I’ve driven the road from the village to Sármellék and on to Balatonszentgyörgy often enough to comment repeatedly on the dead trees and reed fields that follow it on either side. I knew the Kis-Balaton (Little Balaton) was once drained to increase the amount of available agricultural land in the area but when the Balaton waters started to suffer because of it, it was reflooded to act as a much-needed filter for the lake that is the backbone of Hungary’s domestic tourism.
Life in the village has its own momentum. Nothing seems quite as urgent as it does in the city. My days are governed more by what I feel like doing than what I feel I have to do. Wednesday, for instance, I felt like washing windows (yep, I was surprised at that, too). I actually felt like it Tuesday, too, but by the time the water came back on, the humour had worn off. Wednesday, we had water. And vinegar. And a fresh sponge. So I got to work.
I caught some form of crud during the week, a nasty chest infection that seems to have moved in and taken over. Not for love nor money could I face getting up this morning at 7.20 to make it to 8 o’clock Mass. I figured the good Lord would forgive me but as the day wore on and I finally did surface to see the light of day, himself figured it would be a shame to waste it. My time in the village is limited this month to two weekends – I needed to make the most of them.
We headed into Balatongyörök around 3.30 pm to catch the sunset over the lake while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry at the lovely Promenád Kavéház. Judging by the lone slice of banana cake, the couple of chocolate wedges, and the handful of macaroons, we weren’t the only ones to have had this idea. The offer was thin but the view was amazing. Looking out across the lake over to Fonyód was like looking across a massive pane of glass. Blue sky. Calm water. Crisp air. Lovely stuff. Back around 1900, Charlie thought so too. He’s quoted here as saying something along the lines of ‘I’ll never forget that moment when I saw this fairy country… I stopped as if my feet were roots.’
It was cold though. At least I was feeling the cold until I was beset by a hot flush. They’re the bane of my life these days. I never know what to wear and seem to spend my time taking off and putting on my clothes. It’s a pain in the proverbial. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night or managed to stay in one room for any length of time without having pop outside for a breather. I’m wishing it would all be over. Menopause is proof in my mind that God isn’t a woman. Still though, in cold weather, said same flushes can be a blessing in disguise. And true to form, on the walk around the viewing point, I was nicely warmed.
We popped into Aldi to pick up a few things before getting 6 pm mass in Keszthely. Wandering the aisles with plenty of time to spare, I was all happy … until I flushed again.
Sweet mother of divine Jesus, I cried. Just give me two flush-free hours and I’ll be happy. Just two. Surely that’s not too much to ask!
I was more than a little pissed off. Dehatting, descarfing, degloving and then unzipping and derobing is a major inconvenience, especially as it all has to be put back on minutes later.
We headed over to Magyarok Nagyasszonya templom (Our Lady of Hungary church) for 6 o’clock Mass. Waiting for the priest to show up, it felt like the coldest church I’d ever been in. Not a radiator or electric heater in sight. It was so cold that I could see my breath.
I’d had a near missing coming into the place. The full complement of lights don’t go on till 5.45 but we’d mistimed it and got there five minutes earlier. I opened the main door and stepped in – and down. I ask you, what sort of idiot architect puts a step at a door threshold? I went sprawling but managed to right myself before I hit the floor and better yet, managed to contain the inevitable expletive to a whisper. Just as well, because the acoustics were good.
At 5.55 pm, there was only ourselves and two old dears in the congregation. I was beginning to doubt there was Mass at 6. But then the crowd appeared, all of a sudden and all at once. We caused some consternation as of all the empty pews in the place, we’d sat in one that had regulars. I was too cold to move or care and as they squished in regardless, the element of body heat wasn’t lost on me.
The priest was late. It wasn’t until he made an appearance at 6.05 that the seat pads were switched on. I’ve only ever seen this in Hungary. The seat pads are heated – like electric blankets. The rest of me might have been frozen solid but my bum was nice and toasty. It’s the weirdest thing.
I borrowed himself’s hat, thanking the protocol that frowns on men covering their heads in a church but encourages women to do so. I figured I’d have no more than 15 minutes before a hot flush kicked in and then I’d be nice and warm. Himself was thinking the same. I radiate heat when it happens. Some not in the know might take it for a miracle of sorts. But nothing. Not a damn thing. Then I remembered the prayer I’d uttered aloud in Aldi. It’d only been gone and answered! The luck of it all.
After a week that seemed like it would never end, I’m grateful to have been cautioned – I need to be more careful what I pray for.
If you’re in Keszthely, the church is worth a visit as it has some spectacular old frescoes. But watch the step.
2018 is drawing to a close. 2019 is almost upon us. Himself and the two headed over to the healing forest in Slovenia earlier this morning. I’ve stayed behind to catch up on work and meet some deadlines. Tonight we’ll sit around a table with friends and eat lamb, cooked Moroccan style. Fish and poultry will swim or fly away with our luck, so we’ll avoid those. We’ll have lentils just after midnight to make sure we’ll have luck and prosperity for the next 12 months. We might even bury a coin or two in the garden this evening and dig them up on the morrow. We already have a stalk of blessed straw from the village crib in our wallets. Superstition, I hear you say. And you’re right. But in these turbulent times, I’ll do what I can to mitigate the insanity. 2018 has shown me just how irrational the world has become, how self-centred its people are, how much we have lost sight of the bigger picture in an effort to preserve our own sliver of society. I’d like to think that 2019 will be a year of a collective awakening to what’s really important in life but I have my doubts. Something tells me that we haven’t seen the half of what’s to come.
2019 will be a tumultuous one for me. January and February are already as full as the myriad flights I’ll be on. It’s shaping up to be a year of reunions and farewells. With ageing parents and elderly friends, I’m even more conscious of the need to refocus on what’s important and not waste my time. It was a thing that age defined our departure from this world but it seems as if the resounding Irish funeral echo of ‘they were a good age’ is being replaced by ‘they were too young to go’. None of us can tell what’ll happen tomorrow. Today is all we have.
That said, I’m grateful to be in the village, my safe place where the world rights itself, surrounded by good friends. I’m grateful to have the wherewithal to dress the table and see 2018 out in style. And as we stand on the upstairs balcony at midnight, watching the fireworks go off in the villages around the Kis-Balaton, the words of John O’Donoghue’s blessing will echo in my mind.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
Happy New Year. Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. Boldog új évet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.