I’ve moved…

With my storage limit on WordPress fast approaching, I finally got around to moving site. It’s still a work in progress and will take time to settle in but from now on, blogs will come from www.unpackingmybottomdrawer.com

Further plans are afoot to do more with the 1000+ posts that have accumulated over the years and again, it’ll take time.

Your submovingscription should have transferred automatically, but if not, and you’re so inclined, you can sign up to receive notifications of new posts from the new site.

I hope all is well in your worlds and that life is treating you kindly.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Mary

No match for old women

I was brought up to respect my elders. It was drilled into me from the minute I was old enough to talk. Over the years, it’s been difficult at times, given that some of the elders who crossed my path were complete plonkers, devoid of reason, and lacking any semblance of a moral code. So I made an allowance. I reinterpreted the edict to read: Respect the elders you don’t know; apply discretion to the ones you do. But now, that rule, too, has been challenged.

Let me give you some context.

My nephew is in town. My other nephew. The one who was here last year. He’s a special kid with a special take on the world. And he’s 15. He alternates between a monosyllabic yes/no and a stream of consciousness rhetoric that runs the gamut from Donal Trump to ISIS to GMO to the effect of magnets on credit cards. There is no limit to where his conversation might take us. There are no boundaries.

IMG_7045 (800x600)Rather than offer choices, I’ve been dictating what we do. On Wednesday, Plácido Domingo was playing a free gig in Papp László. About 6000 tickets were there for the taking. We knew we’d have to queue for a couple of hours but hey – it was an opportunity too good to pass up. The kid posse went ahead. Five of them. The message filtered back – we were about 250 from the front and the line was growing. I arrived shortly afterwards and all looked well. An orderly line.

Then the brazen began to jump the queue and the orderly got restless. And the heavens opened and it milled down. We had thunder, too. The crowd surged forward trying to get to the two tents before the barrier. People behind me shoved and poked and prodded. Calls that went out to security to open the venue were met with entreaties not to start a stampede. It was all quite exciting.

Some ten minutes later, the rain stopped and the jostling stopped.  And all was well. We were well. We were wet. But we were well. And we were singing.

More people skipped the queue and others got angry. But for the most part, the line remained intact. It rained again. And umbrellas were useless. While they might protect the head, shoulders, backs, and necks were getting soaked by the rivulets flowing from the umbrellas beside you. The rain stopped. The body heat switched on and the steam rose from the crowd. Some of the cold dissipated. But the smell was bad. But again, all was well. A little less well, but well nonetheless.

Two hours later, the doors opened. And then those cute little old dears in their heels and their pearls, turned into ninjas. They barreled forward, regardless.  Their age had suddenly became their right to behave badly. I tried to hold steady, to push back, but up against a 60+ year old armed with a brolly, brandishing her time spent on Earth like a bayonet, I was useless. It was that deep, abiding urge to respect my elders that did me in. But I, too, have my limits.

Some ten meters from the door, where the channel narrowed, I stood my ground. Elbows splayed, knees braced, I dropped my umbrella behind me and stopped. Dead. They cursed. They pushed. They poked. They berated me. They shouted at me. But I held steady. For all of 8 seconds. But it felt like a victory. For in those 8 seconds, I revised my rule:  Become the elder that others will respect.

Inside, we pulled out our homemade pizza, my second birthday cake, a bottle of bubbly for the adults and some kids’ champers for the kids complete with the ever-so-stylish plastic cups. And we ate brazenly. Just let the security guards come wrestle with us for eating stuff not bought on the premises. I’d gone 8 seconds with the oldies. There was nothing they could do to me.

Five old dears in the next row pulled out their bottle of palinka and their plastic medicine dispensers and started to do shots. Now they were my kind of elderly.

An hour later, just past 8.30, Plácido Domingo made his appearance. We had good seats. From where we sat, he looked like a young Tom Jones. He was in fine form. And he had the magnificent Angel Blue, defender of beauty pageants and soprano extraordinaire, to keep him company.

My boy was having trouble sitting still. Probably because he said he didn’t eat cold pizza and needed extra cake because he was hungry. I don’t think Verdi did it for him. He perked up a little at the fabulous Meditation by Jules Massenet featuring the young talent of Váradi Gyula. But didn’t really get into it until Domingo left the classics behind and went to Broadway duetting with Angel Blu. A number from West Side Story, another from My Fair Lady, and a third from South Pacific saved the evening in his eyes.

We got home tired. And wet. And cold. But he has something to remember – he did his first wet queuing. That’ll stand him in good stead in years to come, when the memory of it all will morph those two wet hours into five as he tries to impress some young one with his youthful acquaintance with Plácido Domingo. Me? I was happy I finally got to see the man live.

