🔒
There are new articles available, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayWaterblogged

In Praise of Walking

3 January 2021 at 07:58

Quote of the Day

Thomas A Clarke (1944-)

A journey implies a destination, so many miles to be consumed, while a walk is its own measure, complete at every point along the way.

(Thomas A. Clarke: In Praise of Walking)

(With a big thank you to Treks, Trails & Tales for drawing my attention to this book.)

arwen1968

Government (El gobierno)

1 January 2021 at 10:29

Quote of the Day / La cita del día

We start the new year with England out of the EU and most of the governments of the world clueless…

Empezamos el año nuevo con Inglaterra fuera de la UE y con muchos de los gobiernos del mundo despistados…

Lao Tzu (6th century BC)

The government that seems the most unwise,
Oft goodness to the people best supplies,
That which is meddling, touching everything,
Will work but ill, and disappointment bring.

(Tao Te King, 58:1)


Cuando el gobierno es inactivo, el pueblo es diligente. Cuando el gobierno es activo, el pueblo es indolente. 

(Tao Te King: LVIII)

arwen1968

Mi biblioteca (My Library)

30 December 2020 at 10:09

La cita del día / Quote of the Day

Juan Eslava Galán (1948-)

En mi biblioteca se resume toda mi vida. Hay libros que no he leído nunca y quizá ya no lea; pero hay otros muy manoseados y anotados. Todos me traen recuerdos de lo que fui y de lo que fueron en el momento en que los leí, de las circunstancias en que llegaron a mis manos, en un viaje, en una librería de viejo, olvidados en el banco de un parque, regalados…

(Juan Eslava Galán: De bibliotecas y libros, Zenda 7 junio 2017)


My whole life is summed up in my library. There are books which I have never read and perhaps never will now; others are well-thumbed and annotated. They all remind me of who I was and what they were in the moment when I read them, of the circumstances in which I acquired them: during a trip, in an old bookshop, forgotten on a bench in a park, given as presents…

(Juan Eslava Galán: Of Libraries and Books, Zenda 7 June 2017)

arwen1968

Civilisation

25 January 2021 at 09:45

Quote of the Week

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

A civilisation is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

arwen1968

Civilisation

25 January 2021 at 09:45

Quote of the Week

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

A civilisation is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

arwen1968

People of the Puszta

21 January 2021 at 03:45

When you come from a family of the ultimate not-haves, just how cool is it to be able to hold up a book and say: “This has been written about us.”?

And a good book at that?

People of the Puszta by Gyula Illyés (English translation)

Well, you can take it from me: it is cool. Precious, in fact. So much so that I wanted to make sure to pass this book on to my children.

Gyula Illyés

Gyula Illyés came from a piss-poor family in a puszta in the middle of Transdanubia, within a few kilometres of where my family comes from. By talent and hard work, he somehow managed to rise from the world of the puszta to become a famous writer and intellectual. He was only a few years older than my great-grandfather – who too was from a piss-poor family. The childhood Illyés describes was still pretty much the childhood my grandmother had; she remembered some of the events described in the book. I myself spent the long summer vacations of my childhood right there where many of these events happened; my grandparents, aunts and uncles speak with the same accent Illyés did. I used to drop into the same accent within days of arriving to my grandma’s house, every time.

The Puszta & its People

To understand where Illyés and my family come from, you have to understand the concept of the puszta as it then was in Transdanubia, Western-Hungary, because  generally in Hungarian and in the world this word is better known to mean big sweeping plains (like the steppes of Russia, say). A Transdanubian puszta on the other hand was a kind of a hamlet (if you can call the handful of buildings a hamlet) on the big farm estate.

In the beginning of the 20th century, when this book is set, most land in Transdanubia was held by a few big families who hardly ever even went near their estates but employed a farm manager or agent, who then managed the work force. This work force was invariably composed of the landless peasantry of which there was ample supply (despite of high rates of emigration to America). The peasants were hired as day labourers and if they managed to get a more permanent position, such as a coachman or a wheelwright, they were given some huts to live in right there on the puszta. Their life was very much like the life of a medieaval serf; their prospects to better themselves practically non-existent.

My great-grandfather was one of the lucky people: he had a permanent position. Moreover, he was employed as a coachman by the local landowner at a time when he couldn’t get any other work. He had come back from a Russian POW camp in the aftermath of World War I and as such he was ‘tainted’ by communist ideas and nobody would employ him. Thankfully the local land manager knew the family well and was not worried that my great-grandfather would want to start a communist agitation on the estate! (Nor did he.)

The people, my family included, lived in low single story houses which consisted of two rooms and a kitchen. These were strung out in a row:

room 1 – shared kitchen – room 2

Each family had a room to themselves, that sometimes meant twenty people in the same room: several generations. The families decorated their room as best as they could which was nothing much. They were often short of having enough furniture even. The floor was a dirt floor, ie. just the ground trampled solidly underfoot. This was the same in the kitchen which was shared with the neighbouring family. Each family had its side of the kitchen, so to speak, where they kept their pots and pans and their meagre supplies – having to borrow a spoonful of sugar or a few potatoes from the fellow kitchen user or the neighbours in the next building was common. No bathrooms of course; outhouses were built instead well away from the living spaces.

