Custom Search

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caravan of Metal Camels

On 20th of December we set sails south on our regular Christmas pilgrimage to Serbia and Bulgaria. We always know and humbly accept that we are a part of a mass exodus of gastarbeiters (including ourselves) from the west to the south but we always hope that somehow we would not be a part of the main wave.

This time it didn't look that bad and at one point Jelica even said 'There is not a living soul on the road'. I didn't quite agree as there were quite many Austrian, German, Swiss, Italian and Swedish cars swishing by, passengers' faces a bit darker than the average Swiss or Austrian's.

What was our surprise then when we got to the border and we realised that there are about 5 km of cars waiting in line to cross the border. We quickly calculated that this would be 6-8 hours of waiting which is a terrifying thing with two kids in the back, one banana and two oranges.

Then I somehow felt compelled to use my diplomatic registration, semi diplomatic status whatever. Sometimes I feel ashamed for that but I somehow managed to get away with 50 min. altogether, something that would have taken many hours otherwise.

But my post was not about that. It was about all those many thousands of people - like us at the moment - who spend their lives travelling back and forth from Zurich to Kraguevac, from Munich to Pristina, from Lucerne to Pozarevac, from Salzburg to Adana and many of them from Wien to everywhere. We sometimes unfairly call them the Viennese Turks or the Turkish Viennese.

Observing all those migrating people would make an excellent sociological research. I wonder if someone did his PhD studying these people's lives, travels, families, the cars they are using, their links with families back in the countries, the financial streams from west to south and the admiration streams from east to west.

I remember these people (or more precisely the Turkish part of them who were crossing Bulgaria) even in the 80s when they were still driving old black Mercedeses full of veiled women and several kids. It seemed to me then that they had some strange, distorted lives.

But....I still often get amazed that now I am in a very similar situation.:-)

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Ever since the weather turned sour at the beginning of December I've been feeling a bit glum. It's cold, often raining, so I can't go out and about as I'm used to, but have to stay at home. After a while you begin to miss hearing a human voice (other than that on the music CD).

As a non-integrated foreigner, you are always a bit more lonely than you would be at home. There are just not so many friends around, and the family is far away. And people who are around are working and, therefore, busy.

This reminds me of the times when I used to do night shifts--every week, two nights in a row. I would be free during the day and then would work from 6pm to 6am. By the time I woke up the next day (somewhere around 1-2 in the afternoon) my flatmate was gone to work. I would have a free afternoon but no one to spend it with because my friends were leaving work exactly at the time when I would be heading to the newsroom again.

So, for days at a time, the only communication I had was with colleagues with whom I shared the shifts. And, let me tell you, no one feels particularly chatty in the middle of night.

Today, I am thinking that there is no greater solitude than when you feel betrayed by those you love and trust the most. Because then you are not alone merely in a city, but in the entire universe. But I digress.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Budapest Christmas market

The first stop on the market: the place that sells hefty, greasy sausages. For me personally, the biggest food attraction is kurtos kalacs, the traditional Transylvanian pastry that is baked above burning coals (but I couldn't get a nice shot of it).

The great thing about this market is that they don't seel cheap 'beads and trinkets' but good quality and often hand-made things.

Gingerbread is abundant at this time of the year.

Cups ready for mulled wine.

Every year I discover something new on the market--I don't remember seeing these colorful slippers before.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Last night we went to hear Mariza, the most famous living fado singer and probably the best, too, in the National Palace of Arts here in Budapest.

We were sitting in the very front row, in complete awe of her voice and stage presence. She looks striking, with her cropped bleached hair and tall, skinny figure, dressed in black. She made such a great atmosphere--by the end she had us all on our feet, clapping and dancing.

I am still amazed that such a fragile-looking person can pull out such a mighty voice. I mean, she practically doesn't need a microphone; in fact, one of the 'bis' songs she sang unplugged (accompanied by an acoustic and a Portuguese guitar) and it was very powerful.

The concert hall was packed, to my surprise, since I never expected that many people to be into fado (not your standard contemporary music fare). I myself discovered her music by chance, browsing through the world music section of a Borders bookstore in Oxford, some years ago. I had a vague memory of hearing her name mentioned here and there in connection with the BBC Radio 3 Music Awards, but I had not heard her before.

I got the disc as a gift for Ruslan and we've both been hooked every since. So to have a chance to hear her sing live makes for a very fitting--and very special--birthday present. The wait was more than worth it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Singing together

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Boris and His Football Skills

About a year and a half ago at Boris' kindergarten they told us that he is a bit delayed with his physical development. We agreed that this might be true but that it isn't more than several months. I secretly promised myself that I have to teach him to play football.