 

 

 

 

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I’ve been dreading turning 50. Not because I see it as the onset of old age but because of the math. There is far more of my life behind me that there is ahead of me and I worry that I mightn’t get to do everything I want to do before my allotted time on this Earth is up.

Time is going a lot quicker these days. It’s accelerating. Weeks and months are morphing into years at a rapid rate. And while the outside me is showing signs of aging (can you believe that my toes have wrinkles!), the inside me is still stuck on 37.

My neighbour told me recently that I didn’t dress 50. I took that as a compliment and recalled shopping for shoes with my mum not long ago. I was putting her in sensible black heels, much to her disgust. She went for some vertiginous silver ones instead. I learned something that day.

Now that I’m on the home stretch, instead of accumulating more stuff, I’m getting rid. Paring back. I’m far more interested in experiences that in accoutrements.

me car (800x450) (2)On Saturday, the birthday, after a late lunch/early dinner, the lovely BZs had organised for a vintage car to come pick us up and take us on a tour of the city. Sitting in the back seat of this Ford Model A, Bramwith Limousine Elite, I felt a little like royalty. I couldn’t make eye contact with the hordes of tourists taking photos of us. I was afraid I’d succumb to giving the royal wave. Seeing the city from that vantage point was lovely – I saw stuff I’d never noticed before. I even found myself vaguely considering whether I’d have a driver, if I ever had that sort of money. It’s a life I could get used to.

Later that evening, I was serenaded in front of friends who had gathered to help celebrate the big day. Some I hadn’t seen in years. As I blew out my candles on my wonderful RM birthday cake, I had only one wish: that my blessed life would continue to be so blessed.

While the flowers will fade, the booze will be drunk, and the chocolates will see a quick end, the next few months will see me at art exhibitions, classical concerts, and early breakfasts. I’ll also get to enjoy massages, being pampered, and go completely gaga with the mad money. Massive thanks to everyone. But really, it’s the memory of it all that I will cherish. Being 50 is something that should be celebrated. If yours is approaching and you’re in doubt about what to do… go for it. Make it an occasion. Celebrate. Celebrate what’s already gone and what’s yet to come. Celebrate the friendship and the love. Party like you’re still a young one. Life is way too short to have regrets. It was a long but lovely evening – I got to bed about 7.30am. And yes, even at 50, if it needs swinging, I can still get it swung.

oldwoman

I found my book mecca in Mafra

I’m married to my kindle. I never leave home without it. I know, I know. For years I banged on about never, ever going electronic when it came to books. I wanted to be able to touch the pages, smell the print, turn back and reread. I spent enough time on a computer without adding more, I said. But when the airlines started their draconian restrictions on baggage, toting half a dozen books with me on holiday became too expensive. So I gave in. Reluctantly.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m hooked. I’m completely sold on the idea. I can’t imagine life without my baby. Right now, the 200 books I have on my kindle weigh as much as a short paperback. I have a membership to a digital library so I can check out books I’d like to read but don’t particularly want to keep. And I’m reading more than ever, because it’s all so convenient.

That said, I still love the feel of a real book and some titles I still choose to buy in hard copy. I’d never consider getting rid of the hundreds of books on my various shelves and were I to move, my books would come with me, regardless of the expense. I’m a bookaholic and last month I found my book mecca in Mafra.

IMG_6563 (800x600)IMG_6565 (800x600)Back in the 1700s, King João V promised to build a palace and monastery if he and his wife, Maria Ana of Austria, were to have a son. Some might say he went a little overboard with this baroque convent and palace, built on the back of gold from Brazil that was flowing into Portugal at that time. It’s nearly 38000 square meters – that’s nearly four hectares – with 1200 rooms, thousands of doors and windows, 156 staircases, and 29 courtyards. That’s a lot of gratitude.

The palace is huge. Massive. Goes on for miles. The Queen had her wing, the King had his, and the bit in between was home to chapels, anterooms, a hospital, the kitchens, and various other royal salons. We toured them all. Or at least we toured every room that was open to the public.There’s a notable difference in style between the two wings, one oozing oestrogen, the other awash with testosterone. All of it fascinating.

IMG_6634 (800x600)Throne roomIMG_6638 (600x800)IMG_6646 (800x600)IMG_6649 (800x600)IMG_6650 (800x600)IMG_6683 (590x800)IMG_6653 (800x600)The games room, with its forerunner to the modern-day pinball machine, was special. The hunting room, with its dead heads and furniture made from various animal parts reminded me a little of something I saw in Macedonia. Not for me, thank you, but hats off to putting the parts to good use. It was the hospital ward that got me. All the beds face an altar so the monks could hear mass even while they lay on their sickbed. Back in its heyday, 330 monks were in residence.