… I can remember only the house with its two tiny rooms adn the earth-floored kitchen in between. The yard stretched as far as the eye could see. When I first struggled over the well-worn threshold, the infinite world lay at my faltering feet. The house stood on a hill. Beneath it in the valley lay the puszta, which conformed to the usual pattern. To the right lived the steward, the farm foreman, the mason and the wheelwright; in the same block of buildings were the forge and the wheel-shop. To the left were three or four rows of long farm servants’ quarters, then there ws the manor-house among its age old trees, the the famr manager’s dwelling. Immediately opposite was a large cart-shed in Empire style, behind which on a little rise stood the granary and the ox-stables. All around lay the endless fields, speckled with the white smudges of distant villages.

The puszta families lived in a sort of timelessness. It’s not that area had no history (it has plenty and varied, all the way back to the Romans) but they themselves, being uneducated knew nothing much about it. Their life was ordained by the seasons.

It was something of a disgrace to be a puszta-dweller; it implied having no roots, no native land and no fixed above – which of course is true.

…If you want to know where a puszta-dweller comes from, you do not ask him where he lives or even less where he was born, but who his master is. My own family served mostly the Apponyis, then the Zichys, Wurms, Strassers and Königs and their relations – for the landed gentry were apt to exchange their servants for with their relatives: thus a clever cowman, a good-looking coachman or a deft-fingered gelder would be transferred or even presented to one of the relations, this being regarded by the servants themselves as a mark of special disctinction.

The lives of the families were mostly directed by the local landowner or his agent: it mattered little which puszta a child was born since the administrative arrangements kept changing (ie. which nearby village the puszta happened to be belonging) and the families could be uprooted from one day to another and transferred to another estate owned by the same land owner.

So we wandered from place to place, sometimes taking all our odds and ends, our collapsible hen-houses, our hens and the cow; sometimes it was only to visit relatives, a brother or sister-in-law who had suddenly been snatched away after living nearby for five or six years. Sometimes we drove all night and all morning in the wagon, but we were never away from a puszta, and felt at home everywhere. The house were I was born did not belong to my father, bu in the land of my birth, I received an unrivalled inheritance. I can call half a county my own.

The Gentle Back of Beyond

The Sió near Simontornya [Photo by blatniczky via Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0]
If the lives of the puszta people sounds bleak, it is because it was. But that’s not to say that there wasn’t beauty or joy in it. Families were tightly knit and supported each other. The landscape was gentle and is captured by Illyés in a beautiful, lyrical manner.

It’s a landscape of gently rolling hills, covered in wheat and corn fields, or sunflowers bowing heavily with full heads. Rows and clumps of trees break up the fields here and there, together with streams and small ponds in clearings, where nothing stirs the surface of the water and the vegetation around is lush and fresh green even in the hight of summer. The smell of hay and manure wafts across the roads which lead to the villages. The roads are edged with rows of poplars and acacias, and in their shade in August you often see camping tables set out piled high with fresh watermelons for sale. A large number of the puszta hamlets had a name prefixed with mud (as in Sárszentlőrinc, Mud St Lawrence); not so surprising perhaps because the the nearby Sió (a river and canal in one which connects Lake Balaton to the River Danube) supplies abundant water in the area. There is even the odd castle or castle ruin: for example Simontornya castle (hardly more than a keep) still has cannon balls embedded in the walls; whether fired by the Turks or the Labanc (Austrians during the Rákóczi War of Independence) the locals no longer remember; it was just another siege they withstood.

Everybody knew everybody among the puszta folk in Illyés’s time, and that still applies a hundred years later. When I walk down the street in the village (there are hardly any pusztas that still exist), sooner or later I’m bound to be hailed “You, my child! Are you not the daughter of So-and-so?… How does it go with you?” And you find yourself answering deferentially to an old birdlike hag whose name you don’t know, and who is dressed in full black from the hand-embroidered kerchief tied around her head to the buttons on her sensible shoes. Because however far you have risen out of the puszta, you are still one of them. In the end, I’m only the second generation, the second person of the family to have let. I might not remember the old people are, but they sure remember me and this provides me with a strange reassurance that I, as an individual, matter.

Conclusion

All this and more Gyula Illyés writes about in his wonderful book. People of the puszta is a part an auto-biography, part sociography (of a society that has now mostly disappeared), part a description a landscape, meshed with bits of the cultural heritage of the people who inhabit that landscape. Overall, it’s a wonderful concoction of a book and I can only recommend it, even if you have zero interest in the topic as such. I leave you with this recommendation:

A beautifully written, moving work of art.

(The Times Literary Supplement)

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 32: Letters

20 January 2021 at 08:31

Looking at old photos today… translating old recipes from my mum’s cook book… even writing letters myself. Not a bad way to pass time while being locked into the house. 

