Swan in the road

Trash talk

We went looking for holly the other day, down by the lake. It was glorious – one of those magical brisk winter days when the sun plays hide-and-seek and the fields are half-planted, half-ploughed. The wind couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do and for a few seconds, we were caught in a leaf storm as it whipped through the trees trying to tear the last of their leaves from them. They fought a good fight.

leaf storm

The colours were of the stuff no artist could capture. In one spot – a narrow neck of water between the fields and the island – Kányavári sziget – the water was trying to freeze. It was humbling to see the broad rough water in the distance to the right, the little ripples by the shore and then in between, the still, glass-like effect of ice in the making. Such is the multifaceted power of nature.

Kis-Balaton icing over

Kis-Balaton icing over

It’s recycling week in the village. On Thursday, we can leave out our paper and plastic for pick-up along with the regular rubbish, so I grabbed a yellow bag (plastics) just in case we happened across any litter on our walk and we set off. We decided to drive to Hídveg and then walk the bike path back to the island. But I missed the turn. And I’m glad I did, because there, in the middle of the road on the bridge, as brazen as you like, was a massive swan. He was busy cleaning his feathers, standing on one leg, neck turned under, oblivious to us. I crawled closer waiting for him to look up. And he did. And then he went back to what he was doing. I beeped the horn. He looked at me again, this time in disdain as if to say, get real, I’m busy. I drove slowly around him to the right and he did move, ever so slightly to the other side of the road. I turned around to come back and faced him again. But this time, he wasn’t going anywhere. No way. Not moving. It was a first for me. I’ve seen elephants, cows, chickens, monkeys, dogs, horses, donkeys, pheasants, deer, moose, pigs – you name it – but this was my first road-hogging swan.

Swan in the road

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

On our walk, we found the usual flurry of litter – plastic water bottles, beer cans, sandwich wrappers, and the remnants of black plastic bags. I had to concentrate on my breathing to avoid getting really pissed off at the people who’d so carelessly trashed the place. I’m really making an effort to reduce the stress in my life and to stay the anxiety, but it’s a struggle when inconsiderate, thoughtless people, make it so difficult. Seriously! I was blaming the cyclists who use this path until himself (a cyclist) reasoned that they’d be unlikely to carry 1.5L bottles. Okay, so not the MAMILs but the tourist pedallers then. But it doesn’t much matter who did it, it simply shouldn’t be done.

A new addition to the litany of litter is the wet wipe. Duh, people, these don’t disintegrate in the rain. They’re not biodegradable. You shouldn’t even flush the ones that say they’re flushable. Remember back when plastic bags were free and the world’s collective environmental consciousness was comatose? You’d see bags hanging on trees like ornaments. So plentiful were there that at times it looked as if they were a fruit. Well, now that we’re doing better with our bags, the latest foliage is the wet wipe. Don’t worry – I had my litter gloves on. We almost filled our large plastic bag – I stopped counting at 20 bottles and as many wet wipes and am still wondering where the second sandal is and why I found just one sleeve of a faux-leather jacket. At one stage I wondered what number I’d call if I found a body.

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

As we walked towards the lake, I saw this big piece of pipe, just sitting there. That nearly set me off completely. Whatever about thoughtlessly casting aside a water bottle or answering nature’s call and leaving the wet wipe behind, carrying stuff into the woods to deliberately dispose of it – that’s a hanging offence in my world. But himself, ever rational, pointed to the end of the pipe that was buried underground and suggested it was part of some irrigation system using water from the lake. Alright, I suppose, but it looked ugly and out of place and upset my sense of being.

If you’re out and about walking round the Kis-Balaton, or anywhere really, think about taking a rubbish bag with you. Picking up after others isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but don’t think of them, think the critters who could do without eating or getting ensnared in our waste.

Years ago, Mother Patrick, a nun who taught us in primary school, asked us how long it would take to sweep the streets of Paris. We guessed days, weeks, months even. She said 10 minutes – 10 minutes if everyone swept outside their own doorstep. The countryside doesn’t have doorsteps. It has visitors. Be a sweeper. Make a difference.

