The uncomplicated joy of being

I was reintroduced recently to the joy of simple living and reminded that the value of simplicity is something we’re in danger of overlooking as we measure our lives in upgrades: the latest iPhone, a newer laptop, a bigger house, a fancier car, a more exotic holiday.

I was reminded, too, that entertainment, though plentiful in Budapest, is not limited to theatre, cinema, concerts, and exhibitions, or confined to bars, restaurants, galleries, and football stadiums.

This city has so much to offer. No matter your personal taste or choice of entertainment, there is something for everyone. I love it for that very reason. My diary is full of lunches, dinners, openings, events of all sorts that could fully occupy my time and can, admittedly, prove a tad stressful as I try to juggle my schedule with those of others.

And yet, just minutes from this metropolis that I call home, is another world entirely, one where people live a quieter life, a slower-paced existence that has none of the frantic fervour evidenced by the city’s morning commute. A world where gardens provide fruit to be preserved; produce vegetables to be cooked for dinner; and offer peace and quiet to still the inner workings of an overactive mind.

Many lifetimes ago, in Alaska, I had romantic notions of homesteading. I’d have a log cabin in the wilderness. I’d grow my own vegetables, hunt and fish for my food, and while away my evenings reading the library I’d bring with me, or penning my memoirs, or even trying my hand at quilting. My time would be my own. My life would be simple, uncomplicated. But I was dreaming.

So I compromised. I did have my log cabin, but in a town of 4000 people. I fished and cooked my catch. I failed miserably at hunting but was happy to cook what others brought home. And I did while away my evenings reading books borrowed from the local library or simply marvelling at the silence.

Fast-forward a couple of lives to Budapest where I was immediately caught up in the energy it exudes. My intention, on leaving the corporate world, was to have a slower pace of life, one that would give me time to visit museums; to have long, leisurely lunches; to have a life that wasn’t centred on work. This lasted six months. I was soon completely embroiled in the rat-race that is twenty-first-century living.

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And then last week, I went foraging for mushrooms in the Pilis Forest. A 30-minute bus ride from Budapest and I was in the wilderness. We’d had heavy rain the night before and all morning, too. The trees were wet, the ground was soggy, and there was evidence everywhere that wild boars had been out before us. Within minutes, I was drenched. But it didn’t matter.

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We found mushrooms you can extract ink from but if you drink alcohol 24 hours before or after eating them, you’ll get alcohol poisoning. We found mushrooms that looked and felt like pieces of raw liver and others that looked like slivers of chocolate. We found mushrooms of all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colours, living happily together without issue. Some were edible, some were poisonous. All looked safe. Each find came with a sense of achievement and was followed by seconds of quiet appreciation. Time seemed to stand still. It was glorious. No phones. No Internet. No people, save one man and his dog.

It was a much-needed reminder that life is only as complicated as I choose to make it.

First published in the Budapest Times 19 September 2014

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