And it brings this haiku in mind: 

Written letters, yes
not coloured leaves raked up
burned after reading

(Matsuo Basho)

 

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

The Books that (Literally) Changed My Life

19 January 2021 at 06:34

Not necessarily good books, you understand! 🙂

Life Changing Books

Have you ever thought about the books that changed your life? If you haven’t, try now: I guess that immediately a handful of books will pop up in your mind. But these are not the books you want. These are the good books, the memorable books that you read and re-read and cherished over the years, the ones you talk about so much that your long suffering friends and family can finish your sentences for you. No, these are not the books that changed your life; or at least, not in most cases.

But the books that changed your life? Truly changed your life? The ones that helped form your personality and beliefs, the ones that led you to pick your career, that led you to the chance encounter with the love of your life, the ones that helped you through a personal crisis? What are the books that changed your life? They’re surprisingly hard to pin down.

Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Source: Wikipedia

The Books that Changed My Life

Here come mine (and they might turn out to be quite a bizarre collection):

Lassie Come Home

The endearing story of a faithful dog by Eric Knight, the ultimate animal adventure that has been turned into innumerable cutesy film series absolutely nothing to do with the original story. 

What it did for me:

It taught me to be honest. It taught me to be honest in a way that you can actually keep it up for an entire lifetime. As the elder Carraclough demonstrates to his son, Joe, there often is a tiny wriggle room.

But only a tiny one.

Swallows and Amazons

The kids in this Arthur Ransome book are let loose outdoors – in a way that hardly any children nowadays are. In my time, we were still not as corralled, and were allowed out to explore and have fun. And we made our friendships and fought our own fights, instead of attending play dates organised by our mothers two weeks ahead.

How it changed me:

It turned me from a book reader hiding in a room into an outdoors kid, who went out to climb trees and rocks, explored the woods, crawled among the metre tall grass pretending to be an Apache sneaking up on the pale faces, swam in the river and went down to the boating lake and taught herself to row. Reading about adventures is good but living them is better. And let’s not forget what made it all possible: What would have become of the Swallows without Susan’s sturdy common sense and ability to organise? I know people who are incapable of packing a rucksack, or indeed wouldn’t even dream of carrying one.

Don’t Panic

(And always know where your towel is!

One of the many self-help books out there on the market; in no way remarkable (which is why I’m not bothering giving you the author). But it was the first I ever self-help book I read and it made me realise how stress or long term abuse affects us, how it can generate physical symptoms, and how the effects maybe only appear years later.

What it did for me:

I learned to stop my hiccups! 🙂 (Seriously.)

Stopping hiccups was actually just a side effect of my reading this particular self-help book about stress. What the book really taught me was that from learning how to stop hiccups to overcoming panic attacks, the answer is as much in our minds as in the pills our GP can prescribe us. 

There are self-help books on practically everything – and obviously, some are better than others. They are worth considering as a resource when you’re up against something new. As they say, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes, while fools keep committing the same ones. Knowledge is power: once you understand what’s going on in your mind and body, in your work place or your family life, you can devise strategies to cope and to improve the situation. 

Mike at Wrykin

One of those P.G. Wodehouse books that almost nobody reads or even heard of: an English boarding school story which introduces us to the character of Psmith. But it was the cricket mad title character Mike who was responsible for changing my life.

How this book changed my life:

The chapter in question contains a long cryptic description of a school cricket match which awoke an interest in me for the game. This interest led me to dedicate my MA thesis to the intertwining of cricket and nationalism in the British Empire; and the research I had to carry out to be able to write it brought me in contact with a certain number of Englishmen. 

I ended up marrying one of them.

Winnie-the-Pooh

An endearing story of a silly bear  that I cherished through childhood – and one that like Lassie Come Home was bastardised by the film industry – but it’s not here on its merit as a children’s book. I really, really came to appreciate Pooh Bear’s philosophy as an adult in a time of adversity, after I became terminally ill.

What it did for me:

It reminded me to try living life simply, immersing myself in the precious moment, enjoying the simple things in life, like a bit of fresh bread, the sunshine on my skin, the spring breeze in my hair, refusing to worry about something that might never come to pass.

The Japanese call this Zen and surround it with rituals and teachings that are meant to help you to acquire the habit of living the good life.  I wish I cultivated the skill earlier; I would have had a happier life, with less worries. But it’s never too late and you don’t have to learn to meditate either…

On Liberty

Well, now, a political-philosophical essay, and I don’t like either politics, or philosophy… 

But I grew up in a Communist country where access to information was limited and a free discussion of political opinions was not recommended if you wanted a quiet life. The result was that at the famous ‘change of the system’, as the fall of communism is referred to in Hungary, my political views were hazy in the extreme. I knew what I disagreed with but was unable to articulate what I believed to be right; I had no coherent picture in my mind as to what the world should look like. And then I picked up this slim volume in a foreign language bookshop in Budapest, in the early 1990s. And the world suddenly fell into place. The 19th century English philosopher and member of parliament (and an early champion of women’s suffrage), John Stuart Mill, knew how to put into words the ideas which I was only groping for.

What it did for me:

It provides the ethical background to everything I do and believe in. It gave me a yardstick too against which to measure if I come across a particularly puzzling ethical dilemma. I try to live my life according the principles John Stuart Mill articulated so clearly: live and let live.