Sunset at Balatonmáriafürdő

Bracing the cold in Balatonmáriafürdő

We had it all planned. We left in plenty of time to get to the garden centre in Balatonkeresztúr before it shut at 5 pm. Time enough to pick out some fruit trees (quince for me, plum and peach for himself), have a quick look at the Christmas offer, if it had been tabled, and then drop me at the station in Zalakomár to catch the train to Budapest. The timing was planned with a precision peculiar to anal Irish women and the military.  We departed on schedule. We arrived on schedule. But winter hours kicked in last month and the place now closes at 4 pm. We arrived at 4.01.

With the guts of an hour and a half before I had to catch my train, we had time on our hands and nothing to do with it. We decided to check out the lake at Balatonmáriafürdő. Bracing ourselves for the biting cold, we walked the pier at the ferry port and watched the remains of the sunset leak out over the water. Named after Bernáth Aurél, the Hungarian painter born in nearby Marcali, the promenade juts out into the Balaton, no doubt lined with fishermen in the summer. At 4.30 pm on a Tuesday evening in late November, with temperatures hovering around zero, there was no one but us and the ducks. Bernáth seems to have been quite the ticket. He maintained that there are five reasons people are generally interested in paintings (translation by Google):

1. ha szabadban készül, 2. ha öröklik, 3. ha egy kiállításon felháborodásból beszakítják, 4. ha ellopják, 5. ha pornografikus

1. if they are outdoors, 2. if they inherit, 3. if they are being outraged at an exhibition, 4. if they are stolen, 5. if they are pornographic.

He took a six-month honeymoon around Europe in the 1920s and after it painted the piece Riveria – my art covet for this week.

Balatonmáriafürdő: Bernáth Aurél Promenade

 

Boats at Balatonmáriafürdő

Boats at Balatonmáriafürdő

There’s something magical about the Balaton in winter. when the only colours breaking the grey-blue palate are the gold of the rushes and the reds and oranges of the setting sun. Judging by the number of restaurants, cafés, pensions, and hotels, the town must heave in the summer. And given that most signs we saw on the jetty were in both Hungarian and German, a large portion of visitors must be from Németország. With one government-run beach and seven free ones, the town seems to have plenty to offer. As it turns out, the one we stopped at was a free one, at the boat harbour, Hajóállomási strand, where the ferry runs across the lake to Szigliget. But from a little research, the one I’d like to revisit in late spring/early summer is Őrház utcai strand – I need to see if the town’s publicity photo does it justice.

I’d also like to catch the Balaton Old Boys in action. Playing locally since 2010, these old boys are hell-bent on reviving 1960s guitar sounds. What began as a three-man band has grown into a cultural association. From the smallest acorn comes a big Oak tree. There’s also a small museum chronicling the journey the town made from a vineyard to a bathing centre. It’s open from May to September, so plenty to come back for in early May before the hordes descend.

Sunset at Balatonberény

Sunset at Balatonberény

Back in the car, we thawed out just enough to make the thoughts of another walk appealing. And again, in Balatonberény, we had the place to ourselves. Across the lake, we could see the lights of Keszthely flickering in the distance. Still blustery and bitingly cold, it was magical. This Balaton town is probably most famous for its naturist camping site. On the go since the late 1980s, it’s Hungary’s oldest naturist site and in addition to pitches, it has a motel, mobile homes, and holiday cottages. If I’m reading the website right, it seems to be pretty much self-contained with everything from coffee shops to bars and buffets restaurants, a grocery store, and a laundry facility, You can play volleyball or table tennis or even chess down on the beach. And all in the nip, but from the photos, clothes appear to be optional…mmmm.

We took the Old Route 7 back to Zalakomár with talk of travelling on that road the whole way to Budapest next year, just to see what gems the motorway has us missing. What started out as muttered curses for getting the opening times wrong turned out to be a lovely couple of healthy hours discovering something new. Village life, I tell you. It just keeps on giving.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 6 | Making the Move

Things have been a little scatty lately. What with my recent memory blank and other odd stuff going on, it felt like the puppet master was tugging a little too heavily on the strings. I was a tad discombobulated. Something was off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Back in Budapest for a few days after a quick trip home to see the folks, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. They congratulated me on making the move.