Now we are playing football very often in our living room and I notice with satisfaction that his skills are improving. The power of his shot is betting bigger and he occasionally hits the vase with the flowers but never mind. He has also been trying recently to kick the ball with his heel and he uses his hands less and less. Andrej also joins the games and even Jelica occasionally. I am also struck at how good Jelica is with the ball without having played football in her life. There is something inborn in the Serbians. Two weeks ago they beat Bulgaria 6-1 for some reason.

What should I say of my skills? Well, after injuring my ACL two years ago I have been trying to get used to the thought that I will not play football seriously any more. However, it is amazing how much I enjoy playing with my son and aiming at the open door of their bedroom instead of the goal.

Taking for Granted

I think that in general taking people and things for granted is one of our main obstacles to enjoying life more through appreciating people, places and phenomena fuller. By taking for granted I mean two things. The first is somehow assuming that what we have around us is here to stay forever or I would rather say forgetting that it is not going to be here forever. The second is getting so used to the beauty (in terms of relations, nature and artefacts) and grace (in the meaning of good fortune) around us that we stop valuing them at one point.

I guess that limiting the intensity of our daily appreciation of people and things is a normal psychological phenomenon and is an outcome of some subconscious prioritization, i.e. if one has a newly born baby and one’s mental (and physical) energy is spent there then one has less psychological resources to spend on enjoying the sunset. This would be one of the theories: that we have a limited capacity for appreciation and even empathy and that it is spent on priority targets depending on the period of our lives.

However, there might be another theory and this would be that if we learn or better find the time and the energy to appreciate more certain things around us, we would also appreciate more all the other things around, i.e. bigger empathy and sensibility to some things does not come at the expense of neglecting other beauty.

My message is: when crossing Margit Bridgelift your head and look at the view: it is beautiful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Boris is four

Four years ago on November 18 it was a beautiful, sunny day, although I couldn't appreciate it that much, being strapped to an intravenous drip and all kinds of measuring devices all day in the delivery room. I will always remember it as very long day, although it is fair to say that we spent a good chunk of it playing UNO cards (Todd's birthday gift), listening to radio and eating smelly pizza. At the end of it--literally, as it was three minutes to midnight--Boris finally appeared, to everyone's relief (especially mine).

Up until now he was pretty unexcited about his birthdays, not quite comprehending what the fuss is all about. This year he actually started asking about a good month before, inspired, no doubt, by his best friend Lance's special day in October: "When is my party going to be? Is there going to be cake?"

He is a real party guy, enjoying the hustle and bustle of big gatherings. It's not even about gifts--when grandma asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said "nothing." Although he did ask me for a teddy bear, to complete his collection of bed companions (currently consisting of a lion, a tiger, a dog, and a small cushion with stars on it).

And while his party is scheduled for the coming Saturday, last night we took him and Andrej to a farewell gathering at Isabelle's, Ruslan's colleague who is leaving REC. They totally enjoyed themselves and the birthday boy did some crazy dancing, in between eating all the snacks they could lay their hands on. When we left about 21:30 they were still full of energy and would have loved to go on (especially while the snacks last). So, all in all, a great day for Boris, and a good rehearsal for Saturday celebrations!

Things That Exist No More (BG)