Others

There might be others; in fact, I’m sure there are. But these came to mind for now; a strange little collection.  

Have you got any books that you feel that had a lasting impact on how you live your life? Please leave a comment below and explain why.

Links (Lists of life changing books):
10 Life Changing Books That Stay With You
27 Books That Can Change Your Life Forever
30 Classic Books That May Change Your Life

arwen1968

Victory in Defeat

18 January 2021 at 08:42

Quote of the Week

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Defeat… Victory… Terms I do not know what to make of. One victory exalts, another corrupts. One defeat kills, another brings life. Tell me what seed is lodged in your victory or your defeat, and I will tell you its future. Life is not definable by situations but by mutations. There is but one victory that I know is sure, and that is the victory that is lodged in the energy of the seed. Sow the seed in the wide black earth and already the seed is victorious, though time must contribute to the triumph of wheat.

This morning France was a shattered army and a chaotic population. But if in a chaotic population there is a single consciousness animated by a sense of responsibility, the chaos vanishes. A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing wishing him the image of a cathedral. I shall not fret about the loam if somewhere in it a seed lies buried. The seed will drain the loam and the wheat will blaze.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 29: Stargazing

17 January 2021 at 13:01

I always loved to sit out in our garden at night and gaze at the stars. I would sit out even in winter, wrapped up in mountains of blankets.

When we first went into lockdown in the spring, stargazing proved a great escape and I decided to improve the experience by creating a classical playlist on Spotify.

Photo by theartofsounds2001 via Pixabay [public domain]

I now remember the evenings of last summer. I listen to my stargazing music and seek solace communing with the stars in spirit… 

stars in my eyes
wishing to see blossoms
on weeping cherries

(Matsuo Basho)

 

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 28: Terminally Fabulous

16 January 2021 at 06:11

Death Bed Diaries? 

I can only apologise again for the way I’m neglecting Lockdown Diaries III. But the progress of my illness made me unable to do anything much, and that includes blogging. Today is a ‘good’ morning – may it last more than a couple of hours-  so here I am with another entry. 

In the last couple of weeks, during the hours of suffering, my thoughts sometimes toyed with the idea of changing focus and reconfiguring Lockdown Diaries III into Death Bed Diaries: at least it would allow me to vent and so give myself psychological relief, even if no physical relief. And I thought of others in the same situation, and their families and how it could help them to know they’re not alone.

There was a blog out there once that I used to read, Terminally Fabulous, written by an Australian girl in her 30s. It was brutally honest in her description of cancer, the horrific treatments she underwent, the sufferings at the end when the doctors could do no more for her. She had a wicked sense of humour and many a times she made laugh while I cried for her at the same time. I used to read it when I was really in the dumps with the treatments and it helped me. Her name was Lisa Magill and she died a few years ago. Her blog has been published posthumously (in 2019) in a book form under the title of:

Terminally Fabulous: A young woman’s fight for dignity and fabulousness on her terminal cancer journey by Lisa Magill and Geraldine Violet Magill

I recommend it to you all. You can buy it on Amazon (and elsewhere).

But when it comes to me…

Death Bed Diaries? No, thank you.

Lisa was inspirational and I wish I had the kind of talent that she put into her writing. But regardless of my lack of talent, the truth is that being that brutally honest and putting out my whole soul for all of you to see is just a step too far for me. So do not fear: Waterblogged was always a book blog and a book blog will remain to the day I die. We’ll keep the death talk to minimum. 🙂

Thought for the Day: Euthanasia (Assisted Death)

There is one controversial question that I would mention though. Euthanasia, or if you will, assisted death. This is legal in some countries; but not in England. Regardless of your personal stance – ie. regardless whether you would choose to take advantage of it, were it available for you – I ask you all to consider: should not it be available for people who wish to avail themselves of it?

I’m under the care of an excellent and dedicated palliative team but despite of that I have suffered a tremendous amount in the last couple of months. The last few weeks and days were particularly brutal. My palliative doctor recently had to admit that she’s already given me everything and there’s nothing more she can do to make me any more comfortable. I don’t want to distress you with the details but death is vastly preferable to the hours when the suffering is most acute, and every day there are endless hours like that. Palliative care, with all the brilliant medications it has, still cannot control all pain and discomfort and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I cannot be the only one, and death is not expected for weeks yet because, despite of the cancer, the rest of my body is still young and healthy and refuses to give itself for beaten. This leaves me in a prolonged limbo between life and death, drags out my suffering and there is nothing anybody can do. Only if you witness it (may you never have to), can you understand what I’m talking about.

I repeat it again:

Palliative care, despite of their best efforts, is not able to control all symptoms, all pain, all distress and discomfort for all patients, and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I’m the living, suffering evidence of it.

As a society, we pride ourselves of on our humanity. If you had a pet, a dog or a cat, in similar position as I am, you would not hesitate to put it down, to spare the animal unnecessary weeks or months of suffering. Should we not have the mercy to offer the choice to people who are terminally ill and whose symptoms cannot be controlled sufficiently to spare them pain and suffering? It is not beyond the wit of man to devise sufficient safeguards to ensure that this right to choose would not be abused. Nor are we talking about making people undergo euthanasia against their will.

