2017 Grateful 22

It’s been a while. Unusual for me. Unless I’m without Internet access, I’m pretty religious about posting. Somehow more than a week has passed without one, something that’s been pointed out to me a few times, most recently by a mate in Australia currently who is winging his way to Thailand and was short of reading material (thanks, JS, for the prompt).

Life has taken over. Work has taken over. And my plan to have a month free to paint chairs and put up pictures and try my hand at making Swedish blinds has come to nowt. And somewhere, in there, I’ve promised to work on two book projects and contracted to start my own.

No – don’t get excited. The publishers haven’t finally tracked me down. It’s more like a nudge agreement – all signed though, so somewhat binding – to deliver a ‘sizeable’ portion of a manuscript by my next workshop gig in September. The things I agree too when sat before a full Irish breakfast, complete with black and white pudding.

It’s the usual catch 22 of a freelancer’s lot. I need the work to pay the bills but then the work interferes with what I want to do because I have yet to master the concept of having a weekend or making my workday fit between the confines of 9 and 5. And as I’m hemorrhaging money at the minute, I can’t afford to be anything but pragmatic.

The builders are in. One room that currently serves as a pass-through between the old house and the extension has a bathroom (with WC) and a loo attached to it. The plan is to break down the walls and remove the conveniences (done) and then to build in a new bathroom.

As am sure happens with all renovations, I found myself wondering who could have thought that a shower with green fiberglass against a blue floor would be attractive. Mind you, it is offset nicely by the green diamond in the mirror. But I draw the line at fish (even if the blue floor now makes sense). In my design world, fish work in bathrooms in Hawaii or the like – places where there are tropical fish. The fish in Kis-Balaton are far from tropical. The tile motif had to go. I had to defish.

The estimate we got for the work was very reasonable by Irish or US standards, but more expensive than if we went the route of separate deals with each tradesman. We’d need to be here all the time and would be very much at the mercy of their schedules. The painter was due Monday to finish off the exterior painting – he’s only three days late. And surprisingly, I’m not that put out. But to have to pick my way through a work in progress every time I wanted to make a coffee for anything longer than a week or 10 days would do my head in. My lack of patience, my wanting everything done yesterday, that costs money.

I went shopping with the builder – for the fittings and the tiles. We’d cased the joint a couple of weeks ago so I knew what I wanted. Thankfully, my luck with Hungarian builders is still in. MP, like his Budapest counterpart, VL, spends my money as if it were his own. He reined in my more extravagant wants and steered me in the right direction re brands and such. My plans changed only three times in the space of the 2.5 hours it took us (and an hour of that was paying!). Not bad.

So, the boys are in. They arrived on Monday to demolish walls. (I was tempted to ask for a go of the sledgehammer but didn’t have anything but sandals with me.) There was one almighty crash and then nothing  – not a sound. I had visions of the headlines – Wall falls, man dies. Thankfully though, they’d have been a more mundane – Wall falls, man takes celebratory cigarette break.

The lovely old blue door is gone. The archway is now high enough that tall people can now walk through i without banging their heads (something people only usually did once). And the work continues. The plasterer is plastering. The electrician is working wires. And the builders are putting up new walls. Every now and then I’m called upon to make a decision (I didn’t know that your average sink is 80 cm off the ground or that a bathroom plug is usually 180 cm high (that always bothered me – but it’s something to do with distance from water). And I’m winging it. Patience isn’t one of my strengths and I need to get a grip as I’m in danger of doing to get done rather than doing it as I want it.

No matter. This week, I’m grateful that they’re here. That it’s happening. That there’s an end in sight. And next week, I hope to be even more grateful that it’s all been done.

2017 Grateful 23

The new Irish. I heard that phrase this morning and it threw me. For years, centuries, Ireland has been exporting her people to far flung places and they’ve mixed, married, and melted into their new worlds, all the while retaining that Irish connection. They’ve become citizens of other countries. So why then am I so surprised at the thoughts of foreign nationals moving to Ireland and doing the same: mixing, marrying, and melting into Ireland. And becoming what is known as ‘the New Irish’.

