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paisley kettle

2019 Grateful 44

I’ve been feeling a different sort of gratitude these days. Not gratitude for stuff that has happened – although there’s plenty of that in me – more being grateful for things that haven’t happened, with two big ones this week. Last summer, in Ireland, in Lidl, I bought a kettle. Mad you say. Surely they sell kettles in Hungary. Even ones not made in China. And yes, they do.

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2016 Grateful 26

I’ve been to funerals of people I’ve never met. I’ve never said hello to the body in the coffin, shook their hand, or passed the time of day with them. That’s a peculiarity about Ireland – we go to funerals for the living rather than for the dead.

Weddings, though, they’re another story.

Not since my early days in Los Angeles in 1990 have I been to a wedding where I didn’t know either the bride or the groom. Back then, in the company of the ubiquitous J-NP, I remember the bridesmaids being all in black and the best man opening a book in the grounds of the church on how long the marriage would last. Mad, I thought.

20160702_181741_resized (600x800)This weekend, in Portugal, I was at a wedding and the only one I knew other than himself was the father of the bride. When we got the invitation last year, I was a tad dubious and wondered at the sense of two Irish people having af full-blown wedding in Portugal. Mad, I thought.

But had we not been invited, I doubt we’d ever have chosen to come to Ericeira and that would have been sad.

Quite a number of us gathered in  local bar down by the waterfront on Thursday night to get acquainted. We met again on Saturday at the town’s big hotel to get the bus the wedding village – Gradil. We were a little ahead of schedule or rather the schedule has slipped due to a series of unfortunate mishaps that involved suits, security tags, and flowers. Good fodder for the wedding speeches.

20160702_150154_resized (800x600)20160702_162751_resized (600x800)The church itself was stunning – absolutely stunning. They’d managed to find an Irish priest who works in a few of the local villages so it all had an at-home feel to it. On our way in, we were given lovely wooden fans, in case the heat got to be too much. And it was here that the attention to detail first became obvious. So much thought and preparation had gone in to it all – and from another country. Simply amazing.  The bride looked stunning and the groom did her proud.  It was all so beautifully done.

A string quartet supplied the music including everything from Leonard Cohen to my favourite wedding piece – Panis Angelicus – to Cold Play. All a tad surreal. The style was impressive, with the men being particularly well turned out and if anything, even more stylish than the women. We left the church to be greeted by a jazz band who played us through the village to the venue – Quinta de Sant’Ana. A working vineyard, it packs quite a history.

Back in the 1800s, King Dom Luís gave the Quinta to actress Rosa Damasceno. He had a theatre built especially for her. Centuries later, Baron Gusta von Fürstenberg took up residence. He lived there with his wife Paula and their seven children until the revolution in 1974 spurred their return to  Germany. A loyal family friend, Joaquim Val Morais, saved the place and in the early 1990s, the baron’s daughter Ann and her husband James came home. They too, have seven children – all boys.

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20160702_184137_resized (800x600)20160702_165344_resized (600x800)20160702_191232_resized (800x600)20160702_211102_resized (800x600)It is a spectacular place. We sipped champagne, drank wine, feasted on fish and cheeses, all the while listening to the jazz band. We savoured a wine-tasting of the vineyard’s wines in the cellar.  We mixed, we mingled, and we oohed and aahed, enjoying the other-worldliness of it all.  We breakfasted in the theatre, the table seating  cleverly arranged by vintage. [I never did check if by 2005 we were the oldest in the room.] How remiss of me. The menu was a lavish four-course affair with a goats cheese starter, followed by sea bass, followed by rack of lamb and then dessert. Each course out did the one before it. 20160702_211013_resized (800x600)Downstairs, the courtyard was set up with cheeses and fruit platters and the vineyard’s own wines. Music, dancing, fireworks, complemented by pleasant conversation, lots of laughs, and some excellent speeches made for a fabulous evening that went on till the early hours of the morning.

