Monday, 25 February 2008

City of Light

On the haem clinic wall is a picture of Paris. It's the Champs Elysees, I think, because the Arc de Triomphe is visible in the background, although it could be a view from that boulevard in the 16th arrondissement, the other side of the Etoile, where my Serb friend, Lydia, used to live. I don't know where she lives now because she stopped speaking to me when I refused to see the Yugoslav civil war in Serb-delineated black and white. I know she married a fellow Serb in Paris, a composer, no less, who came to visit us in Cornwall twice and even composed a piano piece for me. They have since divorced.

Back to the picture: the foreground has buildings on the boulevard done in garish colours, with a cafe-terrasse down below. The right hand of the composition is carefully drawn in, but the left is an impressionistic mess - it could be a rainy pavement, it could be the cafe lights twinkling in the twilight. It could just be that the artist got tired, as patients get tired in the haem clinic, of sitting there and wondering what to do next. But it did its job in distracting me from the blood bags and the needles. It took me back, albeit in a sort of cynical, superior way, to Paris, where I spent so much of my life, first as a student at the Sorbonne and then in a variety of useless jobs. Actually, I spent a lot of time in Paris even before that. I've been doing nothing in Paris since I was about fifteen. I often think about going to live back there, but then I visit again and the same old ennui washes over me: Been There. Done That.

Still...Paris. In the Spring. Paris. Nuits de juin, dix-sept ans, On se laisse griser... (That was Rimbaud, not me, the enfant-terrible of a poet my tutor at University said he would have hated to have in HIS class...) Henry Miller is another notorious liver-in-Paris. (Alistair would not have wanted HM in his class either...) I remember so much about the place - those parties held by American, Jim Haynes, in his atelier in Montparnasse, trying to perpetuate the Paris of long ago, of writers and artists and no-hopers but determined livers nonetheless.

I wonder what it means to the others who see that picture every day? It's more evocative than the other pictures they've got up there, most, I suspect, donated by grateful patients. There are static views of Cornwall ( it's possible to make even the sea here static if you've got no eye) and the odd abstract. But Paris did it for me, even though the Champs Elysees has to be my least favourite part of the city of light. It caught the aspect of the entire city, something of its spirit. And in a haematology clinic in Truro on a Monday in February, that's saying something. That is succeeding in something.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Healing Waters

Just back from the hot springs of Budapest where there is always something new to discover. I first went there six years ago, which was three years BC (before cancer) and stayed at The Gellert Hotel, which put me straight in mind of the sort of old Soviet hotel I used to stay at when working in Russia before the capitalist revolution in the early Nineties. Because The Gellert was really showing its age last time we went there in 2005 (although the bathroom is forever etched in my memory as the place where I spotted the second lump in my right breast), we stayed this time at the Helia, an anodyne modern edifice opposite Margitsziget (Margaret Island). But I recognised the concierge there from The Gellert, so Cara and I were given an upgrade to a room set aside on a restful corner of the first floor, with views over the Danube and the edge of the spa complex. This beat the tram noise at the poor old Gellert though the thermal water in the baths was just as hot (up to 38 C) but clearer, less gaseous than the greenish soup with elderly ladies floating in it you get at the public baths. I wrote about the famous Gellert baths in the archive pieces (Crab and Fishes) so won't repeat myself now.

I didn't take any medical insurance, other than my standard cover that comes free for Cara and me through my banking package (if anything from a bank can ever be said to be free), and our E111 forms, of course. When we arrived, though, the driver who picked us up from the airport (recommended - see Airport Pickup Service) said there had been a demonstration that day about proposals to make Hungary's health service a paid for service. If this happens, I expect it will put an end to free reciprocal agreements with the NHS in Britain. But I didn't take out extra cover when I went to Switzerland either, in 2006, or Germany in 2007 - although I didn't anticipate any problems in either of those places. The most likely problems, relating to my cancer treatment anyway, would have arisen when I sailed to Spain in 2005, five weeks into chemotherapy treatment (and without my hair), or later that year, in Budapest, exactly a month after my operation. Travel insurance for people with 'ongoing' or 'prexisting' conditions like cancer is punitive - although I recently read somewhere that these punitive measures contravene disability rights legislation under EU law.

Anyway, Budapest. It's wonderful. Try it. Sod the insurance - just go.