Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Last week was the Drops Conference in Budapest, and although, as you all know I hate travelling, in amongst my nerves I’d been excited to go this time, to see Gergely and the other speakers and to immerse myself in the subject matter I love.
Some people visit cities with checklists and plans of what they’d like to see. Much to my daughter Aimées annoyance, I am not one of these people, preferring to experience the delight of finding what’s hidden around the next corner. That said months ago, I’d seen a post about the ten most amazing sculptures was “Shoes on the Danube” and so I’d saidto the The Strong Silent One I’d wanted to find it.
As it happened, we saw people looking as we pulled into the city and ground to a standstill as a result of a protest march across Freedom Square, behind the Parliament building. So when we managed to meet up with my client, Diyana from Terroma, the company that sponsored mine and Gergely’s summit, we decided that after we’d finished our exquisite lunch overlooking the Basilica (wild garlic risotto with roast chicken breast) we’d all like to explore the castle we could see on the hill and headed off across the river.
The elaborately carved, thirteenth century stone white Buda Castle was magnificent, and offered glorious views in the city and it was from that vantage point that I first glimpsed an extraordinary figure of a woman holding a feather soaring out from amongst the hills far away.
You know how you can see something extraordinary, and be overwhelmed by the mundane? That happens to me a lot and here in this gothic courtyard, I became entirely fascinated with how they may have kept everything so pristine. There’s no litter in Budapest, Diyana had confided that she’d been equally fascinated with the trees on Margaret Island, a park in the middle of the river, since whilst the leaves were falling from the trees, very few were being left on the floor, sweepers machined them quickly away before they had a chance to rot and spoil the view.
The stonework of the castle is so white and seems bleached in the gorgeous autumn sunshine. As you walk, a Hungarian musician plays mesmeric melodies on a viola while you marvel at the beautiful mosaic roof on the ancient church. Darrell nudged me just in time to witness a handsome young man surprise an unsuspecting girlfriend by going down on one knee. I agreed there couldn’t be a more romantic place and I didn’t need to understand Hungarian to know the outcome was the one he was wishing for.
The entire city is evocative. Every building is ornate. Not a single detail is missed. Plasterwork is often moulded, or glorious frescos adorn them. Roofs are intricate and often have statues and gargoyles. After a while we simply stopped trying to take pictures in case, we missed something else beautiful. There is overwhelmingly too much to see.
Frustratingly now, as I come to write, I can feel the English limitation, that I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe just how evocative, sensuous and mysterious it is.
In juxtaposition to all the historical buildings, Darrell, Diyana and I walked amongst the moorings to all the cruise ships on the river down to Margaret Island for a drink.
This island has everything you could want from a park, there are playgrounds, singing fountains, coloured bean bags, marquees with barbeques and fire pits with tripods all bubbling with delicious smelling delights. Sweltering in the heat, we settled in a hipster shack, with swings for seats at the bar, and shelves full of Shisha / Hookah’s in different coloured glasses. As Di and I talked shop, Darrell lost himself in their soundtrack of iconic rock. I was sad to say goodbye to her at the end of the day, but we both felt we needed to prepare for the next day.
Preparation, I found out, in Darrell’s book was to walk back to the hotel from Budapest…27000 steps and 11.3km racked up.
Oh, and two blisters. The walk was bliss. Grown up shoes, the next day, were not.
The Saturday of Budapest Drops conference is the heaviest one and the time when you learn the most. Gergely is a stern taskmaster because, like me, he likes to overdeliver on value in everything he does, so registration starts at 7am.
At 8am, I got my first glimpse of Uncommon Scents. Sitting with Jade Shutes, the two of us marvelled at how cleverly Angie and Kristina had collated information. It’s slick, detailed and so powerful, I can’t wait to see it in its entirety.
Whilst it has taken an age to produce, it’s clear not a second has been wasted. Our community will feel immensely proud of the incredible documentary they have produced. They overcame some enormously sensitive hurdles and have answered in the best way possible, with a superb piece of work.
In the rush to watch the first speaker Madeleine, I didn’t have long to capture my thoughts so simply text Kristina “I’m so proud of you. Fucking awesome. Tremendous work” and I meant every word of it. Please, if you have been reluctant to donate to the cause to getting the film to the finish line, let me reassure you, you’ll be investing in something truly wonderful that can only do all of us good.
Now, even though I count Madeline as one of my most trusted friends in aromatherapy, I’ve never had the privilege of hearing her speak before (actually, I’d never heard any of the speakers on this conference before so it all felt so new fresh and exciting) and was so pleased I was going to get to learn even more about CO2s.
