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2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

2018 Grateful 47

Ah, no! Seriously, Tibor? Monday? Say it isn’t so! That was me on Thursday morning. We’d arrived down to the village the previous evening to find the house freezing. It was 5 degrees in the kitchen and there wasn’t a gux out of the boiler. Thinking we might have missed a simple reset button or perhaps needed to do something embarrassingly obvious to everyone but us, we called our go-to guy and then the boiler lad. Neither could help.

Tibor came to check it out on Thursday and said it was beyond resuscitation. A new one was called for. And it wouldn’t arrive till Monday. So four more days of being damn cold, with the lovelies due to visit on Friday for the weekend and no heat, no hot water.

Himself was called back to Budapest and I could have gone, too. But it says a lot about village life when I’d rather be here, freezing my ass off and nipping over to the neighbours for a hot shower, than in the flat in Budapest with every modern convenience at my fingertips. I spent Thursday evening on the couch with a hot water bottle and a blanket watching Season 2 of Doc Martin. Szilvi, she who gives a great home massage, arrived on Friday lunchtime as arranged and we managed to have a brief conversation. A bojler elromlott. Nincs melegünk. Nincs meleg víz. At least my Hungarian vocabulary is expanding; the silver lining in this particular cloud.

Undeterred, the lovelies came anyway on Friday evening after work, armed with heaters and thermals and the makings of some whiskey cocktails for that inner warmth. The kitchen got up as high as 13.4 degrees at one stage. We’d borrowed a noisy industrial heater and had the oven going full blast. For a brief moment, I was warm. Friday night, wrapped in winter woollies, as we sat around the kitchen table making the best of it, I gave silent thanks for the friends I’ve been blessed with. No complaints. No moans. Not one.

The next day, we headed over to Dobrovnik in Slovenia, for a walk in the healing forest. We had the place practically to ourselves. There was snow on the ground and a bite in the air. It was beautiful. I spent time at my four stations and came away feeling tired but content.

Healing forest Dobrovik Slovenia

A stop-off at Vadászcsárda (Hunters’ Inn) in Zalacsány on the way home topped off a lovely day and got me ready for Season 3 of Doc Martin.

Tomorrow, the heating will be fixed. My creature comforts will be restored. And another glorious week will begin. This day last week I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Malta. Seven days later, I’m back from mass, hatted and scarfed and wrapped in a blanket, waiting for a chap to come quote for a télikert, a winter garden (the Hungarian term for a conservatory). If there’s any money left over after buying the new boiler, it might just be my next project.

 

 

The masquerade of charity

I was in Serbia earlier this week and while there, had a few minutes to browse the web. I belong to a host of online sites selling old and used furniture. I can lose myself for hours in these virtual shops. One (wo)man’s trash is indeed another (wo)man’s treasure. I found a chest of drawers that I liked. It had some nice carving on the front and although it looked as if it had seen better days, it seemed in reasonable nick, from the photos, at least.

I engaged in a conversation with the owner using my friend Google Translate. It transpired that it was too big to fit in the boot of our car (I’d learned my lesson from a previous online purchase, and now check with himself before committing myself to anything). But yer man said he’d deliver. I didn’t argue the price, even if he said it was a guide price. I’m useless at that sort of stuff and he said he really needed the money as he has two small kids and no money to buy clothes or toys for them. I offered to pay for his petrol to drop them over but forgot to  mention this to ‘he who is not blessed by divine inspiration’, with the result that when yer man arrived and dropped it off, he was given just the asking price. I was in Serbia, remember?

That said, the piece is, by all accounts, a little worse for wear. At one stage it must have had a top half that is now missing; the holes into which that piece fit are a tad obvious. I’ve yet to see it, but I’m already thinking that it has the makings of yet another project (my way of dressing up buyer’s remorse). It joins a chair waiting to be reupholstered, two other chairs waiting to be painted, and two wardrobes waiting for inspiration. But I live in hope.

We’ve been back and forth since about how to pay the money promised and the conversation is getting interesting. We’re back to clothes, shoes, and toys for the two kids. What’s even more interesting though, is my reaction to it all.

I had the initial – Oh, no, please, not a con artist! – which morphed into ‘Oh, no, please, I’ve enough to be worrying about with my own bills’ – which then capsized into the seas of Catholic guilt and surfaced as ‘FFS, have a heart.’

I ran quickly through the seven works of mercy:

Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, comforting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead.

and while me buying clothes and toys for this chap’s kids wouldn’t tick any specific boxes, the mercy could be loosely implied.

Earlier today, I had reason to revisit  the five stages of grief:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance

And they rang a louder bell.

When he first asked me for clothes and toys, I was in denial. I thought it was some major mistranslation and that Google had messed up. I double checked. And he wrote again, in German this time, with the same key words: kids, clothes, toys, no money. But he’s also looking to buy car (or so it says on FB).

