, the work I can’t bring myself to charge for. I could stop offering token rates for those I know don’t have the wherewithal to pay the full price. I could stop. Full stop.

So in addition to working, travelling, and hosting, I’ve been making changes. And yes, I’m feeling a tad anxious that I’m making the wrong decisions, culling the wrong clients, and prioritising the wrong parts of my life, but someone needs to make the call. All going well, life will return to what passes for normal around the 10th of November. Until then, I can live with the madness and the mania, and be grateful that I get to pick and choose and make choices, something I’m often in danger of taking for granted.



2017 Grateful 15

I have a thing about borders. I have a thing about a lot of things, like cemeteries, counting stuff, and doors, but I also have a thing about borders. That I can cross the River Shannon in Athlone, Co. Westmeath and be in another county (Co. Roscommon) but still in the same town amuses me. That I can walk over a bridge in Killaloe, Co. Clare and be in Ballina, Co. Tipperary intrigues me. And to find that I’m within spitting distance of so many borders in Hungary, amazes me. I’m like a kid a Christmas.

I know it’s not rocket science. Borders have existed for eons. They’ve always been there. Be it districts, villages, towns, cities, counties, countries, regions, continents – whatever. They change with the politics, with the wars. They’re movable beasts. And while my borders didn’t just pop up since I started spending time in the village, I feel like I’ve just discovered them.

Driving into Istanbul from the airport some years ago, I was gobsmacked to see a sign welcoming me to Europe. That was my first continental border crossing and I hadn’t even realised I’d been in Asia. My favourite crossing has to be crossing over the Arctic Circle when I was working in Alaska. I’m sure I still have the certificate somewhere. I  must dig it out. And I have a vague memory of being somewhere, where by hopping from one foot to another I changed time zones or states or countries … something huge, so huge I can’t remember.

I’ve been a regular crosser of the border between Slovakia and Hungary and less often the one between Austria and Hungary. I’m partial to the border between Serbia and Hungary and rather fond, too, of crossing into Romania. A couple of weeks ago, we crossed over into Slovenia and explored. Last week, we crossed over into Croatia (posts and pics to come). The last two are about an hour’s drive from the house. With six of the seven crossings completed, the one still on my list to do is Ukraine.

The last two have also been road trips, a joy I’ve rediscovered. I took a couple through Hungary in my early days here but then reverted to trains and planes. Yes, there’s been a couple of US trips in recent years, but they involved planes, too. There’s something about just getting into the car and going. That freedom of movement, that being able to stop wherever and whenever. It’s something I’ve taken far too much for granted. My EU passport allows me visa-free travel in the EU and indeed outside. That little purple book coupled with my green international car insurance papers are my ticket to foreign lands. I need to take more advantage of the freedoms I have and be grateful that I can up sticks tomorrow and just go. Does it get much better?


2017 Gratefuls 17 and 16

I was awake every other hour last night having a nightmare of the sort I thought I’d left behind 10 years ago when I signed off from my last corporate job. In my dream, I was working for a large tech company. I’d been assigned to two projects. With two bosses. And both needed work done by Thursday at 5pm. It was Wednesday at 4.30pm in my dream. I had plans that evening (freelance work). There was no way I was going to get everything done for both of them or much of anything done for either. I woke in a cold sweat but fell back to sleep almost immediately.

The next dream chapter had me waking early in my flat and heading into work to see if I could get something done. But the company was on lock-down. It had turned into a prison and I didn’t have a pass. I spent an age trying to figure out how to break into the prison to get to my desk. I woke in a cold sweat but again fell back to sleep almost immediately.

The final dream chapter was me trying to sneak past the wardens (my bosses) and out of the prison. I hitched a lift in an army tank and took off cross-country, barrelling through everything in our path, heading for the airport. Then the church bells went and I woke up. Finally.

It’s been a manic two weeks. Friends from Alaska, the lovely S&LM, were in Budapest for just  couple of days. Plans to go see the Balaton were shafted as their trip was cut short because of a technical issue that grounded their plane in Anchorage. We had one evening and another full day /evening to catch up and see the city. The years melded into minutes. We figured it had been 16 years since we’d spoken in person but that didn’t matter a whit. It was great catching up on who was doing what and taking a step back into a life I’d long since left behind. Old friends, good friends, great times.

That was followed by a weekend of visitors down at the house. The front door revolved; as one party left the next arrived. Taking the time to sit and enjoy the garden, to relax in good company, that’s something I’ve not been doing enough of late. The lovelies V&K brought their dog, Sophie, and while I’m nowhere near ready to take on such responsibility, I’d happily dog sit her any day. That pure, unconditional love and joyous abandon are quite something. And we discovered that the farm track at the end of our garden can be followed clear over to the island. Nice.

