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2018 Grateful 29

I was in Venice during the week for a few days. I packed my laptop. I had about an hour’s work that I didn’t quite get done before I left, so I brought it with me. As I like to blog, too, it’s handy to have. I have it in my mind that one day I’ll use the text in my three blog/websites as the material for three books: Unpacking My Bottom Drawer (a work in progress, scheduled for later this year); Any Excuse to Travel (a vague notion for 2019); and Dying to Get In (still in my head). I like the discipline. I like that when I write about a city, or somewhere I visit, I have to research. I have to read around it. And all too often, I learn of places I would have gone to visit had I know about them while I was there. [Next time, I want to visit the Armenian Monastery where Byron went to study the language.]

We didn’t walk through St Mark’s Square. We didn’t take a Gondola trip. We didn’t visit Murano. Or Burano. Or San Michele. We didn’t go to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini. And I never once ate pasta. But I did get a taste of life on the water. I discovered Tintoretto and his amazing story. And I got to the Biennale. We stayed on Lido and even spent one entire day lying by a pool. What poor tourists we were.

I can’t remember when I stopped always doing what was expected of me. I don’t have a firm recollection of when I began to lessen the hold that obligation had over me. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date when I started to offer a considered no in place of a blind yes. None of this happened overnight. You can’t change a lifetime of behaviour just by willing it so. I’ve had to learn…and often the hard way.

I know it’s working because I’ve heard that I’ve changed. I’m not nearly as much fun, apparently. Not nearly as sociable. Not nearly as available. And I’m hearing more and more lately that I seem to have settled. Oh man – the first time I heard my name and that word in the same sentence, I had palpitations. Me? Settled? Seriously? But perhaps I have settled. I still like a drink but no longer want to waste the next day recovering so those times when the weakness in me get strong are few and far between. I still like to go out but enjoy my time at home even more. I still like to travel but am picking and choosing my destination a little more carefully.

I’m still working, still chasing my tail, still trying to juggle a million things at once, but I’m also taking more time to experiment, to pick fruit, to paint tables. I’ve given up on SEO, and social media, and tweeting resigning myself to the fact that people don’t have time to read anything but headlines. So when I write now, I write for me. For my own records. And for some dear old friends who, through age and circumstance, like to travel virtually with me.

Happy birthday week DLW – hang tough. UNESCO has it right – normal life is a full-time job. And I’m grateful for mine, however settled it might be.

2015 Grateful 14

Someone asked me today if I ever tired of travelling. The hassle. The queues. The lost luggage. The never-quite-knowing-how-much-a-flight-will-cost until you press the final button. The packing. The unpacking. Did I  mention the hassle? And I said no. Never.

Travelling is something you like or you don’t. Very few people are ambivalent. For many, it’s a chore. Something they have to do for work. They rack up hotel nights with the same frequency as others make cups of tea. For others travel is a choice. Something they do once or twice a year. The annual summer holiday with months spent planning where to spend those two weeks. And perhaps a week around Christmas, visiting family at home or abroad, or skiing. More still mark anniversaries and birthdays and notable occasions with a city break to somewhere foreign. But for some, like me, travel is an innate part of being. I can no more imagine not travelling than I can imagine not sleeping.

Yes, I’m lucky in that I have a job that facilitates my trips. I can work anywhere I have an Internet connection. Unless I’m giving workshops. And recently, when asked for dates for workshops in October and November, I froze for a minute as I looked through my diary and realised that for two whole months I would have to be in Budapest at least two days a week. Which left with with a five-day travel window.

time off

It’s not that I have anywhere in particular I want to go. Rather that I want to be free to go should the opportunity arise. A Serbian friend mooted a week in Israel – but I don’t have week. Two weeks in Iran was also on the cards but I don’t have two weeks either. And for a while, my narrative voice kicked in and I was caught up in a mental castigation of not being able to say no. I could have just said I wasn’t free. But that wouldn’t be true. I could have declined to bid on the job but that, as a freelancer, would be tantamount to heresy. You take what work you can get (within reason) when you get it, because you never know when the next lot will come along.

Some time in the last few months, my attitude to travel has changed. I missed out on tickets for Pink Martini who are playing next week in Budapest. I’m kicking myself. I’d give the toenail on my big toe to go see them live. So what did I do? I checked other tour dates in Europe and when I found myself trying to work in overnight train trips to Munich at mad h0urs mid-week, I realised that I enjoy a luxury denied to many. I’m living smack, bang in the middle of Europe. Getting a train to another country is often quicker than a drive from London to Newcastle. Flying between capitals is relatively cheap – and while the environmentalist in me screams NO!, the twenty-first century me pays her carbon dues and plants trees to offset her airmiles and reasons that as her dad wouldn’t set foot in an airplane, she can use his allocation, too.

This week is a quick trip to Ireland for a book launch. Next week is a quick trip to Malta for a workshop. Florence is also peeping over the horizon, as is Venice. And the States are calling – again.

If I’m not thinking about travelling, something is definitely wrong in my world. I’m grateful indeed that I get to indulge this particular passion and that the world is big enough to keep me thinking (and travelling) for many years to come.

The lakes at Szombathely

I have no sense of direction and had it been left to me to find our way to the lakes in Szombathely, I’d have called a taxi and saved myself the angst. But with the inimitable KG in charge of navigation we set off on what was to be a hot and somewhat torturous journey for me but with its reward looming at the end.

It was so hot that even the minnows took shelter under the willow trees. Szombathely lies by the  Perint and Gyöngyös streams, where the Lower Alps meet the Little Hungarian Plain.
It is the only place in Hungary that has been continuously inhabited for 2000 years. Legend has it that residents of Szombathely, fleeing from the Huns, went to Italy and founded Venice. I wonder what the Venetians think of that!