Yes, I’d thought them mad when I heard that the wedding would be in Portugal. But as I said, had we not been invited, I’d never have discovered this part of the world with its friendly villages, beautiful wines, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality. If you have a special occasion coming up,  Quinta de Sant’Ana is worth checking out.

The next afternoon, it was over to the Villa Jessie, some 3km outside of Ericeira for a bbq. [Another place to consider for a special occasion.] More fine wines, excellent meats, and plenty of craic ensued. Both times we got the first bus home. Both times we partied till we dropped. We no longer have the staying power we had at 30-something, but thankfully, the desire to try is still there.

After months of wondering, I’m truly grateful that we were invited to this part of the world to celebrate what will undoubtedly be a long and happy marriage. It did my heart good to see such unbridled enthusiasm for life, to meet so many young people with plans and the passion to realise them, and to meet so many not-so-young with stories to tell and an unflappable zest for life. It’s gone a long way in restoring my faith in the power of family and confirmed, yet again, that life is definitely for living. A massive thank you, Mr McD. Le mile buíochas.

More on the Grateful series.

Grateful 9

Hate takes effort and energy and, quite frankly, I’m too lazy to expend either on something that offers little reward. There’s some food I’d rather not eat; some people I’d rather not talk to; some places I’d rather not visit. But there are very few things in life that I actively hate. Even people who don’t keep their word; who make promises they have no intention of honoring, while low of my list of faves, earn my pity rather than my hate [and,  imho, ‘sorry, I forgot’ doesn’t cut it as an excuse].

November 1 (aka All Saints Day, aka The day of the Dead) dawned bright and sunny this year. When I revisited an old blog post to see if I’d written about how to get to the Jewish cemetery on Kozma utca, I was surprised to find that the trip I made wasn’t last year, but two years ago, in 2010.  And I was horrified to find that I’d promised Bródy Sándor that I’d bring him flowers and now, two years later, I still hadn’t fulfilled that promise. I hadn’t forgotten – I’d just lost a year somewhere… Mind you, I doubt he’s given it much thought in the meantime, but still – a promise is a promise.

Off I trotted with the lovely BS, popping in at the New Cemetery to buy said flowers before walking up the road to the Jewish one. The contrast couldn’t have been  more startling. The former was packed solid, with police on point duty directing traffic; the latter was empty but for us, a strange man with a map, and an elderly trio who looked lost. All sorts of reasons for this emptiness came to mind – no-one left to remember the dead; the city’s Jewish population depleted; the competing priorities of progress. We mourned the neglect and cursed the wars and debated the pros and cons of cremation. It wasn’t until later, over goose legs and cabbage at Huszár that our waiter pointed out the obvious … All Saints Day is  Catholic day… nowt to do with the Jews. [If we’d brains, we’d be dangerous.] Poor Bródy must be turning in his grave.

As we wandered through the graves, I noticed a number with their own garden seat installed. It brought to mind long, one-sided conversations between the living and dead: reminiscences of the past and consultations regarding the future. Perhaps even some remonstrations for broken words and forgotten promises.

I was struck again at how beautiful the place is, no matter how overgrown, and perhaps because I’ve just finished reading The Invisible Bridge, it was all the more real for me. The monuments to those whose bodies will never be recovered were particularly moving. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time – and this week, I am grateful that although it took me a while to get around to doing it, I finally got to keep my promise.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 12

I feel terrible. I have a rotten dose of something that has my stomach doing somersaults, my joints screaming in agony, and my head wanting to explode. I’m looking at the week ahead with something approaching a quiet desperation. I have to travel. Pack a bag. Get on a plane. I have an inbox full of unanswered emails and a to-do list that stretches into November. Two of my plants – Fred and Ginger – look like they’ve given up the ghost. And I have no idea when I’m going to find the time to start my dissertation. I could go on but I’m boring myself… As I wonder what I could be grateful for this week, I remember a poem that did the rounds a while ago:

Be thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown

So, this week, I’m grateful that I’m sick because it reminds me of how well I usually feel. And I’ve made a mental note to self not to take good health for granted.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 14

‘So’ said she, as she leaned closer, her voice dropping to a whisper, an implicit promise of confidentiality imbuing the two little letters – ‘… have you had any work done?’ I laughed. Out loud. I might be just a few years shy of 50, but apparently I don’t look it!

