2015 Grateful 28

Yesterday we breakfasted on liver and kidney, bacon and sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes, with a Cashel blue stepping in for the gorgonzola. A replica of the breakfast Leopold Bloom ate back on 16 June 1904.

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

bloom4It was back in 1929, on the 25th  anniversary of the day Joyce immortalised, that his publisher Sylvia Beach, organised a Déjeuner Ulysse at the Hotel Leopold near Versailles. This has been marked as the first Bloomsday celebration and the guest list included one Samuel Beckett, who, the story has it, had a tad too much to drink and didn’t make the official photograph.

Anyway, yesterday morning, we breakfasted like Bloom, peppered with speeches by the Ambassador and professors of literature, all of whom added to my rather sparse knowledge of a man I’m becoming quite taken with.

But to be understood, I think Joyce has to be heard, read aloud, not quietly. The female actor who had been lined up to read a part of The Dead  was a no-show and I was asked to step in. Not to act mind you, just to read.

I didn’t know either the story or the context but gathered enough of it to realise that I was to needle my interlocutor.

More dancing follows, which finds Gabriel paired up with Miss Ivors, a fellow university instructor. A fervent supporter of Irish culture, Miss Ivors embarrasses Gabriel by labeling him a “West Briton” for writing literary reviews for a conservative newspaper.

We had a couple of read-throughs before the main event and I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Later that evening, at the Belated Bloomsday celebrations on Raday utca, I was asked to step in again. If it’s something I want to do, I don’t need to be asked twice. Various conversations ensued and I may well get to read next semester for some students of Irish literature. I’m already looking forward to it. So much so, in fact, that next year, I think I’ll make it my business to be in Dublin for Bloomsday and overdose on all things Joycean. Or else make my way to Szombathely for the Hungarian version.

icecBut it was the boy who surprised me. He’d enjoyed the breakfast – anywhere he can eat unlimited sausages rates. We took his new friend H to see Miniversum (again). [I’m getting braver – I left them there with strict instructions not to leave until I got back. Instructions they ignored, mind you, but I was waiting outside so panic averted.] We went for proper ice-cream at Fragola on Nagymező utca 7 (they have gorgonzola and camembert flavoured ice-cream) before heading over to Orczy-Kert to another birthday party. He got into the thick of it all with L and A, leaving me to marvel at how easy it is for kids to get along. What goes wrong? When does it go wrong? When do we stop living and letting live and instead judge our way to ostracism? When do the walls go up?

I’d expected him to want to stay and play rather than come with me to the Bloomsday thing but he takes being Irish quite seriously and saw it as a duty, of sorts, to celebrate Joyce and Ulysses on his birthday. And in fairness, it wasn’t until 9pm that he announced, with all the solemnity a just-turned-14-year-old can muster: Mary, my patience has finally run out. It’s time to go home.

This week has been exhausting. I’m wiped out. Yet I’ve learned a lot, for which I’m grateful. I have a newfound appreciation for Joyce. I stand in awe of mothers and parents in general. And I am glorying in how simple life looks through the eyes of a child.


Belated Bloomsday

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce’s Ulysses is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous literary offerings. In some 265 000 words, 30 000+ of them unique, it chronicles the life of Leopold Bloom in the course of a day –June 16, 1904 – in Dublin. Joyce chose to mark this date, the day on which he first stepped out with the woman who would become his wife, Nora Barnacle. Today, June 16 is celebrated globally as Bloomsday. And one of the most notable celebrations outside of Dublin is here in Hungary, in Szombathely, the birthplace of Bloom’s fictional father, a Hungarian Jew by the name of Rudolf Virág, who emigrated to Ireland.

Back in 2007, Hungarian filmmaker Csilla Toldy, who’s now living in Ireland, made a 26-minute documentary The Bloom Mystery on the Hungarian-Jewish origins of Leopold Bloom. The film was shot simultaneously in Hungary and Ireland on Bloomsday 2007, and underscores the almost intangible affinity that exists between the two nations.

A couple of years ago, in 2013, Ambassador Kevin Dowling and the Irish Embassy here in Budapest, launched a Belated Bloomsday, designed to coincide with the Night at the Museums. There’s a lot of interest in Ireland and her literature here in Hungary and this night is a welcome addition to the literary scene.

bloomThis year’s venue ‒ 2B Gallery, Raday utca 47 ‒ will host music, readings, a film, talks, and an art exhibition on Joyce from 5.30 to 10 pm on Saturday, 20th June. Hungarian actors from the Atrium Theatre Company will read from Joyce in English and in Hungarian [I believe that they’re hoping to put on a full performance of The Dead later this year – something else to look forward to]. And if you fancy a bit of fancy dress, don your Bloomsday threads, enter the Joycean Best Dressed competition, and get a free glass of Guinness to put you in the mood. [If you’re a punctuation pedant, you’ll need a Guinness or three.] One of the features of the night will be the screening of Pat Murphy’s wonderful film, Nora. For more details, check the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Ulysses is a treasure trove of great advice and its relevance hasn’t dimmed with the passing of time.  I’ve tried, on a number of occasions, to read the book in its entirety, but have failed miserably. It’s a punctuation thing.  I did partake in a 24-hour reading of the text in San Diego one year and admittedly at 3 am in the morning it began to make some sense. I went so far as to buy the unabridged audio version in the hope that hearing it might be easier. But alas, besting the beast is something that I still have to do before I die. I agree with Carl Jung who said that Ulysses could ‘just as well be read backwards, for it has no back and no front, no top and no bottom’. Mad in the head, Joyce was.