Then I got angry. Yes, I might look as if I have pots of money because three sides of the outside of the house are freshly painted and the inside is obviously a work in progress. And yes, I’m a foreigner so I must have money. And yes, I’m a woman so I’m supposedly programmed to feel empathy for women and kids in need. But he’s also buying a car. And I don’t know him from Attila. And what if it was all a ruse to scope out the house and make off with all that furniture waiting to be fixed! And then I got angry at myself for being so distrustful and cynical.

I moved on. I started to bargain with myself. I’d already paid over the odds for the chest of drawers and I’d paid for delivery (I’ve since transferred the money). Was I now supposed to go out and buy clothes and toys for this chap’s kids? And how did I know that he wasn’t a con artist and living in the lap of relative luxury funded by soft touches like myself? Perhaps I should go visit him and see for myself. And then decide. But what would that make me – a social worker? And a skeptic. Why not just buy the damn stuff and be done with it? But if I’m taking that tone, I’m doing it unwillingly and the good deed would be tainted.

Then came the depression, and the guilt, and the realisation that maybe I’m not as good a person as I think I am if I’m even questioning ignoring his need … if it is a real need. Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I’ve now reached acceptance. I’ve asked him for the kids’ sizes and ages and I plan to go shopping this weekend. Yep, he might be a con man. It might all be a scam. And I might be an idiot. And if that’s the case …. well, I have a degree in self-beratement from a previous life. so I can just dust off the certificate. But if there’s a chance that he’s genuine, and that his need is real, and that he’s so at the end of his tether that he’s had to ask a total stranger for help, then what choice do I have?

As my man Sydney said so long ago: Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

But lest there be any confusion here – I’m not doing it to be good, to be nice, to be Christian. I’m with Anthony de Mello on this one [The masquerade of charity] – this isn’t charity – it’s enlightened self-interest: he gets what he needs for his kids, and I get to feel that I’ve done something useful.

 

Building fences

You shouldn’t have moved to the countryside if you don’t like chickens! No arguing with that except that I don’t have a problem with chickens. I like my eggs and with chickens come eggs. And they’re curious, funny creatures. Quite engaging. Something had gotten lost in translation.

We took delivery of a lovely hammock during the week (thanks MN) and hung it up under one of the cherry trees right by the neighbour’s wire-mesh fence. It’s rather dilapidated, sagging under the weight of years of holding back said chickens. It’s an eye sore but then it’s the countryside and aesthetics come a distant second to practicality. Having just shelled out for new fencing, I know that replacing it wouldn’t be cheap. Offering to replace it could be viewed as relatively rich newbies flashing their cash so we thought to best avoid any potential conflict and shave a few inches off the garden to put up the fence on our land rather than on the border.

Six posts planted – no mean feat in 37-degree weather. The first siding standing straight. And then all hell breaks loose. The neighbour. Ranting and raving about how she doesn’t steal from us. She doesn’t mind what we do. She doesn’t look. She had a great relationship with the previous owner (who was rarely here) and came and went as she pleased. She had keys to the house and access to the fruit in the garden and the kitchen and lord only knows what else. Things are different now. And over the months, her random wandering through has stopped. She still comes and goes but not nearly as often. It’s a little irritating when I’m in the flow to hear her calling out for me to come outside to chat. She doesn’t get the work thing. That’s something that’s done in an office. Which is fair enough. Her’s is a different world. Ignoring her isn’t really an option as tenacity is her middle name.

I tried to explain about the hammock. About wanting to sit in my garden and enjoy the peace without having to look at her yard. About wanting to read and not look at chickens. I want a fence that I can use as a trellis. I want my quiet place and I don’t need her chickens for company. You shouldn’t have moved to the countryside if you don’t like chickens, she said. So much for excuses.

And then the litany of complaints went on. She needed access to the side of her barn in case something went wrong. There’s a gate between the properties on the other side of her barn that she uses. That’s access enough, I said. The branches of our cherry tree are a danger to her barn, she said. They’re nowhere near your barn, but we’ll cut them down anyway. (I cut my first tree branch today, did I mention that it’s 37 degrees!) The shrubbery in our garden is too close to her barn wall. We can cut that back, I said. No problem. But just in case there was something I was missing, I called a friend, the lovely SJ, to speak with her and check that I was getting the message(s) loud and clear.

The big issue, it turns out, is that she can’t understand why we would want privacy. And, in fairness, privacy something that is hard to come by in a village where everyone knows what you’ve had for breakfast by the time you’ve done the washing up. No different to villages anywhere else. ‘Tis the nature of small communities. I was at a loss to explain it. I’d bombed out with the chickens. The reading didn’t work. So I took off my tshirt and started to undo my bra, throwing my head back and looking up at the sun. Enough said.