Да отидеш до телевизорa и да го включиш от копчето на стабилизатора.
Да поставиш игличката на грамофона точно там, където започва новото парче.
Да върнеш бурканчетата от кисело мляко и бутилките от олио в магазина.
Да си оставиш ключа под изтривалката, когато излизаш.
Да пишеш писма на руско другарче.
Да идеш на градска баня.
Да носиш лентите във фотото да ти ги проявяват и после да чакаш да си в земеш снимките, за да ги видиш за пръв път.
Да позвъниш на съседката в неделя сутрин с молба да ти услужи с чаша захар, понеже магазинът не работи, а после в знак на благодарност да й занесеш 3-4 парчета кекс.
Да си оплетеш блуза по образец от списание Бурда.
Да бързаш да се прибереш, защото ще ти "звъннат".
Да отидеш на сладкарница и да ти налеят от кранчето една от шест.
Да вариш п рясното мляко след като го купиш, защото ще вкисне.
Да отключвиш с ключа, както ти е на врата.
"На ти две лукчета, че нямам да ти върна."
Да събираш салфетки и станиоли от шоколадови яйца.
Да си абониран за Славейче, Пламъче, Мурзилка, Веселые картинки, Космос, Паралели, Септемврийче…
Да се качиш в асансьора, да дръпнеш решетката и след това да пуснеш монетка 1 стотинка, за да тръгB Dе.
Да сложиш индиго м/у два листа и да напишеш доклад по биология в 2 екземпляра.
Да влезеш в детската градина и да видиш всичките деца облечени в сини или червени пресилки и шорти под тях, на ситни или едри квадратчета, тип " голям пипит".
Да пушиш в самолет.
Да пиеш кафе смляно лично от теб с ръчна кафемелачка.
Да се вълнуваш, когато "пуснат" нещо в магазина.
Да имаш да пишеш дома шно и да отидеш в читалнята да търсиш материали, защото няма Гугъл.
Да си разменяте подаръци в училище за Нова година – старателно надписани книги и грамофонни плочи.
Да свириш от балкона на детето да се прибира за вечеря, а не защото е тъмно или страшно.
Да ходиш до "Домашни потреби" за тиган, до "Плод-зелечук" за чушки и домати, до "Млад техник" за детски играчки, до "Битовия комб нат" за …
Да си купуваш плочи с музика.
Да сменяш ремъка на касетофона.
Да бъркаш нескафе със захар и лъжичка докато направи пяна, за да стане фрапе.
Да играеш на криеница, стражари и апаши и пътни знаци. Да играеш на ръбче /без да мине никаква кола покрай теб/.
Да звъниш на вратата на някоя бабичка и да тичаш да се скриеш.
Да си дадеш чорапогащника на 'ловим бримки'.
Да си вариш Dомашна кола-маска.
Да хвърляш яйца от балкона върху неприятелите си.
Да гледаш на черно-бял телевизор "Студио Х" всяка събота, след 23.30 часа.
Да скачаш на ластик на улицата пред блока.
Да участваш в Ленински съботник.
Да гледаш в неделя сутрин "Бързи, смели, сръчни".
Да познаваш мириса на "Кореком".
Да цъкаш пред величието на новия Москвич.
Да се съберете родата на копане или бране на царевица или грозде.
Да печеш чушки на чушкопек на терасата и да се питате с приятелката ти от 2 етаж коя колко има още да пече.
Най-големият магазин, който си виждал да са централните хали.
Да разлистваш Некерман и да му се взираш с влажни очи.
Да си правиш захарна вода за косата, вместо гел.
Да се подредите всички от семейството за банани на Нова Година и да се правите, че Dе се познавате.
Да си шиеш разни дрехи, когато те поканят на сватба, банкет или друго събитие, за да си по-модерен.
Да си боядисваш дъвката с магданоз в зелено.
Да се състезаваш с другарчетата за най-бърза подредба на кубчето на Рубик.
Да събираш лайка, мащерка, други билки и кестени за чавдарско поръчение през лятото.
Да те гледат кисели продавачки, а ти да се отнасяш с тях кат=D 0 с богини.
Да имаш уокмен и за да не му се изхабят батериите, да въртиш касетата на химикал/молив.
Да си мечтаеш за "ходеща кукла" от СССР.
Да отидеш на истинско изпращане на войник.
Да чакаш с нетърпение Дядо Мраз на Нова година, да се чудиш какво ще ти донесе и още преди да е дошъл, да откриеш подаръка в гардероба, прилежно скрит из дрехите.
Да се возиш в автобуса с билетче от 6 с тотинки.
Да купуваш бира и да вдигаш всяка бутилка, за да провериш дали няма утайка, като избираш само зелени ил само кафеви бутилки.
Да носиш пръстенчета, направени от обвиката на бонбони Лакта.
Да си опечеш филийка на печка с дърва или на котлона, вместо на тостер.
Да увиваш чужда книга, взета назаем, с вестникарска хартия, за да не се повреди.
Да влезеш в супера, а там да има20само сол и оцет.
Да стоите до тъмно с децата на вън и да си разказвате страшни истории за извънземни. След това се изпращате взаимно, защото си умирате от страх.
Да звъниш на телефон 177, предшественик на чатрумовете. Включваш се в конферентен разговор с още n на брой хора, ако някой ти допадне - разменяте си телефоните и си звъните.
Да заминеш на море с руло тоалетна хартия в багаD0а.
Bсеки възрастен, познат или не, да може да ти плесне един зад врата или да ти издърпа ухото, ако си направил нещо нередно, а майка ти не само няма да се възмути, че някой е пипнал безценното й чадо, което се държи като диване, ами и ще им благодари и после сама ще ти плесне един зад врата и ще ти издърпа ушите…
Да си купиш половинка хляб за 15 ст.
Преди филмите да има преглед със сериозен чичко, който да ти обясни какво ще видиш и как трябва да го разбереш.
Да ядеш луканка по празници.
Да си носиш стотинките в кожено портмоненце на врата.
Да си прибираш ключа на връв под блузата, за да не ти го снимат от самолет и после да влязат у вас.
Да слушаш всеки следобед нивото на река Дунав в сантиметри.
Да нямаш видео, да слушаш филма, преразказан от приятел, коjто го е чул от приятел, а после да го преразкажеш толкова подробно и цветно на друг, все едно си го видял сам.
Да идеш в чужбина точно след падането на режима и всичко, което да можеш да напишеш в картичката до близките да е 'Тук магазините са пълни!', от което майка ти да умре от срам.
Майка ти да донесе огромен чувал със соц дамски превръзки, на които лепилото не им държи даже прeдпазната лента, и вкъщи да настъпи небивала веселба, защото сте три жени, а лигнинът е неудобна работа.
Да има само два канала на телевизията: Първа програма - работи от сутринта до 12, завършва с химна; Втора програма - работи от 5 следобяд до 9-10 вечерта.
Да си "дежурен" до вратата на класната стая и да викаш "Клас стани! Клас мирно!"
Да си простират съседите от първите етажи прането н0 онези простори, дето бяха поставени пред всеки блок. Гащи, чорапи, гащи, чорапи, потник.
Да си купиш еспадрили и да им слагаш подметки при обущаря.
Да се прибереш вечер и ако вашите ги няма, да тръгнеш да си търсиш в съседите, ако не ги намериш, да ги изчакаш у тях.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas shopping coming to town

