Grateful 11

I’ve discovered a lot about myself this past week, particularly about the importance/significance of exaggeration in my life. I’m Irish, ergo I’m predisposed to storytelling. Why would I be mildy ticked off if I can, in the retelling, be extremely irritated? Feeling miserable sounds so much better than not feeling well. Voltaire pegged exaggeration as the inseparably companion of greatness. And I can certainly live with that illusion.

Eric Hoffer reckoned that thought is a process of exaggeration – the refusal to exaggerate is not infrequently an alibi for the disinclination to think or praise.  And God between us and all harm, I’d hate to be disinclined to either.

For the last week or so I’ve been inside, confined to quarters, and feeling miserable. The doctor diagnosed bronchitis and sinusitis, so any tips on how to deal with a cold were ignored. Don’t suggest home remedies or over-the-counter meds. The great medical minds in BP had ruled. I didn’t have a cold, dammit. I didn’t have the ‘flu. I had not one -itis, but two! [And there are those of you who think me a rational human being!]

As the drugs changed and the symptoms worsened and my Facebook updates became more graphic, I lost all desire to exaggerate. I was so busy being sick that I hadn’t the energy to add to it. Forget the -itises, I was having a horrible dose of reality mixed with hallucinations, cold sweats, and throbbing headaches.

And somewhere mixed in with that reality were the phone calls, the text messages, the e-mails, the Facebook check-ins from people I know well and some I barely know at all. That I turned down offers for help, food, and company is no exaggeration. And for those I’m grateful. But what I’m even more grateful for is that people stayed away. Odd, I know.

I’ve been accused in the past for taking people literally. Nay, accused is too strong a word, but I haven’t the wherewithal to find a better one. If you tell me you don’t want company, fine. If you tell me you’re okay, I’ll go with that. If you tell me not to come over, I won’t. I don’t factor in the possibility that you’re only saying this because you don’t want to inconvenience me in any way. I have perhaps too healthy a respect for other people’s wishes – and I’ve been wrong in this.

And I know some people struggled with me this week and wanted to help, and visit, and do what they could for me – and I’m grateful. I really am. But I’m even more grateful that you respected my wishes and didn’t. I’m the world’s worst patient. I need to wallow in my misery and get on with it and get it over with. I don’t want to be cheered up. I think that’s why I dread hospitals with an absolute passion. Why I hate visiting people  and why, when I do, I will only stay long enough to acquit myself.

So, as I slowly make my way back into the world of the living, one nostril at a time, I look forward to catching up on what I’ve missed out on and can only hope that you’ll still be returning my calls.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 12

I feel terrible. I have a rotten dose of something that has my stomach doing somersaults, my joints screaming in agony, and my head wanting to explode. I’m looking at the week ahead with something approaching a quiet desperation. I have to travel. Pack a bag. Get on a plane. I have an inbox full of unanswered emails and a to-do list that stretches into November. Two of my plants – Fred and Ginger – look like they’ve given up the ghost. And I have no idea when I’m going to find the time to start my dissertation. I could go on but I’m boring myself… As I wonder what I could be grateful for this week, I remember a poem that did the rounds a while ago:

Be thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown

So, this week, I’m grateful that I’m sick because it reminds me of how well I usually feel. And I’ve made a mental note to self not to take good health for granted.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 13

When I bought my flat I had no idea what the neighbourhood held in store for me. So sure was I  that this was where I was meant to live, I didn’t do my usual stroll around the streets to see what was on offer. The only things I noted was the Catholic Church and the mtro station. Blind faith or sheer stupidity – call it what you will. I’ve never laid claim to being the most careful consumer in the world.

Things come and go in my neighbourhood – shops are open today and closed tomorrow; they transform overnight from a bakery to a nail salon. There is little rhyme or reason to it all, but that’s what makes the nyolcker (local term for the VIIIth district) what it is. It’s even spawned a cult animation film: In a Budapest ghetto, Richie, a young gypsy in love with Julia, daughter of the local Hungarian pimp, wants to put an end to the old family feuds. But there’s only one way to do it: money! For that, Richie goes back in time to eradicate mammoths and turn them into oil he’ll be able to sell later.

From my front windows, I can see across into the IXth and that, too, is a treasure trove of interesting finds. Take Mézes Bödön Kisvendéglő – a little restaurant on the corner of Bokréta utca 28. The upstairs has two dining rooms, one of which is brightly painted with folk murals. The furniture is old and the ambience older still. It doesn’t take much imagination to believe you’ve left the city and are now firmly ensconced in the countryside.