Just hope word doesn’t get around the village and the closet naturists start dropping by. That would surely put a dint in my privacy bent.

Village living

Walking down the village yesterday evening, lost in my own little world, I spied a vision ahead that had me wondering if the nip of házi vad körte pálinka (homemade wild pear brandy) I’d just had was doing something to my eyes. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing on main street Balatonmaygaród. Come to think of it, there are only two streets – Petőfi Sándor  and Dózsa György – and they intersect at a T-junction just by the church. That it’s not exactly a bustling metropolis is just one of the many charming things about it. Anyway, Petőfi  is the main street – the main road – the one that goes straight through the village. I was headed over to the neighbours for a game of croquet and smoked salmon sarnies. I know. It’s some life. But hey, someone has to live it. And it’d been a long day. And it was Friday.

The builders had arrived as usual, about 7.36 am. Eight of them. And by 7.50 am they were all at work. I’ll say one thing for the tradesmen who have worked or are working on the house – they know how to work. None of this breastfeeding shovel stuff or lolling around discussing what they might eventually get around to doing. Each man has his job and is busy doing it.  They even take lunch breaks in split shifts, choreographing their work so that not a minute is wasted. And all in good humour, too.

The eight were there to start for a couple of hours of blitz-like doing. Then they whittled down to four, only one of whom was a regular; the other three were new. And just when I’d gotten the hang of who took how many sugars in what, too.

They hung a plastic tarp to block the archway, more to keep the dust in than to keep me out (I hope) so I couldn’t really see what they were up to. I snuck a peek at one stage and saw the two plasterers waltzing around on their ladders, stepping to it, one in full voice, belting out rockabilly folk songs – in Hungarian. And what a voice. By mid-afternoon, he was starting in on his light opera repertoire. Carnegie Hall doesn’t know what it’s been missing. I was vaguely tempted to capture it on video but I thought better of it. Maybe his wife doesn’t know he sings and he’s been dodging the church choir for years. I couldn’t take the risk.

Friday, being Friday, we cracked open a few beers when they’d wrapped up for the day and were hanging around waiting on their lift. The gaffer arrived and doled out the pay packets and then produced the offending bottle of pálinka. I’d had a run-in with said beverage some time ago at a pig killing down in Békéscsaba and we’re only recently back on drinking terms. Some of this homemade stuff is at rotgut level, but this was lovely. Really smooth. As I’ve learned to my cost, it’s rude to refuse it, if offered. Just about the only acceptable excuse is that you’re driving or that you’re a teetotaler. But as I so obviously wasn’t either, with my grapefruit beer in hand (don’t I live the high life), I had to be polite. Propriety is my middle name.

So, having had a sip or two of the deadly pear, I took off down the street to keep my appointment at the Kánya Ház. It would be my croquet debut. After we’d had a nagyfröccs (2 dl white wine + 1 dl soda water) or two, to go with the Irish smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches (neat little crustless triangular works of culinary art that just begged to eaten  with one’s little finger cocked), we set up to play. I can’t say I got the style down. I was holding the mallet like I would a putter and eyeing up the ball (is it called a ball in croquet?) like I was on the 18th green playing for glory. I got the hang of the roquets and the croquets and I won. Both games. Not that I’m bragging. But I think I’ve found my calling.

But anyway, that’s not what I started to say. Back to my vision. The neighbour lady (I think she’s German) from a few doors up was out mowing her grass – the patch between the path and the road outside the house that each of us is responsible for. Now, remember those cheeky postcards from Brighton and Blackpool from the 1940s? She could have modelled for them. And there she was in all her glory, mowing the grass in her swimsuit and her floppy hat and not a bother on her.

You gotta love it. Especially when I think of how the old néni next door was berating me for letting myself go. I used to make an effort when I first arrived apparently – and now look at me. My wardrobe has shrunk to two pairs of shorts, a pair of crops, and seven t-shirts (two styles, different colours). Village life certainly has a way of stripping it all back to what matters. The basics.

And for those of you following the renovation , all is going to plan. András is here today finishing off the insulation and sheetrock. The place is looking bright and airy. And the open archway is making a massive difference to how it all looks.

 

 

2017 Grateful 24

Twice last week I listened to myself sagely pronounce: ah, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In both cases, parents were commenting with on something idiotic their kids had done. And they were wondering how their kids could have done or said or written whatever it was. And in both case, it was something I’d known both of them to do when they weren’t much older than their kids are now. I can’t remember the details – just the essence.

It’s a great expression – one that says so much. But literally? Apples and trees? How far is far? The garden is littered with fallen apples. And they’re not dropping vertically. They’re special apples. Gifted apples. They can fly.