Already two weeks ago my local supermarket started offering Christmas-themed chocolate and candy, marking the official beginning of the (dreaded) Xmas shopping season. Just why would someone want to by Santa Claus-decorated sweets more than a month before the actual holiday is beyond me, but surely the supermarkets know what they are doing.

Of course, this is just a humble prologue to the full-fledged "festive season" kitsch that is soon to hit all the stores: the glitter, the omnipresent Santa, the over-decorated plastic Christmas trees... And the worst offender of all: the music! The same old, wretched, half a dozen songs with some kind of a Christmas motive that we are going to be hearing on an on, from now until December 25. If I were Santa, I'd be puking all the way from Lapland.

I don't know what's the deal: are the tunes supposed to work subliminaly, creating a cozy atmosphere (making you more predisposed to shop) or is it supposed to be a blatant reminder (omg, only X shopping days left, have to buy, buy, buy!)? Neither way is working with me. When you hear those songs once or twice it is actually ok, and some of the tunes are nice, so it does make you feel a bit... Christmas-y, I guess. But when it is hammered into your head for weeks on end, it's a major turn off.

That said, 'tis time to start making Christmas shopping lists (those of us anal-retentive types who can't shop otherwise), and I'm adding ear plugs to mine.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Heroic Acts

Recently I came upon a very touching moment in Khaled Hosseini's novel 'The Kite Runner'. The story teller (the hero), his father and a group of other Afghani were trying to escape to Pakistan from Russia-occupied Afghanistan in the early 80s. At one point their truck was stopped by a Russian guard who was on drugs. A recently married Afghani couple was a part of the group and the Russian guard decided to have some fun with the woman as a price for letting them go. Everyone froze. Then Baba - the story teller's father and a courageous man in general - stood up, objected and told him that the soldier would have to shoot him before doing that. It was more than certain that this would happen when, miraculously, the guard's superior came, apologized himself for the soldier's bad manners and let the group go. The girl husband went and kissed Baba's hand.

I was very touched by this and I was a bit surprised by that as I thought I had heroism immunity having lived through some socialist times in the 80s when heroic acts were mainly committed by Russians and were closely linked to literature on the WWII. This made them very suspicious of course.

But I realized, when reading, that it is a bit unfortunate that nowadays and especially in the type of lives that we live, there are never acts of heroism, acts that even vaguely remind you of the above episode .

Of course, it depends on how we define heroism. If Hero was a Greek demigod - half human, half god - we quickly get to the notion of sacrifice, i.e. a heroic act is when the hero acts against his/her interest, even life, in order to defend a moral stand. And I can't remember anybody now that sacrificed a lot to defend the higher good.

We somehow live in a culture of moral relativism and even if we see that someone or someone's deeds seriously suck we are ready to negotiate, to make peace to explain this somebody's acts with the complex situation, with a multitude of factors etc. And even if we understand and we fully disagree, then we leave because a serious fight would endanger us and our families seriously. And this is not an atmosphere where heroic acts are born.

Sometimes I think of the times when people invited each other to duels just like that, for entirely prosaic reasons from todays's point of view. Well, I don't call that heroism but somehow, I guess, heroic actions would rather be born then.

If you read that by any chance and if you disagree with me and think you know of acts around us which are worthy of the adjective 'heroic' and which truly involve a big degree of sacrifice, please let me know.

P.S. When searching for literature on the topic I came upon these six lecures by Thomas Carlyle who described 6 categories of heros: the Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, the Hero as Prophet, the Hero as Priest, the Hero as a Man of Letters and the Hero as King.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Farewell Letter Genre

I am not a collectioner by nature but I regret one thing and this is not having collected the dozens of farewell letters of all the colleagues who left REC during my 7 years there. I think it would have made such a great treatise on the psychology of leaving. Don't you think that it tells so much about people?