But I think it should be a basic human right to be able to say: enough.

Dignity in Dying

To be able to go into a hospice, surrounded by your family, to whom you could say goodbye while you’re still coherent, while you can still cry and smile for the last time together and while you can give them a last hug. And then when you said goodbye, to be given that one shot (or be allowed to administer it to yourself), that will put you to death, painlessly. So that you can die tranquilly, in dignity, surrounded by love – instead of alone, screaming in pain.

Is that too much to ask?

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

The Purpose of Drinking Wine

15 January 2021 at 11:55

Quote of the Day

John Mortimer (1923-2009)

“The purpose of drinking wine is not intoxication, Rumpole.”

Erskine-Brown looked as pain as a prelate who is told that his congregation only came to church because of the central heating.

“The point is to get in touch with one of the major influences of western civilization, to taste sunlight trapped in a bottle and to remember some stony slope in Tuscany or by the Gironde.”

(John Mortimer: The Collected Stories of Rumpole)

arwen1968

People of the Puszta

21 January 2021 at 03:45

When you come from a family of the ultimate not-haves, just how cool is it to be able to hold up a book and say: “This has been written about us.”?

And a good book at that?

People of the Puszta by Gyula Illyés (English translation)

Well, you can take it from me: it is cool. Precious, in fact. So much so that I wanted to make sure to pass this book on to my children.

Gyula Illyés

Gyula Illyés came from a piss-poor family in a puszta in the middle of Transdanubia, within a few kilometres of where my family comes from. By talent and hard work, he somehow managed to rise from the world of the puszta to become a famous writer and intellectual. He was only a few years older than my great-grandfather – who too was from a piss-poor family. The childhood Illyés describes was still pretty much the childhood my grandmother had; she remembered some of the events described in the book. I myself spent the long summer vacations of my childhood right there where many of these events happened; my grandparents, aunts and uncles speak with the same accent Illyés did. I used to drop into the same accent within days of arriving to my grandma’s house, every time.

The Puszta & its People

To understand where Illyés and my family come from, you have to understand the concept of the puszta as it then was in Transdanubia, Western-Hungary, because  generally in Hungarian and in the world this word is better known to mean big sweeping plains (like the steppes of Russia, say). A Transdanubian puszta on the other hand was a kind of a hamlet (if you can call the handful of buildings a hamlet) on the big farm estate.

In the beginning of the 20th century, when this book is set, most land in Transdanubia was held by a few big families who hardly ever even went near their estates but employed a farm manager or agent, who then managed the work force. This work force was invariably composed of the landless peasantry of which there was ample supply (despite of high rates of emigration to America). The peasants were hired as day labourers and if they managed to get a more permanent position, such as a coachman or a wheelwright, they were given some huts to live in right there on the puszta. Their life was very much like the life of a medieaval serf; their prospects to better themselves practically non-existent.

My great-grandfather was one of the lucky people: he had a permanent position. Moreover, he was employed as a coachman by the local landowner at a time when he couldn’t get any other work. He had come back from a Russian POW camp in the aftermath of World War I and as such he was ‘tainted’ by communist ideas and nobody would employ him. Thankfully the local land manager knew the family well and was not worried that my great-grandfather would want to start a communist agitation on the estate! (Nor did he.)

The people, my family included, lived in low single story houses which consisted of two rooms and a kitchen. These were strung out in a row:

room 1 – shared kitchen – room 2

Each family had a room to themselves, that sometimes meant twenty people in the same room: several generations. The families decorated their room as best as they could which was nothing much. They were often short of having enough furniture even. The floor was a dirt floor, ie. just the ground trampled solidly underfoot. This was the same in the kitchen which was shared with the neighbouring family. Each family had its side of the kitchen, so to speak, where they kept their pots and pans and their meagre supplies – having to borrow a spoonful of sugar or a few potatoes from the fellow kitchen user or the neighbours in the next building was common. No bathrooms of course; outhouses were built instead well away from the living spaces.

… I can remember only the house with its two tiny rooms adn the earth-floored kitchen in between. The yard stretched as far as the eye could see. When I first struggled over the well-worn threshold, the infinite world lay at my faltering feet. The house stood on a hill. Beneath it in the valley lay the puszta, which conformed to the usual pattern. To the right lived the steward, the farm foreman, the mason and the wheelwright; in the same block of buildings were the forge and the wheel-shop. To the left were three or four rows of long farm servants’ quarters, then there ws the manor-house among its age old trees, the the famr manager’s dwelling. Immediately opposite was a large cart-shed in Empire style, behind which on a little rise stood the granary and the ox-stables. All around lay the endless fields, speckled with the white smudges of distant villages.

The puszta families lived in a sort of timelessness. It’s not that area had no history (it has plenty and varied, all the way back to the Romans) but they themselves, being uneducated knew nothing much about it. Their life was ordained by the seasons.

It was something of a disgrace to be a puszta-dweller; it implied having no roots, no native land and no fixed above – which of course is true.

