Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Because autumn is just around the corner the new vintages are coming out and it's a great time of year to celebrate the summers copious bounty. I realized that here  people live with less filtering between themselves and the land than Is usual for me so I've adjusted my comfort level and I am enjoying it. 

I shop in the Great Market Hall (Nagy Varoshcharnok) which is FILLED to the top with stuff right from the farm every day. There is even a stand which had FRESH milk. That is milk from the cows which is cooled in a large vat (without being pasteurized) . I haven't been
brave enough to try that yet but I do get homemade butter and cream and yogurt from the stand next door which does pasteurize.

When I went to stand in line at the strudel (retes) counter I was anticipating my favorite sour cherry strudel until I was told the cherries are finished and now is time for the plums!
Well then it's plum retes for me for sure!Why would I want something other than what's the best at this time of year?

But this was an unusual experience for me. Being accustomed to getting any produce at any
time of the year has it's obvious appeal but it also in some ways desensitizes one to the
actual meaning of "fresh from.." the whatever. I don't have words to describe the difference
between freshly shipped fruit from Chile and freshly picked from the farm next door. It's an
experience as unique as chocolate. Until you have it you can't describe it and once you have
nothing else will do.

I like being closer to the lands bounty and I like the awareness it gives me of the miracle of our food sources. Putting a seed in the ground and adding water is our part. There is a magic or miracle in place every time that process produces cherries or apricots or tomatoes or corn or wheat or grapes and when packaging and processing stand between us and the source material something is lost that is not counterbalanced by convenience.

No Virginia, bread doesn't come from the shelf in the supermarket! I'm just sayin'

Friday, August 26, 2011


For better or for worse this has been a very strange week. It began with the attack on me in
my own home by Atilla the Bird and is ending with an attack on my loved ones on the east coast by Irene the Hurricane. Between these event the week was filled with sleepless nights, mild dehydration,heat prostration and sick children. These calamities can all be attributed to temperatures which did not go below 96 all week and even at night, maintained a steady 70-72 degrees.
Now for a "Floridian", even one who came to that designation as late in life as I did, these numbers are hardly daunting. Except this ISN'T Florida and this isn't usual weather for Hungary, even at the end of August.
There is a much more holistic approach to health and well being in this part of the world than what I have always taken for the norm in the west.Here,air conditioning is considered to be an unnecessarily aberrant interference with the body's system of humors, which keep all systems in balance. When the humours are in order we sweat in the summer in order to keep cool and our internal furnace keeps us warm in the winter.

The attitude toward air conditioned hotels is that if Americans want to make themselves sick
with all of this chemically treated, recycled frigid air that's their business but at home a Hungarian looks forward to a warm bath and a cold beer for comfort.

These challenging circumstances have given me the impetus to consider what really is necessary and what is possible to forego in life as I move forward on the path of trying to minimize my footprint with the goal of maximizing my impact on the world in which I live.
To my great amazement, I have come to know that air conditioning is not essential. I can hear the universal guffaw at the last sentence but I think it deserves, and requires some clarification
Of course chilled clean air is infinitely preferable to hot steamy lung clogging heat any day.
I'm only saying if I had to chose between a freezer and an air-conditioner which one would it be?
A cool breeze through open windows is something that was mostly done away with during the era of cheap energy when central air became central to life as we know it and the "best" houses were built without a thought to cross ventilation. But I knew it differently. I remember summers at Beaumont Beach ( next to the stoop of our row house in SW Philly) where we would cool ourselves with a hose on our feet during the day and catch a breeze on the porch glider at night. I remember exhaust fans that kept a steady stream of warm air blowing in on my Grammom and me all night and let us sleep in restfulness.
What we also had though were screens in every window. We had ventilators (metal half screens that kept the windows propped up) and full window screens and screen doors. We had wooden screen doors and aluminum storm doors with interchangeable glass and screen panels.
We had all of these things in our little row houses and apartments. We had them in the rooms we rented with shared kitchen privileges at the shore and we had them when we went to the playground or the school yard summer camp.
If we could just retrofit all the gorgeous buildings here with something as simple as a screen, the incidence of encephalitis could be dramatically lowered and a whole new industry could provide jobs to lots of folks.Homes would be cleaner, schools would be cooler and people could be put to work.
I really fail to see the humour, or should I say, the lack thereof, in perpetuating a system that is impractical uncomfortable and most importantly, fixable! And it would keep birds in their nests and out of mine too