I have to admit that as much as I hate the fact that my friends and colleagues are leaving, I am a farewell letter junkie and I open each one with unhidden emotion in search of originality. Somehow, subconsciously, I wish everyone left the next coming week so that I could read everyone's farewell messages including mine. There I look for pictures, old names, good poems, hidden messages, diplomatic and less diplomatic criticisms, brevity, details and what not.

What a treasure these letters. I remember that Erzsebet told me she was composing her letter for a year under the shower (sorry, if I am exaggerating). Isn't it amazing? Here, I can recollect several masterpieces like Robert's sailing related images, Steven Stec's Herman Hesse's poem, etc. I still remember Miroslav Chodak's message where he said that he didn't agree with the management approach and then said 'If you want to know how I see REC's development, go here and here and consult this file'.

Well, enough on that. I just wanted to say what I am missing in almost all these letters, after the 'thank yous' and the 'it's been so great', is an uncensored, undiplomatic, unpoetical and non-metaphoric account on why a person leaves in reality. This must be extremely difficult and I am sure I will not do it either. However, if I were a director of an organization, I would kindly ask all the employees to write their true reasons for leaving and this would be one of my inspirations for management.


It was last Wednesday and I woke up in the Skopje Desire hotel early in the morning after going to bed long after midnight, having travelled from Copenhagen late in the evening. I grabbed the remote control immediately and a minute later - oh relief - Obama had won.

I had never thought I would be so excited about the news and I am not ashamed to admit that tears came to me eyes when I was walking from the hotel to the office. These might be naive tears and heaven will certainly not come on Earth but they show the relief I feel at the end of the most unpleasant, uninspiring, regressive, aesthetically challenged political era in my conscious life. (My God, people just hated America these eight years, its moral authority totally collapsed.)

My excitement also shows how happy I am about all my American friends. I couldn't agree more with my friend Kristin who said that Obama is simply the good side of America. It's stupid to say but I started wondering some time ago how is it possible for this nation, so inspiring at times, to end up in such a political situation. I started questioning my knowledge and perception about America. I am also happy for myself and now I know that my adolescence fascination with Kerouac, Salinger, Saroyan, Steinbeck - to name but a few - is not an illusion. And.....what is more Obama seems such a cool and INSPIRING guy. I am deeply convinced that Europe and the US have one major vocation on Earth and this is to inspire the rest of the world. Finance, military, politics come second.

Constantine Cavafy revisited

I was so nicely surprised to see that the New York Review of Books published an article on a poet that I have liked for many years - Constantine Cavafy. Many years ago, when I was in high school, my father picked his volume from the hundreds of poetry books at our place in Sliven and ever since I treasure him. I knew almost nothing about him besides the fact that he was a part of the Greek diaspora in Alexandria (nowadays Egypt) and he led an entirely inconspicuous life having been recognized only in his late age. I will not retell facts from his life but only want to draw the attention to a fact that sometimes we forget that the banality of our externally visible life can be in stark contrast with the dynamics of the internal life.

There are a couple of poems that I would like to point to like the beautiful Ithaka exploitng the myth of Odyssey. It is a great and encouraging metaphor of life far from the home place and a reminder that this life is, after all, defined by this home place: 'Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now.'

I also want to single out another poem - Myris, Alexandria in 340 AD - which takes us to a long forgotten perion in the 4th c. Alexandria AD at the time of the suppression of the pre-Christian gods, namely Serapis, when the worship temples - Serapeums - were slowly replaced with Christian churches. However, this poem is about tolerance, humanity and sublimation of religious hatred.

Constantin Cavafy around 1900

Friday, November 7, 2008

Budapest not so women-friendly?

Even though I've been living in Budapest for six years I didn't realise--until yesterday--that this city was not women-friendly at all. At least, that is what the "experts" from the local Social Research Institute are saying, as reported by Caboodle:

"At present women's perspectives are not represented either in Budapest's urban development strategy, in service planning, or crime prevention."

After this shocking revelation, the experts propose the following solutions to make Budapest a better place for ladies:

"Parking spaces designated for women, streets named after prominent women and public institutions with facilities for mothers with babies are among proposals seeking to make Budapest more women-friendly, Nepszabadsag daily said on Thursday."

So, another thing I learned yesterday (very productive day!)--that there is such a thing as a special parking for women. Perhaps this is my non-driver's perspective, but this sounds a bit condescending to me, implying, as it does, that women are less able to park properly and need special conditions. I'm sure a lot of women would be offended by the idea; as for guys, although they would probably agree that women have crappy parking skills, I'm not sure they would appreciate preferential treatment for women, given the dearth of parking spaces in downtown Budapest.

And how would you prevent guys from grabbing these spaces anyway? Well, you could paint them pink and surround them by flowers, as they do in Bern, Switzerland, where they believe that "the average male driver will be too embarrassed to use the pink parking spaces."