In my inbox this morning, I received a link to a piece in The Guardian about the most ethnically diverse town in Ireland – Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. Home to the first purpose-built mosque in the country (which dates back to the 1990s), this west- of-Ireland town is quite the example of how immigration and integration can fit in the same sentence, without exaggeration.

The video (just 15 minutes and worth a watch) tells of the GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association) supplanting the church as the focal point of the community. It shows a club, hemorrhaging Irish players to foreign parts, anxious to bolster numbers – and where better to go looking for talent that to the new-Irish community. The numbers are staggering. More than two-thirds of the kids in the local primary school don’t speak English at home. What was the local convent is now home to 300 asylum seekers from countries like Africa and Syria. And to these you can add the influx of Poles and Eastern Europeans to the mix and the Pakistanis who moved over a while back.

I felt the warm glow of national pride. Finally, a community that gets the need to integrate, to welcome, to get involved. And then the admission. They’re doing what they can to ensure that the kids feel no different to the local kids. But for the adults they can do little.

Direct Provision is the name of the scheme into which asylum seekers in Ireland find themselves. It can take 4 years to have your application processed and there’s an 80% chance you’ll be rejected. Long odds by any reckoning. And for those  years, you get a paltry weekly allowance and are housed and fed. You’re not allowed to work, no matter how qualified you are or how badly the community needs your skills. They’re the rules. Madness.

And while many who have come through the system are grateful to have been granted asylum, for thousands more, it’s a waiting game what will end badly. A temporary reprieve before being shunted on. Across the country, housing estates lie empty, buildings are boarded up. The recession offered a one-way ticket to many who left in search of a better world. And yet thousands more new Irish see Ireland as their home, and Ballyhaunis as their new village. When will someone with some policy power connect the dots?

While it’s by no means a perfect system, I’m grateful that in some parts of Ireland, they’re getting it right. Go, ‘haunis.



2017 Grateful 24

Twice last week I listened to myself sagely pronounce: ah, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In both cases, parents were commenting with on something idiotic their kids had done. And they were wondering how their kids could have done or said or written whatever it was. And in both case, it was something I’d known both of them to do when they weren’t much older than their kids are now. I can’t remember the details – just the essence.

It’s a great expression – one that says so much. But literally? Apples and trees? How far is far? The garden is littered with fallen apples. And they’re not dropping vertically. They’re special apples. Gifted apples. They can fly.

The windfalls are not big enough to bother peeling for tarts. And they’re too bruised to be any good for cider. So what do to with hundreds and hundreds of the little buggers and not a pig within smelling distance when you need one?

I did what I usually do when presented with such a massive ‘What now!’ I googled. What to do with windfalls. I could make them into apple chips, had I a vegetable hydrator, but I don’t. And it’s way too hot to even think about getting in the car and shlepping to the nearest big town to go search for one. I could make chutney – but I don’t have all the ingredients I need and, as I said, it’s way too hot ….

One of the things about living in a shopless village is that you learn to make do with what you have. Add a modicum of heat-induced laziness to the mix and it was definitely a case of digging deeper.

Cloudy apple juice. There ya go. Perfect. All I needed were apples (plenty), a strainer, a few clean cotton cloths, and some empty bottles.

I mentioned that it’s hot, yeah? Not an ideal day to be standing over a gas stove boiling up kilos of apples but what conscience I have wouldn’t let me sit and watch them rot. So that’s what I did today – I boiled apples.

It amuses me no end how quickly we fall into the patterns of our parents. Somehow, the outside seems to have become himself’s domain, while the inside is mine to rule. [That said, it could be that himself loves the sun and I don’t.] Anyway, he picked and I cooked. And it’s been hours. I’ve been at this since 11 this morning and there’s still no end in sight. I’ve run out of bottles so I’m multitasking and finishing off last night’s wine as I go, while looking for another with a screw-top lid to lay into.

