2015 Grateful 52

When in the States last year, I nearly bought a bag made of recycled seat-belts. I’m a fan of recycled clothing. And at this stage in my life, most, if not all, the men I date have been recycled, too. But a recycled movie?


Hölgyeim és uraim (which interestingly translates into Ladies and Gentlemen but goes by the English title of Final Cut) is a 2012 stroke of genius by Hungarian György Pálfi. It’s billed as the ultimate love story between the ultimate man and the ultimate woman. And it had me enthralled from the opening credits.

recycled-movieThe story is simple – man gets up, showers, shaves, dresses, goes out into the street and literally bumps into the woman he was destined to meet. She’s a singer. They date. She throws off the former boyfriend. They fall in love, get married, and life happens. Your average run-of-the-mill story, nothing much to get excited about in the grand scheme of things. It’s all be written and filmed and sung about before.

But when your leading man is not one man but hundreds – everyone from Patrick Swazye to Charlies Chaplin, from Clark Gable to Brad Pitt, from Woody Allen to Daniel Craig and runs the gamut from a moody melancholic to a rebel without a cause, then that’s something different.

And when your leading lady is not one woman but hundreds – from Audrey Hepburn to Julia Roberts, from Julie Andrews to Kim Novak, from Sharon Stone to Greta Garbo, with all the prim sultriness and wanton womanliness that goes along with them, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Pálfi has taken clips from 500 or so existing films and spliced them together into one cohesive movie. It’s one to watch and rewatch and then watch again (but not with the kids around). It’s a visual onslaught. And a pure delight to recognise the various actors and films and see clips out of context and yet so in context.

I’m a sucker for romance. I’m in love with the idea of being in love. And I love the old classics. Meg Ryan, move over – when they get around to filming Sleepless in Budapest, I’m in there. Pálfi’s film jumps from silent movies to animations, from westerns to film noir, from musicals to futuristic odysseys. It’s a roller-coaster ride that you won’t want to end.

I’m marking 2015 as a year of catching up – of taking time to see the films I’ve wanted to see but have missed, to read the books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t had time, to realise a long threatening to visit friends in far flung places before any of us shuffles off this mortal coil. And so far, one week into the year, I’m on track.

Granted, Hölgyeim és uraim was a bonus – I’d never heard of György Pálfi or his movie until this week when it was given to me to watch by someone who has my cultural well-being at heart (köszönöm a tanítást) and it prompted me to dig out two others that have been sitting on my shelves for years.

Can you believe I’d never seen The Bucket List? Those two questions are echoing in my head

You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death.  When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’  ‘Has your life brought joy to others?

Food for thought there and never too late to change. And Sonny, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has me convinced that

Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.

This is something my late friend RB used to tell me when I was on rant and I’d never realised before where he’d found it. That made the movie all the more special. That, of course, and seeing love win out in the end. I did say I was a sucker for romance.

My first grateful of 2015 has to be that it’s never to late to learn some lessons. And they come at us from the most unusual angles. We just have to be open to receiving them. A throwaway sentence can make a massive difference if we hear it just when we need to. And a movie like Hölgyeim és uraim can do wonders to restore faith in what at times can seem like a tired old story written for someone other than you.



Resolutions and bucket lists

My one and only New Year’s resolution is to whittle away at my bucket list. I’m increasingly conscious of the limited time we have on this Earth and the danger of putting off until tomorrow what could be done today, as sometimes, quite unexpectedly, we run out of tomorrows. And I don’t want to be caught on the hop. There’s little danger that my bucket list will ever be cleared in its entirety as more often than not, each time I strike something off, I add something to it. But hey, it keeps me active.

trottingFor six years now, I’ve been promising myself that I would go to the races on New Year’s Eve in Budapest. I’m a semi-regular at the track during the summer, when entrance is free and temperatures occasionally bring more than the horses out in a sweat. On Wednesday last though, temperatures hit minus 12. It was bloody cold. Considering the last time I was at Kincsem Park it was in the high 30s, this was quite a change and somewhat of a shock to the system.

Usually the crowds are pretty sparse. I’ve often wondered how the track keeps going, operating at what is so obviously a serious financial deficit. On New Year’s Eve, though, they charged 1000 ft on the gate (am not complaining; compared to €30 or more in most parts of the world, €3 was insignificant). And it seemed as if the world and its mother had braved the cold to see the races. Attendance is estimated at around 20 000 and most of them were betting, as the long queues for the tote and the loos attested to.

trotting 2Mulled wine and live music contributed to the party atmosphere as the Budapest skyline across the track lit up with fireworks and a cacophony of horns and bugles added to the general noise and melee. The atmosphere, so different from the quiet of the summer’s racing, was electric. I’m not a huge fan of trotting as I prefer to see my horses parade around the ring before I place a bet. But given the temperatures, reason was cast aside and I went for a 2-7 befutó (reverse forecast) on all races – it’s not a strategy that worked but it kept me interested.

Looking at the Kincsem Park website for some photos, I was amused to see how ingenious it is with its English translation.

Many things, however, can be easily understood even if they’re in a different language. Knowing the basic vocabulary of the context helps a great deal. With that in mind, we provide here the most common expressions and words along with their meaning in the hope that with the help of these you can navigate through the site more easily.