The windfalls are not big enough to bother peeling for tarts. And they’re too bruised to be any good for cider. So what do to with hundreds and hundreds of the little buggers and not a pig within smelling distance when you need one?

I did what I usually do when presented with such a massive ‘What now!’ I googled. What to do with windfalls. I could make them into apple chips, had I a vegetable hydrator, but I don’t. And it’s way too hot to even think about getting in the car and shlepping to the nearest big town to go search for one. I could make chutney – but I don’t have all the ingredients I need and, as I said, it’s way too hot ….

One of the things about living in a shopless village is that you learn to make do with what you have. Add a modicum of heat-induced laziness to the mix and it was definitely a case of digging deeper.

Cloudy apple juice. There ya go. Perfect. All I needed were apples (plenty), a strainer, a few clean cotton cloths, and some empty bottles.

I mentioned that it’s hot, yeah? Not an ideal day to be standing over a gas stove boiling up kilos of apples but what conscience I have wouldn’t let me sit and watch them rot. So that’s what I did today – I boiled apples.

It amuses me no end how quickly we fall into the patterns of our parents. Somehow, the outside seems to have become himself’s domain, while the inside is mine to rule. [That said, it could be that himself loves the sun and I don’t.] Anyway, he picked and I cooked. And it’s been hours. I’ve been at this since 11 this morning and there’s still no end in sight. I’ve run out of bottles so I’m multitasking and finishing off last night’s wine as I go, while looking for another with a screw-top lid to lay into.

My cloudy apple juice isn’t nearly as pink as the one in the recipe picture, but then my apples weren’t nearly as red. It’s nice though – a little sweet, but I have it on good authority that it’s a great source of fibre. And I saved some of the pulped apple for use in apple sauce or a sponge mix. Martha Stewart, each your heart out.

Penny per minute, it certainly didn’t pay me to spend the bones of my day making apple juice. The return on my time investment isn’t great. About a litre an hour. Were I to sit down and do the math, I probably spent more on gas to boil the buggers than I would have spent to buy the equivalent in juice. But I know that my juice has no additives (I took out all the worms). And it’s fresh. And it’s mine.

The nature of my day job is such that I rarely get to see a finished product. Sure, I get emails from workshop participants months after the event telling me that they’ve been asked to present somewhere and now have the confidence to do so. Or they tell me how much better their work lives are, now that they’re not petrified of speaking out. One of my TED speakers has had over a million hits on a video of a speech we worked on together. But those concrete, measurable results are rare.

Today though, I can see what five hours of work has yielded. And while the work itself was mindless, it gave me time to switch off and not think. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that is all too rare in my world. And for that I’m truly grateful.

2017 Grateful 26

Philadelphia. 7 June. 1753. Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a letter to George Whitefield, an English clergyman who was taking America by storm. Billed as the ‘Grand Itinerant’, he called no church home, preferring to travel around the colonies preaching to the masses. For more than 30 years, he held his audiences in the palm of his hand, leading them to penitence and reigniting their souls with a passion for God in what was known as the Great Awakening.

I came across an excerpt from this letter recently and went in search of the  full text.  The more I read, the more I realised that BJ could have been writing today. June 2017.  And I wondered how much better the world might be, were we to heed his words. I read it through a number of times and the same line kept jumping out at me.

I wish [faith] were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments…

How relevant this is. My mind began to draw all sorts of connections between dots that weren’t there back in the 1700s. We have so many friends today. Thanks to social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met, people with whom we might interact on a daily basis through a litany of likes and hashtags but couldn’t pick out of a crowd. Have we reduced active support to sharing posts and reacting to photos? Are we drowning in a sea of good intentions, blaming our shortcomings as friends and neighbours on a lack of time? Are our leaders more intent on replaying their soundbites than actually getting anything done, building foundations for the future on shaky rhetoric?

In sharp contrast to city life, in the village if you need something done, you simply ask. We needed to borrow scaffolding from friends in the village. 1 km door to door. It was too heavy to hand carry and too heavy for a roofrack. But a neighbour two doors up, to whom we’ve spoken to maybe three times, has a trailer and his wife has a car with a trailer hitch. We asked, he delivered.

My néni-next-door popped her head through the trees to say hi. She was curious to know what laundry detergent I was using, as the sheets I had air drying outside smelled wonderful. I had doubts at first that I was understanding her correctly but yes, I was. She disappeared and came back with money, asking me to bring some for her from Budapest next time I was down. She asked, I’ll deliver.

There’s hardly a day that goes buy without some ask being delivered on, in some form, shape, or fashion. Perhaps it’s still a few decades behind the times. Perhaps its the absence of distractions. Perhaps its simply a community at work. It feels good though. And is nice to be part of it. I’m grateful.

BJ captured it nicely in his letter to Whitefield…

For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other …

We ask, they do, and we do in return. Practical living at its best.