…If you want to know where a puszta-dweller comes from, you do not ask him where he lives or even less where he was born, but who his master is. My own family served mostly the Apponyis, then the Zichys, Wurms, Strassers and Königs and their relations – for the landed gentry were apt to exchange their servants for with their relatives: thus a clever cowman, a good-looking coachman or a deft-fingered gelder would be transferred or even presented to one of the relations, this being regarded by the servants themselves as a mark of special disctinction.

The lives of the families were mostly directed by the local landowner or his agent: it mattered little which puszta a child was born since the administrative arrangements kept changing (ie. which nearby village the puszta happened to be belonging) and the families could be uprooted from one day to another and transferred to another estate owned by the same land owner.

So we wandered from place to place, sometimes taking all our odds and ends, our collapsible hen-houses, our hens and the cow; sometimes it was only to visit relatives, a brother or sister-in-law who had suddenly been snatched away after living nearby for five or six years. Sometimes we drove all night and all morning in the wagon, but we were never away from a puszta, and felt at home everywhere. The house were I was born did not belong to my father, bu in the land of my birth, I received an unrivalled inheritance. I can call half a county my own.

The Gentle Back of Beyond

The Sió near Simontornya [Photo by blatniczky via Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0]
If the lives of the puszta people sounds bleak, it is because it was. But that’s not to say that there wasn’t beauty or joy in it. Families were tightly knit and supported each other. The landscape was gentle and is captured by Illyés in a beautiful, lyrical manner.

It’s a landscape of gently rolling hills, covered in wheat and corn fields, or sunflowers bowing heavily with full heads. Rows and clumps of trees break up the fields here and there, together with streams and small ponds in clearings, where nothing stirs the surface of the water and the vegetation around is lush and fresh green even in the hight of summer. The smell of hay and manure wafts across the roads which lead to the villages. The roads are edged with rows of poplars and acacias, and in their shade in August you often see camping tables set out piled high with fresh watermelons for sale. A large number of the puszta hamlets had a name prefixed with mud (as in Sárszentlőrinc, Mud St Lawrence); not so surprising perhaps because the the nearby Sió (a river and canal in one which connects Lake Balaton to the River Danube) supplies abundant water in the area. There is even the odd castle or castle ruin: for example Simontornya castle (hardly more than a keep) still has cannon balls embedded in the walls; whether fired by the Turks or the Labanc (Austrians during the Rákóczi War of Independence) the locals no longer remember; it was just another siege they withstood.

Everybody knew everybody among the puszta folk in Illyés’s time, and that still applies a hundred years later. When I walk down the street in the village (there are hardly any pusztas that still exist), sooner or later I’m bound to be hailed “You, my child! Are you not the daughter of So-and-so?… How does it go with you?” And you find yourself answering deferentially to an old birdlike hag whose name you don’t know, and who is dressed in full black from the hand-embroidered kerchief tied around her head to the buttons on her sensible shoes. Because however far you have risen out of the puszta, you are still one of them. In the end, I’m only the second generation, the second person of the family to have let. I might not remember the old people are, but they sure remember me and this provides me with a strange reassurance that I, as an individual, matter.

Conclusion

All this and more Gyula Illyés writes about in his wonderful book. People of the puszta is a part an auto-biography, part sociography (of a society that has now mostly disappeared), part a description a landscape, meshed with bits of the cultural heritage of the people who inhabit that landscape. Overall, it’s a wonderful concoction of a book and I can only recommend it, even if you have zero interest in the topic as such. I leave you with this recommendation:

A beautifully written, moving work of art.

(The Times Literary Supplement)

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 32: Letters

20 January 2021 at 08:31

Looking at old photos today… translating old recipes from my mum’s cook book… even writing letters myself. Not a bad way to pass time while being locked into the house. 

And it brings this haiku in mind: 

Written letters, yes
not coloured leaves raked up
burned after reading

(Matsuo Basho)

 

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

The Books that (Literally) Changed My Life

19 January 2021 at 06:34

Not necessarily good books, you understand! 🙂

Life Changing Books

Have you ever thought about the books that changed your life? If you haven’t, try now: I guess that immediately a handful of books will pop up in your mind. But these are not the books you want. These are the good books, the memorable books that you read and re-read and cherished over the years, the ones you talk about so much that your long suffering friends and family can finish your sentences for you. No, these are not the books that changed your life; or at least, not in most cases.

But the books that changed your life? Truly changed your life? The ones that helped form your personality and beliefs, the ones that led you to pick your career, that led you to the chance encounter with the love of your life, the ones that helped you through a personal crisis? What are the books that changed your life? They’re surprisingly hard to pin down.

Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Source: Wikipedia

The Books that Changed My Life

Here come mine (and they might turn out to be quite a bizarre collection):

Lassie Come Home

The endearing story of a faithful dog by Eric Knight, the ultimate animal adventure that has been turned into innumerable cutesy film series absolutely nothing to do with the original story. 

What it did for me:

It taught me to be honest. It taught me to be honest in a way that you can actually keep it up for an entire lifetime. As the elder Carraclough demonstrates to his son, Joe, there often is a tiny wriggle room.

But only a tiny one.