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Well this is the morning aftermath of what started out to be a really relaxing night of reading and chilling and just enjoying the amazing weather.

On this breezy night, I had a good book, a cold drink and a comfortable reading corner with a good light. It pretty much doesnt get any better than this for me.

After every few chapters Id get up to look out over my tiny balcony and see the spotlighted turrets of the monuments against the sky and take in a deep breath of contentment and experience the "I cant believe Im really here" moment again.

After about an hour or so of this luxury, on the dot of 9 o'clock, a distant rumbling began. It made me think of the sounds of war and bombers and at first I thought some idiot had his TV on TOO loud.  Then it dawned on me that it was August 20, Hungary's National Day, in the same vein as July 4. The bombers of my imagination were just row, after ceaseless row, of ear shattering, building shaking, fireworks. They were distant but they were loud. I figured they couldnt last forever and so left my door open as not to deprive myself of the delicious cool evening breeze.

At 9:30 the noise and light show stopped as abruptly as it had begun and I resumed my reading.
At this point I should say that in the last week or so I seem to have developed a floater in my left eye that translates into seeing a slight black line in my periferal vision. As I was reclining and reading I though I saw a black shadow moving around the room out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked up from my book, I found there was a panicky little BIRD, who seemed to have come in through the open door and was trying to find his way out again.

Who was more panicked, me or the bird (a little tiny one), will never be known.
Every warning I had ever heard about flying rats and birds as carriers of plague, flooded my consiousness and I went to war with the tools at hand. The tools were actually my long handled broom. I ran to the kitchen, 3 feet away, located my weapon and leaped onto the bed, the better to reach the pestulant invader as he swooped around my 12 foot high ceiling.

Of course this weapon, rather broom, was the very one I use every day to keep the dust and city detritus at bay, so when I took a sweeping whack at the enemy, I managed to cover not just myself but my bed and bedding with all of the dust that has accumulated over the last few weeks.  But I fought on undaunted!  GET OUT OF HERE BIRD!!!  Whack, swing, miss, whack again. miss again. A really strong backhand broke the head off the broom but missed the bird.
I now decided that the best approach to this would be to think like a bird. Up till now I had just been bird-brained and really didnt want to harm the frantic creature, just guide him out the door he had come in through.
The broom handle didnt seem like it had much chance for success so I changed my strategy. Keen observation informed me that the invader (aka Atilla The bird) kept swooping between the 3 lights I had on in the room. I reasoned that if I turned off one then he would be in a more direct line to go out the door as he swooped from one light to the other, like in an airport runway. If finally dawned on me, that if I had no lights on, he might see the lights outside and head there.
The challenge with that strategy of course was did I have the nerve to be in a completly dark room with a swooping bird. (Tippy Hedren revisited!) No I didnt but I also had no choice. I didnt dare consider my usual standard of measure, "Whats the worst thing that can happen?", but closed the lights, closed my eyes and held my breath.
When I stopped praying and turned a light back on I was mercifully alone. Well I had a room full of dust to clean up and linens to change and disinfecting to do but the invader was vanquished.
By now, I'm sure someone is wondering why the screens didnt keep birdie out. Well it seems that here in Europe, they dont use screens. The feeling is that screens keep the air out.  Well they might a little but I have a newsflash for them.
They also keep out  the birds and that's a good enough trade off for me.


