Hallway in black and white

I think it was when I was going through my ‘country mansion’ stage that I first hit on the idea of a black-and-white hallway. Not the most original idea in the world perhaps, but one that has been a long time in the making.  I am particularly blessed that this long hallway (nearly 7 metres) is perfect for showing off my B&W photos. Each one has a story or a memory encased in it.

There’s a photo of the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. When I was in college I would get the bus back to Dublin on a Sunday evening and I always new I was home when we drove past the Ha’penny Bridge. Even today, it’s my gateway to the capital. Once I pass it I know I’m either coming or going. There is also one of the Cliffs of Moher, so beautifully pictured in the opening scene of Ryan’s Daughter. This is, perhaps, one of my favourite places in Ireland. Years ago, before the visitors centre and car-parks beckoned tour buses en route from Shannon Airport to Galway, it was a rugged, lonely, windswept place where, with a little imagination, you could almost see America. You could sit for hours without being bothered by another soul. Alas, no longer. It’s still an amazing place though and the photo that Ms McCabe took of it, a copy of which now hangs in my hallway, still manages to calm the most anxious of days.

There’s also one of the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford that was taken for me by a wonderful man from Brazil whom I met while doing my MA (one half of the eponymous Alberto and Sabrina duo).  That year was special in more ways than one. The MA in International Publishing drew students from all over the world and made for some fascinating conversations and lasting friendships. Oxford itself is a remarkable place to live… for a year. Home to the ubiquitous Colin Dexter, him of Inspector Morse fame; the Bodleian Library; the  Radcliffe Camera; the dining hall featured in the Harry Potter movies… there’s a never-ending treasure trove of interesting people, places and stories to find. And, as a student, plenty of time to find them!  A year was just right for me – any longer and I think I would have found the divide between town and gown a little too wide for my liking.

There are three of Anna Nielsen’s stick men prints (one she gave me as a present – an original, one-off, to commemorate the Irish presidential elections in 1997). Danish by birth and now living in Ireland, she’s a very witty artist with a rather distinct style. And there are more, so many more, including one of me  in my younger days wearing little more than a smile, cavorting on the couch with… an ashtray.

If I were heading to a desert island and could only bring one picture with  me, it would have to be Feny Karoly’s photo of Marton László’s statue of the Hungarian poet József Attila. It was taken in winter, when it was snowing. I had the very good fortune to work on Marton László’s autobiography shortly before he died last year. He was a remarkable man and a remarkable artist. I’m still discovering the real-life versions of statues he wrote about in his book. But this one of József Attila is my favourite. I have spent many a morning sitting with him, chatting about life and what’s going on. Not surprisingly, he’s an excellent listener. One particular morning, I failed to notice a couple of tourists who had sat on the far side of him. I was ranting about men and relationships or something equally thrilling and was being quite frank with him – he’s that sort of chap. It was only when I stood up to leave that I realised he wasn’t the only audience I had. I’m not sure which amused them most: my situation or the fact that I was spilling my guts to a statue.

Half-way down the hall
Half-way down the hall

Anyway, back to the hall. It took a long time to find just the right tile. I wanted it to shine but not to mirror; to be muted but not dead; to  be textured but still smooth. And then the size… why make it so difficult to choose? Luckily, I know a very good architect living on a bit of land off the north coast of Scotland who knows exactly how I deal (or don’t deal) with choices and he was very helpful. There are, believe it or not, occasions when I actually like being told what to do. He also drew up a couple of designs for the tile and I rather like what we agreed on. I particularly like the ‘runway’ affect of inset halogen lights along the base of the wall.

That lovely black, pillar-like thing is actually covering a rather ugly pipe that comes through from next door. My flat was original part of a large corner apartment that is now four separate flats of varying sizes. This was quite common apparently. A man selling a flat in Korsztasorsag tér explained it quite simply:

The Communists decided I didn’t need such a big flat.

I could have raised the floor to cover the pipe but then I would have had to shave some height off the doors. I could have lowered it but it’s sitting on a lead plate and for all its size (about 31 cm juts out into my hallway), it seemed like it could be masking a world of hurt so I left well enough alone. I briefly entertained the thought of taking a pottery class to make a life-sized statue of a Dalmatian to sit over it and hide it… I even went so far as to share this thought with some of my friends here and it was quickly pointed out that ‘there’s a very fine line between good taste and no taste’.

I finally found this ebonized wooden stand at the BÁV and thought it would be perfect. And, although not quite deep enough, it works beautifully. I won’t go into how much it cost. I did watch it for a few weeks hoping it would come down in price … but it didn’t. So when I was in buying my big Chobi, I was overcome by the whole ‘may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb’ thing and threw caution to the wind.

On top, if you can make it out, is a granite, shallow-dish vase. It has a circular hollow with  little tiny prongs onto which you stick your flower stems. According to the chap who made it, flowers rot because we put them in too much water. They need to have about an inch of the stems covered… and then keep cutting back as that piece rots. Not exactly rocket science, but who’d have thunk it eh? I bought it on one of many trips to Blenheim Palace …on this particular day I was accompanied by one of the most amazing women I know – Ashoka fellow Elna Kotze.  The flower in the picture is pussy willow. There’s a lovely old Hungarian woman who brings her stool with her and sits at the bottom of the steps at Arany János metro station selling bunches of flowers that she brings in from the country. She hand-ties them into little bouquets and holds them out as you’re passing and happen to catch her eye. It’s one way of cutting out the middle-man! And she’s hard to resist!

I must walk up and down that hallway ten times a day and it’s like travelling through time. There are hundreds of memories and associations in each step. Friends who were with me when I bought photographs in Prague and Portugal; those who took photos for me in Ireland and the UK;  one gifted Hungarian friend TI who painted one for me, and the endlessly patient KG who hung the damn things (is there really such a thing as a straight line?) It’s a lovely space and just how I imagined it would be  – although in my country mansion, I had a round hall with a vaulted ceiling and a wrought iron staircase… well, it’s almost there.

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