Putting the hope back into dreaming

The season of giving is fast approaching. For some, the decision about how best to encapsulate how we feel about that special someone (or someones) in something that is wrappable can cause undue angst. We know that hope and disappointment will jostle each other as presents are opened and interpreted. And when we get it wrong, the disappointment doubles. So just what is this gym membership telling me? Where was your head when you thought that I’d love a new ironing board? You’ve never noticed that I don’t have my ears pierced?

I like shopping. I like buying gifts. I think I do rather well at getting it just right. I’ve had years of practice. But my interest in the whole gift-giving thing is waning. The kids in my life have too much already ‒ and they themselves are the first to admit it. The adults in my life want for little. So I ask myself – why bother? And yet my innate need to give is even stronger at Christmas.

This year, thanks to a little Hungarian village called Gáborján which sits in the east of the country on the Hungary-Romania border, this need will be well satisfied.  But let’s step back a bit.

Those with their finger on the pulse on what’s happening on the city’s social scene will doubtless have heard of Budapest’s foremost Scottish Pub, the Caledonia. Those who are well versed in volunteerism in Budapest will know that earlier this year it launched its Social Bite page. Owners Zsuzsanna Bozo and Patrick McMenamin want to do more for the community than simply serve pints of good Scottish beer alongside plates of haggis (the best I’ve had outside of Glasgow, by the way).

Their latest initiative took form when Zsuzsa met up with Józsi Bá, who is what she describes as the ‘soul of this Hungarian village’. Life in Gáborján is tough. Times are difficult. Poverty is rife. But Józsi Bá has hope for the village’s future. His hope lies in its children and the something magical that happens when kids realise that dreams can actually come true.

AsoclaZsuzsa and Co., have printed over 100 blank letters to Santa Claus which Józsi Bá will distribute with the help of the local primary school teachers. Each letter will be sent to Santa via the Caledonia, where they will be added to a special Facebook page: Levelek Télapónak  (Letters to Santa; yes, even Santa is using social media these days). Those participating can take a letter (or three) and make that particular child’s Christmas dream come true. Is there a better way to satisfy that need to give? I think not.

Gifts can be dropped off at the Caledonia Gift Factory at 1066 Budapest, Mozsár utca 9, which will operate as a satellite to Santa’s Factory at the North Pole.  You can save the elves some trouble by wrapping your gifts and adding a personal note. Or better still, you can join in one afternoon in December and enjoy a few hot toddies while wrapping the gifts and enjoying that lovely feeling that comes with doing something worthwhile.  And if you fancy a trip to Gáborján, join the visiting elves for a day of gift giving and church decorating.   And it’s not just gifts that are needed; check the page for other donations that will go a long way towards making life a little easier in this particular part of Hungary.

When we have more than we need, we should think of building a bigger table, rather than erecting a taller fence. This is a perfect opportunity to share with those who are not as fortunate, to give a little back to a country many of us call our second home, to show these kids that dreams can come true.

First published in the Budapest Times 30 October 2015

Old or outsourced

Santa Fe is home to one of the largest art markets in the world. If you have money, an eclectic taste in clothes and jewelry, and a house to furnish in that Aztecky desert style so peculiar to the region, then it’s a place worth visiting.  I was quite taken with the arts and crafts initially but then, in conversation with some of the vendors, I was a little disheartened to discover that the whole ‘designed in’ vs ‘made in’ blur of distinction had made it to the desert.

IMG_5855 (800x600)I’d set my eye on a blue woven basket, a large part of whose charm lay in the fact that I thought it was made by a Navajo Indian. I have a weird obsession with knowing the origins of things and prefer my originals to be signed and dated. But while it was designed by a Navajo artisan, it was actually made in Punjabi, India. This gave the outsourcing thing a whole new slant and poked another hole in my naivety. I really need to do something about the growing sense of dissatisfaction I have with the price of progress.

IMG_5856 (600x800)That said, though, it’s a lovely city with lots to gawk at and plenty of shops to wander around. With 200 restaurants, 250 art galleries, 50 Indian jewelry shops, 13 major museums, and a world-famous opera, there’s plenty to occupy a couple of days. Not that we had that sort of time, mind you. It has the oldest government seat in the United States, the oldest church in the United States, and the oldest house in the United States. So that makes it old. And, apparently, it was a town 13 years before the Pilgrims hit on Plymouth Rock. And in American terms, that’s really old.

IMG_5838 (800x600)The city sits at the end of the Santa Fe trail, a lifeline between Missouri and New Mexico that opened in 1821. The trail crosses five states and back in its day, military forts opened along the route to protect trail travel and trade. Route 66 also passes through it. And, when I stop to think about it, the city has made the transition to the twenty-first century relatively unscathed in parts. So perhaps this is one part of the world where the price of progress has been held in check, visually at least. Hope? Perhaps!

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The shadow of life

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
~ R.D. Laing

Quite a mouthful that. Try saying it aloud. When I read it today, I immediately thought of shadows. Now, I am not at all sure where the association came from (and has that ever stopped be ruminating ….), but intangible though it was, it sent me searching through my photographs to confirm a deep-seated suspicion that alongside closed doors and flowers behind bars, I also seem to have an obsession of sorts with photographing shadows.

It’s not the objects themselves that interest me, but the way light interacts with them and distorts what might otherwise be a mirrored reflection. Although far less solid and far more ephemeral, it is the shadow that attracts me. This realisation then made me wonder even more because it would seem that much of my working life is spent dealing with tangibles – texts, words, plans, structures , budgets, people – and yet what I find most interesting is the effect they create, the influence they have, their reach.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel reckons that most people think that shadows follow, precede, or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses, and memories. The reach and influence of what we say and do, the shadow of our actions, if you will, can divide the indivisible. So often we have no idea of the signifance of a throw-away comment, a random act, a spontaneous decision. We see what’s solid, what’s real, and all too often fail to notice the shadow that realness creates. And yet, as Martin Luther King would have it, everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

So if in noticing that failing to notice shapes my thoughts and deeds; if I see the shadows that surround my words and ideas; if I accept that everything is a shadow of what I do not see, then might I arrive at a meeting of minds with Frank Lloyd Wright and accept that  the present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.

While I attempt to figure it all out, I will still appreciate a shadow for what I believe it is – a glimpse of a parallel reality.