Flicking through the tome this week, I came across a few pertinent quotations that still stand tall.

On smoking: ‘The mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed.’ On intolerance: ‘It’s a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak a different vernacular, so to speak.’ And on the passing of time: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ For all his battiness, our man Joyce did us proud. And it’s great to be able to share him.

First published in The Budapest Times 19 June 2015



The calmness explained

In 1963 this drug was released and became astonishingly popular: between 1969 and 1982 it was the most prescribed drug in America, with over 2.3 billion tablets sold in peak year of 1978 … and  Leo Sternbach, the man who discovered Valium, was born in Opatija to Hungarian parents. Now, that might certainly explain the air of relaxation about the town, were I to completely discount the fact that it was off-season and what few tourists that were left (with the exception of my good self) were well into their dotage.

Harboured as I was just beside the lungomare, I had ample time each evening to wander the promenade and get a feel for the town. I decided that I would never want to visit at the height of summer. There were just enough tourists around for it to be bearable. I can well imagine that trying to navigate the 12-km stretch of sea-frontage would be nigh on impossible in the summer months. As it was, I had to step aside occasionally to avoid a tour group, but for the most part, it was pleasantly populated. Just enough to make it alive, and not too many to make it uncomfortable.

IMG_7473 (597x800)IMG_7477 (600x800)Like Copenhagen and the little mermaid, or Budapest and the little princess, or Brussels and the mannequin pis, Opatija, too, has its statue – the maiden and the seagull. As the story goes, back in 1891, a certain count Arthur Kesselstadt and his wife drowned at sea. His family erected a statue of Madonna Del Mare on the reef to guard his soul. The original Madonna Del Mare was moved to the Croatian Museum of Tourism in the Villa Angiolina (some say by the Communists, but what would I know…) and a replica placed outside St James´s Church. The Maiden was erected in its place in 1956 (and, to my mind, is a definite improvement) and only recently did people discover who had modelled for sculptor Zvonko Car – a secret that had been kept for 55 years.

IMG_7487 (800x600)IMG_7484 (600x800)Just around the corner, more or less, in one of the many parks to be found in the town, I came across an interesting mural referred to by the guide herding the group in front of me as the town’s pop-art exhibition. It was an odd mix of characters, many of whom I didn’t recognise, either by face or by name, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a likeness to James Joyce amidst them all. Apparently he regularly took tea on the terrace of the Hotel Imperial. That man certainly got around. Other famous guests included  Chekhov, Puccini, and a post-tonsillitic Gustav Mahler.

I can see the attraction – the grandeur of the hotels and villas, the fresh seafood, the temperate climate, and the floral-tinged sea air. And while I didn’t see anyone famous during my sojourn, and doubt very much that modern-day Optaija is a refuge for the rich and famous, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days by the sea.

Grateful 26

Week 26. Half-way through the year. It’s hotter than hades here in Budapest and I’m finding very little to be grateful for this week. The blasted heat. Yes, I know Ireland is cold and wet but what I wouldn’t swap for some of that coldness and wetness. Forty-two degrees yesterday. It is any wonder that I’m slowly losing my will to live.

I was in Szombathely last weekend and who did I run into but the bould Mr Joyce. I’d heard tell that there was a town/city in Budapest that translated into ‘bloom’ and was home to some severe Joycean celebrations each June. But, not for the first time, I got the story a little addled and it turns out that it was Leopold Bloom’s fictional father (him being fictional himself) that supposedly hailed from Hungary – Szombathely – and it’s his name – Virag that translates in to flower or bloom. In his novel, Ulysses, Joyce gives Leopold Bloom’s ancestry as Bloom, only born male transubstantial heir of Rudolf Virag (subsequently Rudolph Bloom) of Szombathely . . .

Bridget Hourican writes in the Irish Times that:

Virag means flower in Hungarian, hence Bloom, but it’s a conceit of Joyce’s that Leopold’s father began life as Rudolf Virag. There were Jews in Szombathely called Blum, but never Virag. Laszlo Najmanyi, writer, musician and organiser of the Hungarian Bloomsday, says: “The Blums were big textile traders in Szombathely and members of the family were posted in Trieste. It’s likely that Joyce met them there.” Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Joyce certainly met Hungarians, including Teodoro Mayer, owner of Irredentist newspapers, and one of the models for Bloom. A motif in Ulysses is Arthur Griffith’s Resurrection of Hungary – the history of the struggle for independence from Austria, presented as a model for the Irish. The United Irishman serialised the book from January to June 1904, so of course characters in Ulysses are busy reading it.

