2018 Grateful 23

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

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

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

Hungarian folk costume

Hungarian folk costume

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

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

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

Hungarian folk dance

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 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.

Sunflower Sutra

Nothing quite lifts my spirits like a field of sunflowers in all their glory. Last year, a field outside the village was set in flowers; this year, it’s in corn. I have to go further to find my fix but there’s no shortage of them in Zala county. I’m not quite sure what it is about them that is so restorative. Perhaps it’s the whole heliotropism thing: they follow the sky from East to West when they’re young but as they age, they stay fixed towards the East. And they’re the only flower with ‘flower’ in their name.

The Internet is rife with sunflower seedlings:

SunflowerThey’ve inspired artists like Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Klimpt. They’ve inspired poets like William Blake. But my favourite find in my reading today is the Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg – too good not to share.

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and
sat down under the huge shade of a Southern
Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the
box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron
pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts
of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, sur-
rounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of
machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun
sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that
stream, no hermit in those mounts, just our-
selves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums
on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray
shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting
dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust–
–I rushed up enchanted–it was my first sunflower,
memories of Blake–my visions–Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes
Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black
treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the
poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel
knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck
and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the
past–
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset,
crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog
and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye–
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like
a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face,
soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-
rays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried
wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures
from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster
fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O
my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human
locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad
skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black
mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuber-
ance of artificial worse-than-dirt–industrial–
modern–all that civilization spotting your
crazy golden crown–
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless
eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the
home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar
bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards
of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely
tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what
more could I name, the smoked ashes of some
cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the
milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs
& sphincters of dynamos–all these
entangled in your mummied roots–and you there
standing before me in the sunset, all your glory
in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent
lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye
to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited
grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden
monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your
grime, while you cursed the heavens of the rail-
road and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a
flower? when did you look at your skin and
decide you were an impotent dirty old locomo-
tive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and
shade of a once powerful mad American locomo-
tive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a
sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me
not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck
it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul
too, and anyone who’ll listen,
–We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread
bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all
beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we’re bles-
sed by our own seed & golden hairy naked ac-
complishment-bodies growing into mad black
formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our
eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive
riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sit-
down vision.
Berkeley, 1955

 

Festetics Palace Hungary

2018 Grateful 27

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Mary

Heart of Jesus, through Mary thy Kingdom come

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

Szalay Imré Hungarian tiled stove

Szalay Imré Hungarian ceramic tiles

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

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

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

Festetics palace keszthely

Festetics Festetics palace keszthely

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

Grounds of Festetics Palace

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

Festetics Palace Hungary

Festetics Palace Keszthely

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

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

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

 

 

 

From the garden

The give and take of time and truck

The village is heaving with gardens, various plots of land with flowers and fruit and vegetables. Those who live here all the time can keep an eye on things and compensate for the lack of rain by watering their produce. We haven’t yet capitalised the P&R in permanent residents, something that is seriously curtailing our Good Life adventure. Still, himself has planted peppers and tomatoes with the unsolicited help of her-next-door and they’re actually growing. I have a sneaking suspicion that herself has a vested interest in seeing them flourish and that, in the absence of rain and of our good selves, she might be watering them herself. But I’m not complaining.

The cold war that began when we put up the fence last year is slowly warming to tepid. We had a grand chat yesterday that consisted of her giving me her recipe for pickling cucumbers. I proudly showed her the two big jars of ones I’d already done, expecting at least a nod of appreciation, however grudging, but, of course, I had made the mistake of slicing them. Why did I slice them? Why? And she didn’t spot any dill in my brine. I had mustard seeds, chili peppers, and black peppercorns,  though, but no dill.

From the garden

An hour later, I heard her calling over the fence. She had dill for me, and more cucumbers (presumably so I could get it right this time), and a massive zucchini, the size of which amused her no end. From what I gathered (bearing in mind how limited my Hungarian is) our German neighbour a few doors up had had great fun with the one she’d given them. Apparently, he likes his pantomime. Say no more. Say no more.

Anyway, having repeated the recipe she gave me for rántott zucchini three times to her satisfaction, I left her wondering what I’d make of it all.

Coincidently, other neighbours had given us a big bucket of walnuts that I’d spent four hours shelling yesterday afternoon. I glazed most of them in maple syrup and rock salt for salads but still had some left dry. And with memories of a delicious banana bread the lovely MI made for us a while back, I thought: Why not make a zucchini and walnut bread. And if I make enough, I can give a loaf to each of the neighbours, a sort of homage to their produce and their neighbourliness.

This is what I love about village life. The sharing of wealth. The give and take of time and truck that makes everyone’s life just a little bit easier.

 

Walnut and zucchini bread

 

 

The ROI on ACV

In his play Lady Windemere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Darlington joked that a cynic was ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. This popped into my head today as I cored my 44th apple and I spent the next 112 apples thinking about it. Dem’s a lotta apples.

During the week, I ran into a friend from my early days in Budapest who has since moved back to Ireland. In the quick catch up, lives were summarised and brief synopses traded. I found myself telling them that I’d recently lost an apple tree. They expressed their condolences. We laughed. But I was a little shocked. Since when had my trees become so important?

