A friend of mine, who lived on the Big Island in Hawaii for many years, made me laugh one time when they said they were looking for a vacation house on one of the smaller islands. I thought it hilarious that someone living in a place so many people see as paradise would be looking for somewhere to get away from it all.
A 90-year-old atheist has outlived and out-smoked his contemporaries, and as he comes to terms with his own mortality, he searches for ever-elusive enlightenment. So reads the blurb for the movie Lucky. I hadn’t read that before we decided to go. It wasn’t my pick. I’m not sure I’d have gone, had it been left to me to decide. Which would have been a shame.
A veil of reflection settled over the audience as the credits rolled. I’m sure everyone was contemplating their mortality and resolving to make a will and draft an end-of-life plan. Even if you don’t have much by way of anything material, an end-of-life plan seems like a good idea. It’ll make little difference to you – as you’ll be gone. But it might make it a little easier on those you’ve left behind. Note to self duly made.
It reminded me a little of another favorite – The Station Agent.
When his only friend dies, a man born with dwarfism moves to rural New Jersey to live a life of solitude, only to meet a chatty hot dog vendor and a woman dealing with her own personal loss.
Both are slow movies with not a whole lot going on, on the surface, but they run deep. In Lucky, the late Harry Dean Stanton played the leading role. He died in September last year, aged 91, a few months after the film was released. What a poetic last movie to have worked on.
It got me thinking. About death. About how I want to die. About burial vs cremation. About how long I’ve left to do all the things I want to do. About what exactly it is I want to do. About what’s important. About what matters. About the sort of funeral I’d like. About making a will. About the burden and responsibility that comes with owning property and having stuff. About obligations and whether they’re real or perceived. About the attractiveness of Jack Reacher’s life on the road. About the increasingly frequent urge I’m getting to step outside the circus ring and swap the insanity for simplicity. About how happy I feel inside when I’m telling people of the beauty and solitude of the kis-Balaton.
I made a conscious decision last year to step back and reduce my level of commitment. I promised myself that I would be more respectful of my time and learn to say no, politely but emphatically. I won’t change overnight. It’ll take a few months to work through it. I’m making slow but steady progress, though, and for the first time in a long, long, time, I have time. And for that I’m grateful.
As for the movie:
On Rotten Tomatoes, Lucky has a rating of 98%, based on 92 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10. RogerEbert.com gave the film four out of four stars, writing that the film is “the humblest deep movie of recent years, a work in the same vein as American marginalia like ‘Stranger Than Paradise‘ and ‘Trees Lounge,’ but with its own rhythm and color, its own emotional temperature, its own reasons for revealing and concealing things.”
I mentioned before that our new garden is full of surprises. As the trees, plants, and bushes bloom, we’re gradually getting to know what we’re living with. We’re still undecided whether we have apricots or peaches, but time will tell.
Our new domain, the Kis Balaton, has its own surprises. I’m not great at naming the various crops planted and unless they’re potatoes flowering or are already in bloom (like oil seed rape), I’m wrong more times than I’m right. And that, my friends, is taking some getting used to.
Right outside the village, I’ve watched a field of somethings grow taller and tried though I might, I was unable to put a name to what was growing there. This week, the mystery was solved. And I’m delira and excira to see a field of glorious sunflowers.
Many years ago, on one of my first forays out of Budapest, I saw fields and fields of these yellow beauties in all their glory. No matter how bad my mood, they’re guaranteed to make me smile. With temperatures soaring, and storms turning the power feed into a staccato-like chorus of on-again, off-again, bad humor is not infrequent, but not nearly as long-lasting as it might be in the city. I think I may becoming a nicer person. #lovinglifeinthevillage 🙂
I went in search of a poem by William Blake that I vaguely remembered, and it says it all for me…
Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;
Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.
Like Blake, I, too, am a little tired of the if onlys, and wish that more people (of all ages) would seize life by the petals and feel it, and live it, and be it. Sunflowers are planted, striving to reach a place they’ll never get to. Humans are not. We can move. We can follow the sun. We can turn our faces sunward and be positive. If we are fortunate enough to have a choice and not live under regimes who make our choices for us, we can choose where we go, what we do, and how we want to spend the short time we have on this Earth. By all means sunflower it – look at the sun and aspire to where and what you might want to be. But for Blake’s sake – move!