Samuel Ullman – he who penned the poem Youth – wrote: Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  I’d like to think that the absence of wrinkles on my face is also mirrored by an absence in my soul. At the end of what has been an exhausting week on so many levels, I am grateful that this tiredness comes from pushing myself to my limits  – communications workshops, dinner theatre, first round of the Gift of the Gab, speech competitions, dinners and parties in Bath – and not from any lack of enthusiasm on my part.

For those of you who have never met him, let me introduce you to Mr Ullman:

YOUTH  by Samuel Ullman

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 24

I checked my mailbox the other day and found a padded envelope, postmarked in the Netherlands. It was open and empty except for a cheese slice. I didn’t recognise the handwriting but had an aha moment when I recalled admiring MN’s slice last time I was in Dublin as it was so much stronger than the one in my kitchen drawer. So I emailed her and thanked her, assuming that she had been thoughtful enough to get me one the last time she was in Holland. She said she hadn’t sent it and suggested that perhaps LN had, as she had just been there. So I emailed LN to thank her for her kindness and she said she hadn’t sent it either, but that she had asked BN to send it to me from Haarlem. In any event, it arrived safely.

This happens to me quite regularly and has been happening on a regular basis for years. I comment on something or say I like something or ask someone where they got such and such and days, or weeks, or even months later, I end up with one too. This type of consideration, the paying attention to small details, the taking notice of wishes expressed and things said in passing is one of life’s greatest treasures.

Whether it’s making sure there’s milk and food in my fridge when I get back from a trip or sending flowers just because, or remembering that I’ve been looking for a good cheese slice, these random acts of kindness go a long way towards making me a better person. Because they are done unto me, I then try to do likewise for others. A virtuous circle.

This week was a difficult one and the appearance of that cheese slice made all the difference. I’m reminded of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:  You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. And I’m grateful for the reminder that I shouldn’t think twice about acts of kindness or consideration. I should just do it.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 29

I have been having the strangest dreams lately. One night, I was trapped in a huge old building and the only way out was through what I thought was a morgue. I panicked as I’d never seen a dead body but was happy to discover that the old people inside were all alive – barely. They were all priests and nuns, though, and to get out, I had to talk to each one of them about their lives. Some had very odd stories – like the priest who used to be a scientist and then changed to hairdressing when he burned his hair in a bunsen burner.

In another dream, I was working for four generations of a very rich family. As I’d talk to prince or pauper and generally like to interact with people, this was okay for  a while. The family had two labrador pups. Animals and me get on – to a point. They don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. I’m not a cat person or a dog person – they’re grand but since losing a succession of pets as a child I’ve remained completely detached. Yet as this dream progressed, I got more and more annoyed with the adults, to the point that I practically despised them and more and more attached to the pups to the point that when one went missing, I walked the streets in the pouring rain to find him and when I did, he was dead and I was devastated.

In yet another dream this week, the cops called to the house to do a routine search for a missing person. In my car they found a letter from a mate in Orkney telling me that I’d have to live with a certain knowledge for the rest of my life – and another card suggesting that I get rid of the knife. Naturally they were curious – but  I was more concerned with them not finding the charcoaled remains of yet another body my mates had given me to dispose of. That one scared me senseless. It was most uncomfortable to be accused of something I didn’t do and very difficult indeed to convince these so-called mates that they had to ‘fess up or else I’d rat them out.