Someone took the time to trace the Blum’s old house and erect a plaque over the door that further confuses the Blum/Virág/Bloom issue. I have to keep reminding myself that Leopold Bloom was a figment of Joyce’s imagination and neither he, nor his creator, is likely to be turning in his grave at the apparent inconsistencies. I have no one with whom to share my pain.

This week, as the barometers soar and the heat makes irrationality normal, I am grateful for being Irish. I am grateful that our reach is broad and our influence wide. I am grateful that we have left, and continue to leave, our mark on the world. As the lovely Colin Farrell supposedly said: Being Irish is very much a part of who I am. I take it everywhere with me.

PS – a nice gesture from the Mayor of Poznan after the Irish fans’ performance during Euro2012.

The sum of all our choices

Ok – so it’s not an American breakfast, but it’s all I had on film!

When I first went to the USA, choices in Ireland still came in pairs: tea or coffee, catholic or protestant, married or single, cash or cheque. Sitting down to my first all-American breakfast in New York, I was ill-prepared for the verbal onslaught. The harried waitress delivered my options like an AK-47 spewing bullets.  Coffee – black or white, regular or decaf, milk or creamer? Eggs – fried, poached, scrambled, over well, over easy, over medium, sunny side up? Toast – white, wheat, wholemeal, rye, sourdough, granary? It was too much then, yet 20 years later, these options seem quite limited. Have you read a coffee menu lately? Could it be any more complicated? As for bread…I can list 15 different types beginning with the letter B!

Making choices is hard work. The April 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cites research who found that were are more fatigued and less productive when faced with myriad choices. Life was a lot simpler then a cup of tea and a slice of toast were the order of the day.

Northside or Southside?

It stands to reason that the choices we made yesterday pretty much determine where we are today. And it seems like yesterday that, having decided to move to Hungary, I faced the potentially life-shaping choice between living in Buda or in Pest. Dublin is also a city of two parts, although the Northside and the Southside are colloquial geographical expressions rather than official administrative areas. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, lived on the Northside; Bono and the lads from U2 went to school there; and that hunk of Irish attitude, Colin Farrell, was born there. The Southside boasts the literary greats James Joyce and Oscar Wilde and the fictional Ross O’Carroll Kelly. Rivalry abounds and the jokes fly both ways: What do you call a Northsider in a suit? The defendant. How does a Southsider get a week off work? He phones his mother!  We talk about having to get a visa to cross the Liffey and ironically, I feel the same way about crossing the Danube.

Eastside or Westside?

I’m a Northside girl who leans towards the west. So, when I first arrived in Budapest, it was only natural that I looked towards Buda. I asked around. I consulted those in the know (locals, estate agents, long-term expats) and the consensus was that if I could afford it, I’d be better off living in Buda. It was more salubrious, they said; a better investment.  It was leafier, greener, and the air was better. And there were fewer Roma (yes, shockingly, that was an actual sales pitch!). But I wanted grit, diversity, earthiness, and attitude. I wanted to live, not retire. So I settled on the Eastside, in Pest.

Begrudgingly, as I was flying in the face of conventional wisdom, they spoke to me of districts. They told me not to buy in district VIII (aka ‘the ghetto’), as that was where the majority of the minorities lived, along with the hookers and miscellaneous petty criminals. They said that V was lovely, but I probably couldn’t afford it. They said that XIII was nice, too, but that heirs apparent were camped on doorsteps waiting to move in once their elderly relatives moved on.  They said that VI was almost as good as V but less expensive. Ditto moving down the line to VII; even the pastel-painted IX ranked up there as having some potential. I should buy anywhere but district VIII. So 57 flat-views later, I bought…in district VIII.

Style or substance?

Baglyas Gyuri (Beyond Budapest Sightseeing) was quoted in the New York Times recently. He rightly described district VIII as ‘the city’s best part: a laboratory of diversity, art, music and architecture’. If it’s salubrious you want, check out Keleti pályaudvar and step back in time when you step into its gorgeous old ticket hall; visit the ‘little Basilica of Esztergom’ on Rezső tér; and sit a while in the Golden Salon of the Public Library on Szabó Ervin tér. For green and leafy, there’s the Botanical Gardens on Illés utca, Orczy kert (behind the old Ludovica Military Academy) or the wonderful Kerepesi cemetery. Diversity is the key to unlocking the hidden gems of district VIII…gems like the new African Buffet at Bérkocsis utca 21 or the beautifully bricked music mecca, Grund Hostel, on Nagytemplom utca 30.

Given the 23 districts I had to choose from, I picked well. District VIII is where it’s happening. It has both style and substance and a personality all of its own. If Albert Camus is to be believed, and life is the sum of all our choices, then living in the ghetto definitely adds up!

First published in the Budapest Times 7 June 2010