If memory serves me correctly, something it rarely does these days, it was this weekend two years ago that I took a bus trip out of Budapest, a trip that would have life-changing consequences. When I bought my ticket to visit friends in Zala county, little did I know that I’d end falling in love with the village and buying in to their idyllic way of life.
When they first upped sticks, selling their flat in the city to move into and renovate a ramshackle country manse, I thought they were mad. Although just 10 minutes off the motorway, Balatonmagyaród isn’t exactly a hive of activity. There are two shops (of a sort) serving a population of about 430. One, opposite the church, seems to trade in bread and UHT milk with very little else on the shelves. I bought the entire stock of washing-up liquid one day – both bottles. The other doubles as a dohany nemzeti (a cigarette shop), a coffee shop, and a pub. It’s standing room only when the first six through the door take their seats.
But during the week, various suppliers come through the village in their vans, each with their own distinctive jangle. My favourite is the butcher van (with its Old MacDonald tune) staffed by a young couple who come on Wednesdays. They have sausages to die for. The breadman I’m steering clear of, as I don’t need that daily temptation. The frozen food guy will have to wait until we get a freezer. And the household supplies won’t get any business as I have that hording gene that ensures I always have a bottle of whatever I need in reserve.
In the 2-hour drive from the city, I play my country music and sing my head off to Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt and the like. If the mood takes me, I think along to Blues. But when I pass the county line into Zala, I start to breathe more easily. When I drive through the village of Zalakomar and come out the other side (right now greeted by a haze of yellow with fields planted with oil seed rape) I can feel every ounce of tension dissipate. That couple of miles before I hit our village is one of mounting excitement. What will have budded in the garden? Will the carpenter have been to put in the windows? Will Gyöngyi Néni (my neighbour) have left some eggs on the doorstep? Will the view over the Kis Balaton have changed?
The house is a work in progress. It’ll take a while (as in years) to get it to where I want it but that’s okay. The process is one I enjoy. When work has stalled, I find myself shopping for old furniture. I’m trying my hand at shabby-chiqing and plan on giving upholstering a go, too. I get to do the inside; the outside I’ve left to himself.
I’m not a gardener. Never have been. Laziness saved me from uprooting weeds only to discover this week that they are actually irises. But the fruit trees are budding and we haven’t a clue what we have. Peaches? Cherries? Plums? Apples? It’s all a matter of wait and see. And that’s the beauty.
Time down here takes on new meaning. Everything is laid back. They say they’ll come around 8 on Tuesday – but which Tuesday, whose 8? Things happen when they happen. On days I have work, I work; all day and half the night, cooped up in my dark room that just got a fabulous new window. My coffee breaks I take on the terrace.
We eat when we’re hungry, stay up half the night watching West Wing dvds, get up when we feel like it. There’s no schedule. There’s nowhere to be. There’s nothing to do but live.
Two years ago, when I got on that bus, I never for a minute imagined that this would be the part of my life that I miss most when I’m not living it. And if JFW and CsRW hadn’t paved the way, I’d not be here. So this week, with the new windows in place and the painter set to start next week, I’m truly grateful for that May day invitation two years ago. Who’d have thought that I’m really a country girl at heart.
I’m a great fan of Oscar Wilde and one of my favourite plays is The Importance of Being Earnest. I’ve been known to bet on a horse just because its name reminds me of something or someone I like to remember. I’ve been known to drive miles out of my way to see what is behind a curious place name. So when I discovered that the neighbouring village of Zalavár was once known as Moosburg, I laughed aloud. The Alaska me had come full circle.
Driving around the lake recently, we went in search of the museum signposted on the road to Sármellék. We had passed it once before and I’d noted the funny-looking church that I’d mentally added to my Lake-Church photo project. Not quite sure what to expect, what we did find was remarkable.
