Monday, 12 March 2012


Budapest is a state of mind for me. I love it there. My daughter and I have recently returned from our latest trip, having been to the city practically every year since 2002. We always go in February or early March, partly because it is low season, but mostly because the cold and the thermal spa make a heady sensual contrast. This year's trip to the spa seemed especially beneficial to me. Because I no longer have the stamina to swim in the large Gellert pool, I went straight to the women's baths and spent the whole time wallowing in the 38C and 36C pools. The hot water, which comes from one of the many thermal springs under the city, is so dense with minerals, it is possible to float in it and fall asleep. After dozing off a couple of times, I did the only Qigong exercise I have managed to learn, together with a couple of made-up stretching movements to work my stiff legs. I could stand on one leg in the thermal water without falling over. I can't do that at home any more.  A month after my mastectomy in October 2005, I was back in that water with a very dear man. During the previous months, I thought I wouldn't travel anywhere again. I thought I wouldn't live to see fifty. I thought I wouldn't live to see my forty seventh birthday.

This February's trip was our tenth anniversary at the hotel, and, without requesting it, we were given the same shabby middle-sized room with a turret at one end that we had on the first visit. I had my forty- third birthday during that first stay and the management sent up a bottle of  Hungarian champagne.  Since the intervening years brought us more spacious rooms with views of the Danube (thanks to a tame concierge whom we got to know), we were disappointed to get the very shabby one again last month. There are hundreds of rooms in the old grand hotel hotel, all old fashioned, with different gradations of shabbiness.  We were about to ask for a better one when I realised that the turret room had been part of my life Before I Had Cancer. It then took on an almost mystical significance, thanks to the uncanny influence of deja-vu. I felt that I had come through some tremendous event, which I suppose I had after the two craniotomies, the meningitis, and all the other treatments. I had circumnavigated it. I had come full circle.

I wrote about the thermal spa in my first posts on this blog in 2008. Perhaps I should write more about it, but the soporific effect of the water empties my head, as it emptied when I went offshore in a fishing boat in the early 'Nineties, or on the lake steamer last year at Como. This empty-headed-ness, this ability to switch off when I am in or on water has taught me to cope with the stresses of living with cancer for the last seven years. I don't know anything about water-based healing, but all I have to do is imagine that state of soporific weightlessness and I can float  - metaphorically speaking, and transcend it all.. I think of it every third Thursday when the nurse comes to cannulate me for my Herceptin infusion. I put my hands in hot water and think about the Budapest spa.