Fortunately for all, this eye-opening piece of research and its recommendations are probably going to be tossed on the dusty shelves of some local administrative office and quickly forgotten. How about tackling some real problems, instead? For example, making Budapest a more cycling-friendly city? Or more wheelchair-accessible? Or more green?

Monday, October 27, 2008


Robert's pirate party was great--people really put some thought into their costumes and the atmosphere was cheerful and full of good humor (no doubt helped by generous quantities of booze).

Except that farewell parties are not supposed to be cheerful because the next day you not only wake up with a nasty hangover, but that's when the reality sinks in--yet another friend is gone for good.

I've had it with farewells. If I had a euro for each friend that left Budapest in the past two years, I'd earn a fortune (or at least considerably more than with our ill-timed investments).

We feel like the last survivors of a once great tribe. Ana Maria and Roberto, Tina and Marco, Iva and Codru, Giorgia and Marco, Dana, Eli, Todd and Radka, Laura and Claudio, Robin and Ayesha, Loucine and Tom, Natalie and Michael, Willo, Lucija and the rest of the Habitat crowd, Sergiu and Wiolka, Adriana, Pavel and Emese, and now Robert--all gone.

It's the downside of the expat life--you hang around with other foreigners and they tend to leave, sooner or later. Budapest is not the kind of place where many people come to stay and settle, unless they have Hungarian roots or a significant other. You come with a job, you leave with a job but the in-between can last for longer than you planned or predicted. It's a beautiful city, and it's an easy, comfortable living; even if it's not all perfect, it feels damn good most of the time.

Then someone leaves, again, and you're thinking, 'have we overstayed our welcome?' Whose turn now?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Maxim is here

The phone started ringing at 4:43 on Sunday, startling both of us out of deep sleep. Ruslan quickly picked up and I knew it was time for him to leave, but for a nanosecond I just stared at the darkness outside, my heart beating hard (waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a very loud mobile makes you think of bad news instinctively).

Only we knew this was good news--we had agreed with Tsvete that she will call us when the labour starts so that Ruslan can go and stay with Lia while they head to the hospital. We've been waiting for this phone call for a long time, but days just dragged on and "Masodik" (baby's working name) showed no signs of wanting to leave his cosy environment.

Ruslan left quickly and I tried to go back to sleep, but it was impossible, I was too excited. I thought of Tsvete dealing with contractions, and everything that was to come--fourth floor of the hospital, doing paperwork while the midwife measures the baby's heartbeat, the obligatory shower, waiting for the doctor to appear, then going into the birthing room....and all that follows.

When Boris and Andrej woke up, shortly after 8, there were still no news. I remember thinking, "well, it should be over really soon." Good guess--Maxim was born at 8:35, almost 4kg and 60cm long. It took a lot of pushing but Tsvete managed without the epidural! I am still in awe of that completely heroic dead.

So, well done Tsvete and welcome Maxim!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gender bending?

The other day I was putting my bra on when Boris spotted me, pointed to the bra and asked:
"Mummy, why are you wearing that?"
(Erm, because it's a done thing? To pretend I have boobs? No, I really had to come up with a better answer.)
"To keep me warm."
(Stop laughing. I had to say something.)
"So, will you buy one for me, too?"
(And now what?)
"I can't, because only girls wear these."
Which is not technically true. Some boys do, too. But he is four years old. How much does he need to know about gender roles and stereotypes and all that? He's already asked me to put some lipstick on his lips, too, and yesterday he wanted to know why he doesn't have shoes with high heels, like I do. Once he even painted his nails with a highlighter after seeing me put some nailpolish on mine.
Each time I had to say that boys don't do that, it's a girl-only thing and each time he would look at me a bit confused, and not quite happy with my answer. Luckily, he hasn't yet asked why it is that certain things are just for girls or just for boys, or I'd be in trouble fishing for a credible answer. Because, what do you say?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nursery, days two and three

Thursday was Anrej's second day in the nursery and they allowed me to leave him for about 45 minutes while the kids were playing outside, in the garden. I took a walk in the neighborhood, did some grocery shopping and went back to find him playing in the sand, contended and oblivious to my absence. That was a good start--the teachers were impressed, so I managed to convince them to let him stay until after lunch the next day (the originally wanted me to take him before other kids start eating).

So, on Friday I dropped him off in the morning and went about my own business. To be on the safe side, I returned to the nursery about noon, just in case there are problems with lunch. It turned out the morning went quite smoothly, but when they sat him down for lunch he started crying.

He is a bit fussy about eating in places he doesn't know--usually he gets overexcited by the new environment that he refuses to eat. This time he was a bit tired, too, and he told me he wanted to play with cars. I had to explain that it is time to eat, and that other kids are eating, too. The sight of his new friend Dora eating right next to him was persuasive enough so he attacked his rice and meat.

