2018 Grateful 21

Sometime last year I booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran play in Warsaw. I knew nothing of his music. I thought Galway Girl was a song he covered rather than wrote. But the hype that surrounded the announcement of his European Tour – which by the way sold out in record time with extra nights added in a number of cities, including Warsaw – made me curious. And I had friends in Warsaw whom I hadn’t see in a long time so it all worked out.

Fast forward through the intervening months and it came time to book train tickets and make the trip. My friends, in the meantime, had absconded to Zanzibar and had it been easy to sell the tickets, I’d have done so. But our names were on them. And transferring them to someone else had to be done in person – so I’d have to go to Warsaw anyway. So we went.

The National Stadium (PGE Narodowy) is a massive venue, holding some 58,145 (official for football matches) / 56,826 (UEFA capacity) / 72,900 (concerts) punters. The back half of the seating wasn’t open but the floor was rammed with teenagers who had queued since 1 pm for a 5 pm admission and an 8.45pm appearance. They wanted to be up front and centre. Us? We had seated tickets in the rafters and were in no rush anywhere.

Had I done my homework, I’d have known his stage time was 8.45 to 11 pm. I incorrectly assumed he’d appear at 8 pm (it was a Sunday night), so we got there about 7.30 pm in time to catch the last of his warm-up acts, a gal by the name of Anne-Marie. To give the girl her due, she can carry a tune. But when she brought out the vodka (Polish of course) to do shots with her band to mark the end of a very successful tour, I was less than impressed. Really? With a multitude of impressionable teens in the audience, what was the message? Cool to do shots? Okay, I know they’re probably all drinking anyway, but I’m of the mind that stars with a young following have a responsibility to show some decent example. Yep – I was one of the oldest there.

When our boy Ed didn’t show to my schedule, I started to get a tad upset. And when he eventually sauntered on, without a care in the world, I was on the verge of seething. But then he started to play.

Now, as regular readers will know, I can’t hold a tune to save my life so I’m won’t even begin to comment on how good, bad, or indifferent he is as a musician. But as an entertainer, he has it nailed. Just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, coupled with some funny insights in to the 2% of the audience that were there under duress (reluctant boyfriends and super dads) endeared him to my cynical self. The guy has class. And he described me to a T. We’re quite alike apparently when we’re at gigs. Ed and me. Everything goes on in our heads – not a hint of enjoyment shows on the outside. But, hey, anyone who can quieten a crowd of 72k screaming teens gets my vote for audience control.

The National Stadium doesn’t have the greatest sound system in the world – either that or Ed’s diction is a tad off. Some of the lyrics were difficult to make out but the crowd didn’t seem to care. They sang along. Every word. Every single word. Except for that one quiet song when he told them to sssh. And I think it was during that song (whatever it was) that some young lad up in front got down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend. It takes all sorts.

Ed Sheeran Concert WarsawCigarette lighters are a thing of the past. Now it’s flashlights on mobile phones. And the Warsaw lot were organised enough to have white lights on the top tier and red ones on the lower one – creating a waving Polish flag. The flashlight effect was given a flickering look by holding up sheets of white A4 paper in front of their phones. From my vantage point, it was quite spectacular (ok, so not everyone was in on it, but it did look great). When he had them wave and pump their arms, the mosh pit looked like a sea of worms. For a minute, I felt queasy.

Knowing Poniatowski bridge (Most Poniatowskiego) over the Vistula River would be closed before the gig ended and that 72 000+ people would flood out of the stadium starting from when he played his last song, we left early. Just two songs early, mind you, but that didn’t stop the wave of sympathy from the young ones. No matter. The music was so loud, Ed followed us across the bridge towards the Centre so we missed nothing but the hassle.

I enjoyed it. Our Ed’s done well for himself. I like the fact that his first support band were some Polish friends he’d roomed with when he was 18. I like that he’s engaged to his high-school sweetheart. And I like the fact that it’s him, his guitar, and his customised looping machine that makes all the noise. Everything we heard, he assured us, was live. The bit about him being homeless has been exaggerated. In his book, he explains:

There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song Homeless and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’

I caught Jamie Fox talking about him on the Graham Norton Show. And I liked his story, too.