The lakes ( there are two) are a haven for boaters, fishermen, swans and ducks. There are plenty of seats and places to stop along the way and despite the ice-cream stand closing when the sun was as its peak, the place seemed normal enough, although again, I was struck by the lack of people and again I wondered where everyone was.

There’s a beautifully sited restaurant right on the shore that makes the best hazi limonade I have ever had.I was tempted to just stop there and not move until the sun went down and I’m sure that with my book and a some lemons, I’d have been quite happy. But the noise of people woke me up and tempted me forward. Life! Inhabitants!

Dragon boat races on the lake! What looked suspiciously like a team-building event with people in same colour t-shirts and dopey hats, was well underway . I’d never seen one of these dragon boats before and slightly in awe of the energy they could muster to row to win. Did I mention I how hot it was? But we were almost at the end of our walk – and the baths.

Day passes without access to the slides were a meagre 1200 huf – considerably less that what I’d pay in Budapest to spend the day at Palatinus. The pools had plenty of room and there was ample space to sling a towel in the sun or in the shade of some old pine trees. There were plenty of people but nothing near what I’d have expected. I reckon that this will be one of Hungary’s unsolved mysteries: Where do the people of Szombathely go?

Given how crowded Budapest’s baths are these days, it’s almost worth the three-hour train journey to Szombathely to have the space to swim and move around. Almost!

I don’t spend nearly enough time on rooftops

Venetian pavement 2009

A man walks up Krúdy Gyula utca carrying a pair of chopsticks… No joke. I was stting outside Fictiv enjoying a Saturday evening constitutional, and had his progress in full view. Eyes down, he would stop very so often and use the chopsticks to prise coins from the pavement joints. What a way to make a living. Two memories came to mind: one of this footpath in Venice and another of the start of the old Mary Tyler Moore show.  In stark contrast, she always walked with her head held high. Her view of the world was slightly different to most.

(C) Steve Fareham

Back when I was living in London, S&P came to visit. We were wandering around Piccadilly as S wanted to see the Piccadilly divers. I was convinced she was raving. I have a thing about statues, and couldn’t believe I’d missed something that obvious. I was sure she had the wrong address. But there they were. My problem? I’d never taken the time to look up.

While in Zagreb last year, I spent an amazing afternoon at the cemetery and took lots of carefully chosen photographs. And yet, just last week, when looking for photos, I came across one I don’t remember. I remember taking it, but I don’t remember seeing it.  I don’t remember it being so deep.

Looking at another of Kerényi Zoltán’s photo albums, perspective comes to mind, yet again. Taken from the rooftops of Budapest, they give a completely different focus to the city. I though I knew the city well, but there are some vantage points that I cannot place. I’ve probably passed them a hundred times but have never seen them from this particular angle. I don’t spend nearly enough time on rooftops.

As Ani Difranco said When I look down, I miss all the good stuff. When I look up I just trip over things. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Desperate measures

I’ve been carrying SJ’s number in my phone for more than a year now. I’d never used it although I had thought about it plenty of times. But I was never quite that desperate. And then last week, devoid of energy, listless, restless, and on the verge of becoming soulless, I decided that the time had come to have my flat Feng Shui’d. Feel free to laugh or at the very least roll your eyes to heaven and wonder why is is that you’re surprised!

feng shui [ˈfʌŋ ˈʃweɪ] n (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and placement of a grave, building, room, etc., so that the maximum harmony is achieved between the flow of chi of the environment and that of the user, believed to bring good fortune. [from Chinese feng wind + shui water]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

I’d dabbled in it myself some time back – well, that’s a slight exaggeration. What I actually did was borrow a book from one friend and a compass from another in an effort to see if I could work it all out myself. [I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out which way was North – which explains quite a lot really, now that I think about it.] But so much appeared to be wrong in my flat that I hadn’t the heart to continue – Blue walls in the kitchen? Green walls in the bedroom? Yucca plants at the door? A long hallway? Short of knocking walls and repainting, I didn’t appear to have many options and as I wasn’t about to go there I chose simply not to believe.

But then I heard tales of the wonders SJ has wrought. She’s been practising in Hungary for 15 years and seems to know what she’s at. A resurfacing of old symptoms has me concerned – so concerned that as well as going down the traditional, well-trodden medical path, I am considering alternative ‘medicine’ of any kind…no matter how far-fetched it may seem. So I invited her in. She spent three hours doing calculations, walking the flat, taking notes, giving advice, explaining the whys and wherefores of what she was at. She moved furniture, suggested additions, and generally pointed out that according to the charts, the greatest space in my flat occupies the heart sector (mmmm… ) and the smallest part is in the money sector (double mmmmm…..). Pictures were taken done from the walls, some to find new homes in other rooms, some to emigrate completely. I have a beautiful hand-made Venetian mask, straight from a canal-side workshop…anyone interested?

To have her breeze through my home like a tornado – a home that has been painstakingly pieced together over the course of three years and tell me that the energy is wrong (be it chi, sha, or cutting chi) is a little disconcerting. To have her comment (in the nicest way, of course) that my dream of a gallery-type hallway had created a corridor of sha energy (not good) and would have to be reimagined, touched a chord. I found myself getting quite defensive at times and rather idiotically heard myself having an internal conversation peppered with ‘No, I bloody won’t!’ and then realising that I was paying good money for advice I was planning on ignoring. How stupid does that make me?

Her explanations of the energy left me rather muddled but I have decided to follow her instructions to the letter. I have chosen to believe. I look forward to massive changes in energy that are to come and to discovering the meaning of life sometime in the next three months. Watch this space.