My cloudy apple juice isn’t nearly as pink as the one in the recipe picture, but then my apples weren’t nearly as red. It’s nice though – a little sweet, but I have it on good authority that it’s a great source of fibre. And I saved some of the pulped apple for use in apple sauce or a sponge mix. Martha Stewart, each your heart out.

Penny per minute, it certainly didn’t pay me to spend the bones of my day making apple juice. The return on my time investment isn’t great. About a litre an hour. Were I to sit down and do the math, I probably spent more on gas to boil the buggers than I would have spent to buy the equivalent in juice. But I know that my juice has no additives (I took out all the worms). And it’s fresh. And it’s mine.

The nature of my day job is such that I rarely get to see a finished product. Sure, I get emails from workshop participants months after the event telling me that they’ve been asked to present somewhere and now have the confidence to do so. Or they tell me how much better their work lives are, now that they’re not petrified of speaking out. One of my TED speakers has had over a million hits on a video of a speech we worked on together. But those concrete, measurable results are rare.

Today though, I can see what five hours of work has yielded. And while the work itself was mindless, it gave me time to switch off and not think. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that is all too rare in my world. And for that I’m truly grateful.

2017 Grateful 25

Back in the days when I lived in English-speaking counties, I quite liked the whole Sunday paper ritual: lugging home weekend editions of The Times or the Indo or whatever else I thought had enough reading material to get me through a couple of cups of coffee and the accompanying cigarettes.

It’s something I haven’t done in a long time, in part because reading Hungarian is still beyond me, and in part because the news is so bloody miserable these days that I’m loath to spend the time wallowing in the woes of the world.

Today, though, taking a much-deserved break from a series of papers on equine doping, I sat down with said coffee and opened the Sunday Independent‘s Life magazine. I’ve been out of Ireland long enough to have completely lost track of what is considered a good paper. It was simply what was to hand. Back in the day I’m might well have been one of those who classifies people according to the papers they read.

In 2014, YouGov in the UK profiled the nations newspaper readers and came to the conclusion that:

The top three favourite dishes of Guardian readers are likely to be antipasti, aubergine parmigiana and braised endive; they are into hiking and shop at Waitrose.

When I was living in the UK, I bought the Sunday Times, and from memory, it was for no other reason that I liked their astrologist 🙂 But as a Times reader, they got me wrong – ok – I’ll give them the tarte au citron – it’s a favourite.

Tarte au citron, baklava and pomme lyonnaise are favourite dishes of Times readers. They describe themselves as well educated and arrogant occasionally, and are most likely to own a cat.

I hadn’t realised that comedian Tommy Tiernan had his own column, or for that matter, his own TV show (which I watched over the weekend, too). I’m not a fan but I enjoyed his piece: Sometimes you just have to curse. Yep – I’m with you there, Tommy, I’m with you there.

I’m not at all sure who Donal Lynch is when he’s at home, but his piece on why he hates summer had me chuckling along, nodding in agreement. SAD, he says, medicalises a perfectly reasonable hatred of summer. So far it seemed as if the mag had been written for me.

I skipped the four-page spread on U2 (my life simply isn’t long enough to spend time reading about Bono) and on to a piece by Polly Vernon who wondered if being popular is making us miserable. She reckons that social media ‘has made popularity tarts of us. We chase followers and likes as if they were oxygen.’ Can’t fault you on that, pet. You’re bang on. I love a good quiz and enjoyed ticking the boxes to discover that I think there’s more to life than being liked. Whew. Glad that’s been sorted.

The discovery that some bright spark has made a gin infused with collagen (CollaGin) has to be good news – they’re on to a winner. Drink gin for younger looking skin! As if anyone needed enticement. I skipped through the products page and have made a note to self to order some bamboo toothbrushes. And I was still only as far as the staples.

It’s been a good week. I caught up with the cousins, some of whom I hadn’t see in 30 years. I watched the best half of the Lions game on Saturday morning and loved the ‘we’ness’ the Lions brings out in us. And in between all the work, I slipped in a dinner and a lunch and a few scoops. Best of all though, I wallowed in the teens – that lovely cool weather – and silently commiserated with friends on the mainland who were dealing with the 30s. What’s not to be grateful for?