Now, that’s my kind of logic.

So, 2015 has begun and my quest to eliminate random entries from my bucket list will continue as the opportunities present themselves. God willing, I’ll get my 365 tomorrows this year.



2014 Grateful 20

I  heard during the week that an old friend of mine had reached his expiration date (his words). The doctors had given him three years at the start of 2014 and this turned into eight months. He truly was one of God’s finest contributions to my world and one of the loveliest men I have had the good fortune to know. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with him last year, having only been in written contact since 2002. And he still hadn’t lost any of his charm or his magic. He had a way of looking at life that defied the odds; his emails were poetic and insightful and never failed  to give me a new perspective, no matter the subject. I will miss him terribly.

This news came on the back of Robin Williams’s death, when the world poured out its affection, its sense of loss, and is shock at his untimely passing. It was moving to see how much he touched the hearts of so many millions of people and yet I wonder if he fully understood the effect he had on the world. And if he had, would that have helped? Part of me felt that this adulation came a little too late – as is often the case in life. We only miss those we love when they’re gone; and it’s only when we can no longer talk to them that we think of all the things we wish we’d said.

My friend was given three years. He was polishing his bucket list, narrowing down the places he really wanted to visit. Top of that list was a return trip to Alaska, a place forever etched in his memory. He also wanted to see Croatia and come to visit me in Budapest. And New Zealand was on there, too. He thought he had time. He didn’t.

We truly never know how long we have; or indeed how long those around us have. We consciously put off until tomorrow things we don’t want to do today, knowing, on some level, that tomorrow might never come. We go to bed fighting. We wake up bitter and alone. We spend too much time castigating others, bemoaning our lot in life, instead of telling them we care and being thankful for small mercies.

Life has a way of waking us up – it’s called ‘the deaths of others’. If at no other time, and even if only for an hour, or a day, or a week, we resolve to be more present, to be more grateful, to be more honest with ourselves and with others, then perhaps these people have not died in vain. Better still, though, is that we carry that lesson with us and constantly strive to make the most of the time we have on Earth, to tell those closest to us how we feel about them and not take for granted that they will be divinely inspired and simply ‘know’. Instead of putting off until tomorrow, or next week, whatever it is we want to say or do, we should do it today. Because, in many cases, today is all we have.

This week, I’m grateful that RB was part of my life. I’m grateful for everything thing he taught me. I’m grateful that ours was an engaging two-way correspondence that defied both time and distance. And although I’ll miss the cards and letters and emails and parcels, although I’ll miss knowing that he won’t be reading every blog I write – I will always have the memories. And  I am so grateful that I took the time to make some more. You’re a legend Mr B. Thank you.




Bed and breakfast and bucket lists

I have a bucket list. And given that I’m going to live until I’m 87, it’s quite an extensive one. It includes everything from walking the Ho Chi Minh trail to taking the 17-hour train journey from Baku to Tbilisi to having a long drink with Sam Waterston. Somewhere, buried amidst these dreams is to run my own, exclusive, B&B, where people would come to get away from it all – to go dark. No phones, no Internet, no iPads, no connection with the real world. An escape furnished with old-fashioned, paper bound books, music, and plenty of nooks and crannies to sit and do nothing. The ability to do nothing is in danger of dying out – we need to save it. But that’s another post. Right now, I’m trying a Jekyll and Hyde character on for size: a cantankerous curmudgeon, sometimes hard to keep quiet while other times you’d have more luck getting blood from a particularly insipid turnip than getting two consecutive sentences from me. I’ve not quite figured it out fully, but there have been days recently when that character is becoming slightly more real. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping my eye out for suitable properties and came across this one last weekend.

This house is for sale. And it’s gorgeous. It extends right out the back and would make a perfect guesthouse. Were I really serious about my bucket list, and had the wherewithal to make it into a reality, I’d consider buying it and ticking off ‘creating the ultimate getaway’ before I get too old to be bending over to take that homemade bread out of the oven. But while I am serious about my bucket list, it needs to be revised as I’m not all that serious about having strangers in my house. At least not in my current peopled outedness.

This is an idyllic piece of property though – it’s in quite good nick, has a great view, and is within spitting distance of its very own castle. What more could I want? It’s about a two-hour bus ride north of Budapest in the heart of the country with lots of great walking trails around it. Pop over to the next village, Kozárd, and you’re in Apple Valley.  But this house is in the village of Hollókő (raven on a stone) in the middle of a 141-ha nature reserve and is the only village in Hungary which is registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. For the last 25 years or so, its residents have, in effect, been living in a museum. So, were I to live here, I’d be part of this museum and have people peering over my fence every waking minute of the day. I am laughing to myself and thinking: were I in Valdez, I’d just load the house on a trailer and take it out of town! But I’m not. And it’s not. I won’t take it off my bucket list just yet – but I will demote it a few places. At least until I get over my people thing.

And, an aside: My man Sam is being honoured with a lifetime achievement award from Old Sturbridge Village (another living history museum – but not a real-life one, like Hollókő). Is that merely a coincidence or is the universe busy playing around with serendipity?