A lesson for POTUS

Donald T? Are you listening? I’ve news for you. Walls make places smaller. Honestly. I know what I’m talking about here. Yesterday, I had a grand room. Plenty of light. Even the part sectioned off for the new bathroom seemed spacious. I’d have plenty of space, I thought, to try the minimalist look. Plenty of space to wander around. I even began double thinking the decision not to plumb in the washing machine. There’d be so much empty space. It was all about space. Now I’m second-guessing (too late) the distance between sink and wall and sink and shower and shower and loo and I’m just a tad worried that I got it all wrong. That I should have paid attention to the raised eyebrows as I wantonly added centimeters here and there is niggling at me.

And yes, it was all measured out on paper and I saw the plans. But I’m missing that part of the brain needed to translate numbers into images. Just like I thought I could fit a hope chest measuring 120 cm x 80 x 90 into the boot of the car because hey, they were only centimeters and centimeters are small things. Now, had he said it was 1 m 20, I’d have known better. Because meters are big things. Welcome to my world.

Walls really do make a difference. The room has shrunk. It’s darkened. It feels closed in. Even the office space looks smaller, as it should, but it seems smaller than it should. At least it’s bright, though. I’m glad I didn’t opt to build a full wall and have a hallway. The place would be like a cave, as we can’t add windows to the back wall because it looks out onto the neighbour and there’s some rule in Hungary preventing that. Windows in facing walls have to be above eye level and no larger than a certain size. What a novel approach to privacy. And while I prefer to work in semi-darkness than bright light, himself doesn’t. We’re wired differently.

When they removed the layers of horrible lino, they uncovered the traditional, old cement tiles on what will be the bathroom floor. I was tempted, fleetingly, to try to save them, but seeing as I’ve yet to find a way to clean the ones in the hallway and bring them to something close to a shine, I decided to let go of the past, to let it be buried beneath a new layer of something designed to look old. Hey, it’s all the rage. I read a post on a FB site for used furniture this week that said – and I kid you not – We’re selling our vintage furniture as it no longer fits the decor. We had it made four years ago.

But I’ve been doubting my English recently and while I think of vintage as being old, I thought I’d double check:

  1. 1.
    relating to or denoting wine of high quality.
    “vintage claret”
    synonyms: high-quality, quality, prime, choice, select, superior, best

    “vintage French wine”
  2. 2.
    denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.
    “a vintage Sherlock Holmes adventure”
    synonyms: high-quality, quality, prime, choice, select, superior, best

There you go – vintage doesn’t mean old. Just look at those synonyms. What else have I been wrong about? Oh, yes. Centimetres.

Anyway, the ceiling is up. The lights are wired. The radiators are plumbed, as are the sink, loo, and shower. Tomorrow the rest of the insulation goes in and the concrete floor is laid. And then the tiler comes to do the floor tiles at the weekend. Seems like we’re on track. They’re all still smiling and I’ve heard no Basmegs! as yet.

Donald, take heed. If you insist on putting up that wall, America will look smaller. Trust me.


Painting over the cracks

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in rented accommodation. I never had to worry about maintenance or broken appliances. If something went wrong, I called the landlord and they’d either come out themselves or send someone out to fix whatever was wrong. No bills. No estimates. No heartache. Magic.

Now that I’m my own landlord, it’s a different story. If something goes wrong, there’s no one to call. I have to sort it, fix it, and pay the bill … and in Hungarian, too, or more likely with the help of a Hungarian-speaking friend. Six years into this, I’ve been lucky to have had little in the line of major catastrophes ‒ a flooded kitchen, a blocked drain, a broken microwave ‒ a little inconvenient perhaps, but fixable within the budget.

Somewhere along the way, I’d heard that you should paint the outside of your house every three years and the inside every six. I have no idea where that came from. I could well have imagined it. But it’s etched so deeply on my brain that I have taken it as fact and when my six years of ownership rolled around, I decided I needed a change. It was a clear choice: move or paint.

I did my research. I took advice. I looked critically at my pictures and paintings and mentally rearranged them in my head, all the while creating space for more. I stretched my Hungarian vocabulary to cover a broader range of colours, and added things like ‘ladder’, ‘finish’, and ‘picture rail’ to an ever-growing repository of words.

The painters said they’d need five days if I wasn’t there; seven or eight if I was. So I left them to it. I had no qualms about leaving five lads in my flat while I escaped. I’m a trusting soul. They seemed lovely and indeed they are.

Never for a minute did I think, though, that it might be a good idea to be there to see the paint going on the wall. I’d chosen the colours so why wouldn’t I be happy with them? But I never factored in the light: daylight, dusk, wall lights, ceiling lights, they all came into play with the result that the colours in my head didn’t quite transfer to my walls – nothing was as it seemed.

I went for Jane Austen blue for my guest room and while it’s more Jane in her youth than in her dotage, it works. Despite major misgivings, I’d allowed myself to be talked into a yellow Tuscan wash for the kitchen and I have to admit that I like it. While my office isn’t exactly the olive-green I’d imagined, it’ll grow on me. It’s the gold-fading-to-cream look in the living room that simply didn’t work. Where was my head? But it’s all fixed now.

cfrackThe painters have been and gone on schedule. And they even cleaned up after themselves. I was mega impressed. I’ve made my choices – and they were my choices – so whatever blame there is to apportion, it’s all mine. And I’m sure that time will cure the few misgivings I’m left with.

There’s no doubt that my flat has changed; it’s not exactly what I’d envisioned, but it’s definitely different. Mission accomplished. I still love my flat, just as I still love this city and this country, yet perhaps the veneer is fading and the cracks are showing in more than just my four walls. Will the new paint satisfy my need for change, I wonder, or is it just a temporary fix, cosmetically applied to cover a deeper unrest?

First published in the Budapest Times 13 February 2015