Her presentation was detailed and fascinating and really helped me to get a flavour of these tools which, really, until now, I’d never opt for over essential oils. I’m excited to steal her idea of using them with my dementia group to help reminiscence since they are closer to the true scent of a plant. She has convinced me and after Diayana was generous enough to buy me a cocoa CO2 when I wasn’t looking, and then Madeline gave me a lemon balm one to work with too, I anticipate many hours of olfactory explanation ahead.
Incidentally, I should tell you about the incredibly talented set of interpreters who deliver our work for us. As I presented in English, my slides are shown on the board in English too, those who are not fluent wear headphones. At the back of the room, hidden in a box, an interpreter explains all our work, in real time, for them to hear in their native tongue. Conversely, when Ildikó Berecz presented in Hungarian about her work with plants on Crete, I was able to put on my headphones and understand the beautiful words she had written to go with her many delightful pictures of Crete.
I had never met or spoken to the next speaker, Dr. Nina Glavac before. She is delightfully pretty, like you’d imagine a Slovenian fairy to look, quixotic and mysterious. You could easily dismiss her until she speaks and then you recognise what a brilliant scientist she is. She described her work helping to write European monographs of herbs and the challenges and opportunities those monographs offer to essential oil producers. It would never have been something I would have chosen to read, and so I learned some great stuff that I’d have never discovered anywhere else. A very useful hour spent.
Jade Shutes was next and I got to like Jade very much when we were doing the summit, so it was a delight to get to hug her and see her face at Drops. Her lecture, about using the old framework of the four humours rather than Ayurveda or TCM as a framework for understanding health was useful and interesting. It was tremendously helpful to hear the doctrines explained by someone rather than reading them written down, and I really saw the lovely softness she brings to her work and that has made her one of the most beloved aromatherapy teachers in the world today.
Now, I have met Rhiannon Lewis before and liked her, but that had not stopped me being rather intimidated by how clever a lady she is. When I found out she was bringing Dr. Tim Miller with her to conference, that did nothing to improve my nerves. Between you and I, I rewrote an entire section of it because I was so nervous of them seeing it. Both, although very sweet people – Tim and I had a blast when we did the summit – but they are way too clever for someone like me to be comfortable around.
I braced myself for a strong clinical lecture, from Rhiannon, that potentially, because my chemistry is so poor, I was thinking I’d struggle to understand.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Her lecture was genius in its simplicity and made me really focus my mind on what I knew, nay what I felt, about using essential oils.
She spoke about inhalation and what it does to the emotions. Demonstrating scientific evidence for the efficacy of aromatherapy, she showed me I’d been making a very silly mistake for almost thirty years.
When I hand someone a bottle oil, I always ask, “what do you think about this one?” but by twisting it to ask: “How does this one make you feel?” it taps into an entirely different energetic. This came to be the single most important thing I took away from Drops and has coloured my thinking for every moment since I heard it.
Just as an aside, I should also amend my statement that far from being intimidating, I have found that Rhiannon is extremely approachable and lovely, Tim is adorable, and when I had dinner with them later in the weekend, I discovered Rhiannon to be like medicine, a bewitching story teller with a laugh like bottled sunshine.
That’s the beauty of going to conferences, and perhaps the magic of Budapest, everything seems much much-ier somehow, enchanted in a fairy tale bubble of magical joy. You get to meet people and discover who they really are, not just to try to make guesswork from their facebook posts and books. I hope I can persuade more of you to come and experience it for yourselves in two year’s time.
As I mentioned earlier, Ildiko spoke about the work she had been doing learning to distil plants on Crete with the wonderful Janina Sorenson. I’d been looking forward to meeting Ildiko and she had hunted me down first thing in the morning and threw her arms around me, saying I have been following you for so long, but I really wanted to meet your soul. Can you imagine anything more lovely to say?! I was so touched and delighted when she explained that not only had she been reading my books but had bought mum’s book to learn about The Aura too.
Now, what can I tell you about Deby Atterby?
Well let’s start with the work stuff, what that lady can’t tell you about niaouli or nerolina essential oils could be written 365 million times on the back of a postage stamp. She is that knowledgeable. She showed me the new book she’s written, and I wanted to punch her, it’s so good. Not only does she talk about essential oils and herbs, but also meridians and iridology too. I can’t wait to devour every page.
She is kind and gentle and so, so, so, so funny. Her Australian wit is lightening quick if she decides she likes you, run and take cover. My sense of humour sounds like it is coming from a nun’s mouth when sat next to hers. Anyone who knows me will tell you that’s saying something, but being very delicate, Deby’s filter has very large holes and I love that.
