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2016 Grateful 26

I’ve been to funerals of people I’ve never met. I’ve never said hello to the body in the coffin, shook their hand, or passed the time of day with them. That’s a peculiarity about Ireland – we go to funerals for the living rather than for the dead.

Weddings, though, they’re another story.

Not since my early days in Los Angeles in 1990 have I been to a wedding where I didn’t know either the bride or the groom. Back then, in the company of the ubiquitous J-NP, I remember the bridesmaids being all in black and the best man opening a book in the grounds of the church on how long the marriage would last. Mad, I thought.

20160702_181741_resized (600x800)This weekend, in Portugal, I was at a wedding and the only one I knew other than himself was the father of the bride. When we got the invitation last year, I was a tad dubious and wondered at the sense of two Irish people having af full-blown wedding in Portugal. Mad, I thought.

But had we not been invited, I doubt we’d ever have chosen to come to Ericeira and that would have been sad.

Quite a number of us gathered in  local bar down by the waterfront on Thursday night to get acquainted. We met again on Saturday at the town’s big hotel to get the bus the wedding village – Gradil. We were a little ahead of schedule or rather the schedule has slipped due to a series of unfortunate mishaps that involved suits, security tags, and flowers. Good fodder for the wedding speeches.

20160702_150154_resized (800x600)20160702_162751_resized (600x800)The church itself was stunning – absolutely stunning. They’d managed to find an Irish priest who works in a few of the local villages so it all had an at-home feel to it. On our way in, we were given lovely wooden fans, in case the heat got to be too much. And it was here that the attention to detail first became obvious. So much thought and preparation had gone in to it all – and from another country. Simply amazing.  The bride looked stunning and the groom did her proud.  It was all so beautifully done.

A string quartet supplied the music including everything from Leonard Cohen to my favourite wedding piece – Panis Angelicus – to Cold Play. All a tad surreal. The style was impressive, with the men being particularly well turned out and if anything, even more stylish than the women. We left the church to be greeted by a jazz band who played us through the village to the venue – Quinta de Sant’Ana. A working vineyard, it packs quite a history.

Back in the 1800s, King Dom Luís gave the Quinta to actress Rosa Damasceno. He had a theatre built especially for her. Centuries later, Baron Gusta von Fürstenberg took up residence. He lived there with his wife Paula and their seven children until the revolution in 1974 spurred their return to  Germany. A loyal family friend, Joaquim Val Morais, saved the place and in the early 1990s, the baron’s daughter Ann and her husband James came home. They too, have seven children – all boys.

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20160702_184137_resized (800x600)20160702_165344_resized (600x800)20160702_191232_resized (800x600)20160702_211102_resized (800x600)It is a spectacular place. We sipped champagne, drank wine, feasted on fish and cheeses, all the while listening to the jazz band. We savoured a wine-tasting of the vineyard’s wines in the cellar.  We mixed, we mingled, and we oohed and aahed, enjoying the other-worldliness of it all.  We breakfasted in the theatre, the table seating  cleverly arranged by vintage. [I never did check if by 2005 we were the oldest in the room.] How remiss of me. The menu was a lavish four-course affair with a goats cheese starter, followed by sea bass, followed by rack of lamb and then dessert. Each course out did the one before it. 20160702_211013_resized (800x600)Downstairs, the courtyard was set up with cheeses and fruit platters and the vineyard’s own wines. Music, dancing, fireworks, complemented by pleasant conversation, lots of laughs, and some excellent speeches made for a fabulous evening that went on till the early hours of the morning.

Yes, I’d thought them mad when I heard that the wedding would be in Portugal. But as I said, had we not been invited, I’d never have discovered this part of the world with its friendly villages, beautiful wines, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality. If you have a special occasion coming up,  Quinta de Sant’Ana is worth checking out.

