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Forty shades of green

I’m sick. Homesick. I’ve been travelling for what seems like a couple of lifetimes, ever since I first headed Stateside back in 1990. Since then, I’ve lived for a total of three years in Ireland. Three out of the last twenty-four years. Doesn’t seem like much and one would think that by now, I’d have started to call somewhere else home.

IMG_9573 (800x591)Author John Ed Pearce reckons that home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. I never particularly wanted to leave Ireland. It was just one of those things. I’d applied for a US Green Card in the first ever visa lottery – mainly, I think, because everyone else was doing it. I never expected to win one and never gave much thought to what I’d do if I did. But I did. And I was given 28 days to uproot and take up residence in the U.S.of A. So I went. Not because I particularly wanted to live in America, but because I didn’t like my job. And far away hills are always greener.

IMG_9783 (800x586)German author and poet Christian Morganstern said that home is not where you live, but where they understand you. Were I to use his measure, I’d have multiple homes. I have a peculiar way of making people understand. Recently, after an interview I gave here in Budapest, a friend suggested (half in earnest) that she coach me. I was giving away too much. I was too open, too free with my stories. And yet although many might think that in four seasons of presiding over the Gift of the Gab, there’s nothing left to tell, a new story is born every week. And anyway, being Irish, I’m a great lover of poetic license and who knows what’s true and what isn’t. But back to understanding. I’m truly blessed that everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve met people who have taken the time to ‘get’ me; people who were curious enough to explore the inner workings of my mind (albeit with varying degrees of success) and admittedly, some still find consolation in that they’ve just about managed to understand the madness in me.

IMG_9781 (800x597)One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way. Perhaps Van Gogh had a point, but again, I’ve been very lucky that people have sat by me and had a conversation. Random meetings and happenstance have resulted in life-long friendships with people my own age … and younger … and older.  Perhaps the secret is to open my home to whomever, whenever. I’ve a fondness for entertaining and an appreciation that homes are happier places if they have that lived-in feel, even if there’s only one full-time resident. And when my fire is lighting, almost anyone is welcome. How long they get to stay though is another matter 🙂

IMG_9856 (800x599)Charles Dickens reckoned that home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answer to, in the strongest conjuration. I was fortunate this last trip to see parts of Ireland I’d not seen before. Magical parts. Parts that couldn’t be bettered by the wave of a thousand wands. Driving the back roads and scenic routes, we came across remnants of times gone by, some spots so remote that it seemed as if we were the only living souls for miles around. When I look at the photos, I’m reminded of Johnny Cash and his 1961 song 40 shades of green and perhaps, for the first time in a long, long time, I get the emotion behind it.

IMG_9555 (800x600)A few hundred years ago, Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote that every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Perhaps that’s where I’m at. A journey that started off by accident and through a series of random happenings along the road it has brought me to Budapest. And yet, despite the fact that I’ve been gone for close to a quarter of a century, give or take a few years, I still talk of going home. Home home. To Ireland. And again, I’m lucky. I can go pretty much as often as I please … I know not many have that luxury.

IMG_9560 (800x600)Nineteenth century author Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote something that really resonates and perhaps best explains the umbilical attachment I have to Ireland and her people. Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserved; it’s life’s undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room, from which we go forth to more careful and guarded intercourse, leaving behind…cast-off and everyday clothing. I may never again live in Ireland full time. That said, I could move home next month. Therein lies the beauty of life – the great unknown. This evening though, I’m in an odd mood. I’m in a strange place. I’m something I haven’t been in a long time. I’m homesick.

But enough… I need to pack. Italy is calling.

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The wearin’ of the green

I dislike St Patrick’s Day parades with a passion that should have received specialist treatment long ago.  It’s not just St Patrick’s Day parades, it’s any parade. I’m a self-confessed parade pooper. So, sometime late last summer, when I first heard about the idea of  staging a St Paddy’s Day parade in Budapest, I cringed. I heard it twice from two people I both like and admire so for once, I kept my mouth shut; I held my counsel. For the past few months I’ve been silent on the subject, keeping my distance. Other than haranguing the organisers about missing apostrophes and unnecessary full-stops, I have said nothing, and done even less.

I even went so far to arrange to be out of the country for St Patrick’s Day itself, but I was out-paddied. The parade was scheduled for the 19th and I arrived back in town a day too soon. Today, Saturday, was a miserable day – damp, drizzly, and grey –  typical parade weather. Tempting as it was to stay home and clean my floors and windows, sort my socks and alphabetise my spices, I couldn’t not go. I’m Irish for God’s sake. I had to go. I had no excuse, at least none that would hold water. So off I toddled to Szabadság tér for the grand gathering, with every intention of showing my face, saying my quick hellos,  faster goodbyes, and then beating a hasty retreat.

When I got there, I saw a sea of green in the top corner of the square. The weather was doing little to dampen the enthusiasm of those who were first to arrive. Had Johnny Cash risen from the dead and launched into 40 shades of green, it wouldn’t have surprised me. I doubt the wearin’ of the green has ever been taken so seriously. The IHBC lads were togged out in style with St Patrick and the Leprechaun playing their parts a little too convincingly. From toddlers in prams and pushchairs to those who have seen more than a few parades in their lifetimes, the crowd slowly grew.

When the pipers arrived and opened with Amazing Grace, something inside me switched on. I finally got what it was the lads were on about, the gap they wanted to fill and suddenly a St Patrick’s Day parade didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. It’s not often that the Irish in Budapest get to gather in one place for one reason and it quite surprised me to see so many there.  And I know they weren’t all Irish Irish – which is even better still. James Michener, in his 1957 book, The Bridge at Andau, describes the Hungarians as the Irish of Eastern Europe. There is a huge affinity here for all things Irish – and while that can be said of many places, to see such a friendly, fun, high-spirited parade in Budapest that served little other purpose than to underscore the importance of having the craic, was probably an attraction in itself.Today was a work day in Hungary but that didn’t stop those in their offices along the route stopping for a minute to wave and wonder. The bemused faces on the passersby, or the faces of drivers stopped in traffic to let the parade were priceless. For many, seeing St Patrick standing on the steps of the Basilica with a Leprechaun by his side, both dispensing blessings on the crowd below, must have seemed a little surreal. As the sea of green marched onwards towards its final resting place – the Guinness House – more and more people joined in. I stopped once to count and at a rough estimate I’d say 546 people took part, give or take a couple of balloons. Not a bad showing at all for a first attempt at rallying the troops.

If you’d told me a few months ago, or even last week, that I’d have marched in a Paddy’s Day parade of my own volition, I’d have said you were mad. If you’d told me that not alone would I have marched, but that I’d have enjoyed it, I’d have said you were off your rocker. But sometimes it’s not a bad idea to remind myself from whence I’ve come and to take a little pride in the fact that St Patrick’s Day is billed, worldwide, as the friendliest day of the year.

So kudos to Messrs Downey and Griffin and Harron, the IHBC, and parade volunteers for pulling this one off. Impressive stuff. Today was a good day to be Irish in Budapest. And, you never know, next year I might even wear a hat!