3 tiny stories about Hungary

One.

Spring and summer in Hungary aren’t tracked by time. (How could they be when the heat leaves you so sluggish, minutes take hours . . .unless you’re swimming in the lake or visiting with friends, in which case hours take minutes.) Instead days move through blossoming trees and changing appetites. With each passing week another fruit comes into season and the previous fruit goes out. So for instance, last year I arrived here at the start of cherry season. That meant my mouth was permanently stained with the sweet dark juice of cherries, which essentially explode as you pop them into your mouth. Until I started finding the bugs. Then I couldn’t bring myself to ‘pop’ any more cherries, no matter how tempting. Those little white worms are everywhere. However, not a single other person in Hungary seems to mind.  Now we’re in peach season, which is my favourite (mostly bug-free), and watermelon season. Before we leave for Canada, it will just be creeping into apple-picking-time. Fruit litters the street, suburbs and gardens. Free, juicy, organic fruit.

I love idea of tracking time with food. From pig killing season, bread making day, to the growing of ripe produce across the year – it’s all about the food.

 Two.

A long time ago the Turkish made a play for Europe. They essentially invaded the region – them and every other culture, it seems to me. Anyhow, during this time of the Turkish invasion (lasting a way long time), the Hungarian fighters managed to beat them back. There is a man on a horse (statue) here in Pecs in the main square. He is accredited for pushing back the Turkish.

Anyhow, the Hungarian win was a win for Christianity (I’m not purposely mixing religion and storytelling, but it’s true – that’s just how it was perceived at the time). And the pope declared that churches everywhere would ring their bells at noon to honour the Hungarians who fought for Europe.  Now all across the world, not only in Europe, church bells ring at noon – signalling lunch for many, but for those in Hungary who keep it in mind, also signalling respect and memorial.

The other day Zsolt and I were working in the garden when the bells began to ring, and it made Zsolt recount that story. Who doesn’t love listening to church bells ring over a city? These traditional markers of the day are so familiar that I don’t even think to ‘expect’ them. And yet once the bells are tolling, I can’t help but stop my work and listen.

 

Three.

There is an excellent culinary dish in Hungary that’s familiar in all the homes. It’s called Kaposta. I almost 100%  for sure spelt that word wrong. Basically it’s stewed sour cabbage with pork meat balls mixed with rice and wrapped in cabbage leaves, plus the addition of fried onions, smoked sausage, possibly bacon and of course paprika. (And salt.) It is thick, tasty and one of my favourite meals. Served with a heaping of sour cream with Eros Pista on the top (a puree of hot pepper) and you’ve just entered home-cooked paradise.

Yesterday while we were eating this meal, Zsolt’s mother remarked that it’s really good for hangovers. Apparently weddings in Hungary will always make available kaposta to their guests after midnight has passed, in order to ease the following day’s hangover. Looking back on a friend’s wedding we attending, this is true. We ate the awesome cabbage stew after midnight. This tells you two things about the Hungarians: they like their liquor in times of celebration, and they really know how to please a guest.

 

And there you have it. Three stories about Hungary, my home away from home.

The Resolution List

Today the sky is grey, I’m about to get my period (so guess what my mood’s like. Or rather, ask my husband), and this room is rather dark. Having described all that, I’d like to talk about the bright side of things.

(And I’d like to turn on a light in this place. One moment please.

Okay, better.)

Right. So being diagnosed with cancer absolutely and undeniably sucks. I will never be a person to argue against the position, and don’t wish the illness (in any of its varieties) on anyone. Not even the most horrible of horrible people, because chances are someone loves them nevertheless, and cancer is most certainly terrifying and devastating to the ones we love.

(Okay, so I warned you already. I’m about to get my period and am therefore sliding toward a darker tone – but it’s not all bad, because I KNOW I’m a little moody, and can therefore attempt to apologize whenever things get a little too dark. Unfortunately there are no more lights to turn on in this room – oh! But there another widow shade that could be opened. Excuse me.

Better. Much better. Oh, hello natural lighting.)

So we’ve established that caner is bad. But here is another thing – a potentially good thing. It’s also like the BIGGEST perspective-whacking-stick you could ever have, well that and I guess maybe an out of body experience where ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit you with each stroke of the clock.

And if you had anything in the way of a similar experience to myself (though fair enough if you didn’t, because everyone’s journey is unique), you most likely found yourself making resolutions. These aren’t New Years Eve’s resolutions where you give up chocolate, or promise to go to the library more, or aim to lose five pounds. These are “if my life is at risk, and my mobility and health could end at any time – these are the things I’d wish for most before any more of this crazy shit happens.” So there’s a lot of honesty and desire behind these feelings. These are the resolutions that tap into what it is you want/need most.

So I’m challenging you to make a note and keep it someone. To share it with us. To write it in your diary. To stick it on your fridge. Whatever. If you have been here – if you are here in now in treatment, or were here sometime in the past – or forget cancer even, if you’ve had your life thretened, or hit rock bottom, or just woke up and said:” Oh shit!” then I’m challenging you to sit down and make a list. Get it together in one place.

Back when I was diagnosed my initial and strongest desire was to return back home to Canada. Ultimatly we waited things out, and I’m glad that we did, but cancer firmed me up – Zsolt would immigrate, we were going to move.