I wandered down one Sunday for lunch with the lovelies MC and DB. There was a daily menu on offer (on a Sunday?) and we had the most  delicious  cold grape and plum soup, followed by some sort of Hungarian chicken noodle dish. All for the princely sum of 800 ft. (that’s about €2.80 or US$3.60). I went back there again, just to be sure I was on a winner, and this time I took a couple of Australian visitors who were mega impressed with the decor – not quite what they’d seen on their tour so far. We had a choice of soups – cold fruit or pumpkin – and then a mouthwatering catfish stew. Where would you be going, I ask myself.

This week, as I seemed to have shelled out moxie loads of money on flights, health insurance, and …em… books, I’m grateful that it’s still possible to get good food at a reasonable price, literally across the road.

Ferencváros, Bokréta u. 28, Budapest, HU.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 14

‘So’ said she, as she leaned closer, her voice dropping to a whisper, an implicit promise of confidentiality imbuing the two little letters – ‘… have you had any work done?’ I laughed. Out loud. I might be just a few years shy of 50, but apparently I don’t look it!

Samuel Ullman – he who penned the poem Youth – wrote: Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  I’d like to think that the absence of wrinkles on my face is also mirrored by an absence in my soul. At the end of what has been an exhausting week on so many levels, I am grateful that this tiredness comes from pushing myself to my limits  – communications workshops, dinner theatre, first round of the Gift of the Gab, speech competitions, dinners and parties in Bath – and not from any lack of enthusiasm on my part.

For those of you who have never met him, let me introduce you to Mr Ullman:

YOUTH  by Samuel Ullman

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 15

A woman who is willing to be herself and pursue her own potential runs not so much the risk of loneliness, as the challenge of exposure to more interesting men – and people in general. Well, Lorraine Hansberry (African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays) may only have lived to the ripe young age of 35, but her words certainly resonated with me this week.

It’s Gift of the Gab time again and in the midst of readying the stage for the next seven months, SzSz, BA, and yours truly made a quick trip to the orphanage in Göd where the oldest resident is about 35 and most are severely handicapped. Our mission: to drop off  a pair of new wheelbarrows and some donations (TV, DVD, clothes) and take measurements to replace some interior doors. Regular readers and Gab Fans will remember that this fundraising event all started when I met Norbert in July last year. To say that he made an impression would be putting it mildly. This week, I met Kristof.

Kristof is deaf and he doesn’t talk. He is of indeterminate age – 14, 20, 24, 28, 32 – with a tight buzz cut. He is extremely effeminate and easily mistaken for a girl – not that it matters much to him as his world is the orphanage and interactions with strangers like me are few and far between. We were in his ward, checking out the doors that need replacing (and, thanks to the money raised from the GOTG 2012, they can be). Having come without my measuring tape (no accident), I was standing around, not doing much of anything. A few of the lads, not suffering from the same social inhibitions that you or I might consider normal, came up to me and introduced themselves. One hugged me, one kissed my arm, one ran his hands through my hair. Kristof came over and shook my hand. For the next half hour, as the tape measurers did their work, me and Kristof had a long chat – in mime.

He described in minute detail various dresses that he’d designed. His creations had long sleeves, short sleeves, and no sleeves. They were thigh-length, knee-length, calf-length, and full length. They were fitted at the waist, under the bust, or at the hips. They had scooped necks, high necks, and v-necks. They were off the shoulder, halterneck, and strapless. No detail was too small to be omitted. Each one had its own accessories: rings, gloves, belts, earrings, and necklaces. One even had a  Spanish comb holding a long veil in place. And each of them was for a special occasion – dancing, dining, weddings, walking, shopping. Once he was sure I could ‘see’ the dress, he’d get in character and play the bride, the socialite, the shopper. He’d hug me. Kiss me. Or shake my hand, depending on who was wearing his dress. He had me in stitches. Completely amazed at how he could communicate in such detail without one single, solitary  word, I stood in awe of him. Once he’d run through his repertoire, he linked his arm in mine and we took a short stroll down the corridor. He allowed me to say hello to his mates, to shake some hands, but if anyone got too close, they got a shove. I found out later that Kristof’s mood could turn on pin – and a shove was mild.

When our business was done, measurements taken, and even more needs identified, it was time to leave. Krisof kissed me four times – twice on each cheek. He held both my hands, looked up at me, and smiled. As we left the ward, the double doors were locked behind us, locking me out of his world. He looked out through the glass panel and blew me a kiss. And I cried a little inside.

