Category Archives: Budapest

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.

 

 

 

 

2016 Grateful 21

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

2016 Grateful 22

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

On being an aunt (4) – 2016 Grateful 23

aunt1Well, the boy has gone. Back home. To his parents. I survived. He survived. He even went shopping (hates it) and bought presents for everyone. He’s not fond of parting with his money but I managed to spend most of it for him and by the end of the week he was volunteering to spend it. That’s progress.  That’s an education that will stand him in good stead down the road 🙂  He really has the makings of a lovely young man.

He said he loves Budapest. Loves the city. Loves the atmosphere. When I asked what the best part was, he said it was making new friends. Knackered though I was, I found the energy to be suitably impressed. It wasn’t the fact that he could do what he liked when he liked (mostly) or eat what he wanted when he wanted (always) or decide what to do each day without having to consider his brother. It was that he made new friends. Perhaps there is hope for the human race yet.

The boy is a game addict. He’s rarely without his phone or his iPad or whatever it is he plays his games on. But this past week, his new friends were into different sorts of games – the ones you play with people, using your imagination. Had I to graph his phone usage in the week he was here, it was trending downwards. That’s good, I think. That’s definitely good.

The place is quieter without him, even though he’s more the speak-when-spoken-to type – unlike his brother who would talk for Ireland. It feels a little empty. And while I enjoyed his visit, I’m glad to have my space back. I need to work. To get back to doing everything I had planned to do last week and didn’t. The bills have to be paid.

AuntI’m getting glowing reports from across the sea. I could well be his favourite aunt right now (but he only has two). He’s even said that he’s coming for the whole summer next year, if I’ll have him.  Now there’s an expectation that needs to be dampened. The thoughts of spending a whole summer in this city is bringing me out in a cold sweat, which in this horrible heat is no mean feat.

But I’m glad he was so impressed with Budapest living. And I’m glad he met some new people and had a chance to be himself, to show some independence, to fly on his own. And I’m grateful for all I’ve learned this week and for the tiny increase in my patience levels. It’s been fun.

 

On being an aunt (3)

Emboldened by my self-perceived success with three 13-year-olds, and having enjoyed another whole day with just two of them, I was feeling brave. This time I borrowed three other kids and took four of them to the zoo.

I’d spent the previous day in Palatinus, the open air pool complex down on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). It all went to plan. Not that I had a  plan other than to lie in the sun and read while the two boys amused themselves on the slides and in the wave pool. They took their charge seriously and dropped by every hour or so as agreed to give me time to take a dip in the pool. They also came by when they were hungry. They’d only met a few days before and yet they seemed to intuitively know what the other wanted to do. Amazing how simple relationships and friendships can be before we start adding judgement, preconceptions, and expectations to the mix.

budapest-palatinus

But to the zoo.

I have sod all experience when it comes to kids. Add this to a heightened sense of awareness of other people and a sometimes overpowering streak of consideration and you’ll get to the basket of nerves I was when we set off.

Is it possible to control four kids between the ages of 11 and 14? And even if it were, should I be bothered? Shouldn’t kids be let do kid things and make noise and ask questions and enjoy themselves without me, the adult, raining on their parade? Yes, I reasoned, they should. So I promised myself that I would swallow the chastisements and bite my tongue any time I felt the urge to caution or to reprimand. I told myself that no matter how loud they were, they were just being kids. And the rest of the world would just have to deal with it.

zoo2I nearly came a cropper when I opted out of the America House (in Budapest Zoo, there is a series of houses that are home to animals and birds from various parts of the world) and went for coffee. One of them came with me and within earshot of a lone woman enjoying her latte and her book, I was quizzed on Knock Knock jokes. The lady seemed a tad annoyed but that was nothing to when the others joined us and began to explain, at full volume, what they’d seen. I stifled a ssshhh and let them at it. She packed up her book and took out her paints and resigned herself to a less than peaceful second half to her coffee break. Fair play.

Only once did I hear the s word – spoil sport. But I was right. There is a limit to what they can be let do and there is a time when consideration of others and a certain amount of awareness of the consequences of your actions is needed. He got over it. Eventually. And I learned that far from being seen and not heard, kids need to question, to explore, to laugh aloud, to run riot … they need to be kids because they’ll be adults long enough.