It worked out well. It was a fitting end to a good weekend. I won’t be buying a CD or downloading him any time soon, but I will be in danger of singing along. For a young fellah who struggled like many others to make his mark on the world, the boy’s done good. And he’s still a nice lad. Lots to be grateful for there.

 

 

2018 Grateful 22

When your bestie’s birthday is a couple of days before yours, it’s generally a good thing. Back in the day when we lived on the same continent, we’d celebrate in style. But when she shrugged off her mortal coil and departed this Earth way ahead of schedule, the closeness of our birthdays makes mine much more poignant.  It was hard, at first. Her memorial, some four months after her death, marked what would have been her 50th. I flew out to San Francisco to be there. It was a strange affair. Six years later, it’s still strange.

It’s not about survivor’s guilt. People die. Life will eventually kill us all. I have a rather pragmatic approach to death coupled with a somewhat morbid fascination with cemeteries I don’t fear it. I might certainly resent it, if it came too early (right now I figure 87 is my best-by year) but I’m not afraid of it. I’m more afraid of not living. Wasn’t it Cardinal Newman who said:

‘Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but that it shall never have a beginning.’

This fear of not living translates into what some might interpret as an inability to sit still. Or a reluctance to stop doing. Or an incessant need to be on the go. It’s been said of me (all too often) that I have a thing for burning the candle at both ends. And lately, on the rare days that I’m in Budapest, that could well be the case.

I keep two calendars (online and paper-based) which I often update after the fact. I also read a lot of crime fiction. Add the two together and you might just glimpse the shirttails of a need to be able to produce an alibi, were I ever to stand accused of something I didn’t do. As has become the norm this time of year, my thoughts focus more than usual on death and dying. I’m also on Book 6 of a six-book series by PB Byrne set in post-Civil-War Boston featuring the admirable Nell Sweeney, which I highly recommend. There’s death everywhere. I was struck today by the thought that were I to die in suspicious circumstances, say, this coming Friday, the cops would unearth my online calendar to check my comings and goings and take my birthday week alone, they’d rightly think that I’m living a blessed life.

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the Renaissance set at Korda Film Studios

On the NYC set at Korda Studios

Thursday, coincidently, was my monthly pamper day. Friday was one to catch up with a series of friends I’ve not seen in a while. It spilt over well into Saturday morning. That day continued with a trip to Korda Film Studios, just outside Budapest, followed by lunch in a family-run makeshift restaurant in Eygtek and a trip to the local baths that evening. Sunday, I spent volunteering at a local nursery before heading to the hills for dinner with friends who gave me a present of a fabulous old floral-painted  Hungarian shelf that has completely reversed my plans for the kitchen in the village. Monday, I visited one friend’s theatre, had lunch with another to discuss a book project, met a third for coffee (and received another piece of old floral-painted Hungarian furniture that has also changed what I’d planned to do with my office in the village). Then I had my hair done followed by drinks with she who has known me longest in BP. Today I was over in Torley for a guided tour and wine-tasting (a b/day present). And even though the tour was in Hungarian and for the most part lost on me, the time spent in the cool cellars far from the 36 degrees outside, were magical. The next few days are also full, with the highlights being a visit to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and an evening with the fab Ripoff Raskolnikov in Kobuci Kert. This then is topped off by a train trip to Warsaw to see Ed Sheeran do this thing.

Were my life always this manic, I’d not be worth a fraction of the envy some people might feel. But when you concentrate on living in the city for a few days each month, then that time is really all go and a nice complement to the days in the village where the most exciting thing that might happen is that a tomato turns red. Or the pears finally ripen. Or the moles go on holiday.

Death, any death, but particularly death that comes before its time, has a way of urging us to live life to the fullest. And for that I’m grateful.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 23

It was a no-bark, three-shirts-a-day weekend. The village dogs couldn’t be bothered barking as I went by and even with three showers a day, I was still melting. Add that to the extremely annoying biting flies that have fallen in love with my ankles and you might see why I was having a rare moment of WTF – what was I doing here? That said, the annual Village Day on Saturday made me take a step back and appreciate the value of village life in Hungary.

