When I started this Grateful series at the start of this year, I had no idea of how it would work or what shape it would take. It’s been quite the experiment. In that first post, Grateful 52, I wrote: I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.When I wrote that first Grateful piece, little did I know that I’d be writing the last one for 2012 from Kona, Hawaii.

IMG_1351 (800x600)Today, we visited the Painted Church in Honaunau. I’ve been there a few times and it hasn’t lost its charm. It was built 1899 by Father John Velghe who decorated the inside of the church with his paintings. Fr Velghe was a Belgian priest of the order of  the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Society – the Picpus Fathers. Located on the slope of Mauna Loa, a 13,680 feet volcano mountain, it overlooks the Pacific ocean and those buried in the cemetery have a gorgeous view.

IMG_1359 (600x800)IMG_1361 (574x800)

The small wooden church is both simple and intricate and, perhaps, fancifully, I believe that it’s all the holier for it. To find a church that is open without a resident caretaker comes as such a surprise. To see a stand outside selling crafts with an honor box beside it, was enough to restore my faith in human nature.

IMG_1414 (800x600)

IMG_1383 (800x597)

IMG_1372 (599x800)The paintings are a little faded and when the sun hits, it’s hard to see what they depict but the overall effect is still quite wondrous. There are six pillars inside the church, each with something inscribed. While we were there today, this guy was telling his wife that the inscriptions told the stories of the wall paintings. But he was wrong. I checked. Each contains one of the six mottos of St Benedict, after whom the church is named.

O ke kea hemolele ko’u malamalama – The Holy Cross be my light
Hele oe pela i Satana – Begone, Satan
He poino kou mea i ninini mai ai – You have poured forth trouble
Aole o Satana ko’u alakai – Satan is not my guide
Ua oki oe me kou mea pau wale – Stop with your perishable things
Nau no e inu kou poino – Drink your own misfortune.

In the groIMG_1354 (590x800)unds, there’s a monument to Fr Damien, who so famously worked with the lepers of Kalaupapa.  [I didn’t know that leprosy is known as Hansen’s disease.] His story, too, is a remarkable one of simplicity and courage. In a world where religion has been the cause of so much hardship, I’m reminded by what Kofi Annan once said: the problem is not the Koran, nor the Torah, nor yet the Gospel. The problem is never the faith – it is the faithful, and how they behave towards each other. In this small community of Honaunau on the island of Kona, the faithful are doing an admirable job of staying true to their faith. And it shows.

As this year draws to a close, I’m grateful that my faith takes me places that I might otherwise miss; I’m grateful for the friends who travel with me as I make my way through life; and most of all, I’m grateful that I believe.

IMG_1164 (800x600)Christmas is associated with giving – and unfortunately much of what’s given is unwanted, not needed, and a huge waste of time, effort, and money. Yet the one gift that is most sought after, is also the most difficult to find. Time. Everyone seems to want it and no one seems to have any. It’s all rush, rush, rush, wrap, wrap, wrap. Presents to buy, parties to go to, gifts to give. The mania is well and truly upon us. But we forget, perhaps, that the most meaningful gifts we can give are love, compassion, and  … a hug.

IMG_1137 (768x1024)Down at the Topház Speciális Otthon in Göd (a state orphanage) today with a gang of IHBC’s Give a Little campaigners, both time and hugs were in demand. We descended on the place at 10am and then set about entertaining and being entertained. The Lions Club had donated Santa Bags for all the residents and while they danced and sang and recited, we had a tune or two of our own to share.

IMG_1152 (1024x768)IMG_1160 (1024x768)

It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to have so many hands reaching out to touch you. It’s humbling to know that by simply shaking a hand, or giving a hug, or just letting someone touch your hair, you can make a big difference to their day. The staff are wonderfully caring, supportive, and loving. And to see this in their interaction with the residents is heart-warming. They seem to have endless patience. It takes a very special type of person to be able to do this sort of work, day in, day out. For those like Kristóf, or Norbert, who have visitors maybe once a year, having people like us visit literally makes their day.