I'm a little bit worried that he might fuss about food until he gets to know the place well and feels comfortable. That's one fear I never had with Boris--mealtimes were his favorite in the nursery and we often tempted him with the thought of food to come when he was reluctant to stay in the bölcsi.

I still remember one breakfast during Boris's first week in the nursery--the kids were all seated at their little table, eating some bread with butter and ham. We, the parents, sat behind because that was part of the introduction process. Boris sat next to Ami, a Japanese girl who would later become his best friend. He quickly finished his portion, while most other children were not even half way through. Ami was fussing about her food, clearly not hungry or not interested. At some point she turned to see where her Mum is and, without much ado, Boris grabbed her piece of bread and stuffed it in his mouth. He later become famous for always asking for a second or third helping. I even once saw him trying to scoop up some soup that fell into his bib while eating. No, definitely, food was never a concern with Boris, at home or anywhere else.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

First day in the nursery...

...was short. Although Andrej seemed to like it there (he was playing happily with the cars and paid no atttention to me), the rule says that you have to start bit by bit--first day just an hour, then a bit longer, then he stays for lunch, then perhaps they let him sleep there too.

So it doesn't really matter whether a child likes it or not, whether he or she cries or not, or whether perhaps he would want to stay. A rule is a rule.

Welcome to Hungary.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I just spent four days in Albania and it was a really positive experience. First, the team was great as I was there with my colleagues and friends Ellen and Christelle and also Andras Kis who is a great guy indeed. It was really quite different experience from staying a week in Copenhagen alone and working 12 hours a day.

Then it was great discovering that Tirana is changing for the better indeed. I first visited the country in the spring of 2006, then in January 2007 and the city has always looked to me as the only city in Europe messier than Sofia. I am not sure about that any more: the roads in Tirana are nice now, the sidewalks are wide and free from parked cars, it is relatively clean.

And the city is really lively. We were there on Friday night and it was packed with young partying people.

The other great thing about this trip is that I went out of the city for the first time - in Kruja and Berat. Kruja is an interesting place not far from Tirana but it was dark and we didn't see much, just some stars and a landing plane. Otherwise, it was the birthplace of Skanderbey and a capital of the country in the 14th century.

Then we visited Berat which resembles Plovdiv I think with its old Ottoman style houses. The weather was great and we just spent several hours there walking around, drinking coffee and watching the hens and cats walk around. We were about the only tourists there give or take a few. We thought that it would be cool to be able to turn into a hen. Andras chose dolphin and a bird. We thought it would be cool to be able to change into a bird and fly away during a boring workshop. The only problem would come if you jump through the window having been transformed into a dolphin.

We also visited the ethnographical museum in Berat where the small dark room where women stayed when men had guests became the highlight of the visit. Our Swedish and Dutch friends really appreciated that and said that they would like to introduce this model in their countries.:-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mountain of Work

These days I feel I stand in front of a mountain of work this autumn. Deadlines are hiding behind each corner, we have to draft publications, manuals, chair working groups, organize and carry out trainings, fundraise, brainstorm, report, visit places, cooperate with others. It's just too much, I have to admit.

So what is the only way to cope with that?

Remain really, really COOL I say.:-)

If I am able to say that my mood is really getting better.


Summer's Gone. Kids Do Not Feel Nostalgia.

It's been so tough these several days with the terrible weather coming in, rainy, 9 degrees. It was hot 36 degrees just a week ago and we were enjoying ourselves in the Budapest swimming pools. I am sorry for myself that the weather influences me so much. I guess it takes some adaptation for all of us.

The kids seem to be really happy otherwise and that means that they don't care ab out the weather at all. I guess for us, adults, bad weather brings some nostalgia while kids cannot feel it. Kids fully live in the present.

With Jelica we were amazed this summer how easy Boris and Andrej get adapted to different places and countries. We toured the Balkans as usual visiting Jelica's parents in Lazarevats, Serbia and my mother - in Sliven, Bulgaria. They fully enjoyed the two places. Borders really don't matter for them which is great.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Up, up and almost in Romania

This summer we ventured further north than ever before on the Bulgarian coast and stayed for a week in the Russalka resort (north of Balchik and Kavarna, close to Romanian border). Although I remain a staunch fan of the Adriatic and pretty sceptical to whatever Black Sea has to offer, I have to admit that I actually liked Russalka a lot, primarily because it is so green and the sea is clear (and clean) and beautiful.

In fact, now that I've seen quite a few places on the Black Sea coast, my vote definitely goes to the north over the south. Through luck or wisdom, the north managed to avoid over-construction, and the natural beauty has been preserved. You get this feeling of space that you absolutely don't have (anymore) any place south of Varna. I hope they manage to preserve it as it is, although Ruslan thinks it is just a matter of time before they ruin it, too. Let's hope they learn from their own mistakes, since the results of chaotic, unbridled building are already hurting tourism big time.