2017 Grateful 26

Philadelphia. 7 June. 1753. Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a letter to George Whitefield, an English clergyman who was taking America by storm. Billed as the ‘Grand Itinerant’, he called no church home, preferring to travel around the colonies preaching to the masses. For more than 30 years, he held his audiences in the palm of his hand, leading them to penitence and reigniting their souls with a passion for God in what was known as the Great Awakening.

I came across an excerpt from this letter recently and went in search of the  full text.  The more I read, the more I realised that BJ could have been writing today. June 2017.  And I wondered how much better the world might be, were we to heed his words. I read it through a number of times and the same line kept jumping out at me.

I wish [faith] were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments…

How relevant this is. My mind began to draw all sorts of connections between dots that weren’t there back in the 1700s. We have so many friends today. Thanks to social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met, people with whom we might interact on a daily basis through a litany of likes and hashtags but couldn’t pick out of a crowd. Have we reduced active support to sharing posts and reacting to photos? Are we drowning in a sea of good intentions, blaming our shortcomings as friends and neighbours on a lack of time? Are our leaders more intent on replaying their soundbites than actually getting anything done, building foundations for the future on shaky rhetoric?

In sharp contrast to city life, in the village if you need something done, you simply ask. We needed to borrow scaffolding from friends in the village. 1 km door to door. It was too heavy to hand carry and too heavy for a roofrack. But a neighbour two doors up, to whom we’ve spoken to maybe three times, has a trailer and his wife has a car with a trailer hitch. We asked, he delivered.

My néni-next-door popped her head through the trees to say hi. She was curious to know what laundry detergent I was using, as the sheets I had air drying outside smelled wonderful. I had doubts at first that I was understanding her correctly but yes, I was. She disappeared and came back with money, asking me to bring some for her from Budapest next time I was down. She asked, I’ll deliver.

There’s hardly a day that goes buy without some ask being delivered on, in some form, shape, or fashion. Perhaps it’s still a few decades behind the times. Perhaps its the absence of distractions. Perhaps its simply a community at work. It feels good though. And is nice to be part of it. I’m grateful.

BJ captured it nicely in his letter to Whitefield…

For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other …

We ask, they do, and we do in return. Practical living at its best.

Around the table

I spent 10 days recently with a group of people from 17 different countries – 22 if you add in the facilitators and organisers. There was no hassle, no misunderstandings, no grief. We weathered the inevitable communication issues (minor), adjusted well to the various cultural differences, and we got along.

Read any newspaper, turn to any TV channel, switch on social media and you’ll immediately see instances where people are not getting on. And increasingly, it seems to be perceived polarities between Christians and Muslims, between nationals and non-nationals, between politics A and politics B, that are consuming an inordinate amount of energy today. Needlessly consuming. Needlessly consuming valuable energy.

There is no quick fix. No grand solution. No magic bullet. With people come prejudices. We’re conditioned to creating barriers, giving reasons why we can’t do X instead of looking for solutions and finding reasons why we can do Y. Sad to say, it seems to be the nature of the rather nasty beast that man is morphing into.

But occasionally, I get days when what I read or watch or listen to replaces despair with hope and I take solace in the fact that in every corner of the world, someone is working hard to make a change.

Some examples:

What struck me in both videos is how food played an integral part in the harmonious relationship. And I recalled an inspirational Post-it that said: When you have more than you need, build a bigger table. And then I remembered, a great Canadian video I saw a while back:

Two years ago, in November, in Seoul, Korea, ‘food as both as an instigator of unrest as well as its symbolic role in forging peace was the topic of a conference at the Slow Food Asia Pacific Festival’. A report speaks to various initiatives around the world that show the power of food. But on a simpler, more personal note, perhaps we could make the world a better place if we spent more time around the table with each other, talking, eating, appreciating our differences rather than finding fault.