What move, I asked?

To the village, they said. I hear you’re now living down there during the week and just coming to Budapest at the weekend.

That stopped me in my tracks. I’d no idea that I’d moved.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had … mentally. I’d shifted from living in the city to living in the village. Budapest is somewhere I have a flat I can use when I’m working in the city or travelling in or out of it. The village is home. And with that admission, the discombobulation recombobulated and life suddenly felt okay again.

It’s 1 degree outside. It’s snowing. And we’re just back from a rather silly venture. I had the bright idea to go check on the walnut tree we spotted last year on the track that runs along the lake at the end of our property. Walnuts are in short supply. It’s been a bad season. But I figured we might strike it lucky. What I didn’t figure on is that they’d be impossible to find, buried as they no doubt are beneath layers of fallen leaves. Sometimes I seriously doubt my intelligence.  But it didn’t matter. We were out. It was bracingly cold. And it was snowing.

We came across this lovely red-stemmed bush with bunches of black berries. The red really stood out against the browns and golds of the dried leaves around it. And the grape-like clusters of berries looked good enough to eat. And I would have, had himself not pulled me up with a word of caution.

They’re low. There are deer tracks. And the deer haven’t eaten them. You sure you want to try?

I couldn’t fault the man’s logic. So I checked WebMD.

Pokeweed, aka American Nightshade. The root is supposedly used in medicines to treat a range of ailments from acne to ringworm, from achy muscles to syphilis. It’s used in food and wine a colouring agent and in manufacturing to make ink and dye. I was already seeing the possibilities. But then I read on, on the same site:

All parts of the pokeweed plant, especially the root, are poisonous. Severe poisoning has been reported from drinking tea brewed from pokeweed root and pokeweed leaves. Poisoning also has resulted from drinking pokeberry wine and eating pokeberry pancakes. Eating just 10 berries can be toxic to an adult.

There went my pokeweed jam idea. Unless I wanted to cause vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea, incontinence, and more along that vein. [Could there be a market in that?] Apparently, even touching it can cause harm. Getting mixed messages and not willing to believe that this luscious crop of berries couldn’t end up in a jamjar, I checked Poison.org. Yep, pokeberries are definitely not good for you.

Although disappointed I couldn’t put them to good use, I was pleased that I’d make a discovery. That I’d learned something new. As the snow blew across the fields, parallel to the ground, I felt the crispness of winter. I was cold. I was wet. And I was happy. This week, I’m grateful to be home.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 15 | Meditations while oiling the garden furniture

I’ve gone a whole week without doing myself damage – am impressed with myself. I woke up knackered this morning but I think it was because I was dreaming about chasing the recycling truck down the street. Exhausting stuff.  Temperatures dropped 13 degrees overnight from a lovely summer 27 yesterday to a cool autumnal 14 today. I’m not complaining. This is my time of year. I love autumn. That cool crisp air, the geese-laden skies, the frog chorus from the lake. All good stuff.

It marks a setting in, a holing up, a getting ready to batten down the hatches and hibernate. Mind you, I’ve never let the seasons affect my hibernation but still, autumn is when it comes into its own.

I spent a gruelling few hours each day this week readying the garden furniture for its winter holiday. They’ll all be packed away in the barn, newly oiled, for a well-deserved rest as I plan to get a lot of use out of them next year. Painting linseed oil on garden chairs is about as close as I can come to meditation. The mechanics of it all are mesmerising.

On Chair 1, it struck me that this week marked the two-year anniversary of picking up the keys for the place in the village. Two years. It seems like a lifetime ago, as if we’ve always been here. The general consensus was that we’d use it the odd weekend. No one was more surprised than I at how quickly I took to country living. I have to be pried out of the place. Reflections on life in the village set me up to tackle the table and the lounge chair. I was making great progress.