And speaking of north, I have now seen the last remaining corner of Bulgaria that I hadn't visited before--the northwest. We decided to experiment this time and rather than travel through Sofia and on to Serbia we took the road going from Veliko Tarnovo through Mezdra, Vraca, Montana and Kula. This was the closest I ever came to Vidin but there was no time to stop and see it. I know it is not famous for its sightseeing attractions, but it reminds me of my friend Vlado, who used to live there before moving to New York (via Blagoevgrad). I would have liked to see the place he grew up.

Instead, we had to stop in the village of Dimkovo because we were getting pretty hungry and hadn't passed a single restaurant in miles. We had lunch in a zakusvalnya (small restaurant) on the central square, the kind of place which has plastic tables and chairs and probably questionable hygienic practice in the kitchen. The prices were unbelievable: 1.5 lev (70 euro cents) for a soup, 2.5 lev (1.25 euro cents) for a meal and the food was actually tasty. If you ever pass through the village of Dimkovo and you're starving, might be worth a stop--if not for the food, at least for the feeling that you've traveled back in time and landed in the '80s.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's a shame

Hi from ne as well. I haven't written in our blog for a year. It's a shame. I guess I was too busy this year but this is not an excuse, I admit. Now I promise to myself that I'll be more persistent. OK, let me open the new season with this blog. I'll stop now as the sound of the keyboard is disturbing Andrej who is trying to sleep next to me:-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Serbia: Gotta love it

Where else can the most wanted fugitive and war crime suspect lead a peaceful and inconspicuous life as an alternative medicine practitioner, for a good few years at least?

It is so perfectly absurd and Monty Python-esque that it even makes sense. While the most powerful military alliance in the world is looking for you in the most God-forsaken places all over Bosnia, you just grow a beard and moustache and, voila, go all zen in the middle of Belgrade.

You'd think plastic operations, hiding in caves or even bunkers, deep secrecy and all that--hmm, think again. All it takes is a bit of facial hair, an ugly pair of glasses and the look of an old hippy and no one would ever guess.

Apparently, no one ever asked him for references either.

Weekend in Slovakia

We spent a lovely weekend in Slovakia, in the hilly region close to the quite unremarkable town of Nova Bana. The fresh mountain air did wonders to my (otherwise nonexistant) appetite, so I ate enormous quantities of Slovak food which would, under any other circumstances, leave me completely cold. I mean, there is only so much fried and breaded meat you can have in two days even if you are not exactly a veggie fan.

But it was great to see Laura, Claudiu and Mara again, in a little bit different settings. The kids had great fun playing with the goat outside of the panzio--a great entertainer, the little fellow, and for free, too.

I am waiting for Claudiu to post more photos from the trip so that I can steal them; in the meantime, a picture of sleepy Mara and just-kind-of-standing-there Andrej.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Andrej's first word ever was hinta (swing), or, in his pronunciation, inta. He first uttered it when he was a bit over a year old. Now he is a year and a half, and his vocabulary increased at an amazing pace in the last two months. He is learning lots of words in Hungarian and Serbian at the same time, so now he knows that, when he wants me to swing him, he should say ljulja (Serbian for swing) rather than hinta.

The other day he showed me a rabbit in his little picture book and said: "Nyuszi." "OK, that is how Erika calls it, but Mummy says zeka," I told him. A few days later I showed him the same rabbit and asked him what it was. Sure enough, he says: "Zeka...mmm...nyuszi." So, yes, he is getting the same linguistic confusion as Boris did, but he just absorbes everything that comes his way. It will never cease to fascinate me.

Big bro and Lil' bro

While Boris was busy in the kindergarten, Andrej stayed at home with his babysitter, Erika. He just kept growing quietly and reaching all the important milestones without too much fuss. He turned out to be much tougher and less timid than Boris--on occasion, he would even "attack" Lance or Lia (Boris's two close friends) to try to defend his big brother. And overall, the brotherly relations have improved by leaps and bounds over the last year; now most of the time they play together and seem to like each other. We'll see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Things we've been up to since that last blog post

Boris started a new kindergarten in September. This is him in the picture, wearing a bear mask for the Farsang party. The kids were all supposed to be wearing some kind of a costume but, as Boris has creatively challenged parents, I just dressed him all in brown and put a bear mask on his face, so he got to be the bear. His teacher Agi (in the picture) loved it. In the afternoon he, naturally, took the mask off so when our friend Juli came to pick up his daughter he noticed that Boris didn't have a costume. So when his wife asked him how Boris dressed for Farsang he just said: "Smart casual."