She and I sat next to Shirley Routley from Fragrant Earth when we went out to dinner, who also is completely hilarious and whom I love very much. When I woke up next morning, I didn’t have a hangover, only jaw ache from how much I had laughed with them, Sue and Madeleine. I feel like I made a really lovely new friend, who is one of the few people I’ve met who might make me look like I might be well behaved.
Note to self: Never take The Silent One and Deby anywhere where good behaviour might be required. He is no longer the Strong Silent One, he’s the one being very loud and taking the P**s. The two of them most definitely bring the worst out in each other. (The same can be said for him and Shirley and Donna from Fragrant Earth…he and Donna are naughty twins separated at birth.)
It’s the happiest I have seen him in years taking the mickey and enjoying being with so many likeminded people.
There is just something about the place. A twinkle…Perhaps we were sprinkled with magic dust.
So then was the boring bit of the day. A redhead in a flowery frock showed some pictures of a place called Ludlow and said some stuff about the brain.
I was so touched that the audience cheered when I said I was working on my twenty-first book and was aiming to get number 13 Amazon category number one best seller. Later, Tim and Jade both confessed they weren’t aware that I’d written so much. Second note to self, send them detailed exam papers on all of my books next month to check they’ve upped their game?! Time they got with the programme.
Or maybe, I need to promote more than I thought.
That might also be a thing.
My lecture was about how the brain’s processing can change so someone whose pain should get better as they heal after injury may not, and they may be stuck with pain for a long time to come, for many reasons, but often because of stress.
It was well received, and I sold a book or two.
Most exciting, I guess, was I also signed some of my rose book that Gergely and Oshadhi had translated into Hungarian too. That, people, was both amazing but entirely surreal at the same time.
Last, but certainly not least, was my dear friend Su Mousley, who despite being nervous about being in Hungary for the first time, delivered a brilliant lecture about how stress can affect women in pregnancy. A delight was when one heavily pregnant therapist got out of her seat, quietly walked up to the front and put her bump out for Su to feel. The day finished with a blissful meditation, visualising a forest.
A. Very. Long. Day.
And that doesn’t even include the shopping!!! As you’d expect, there were some rather big temptations amongst the stalls this year.
Now, I know I’m not supposed to admit my favourite bit of a conference is the goody bag, but I’m afraid I am that shallow and thank goodness for it too.
On the first night I’d arrived at the hotel, I put my contact lenses in to go down for drinks and when I came to take them out, the left one had got lost in my eye. That may have either been because I was too short to see in the mirror over the dressing table or it may have been down to the vino…either way, by the time I caught the little beggar, I’d scratched the underside of my eyelid mercilessly.
Yarrow hydrolat, people, it’s the future.
It kept threatening to infect, and it was so sore. It would go red, I’d spray it again and within seconds the pain and redness receded. By the third day, my eye was completely better. Thank you Budapest Drops goodie bag…what a tremendous find.
As I said, on Saturday night, Gergely treated us all to a trip out to a delicious restaurant, where I had goulash again – because it’s that good – and then a delicious chicken breast fried in potato batter with jasmine rice and grated cheese. I’m disappointed to say that it looks as boring when I write it down and when you see it on the menu…let me tell you…
the chicken was something else …mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm…scrummy.
Finally, a chocolate layer cake trifle, not quite heaven, but pretty damn close.
So, if I had been a well behaved kind of student, with any manners I’d have gone to class and enjoyed some of the workshops that were available on Sunday, including Shirley’s one for making creams or Caroline Ingrahams workshop with lots of very blissed out looking dogs…but like always, I am a slacker and I didn’t want to miss a single second of seeing more of the city.
Darrell and I decided our best tack would be to get onto an open top bus, so we asked the taxi driver to drop us anywhere we could hop on, and he despatched us (minus the children’s eco demonstration) neatly at the bus office outside St Stephen’s Basilica. We decided to follow the crowds streaming in and it was only when I was in through the door, I realised it was Sunday morning and I was heading in for mass.
We’d only been in there about 20 seconds and I became completely overwhelmed by the place. Frankincense burning, the choir singing the catechism, the congregation canted the Lords’ Prayer- I’m still puzzled as to how I recognised the prayer in Hungarian, but I know for certain that’s what it was.
But the beauty of the place, guys.
It is beyond exquisite.
Gold shines everywhere you look. With the organ booming out, I had tears pouring from my eyes and I cannot describe what an extraordinary experience it was. Look up into the very summit of the dome and God soars above you, powerful, mighty, terrifying.
