I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in rented accommodation. I never had to worry about maintenance or broken appliances. If something went wrong, I called the landlord and they’d either come out themselves or send someone out to fix whatever was wrong. No bills. No estimates. No heartache. Magic.
Now that I’m my own landlord, it’s a different story. If something goes wrong, there’s no one to call. I have to sort it, fix it, and pay the bill … and in Hungarian, too, or more likely with the help of a Hungarian-speaking friend. Six years into this, I’ve been lucky to have had little in the line of major catastrophes ‒ a flooded kitchen, a blocked drain, a broken microwave ‒ a little inconvenient perhaps, but fixable within the budget.
Somewhere along the way, I’d heard that you should paint the outside of your house every three years and the inside every six. I have no idea where that came from. I could well have imagined it. But it’s etched so deeply on my brain that I have taken it as fact and when my six years of ownership rolled around, I decided I needed a change. It was a clear choice: move or paint.
I did my research. I took advice. I looked critically at my pictures and paintings and mentally rearranged them in my head, all the while creating space for more. I stretched my Hungarian vocabulary to cover a broader range of colours, and added things like ‘ladder’, ‘finish’, and ‘picture rail’ to an ever-growing repository of words.
The painters said they’d need five days if I wasn’t there; seven or eight if I was. So I left them to it. I had no qualms about leaving five lads in my flat while I escaped. I’m a trusting soul. They seemed lovely and indeed they are.
Never for a minute did I think, though, that it might be a good idea to be there to see the paint going on the wall. I’d chosen the colours so why wouldn’t I be happy with them? But I never factored in the light: daylight, dusk, wall lights, ceiling lights, they all came into play with the result that the colours in my head didn’t quite transfer to my walls – nothing was as it seemed.
I went for Jane Austen blue for my guest room and while it’s more Jane in her youth than in her dotage, it works. Despite major misgivings, I’d allowed myself to be talked into a yellow Tuscan wash for the kitchen and I have to admit that I like it. While my office isn’t exactly the olive-green I’d imagined, it’ll grow on me. It’s the gold-fading-to-cream look in the living room that simply didn’t work. Where was my head? But it’s all fixed now.
The painters have been and gone on schedule. And they even cleaned up after themselves. I was mega impressed. I’ve made my choices – and they were my choices – so whatever blame there is to apportion, it’s all mine. And I’m sure that time will cure the few misgivings I’m left with.
There’s no doubt that my flat has changed; it’s not exactly what I’d envisioned, but it’s definitely different. Mission accomplished. I still love my flat, just as I still love this city and this country, yet perhaps the veneer is fading and the cracks are showing in more than just my four walls. Will the new paint satisfy my need for change, I wonder, or is it just a temporary fix, cosmetically applied to cover a deeper unrest?
First published in the Budapest Times 13 February 2015