I was away when himself sent the photo of the damage. Apparently, the tree was too old to withstand recent high winds. Laden with fruit, the beginnings of what would have been a bumper crop, it toppled over, When I came down late last week, I salvaged what I could and set about doing something with the apples. They’d died way before their time, most of them no bigger than a 200 ft coin. I cored what I could, saving the cores to make apple cider vinegar (a first for me – I’ll know how successful I’ve been in about three months). The rest I boiled and simmered for an hour or so before straining the juice. All told, I spent about five hours working on those apples and I might, if I’m lucky, get a litre of decent vinegar and 4 litres of apple juice. An hour per litre. By my reckoning, that’s expensive liquid. I certainly won’t be reserving my place at the local farmers market. And I won’t be looking for a brand name for my produce.

But having already pickled some of my neighbour’s cucumbers, I was in a productive mood. I put in a full day’s work in the kitchen, none of it billable, unfortunately. I’m the only client who will be satisfied. But given the medical benefits of ACV, I might well have taken the first step towards a healthier future. Gotta love this village life. The good life.

2018 Grateful 28

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

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

The Guardian ran with:

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

The Washington Post went with:

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

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

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

Kárász (Crucian)

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

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

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

 

 

Slowing down the aging process

Mulberries are a strange fruit. Thanks to Pop goes the weasel, I’ve gotten this far in life thinking they grew on a bush – all around the mulberry bush – but lately, having realised we have three trees in our garden that are producing them at a rapid rate, I now know they grow on a tree.

They look like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry – the colour of the former and the shape of the latter. Taste-wise, they’re nothing to write home about. But, loathe to waste anything, I did some reseach to see what I could do with them.

Apparently, their health benefits are many: they improve digestion (good), lower cholesterol (very good), help weight loss (great), increase circulation, build bone tissue, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. So they have to be good for you, right? They’re also supposed to slow down the aging process – which for me, puts them in a superfood category.

Their stems are buried deep inside the fruit, so even when you’ve taken off the stalk, taking out the rest of the stem is a pain in the proverbial. They stain, horribly. Remember your fountain pen days when you’d get a stain on your fingers from the ink? Now treble that.

Recipes I came across included a mulberry sorbet – which we set out to make. But fifteen minutes into destemming, we lost the will to continue and just put the lot we’d picked into a pot, added some sugar, and boiled the guts out of them. Then we strained and bottled. I fully intended to add some of this syrup to some soda water and have as my daily wake-up tonic. But, man, does that stuff taste vile. So it has to be good for you, right?

They’re easy to pick – just look at them and they drop into the bucket. The ground is littered with them. They’re everywhere. Which means they get on shoes and sandals and get tracked inside, adding a nice purple hue to the floors. Perhaps the most telling, though, is that the birds leave them alone. Obviously they don’t have cholesterol issues or suffer from high blood pressure. Next year perhaps, I might be a little more organised. But this year, one bottle of syrup was as much as I could muster.

I have another cholestoral check in September, and if it has dropped dramatically (or shifted downwards at all) then I’ll be in business. These trees could be my pension.

 

2018 Grateful 31

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who needed affirmation – confirmation that I was doing the right thing or making the right choice. I pretty much do what feels right when it feels right to do it. Nothing more complicated than that. But occasionally, when affirmation and unsolicited approval come my way, I do a damn fine imitation of a peacock in full preen.

I’ve long since realised that I live a blessed life. My wants outnumber my needs and even those are manageable. I have the best of both worlds, with my time split between city and country living and frequent trips to Ireland and abroad. Work comes my way when I need it and life is never dull. I have so much to be grateful for.

But I’m in danger of taking it all for granted. I do things on a daily basis that others have never had the chance to do at all. I have a friend visiting from home home who is crossing firsts off their list of things to do at an alarming rate.

We’ve picked cherries and made jam and cherry syrup. We’ve shelled and candied walnuts. We’ve picked mulberries and having researched their superfood properties, made syrup of those, too. And this was just Day 1. Today, with so many working in the service industry and the manufacturing industry mainly automated, few of us get to see the fruits of our labours. We miss out on the satisfaction that comes with turning a bowl of cherries into a pot of jam. We don’t get to feel that sense of tired satisfaction that comes after spending a day doing… doing stuff.

Day 2, being Sunday, was a rest day that started with us scoring some nice pottery at a flea market outside Keszthely and then finding a birdhouse, a hall table, and a compost bin at another market near Tapolca. Lunch at the Istvándi winery overlooking the Balaton in Káptalantóti, with its cold cherry soup and home-grown mangalica pork was about sustainability. Everything we ate was grown locally. Everything we drank, from the syrup to the wine, was made locally. A stunning environ with great food; a model worth replicating.

From there it was over to Szigliget for a dip in the Balaton waters, before popping into the neighbours for a chat and a catchup and then catching a nightcap in the local presszo. From my viewpoint, looking out, these were normal days for me. For my friend, looking in, they were days with a difference.

Sometimes, looking at our lives from another’s perspective can make us appreciate what we have just a little bit more. And that new perspective is one to be grateful for.