Swallows and Amazons

The kids in this Arthur Ransome book are let loose outdoors – in a way that hardly any children nowadays are. In my time, we were still not as corralled, and were allowed out to explore and have fun. And we made our friendships and fought our own fights, instead of attending play dates organised by our mothers two weeks ahead.

How it changed me:

It turned me from a book reader hiding in a room into an outdoors kid, who went out to climb trees and rocks, explored the woods, crawled among the metre tall grass pretending to be an Apache sneaking up on the pale faces, swam in the river and went down to the boating lake and taught herself to row. Reading about adventures is good but living them is better. And let’s not forget what made it all possible: What would have become of the Swallows without Susan’s sturdy common sense and ability to organise? I know people who are incapable of packing a rucksack, or indeed wouldn’t even dream of carrying one.

Don’t Panic

(And always know where your towel is!

One of the many self-help books out there on the market; in no way remarkable (which is why I’m not bothering giving you the author). But it was the first I ever self-help book I read and it made me realise how stress or long term abuse affects us, how it can generate physical symptoms, and how the effects maybe only appear years later.

What it did for me:

I learned to stop my hiccups! 🙂 (Seriously.)

Stopping hiccups was actually just a side effect of my reading this particular self-help book about stress. What the book really taught me was that from learning how to stop hiccups to overcoming panic attacks, the answer is as much in our minds as in the pills our GP can prescribe us. 

There are self-help books on practically everything – and obviously, some are better than others. They are worth considering as a resource when you’re up against something new. As they say, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes, while fools keep committing the same ones. Knowledge is power: once you understand what’s going on in your mind and body, in your work place or your family life, you can devise strategies to cope and to improve the situation. 

Mike at Wrykin

One of those P.G. Wodehouse books that almost nobody reads or even heard of: an English boarding school story which introduces us to the character of Psmith. But it was the cricket mad title character Mike who was responsible for changing my life.

How this book changed my life:

The chapter in question contains a long cryptic description of a school cricket match which awoke an interest in me for the game. This interest led me to dedicate my MA thesis to the intertwining of cricket and nationalism in the British Empire; and the research I had to carry out to be able to write it brought me in contact with a certain number of Englishmen. 

I ended up marrying one of them.

Winnie-the-Pooh

An endearing story of a silly bear  that I cherished through childhood – and one that like Lassie Come Home was bastardised by the film industry – but it’s not here on its merit as a children’s book. I really, really came to appreciate Pooh Bear’s philosophy as an adult in a time of adversity, after I became terminally ill.

What it did for me:

It reminded me to try living life simply, immersing myself in the precious moment, enjoying the simple things in life, like a bit of fresh bread, the sunshine on my skin, the spring breeze in my hair, refusing to worry about something that might never come to pass.

The Japanese call this Zen and surround it with rituals and teachings that are meant to help you to acquire the habit of living the good life.  I wish I cultivated the skill earlier; I would have had a happier life, with less worries. But it’s never too late and you don’t have to learn to meditate either…

On Liberty

Well, now, a political-philosophical essay, and I don’t like either politics, or philosophy… 

But I grew up in a Communist country where access to information was limited and a free discussion of political opinions was not recommended if you wanted a quiet life. The result was that at the famous ‘change of the system’, as the fall of communism is referred to in Hungary, my political views were hazy in the extreme. I knew what I disagreed with but was unable to articulate what I believed to be right; I had no coherent picture in my mind as to what the world should look like. And then I picked up this slim volume in a foreign language bookshop in Budapest, in the early 1990s. And the world suddenly fell into place. The 19th century English philosopher and member of parliament (and an early champion of women’s suffrage), John Stuart Mill, knew how to put into words the ideas which I was only groping for.

What it did for me:

It provides the ethical background to everything I do and believe in. It gave me a yardstick too against which to measure if I come across a particularly puzzling ethical dilemma. I try to live my life according the principles John Stuart Mill articulated so clearly: live and let live.

Others

There might be others; in fact, I’m sure there are. But these came to mind for now; a strange little collection.  

Have you got any books that you feel that had a lasting impact on how you live your life? Please leave a comment below and explain why.

Links (Lists of life changing books):
10 Life Changing Books That Stay With You
27 Books That Can Change Your Life Forever
30 Classic Books That May Change Your Life

arwen1968

Victory in Defeat

18 January 2021 at 08:42

Quote of the Week

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Defeat… Victory… Terms I do not know what to make of. One victory exalts, another corrupts. One defeat kills, another brings life. Tell me what seed is lodged in your victory or your defeat, and I will tell you its future. Life is not definable by situations but by mutations. There is but one victory that I know is sure, and that is the victory that is lodged in the energy of the seed. Sow the seed in the wide black earth and already the seed is victorious, though time must contribute to the triumph of wheat.

This morning France was a shattered army and a chaotic population. But if in a chaotic population there is a single consciousness animated by a sense of responsibility, the chaos vanishes. A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing wishing him the image of a cathedral. I shall not fret about the loam if somewhere in it a seed lies buried. The seed will drain the loam and the wheat will blaze.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 29: Stargazing

17 January 2021 at 13:01

I always loved to sit out in our garden at night and gaze at the stars. I would sit out even in winter, wrapped up in mountains of blankets.