In an era when social media is doing its bit to distance us from each other physically and the main experience we have of being tactile is a frighteningly intimate relationship with a smart phone or an iPad, visiting Göd is a sobering reminder of what matters.  As we move closer and closer to Christmas, when thoughts turn to gift-buying and partying, we could do worse than remember that the best gifts we can give are our time and our compassion. We might not be able to wrap a hug, but it’s one gift no one will want to exchange.

As one mad week finishes and another hovers on the horizon, I am grateful for my involvement with the Give a Little campaign, and the orphanage. I certainly get far more than I give.

PS A reminder of what novelist, journalist, and humorist Oren Arnold (1900–1980) had on his suggested gift list:

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Happy shopping:-)

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Everything I’ve ever done in my life to date has led to my being in Budapest right now. Difficult to imagine that each little decision I’ve made in the course of my life has somehow contributed to my today – my present – my reality. I sometimes wonder where I’d be if, say,  I’d been accepted to teacher training college or if I’d not applied for a US Green Card. But only occasionally. I spend way more time marvelling at how I end up doing what I do.

I met LS at a Toastmaster’s meeting. We got chatting. I’m naturally curious and him being the first Hare Krishna devotee I’d met in person, I had plenty of questions. I’d just learned, too, that I needed to mentor a new starter as part of my ACG and he seemed ideal. He invited me to visit the temple at Csillaghegy. And so began our friendship. I was at the TM meeting because of WB and met WB through ESz and met ESz through BC… and the line goes on. Had any link in that chain been broken, I doubt I’d have seen the marvel of the Sweet Festival earlier this month.

Celebrating Krishna’s lifting of Govardhana Hill, the sweet festival is quite simply amazing. Over the previous two weeks, 900 kg of sugar went into making 1923 kg of sweets which are first offered to Krishna and then distributed amongst the villagers down in Krishna Valley. The ceremony has happy, joyful, and full of energy, in sharp contrast to some of the Catholic and Protestant services I’ve been to. The cake replica of Govardhana Hill alone weighed 400 kg.

After the ceremony, we were invited for lunch. The miracle of the loaves and fish came to mind as hundreds of us sat down to eat and were fed with great efficiency. Plates piled high with vegetarian food, each spoonful tastier than the one that had gone before it. Everyone in good humour, a kindness radiating throughout, a true sense of community.

I was struck, once again, at how varied and interesting my life is; at the diverse nature of the people I meet; at the strange situations I find myself in. This week, I am grateful for the curiosity gene I’ve inherited, the one that keeps me asking questions and wondering why. The one that opens doors and unveils new experiences. The one that makes memories and keeps that sense of wonder alive.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

I’ve managed to get myself into trouble on occasion but never anything so serious that I couldn’t be extricated, more or less intact. I still have all the organs with which I was born and have never, to my knowledge, undergone an operation. I did break my sacrum in a snowmachine accident in 1998 and memories of life at that time are coated in a morphine haze. Apart from the odd pain when I stand too long on concrete or sit too long anywhere  or lie down for too long … in fact, as long as I keep moving, I’m grand. Had the break been a couple of centimeters higher, though, I might be telling a different story.

I was reminded of my mortality recently when driving the winding roads between Zirc and Pannonhalma (aka Highway 82), in Veszprém country in northwestern Hungary.  I passed underneath Csesznek castle and was suitably awed. Built around 1263 AD  soon after the Mongol invasion, it changed hands many times, housing the Habsburg troops in the early eighteenth century. The Turks captured it at one stage and then it was won back by Hungary. It managed to get through hundreds of years of conflict to be damaged by a force majeure – an earthquake – in 1810. Some time later, a fire caused by a lightning strike completely destroyed it. In 1635,  Dániel Eszterházy bought the castle and village (nice to be able to think in such terms) and it remained part of the Ezsterházy estate until 1945. It’s been under excavation and restoration since 1967.

One this sunny Sunday in November, I navigated the bends of Route 82 at speed, doing my best impression of Rosemary Smith (I was late for mass…)  I  love to drive and I love to drive on deserted, winding, country roads in a real car with a manual gearbox. It was an unseasonable 17 degrees and the radio station was playing hits from the 1980s. I was in heaven. Late or not, I had to stop to take a quick photo of the imposing castle. It was then that I noticed that someone else hadn’t been so lucky.  Losing a life, any life, to the roads, is a sad thing, especially when nine times of out ten, it could have been avoided.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the twelfth-century castle on the hilltop, testifying to the durability of medieval architecture and construction and the modern-day monument on the roadside testifying to the fragility of life and twenty-first century living. I started to think of legacies and what we leave behind and was reminded of something I read somewhere about legacies, deeds, and monuments. I tracked it down:

If I have done any deed worthy of remembrance, that deed will be my monument. If not, no monument can preserve my memory.