The villagers were out in force. The day’s programme landed in our mailbox on Thursday so we had a full list of events from morning till night. Everything was scheduled. The Karate demo got 20 minutes from 1.40 till 2 pm. A local drama quartet had 15 minutes for their sketch that I think had something to do with cheating wives and watermelons. Some operetta singers visiting from Pécs got a full 45 minutes, every one of which they did justice to. And it all ran to schedule, marshalled ot the minute by the local librarian who’d get my vote for Prime Minister. We had singers, dancers, and musicians as entertainment but I suspect this was to mask the more serious business of the gulyás cooking competition. I can only assume that the judge was not a local judge; living in the village after having chosen between the team from the Mayor’s office or the young pensioners could be dangerous.

The traditional costumes with the hand-pleated petticoat skirts and beaded headdresses were out in force. And my heart went out to them. The Holy Souls were flying out of purgatory at an alarming rate given the mountain of heat trapped between those layers. Full-legged tights and long-sleeved shirts had to make it hotter than hot. Fair play to them for sticking with it, though. Fair play. I’d not have done half as well and certainly wouldn’t have lasted the pace.

Hungarian folk costume

Hungarian folk costume

They clapped. They laughed. They sang. They embodied the community spirit and made sure that the songs and dances would live on. Young and old alike took to the stage and in the wings, some even younger dancers took their cue from the professionals.

It’s nice to see tradition alive and well and lived rather than displayed. This wasn’t an exhibition. This was real. And despite the heat and the flies and the discomfort, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have been. For this, I’m grateful.

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

2018 Grateful 24

A strange thing happened this morning. After a night laden with thunder, lightning, and teeming rain, the village had a clean feel to it as we walked to mass. The thunder was still making itself heard and rain threatened but it was warm enough. The congregation was smaller than usual, probably to due with the weather. We slotted into our usual seat and then, just as mass started, a young couple with a baby arrived and sat in the seat in front us.

I’ve seen them around before and think I’ve sussed out the connection – his mother (I think) lives locally, and they visit on occasion.

We had a priest this week. I’ve given up trying to figure out the roster between our village and the neighbouring ones. Most weeks we have a deacon, who although has only half the mass to say (the Eucharist and such having been prepared earlier) still takes longer than the regular padre. Give a man a pulpit and you know not what you’ll get.

The usual pattern of little old dears surrounded us. Normally, these women wouldn’t crack a smile if  Ági Néni went up to Communion with the hem of her skirt accidentally tucked into her knickers. They’re serious about their prayer and come to mass armed with prayerbooks so heavy they all walk with a slight tilt – and they use them. But when the baby arrived, everything changed. The priest was no longer their sole focus. God was forgotten. Their faces broke into broad smiles as they sneaked surreptitious glances at the child, who was tidily seated in his buggy in the aisle.

All was going well until he got bored. And he started making noises. The parents smiled indulgently at him. I had to hold my blood pressure in check. It’s a pet peeve – why people allow their kids to make a ruckus in Church but wouldn’t think of allowing them to do so at, say, a theatre. I can’t believe I’m saying this… but when I was young (yes, I’m cringing!) and too young to go to mass quietly, mam went to one mass while Boss minded us; he went to another later or earlier. There’s a mass on the hour in any of five neighbouring villages so there’s plenty of choice. I found myself asking why… why didn’t one of them go to 9 am in the next village over? They could bring the baby down after mass to meet the nénis.

He wanted out of his buggy and mam obliged. The priest was showing mild evidence of irritation (I’m with you, Father) as he tried to compete, volume wise. The little old dears were bending over backwards in all sorts of contortions trying to make the kid smile. It was at once annoying and amusing. The mass was lost on them. Their prayers forgotten. Everyone was focused on the kid.

When it came to the offering the sign of peace, the Santa Claus lookalike who sits opposite traversed the aisle to shake hands with the toddler, a big smile on his face. This ageing church had been imbued with new life. And as everyone filed out after the final blessing, there was a noticeable spring to the collective step.

I’ve lived a life without issue. That particular door never opened and for that I’m grateful. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone other than myself in this life. But every now and then I get a glimpse at what I might have missed. And I smile. I smile a smile tinged with ‘if only’ but laced in gratitude. Yep – even I was making faces at the toddler in the end.