Whether this is/isn’t a good thing in our lives remains to be seen. (It’ll be a great thing just as soon as a few strings get tied up . . .) But I can tell you this. While I miss my incredible friends in England, I no longer have this feeling thata piece of me is missing. You know? Like, before diagnosis it dawned on me that Canada and I may be permanently parting ways, and that was totally crushing. Crushing. It broke my heart. This was realized after getting married and setting up life in England. Canada was not in the cards. Crushing.

But then I made a resolution based on a deep, demanding urge. It uprooted everything we had had planned for our lives, however this past July when Zsolt and I boarded the plane to travel to Europe and spend the summer – I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel sick. I was nothing else but happy to be going. And that is really new.

Resolution = accomplished.

Other resolutions were to spend a summer in Balaton and Pecs, which we did last year. It was one of the most healing things I could have chosen. The fact that we are lucky enough to do it again this year is just a freaking miracle. (See, my perspective is brightening, along with the lighting.)

I yearned to travel. After treatment we flew to Portugal and I went in a bikini on the beach. Sure, I don’t have a right boob – but we were on a beautiful beach! The water was gorgeous. The markets were busy (don’t get me started on that awesome cheese) and it was just so freaking fun. Next up! The Atlantic ocean for 7 nights! Resolution = done. And will do again.

I wanted to buy a canoe. How ridiculous for someone who doesn’t even own a car. But guess what, this past June we bought that damn canoe – and even though it’s currently waiting at home in Canada – the pleasure of paddling with my husband on a quiet and lazy river has been huge. Yes, we spent money at a time when it was really stupid to do so (kinda like this trip), but screw it. I used to sit in that chemo chair with those drugs dripping in, and imagine the rivers in Canada – imagined showing Zsolt a loon, and splashing water onto our faces. Resolution = owned.

And yeah, there are BIG resolutions too. Moving to Canada, as I said, was one – and that’s still proving difficult. But my gut took us there, and my gut says this will work out. Having a baby is like the biggest, more life changing resolution ever – but it will happen, and we will get there. Being a professional writer, one step at a time. . . resolutions = still in progress!

It’s not easy.

But it’s good to reflect on the big and the small, and one-by-one tick off the list of chemo/cancer resolutions.

So what are/were your resolutions? I dare you to look back (or look around) and write them down – make them real on the page, and then see what can happen next.

 

My List:

-travel

-go home

-write more & publish

-have a family

-get a canoe

-go to Hungary for the summer

-buy real estate (and a cottage in Balaton)

-split time between Canada and Hungary,

-bring food to those who need it

-dress well/stand out

-eat good food

-be with family

-be with friends

-make this work

 

Could-Not-Stand-It!

Something strange has come over me, something that has never really happened before. Upon arriving to Hungary, after about 22 hours of travelling, Zsolt and I first visited his sister in Budapest where we stayed the night, then travelled onward to Lake Balaton. At the lake (a lake that holds a big piece of my heart, as many of you know, but where the cottage also gives me crazy allergies after about two nights of sleeping in the big room) we met up with his parents for the weekend. Six of us in the small cottage: Zsolt’s sister, brother-in-law, parents and us. When we pulled up in the car his parents had already arrived; Anna (mother-in-law) came running towards us with her hands waving and say, “Hello, hello!”, then gave us careful and restrained kisses on each cheek. Zsolt followed that up by giving her a hug (even though they normally only kiss on the cheek) and I think she appreciated the affection.

Where was I going with this? Oh, right. . .

Something strange has come over me. I think it’s a combination of last year’s adventure where we moved A-to-Z every half a week visiting friends and family, plus this past week before leaving when we were at a cottage with my family in Canada, then added to by moving from location to location once arriving in Hungary.  Somewhere in there a switch has flipped. Suddenly, without warning, I have developed an extreme need to unpack my suitcase.

Never do I unpack the suitcase, unless we’ve finally arrived home . . . and even then, it takes me a week to bother. But upon leaving Balaton (see you later, you big blue water . . . and allergenic reactions of itchy eyes and throat) and arriving in Zsolt’s beautiful home town of Pecs – I HAD to empty that suitcase.

Didn’t matter if the clothes had to be piled neatly on the floor, the shelves, the desk . . . the only thing I could really think about was taking everything out so I didn’t have to root through the case one more time for a spare sock, or bra (or boob!), or whatever. Thankfully, Anna had made some room on the shelves, so there was the perfect amount of space for my stuff. It’s all out now. The t-shirts, the dresses, the sweaters, the underwear, the vitamins, the beauty stuff.

And what’s even crazier, is that today I TIDIED. Couldn’t stand the growing mess of two days in the same room – had to put everything away where it belonged. Could Not Stand the mess!

What, I ask, has come over me? Back when I was a little girl, I used to push the toys and clothes under my bed (hidden by the dust ruffle) whenever instructed to clean. Even today I don’t love pulling out the gloves and attacking grime and/or dust . . . but an untidied bedroom? No. No. No. No.

So, clearly someone has secretly hypnotized me into a compulsion for order. I have my suspects – you know who you are (mother, father, or husband. Most likely husband. . . Zsolt probably whispers in my ear at night, “clean your side of the bedroom, pick up the mess.”)

Lesson Learned: Apparently some things do change – like patience, temperament, and preferences for having an essentially clutter-free room.

I don’t know how it happened, but it has happened.

Maybe soon I’ll feel a compulsion to clean the bathroom, scrub the floors, vacuum the house, dust the shelves and clean out the fridge. Maybe. But that would take some really strong hypnosis . . .