Another night, I was a nurse. I was black, in my 20s, with short bobbed wavy hair. And I had ankles. I didn’t want to work with people, just machines. I was about to x-ray this old man Henry for pneumonia when he fell off his crutches and collapsed. My supervisor (a nasty old cow) told to pick him up by putting my index fingers under his chin. When this didn’t work, I hooked my legs around him and then stood up. He began to walk without his crutches…and then everyone wanted a piece of me.

The night before last, I dreamt that it was around Valentine’s Day and I’d been asked out by two lads, each of whom wanted us to double date with some very odd couples. One was quite young, the other my age. The one my age was very pale and blonde and seemingly harmless. He was being grilled by a concerned mate of mine. My mate was some kind of former South African policeman who asked yer man whether a white card had been taped to his passport. It had. He then proceeded to tell the blonde chap that this meant he was black. There’s nothing quite like a throwaway comment to change someone’s life.

Last night, I was living in this huge old country house, at a crossroads. A bunch of itinerants drove in and set up outside the local pub/garage. The gardai were called and there was bedlam. The sea came out of nowhere and the itinerants turned into pirates. Two chased me inside the house and I was frantically trying to lock doors with no keys, gates with no locks. I ended up in a room full of china with one of them pointing a gun at me.

This week, I’m grateful for my dreams, for whatever insight they’re trying to give me, and for the entertainment value they offer. I’d take my dreams any day over the reality of the Irish boys in Poland and that 4-0 defeat against Spain.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Grateful 30

I was born Irish and I’ll die Irish. My nationality is something I used to take for granted. Being Irish wasn’t an issue. It simply was what I was. It didn’t become an issue until I first went to the States. Living as an expat in California was akin to wearing your Irishness on your sleeve – literally. It seemed that the Irish abroad were a lot more patriotic and a lot more… well… Irish… than the Irish at home. Some took up Irish-language lessons. Others joined Irish drama groups. More still started playing hurling or camogie. It was as if moving away from home and being in the minority instead of being in the majority had tilted that patriotic fulcrum to the extreme.

I used to resent people claiming Irish heritage. Why couldn’t they be happy with being American, or English, or whatever… why did they have to be three-quarters this and an eighth that? In my innocence, an innocence bred under the umbrella of a solid uprearing and fixed values, I never really appreciated what it was to be Irish until I started travelling in earnest.Then I saw how universally liked we are. Perhaps it’s our self-deprecation, or our conviviality, or our ability to talk to prince or pauper. Perhaps it’s our humour, or our melancholy, or our sheer pig-headedness. Perhaps it has nothing to do with us at all and more to do with the celluloid image immortalised by the forty shades of green, the Quiet Man, or the infamous Jack Doyle. Who knows.

Last Monday evening, I sat with hundreds of others in the stands of Ferenc Puskas stadion to see Ireland play Hungary in their last soccer international before Euro2012. The match was delayed because of the thunder and lightning. But that didn’t matter. Some say it was the best part of the evening! We were in the only covered stand in the stadium and I had a back row seat so the weather didn’t bother me. I barely knew anyone on the team. I have little interest in soccer but had come out to support the home side. I’m Irish. That’s what we do.  In the pub afterwards, I managed to disagree with most of the post-mortems, quite happy to have a scoreless draw and no injuries. A classic case of very little knowledge being a very dangerous thing. The craic was good – so good that for a while, it felt like being at home. And then it hit me. Irishness – being Irish – is a state of mind. It travels with you and is not tied to any one place.

Brendan Behan, a favourite author of mine, reckons that other people have a nationality but that the Irish and the Jews have a psychosis. And perhaps our sense of reality is a little distorted and perhaps the sky is a little too green in our world – but it is a lovely world in which to live – and a lovely identity with which to travel.