I feel so lucky to have experienced it but sad that I can’t imagine it will be the same again knowing how much I am about to encounter if I go in again. It was a feeling I never want to forget.
On the Friday, because Darrell and I had met Diyana, we had broken away from the rest of the group. When we met up again in the evening Madeleine had said how moving she had found the sculpture of the shoes, so I had the sense that even though I had seen it, and knew about it, I had not yet experienced it, so Darrell and I wandered down again.
Perhaps it was the aftermath of the Basilica, or a rather unexpected cuddle from my man on the way, but seeing the shoes again was intense.
It was so powerful.
60 pairs of iron shoes are alongside the banks of the Danube, all carefully stepped out of and left.
Between 1944-45, 20,000 Jews had been taken to the river, told to take off their shoes, to face their executor and were shot; their bodies left to fall into the freezing river.
A woman’s pair of well-kept heels, a tiny child’s shoes, a worker’s boot, some with holes, many no longer with laces as if they would have dragged as they walked. Look down and the water does not cover the rocks as their bodies smashed down.
You can’t take your eyes off it and the emotions you feel are so complex.
As I looked to the other side of the river, I could see some ancient yews I’d noticed growing outside the Buda Castle, silently watching the passage of time on the other side of the river in Pest
The trees had seen it.
I wondered if we could distil them, what changes would that horror have brought to its oil?
Just past the shoes is a lifesize bronze of a man with a hat, and his coat laid down beside him. When we saw him, we wondered if he had been a Jew watching as his family and friends were slaughtered before him. As they days have passed, I have come to feel that perhaps he was a gentile, horrified at the view, ashamed, afraid and hating himself for not having the courage to intervene.
The bronze still sits there of course, witnessing the responses to the shoes, and perhaps listening to the water and the whispers of the yews on days when the wind is blowing in the right direction. I wondered how he’d felt as the youth of 2019 filled Freedom Square on Friday to demand climate change be addressed. On masse they had power. Did he focus on the pride he felt, as I had, for the youth of this generation, in a bid to try to bury the festering shame that I myself had not had the courage to raise a placard in my youth too. Perhaps if more of us had, the job would not be falling on their shoulders now.
Mundanely, but also profoundly, the corridors to the toilets in the shopping centre are covered with slogans of wisdom, in a bid to bring kindness to the planet. One line from the Greek philosopher Protagorus told us “You are not only responsible for your actions, but also for those you do not do”.
I felt the man on the bank carried that heavily, as the yews had probably felt it too.
And like the statue who watched on impotently, feeling useless, afraid and bereft, so the trees had not been able to turn away from the terror either. Rooted to the spot, watching daily as each shot rang out, pulsating chemicals into their tissues in a bid to simply remain standing up.
Rhiannon’s talk affected me profoundly and as is often the case, it has become connected with something truly separate in my head.
What the plant sees.
What it knows.
How it has fought, not just for sunshine or rain but to simply survive on days where you’d think the world might be better if we all got off.
And that’s the connection that helps us feel.
The last time those with dementia smelt an orange, the orange was there.
The orange knows and it remembers. So does our body. Even if it can’t articulate how that memory relates, it was there, and the orange bears witness and honours that.
The plant knows.
And we know, and that’s why we feel.
That connection of last time we met, and the connections and chemistry echoes through us still.
Hungary owns its past with such dignity. I don’t want to influence your preconceptions about the ghetto in the Jewish corner. Just know you should make a pact with yourself to stand there and read its prayer. Protagorus is right. More of us, need to be accountable for instructing our G-d that we care.
Not on my watch.
Not whilst I am here to prevent it.
Likewise, although the largest synagogue in Europe seemed not to feel like a place for gentiles, I’m glad my hand has stroked the tiles of the Star of David and the glorious House of G-d filled my eyes for a little while.
I’ve never been to Rome to compare, but if you ask me, God’s not in Vatican, he’s there on the Danube, in Budapest. Perhaps the Pope agrees, since it looks like he will visit Basilica in 2020 too.
I could write about Budapest for ever, and perhaps, like so many poets, musicians and sculptures before me, that might eventually come to pass. That the monsters and witches in the hill draw me in to meet the hydra and enchant me for ever more.
I don’t think I shall ever get over the way the lady at the citadel – the figure holding the feather we could see coming out of the trees on the hill – was so obviously priestess, rather than woman, and the deep sense of the struggles and the glory of
the past she imbued. One day perhaps my writing will be complex enough to counjure just how evocative a place it is, but I’m not sure it can ever be done. It’s something you have to see hear, touch, smell and hear for yourself.