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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.