I wonder how right Agesilaus II was. I think of how statues are torn down, destroyed or relocated on the whim of political or national fervour. I see neglected graves in cemeteries everywhere, no-one left to remember or to care. And I wonder.

This week, I’m inclined to be grateful that I made it to mass on time… and in one piece. While I doubt that given such a road again I’d drive more sedately, at least I might be a little more aware of the possible consequences. And I’ll certainly be giving more thought to legacies and good deeds.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Hate takes effort and energy and, quite frankly, I’m too lazy to expend either on something that offers little reward. There’s some food I’d rather not eat; some people I’d rather not talk to; some places I’d rather not visit. But there are very few things in life that I actively hate. Even people who don’t keep their word; who make promises they have no intention of honoring, while low of my list of faves, earn my pity rather than my hate [and,  imho, ‘sorry, I forgot’ doesn’t cut it as an excuse].

November 1 (aka All Saints Day, aka The day of the Dead) dawned bright and sunny this year. When I revisited an old blog post to see if I’d written about how to get to the Jewish cemetery on Kozma utca, I was surprised to find that the trip I made wasn’t last year, but two years ago, in 2010.  And I was horrified to find that I’d promised Bródy Sándor that I’d bring him flowers and now, two years later, I still hadn’t fulfilled that promise. I hadn’t forgotten – I’d just lost a year somewhere… Mind you, I doubt he’s given it much thought in the meantime, but still – a promise is a promise.

Off I trotted with the lovely BS, popping in at the New Cemetery to buy said flowers before walking up the road to the Jewish one. The contrast couldn’t have been  more startling. The former was packed solid, with police on point duty directing traffic; the latter was empty but for us, a strange man with a map, and an elderly trio who looked lost. All sorts of reasons for this emptiness came to mind – no-one left to remember the dead; the city’s Jewish population depleted; the competing priorities of progress. We mourned the neglect and cursed the wars and debated the pros and cons of cremation. It wasn’t until later, over goose legs and cabbage at Huszár that our waiter pointed out the obvious … All Saints Day is  Catholic day… nowt to do with the Jews. [If we’d brains, we’d be dangerous.] Poor Bródy must be turning in his grave.

As we wandered through the graves, I noticed a number with their own garden seat installed. It brought to mind long, one-sided conversations between the living and dead: reminiscences of the past and consultations regarding the future. Perhaps even some remonstrations for broken words and forgotten promises.

I was struck again at how beautiful the place is, no matter how overgrown, and perhaps because I’ve just finished reading The Invisible Bridge, it was all the more real for me. The monuments to those whose bodies will never be recovered were particularly moving. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time – and this week, I am grateful that although it took me a while to get around to doing it, I finally got to keep my promise.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

When I bought my flat I had no idea what the neighbourhood held in store for me. So sure was I  that this was where I was meant to live, I didn’t do my usual stroll around the streets to see what was on offer. The only things I noted was the Catholic Church and the mtro station. Blind faith or sheer stupidity – call it what you will. I’ve never laid claim to being the most careful consumer in the world.

Things come and go in my neighbourhood – shops are open today and closed tomorrow; they transform overnight from a bakery to a nail salon. There is little rhyme or reason to it all, but that’s what makes the nyolcker (local term for the VIIIth district) what it is. It’s even spawned a cult animation film: In a Budapest ghetto, Richie, a young gypsy in love with Julia, daughter of the local Hungarian pimp, wants to put an end to the old family feuds. But there’s only one way to do it: money! For that, Richie goes back in time to eradicate mammoths and turn them into oil he’ll be able to sell later.

From my front windows, I can see across into the IXth and that, too, is a treasure trove of interesting finds. Take Mézes Bödön Kisvendéglő – a little restaurant on the corner of Bokréta utca 28. The upstairs has two dining rooms, one of which is brightly painted with folk murals. The furniture is old and the ambience older still. It doesn’t take much imagination to believe you’ve left the city and are now firmly ensconced in the countryside.