As the Heineken ad asks: Is there more than unites us than divides us…

I’m cooking for six tomorrow evening – six people, five nationalities. Not a personal best, but not bad.



2017 Grateful 27

I googled my dad yesterday, it being Fathers Day and all. I can’t think why I haven’t done it before now. And I was surprised. Surprised at so many old photos of him from back in the day when I used to watch him on the TV, or read about him in the paper. A retired Chief Superintendent, he’s had a case or two in his day – famous cases that are still resurrected every now and then, especially Shergar. The horse that was stolen. The horse that disappeared. The horse that the world will never let rest.

But reading the texts didn’t sit well with me. While remnants of the man they described peaked through, accounts of that case in particular made him out to be ‘the most richly comic copper since Inspector Clouseau’. Sure – he has a sense of humor but comic? mmmm. The rest of the articles made for depressing reading and I wondered at the innate cruelty of journalism, when ad hominem attacks are commonplace.

The New York Times reported the facts, just the facts – but that was back in 1983… am not so sure they’d do the same today. The Independent ran an article in February 2013, marking the 30-year anniversary of the disappearance with a picture of the hat my dad supposedly bought in a shop in Newbridge. It looks nothing like what he’d wear and I really can’t see him taking time out to go shopping – even on a good day. As for the UK papers – I won’t even go there.

I have vague recollections of a journalist coming to call and then later writing a book in which my dad featured heavily. I read the book years later. The dialogue is so far removed from how he talks that I laughed out loud and wondered where they’d gotten this character from. Even the smallest details we incorrect – like how far we lived from Newbridge, what his rank was, and how much he’d paid for the damn hat.

I meant to post this yesterday, but I got a tad involved in reading through the annals of history and then had to lie down. My heart goes out to children everywhere who have to read about their parents in the press. I can’t even begin to imagine what Trump Jnr is going through. I hope he has the good sense to steer clear of the media because it ain’t sweet.  Me, I got off lightly.

That said, if those journalists ever actually met my dad and got to know him, they’d change their tune. The man lives by his principles. Words like honesty, integrity, and fairness come to mind. I remember playing poker with a chap in Alaska many lifetimes ago. My dad had put two of his uncles inside. He told me that they said that there was never a fairer cop in Dublin than the Jazzer. And if they had to go down, at least he was the one to do it. It was one of those mad evenings.

Bearing in mind that paper will take any print, I’m choosing to ignore the naysayers. I’m grateful that for the last 50 years, the Jazzer Murphy has been a steadfast part of my life, unfailing in his love and support. As dads go, I lucked out.







2017 Grateful 28

I was born asking questions. Seconds after I popped into the world, I opened my mouth and screamed whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Nothing much has changed in the intervening years. I particularly like when I get to meet people from countries I’ve never been to and (almost embarrassingly) places I know very little about.  My geography is atrocious. I went to Costa Rica last month thinking I was going to South America. I was utterly confused when, driving in to Istanbul from the airport a few years ago, I saw a sign welcoming me to Europe. And sure didn’t I move to Hungary thinking it was by the sea. The mind boggles. I’ve long since come to terms with this failing and have accepted that I’m missing the geolocation gene that might just help me figure out where I am and where I’m going.

In Geneva this week as part of DiploFoundation’s CD Multi programme, I’ve met people from 17 countries I’ve yet to visit: Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Cabo Verde, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, Fiji, and Cook Islands. I’ve met people before from everywhere except Cabo Verde and Benin, so of these two countries I know even less than usual, if nothing at all. Apart from a vague notion that they’re in Africa, somewhere, I was clueless.

In conversation one evening, I got to ask about Cabo Verde.

I was right in thinking we were talking about what I knew of as Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. But what I hadn’t realised is that it’s not one land mass but a series of 10 small islands  with the main airport in Praia on Sao Tiago (Santiago). All but Santa Luzia are populated. The islands don’t have much going for them in terms of natural resources. What land there is not suitable for crops, and drought is a challenge. In the last century, 200 000 people died as a result of droughts which gave rise to mass emigration so that today, more Cabo Verdeans live outside the country than inside, with a sizeable diaspora in Portugal, the USA, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg. Reminiscent of Ireland in the famine days, and indeed countries like Romania today, emigrant remittances play a huge role in the local economy.