There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a work in progress completed. As each rung of the chairs darkened I came one step closer to the end. A little like life really. I’ve been through the 18th birthdays, the 21sts, the engagements, the weddings, the housewarmings, the christenings, the noughty birthdays, the big wedding anniversaries.  Now I’m at the edge of the funeral era where funerals are the most common meeting occasions. I started on Instagram a few weeks back for one of my other blogs – www.dyingtogetin (be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts) – and posted an image of a gravestone from a cemetery in Geneva. It put my school French to the test but what a lovely sentiment. I think it was on Chair 2 that I started wondering about my own epitaph, what it would say about me – and it wasn’t until Chair 3 that I remembered I’m going to be cremated.

The chicken from next door kept me company for Chair 4. She’s looking rather motley, a tad dishevelled, somewhat defeathered. I think the other chickens are picking on her and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps they’re picking on her because she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps she’s just moulting. Like everything else, there are at least three sides to any story – mine, yours, and theirs. I’ve had to cut back on my tweet reading because I’m finding it hard to decipher the actual story these days for all the sides they have.

By the time I got to the final chair, my back was killing me. I was cranky and irritable, and beginning to feel like my nose was lined with linseed oil. I swore I wasn’t doing this again next year. I’d have to figure something out. I’m just not as supple as I used to be, not that I was ever supple at all, but I’ve been looser than I am now. And then I remembered that this time next week, I’ll be three days into a month of daily Thai massages. That’ll put the s back into my upple. And do my back the world of good. And get rid of the knots and the stress and the pains.

Ah yes, chairs oiled and ready for winter. Me, soon to be oiled and ready for pampering. What’s not to be grateful for.

 

PS – I’ll be moving over to www.anyexcusetotravel.com for the forseeable future so if you want to continue reading, be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts.

2018 Grateful 17 | Quince

Google, there’s such a thing as too much information. I had thought I spent hours yesterday processing my quince harvest, making quince jelly and quince butter, only to find that they may not be quince at all.

Wikipedia tells me that the quince is

a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature.

Mine are definitely yellow but look nothing like pears. There are two trees out front – I thought both were quince but her next door tells me that the windfalls I have ripening on the windowsill are not worth eating – the tree is for decoration only and indeed, it does have some lovely flowers on it when in bloom. But I was sure the fruit was quince. One tree still has green fruit, the other bright yellow. Those had to be quince but they look more like small apples than pears.

Then I found a picture of the Constantinople apple quinces and breathed a sigh of relief. That effort hadn’t gone to waste.

They’re a quirky little fruit, loaded with all sorts of medicinal properties. Shakespeare called them “stomach’s comforter.” Some other tidbits I gleaned from a couple of hours searching for a likeness include:

  • Quinces in England were first recorded in about 1275 when Edward I had some planted at the Tower of London.
  • Seeing his beloved in the courtyard of the temple of Aphrodite, Acontius plucked a quince from the “orchard of Aphrodite”, inscribed its skin and furtively rolled it at the feet of her illiterate nurse, whose curiosity aroused, handed it to the girl to read aloud, and the girl finds herself saying “I swear by Aphrodite that I will marry Acontius.” Apparently even saying it aloud meant she had to go through with it. I read all the ones I picked and nothing.
  • The humble quince has been considered the catalyst of the Trojan War, as told by Greek legend. [I could find no more on this.]
  • Puréed quince can be used as a substitute for brown sugar or raisins on oatmeal – a healthy start to your day.
  • Quince is best known for its strong, tropical and fruity aroma. This fruit was an inevitable part of wedding ceremonies in Ancient Greece. Bride consumed quince to ensure pleasantly smelling, “perfumed lips”.
  • The world’s largest quince weighed 2.34 kg (5 lb 2 oz), measured 21.5 cm (8.5 in) in length and had a circumference of 68 cm (27 in). The quince was grown by Edward Harold McKinney (USA) in Citronelle, Alabama, USA in January 2002.
  • The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for this fruit.
quince jelly