IMG_6655 (800x600)IMG_6658 (800x600)IMG_6659 (800x523)IMG_6660 (600x800)IMG_6623 (800x600) Hospital chapelHospital bedIMG_6607 (800x600)As we reached the end of our map (and you need a map to find your way around the building), before we turned the final corner, I could smell the books. It was a heady, powerful scent of old manuscripts, faded ink, and leather bindings. Intoxicating.

The magnificent Rococo room is tiled in marble is 88 m long x 9.5 wide and 13 m high. With 36 000 books or thereabouts, it shows just how well-read people were back in the day. Apparently the library was used as the Emperor’s war chamber in the 1996 film Gulliver’s Travels. Can’t say I recognised it from that, mind you. But nonetheless, it is spectacular.

A sign clearly states that books cannot be removed without permission from the king. And as there’s no longer a king in the country, they’re there to stay. Definitely worth an afternoon if you’re in the vicinity.

IMG_6674 (800x600)IMG_6669 (800x600)IMG_6665 (800x600)IMG_6675 (600x800)IMG_6676 (800x600)IMG_6672 (579x800)

 

Living in a wifi world

Over coffee the other day, I was asked how many holidays I’d taken so far this year. I had to stop and think. Not to count, but to think. And not to categorise – does an overnight in Veszprém count as a holiday? Yes, I travel a lot. It seems like I’m always somewhere other than here, but I don’t see these trips as holidays. I see them as simply working from somewhere else. It’s one of the benefits of having a mobile job in a wifi world. I go, I work, and in between times, I try to fit in as much as possible. The ultimate working holiday.

In Portugal a few weeks ago, one such fit-in was to visit to the town of Sintra (home to Europe’s westernmost point), about a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. We didn’t have time to fight the hordes of tourists milling about the narrow streets (something that even had we had the time, I’d have been reluctant to do – the place was heaving) but on a quiet day mid-winter, it might be nice.

The area has more than its fair share of palaces (if there is such a thing as a fair share of royalty). Queluz  palace is billed as a blend of  Versailles’ French grandeur and Portuguese eclecticism and in recent years has entertained no fewer than four US presidents – Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton – if that’s a modern-day claim to fame.

We missed the fourteenth-century National Palace in the centre of Sintra but I’d go back to see the magpie room, so called because of the birds decorating the ceiling. We missed seeing Challet Biester (think Johnny Depp in Polanski’s The Ninth Gate);  Monserrate Palace, which won the European Garden Awards a couple of years ago; and the eighth-century Moorish Castle. We missed the  fantasy Palace of the Millions. We missed the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais (now a hotel). We missed the Palácio da Regaleira, and its four hectares of grounds with lakes, grottos, and tunnels.

But we did get to see Pena Palace.

As we made our way through the valley of lakes and its amazing duck houses, beautiful black swans, and crazy art installations, we knew that we simply wouldn’t have time to see it all. You could spend a day in the park walking around and a day it deserves. We had a couple of hours.

IMG_6431 (800x584)IMG_6432 (800x600)IMG_6359 (800x600)IMG_6350 (800x600)Palacio Pena (which translates into Feather Place)  looks like it was built by someone on LSD, whose vision of fantastical was hallucinogenic. It’s what capitalises the WTF in incredible and lowercases the wow.  Mad. Truly mad.

The dreamchilIMG_6372 (600x800)d of Prince Consort Fernando of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, construction started on the Romanticist castle in 1840 and finished in 1885, the year he died. A garish mix of purples, pinks and yellows, it has a My Little Pony feel to it, even though I’m sure that the German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Schewge, the man responsible for the jumble Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Manueline architectural styles, didn’t have that as his guiding inspiration. The outside is adorned with carvings, religious icons, and the must-have hand-painted Portuguese tiles.

IMG_6373 (800x600)IMG_6428 (800x600)Inside, there are some gems. I was particularly taken by the paper mache furniture (chair and cabinet in the photo are made of paper…) and the many walls painted in trompe-l’oeil . The rooms are a curious mix of influences that seems to range from Middle Eastern to Middle European. Strangely, for me, a lover of old palaces, castles, and manor houses, this is the first that I simply couldn’t imagine myself living in. There is way too much going on for me ever to entertain the slightest hope that I might find some peace within its walls. I was completely underwhelmed by the dining room but must admit that the kitchen was magnificent.