Back in 1975, when the country achieved independence, there was talk of unifying with Guinea-Bissau, but a coup in G-B put paid to that idea. Classified as an LDC (least developed country, i.e., a country that exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world) it was upgraded by the UN in 2008. A poster child for political and economic stability, this upgrade seems to me to be something of a poisoned chalice. Once out of the LDC bracket, many sources of funding dry up. Better off countries who actively support LDCs in their efforts to develop divert their funding to those still in the group. There is (and I could be wrong) a three-year transition period, a weaning off, after which the stabilisers are removed and the country is left to its own devices. But is that long enough? I wonder.

Cabo Verde, now classified as a SIDS (a small island developing state), is feeling the pinch and the pressure of going it it alone. Yet increased efforts to attract the tourist dollar and develop the infrastructure that goes with this are slowly paying off. In reading various reports, it would seem  that there is huge potential for start-ups, for young entrepreneurs who have a vision for the future. With an 87% literacy rate (considerably higher that of sub-Saharan Africa at 61%), there is cause for optimism. And as a tourist destination, something tells me that I’d like to see it before it makes the popular list of places to go and is overrun, swallowed up by sameness.

Black sand beaches. White sand beaches. Volcanoes. Great creole food. And the music…. I’m a few years too late to see the great Cesaria Evora live, but the national music genre, Morna, is something I could listen to. It’s a fusion of Portuguese, African, Brazilian, and Cuban – a form of blues. Nick Mayes did a great piece in The Guardian on it a few years back. Worth a read.

I’ve been trolling the Net, looking at pictures, reading blogs and articles – a first for me. I don’t plan. I go. But now, I’m planning. And to show I’m serious, I’ve done the unthinkable and added a travel category to this blog before visiting. What a great start it would be to 2018.

It’s been a busy week. Lots happening. I’m grateful for the education, the conversation, and the inspiration. And to anyone who would limit travel, curb immigration, or advocate a stay-at-home policy, to you I say stop – and think. Don’t deny me the opportunity to meet, to learn, to experience. So much of the world’s attraction lies in its diversity; we just need to get out a little more.








2017 Grateful 29

Many moons ago, friends shared a house with a girl who’d come back from her weekends at home saying what a fantastic time she’d had. Everything had been brilliant. Great craic. Amazing. Then one weekend, when she stayed in town, they got to see that her version of brilliant, amazing, and great craic didn’t quite live up to what they’d envisioned. I’ve been there, too. I’ve done that burning-the-candle-at-both-ends thing in an effort to have a good time. I’ve sought out the amazing, the spectacular, and the craic and turned my nose up at the quiet, more restrained weekends others enjoyed.

Perhaps it’s old age, maturity, or just growing up – but lately, it’s the simple things in life that I get the most fun out of.

(c) L. Nugent

The lovelies were visiting from Dublin this weekend. We picked them up from the airport on Friday, and took them down to the village to see the new pad. Barely giving them time to unpack, I put them to work picking and pitting cherries. That evening, we bbq’d before driving the 50 minutes to Zalaegerszeg to see the great Ripoff Raskolnikov in action at the Pop-Up Café, a lovely little venue tacked on to the side of a community centre. [Frenk is playing there next weekend – I can see it becoming a regular haunt.] It was a brilliant gig – and I use the word intentionally. The lovelies were well impressed with this talented lyricist who could give Tom Waits a run for his money. [I’ve chosen two songs that I think Imelda May should sing, and I’ve made a note to write  and share this with her. I think she’s with it enough to answer or at least read an FB post. If anyone has an email address for her, holler. What a great new image she has eh?]