I wandered down one Sunday for lunch with the lovelies MC and DB. There was a daily menu on offer (on a Sunday?) and we had the most  delicious  cold grape and plum soup, followed by some sort of Hungarian chicken noodle dish. All for the princely sum of 800 ft. (that’s about €2.80 or US$3.60). I went back there again, just to be sure I was on a winner, and this time I took a couple of Australian visitors who were mega impressed with the decor – not quite what they’d seen on their tour so far. We had a choice of soups – cold fruit or pumpkin – and then a mouthwatering catfish stew. Where would you be going, I ask myself.

This week, as I seemed to have shelled out moxie loads of money on flights, health insurance, and …em… books, I’m grateful that it’s still possible to get good food at a reasonable price, literally across the road.

Ferencváros, Bokréta u. 28, Budapest, HU.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Image from rozsanderson.com

I wasn’t reading. I was standing. There were no seats available on the tram. And as I’ve not yet mastered the art of simultaneously reading, standing, and holding on, I needed some other sort of diversion. In my defense, they were talking quite loudly: a young one of about 25 and and older woman tipping 65. Both Hungarian and yet both speaking in English, each with her own peculiar accent. I thought they knew each other but no. It was a chance encounter.

Conversation started with a casual comment admiring a watch. Not a wrist watch, but one that hung from a 36-inch chain around the young one’s neck. She was at pains to point out that she had her own style and that this was her nod to feminine form – the biker jacket, boots, jeans, messenger bag, and nose piercing all said something else. She’d spent some time in the UK working all sorts of jobs and was contemplating returning. She had a peculiar fascination with the fob watches that nurses wore over there and I suppose it’s as good a reason as any to go back. Conversation turned to the cost of living and how much cheaper it was to live in Hungary than in the UK or indeed the USA.

The older lady had returned to Budapest from California after 30 years on the West Coast. She’d come home to an aging mother and some cousins as all her friends Stateside had moved away or passed on. She was quick to point out that if you’re 25 and earning, with a future littered with paycheques looming ahead of you, then yes, life was better, not as expensive. But if you’re on a fixed income, with no promotion or payraise in sight, then life ain’t so pretty.

This has struck me before. Pensioners on fixed incomes, at a time in their lives when they should be enjoying the fruit of a lifetime of labour, are instead beset with worry. We’re living a lot longer. Seventy is the new fifty. And we need our money to stretch.  This plagued me earlier this year and although at least now I have a pension in the making, I can’t help thinking of the hundreds and thousands of older people in Budapest who are watching their pennies.  Position that against those who work work work and save save save only to drop dead two weeks after they retire. There’s a balance to be struck.

While in the USA recently, after the fifty-sixth repetition of a description of my life in Budapest, each telling gathering a few more exaggerated threads, my inquisitor looked at me and said: Sounds like you’re living the dream.  He was right. I am.

This week, as my meds wear off and I return to reality, I am truly grateful that even with the ups and downs, all is well in my world and life is indeed treating me kindly.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

 

 

In Eger this weekend, I was struck by how many of us walk with our heads down, looking at the pavement. Or with eyes front, looking ahead. And then there are the few whose heads sit upon their necks like periscopes; they’re the ones who notice things. Odd things, like shop signs that are above eye level. It made me stop and think of the GB Shaw quote: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. Now, I know he wasn’t thinking about this type of observation – but it came into my mind nonetheless. Maybe it was the owl that did it – that strange mix of wisdom and night vision… mmmm… why am I associating GB with owls I wonder?

When I went in search of a more meaningful quote, I came across this one by photographer Elliott ErwittTo me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. I have a vague recollection of reading a book about Venice in which the author reckoned cameras should be banned from the city and instead, people should look, really look, and enjoy in the now instead of looking for a photograph to admire later. There is something in that, I suppose. Yet I think that having a camera in your hand makes you look at things you wouldn’t ordinarily see and makes you see what you see in a totally different light.