Quince jelly

quince butter quince paste quince cheese marmelo

What the butter looked like before I put it in the unregulated oven to dry out…

So after hours (and I mean hours) of slogging over a hot stove (and it 27 degrees outside), I have three jars of quince jelly and a slab of not very successful quince paste (as it’s known in Australia) or quince cheese (as it’s known in the UK), or quince butter or marmelo (as they call it in Portugal. The half-jar of extra jelly won’t last long. The stuff is delicious and I’m not a jam woman. The quince butter as I said didn’t turn out as expected as I don’t have a regulator on the oven so it cooked too much. But I’m going to give it another go next week when I have all ten fingers to work with and have the wherewithal to take on the quince bush again. And if there’s enough fruit left to try another batch when I get back on Wednesday, I’ll be ever so grateful. Of quince, I want more.

The recipe I followed… or tried to follow…

Doctor, Doctor

Those who say that Hungarians don’t have a sense of humour must never have sat in the waiting room of a village GP. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of my birthday presents was a retro apple corer that came with a 10-year guarantee. I was a little dubious when I opened it, as I immediately thought of our late apple tree and the very poor harvest we had this year. But after I battled with the quince bush yesterday to relieve it of its fruit and decided to try my hand at making quince jelly, I thought I could put the corer to good use. Quince are for all the world like little wizened yellow apples. The thing worked like a charm. I was peeling through them, loving the gadgetry. But then I got a little cocky and lost the run of myself. I wasn’t paying proper attention and instead of coring a quince, I cored my little finger. Lord knows, I’m blunt enough to need sharp implements, but my focus is another matter entirely.

After much ado, various consulting phone calls to medical friends, and a trip to the next town to get some steri strips, the blood finally stopped. When I woke this morning it looked okay but to be on the safe side, I took myself down to the village doctor whose bi-weekly visit had dovetailed nicely with my mishap.

I was dreading it. Not because I’m afraid of doctors but because I didn’t know the protocol. I doubted that there’d be a take-a-ticket system or even a receptionist to take a name and call me in, in turn. And I was worried that my Hungarian wouldn’t stand the pace. I had googled all the important words:

  • kés vágott  (knife cut) – easier than trying to explain a retro corer
  • vérzés két óra (bleeding for two hours) – it did, honestly!
  • tegnap este (yesterday evening)
  • nagyon mély (very deep)

I figured I could string them together and make a reasonable go at explaining myself.

I met a chap outside having a smoke and asked him where the doctor was. He took a little time to untangle my pronunciation but then  pointed the way. The 8 people already waiting looked up when I went in and as is customary, each of them said hello. Hungarians are extremely polite in such situations with greetings commonplace in all walks of waiting rooms and in lifts. I smiled at everyone, knocking thoughts of any further conversation on the head with my mangled jó reggelt (good morning). Feeling very uncertain of myself as a külföldi (foreigner), I made a beeline for the corner and sat.

I had planned to pull out my kindle and although it would be perfectly acceptable in Ireland, or the UK, or even the USA, somehow it felt as if I’d be snubbing my fellow villagers. Hungarians are big on protocol. So, I sat. And I watched. And I listened in a vain attempt to figure out what was going on.

They were a mixed bunch: a Roma family of three and another young Roma woman; two middle-aged men; and two women, who between them had seen a fair few birthdays. There didn’t appear to be any seating order and while everyone but me had some paperwork with them, I didn’t notice anyone who came after me being given anything to fill in, so I figured I was safe. When the door to the inner sanctuary opened, I saw two women inside but I couldn’t tell which looked more doctor-like. Both of them saw me, looked a little quizzical, clearly not recognising me, but said nothing.

Outside in the waiting room, there were no private conversations, no whispering. Everyone spoke at full volume and others chipped in, arguing the toss when there was something worth debating. There was some talk of the German house that had beem broken into last week. There was more talk about someone dying. And there was a very animated conversation about someone who had done something yesterday.  They swapped ailments, told stories, and chatted about the person who’d just gone inside. Any coughs or groans that leaked through the walls were greeted with either classic diagnostic facial expressions or sniggers – depending on the perceived credibility of the patient.