Each to their own, though. Others who have visited rave about it and go back time and time again. Me? I’m glad I saw it. Once. It was a nice break in an afternoon of work. And when next in Sintra I won’t feel at all bad about giving it a miss in favour of the many other palaces to see and a cocktail in Lawrences Hotel, the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula, one that boasts Lord Byron as its first guest. A hotel where the doors don’t have numbers, they have names. Perhaps more my kind of place. IMG_6414 (800x600)IMG_6384 (800x600)IMG_6388 (800x600)IMG_6404 (600x800)IMG_6398 (600x800)

 

 

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A conversation I had last week …

‘Oh’, says she. ‘Fancy coming shopping? I’ve got to get something to wear for tomorrow night.’
‘Where are you off to?’ I asked.
‘A posh do, at the Marriott.”Fancy’ says I, wondering when she’d moved into the realms of poshness and why I had been left behind.
‘Yes’, she went on. ‘Got a printed invitation in the post last week. Didn’t say much, mind, other than where it was on and what time. Here, have a look.’
‘Nice, very nice’, says I, turning the card over in my hand. ‘Nice typeface. Very chatty. But you’ve read it wrong. It’s not at the posh Marriott hotel; it’s at that laid-back pub around the corner, the Marionette. So wear whatever you’d normally wear out to the pub at the weekend.’
‘But it was a posh invite’, she said, obviously disappointed.
‘Look on the positive side’, says I. ‘At least you got something in the post this week other than a bill. When was the last time that happened and it wasn’t Christmas or your birthday? Isn’t that something to be grateful for?’

littlehtings2Amy Morin wrote in Forbes a coupe of years ago about seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. It

  1. Opens doors to more relationships
  2. Improves physical health
  3. Improves psychological health
  4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  5. Makes you sleep better
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. Increases mental strength

So there you have it… It was in Forbes and apparently it’s been proven to work. I’m not sure about the science, but I can say from experience that, apart from No. 2, I can buy into the rest.

Facing down the terror

Were I still in school, today would mark my last day of term. Were I in a full-time, paid, pensionable position, today would mark my last day of work before my holiday began. But as writing for the Budapest Times and going to mass on Sunday are the two most regular fixtures in my life right now (and admittedly, I’m a tad more religious about my Times deadlines that I am about mass), this last column in July is what marks my summer break.

This time last year, I wrote about the fun trips I had taken and was planning to take. I was full of the joys of life, grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the world both at home and abroad. My column ran with the title ‘Making Memories’ and ended with the lines ‘Whatever you do this summer, enjoy yourself. And take the time to make some memories. We know not what the future has in store.’

In the intervening 12 months, the world has gone mad. This week alone saw a knife attack claim the lives of 19 people and injure 26 more in a facility for disabled people in Japan. In France, an octogenarian priest, Father Jacques Hamel, had his throat slit in church while saying mass. The headlines noted that he was the 236th victim of jihadists in France since 2015. That struck me as odd. Not in that the number was so high, but that there was a number at all.

Also this week, Irish print and broadcast journalist, Vincent Browne wrote his own headline, claiming that ‘terrorism works only with the complicity of the media and its sensational reporting.’ I’ve been bothered for some time about the role the media plays in what we think today, in how we feel. It’s as if it is doing our thinking for us. Were we better off when news took time to travel? When we didn’t have news feeds clogged with videos of atrocities? When stories of terrorism were curtailed? I wonder.

A few paragraphs into his piece, Browne completes his heading: ‘Terrorism works only with the complicity of the media and its sensational reporting, for without the sensational reporting of such incidents, the intended terror would not materialise.’ He makes his case with statistics showing how the small proportion that deaths by terrorism represent are lost in the annual homicide figures for countries like France, Germany, and the USA. He notes that around the world, more than 1.2 million people die in road accidents [something we could rectify] and concludes with the observation that ‘the usual hysterics and attention-seekers don’t bother with these banalities.’

As I get ready for what is usually a quiet month for me work-wise, as I get set to close out the first half-century of my life and celebrate a big birthday, I do so with a heavy heart. I spent a lot of time with kids last week and I wonder what the future has in store for them. We adults are making a right mess of things. The world’s leadership landscape has rarely looked so bleak. Our elected, or soon-to-be elected leaders, offer little by way of hope. Our media seems hell-bent on fomenting the hatred sown by fanatics. And we’re all being sucked into a vacuum of despair.

focusing on goodWe need to stop focusing on our differences and start focusing on what we have in common – life. And we need to live that life, the only one we get, with a conscious thought for the children who will inherit our world. We need to take responsibility for what we say, for what we post, for what we share. And we could start by facing down the terror, by spending just one day focusing ONLY on the good stuff. It might just catch on.

First published in the Budapest Times 29 July 2016