Sometimes it's just nice to get out of town. My friend Bonnie, who came to visit me here, observed that Budapest is like Paris, only better because it doesnt have "le attitude". On several levels I think shes on to something.
It's no accident that Budapest has been historically known as The Paris Of The East and for sheer visual and architectural beauty I think it has Paris beat by a mile, but sometimes this city girl likes to get back to her primal energy sources and really longs for the sea.
Well too bad for me because Hungary is a land locked country about as far from an ocean as Kansas. However Dorothy, when the Great Oz designed this beautiful country he put in something just as good. Well almost just as good.
In the centre of Hungary, laying east to west about 50 miles in length and a width of no more than 8 miles at it's widest point is a slice of heaven known familiarly as Balaton.
This is the summer playground for Hungarians and there is something for everyone.

There are family resorts nestled in the hills above Tihany where tourists flock to the beautiful abby. This is the region that grows lavender and sells bottle of home brew on the streets in 2 liter bottles.
To balance this in the west are thousands of acres of vineyards, whose fruits kissed by the warm sun and clear air are the basis for some of the most delicious wines on the market. Theyre not usually so high profile at home but worth the quest.

There are small farm markets that pop up with local produce and lavender that could be a poster for Aix-En-Provence and the smell of fruit that actually perfumes the air with its distinctive aroma as you walk past the tables stacked high with peaches, nectarines, apricots and tghe homemade preserves made from this bounty.

I think though the thing I like best about Balaton is its intimacy. I dont know if this is a leftove from the 40 years of communism, or if its due to the fact that this is an unpretentious country. Although there are the occaissional American type hotel, like Ramada, mostly folks here rent something small or pitch a tent (caravan) and enjoy the sea and the sun for their yearly holiday.

There restaurants are right open onto the street and there is no buffer. You just come in andsit down if there are seats or go to the next place if there are not. No Maitre'D, no buzzers with flashing lights to tell you they cant be bothered to come and find you as if you mattered.

The sea is visible from the playgrounds and miniature golf courses that surround the lake and are FREE for the people who are there. ( I marvel that no one steals the golf clubs for miniature golf  but what would they do the next time if they didnt have them and wanted to play??)

As you can tell I really like this place. It isnt the ocean but it is beautiful, peaceful and healthy.  There are literally hundreds of towns around the lake.  Ive been to theree of them.

I hope to have a lot more in my future.

Monday, August 15, 2011


3 cups flour                      1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet yeast                  1 cup water
1 pinch salt                       1 tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a saucepan; then add water and heat until warm.
Pour liquid into a large bowl.
Add yeast and sugar to the bowl letting it stand a few minutes for the yeast to soften

Add 2 cups flour to the bowl and beat with an electric beater until well blended. Add the rest of the flour to the bowl and knead the dough until smooth.

Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise for about an hour. Punch dough down and roll out onto a floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

Cut into smaller rounds and fry in hot oil until golden brown.

Garnish with toppings of your choice.






Yesterday my landlord was gifting me with a new sofa and desk. The catch was that they were being delivered between 10 AM and 6 PM. I would get a call when they were an hour away so the challenge was to find something interesting to do in a short walking radius that could get me in place for delivery within the time window.
I've pretty much explored the local attractions and so was resigned to a quiet day at home of reading and catching up with the stuff one catches up with when obliged to stay at home on a beautiful day.

It seems however that heaven looked on my plight with pity. The day before D-day, ( delivery that is) as we were driving to the gas station, I noticed that a small cluster of wooden huts had sprung up overnight on an empty piece of ground adjacent to the main square in the very heart of the city, where, I happily, live.

Since my area of exploration was circumscribed by the above referenced time constraints, I figured I had nothing to lose. Having no idea if these huts were a post-communist interpretation of Port-A-Potties or a new home for the Hungarian Crown Jewels I bravely set out to see for myself.

