Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A turning point

It's nearly a year since I last updated this blog. I'll try to do better in future!

After helping my father settle into his new home in a retirement village in September 2018, which included cleaning out a freezer from his old house ("Dad, are you absolutely positive you want to keep these frozen fish fillets you've had since the late 1970s?"), I returned to the Northern Hemisphere, which is where I now feel most at home.

I spent four days in Honolulu to break up the long flight. I was last there in 1996, for my first marathon. Apart from visiting Doris Duke's amazing house, ShangriLa, I mostly walked around the city and took photos.

From Hawaii I flew to Vancouver, to see Sarah and her dog Teddy in Deep Cove. My visit coincided with Bard on the Beach's season of "As You Like It", which was terrific. Sarah's brother Chris started BB some decades ago and it's showing no sign of flagging.

After a flight across the country to Toronto, I nearly missed my connecting flight to Newark after having a ding-dong argument with a US immigration officer with a power complex. Welcome to the United States ... NOT.

I only had six weeks back in my regular place on the Upper West Side this visit. It was the usual fabulous mix of work, morning runs in Central Park with friends, lots of films, photo walks, exhibitions (especially Anne Lindberg's "The Eye's Level" at the Museum of Art and Design), a Broadway show ("To Kill a Mockingbird", with Jeff Daniels), the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at St John the Divine Cathedral, Halloween.... There's always lots to see and do in New York, and after spending months there every year since 2009 I now know a lot of people. I didn't get off Manhattan very much during this short visit.

A couple of days in Dublin broke up the flight back to Europe, which is nowhere near as onerous as flights from Europe to Asia or Oz. I headed straight for the Irish Film Centre. Very disappointed that Foam Cafe has closed. It had the BEST seafood chowder. Bummer.

I was very happy to return to Budapest, which coincided with Julie and David also being there. Winter was starting, but I got straight back into a running routine with Rio, and caught up regularly with Sharon, Alexandra, Kate (on a visit from Japan) and other friends. I'd moved my stored stuff to Alex's place in the summer, but decided that after the next bout of travelling I would rent a place again in Budapest and create a real home base.

Following a few days in Debrecen (in Hungary), I spent a week in Kosice and Bratislava (Slovakia) before flying to Amsterdam to have Christmas with one of my oldest friends, Chris, and his family and to have a couple of runs with Maria, who was visiting from New York.

I'd decided not to spend the coldest winter months in Budapest, because the icy conditions underfoot are hazardous for me, so I flew south to Greece, where, not long after I unpacked and set up temporary home in Athens, it snowed.

An old friend from our Hong Kong years (Sue) took me in hand during my long stay in Greece.

Apart from a month back in Budapest in April, I spent about five weeks in the islands (Cyclades – Naxos, Paros, Syros, Mykonos – and Hydra, where I had a great couple of days of walking and talking with an Irish journalist I met in a restaurant) and three months in central Athens. I really like Athens. It's a great destination for a five-day jaunt from anywhere in Europe: easy and fabulous to walk around, with lots to see (street art, street life, relics of the past, museums, great food, reasonable prices). I'll be back. Nice people, too, especially Roula and Joanna. I ran/walked a half marathon on very little training, apart from a couple of runs with the Athens Hash House Harriers and a few jogs on my own.

While in Athens I met my goal of finishing the first complete draft of my memoir. Yay, me!

The islands were interesting during the winter off-season. They're not places I feel any desire to return to, except for Syros and its capital Ermoupoli, which is a real, working city year-round and not a tourist town and has an annual film festival.

Spring was definitely in the air in Budapest during my return visit for April. I'd been having withdrawal symptoms and needed a good dose of it before my time in Greece was up and it was time to return to New York. Miki and I went for a hike up near the Slovakian border and on another day walked around Lake Tata (with Joki the Yorkie), which I want to return to and run around with Rio. Friends Alan and Sue were in town, and Alan and I re-created a photo taken of us when we were maybe five years old.

May was spent back in Athens and Ermoupoli, before I switched suitcases back in Budapest, saw a perfect apartment to rent, signed the lease, handed over a wad of cash, then flew to London to see Michael and Eddie before returning to New York for June and July.

Maria and I went down to Annapolis, in Maryland, to spend time with friends Heather and Joe and to rendezvous with Sue and Bob, whom we met a few years ago at a marathon in New Jersey and last saw in Budapest in 2017. We ran a 10K race, but I was very slow. I also spent four days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a Dead Runners Society get-together. That was a blast from the past, with friends made during my first DRS conference in 2009 and since then.

I didn't run much while in New York, for the first time ever. But I walked hundreds and hundreds of miles, and in the other boroughs, too, not just Manhattan. Street photography is such a passion for me now... I saw many films and exhibitions as well. I love spending time in New York. It's one of my homes, with friends, routines, favourite places, favourite foods. But a couple of months is enough. After that, I start to get twitchy.

Just before midnight on 3 August, I arrived back in Budapest with an extra suitcase containing books from the stash I've been keeping in New York (including all my printed Facebooks going back to 2007) and the keys to the new apartment where I've now started the next stage of my life.