Wedding in the Algarve

2018 Grateful 25

I’ve been to a fair few Irish weddings in my time and there’s a sameness to the proceedings that seems to be favoured. A pattern. A few scoops in a bar close to the church beforehand where everyone gets together before heading to the ceremony. Then the meet and greet in the churchyard with a subsequent meet and dissect afterwards. Didn’t the bride look amazing? Wasn’t the priest just great? Did you see what so-and-so was wearing?  Then it’s off to the hotel for the wedding breakfast, the reception. Usually there’s a drinks reception in the grounds, weather permitting followed by the traditional wedding fare: Soup or prawn cocktail followed by a choice of beef or salmon (no doubt the inspiration behind the name of the racehorse who won the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2004 and was three-time winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup). Dessert might be baked Alaska or even profiteroles. Then tea and coffee to go with the wedding cake. The wedding band would get everyone on the dancefloor after the speeches and the DJ would kick off the afters, when those not invited to the main event would show up for the hooley … and the cocktail sausages. The party would no doubt continue in the resident’s bar till the wee hours, making breakfast the next morning a rather turgid affair. And then we’d all be gone. Home to send in the rolls of film and wait two weeks to check the photos.

Give or take a few details and menu choices, this format is pretty standard, even today. But Irish weddings in Portugal? They’re of a different sort.

We turfed up in Burgau late Thursday afternoon. It was our first time in the Algarve and we’d taken our time getting here, driving down from Malaga across Andalusia. Most of the wedding party were staying in Praia da Luz, a few short miles from our fishing village. That evening, the bride’s parents hosted a BBQ in the villa they’d rented for the duration. [It’s on the market for a cool €4.5 million, and the mosquitos are included at no extra cost.]  Some two years earlier, many of the same crowd had been at another family wedding in Portugal, so it was a case of remembering names and faces and putting them both together. After that, it was as if the two intervening years morphed into a matter of weeks. What a pleasant change it makes to catch up with people at weddings rather than at funerals. Most of those there were making a holiday out of it, using the wedding as the focal point and then doing their own thing before or after. That’s one of the many plusses of getting married abroad. It’s a natural sift – those who really want to be there make the journey.

Igreja da Luz de Lagos

Photo: Steve Jacobs

On Saturday, Kelly’s Pub was the meeting point from 12.30 with the ceremony set to start at 1.30 in Igreja da Luz de Lagos, just around the corner. The yellow-and-white facade was set off beautiful by the Portugese sun and the photo opportunities, no longer obstructed by the trampoline set that usually lives in the churchyard, were many. The style was quite something with a couple of the lads wearing rigouts that might net them a prize at the Galway Races.

The local priest was an animated chap, not at all backward about coming forward. The bride, nearly 30 minutes late in arriving (only so many hairdryers can be run at the one time, ladies), came in for some good-natured rebukes as did we, the congregation, who were far too chatty for his churchiness: music or chat, he said, not both. Fair play though – he gave a great homily, with a humourous lesson for us all, something akin to my bullet theory.

Once upon a time, David went calling on Melissa. He knocked on the door.
She asked ‘Who is it?’
He anwered ‘It’s me.’ Nothing happened. She didn’t open the door as he expected.
Somewhat disconcerted, he knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
And again he anwered ‘It’s me.’ But still she didn’t open the door.
Now, David, being a smart lad, figured that giving the same answer would in all likelihood get the same result. So he decided to change his approach.
He knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
But this time he anwered ‘It’s you.’ And the door opened…

Padre José Manuel Pacheco reminded us that the secret to a successful relationship is that each puts the other’s happiness before their own. [As an aside, apparently 15/16 of the weddings he has slated this year are foreign (mainly Irish and English) with only one Portuguese. Church weddings, it would seem, are no longer that fashionable in Portugal. It was surprising at first but then even in our village of Burgau, you’d be hard pushed to find a local native who seem to have given over their space to French, English, Irish, and Dutch.]