I made the fatal mistake of commenting on how sad the rhinoceros looked and how cramped his space seemed to be. That set them off on a series of evaluations of the amenities other, smaller, animals enjoyed. And then wondering about whether the animals were happy. And for a while I thought I was going to have to deal with a minor bout of hysteria. Thank the gods for ice-cream.

My 4pm meeting was postponed till 5 so I had an extra hour to fill. We hit the lake in Varosliget where I rented a paddle boat and sent them off to sea,  figuring that if they capsized, there were plenty of able-looking blokes in staff t-shirts on hand to save them. One did slip and fall on  their back in water and I was proud that I didn’t panic. They were laughing so I took that as my cue to ignore the incident and say nowt.

It was bloody hard work though, keeping an eye on them and keeping track of them and answering the litany of questions that arose on stuff I know nothing about. It was humbling in a way. And it was instructional. And perhaps I’ll be a little more tolerant of other people’s kids in future and not expect them to be little paragons of virtue, sitting quietly and behaving. Perhaps.

 

It’s all happening in vibrant Veszprém

One of the best things about Hungary is the festivals. On any given weekend you can find something going on somewhere. Sometimes you get lucky and find two festivals going on in the same place, the same weekend.

IMG_6813 (800x579)We headed to Veszprém last weekend for VeszprémFest, the annual five-day music extravaganza that turned teenager this year. I was really looking forward to the outdoor gig in front of the Archbishop’s Palace in the Veszprém Castle district. I’m quite partial to a little Baroque with my bopping. We’d booked into the charming Éllő Panzió because it’s within walking distance, so we were set. But fate took a hand.

IMG_6777 (800x600)IMG_6792 (800x600)On Friday night, we were to see Mancunian Lisa Stansfield but such was the demand that they had to move the gig to the outskirts of the city to the Aréna. I’m used to the strictures of Budapest venues where you can’t take a photo without being publicly reprimanded and have to check your coat in the cloakroom and dare not stand up in your seat unless everyone else is standing, too.  But within three songs, she had the crowd out of their seats and swarming the stage. People were recording tracks on their phones, taking videos, and snapping happy. It seems like anything goes.

On Saturday night, it was Jamie Cullum. He was rained out though, and moved inside to a curtained section of the Aréna. Not as popular at the box office but an amazing gig. If Stansfield was good, Cullum was awesome. The festival is quite something.

A few years ago, they started a complementary Rosé, Riesling, and Jazz festival to run the same week. Lots of vineyards participate offering some excellent wine choices, good food, and three jazz gigs centre stage each evening in Óváros Tér . Thanks to the lovelies Szandra and Irma from Győr, who generously shared their taxi and got us back into town on Friday night in time for the last session, we had a blast. And we figured we could make it back for the second half of Fábián Juli & Zoohacker the next night, too, but the weather gods intervened.

The city is a year-round hive of festivity. My picks for the rest of the year are the Street Music festival (22-25 July), the Fairy Tale festival (18-20 September), and the Veszprém Games, an international art competition and festival that runs 7-12 October. And if those don’t grab you, there’s plenty more.
IMG_6849 (600x800)IMG_6846 (600x800)IMG_6842 (800x600)The city has a lot to offer by way of things to see (even when it’s raining non-stop and the temperature has dropped 15 degrees overnight). There are a couple of excellent exhibitions currently going on. In St Emeric Piarist and Garrison Church, there’s a gorgeous display of photos of frescos from a church in Romania (now on my bucket list) and across from St Michael’s Basilica (where we saw three weddings, on the hour at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm!!!) there’s a fascinating exhibition – Test és lélek a Nagy Háborúban (Body and Soul in the Great War) – that looks at preaching in the field, military hospitals, and medical practice in WWI. Powerful stuff.

The city can hold its own foodwise, too. Fejesvölgy Étterem – a traditional Hungarian restaurant – did everything right, from the service and the food to the drinks and the price. They were turning people away.  The more contemporary Elefánt Étterem was just as good in its own right. Apparently, a third one to watch (recommended by the lovelies) is Chianti but we had to leave that till next time.

And there will be a next time. The locals are friendly, quick to help, and very tolerant of mangled Hungarian pronunciation. Just over 90 minutes from Budapest by train, Veszprém is a gem of a city that is worth considering next time you want a change of scenery.

First published in the Budapest Times 22 July 2016