When I was looking for a place to buy in Budapest, a friend came to stay with me, and I made her join me as I went from address to address, trying to find what I wanted. Eventually I abandoned the project while she was with me, because her heart wasn't in it. Each time, I'd find something I regarded as a gem, I'd turn to her and see her unhappy expression.
She couldn't understand what the hell I was doing. All these tumbledown places looked squalid and careworn and grubby to her. To be polite she used the same phrase over and over again in response to my enthusiasm. 'It could be lovely', she would say, without any conviction. 'It could be lovely, I suppose.'
She was right, of course, although she didn't know it. Most of the places we saw were totally CBL, as we came to call it - the whole point of the project was to find something in precisely that state of possibility. For some reason, what particularly appealed to me was the thought of restoring something miserably delapidated to something like its former glory.
After my friend left, I eventually found exactly the thing I wanted. It had a hole in the ceiling, where the snow had been so heavy that the roof had crashed in, and a number of other similar bruises and blemishes, but they were all fixable, and now it's lovely - and the proportions of the rooms are enough to ensure you can never feel sad (16 foot ceilings, each room 30 square metres, no sense of being pressed into a box in that place).
Unfortunately, I only have a small amount of money and even less time, so I can't do anything about all the many, many neglected old buildings all over the various Eastern European countries that were once more or less reluctant members of the Soviet bloc. Perhaps though there are other people who don't know such places exist but just need me to tell them they are there, waiting for someone to recognise their could-be-loveliness.
I hope that's the case, because a friend has just told me that a house I visited a year or two ago in Western Romania is for sale, with all its land, its very own church, a wondrous greenhouse and the family graveyard, for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand Euros.It is in a landscape of such peace and beauty it would be impossible to be anything other than calm and happy there. As an added bonus, if you're a fan of Patrick Leigh Fermor, he visited the house when he was staying with friends nearby - he mentions it in Between the Woods and the Water.
Look at these pictures and tell me you couldn't imagine turning the place back into an enchanted Grand Meaulnes kind of place (get in touch with me if you really are interested, and I'll put you in touch with my friend, who knows how to go about putting in an offer):
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