The newly married couple exited to the La Bamba played by String Quartet Solutions with the rest of us in tow. Waiting outside were glasses of champagne with strawberries. Again, the photos. And the oohs and aahs. And all the emotion that goes with seeing a couple so obviously well matched start out on a journey that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. They’re a well-balanced couple, who like their champagne, their Hendicks gin, and their Dominoes pizza. And they have a sense of humour – true Dubs, the entire wedding party was decked out in the GAA blue of the Dublin team.

Wedding in the Algarve

Then it was off to Quinta dos Vales wine estate for the reception. The place is a relatively new winery, with the first vines planted in the 1980s and the first wines sold commercially in 2003. Today, it’s a winery, a sculpture garden, an event venue, and a place to stay. Mixing and mingling in the courtyard gardens before the breakfast, we were serenaded by a fab sax player, entertained by the variety of sculptures on display, and libated with champers and white sangria. I was particularly taken with the wooden furniture made from wine barrels, tooled by the hands of Serhiy Khomyak. One of his benches is now on my lotto list. Parasols were provided to sheild the fair Irish skins from the sun and with the fairly breezy day we had, more than one passing reference was made to Mary Poppins.

Wedding in the Algarve

The breakfast was a far cry from the traditional Irish fare with a selection of local meats and cheeses to start with followed by a choice of fish/meat/veg, and topped off by a selection of traditional desserts. ‘Twas a lovely take on a taster menu complemented by wines from the estate. The wedding cake was a cheesecake – 10 wheels of various cheeses stacked in a tower. A brilliant idea – one to be shamelessly nicked.

Weddings are a funny thing, when you think of it – a meeting of the ages, with the aunts and uncles and friends of the parents, then the friends of the bride and groom, and then their nieces and nephews. The band had their work cut out for them to cater for all tastes and styles. They were great craic. The photographers were kept busy as the jivers took to the floor with a dash and the kids did the Floss (a dance banned recently by one school in the UK).

By all accounts, the party went on till early morning. Long gone are the days when I’d be amongst the last ones standing. It then continued the following day in Praia da Luz at the Ocean Villas resort where a fully catered BBQ with an open bar and a roast pig on a spit worked the miracle cure a lot of people needed. The park, overlooking the ocean, was a perfect setting for the culmination of a perfect weekend.

Wedding in the Algarve

Wedding in the Algarve

This wedding was perhaps the first time I was conscious that I’ve graduated the oldies – the friends of parents. My staying power certainly ain’t what it used to be, although I can still give a night a good run for its money. But when I’m reminded in conversation that they’re only 23 or 25 or 27 or 30 and realise that had I taken a different path, I could have kids that age, I see tomorrow in a different light.  And while I might have, on occasion, spoken with the voice of experience, I was also reminded of things I don’t want to forget.

The young lad who mislaid his passport on Thursday and had decided not to ruin his weekend by stressing about it. He’d deal with it when he got to the airport on Monday, he said. Fair play, I thought, as I flashed back to the meltdown I had when I lost my passport in Las Palmas a few years back. The young lady who worked as a healthcare worker with dementia patients has a book of advice and empathy in her for those new to the illness. If my mind ever fails me, I hope I have a nurse like her. The newly graduated teacher soon to start their first job and full of ideas to imbue the Irish language with new life and make it a language their students choose to learn.  If I had kids, I’d want them to go to their school.

Many of the couples I met had been together since they were 15, or 18, or 21. Ten years and more. They’d known each other since they were infants. They were sure and certain and comfortable in their relationships. The older couples had an energy and a molliness that was enviable. Some of the stories are best left unwritten. After a long weekend of sun, sea, and spirited singing, I came away with a renewed optimism for tomorrow and a rejuvenated faith in the sacrament of marriage.

And for this, I’m truly grateful.

For more on the Grateful series.

For more on the trip across Andalusia.

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 26

It’s bloody hot. And instead of cooling down, it’s getting hotter as the day goes on. It’s to hit 39 by 7pm this evening. Welcome to Córdoba, the prepping ground for Seville where temps are to be even hotter. We’re on a road trip through Andalusia and today has been the first day that I’ve really felt the heat – enough to do the Spanish thing an stay inside in the afternoon: la siesta and air con – a heady mixture.

