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The first time I brought an American boyfriend home to Ireland, in 1996, we went to dinner at my friends’ house in Dublin. The N-Ms  have a great big dining table and eight of us sat around until the small hours of the morning, talking, laughing, eating, drinking and having a ball. It was the first time I met my now sister-in-law; my brother was home from a UN tour in Bosnia; I hadn’t seen the N-Ms since they’d gotten married and moved house; and I was hoping to persuade M&M to come visit me in Alaska. The lovely TW was in his element drinking pints with the lads; it was a great night. I loved it. So much of life is transient but memories like this last a  lifetime.

I love to cook. I love to entertain. And I’m particularly fond of making new memories, so one of my ‘must-haves’ was a dining table that would seat at least eight people.  I found this wonderful Art Deco piece in Ecseri flea market in a shop run by the lovely Appel Péter. (In Hungary, the last name goes first.) My mate JFW has bought a lot of stuff there and he brought me out to introduce me personally. I quickly learned that you don’t just see something, pay for it and take it home. It’s more involved than that…as indeed, is life in general in Hungary. There’s a first price, second price and final price. So much depends on how much you love it, how badly they want rid of it, what else you’re buying and what the humour of the day is like. This table started out at 650,000 HUF (about £2200/€2320/$3000). And no, you’ve haven’t missed a lottery win. I still don’t have that sort of money! But we had to start somewhere.

It is a lovely piece of Art Deco, beautifully restored, dating to the 1920s/1930s. If it could only tell stories. What secrets has it heard? What indiscretions has it witnessed?  Where was it made? Did it have to travel far? I quite like the idea of it living for years in an apartment on Andrássy – perhaps in one of the ambassador’s residences.

Andrassy út runs from  Erzsébet tér (Elizabeth Square) to Városliget (City Park). It dates from the 1890s and underneath runs the first metro built in Continental Europe, the M1 or Yellow Line, which opened in 1896. Most of the neo-renaissance houses and palaces were occupied by aristocrats, bankers, landowners and historical families by 1884. This long road was first named after Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, and then after Stalin (Sztalin út). When he was denounced, it was changed to Avenue of the People’s Republic until finally, in 1990, it went full circle back to Andrássy út. Funny how that happens!

It’s  a long, long road. From Erzsébet tér to Oktogon is mainly commercial but hosts the State Opera House and many designer, up-market shops. From Oktogon to Kodály körönd the road widens with an allée (a pedestrian path down the centre), and includes residential areas and universities. Kodály körönd is currently being restored and it’s here, if I ever win the lottery, that I would like to buy flat. And it’s here I think my table might have lived.  From Kodály körönd to Bajza utca, Andrássy widens even more and the residential palaces (some of which have been turned into hotels, galleries and occasional restaurant), are fronted by gardens. From Bajza utca to Városliget, there are more villas encompassed by gardens, and it is on this stretch that you find most of the embassies.
One of my favourite sights in Budapest is that which greets you at night if you get off the M1 at Hősök tere (Hereos’ Square). Climb the stairs and be prepared to be mesmerised.  A little like how I feel when I open the door to my living room about midday and see the sun bouncing off this table.

I never thought it possible that I could get excited about a piece of furniture. I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me that I’d be spending more time in flea markets and antique shops than in boutiques and salons. But it’s true. This renovation has created a monster.

1850s French empire complete with remants of the original manufacturer's sticker

1850s French empire complete with remnants of the original manufacturer’s sticker

Recent visitors to Budapast EK and JG talked about their purchases ‘speaking to them’. And I can relate to this. Except that when this wardrobe was sitting in a shed at Esceri among lots of other furniture, half-hidden by a table and tucked away in the corner, it didn’t so much speak as whisper. And it was a very soft whisper. But it registered.  I went back again to see it and then, after many phone conversations that seemed to involve the nation (really me saying and having others say for me  ‘I don’t have the cash’ ) I gave in. I admit I occasionally allow myself to feel pressurised into buying things and can, on a bad day, buy something purely because whoever I’m shopping with likes it. On these bad days, I can’t make a decision to save my life and am happy to do whatever. Thankfully, they’re few and far between and are causing less trouble the older I get! (That stool with legs made from jeans tucked into workman’s boots, and a seat made from a check shirt and braces still haunts me!)

It wasn’t until it was delivered to the flat and took up residence in my bedroom that it really started speaking to me – and it speaks volumes.

I remember years ago in Myrtle Beach visiting a Ridley museum and spending ages in front of the funny mirror that made you look really thin. I couldn’t decide if I liked what I saw. Having spent years dieting to get that ‘perfect figure’, when I saw how I’d look, I couldn’t decide if I liked the look of me. Mind you, it hasn’t stopped the sporadic dieting but at least it did kill any aspirations I had to squeeze into a size 10.

If you stand in front of these mirrors, where the doors overlap, you cannot see your reflection. And yet, move a millimetre to either side and there you are. Magic.

And magical it is. I can’t explain it really. There is just something incredibly beautiful about its fine lines. Something timelessly classic about its bearing. Something ageless in its beauty. And yet it’s solid. And very ‘there’. It has a presence. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like my mother! mmmm…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to own my own place.  Over the years, the ‘place’ in question has moved from a stone cottage in the West of Ireland, to a crofter’s cottage by a loch in the highlands of Scotland. I’ve had visions of a log cabin in Alaska and a house with a large lan’ai overlooking the ocean in Hawaii. I’ve thought about a terraced house in Dublin and a two-story flat in an ex-Council towerblock in London. A flat in Rome or a mountain retreat in Macugnaga have both appealed, depending on whether I was in my city or country mode. I’ve considered vineyards in France (very briefly), sheepfarms in New Zealand, and even an organic farm in Wales. I have, at various stages, fantasised about being  Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born; Barbara Good in The Good Life; Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City; Maggie O’Connell in Northern Exposure; Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man; Diane Sugden in Emmerdale; and a host of other leading ladies, each with a lifestyle and a ‘place’ of their own that seemed to fit the me that was me at a particular time.

My ‘bottom drawer’ was born in the early 1990s when I won a green card to the USA in a lottery and took a two-year career break from the Bank of Ireland in Dublin to live the Californian dream. It was a whole new world. A world with lots of ‘stuff’. I remember buying a set of miniature sculptures of golf poses made of nuts and bolts. I had visions of them sitting in a display cabinet in ‘my place’ once I’d bought it. Thankfully, my taste has improved dramatically in the intervening years and while I kept one of them as a reminder that tat is simply tat,  no matter how exotic the location in which you find it, I’m a little more selective now.

I’ve added to this drawer over the last 18 years – pictures, cutlery, linens, wall-hangings, sculptures – and have finally bought a flat, in Budapest, Hungary. I’m in the process of unpacking my treasures and buying new bits to furnish it. I was strangely detached from the process, as if I was doing it for someone else – although I knew that someone else was me. I have waited so long to own ‘my place’ and have searched so hard to find it and yet somehow, I wasn’t sure if it was the panacea I had expected it to be. And then today, this morning, Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 9.17 a.m. in Budapest, Hungary, I took delivery of a piece of furniture that made my heart stop, just for second. And I just had to share the journey.