I bought my digital camera when I was in Hawaii back in 2008 and since then, it’s been like another arm. I might take 100 rubbish photos for every decent one I get – and I find myself getting frustrated, not with the weather because it is hot or cold, but because it affects the light. And yet I can say, hand on my heart, that in the last four years, I’ve become a lot more observant. I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. And I save myself a fortune in therapy fees by identifying obsessions before they begin to wreak havoc on my life. I now go to photo exhibitions and get a real pleasure out of seeing other people’s work. I know that I still have one foot firmly planted on the point-and-click rung on the photography ladder yet I like to think that my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds – and for this, I am truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

I had a birthday last week. Another one. They seem to come around with increasing regularity. But as I’m firmly stuck on 36, they’ve long since lost their hold on me. Gone are the days when I’d spend the weeks leading up to my birthday contemplating all I didn’t do that year, berating myself for not being more… well…  something, and bemoaning the fact that I was one year closer to maturity without the associated trappings: house, car, husband, kids.

These days, it’s more about chalking one up to success. A retrospective of this last year gets an 8/10 from my inner jury. On the plus side, I’ve travelled, been involved in interesting work projects, met some fascinating people, read some great books, discovered new corners of Budapest. I’ve entertained and been entertained. I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried. And I’ve finally put handles on my doors. On the minus side, I’ve put on a few pounds, been scammed, not been too healthy, and lost a very dear friend.

This year, I was in Palm Springs on my birthday with the lovely DL-W and VB. We’re three Chinese horses – not quite three generations but close enough. On the actual day, I gave a talk at D’s church. Another retrospective – this time of travel and tolerance. The community was open, friendly, and very welcoming. The discussion afterwards was insightful and thought-provoking. It gave me hope. Hope that we might actually learn to live with one another, without judging.

This week, I’m grateful for shared experiences, for having the chance to travel, and for having opportunities to meet new people. I’m grateful for simply being alive.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Week 26. Half-way through the year. It’s hotter than hades here in Budapest and I’m finding very little to be grateful for this week. The blasted heat. Yes, I know Ireland is cold and wet but what I wouldn’t swap for some of that coldness and wetness. Forty-two degrees yesterday. It is any wonder that I’m slowly losing my will to live.

I was in Szombathely last weekend and who did I run into but the bould Mr Joyce. I’d heard tell that there was a town/city in Budapest that translated into ‘bloom’ and was home to some severe Joycean celebrations each June. But, not for the first time, I got the story a little addled and it turns out that it was Leopold Bloom’s fictional father (him being fictional himself) that supposedly hailed from Hungary – Szombathely – and it’s his name – Virag that translates in to flower or bloom. In his novel, Ulysses, Joyce gives Leopold Bloom’s ancestry as Bloom, only born male transubstantial heir of Rudolf Virag (subsequently Rudolph Bloom) of Szombathely . . .

Bridget Hourican writes in the Irish Times that:

Virag means flower in Hungarian, hence Bloom, but it’s a conceit of Joyce’s that Leopold’s father began life as Rudolf Virag. There were Jews in Szombathely called Blum, but never Virag. Laszlo Najmanyi, writer, musician and organiser of the Hungarian Bloomsday, says: “The Blums were big textile traders in Szombathely and members of the family were posted in Trieste. It’s likely that Joyce met them there.” Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Joyce certainly met Hungarians, including Teodoro Mayer, owner of Irredentist newspapers, and one of the models for Bloom. A motif in Ulysses is Arthur Griffith’s Resurrection of Hungary – the history of the struggle for independence from Austria, presented as a model for the Irish. The United Irishman serialised the book from January to June 1904, so of course characters in Ulysses are busy reading it.

Someone took the time to trace the Blum’s old house and erect a plaque over the door that further confuses the Blum/Virág/Bloom issue. I have to keep reminding myself that Leopold Bloom was a figment of Joyce’s imagination and neither he, nor his creator, is likely to be turning in his grave at the apparent inconsistencies. I have no one with whom to share my pain.

This week, as the barometers soar and the heat makes irrationality normal, I am grateful for being Irish. I am grateful that our reach is broad and our influence wide. I am grateful that we have left, and continue to leave, our mark on the world. As the lovely Colin Farrell supposedly said: Being Irish is very much a part of who I am. I take it everywhere with me.

PS – a nice gesture from the Mayor of Poznan after the Irish fans’ performance during Euro2012.