After a quick trip to Ireland (work) it was back to Budapest for the Minnesotans, MB&JG, who began their three-week European holiday in Budapest. Deluged by deadlines, I’ve been working during the day and catching up with them in the evenings and it’s been wonderful. Burning the candle at both ends, though, is something I was well able to do twenty years ago, but alas, no longer. Two consecutive nights on the town were enough to dampen my wick. I’ve fizzled out. But we got a lot in – some great dinners, good wines, the Budafok wine festival, Ian Siegal playing in the pouring rain at Kobuci… They’ve left for the Balaton. I head to Ireland again tomorrow – in and out – and then will join them Wednesday to head to Croatia from where I’ll fly to the UK on Sunday for a quick lunch before heading on to Ireland again. In the meantime, every available minute will be spent working. I’m in the middle of a feast, workwise, and just at the point where a famine looks very appealing. But I’m reminded of something SR said to me a few weeks ago – make time for people – they’re not always around. I heard of three deaths in one day this week – and it was a sober reminder that life is fleeting.

It’s a matter of priorities, they say. But prioritising is easier said than done when the projects I’m working on are like babies to their owners who want to be kept abreast of every development and are waiting anxiously to view the finished product. Responsibility to deliver weighs heavily. And the load is exhausting. Am pretty much booked up till late November and then I plan to hole up somewhere and recuperate. Till then, I’ll continue to be grateful for the friends who visit, the work that’s waiting to be done, and the dreams that keep me grounded.


2017 Grateful 18

So,  your neighbour (she who is not talking to you since you put up the fence), when one of her chickens wanders through your house (in the front door, and out the back, having a right nose round on the way) and then lays an egg on your porch before disappearing – do you own the egg? Can you eat it? Or should you return it because you don’t own the chicken? These are just some of the first-world questions plaguing me this week.

We finally succumbed and bought a wrought iron garden bench made by a blacksmith who is a regular stallholder at Liliomkert market over in Káptalantóti. We’ve hovered and hummed and hawed each time we’ve seen him and his benches. Similar, garden-variety, mass-produced stuff is nearly as expensive so we bit the nail and bought. He dropped it by on Friday. Which meant that the bench in residence under the cherry tree had to move upstairs to the guest room and the bench that was there had to move out, down to the kitchen. Which meant the fridge had to move to make room.

It’s been the bones of two days now, and still, each time I go to the fridge, I head to the wrong corner. Every time. Without exception. It’s as if I’ve been programmed. And this set me thinking about how much other stuff I do on automatic pilot, without thinking. I find it terribly difficult to be present and yet know, deep down, that if I could master the art, I’d save myself wasted hours, days, and weeks in wondering whether I’d turned off the oven, locked the door, remembered my passport. I’d know, because I’d have been consciously doing whatever I was doing. It sounds so simple yet I can count on one hand those I know who manage it, daily.

I’ve been doing, doing, doing for what seems like forever. I left himself in residence when I went to the city to meet friends from Alaska earlier in the week whom I’d not seen in, what, 15 years? Their plane had been a day late so they missed out on the Balaton trip and instead contented themselves with a couple of days in the capital. He was delighted to have a few days without a to-do list. I’d been pretty relentless. Never sitting. Never enjoying. Constantly doing. I have this thing about not wasting time. I’ve lost a few very dear friends in recent years and I’m very conscious that time is limited. But methinks I take it too far.

The lovely RM and family came to visit on Friday. On their way down, she crocheted me a watermelon prayer flag for the terrace. She had two hours to spend in the car and that time she put to good use. It’s beautiful. And it hangs where I can see it, next to my Pura Vida sign from Costa Rica and my Namaste, a present from CG from Nepal – a daily reminder that I need to spend my time more wisely. And for that reminder, and those who contributed, I’m grateful.




2017 Grateful 19

Flies poop. And they poop a lot. And they’re pretty indiscriminate about where they do it, too. Lightbulbs. Electrical cords. Walls. Windows. Benches. Ledges. Floors. Curtains. Everywhere. Anywhere. And while you might never notice, once you do, you see it everywhere. I know. I’ve spent the better part of two days cleaning up after the unsightly buggers, millions of whom have enjoyed an extended holiday at ours (before it was ours) for years. We’re caught between chickens on one side and goats and sheep and a donkey on the other, so the flies are right at home. So far, I’ve identified three types: big ones that buzz and don’t bite; medium-sized ones that don’t buzz or bite; and smaller ones that don’t buzz but bite – nastily.