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast and some more cherry-picking, we stopped by the Balaton Airport for a nose. Tucked in behind a disused army barracks, it’s quite something. Flights still fly from there (RyanAir used to land its Dublin flight there back in the day and I’m hoping they’ll start using it again). But if I landed there on my first visit to Hungary, I think I might have some misgivings. And if I had money, I’d be looking at what could be done with those buildings … so much scope.

Next we headed over to see the lads at Florridora’s – the masters of Cream Teas. There we spent a lovely couple of hours catching up over pots of Earl Gray and plates of lavender shortbread, coconut sponge, rocky road, and traditional scones with whipped cream and raspberry-and-lemon jam. They now offer a catering service and will come to your home to prepare and serve a cream tea for your friends, colleagues, neighbours. A cracking idea – and they travel – and they bring their own china.

Back then to the cherries and another al fresco dinner with the neighbours. Later in the evening, the guitar came out and the sheep next door were entertained. I still need to get to grips with this noise thing. I am ridiculously considerate of my neighbours and need to relax a little and take advantage of the fact that it’s my house dammit and if I want to be outside chatting at 11pm, that’s okay. Yep – I made it to 11 before moving the sing-song indoors. Next time, I might make it till 12. Gulliver’s jerkin wasn’t knit in a day.

Sunday morning after mass (I was accompanied up the road by a neighbour I’d not spoken to before and managed to hold my own in conversation – in Hungarian) I came home to a fab breakfast of baked eggs with asparagus. This would set us up for a morning at the Liliomkert market over in Káptalantóti where I ordered curtains from a Transylvanian néni who travels in every few weeks with her wares. We communicated through her 10-year-old grandson. Between my Hungarian and his English, I can only hope that I get what I think I ordered. I’d left my wallet at home so came away without the cinema chairs, the old locker, and the gold-framed mirror I’d set my eye on. Next time.

Traffic was so bad going into Keszthely that we turned off and headed inwards, over the mountains. What spectacular views of the vineyards and the rolling hills and valleys. We stopped for lunch on the way back before going home for a quick nap to ready ourselves for the last game of the season at Zalaegerszeg. Big Z is set to take over the team later this month and I’m looking forward to the season starting end of July. The VIP box is quite something. The stands were practically empty, it being end of season with nothing riding on the game. Just wait, though, till he works his magic. Hajra ZTE!!! It’s all to play for. We stayed in town for dinner – the first of many to come, I hope – before heading back to the village. This morning, before starting out for Budapest, we got some more cherries picked – the sour ones are now ripe and that tree is loaded. I’ve spent the evening accosting my neighbors and forcing ziplocked bags of megyes on them. The rest I pitted and pulped and bottled.

Perhaps by other people’s standards, we didn’t have a glamorous weekend. Nothing life-changing happened. No records were broken. Nothing remarkable and yet everything remarkable. Some sayings were added to the repertoire:

  • Have you met you? Said in response to a ridiculous denial of something that’s bleedin’ obvious.
  • A present from me to me. Used to justify an outlandish purchase.
  • Every pot has a lid (or in Hungarian – every hole in the sack has a patch to fit). Another way of saying, there’s someone for everyone.
  • I’ll have one more than no more. Used when having that last drink is never enough.
  • And my all-time favourite Steinism – You’re not putting hearts in babies. As in get over yourself – what you’re doing isn’t that important.

I didn’t want to leave. The next couple of weeks will be full on, both people-wise and work-wise. But this week was a good one. This weekend was my sort of brilliant. Good times spent in good company – this is what I’m grateful for.



2017 Grateful 30

Cappy got to us. We caved. Before heading cross country to Alajuela (with its fabulous cathedral) where we’d spend our last night in Costa Rica, we took him up on his offer. We had nearly three hours on the water. We caught a needle-nose but it got away. We went snorkelling but didn’t see any turtles, as the noise from the compressors on the nearby dive boats had driven them away. We got time on our white-sand beach and the crew did get us some scallops for lunch. And we saw lots of pelicans on weird looking islands. So all went to plan.