The history of Zalavár dates back to about 840 AD. At the turn of the twelfth century, it became the county seat, long since relinquished to Zalaegerszeg. Around that time, the Benedictines built an abbey and monastery there and over the centuries other private estates grew in the area. The history reads like a saintly Who’s Who with the likes of Adrian, Cyril, Methodius, and Benedict all getting an honorable mention. Various churches and chapels were built and dedicated and then razed in the battles and wars that ensued: The martyr Adrian’s Church, the Chapel of St Stephen, the Church of the Blessed Virgin, and a church with no patron at all.
Looking out over the fields at the remnants of the foundations, it doesn’t take much to imagine Zalavár as a thriving metropolis, a far cry from the sleepy village it is today. That so much has survived the ages is a miracle. Excavations over the last 60 years or so have yield a treasure of antiquities that flesh out the history of what was once a very important place indeed. So whether it was Moosburg or Mosuburg or Mosaburg (depending on what you read), Zalavár is worth a second visit when the museum opens at the end of this month.
After a number of years of living in rural Alaska, I began to hanker for the city smoke. The bustle. The arts. The restaurants. I didn’t want to have to wait until the annual theatre festival – I wanted drama, year round. Not the personal kind; the staged kind. I loved living in Valdez. My commute was spectacular. The mountains seemed to rise out of the water on those days they weren’t completely hidden by cloud. I liked the small-town feel of it all, that everyone knew everyone. But after 9/11, I felt the walls close in a little and I needed to go home.
I swapped rural Alaska for semi-rural Ireland to ease myself back into it all before heading to London – the big city. I traded community for anonymity and I loved it, too. For a time. But then the city got too much and I downsized – to Oxford. Still within a relatively easy commute of the city but straddling the fence between the modern metropolis of London and the wizened, oldie-worldliness of Woodstock, it was great while it lasted. Circumstance moved me further South East and after two years of living in an earthly rendition of God’s waiting room, I was back to hankering for city lights that didn’t go out at 8pm. And so to Budapest.
I love it. And if anything, I love it more now than I did, say, last year. Because now I don’t have to get on a plane to leave it. I have the best of both worlds, splitting my time between the city and the countryside and two more different lives I can’t imagine.The country me favours fleece cotton pj bottoms and an old sweatshirt. She potters from desk to kitchen table to sofa depending on the mood. Nights are spent watching boxsets or reading. Days are spent working or exploring. Phone calls are a rarity and visitors are few. It’s a little piece of heaven.
Balatonmagyaród sits on the southern end of the Kis-Balaton, a few miles off the M7. From what I can find, the first time it appeared on any records was in 1308… so it’s old. Back then, villages were owned by families and in the late fifteenth century, it was the Báthory’s turn. Some time around 1540 it was destroyed (by the Turks perhaps?) and again around 1680, when the Germans and Croats passed through and burned it down.
In 1696 Széchényi György took over and pretty soon, despite the odds, the place was flourishing. By 1739, there was a church. By the 1800s, several noble families had taken up residence and by the mid-1800s, 752 people called it home. Fast forward to the 1920 when the lake was drained to reclaim some agricultural land and this is where it gets hazy for me. From what I gather, this wasn’t altogether successful; so much so that in 1985 (I think), the lake was flooded again. The marshes returned, the birds came back, and it’s now a conservation area, famous for its bird life and the Great Crested Grebe, in particular. The walk around Kányavári sziget, an island in the lake accessible by a rather spectacular wooden bridge, is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, enjoying the birds and watching the fishermen watch the fish.
It took me a number of years to get my head around the fact that the Balaton doesn’t stand upright on the map but rather drapes itself as if on a chaise longue. And now I discover that the Kis-Balaton appears to be not one but two lakes. I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag.
Anyway, yesterday evening, just after sunset, I watch hundreds of greylag geese come home. They flew in formation back to the lake for the night, having spent the day God only knows where. It was quite spectacular. The noise was deafening. I would have thought they’d be long gone by now, particularly as the lake is quite frozen. But they’re sticking around and, from what I read, these overwinters are not that unusual but they’re just a fraction of the whole population. The lake is about 400 m from the house but these guys may as well be living next door. If only I could speak goose.
I’m happy to swap the police sirens for gaggles of geese. I’m even happier to swap the post-midnight street arguments about where to go next for gentler, more rhythmic bird calls. And like the greylag geese, when it comes time to go, I’m reluctant to leave. But Serbia calls…