They’re clever buggers, too. They can fly through locked doors and closed windows. My latest effort is to paste sticky butterfly pictures on the windows. These are supposed to lure the flies to an ignoble end or scare them away – am not quite sure of the translation. But so far, they’re like handbags on a dance floor in an Irish disco – the flies are just buzzing around them. Fly sprays are ineffective (and nasty) and fly papers don’t work either. My Hare Krishna friends, if their religion allowed it, would kill me if they knew I’d bought a couple of fly swats. But my reflexes are so bad, I can hear the flies laughing at me.

Any natural suggestions anyone? SH – is your bat colony available for rent?

But back to the clean. We’ve visitors arriving this week from Alaska and more at the end of the month from Minnesota. And the house has to be clean. What is it with us Irish and visiting Americans? Back in my bank days, I remember a woman coming in and asking for a loan to put in a new kitchen. Her young fellah was coming home from America on holiday and bringing his American girlfriend with him. And this called for a new kitchen! And going into debt for same. Piranha pine, she said. I remember it well. Little did I know that decades later, I’d be knuckle-deep in fly poop days before the Yanks are due to land.

Anyway, back to the clean. The builders have left. Finally. And I miss them, in a weird sort of way. But I’m glad they’re gone and that we now have a new bathroom and a new manhole (so christened by the inimitable MI). The carpenter still has a few bits to finish but I’m sure he’ll get around to it this side of Christmas. And what with the middle of the house looking so new, the kitchen end had to be cleaned, too. As had the windows. And the damned cement tiles, which are still resisting all efforts and concoctions and remaining stubbornly dull and listless.

I had help. Lots of help. My ministering angel was on hand. She’d come to visit for the weekend after spending 11 days walking around the Balaton (some 240+km). I suspect this was the last burst of energy before the crash. I took shameless advantage, I know, but she will get her due reward. The painter has finished the outside, too. Or at least as much as he can do until the shrubs are cut back in late September and the plasterer has done his repair work. Perhaps the carpenter can come then, too, and we can have a party.

Reality has hit. No matter how done I think I am, there will always be something to do. There’s no getting away from it. But I’m grateful that I’m still enjoying it, that the improvement is visible, and that we are blessed with good friends to share the load.

From this:


To this:



Those how have been paying attention over the years will remember that my bathroom in Budapest was built around a candle holder I got from De Wimmen on my 40th. This one has as its inspiration The Dance of Time, a framed sculpture from the Wild Goose Studio in Kinsale, Co. Cork, a Christmas present a number of years back from the queen of design, SF.

The manhole isn’t quite finished but to GP and PF, the outdoor light has been worked in, cleverly, methinks 🙂 Hould yer whist.

2017 Grateful 20

I had it all planned. For months. Ever since Ripoff said he was doing his annual birthday gig in Kobuci Kert and I decided to have my birthday drinks there. Tickets were bought months ago. All sorted. Invites sent out. People had planned. But the universe decided it wasn’t to be. Massive thunder and lightening kicked off about 5pm and the city was under a sheen of water. We made it as far as the metro station, dodging a deluge of spray from passing cars speeding through puddles. And just as we were about to board, the phone call came. Gig postponed. Till Monday. Plan B needed.

For the last number of years I’ve had my b’day drinks in the local pub and why should tonight be any different. Facebook posts were amended. Phone calls were made. Texts were sent. And more than 20 stalwarts braved the rain to come to Grund.

I’m on record as saying I don’t need stuff. I have enough to last me a lifetime. But the stuff I got was great. Tasteful. Designery. Lovely.  The candles, the ornaments, the plants. And from others, I got experiences. We’ve way too much fruit in the garden in the village. And while the lovely EB was giving me recipes for pear sorbet, I was promising the fruit of my pear trees to K&A to turn into pear cider. Considering I’d gotten a personalized bottle of their apple pálinka, it was the least I could do.


I love the creative. I love people who dare to take the piss out of me and what I’m doing. But it takes someone who is sure of where they’re at with me to do that. I made mention of HC a few blogs ago, him who instigated what is now known as the Athlone Accord. Well, he did creativity in spades. For his birthday, he got a a guitar-shaped fried-egg shaper. For mine, I got this.

Considering my consternation about what it so has only recently been deadened by an acceptance of what is, I was particularly piqued by this gift from the the S’s, parents of the three loveliest children I’ve met … ever. And me without a maternal bone in my body. This is screaming for hammock time.

But of everything I received this evening, this has originality written all over it. It came prefaced with the Trump message at the top of this blog. And I was scared. I’ve been banging on for years about experiences being the best presents (with consumables racking up a close second – loved the wines and the dinners) but stuff I can write about??? Magic.

For those of you who don’t read Hungarian – I get a lesson in how to drive a bus (a full-sized bus) and then get to take 30+ of my mates (if I can find 30 brave souls) on a one-hour drive! How cool is that?