As this week draws to a close, I think again of Hansberry’s words. In being myself and in pursuing my potential, I am lonely sometimes. But the life that has chosen me  exposes me to many interesting people – men like Norbert and Kristof whose lives are so far removed from mine it’s a miracle that our paths have crossed. And yet they have taught me so much. People like the Gift of the Gab speakers who are willing to take to the stage to raise some money for this worthwhile cause. My friends and supporters, who give of their time to sort venues, take tickets, update websites, take photos, and sponsor room rental, trophies and prizes – all those who make sure that the show goes on. And the many people who will come along on Wednesday 26th September to the Cotton Club, and leave 1000 ft at the door (€3.50 / $5) so that in the coming year, we can do even more to make the orphanage a better place to be. For this, I am truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52


Grateful 16

Image from

I wasn’t reading. I was standing. There were no seats available on the tram. And as I’ve not yet mastered the art of simultaneously reading, standing, and holding on, I needed some other sort of diversion. In my defense, they were talking quite loudly: a young one of about 25 and and older woman tipping 65. Both Hungarian and yet both speaking in English, each with her own peculiar accent. I thought they knew each other but no. It was a chance encounter.

Conversation started with a casual comment admiring a watch. Not a wrist watch, but one that hung from a 36-inch chain around the young one’s neck. She was at pains to point out that she had her own style and that this was her nod to feminine form – the biker jacket, boots, jeans, messenger bag, and nose piercing all said something else. She’d spent some time in the UK working all sorts of jobs and was contemplating returning. She had a peculiar fascination with the fob watches that nurses wore over there and I suppose it’s as good a reason as any to go back. Conversation turned to the cost of living and how much cheaper it was to live in Hungary than in the UK or indeed the USA.

The older lady had returned to Budapest from California after 30 years on the West Coast. She’d come home to an aging mother and some cousins as all her friends Stateside had moved away or passed on. She was quick to point out that if you’re 25 and earning, with a future littered with paycheques looming ahead of you, then yes, life was better, not as expensive. But if you’re on a fixed income, with no promotion or payraise in sight, then life ain’t so pretty.

This has struck me before. Pensioners on fixed incomes, at a time in their lives when they should be enjoying the fruit of a lifetime of labour, are instead beset with worry. We’re living a lot longer. Seventy is the new fifty. And we need our money to stretch.  This plagued me earlier this year and although at least now I have a pension in the making, I can’t help thinking of the hundreds and thousands of older people in Budapest who are watching their pennies.  Position that against those who work work work and save save save only to drop dead two weeks after they retire. There’s a balance to be struck.

While in the USA recently, after the fifty-sixth repetition of a description of my life in Budapest, each telling gathering a few more exaggerated threads, my inquisitor looked at me and said: Sounds like you’re living the dream.  He was right. I am.

This week, as my meds wear off and I return to reality, I am truly grateful that even with the ups and downs, all is well in my world and life is indeed treating me kindly.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52



Grateful 17

I’m beside myself this week at what has happened with the Armenia/Azerbaijan/Hungary fiasco. For those of you who haven’t been following it, let me give my rather simple synopsis. Azeri kills Armenian in Hungary with an axe. Azeri tried and sentence to life imprisonment. After some years served, Hungary ships Azeri back to Baku on the understanding that he will serve at least 25 years before being paroled. Instead, he is given a hero’s welcome, eight years back pay, a new flat, and a promotion – all for killing an Armenian.

In the meantime, the Hungarian government, having failed to secure funding from China and Saudi Arabia, and not wanting to be any more indebted to the IMF or the EU, is considering a bond buy from Azerbaijan to the tune of 2-3 billion euro. Coincidence? Perhaps.

I visited Baku last year around the anniversary of the 1992 massacre and was horrified to find that school kids are being taught, in school and at home, to hate Armenians. They write essays about growing up and killing Armenians. What hope do both countries have of ever settling their differences if this is the legacy that’s being handed down generation after generation.

I don’t for a minute profess to fully understand the situation. I’m eons away from being able to talk about it with any degree of insight. But surely there comes a time when we need to move on. This is not about the past – and I don’t know enough to take sides anyway. This is right now. I can’t for the life of me see how any government, in this day and age, could so publicly reward a cold-blooded murderer and still expect to participate in global politics and policy-making.

The Internet Governance Forum is scheduled for Baku in November this year. Apparently Armenia will follow remotely but will not come to Baku for the proceedings. I’m wondering how many other countries will do the same?

This week, I’m really grateful that I can still get upset about what is going on around me. I’m grateful that I can still recognise an injustice when I see one. And I’m particularly grateful that I’m not one of the apathetic masses,  divorced  from what is happening in the world to the point that voting in elections has become an inconvenience and protesting a wrong has become someone else’s job.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 18

In Eger this weekend, I was struck by how many of us walk with our heads down, looking at the pavement. Or with eyes front, looking ahead. And then there are the few whose heads sit upon their necks like periscopes; they’re the ones who notice things. Odd things, like shop signs that are above eye level. It made me stop and think of the GB Shaw quote: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. Now, I know he wasn’t thinking about this type of observation – but it came into my mind nonetheless. Maybe it was the owl that did it – that strange mix of wisdom and night vision… mmmm… why am I associating GB with owls I wonder?