The next afternoon, it was over to the Villa Jessie, some 3km outside of Ericeira for a bbq. [Another place to consider for a special occasion.] More fine wines, excellent meats, and plenty of craic ensued. Both times we got the first bus home. Both times we partied till we dropped. We no longer have the staying power we had at 30-something, but thankfully, the desire to try is still there.

After months of wondering, I’m truly grateful that we were invited to this part of the world to celebrate what will undoubtedly be a long and happy marriage. It did my heart good to see such unbridled enthusiasm for life, to meet so many young people with plans and the passion to realise them, and to meet so many not-so-young with stories to tell and an unflappable zest for life. It’s gone a long way in restoring my faith in the power of family and confirmed, yet again, that life is definitely for living. A massive thank you, Mr McD. Le mile buíochas.

More on the Grateful series.

2016 Grateful 40

Back in January 2009, having moved into a newly refurbished flat that was no where near as finished as I’d hoped it to be, I had forsaken my right to call the landlord when something went wrong. I was the landlord.

Far from the near ecstasy I’d expected, I was feeling a little blah. Somehow I’d thought that being a property owner came with a newfound sense of maturity, an entry into the adulthood that had so far escaped me. But I felt no different.

I wasn’t depressed. I’ve suffered from depression and I don’t use the term lightly. It was more of a general WTF feeling. The anticlimax of reaching a goal, realising that life hadn’t changed all that much, and wondering what next.

I was in contact with a number of people around the world who were following my move to Budapest with some interest. Back then, I wrote real letters. I’d spend an afternoon in a bar over a few pints, penning away on my foolscap pages (lined, of course) and then braving the post office. Someone mentioned blogging. Explained that I could write and post and let people know what was going on. If they wanted to read, they would read. And it would give me something to do.

So I started.

On Friday, I posted my 1000th post. Hard to believe. What began as an account of my renovation/refurnishing morphed into a travel blog peppered with random reviews, a grateful series, and some general commentary on stuff. It’s fascinating to see what catches people’s attention. My most popular post-in-a-day with 407 hits in just one day began like this:

Down3I fell completely, madly, hopelessly in love today. I’d met him before, briefly, a couple of years ago, and while mildly taken with him then, it was nothing compared to what I experienced today. A drop in the ocean. A grain of rice in a paddy field. A grape in a vineyard. Today, I fell hook, line, and sinker. He’s cute. He’s blonde. He’s constantly smiling. And he’s two.

[Update: Finn now has a lovely little sister and is still making the world smile.]

My piece on Ágnes Gereb got more than 1100 hits…

While the rest of us have been busy getting on with our lives, most likely taking our freedom and ability to travel from A to B completely for granted, Dr Ágnes Geréb is still in detention, of sorts. Can it really be five years since I first wrote about her? Yes. I checked the dates. My piece published in the Budapest Times on 25 October 2010. And that’s as good as five years ago.

[Update: Ágnes is still battling for that same freedom the rest of us take for granted.]

One of the most read posts, with close on 700  curious to know more, also involved people. It began:

IMG_0341 (800x600)I love a good speech. And I love a good wedding. And it doesn’t get much better when you have both together. One of the lucky ones who got to see the gorgeous Dora Nyiregyhazki marry the equally gorgeous  Edward Quinlan in Budapest yesterday, I was struck, not for the first time, by the wonder that is marriage.

[Update: Mr and Mrs Quinlan are still poster children for the institution of marriage.]

A piece on migrants in Hungary also got a lot of attention:

refugees_walk_beside_motorwayHungary has made the news in Ireland. When I was there last week it seemed like all anyone was talking about was the migration situation. Pictures of Keleti train station. Pictures of Szeged. Pictures of the fence. Pictures of families sitting, waiting for an uncertain future. The one overriding question asked of me was “Is it as bad as they say?” And the only answer to that is no. It’s worse.

[Update: Syrian refugees (and many others) as still fleeing to Europe and Europe is still dithering about what to do.]

Given the month that’s in it, and in memory of the man who never failed to make me laugh, I can’t not mention Ronnie (RIP).