Not one of them looked sick. Or seemed off colour. They were all in great form. Had we had some pálinka, we could have been at a party. I suspect that for some of them, the visit was a social one. They were in and out so quickly that they’d barely time to warm the stethoscope. There were lots of perscriptions floating about and little blue-and-white passport-type books that I was irrationaly envious of.

They came in waves. We numbered just four at one point when the next wave hit and five more joined our merry bunch. Some older, some younger, some together, some alone, each one saying hello to the room and getting a chorus of greetings in reply. Hungarians are sticklers for their sziasztoks.

When it came to my turn, an elderly man cut ahead of me. I stood, uncertain what to do as the room held its collective breath. But he assured me he wouldn’t take a minute, didn’t venture past the threshold, and reacted well to the good-natured jeering he got from the crowd.

I took longer than anyone else had. I’m sure I upset some karmic balance. I was swabbed, plastered, tetnused (even though I’m current with my shots, I didn’t manage to get this across). As I was leaving, I held my freshly bandaged finger aloft as if in evidence to justify the time I’d taken and landed briefly on one sympathetic nod as I departed with a final Állo and a szép napot (have a nice day) thrown in for good measure. I think the doc  wants to see me tomorrow afternoon at her practice in the the next village over. Why I’m not sure, but I’ll go along out of curiousity and because she told me to and hope that that’s indeed what she said.

 

2018 Grateful 20 | Pears

I’ve always thought the word ‘bounty’ to be a peculiarly Protestant word. Not specifically Luthern, or Methodist, or Church of England, just generally Protestant. I associate it with harvesting and harvest time, a season much celebrated by the Church of Ireland at home. The bounty of Mother Nature, that whereby we eat and live. I see farmers markets, the like of which I visited recently in Warsaw, as a drip feed towards a collective bounty. Farmers balance those who don’t have gardens and the wherewithal to grow their own food. There’s a sharing. Yes, of course, money changes hands, but there’s still a sharing.

There’s no drip feed in our garden – there’s no metering of her measure. It all comes together. At once. Mother Nature has had a right old time in our garden this year. The plums were few and far between, the peaches even scarcer. The cherries were half of what we got last year and the apples? Well, we’re still waiting. But the pears. Man, the pears. This year they’ve gone mad.

At a conservative estimated, we have at least 200kg of pears to be processed or given away. The problem is that when everyone else in the village is in the same boat, no one wants to take anything. Just yesterday, himself proudly returned an egg box to her next door with 10 of his own tomatoes in it (yes, eggs in Hungary come in batches of 6, 10, 20, or 30). She’d helped him plant them. The offering seemed a fitting tribute. But then she gave him 20 of her own. To compare.

Yesterday, I picked and peeled and cored and chopped. I froze pears in slices. I froze grated pears for cakes. I made pear chutney. I poached six large jars worth of the yellow buggers. I even made pear and walnut bread. And that took care of 50kg. The remaining 150kg are destined for the pálinka still. An experiment. His domain.

Come winter, I’ll be glad I did this. I like the idea of subsistence living. I’m all for reducing my dependency on mass-produced foods. I’m a supporter of shopping local. I’m into second-hand and vintage. I prefer old and recycled to shiny and new. I’m all in favour of making life simple.

Village life

Yet rather than taking all this for granted, I’m increasingly conscious of how lucky I am. That there are so many people going without in the world drives me to make sure that nothing we have is wasted. I find myself saving the smallest portions of leftovers, reluctant to throw anything away. The ‘new’ gate in the back garden was cobbled together from scraps of wood. The ‘new’ door in the barn was refashioned from one that came out of the house. I have a vague notion that an old shower frame might well end up as a grape arbour.

And while we’re harvesting and processing, the starlings are pigging out on the apple tree next door on the other side. We rarely see those neighbours. They’re never there. And if they are, they’re there when we’re not. Their fruit goes uncollected, left to be pecked, to fall to the ground and rot. For the last couple of days, a murmation of starlings has descended on the tree chattering at full volume, doing their damnedest to pick it clean. I’m in awe of such blatant gluttony. But they have to eat, too, right? Why, I wonder, have I been conditioned to see this as waste?