I’ve just turned 51. I got the wrong pizza at lunchtime. My gig got rained out. But 20+ people braved the thunder and came to drink with me under a tarp at Grund. We partied. They left. Some stayed on and came back to mine. Those diehards have finally left, and now I can go to bed, grateful, very grateful, that I have friends.

The cancelled gig is on tomorrow night. The trip to the village has been postponed. And I get another night in the city.


2017 Grateful 21

This day, 12 months ago, on 31 July, life took an unexpected turn. We’d gotten a phone call to say that another house had come on the market in the village. The one I’d set my heart on didn’t want me. It had been listed originally for 4 million ft  (€12 500 on one site), and then later withdrawn and listed on another for 6.5 million without so much as the grass being cut. It had masses of potential. Lots of outbuildings. I asked an architect friend to suggest how we could make it into something really fabulous and he duly obliged. The man is gifted .

I had visions of separate guest quarters, a BBQ pit and a summer kitchen, a long, windowed hallway opening out onto sweeping lawns. The barn at the end of the garden would make a fabulous working studio with floor to ceiling windows. Or equally could be more self-contained guest accommodation. There was room for a pool and a pony or three. The car could have a garage. We could have a gazebo. All we needed was the mullah. And the owner to accept the offer.

She laughed me out of it when I offered half a mill more than it was originally posted for and she wouldn’t budge. So much for the village gossip that she was desperate to sell. And I simply didn’t have the money to do it justice. And I don’t have the patience to get in the builders and then wait for weeks till the carpenter was ready and wait again for the plumber and the painter and the electrician. And wait 12 months before we could stay for a weekend.

A lot of workers in this part of the world cross the border to work in Austria or go further afield to Germany. They go where the work takes them. It pays better outside Hungary. If they get a better offer, they go. And who can blame them. To get one crew to come in and do it all would have upped the bill considerably. And, as I said, I didn’t have the money. And even if I did have the money, I have a thing about paying more than something is worth.

Although four houses have sold in the village in the last year, many more are still standing unsold. The one across the road is supposedly on the market for 1 million huf (about €3000) while another has dropped from 16 million to 10 million and yet another outside the village is going for a mere 435 million. Something for everyone. The closer you get to the Balaton, the higher the prices get. And just being in sight of the lake is guaranteed to up the price even more.

Anyway, with the dream house a non-runner, I had shelved any ideas I might have had about life in a village. There are plenty of other villages around, with many more houses, but it was important for me to know someone in situ, as I travel a lot. And it helps having the benefit of wisdom and experience, not to mention contacts with local tradesmen. I don’t think I’d have had the mental fortitude needed to rock up to some random village and start renovating.

But late July last year, the phone call came. Another house had come on the market. It needed aesthetic work but nothing major immediately. It’ll eventually need a new roof and it did need an exterior paint job and new windows, but the gas and electric and the plumbing were all serviceable. We could pick up the keys and move in.

It’s not nearly as grand as the original pick. The garden is much narrower and the outbuildings just one. I wasn’t all that enthused as there was a new (2007) extension that didn’t quite fit with my idea of a period home. And having seen the Kánya Ház and having seen the potential in my first choice, I didn’t think I’d like it. But we came down, anyway. Just to see. Just in case.

It took all of 20 minutes. The renovation itself wasn’t impressive. The tiles … ugh. The proliferation of varnished pine did nothing for me. Afterwards, over a coffee beside the croquet lawn (pitch? square?), I decided to make an offer. Ten minutes was all it took. And to think that sometimes I have trouble deciding what to wear. Hilarious really.

I had imagined a weekend spot, and someplace to come for a month in the summer. It’s a 2-hour drive from the city (assuming traffic is moving) so not as local as Gödöllő where there’s a fabulous forest and a house I have first dibs on, were IZ ever to sell. But get-away places close to the city are more expensive, naturally, and as I’m allergic to debt, it had to fit the bank balance.

It’s become far more than a getaway place, a weekend cottage in the country. I’m increasingly drawn to it spending as much time as I can here. I have  reclusive side. The me that likes to check out and hole up. Perhaps 10 years of city living and extensive travel have taken their toll. The last time I did the village thing was the 5 years I spent in Valdez, Alaska. And compared to Balatonmagyaród, Valdez is a bustling metropolis. But energy levels ebb and flow. The key to being happy is to recognise what your body and your mind needs – and right now, at this stage in my life, I need quiet. I need peace. I need to recharge. It might last one year, or two, or ten … it doesn’t matter. I’m grateful that today, the universe has conspired, through the good auspices of the R-W’s, and financial circumstance, to bring me here.