When we first went into lockdown in the spring, stargazing proved a great escape and I decided to improve the experience by creating a classical playlist on Spotify.

Photo by theartofsounds2001 via Pixabay [public domain]

I now remember the evenings of last summer. I listen to my stargazing music and seek solace communing with the stars in spirit… 

stars in my eyes
wishing to see blossoms
on weeping cherries

(Matsuo Basho)

 

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

Lockdown Diaries III, Day 28: Terminally Fabulous

16 January 2021 at 06:11

Death Bed Diaries? 

I can only apologise again for the way I’m neglecting Lockdown Diaries III. But the progress of my illness made me unable to do anything much, and that includes blogging. Today is a ‘good’ morning – may it last more than a couple of hours-  so here I am with another entry. 

In the last couple of weeks, during the hours of suffering, my thoughts sometimes toyed with the idea of changing focus and reconfiguring Lockdown Diaries III into Death Bed Diaries: at least it would allow me to vent and so give myself psychological relief, even if no physical relief. And I thought of others in the same situation, and their families and how it could help them to know they’re not alone.

There was a blog out there once that I used to read, Terminally Fabulous, written by an Australian girl in her 30s. It was brutally honest in her description of cancer, the horrific treatments she underwent, the sufferings at the end when the doctors could do no more for her. She had a wicked sense of humour and many a times she made laugh while I cried for her at the same time. I used to read it when I was really in the dumps with the treatments and it helped me. Her name was Lisa Magill and she died a few years ago. Her blog has been published posthumously (in 2019) in a book form under the title of:

Terminally Fabulous: A young woman’s fight for dignity and fabulousness on her terminal cancer journey by Lisa Magill and Geraldine Violet Magill

I recommend it to you all. You can buy it on Amazon (and elsewhere).

But when it comes to me…

Death Bed Diaries? No, thank you.

Lisa was inspirational and I wish I had the kind of talent that she put into her writing. But regardless of my lack of talent, the truth is that being that brutally honest and putting out my whole soul for all of you to see is just a step too far for me. So do not fear: Waterblogged was always a book blog and a book blog will remain to the day I die. We’ll keep the death talk to minimum. 🙂

Thought for the Day: Euthanasia (Assisted Death)

There is one controversial question that I would mention though. Euthanasia, or if you will, assisted death. This is legal in some countries; but not in England. Regardless of your personal stance – ie. regardless whether you would choose to take advantage of it, were it available for you – I ask you all to consider: should not it be available for people who wish to avail themselves of it?

I’m under the care of an excellent and dedicated palliative team but despite of that I have suffered a tremendous amount in the last couple of months. The last few weeks and days were particularly brutal. My palliative doctor recently had to admit that she’s already given me everything and there’s nothing more she can do to make me any more comfortable. I don’t want to distress you with the details but death is vastly preferable to the hours when the suffering is most acute, and every day there are endless hours like that. Palliative care, with all the brilliant medications it has, still cannot control all pain and discomfort and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I cannot be the only one, and death is not expected for weeks yet because, despite of the cancer, the rest of my body is still young and healthy and refuses to give itself for beaten. This leaves me in a prolonged limbo between life and death, drags out my suffering and there is nothing anybody can do. Only if you witness it (may you never have to), can you understand what I’m talking about.

I repeat it again:

Palliative care, despite of their best efforts, is not able to control all symptoms, all pain, all distress and discomfort for all patients, and cannot therefore stop terrible suffering. I’m the living, suffering evidence of it.

As a society, we pride ourselves of on our humanity. If you had a pet, a dog or a cat, in similar position as I am, you would not hesitate to put it down, to spare the animal unnecessary weeks or months of suffering. Should we not have the mercy to offer the choice to people who are terminally ill and whose symptoms cannot be controlled sufficiently to spare them pain and suffering? It is not beyond the wit of man to devise sufficient safeguards to ensure that this right to choose would not be abused. Nor are we talking about making people undergo euthanasia against their will.

But I think it should be a basic human right to be able to say: enough.

Dignity in Dying

To be able to go into a hospice, surrounded by your family, to whom you could say goodbye while you’re still coherent, while you can still cry and smile for the last time together and while you can give them a last hug. And then when you said goodbye, to be given that one shot (or be allowed to administer it to yourself), that will put you to death, painlessly. So that you can die tranquilly, in dignity, surrounded by love – instead of alone, screaming in pain.

Is that too much to ask?

P1010828 View from prison reduced

arwen1968

The Purpose of Drinking Wine

15 January 2021 at 11:55

Quote of the Day

John Mortimer (1923-2009)

“The purpose of drinking wine is not intoxication, Rumpole.”

Erskine-Brown looked as pain as a prelate who is told that his congregation only came to church because of the central heating.

“The point is to get in touch with one of the major influences of western civilization, to taste sunlight trapped in a bottle and to remember some stony slope in Tuscany or by the Gironde.”

(John Mortimer: The Collected Stories of Rumpole)

arwen1968

❌