Another mixture I’ve discovered is the famed 50/50 from the Bodegas Mezquita winery. It’s a mix of their white Fino, a lovely staw-coloured dry wine made just like sherry but for DO reasons can’t be called sherry, and a very sweet Pedro Ximenez. When you mix them, half in half, you get the best of both worlds – dry and sweet.

After reading somewhere that a Japanese tourist had what he called his best meal in all Spain in their restaurant on Cruz del Rastro (they have three in the city of Córboba), we had to try it. And while the service seriously rated (the delightful Pepa was on the ball), it didn’t quite beat the experience at Antonia’s in Jerez.

But they have a great motto:

Lo mejor de la vida siempre se comparte ¬ the best of life is always shared.

And how true that is. For many years, I preferred to travel solo. And not from some super-considerate desire not to inflict my travel self on someone else but because I didn’t want to deal with someone else’s preferences, particularly if they didn’t coincide with mine. On my first ever sun holiday, my friend wanted to spend all night partying and all day recovering by the pool or at the beach. I wanted to get on a bus and see the mountains. I wanted to do stuff. But she wasn’t remotely interested. I could, of course, have simply said as much, but in my misguided youth, I was loathe to do anything that would upset anyone. I thought going on holiday meant being attached at the hip. Instead, I feigned illness, waited until she left, and then on the back of my remarkable recovery, skipped out and went rambling for the day making sure to be back in time for tea. Ridiculous in hindsight but at 18 it made all the sense in the world.

From then on, I travelled on my own. Three weeks interrailing across Europe sealed my fate. The only thing deciding my day was the train timetable. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and I loved it. I did miss being able to share the moment though. Or to relive it months or even years later. But that was the price I paid for having it my way – all the time.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed a little. I’ve gotten a little better at compromise. I have friends I can travel with – those who are happy enough to do their own thing and let me do mine and equally happy to spend time with me if both things coincide. I’ve lucked out with himself, who shows no compunction about taking off on his own, leaving me time to myself. We have similar thoughts on where to stay and what to do. I drive, he navigates. I sleep in, he goes out and gets coffee. He likes the heat, I don’t. And if I want to see something that he’s not remotely interested in, or vice versa, there’s no question of feeling obliged. Right now, he’s off out in 35 degrees sussing out somewhere for drinks later. And I’m inside, with the aircon, loving the cold. What’s not to be grateful for.

 

Festetics Palace Hungary

2018 Grateful 27

I have a newfound respect for homemakers, those who don’t venture into the world of paid work but rather stay home, keep house, and look after their families. I’m not talking about the wealthy, tennis-playing, charity-championing socialites who’ve probably never lifted anything heavier than a Hermes Birkin bag (the one by Japanese designer Ginza Tanaka has a whopping $1.9 million price-tag). I’m talking about the likes of her-next-door; she who works every hour God sends tending to her crops, her vegetables, her chickens…and her ageing mother. It’s damned hard work for very little return (if you’re counting the forints). She ageless – not because she looks amazing but because I can’t put an age on her. She’s seen the better part of at least sixty summers, but I could be wrong on that. She’s an authority on all things rural and the other day popped in to give me an in-the-garden lesson on weeds. She’d seen me looking at the flowerbed wondering what to pull.

My cider vinegar hasn’t exploded. My walnut and zucchini bread was a hit with my weekend visitors. And all things cherry are still being enjoyed. And while the cuts on my fingers have just about healed, the callouses live on.

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a tad obsessive about the garden and what it produces. Given my druthers, I’d stay here all summer, experimenting with jams and juices and trying to find the sweet spot in the oven  – that minute between just done and done burnt. But I need to be careful. I’m an introvert. People require energy that sometimes I find difficult to muster. And if I give in to my natural inclination, l mightn’t talk to anyone (other than himself) from one end of the week to the next. So when I have visitors, I get out. I show them around. I go do stuff.