This week, as the temperatures rocket and the heat brings out my bad humour, as I watch my list of things to do grow longer, as I start scheduling lunches in July, I am grateful that here, in Budapest, there are people (Hungarians as well) who know  what it is to be Irish – and I am grateful that I know them, too.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Grateful 31

A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend. So said Ward McAllister. Do you know him? No? I didn’t either. Apparently he was an American celebrity who lived from 1827 to 1895. He coined the phrase ‘the four hundred’ (am wondering now if that’s what Budapest’s bar 400 is called after?). In his mind, only 400 people in New York really mattered; those who felt at ease in the ballrooms of high society. (‘If you go outside that number’, he warned, ‘you strike people who are either not at ease in a ballroom or else make other people not at ease.’) Regardless of his snobbishness and his appearing to be something of a prat, I tend to agree with his view of a dinner invitation – once accepted, it is sacrosanct.

I like having people to dinner. I enjoy setting the table, bringing out the good cutlery and the crystal. I enjoy thinking about the menu, wondering how creative I can be with what’s in the fridge. I enjoy figuring out the guest list. Who will get on with whom? Who will have what in common? I like the idea of introducing people to people they might never otherwise meet. I like the camaraderie, the civility. Most of all, I like how it transports me in time to somewhere other than today.

That might sound a little odd. For me, dinner parties are a form of escapism. Not that I have anything in particular that I want to escape from – I have a grand life. But there’s something other-wordly today about bringing a group of people around a table for dinner – in your home. Yes, we all do it in restaurants and bars. But at home, it’s different. More personal. It requires more thought, more effort, more involvement. The very nature of our lives these days dictates that most of our public living is done in public spaces – on Facebook, in chatrooms, in bars – and although we may know many people very well, it’s interesting to stop and wonder how many of them have we visited at home.

At home in Ireland, this isn’t an issue – because it’s home. My friends know my friends; my parents know my friends; my friends know my parents. Here in Budapest, though, in expat life, it gives me pause for thought. Although we have extended social circles and know lots of people, although we connect regularly with our myriad acquaintances, how many of them know where we live? How many have been invited inside?

Earlier this week some friends left Budapest and others told me of their plans to leave. Both couples have been to dinner at mine. This weekend, I had another dinner party. And it ticked all the boxes. Good food, good company, good conversation. As this week draws to a close, I am grateful to those who humour me by joining me for dinner. I am grateful to those who give me a reason to cook and an opportunity to engage with another world.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Grateful 37

For the last ten days, I have shared my space with one, two, at times three men who were attempting to revive my aging woodwork and repair the damage I did to my walls when Feng Shui demanded that I rehang my pictures. For the most part, we got along just grand. I turned a blind eye to the dust and the dirt and gave thanks that they at least covered the furniture before starting work. I played musical beds as they moved from room to room and I got used to stepping over chairs and books and bags to get to my kettle. I told myself repeatedly that it would soon be over.

The work that I do to pay for this painting is rarely accomplished in one day. There are few finite tasks that I can start, work through, and finish in a day. Most are part of a continuous chain of events, just one link in what will develop into something tangible months down the road. It’s rare that I get that sense of satisfaction from completing something. So when I was presented with a mound of door handles and key plates to shine and polish, I was ecstatic. Completely engrossed in my work, I didn’t notice the hours go by. The satisfaction I got from seeing my face reflected in the surface was positively orgasmic (well, not quite, but nearly!)

So, instead of looking at the inches of dust that have accumulated over the last few days and screaming silently at the thoughts of making them disappear; instead of looking at tiles and parquet that need to be resusscitated and groaning at the back-breaking work that will involve; instead of dreading the loads and loads of laundry that lie ahead of me and the accompanying ironing, I’m actually looking forward to it all.

Now that might well say something about the state of my social life – but hand on my heart, this week, I’m grateful that my flat is a tip. I’m grateful that I will have two solid days of the kind of work that offers immense satisfaction. A begining, a middle, and an end. And no, I wouldn’t want to do this for a living – but every now and then it’s good to do something concrete – something where you can see the difference your work has made.

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]