Her next door is engaged in a running battle with the birds. She regularly goes out into her fields banging an old tin can, causing a terrible racket, making the birds hightail it to the quieter pastures. But then her livelihood is at stake. She depends on her crops to live; what she reaps this summer she’ll need to get herself through till the next. She sees the starlings are her enemy. I see them as noisy friends, as entertainment. But for us, the harvest is not nearly so serious. It more a matter of making good with what we get. And for those on the other side, the fruit clearly doesn’t matter to them at all. It takes all sorts, each of our perspectives governed by our needs.

The farmer up the road at home brings my mother fresh eggs. In return, she bakes him an apple tart or some brown bread. Her next door occasionally drops in some fresh eggs and in return she gets a loaf of whatever bread I’ve made – this week it’s pear and walnut – which she has just begun to grudgingly accept. Yes, my mother will never be dead as long as I’m alive. There’s a happy co-existence. Last year’s fence war has been all but forgotten. The world outside continues to run amuck. Egos prevail. But in the village, there’s a balance, with give and take and all sorts living side by side and making do. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 23 | The annual Village Day

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

Fait accompli

I’ve been a little out of sorts for the past few days. Nothing I could put my finger on. Just grumpy and monosyllabic. I’d have been downright cranky, had I the energy to give to it. Yes, it’s been hot, but this wasn’t my usual heat-related funk. It had a different flavour.

I tried sleeping for 12 hours straight and that helped a little. But while I could see the edge I needed to get myself over, sleep alone wasn’t going to pull me through. I needed something to do. Something physical. Something that I could start and finish in one day. Something I could see completed.

When you work, as I do, it’s rare that you see a finished product that’s of your own making. Lots of contributions made to the greater good, no doubt, but seldom something that you can lay claim to. And that’s what I needed. Something I could start and finish, by myself.

We inherited lots of old but serviceable furniture that we’ve mostly gotten rid of. A couple of pieces – homemade jobs strung together with random pieces of wood – have been living on the terrace for a couple of years now. One a horrid brown, the other a more appealing green but a green that didn’t really go with my master plan.

With a pot of white paint, a smaller pot of blue paint, and a sander, I got to work. I wanted to transfer my unsourced distress to the furniture and clean them up while making them look shabby. There’s a logic there somewhere. It’s not something I’d try on good furniture, but this table and bench seemed willing to be my guinea pigs.

Now, I’ve seen JFW do this and he spends ages on his pieces. I don’t have his patience or his attention to detail. I’m all for immediate satisfaction and a quick return on my time. There’s good and there’s good enough and good enough would be better than what I had.

The bench was first. It was in that green that seems to have been mass produced in Hungary in the 1950s. It’s everywhere. I’ve unearthed a couple of spice racks in a similar shade in the barn and it’s a common enough sight at the local markets for what’s now being labelled ‘mid-century’.

I sanded off the rough stuff. Slapped on a couple of coats of white paint. And then took the sander to it again to get some of the green showing through. I’d wanted to try my hand at stencilling but only had blue paint, so I held off.

I was pretty pleased with the result.

Next up was the horrid brown table with one gammy leg. I had himself cut off some inches as I don’t trust myself with an electric saw and while it’s now shorter than it was, it works. The sanding on that was a lot more difficult, so I hit it in patches. Then slapped three coats of white and instead of taking the sander to it and letting the brown come through, I smudged some blue drips (my version of a speck of blood) and added a chicken to look at it longingly.

Neither piece will stand up to close scrutiny, but they’re both way easier on the eye than what was there. I sweat bucketloads in the doing, cursed the living daylights out of an annoying horsefly that saw me as lunch, and bashed my little toe in the process. But do I feel better? Way better. Grumpiness gone. Lethargy gone. The dark mist has lifted. Let the weekend begin.

 

2018 Grateful 24 | A baby came to mass

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.