IMG_3375 (600x800)Each year, for the last four years, Ronnie Thompson would come to Budapest in March. The Londoner visited at other times, too, but it was his March visits that I best remember. Ronnie wouldn’t have won any prizes for being the tallest chap in the room, but he made up for it by being larger than life itself when he headed up the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in the city. Ronnie was our mascot – our leprechaun – our piece of magic that made the day special.

[Update: Ronnie was spoken of fondly at the recent St Patrick’s Day parade and was missed by many. Hope he was having a dram or three upstairs as he looked down on the shenanigans.]

All human interest. All stuff I like to write about. But I have a varied audience. Some are regular readers, some dip in and out, some save and catch up in bulk. When I travel, I write for a core few who, for whatever reason, don’t get to move around as much as they used to. And while those posts may not rack up the numbers, they’re even more important … to me. They’re my postcards, my letters from abroad, my way of staying in touch with people I’ve met along the way. People who have contributed to making me the person I am today. For better or worse 🙂

Thank you for reading.

Wedding lessons

I love a good speech. And I love a good wedding. And it doesn’t get much better when you have both together. One of the lucky ones who got to see the gorgeous Dora Nyiregyhazki marry the equally gorgeous  Edward Quinlan in Budapest yesterday, I was struck, not for the first time, by the wonder that is marriage.

IMG_0352 (800x600)Gone are the days when marriage was something you did once. It’s commonplace, for myriad reasons, for people to try it and try it again. And all with the best of intentions. The Big Day. The dress, the hair, the makeup. The invitations. The seating plan. The Music. The breakfast. The speeches. The effort that goes in to make the big day one to remember is monumental. And this wedding ran like clockwork, oiled by a room full of genuine warmth and feeling. They’re a popular pair. And they both looked every inch of their gorgeous selves. There’s something wonderful about seeing two people so obviously in love. It helps restore, replenish, rejuvenate. It brings a little more light into a world that can sometimes be too dark. That sense of newness that comes with weddings is one to be savoured. It’s almost as if, on the day, anything is possible.

IMG_0341 (800x600)IMG_0369 (600x800)All the speeches were laugh-out-loud tributes to the couple with plenty of anecdotes. Each very entertaining. For my money, though, Dori’s mum gave the speech of the night, one that got me thinking. She asked the pair what the most important requirement is for a happy marriage. Not surprisingly they answered ‘love’. But no, she said. It’s patience. And the second most important requirement? Patience.  And the third most important requirement? Patience. How right she is. For with patience, anything can be overcome. And for someone who could do with a little more of that particular virtue, it was something  I needed to hear. Thank you, Ildikó. My first lesson of the day.

As she married them, the Registrar quoted from a poem by Jozsef Attila:

The train is taking me,
I am going
perhaps I may even find you today.
My burning face may then cool down,
and perhaps you will softly say:

The water is running, take a bath.
Here is a towel for you to dry.
The meat is cooking appease your hunger,
this is your bed, where I lie.

A second lesson. It’s too easy to forget that it’s the little things that matter. Those random acts of kindness. Those little considerations. Those seemingly insignificant acts that say so much about what we feel. That’s love. Real love. The sort of love that lasts.

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At the end of the ceremony, Ed and Dorí were asked to each pour a glass of coloured sand into a bowl. This they were then to take home, and every year, on their anniversary, they’re to take it out and look at it and remember the committment they made in front of us all. A third lesson for me: take nothing for granted.  Relationships take work. A lot of work. It’s when we start taking each other for granted, that’s when they founder.

It was a great day, a lovely evening, a brilliant night. We danced, we laughed, we partied. And as the fireworks went off in the city beneath us, there was something special in the air, something tangible. And that something was hope.

Here’s to you both, Mr and Mrs Quinlan.

May the light of friendship guide your paths together.
May the laughter of children grace the halls of your home.
May the joy of living for one another trip a smile from your lips, a twinkle from your eye.

Congratulations.