Imagine my surprise when as I approached the first hut I saw a young man with a blow torch trying to set the thing on fire!!!! Well actually he was just starting the fire in the oven that would be used to make the outrageously yummy and endlessly versatile Hungarian delicacy, langos  pronounced "longosh".
These along with chimney cakes are a staple at any outdoor fair or event and are culturally equivilent to Philly soft pretzels but certainly not the culinary equivilent.

Langos is a type of flat bread that Hungarians eat with all sorts of weird toppings like the classic garlic sour cream and cheese combo, but also with cabbage, dill or cottage cheese. Its a typical summer snack and apparently you can see huts popping up selling langos everywhere. Its served hot out of the pan and they say you can tell who is not a "REAL" Hungarian when you see someone put sweet toppings like sugar or homemade apricot or cherry jam on Langos!

Guess which line I'm in! Hint. Pass the jam please.

Friday, August 12, 2011


One of the highlights in my week that has become a fixture in my routine is my Thursday afternoon "Coffee and Chat" with the ladies of the North American Women's Association or NAWA.

I came across this group rather serendipitously through a local publication called Funzine, which is published by and for the expat community and highlights activities, groups and programs of every kind. Included are everything from babysitters to Cinqo de Mayo celebration information and tucked into a corner was the meeting announcement for NAWA.

Jason refers to the group as the BHG ( Bored Housewives Group) but I have found these terrific women to be anything but bored and mostly not housewives.

My first meeting was on a drizzly Thursday afternoon at Angelika Kavehaz. It was my second week in town and feeling unsteady about jumping feet first into a new group of unknown women I decided not to go. I told Jason it was because I didn't know the metro system so he insisted on driving me.
So here I was, dropped off at the door precisely at the listed time of 1:30 and there was no one there but me. At least no one who could have been remotely identified as A North American Woman, bored or otherwise.

The cafe itself was charming so I decided to stay for lunch under the "what have you got to lose" premise and then thought I'd go home. Well a funny thing happened. As I was sitting there first one, then another woman came in as tentatively as I had felt. " Hi Are you NAWA?".I guess I was and so were they. We began to warm up the drizzly day with our enthusiasm for each other and the natural warmth that emanates from good fellowship. So we sat that first day, maybe 7 or 8 of us and started to learn about each other, why we were here in this place and what path had led us to be together now.

The leader came and told us about the charity work the group does for old age homes and an orphanage. As important as that work is, I think it's simply another good reason  for seeking out like minded companions. I think the best reason that NAWA exists is to give birds of a feather an opportunity to flock together and to see how we are more alike than different, in the ways of women and wisdom, despite the great variation in our exterior packaging.

I wouldn't have believed how much I have in common with a new ager who has spent the last 5 years in Croatia. But she is a widow and so we speak the same language of pain and loss. Her journey is only a year old so we speak of time and decision making. Doing so in our native tongue and common frame of reference, builds a bridge and a bond in this quiet coffee house so far away from home.

There is J,married to a Hungarian, who earned her Ph.D in History and knows more about Jewish History in Hungary than I could even believe existed and is working to save the European  Jewish remnant by twinning synagogues in North America with those in Central Europe.

Then there is D from California, who has no links to this country at all, but doesn't like the way she sees things going at home. She lived here for 2 or 3 years in the 90's and loved the energy of renewal and positive change, so pulled up stakes at great sacrifice, to give her family a better life here, as she perceives it, than she thinks was possible there.

Recently joining us is A. She's a little older than I am.  A tells her story of being a political refugee in 1970. Born and raised outside of Budapest, married with a family, she just decided one day that she had had enough of someone telling her where she had to live and what job she had to do and so she emigrated to Canada. She became an international vice president of the bank where she got her first job and tears fill her eyes even now as she talks about how people there gave her a chance to work and that's all she asked for.

We plan outtings or just sit and enjoy the afternoon. We meet again during the week or not. We speak of children and home and womens experiences of expat life. We advise each other where to find peanut butter or an English speaking doctor or lettuce. We are not yet friends but we are good company for each other and for today thats enough.