This weekend, we hit the market at Hévíz again, I was seriously attracted to a statue of Our Lady but my friends, practised marketers themselves, said that the 100 000 ft ($360/€312) the chap wanted for it was ridiculous; 15 000 ft would have been more reasonable. And, they said, it wasn’t 100 years old either. I’d done as I always do – I’d fixed a price that I’d have been prepared to pay for it before I asked how much it was. I’d 30 000 ft in my head. It was still there as we left. But I did spot a very unusual picture of Jesus and Mary. Unusual because he looks remarkably young – a teenager even. And she looks all of the 17 years she was when she gave birth. [The crucifix I was given by a mate who inherited it with his flat – it creeped him out.]

Jesus and Mary

Heart of Jesus, through Mary thy Kingdom come

From there we went to Keszthely, to see the ceramic studio of Szalay Imré. This master potter is famous for his tiled stoves. Such is his reach that a ceramics chap in Melbourne, Australia, has been working on introducing the traditional Hungarian stove down under. In our rather disposable world, littered as it is with cheap, mass-produced tat from China and Turkey, it’s great to see such traditional crafts becoming more and more popular. We have two chimneys, neither of which is in a room we want a stove. But if we can figure out a workaround for the winter garden, perhaps we could have one there.

Szalay Imré Hungarian tiled stove

Szalay Imré Hungarian ceramic tiles

We had the dogs with us, so we popped into Festetics Palace for a wander around the gardens. This Baroque palace began its life back in the mid-1700s and is really quite something. Such is its understated grandeur that it forces you back in time to think of days when it was a single-family residence and what life must have been like back then. [Upstairs. I’d have been upstairs.]

The last family members to reside in the Festetics Palace were Tassilo II’s son, George III (1882-1941) and his family. His wife, the Polish Countess Maria Haugwitz and their son, George IV (1940- ) left the palace in 1944.

We toured it a couple of years ago and I must dig out the photos. That was in the dead of winter. This time, we had the glorious sunshine of the Hungarian summer.

Festetics palace keszthely

Festetics Festetics palace keszthely

The view from the front lawn, though, is less than inspiring. Maria must have been long gone or else I’m sure she’d have lodged an objection to the monument to Communist architecture that drags the palace into the twenty-first century.

Grounds of Festetics Palace

I hadn’t appreciated the grounds before. They’re beautiful. And curiously, the occasional stone marker tells of trees planted by various heads of state from around the world. The one that grabbed me was a tree planted in 2004 by the then president of Vietnam. The Google translation I found of the event calls the tree in question ‘a sad lollipop’. Another calls it ‘a sad lizard’. Whatever it is, it’s a szomorú vörösfenyőt in Hungarian.

Festetics Palace Hungary

Festetics Palace Keszthely

The views of the palace vary – I had little trouble deciding what I would have done with my days, had I been in residence. Leisurely mornings reading under my choice of tree. Or perhaps taking tea in my choice of drawing room. Then planning the menu with the cook and deciding what I’d wear to dinner that evening. I might have spent some time in the library checking some random fact or other. Or even brought out my watercolours and tried to capture the house I called home. And this really was someone’s home in the last 80 years. How times have changed. I wonder what George IV is doing these days? Born in 1940, he’d be nearly 80. Curious minds want to know.

It was a busy week and a busier weekend. For the company of those who take me out of myself, I’m grateful.

Next week, I leave. We’re taking a road trip through Spain and Portugal, so this blog will be pretty quiet. If you want to come along, subscribe to email notifications of my travels from www.anyexcusetotravel.com. If not, I’ll see you when I get back.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

2018 Grateful 29

I was in Venice during the week for a few days. I packed my laptop. I had about an hour’s work that I didn’t quite get done before I left, so I brought it with me. As I like to blog, too, it’s handy to have. I have it in my mind that one day I’ll use the text in my three blog/websites as the material for three books: Unpacking My Bottom Drawer (a work in progress, scheduled for later this year); Any Excuse to Travel (a vague notion for 2019); and Dying to Get In (still in my head). I like the discipline. I like that when I write about a city, or somewhere I visit, I have to research. I have to read around it. And all too often, I learn of places I would have gone to visit had I know about them while I was there. [Next time, I want to visit the Armenian Monastery where Byron went to study the language.]