When I went in search of a more meaningful quote, I came across this one by photographer Elliott ErwittTo me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. I have a vague recollection of reading a book about Venice in which the author reckoned cameras should be banned from the city and instead, people should look, really look, and enjoy in the now instead of looking for a photograph to admire later. There is something in that, I suppose. Yet I think that having a camera in your hand makes you look at things you wouldn’t ordinarily see and makes you see what you see in a totally different light.

I bought my digital camera when I was in Hawaii back in 2008 and since then, it’s been like another arm. I might take 100 rubbish photos for every decent one I get – and I find myself getting frustrated, not with the weather because it is hot or cold, but because it affects the light. And yet I can say, hand on my heart, that in the last four years, I’ve become a lot more observant. I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. And I save myself a fortune in therapy fees by identifying obsessions before they begin to wreak havoc on my life. I now go to photo exhibitions and get a real pleasure out of seeing other people’s work. I know that I still have one foot firmly planted on the point-and-click rung on the photography ladder yet I like to think that my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds – and for this, I am truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 19

People change. Every day. We age. We put on weight. We lose weight. We restyle our hair. We get glasses. We try contacts. Places change, too. New buildings. New skylines. New owners. New management. This funny old world of ours is never the same two days running. Budapest, particularly, is undergoing a massive transformation. Shops and cafés and restaurants are closing down. New ones are opening up. Because something is there today doesn’t mean it will be open tomorrow. Because the food is good today, doesn’t mean it will be good tomorrow. And as for the service… excuse me while I take a deep breath.

Back in 2009, I discovered Épitész pince and I blogged about it. Now, three years later, I practically spent the weekend there and found that amongst life’s myriad changes, Épitész has remained a constant.

On Friday, JFW had his not-a-stag-do there. It was not-a-stag-do in that the party included both men and women… and his mother. A trifle non-traditional. The food was excellent and the service remarkably smooth. On Saturday, we were back there again for the wedding. And it was beautiful. The courtyard setting. The ivy-covered balcony. The stone steps. All so very Romeo and Juliettish. And ever so romantic. About 40 sat down to dinner and conversation flowed as people made new connections and reconnected with old ones. Two waiters worked the floor. For the first time in Budapest, I never had to repeat an order – just catch their eye and nod and my Havanna gold was delivered. And the pleasantness never waned. Truly remarkable.

The Hot Jazz Band entertained us till 10 pm and then DJ Ábrahám Zsolt took over in the adjoining gallery and played a storm. Songs I could sing to and dance to, too. Haven’t heard many of those in a while. What struck me about it all though was that the good things in life never go out of fashion, they never change. Love is love, no matter where you are in the world. Friendships thrive despite the miles that separate. And people coming together to celebrate is something that has been around since the dawn of time. Add that heady mixture to Épitész pince, what has for me become a sanctuary of sorts, and you have a recipe of success. If you’re in the market for a venue that will live up to expectations, then look no further.

This week, as Mr and Mrs JFW, embark on married life, I am grateful for the constants in the world – love, friendship, and reasons to celebrate –  the benchmarks which keep us grounded and furnish our reality with strength and fortitude.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 20

It’s been years since I’ve had a roommate. Yes, I have the occasional house (flat?) guest – but rarely for more than a week at a time. I’ve not had to share my precious space with any degree of regularity for a very long time. So when I heard myself saying: ‘sure – no problem – stay as long as you like’, I shocked myself.

‘As long as you like’ turns out to be a little over a month. And I was away for most of that – so in all reality, the co-share happened for one week, with a break, and then another week. But all the time I was away, I was house-sharing, too, (except for two days). So, in effect, for the last five weeks or so, I haven’t been living on my own. And surprisingly, I’ve lived to tell the tale. Actually, I’ve quite enjoyed it.

My plants are good company but they’re not ones for talking back or offering an opinion. Spending a few hours in San Francisco pairing socks was quite a treat. Doing load after load of laundry (with a dryer) was better than a day out at Disneyland. Cooking for more than just me is downright pleasurable, especially as I don’t have to do dishes. And having my windows cleaned… now that made my year. Who would ever have thought that glass could be opaque.










I was getting a little worried there for a while that I might have gone beyond redemption, that I might no longer be fit to live with someone else. But as the inimitable GM gets ready to move across the river, I’m grateful that she’s taught me that I’m still livable with. All is not lost. What a relief!

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52