El Capitan, Cappy

The haul – even the oyster was good

Prepping lunch

Scallop ceviche

It killed me to leave those shells behind, but taking sand and shells or indeed anything from the beaches or nature reserves in the country is a very strict no-no. I was all set to try until Cappy pointed this out to me and then, armed with full knowledge of my crime, I couldn’t claim ignorance.

It’s been a long, packed, couple of weeks. Costa Rica is stunningly beautiful in parts. By far the better off of the Central American countries, and definitely the most stable, it still has its share of poverty. The homelessness in San José is heartbreaking. The influx of Nicaraguan immigrants replacing the Tico emigrants heading north is taking its toll.

If you plan on going, these are some things to keep in mind:

Things to do:

  • Pay attention to the exchange rates. For the most part, you get a much better deal if you pay in colones. The best rate I got was using an ATM card.
  • Check your receipts. The 10% service charge in bars and restaurants is often included. An additional 5% is semi-expected, if the service was good – and the service invariably is good.
  • Buy your souvenirs from places that sport the Made in Costa Rica labels. So much of what’s on offer is made in China. Leave your money in-country and buy from the local crafters. Be sure to ask for the cash price.
  • Get up early and swim in the morning and afternoons – the heat in the middle of the day is a killer and in the rainy season (May to December) the rain will start about 4pm.
  • Remember to bring an umbrella and rain gear – it will rain every day from May to December.
  • Pack your hiking boots, if you plan on trekking in any of the national parks. It can get muddy and the path isn’t always smooth.
  • If you want to go fishing, shop around.
  • Stop by the roadside Sodas (cafés) – pick the ones with the trucks parked outside.
  • Eat the fruit – amazingly fresh, especially the pineapple and mango.
  • Sample the local fruit juices and wines from the roadside stands. Vino Coyol (Costa Rican Moonshine) is quite something.
  • Bring a spare swimsuit as things just don’t dry quickly.
  • Shake hands with everyone from taxi drivers to hotel receptionists – it’s the done thing. Civility is everything in Tico.
  • Bring LOTS of insect repellent. It’s expensive to buy.
  • Give yourself time to travel. Beaches are far better on the east coast – just sayin’.
  • If you’re visiting volcanos, go early morning as visibility is much better. Check with the rangers before you pay your admission fee that you’ll be able to see something.
  • Wait till you take a coffee tour before buying coffee – you’ll learn a lot and make better choices.
  • Visit the Hidden Garden Art Gallery – even if you don’t plan on buying.

Things not to do…

  • Don’t rely on GPS or Google Maps for accurate times to reach your destination. Tico traffic is horrible. Add half again to your estimated time to be on the safe side. For example, if it says 4 hours, bank on it being closer to 6. The only place it might be accurate is on Route 1, the InterAmerican Highway.
  • Don’t attempt to pack anything you’ve scavenged in your hand luggage – your carry-on bags will be searched at the airport.
  • Don’t leave your shopping till you get to the airport – prices are a good 50% higher than elsewhere.
  • Don’t bother buying third-party car insurance if you’re booking your rental via Expedia or some other conglomerator. It won’t be recognised in CR and you’ll just have to buy more at the rental counter.
  • Don’t expect to have phone coverage everywhere – some of that rainforest is quite dense and signals don’t penetrate.

I’m back home now, on a train, heading to the lake house. And while I’m grateful that I had the chance to visit Costa Rica, to experience it all in such good company (thank you LKB, for the invite), I’m glad to be home. A recent article I read on the joys of living a mediocre life (although I think the article is badly titled and mediocre is the wrong word to use) talks of living the quiet life. Perhaps it’s age. Perhaps it’s a state of mind. Perhaps it’s simply the magic of Hungarian village life. Whatever it is, I am inordinately blessed to have the best of all worlds. A country retreat. A pied-à-terre in a beautiful city.  And the wherewithal to travel to places like Costa Rica. Gotta love life.

Calling in the boat

Apparently, if you put lemon juice in an oyster shell and leave it a week, it makes a great skin cream

A baby starfish

A baby lobster