We didn’t walk through St Mark’s Square. We didn’t take a Gondola trip. We didn’t visit Murano. Or Burano. Or San Michele. We didn’t go to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini. And I never once ate pasta. But I did get a taste of life on the water. I discovered Tintoretto and his amazing story. And I got to the Biennale. We stayed on Lido and even spent one entire day lying by a pool. What poor tourists we were.

I can’t remember when I stopped always doing what was expected of me. I don’t have a firm recollection of when I began to lessen the hold that obligation had over me. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date when I started to offer a considered no in place of a blind yes. None of this happened overnight. You can’t change a lifetime of behaviour just by willing it so. I’ve had to learn…and often the hard way.

I know it’s working because I’ve heard that I’ve changed. I’m not nearly as much fun, apparently. Not nearly as sociable. Not nearly as available. And I’m hearing more and more lately that I seem to have settled. Oh man – the first time I heard my name and that word in the same sentence, I had palpitations. Me? Settled? Seriously? But perhaps I have settled. I still like a drink but no longer want to waste the next day recovering so those times when the weakness in me get strong are few and far between. I still like to go out but enjoy my time at home even more. I still like to travel but am picking and choosing my destination a little more carefully.

I’m still working, still chasing my tail, still trying to juggle a million things at once, but I’m also taking more time to experiment, to pick fruit, to paint tables. I’ve given up on SEO, and social media, and tweeting resigning myself to the fact that people don’t have time to read anything but headlines. So when I write now, I write for me. For my own records. And for some dear old friends who, through age and circumstance, like to travel virtually with me.

Happy birthday week DLW – hang tough. UNESCO has it right – normal life is a full-time job. And I’m grateful for mine, however settled it might be.

2018 Grateful 30

I’ve had one of those weeks when I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It started when I left two bags of cherries in the fridge in the village. I’d meant to bring them to the city to stone and freeze. I wouldn’t mind, but I wondered not once, but three times, why the food carrier was so light.

Then my store of novelty Budapest chocolates, treats for a workshop I was running on Friday, treats that I’ve only ever found in one little shop over in Buda – I had those all ready to pack – but didn’t want to crush the boxes, so I Ieft them aside and then left without them. Airport chocolate is five times more expensive and not nearly as nice.

Then the flight was late.

When I got to the car rental desk, the lovely lady told me that my credit card had expired last week. So no car. They, of course, don’t take cash. Or a debit card. And even had I taken full insurance, they’d still need a credit card. Why or what for I’m not sure. Thankfully, the mates I called came to my rescue. They’d rent the car but name me as the driver. They arrived with a credit card but no licence – why would they need it if they weren’t driving? So another friend had to be called in. I was now three hours behind schedule. But I was on the road.

Next day, I get to my workshop more than an hour early. I wanted to be sure that I’d be able to use my laptop with their system and if not, have time to source another. All was good. But the that massive Windows update that I’d been putting off all week kicked in and for more than an hour I wanted the minutes tick away, one percent at a time. I just about made it.

I couldn’t get my Internet to work, so I texted their support guy, who asked questions like when I run config/all (or some such) what does it say? WTF? The presumption of knowledge was hilarious. It was something to do with hardcored DNS numbers in the end.

The workshop went fine. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. All good.

I still had time before the shops closed so I headed into TK Maxx to buy a frying pan. I get lost easily and if I enter the shopping centre from a different door, I find it nearly impossible to orientate myself. I spotted a lift that I knew would open on the floor I needed, so in I got. Halfway between two floors, the electricity cut out and the lift stopped. With me in it. And I was in it for 29 minutes. I counted. They eventually got the door open and lowered a ladder for me to climb out. It was, of course, the only day this year that I’ve worn a floor-length skirt. All I can say is that it wasn’t pretty.

I had yet another fruitless trip to M&S who really need to do something about their ordering policy. It’s pretty clear to me (someone with little to no retail experience) that if something regularly sells out, you should order more of it than of anything else. Every other woman in Ireland must wear the same bra size as I do because M&S has not had that size in stock the last three times I’ve shopped there.

So, with the week about to close and a new one set to begin, I can only hope that the universe has said whatever it needs to say to me. These were, of course, all first world issues. As the rest of the world continues to go mad, I’m grateful that my issues are trivial.