to links pages 
phone texts to 00 36 30 301 0712 & 00 44 794 792 6614
Saturday. Intriguing-looking book about Celtic Europe.
Friday. Catching a crowded bus through Buda between two lessons, I ask a woman politely if I can move past her towards the back. "Are you serious?" she sneers bitterly, resentment welling up as disbelief that I could make such a request. Yes I'm serious, I reply, there's more room down there. Over several stops I inch my way towards the back where a new wave of angry standing women passengers are packing themselves around an empty seat. Strictly speaking this is a curious one-and-a-half-width seat which takes up almost the same width as two single seats but with no divide. Perhaps designed for one monstrously fat person. One thin weary man smelling of drink is sitting there, leaning against the window, leaving plenty of room to his right. I ask the angry women if they would like to sit in the vacant "half-seat" area, wider than anyone's buttocks. "That's not a seat", says one of the women at me, seething. It's obviously a seat, I say calmly. Any of us could clearly fit in it, and there would be more room for the standing people. Ambient hatred of me among the standing women edges up a notch. I squeeze past the standers and sit down, able to suddenly enjoy the spaciousness of the non-seat without even touching the thin weary man smelling of drink. See? I remark to the angry women. Plenty of room. There is space to my left, and I am not overlapping the seat edge on my right. "That's not a seat", repeats the cross woman in the way some women have of never ever admitting they're wrong. Probably they loathed having no choice but to sit next to a man with an alcohol aroma, and in the heat of their indignation felt that no-one else must sit there either. After a while, my asking which stop to get off at accidentally wakes the weary man up. He and a pretty girl with dark hair are the only passengers who know and can explain clearly exactly which stop I need. The man knows which direction I should go in from there. He is friendly. He explains I must go through a set of underpass tunnels. I get off the bus and descend into the underworld. The tunnels are painted in that shrill-but-tired 1970s orange-cum-pink that anywhere in Europe signals urban decay, left-wing council politics, and industrial unemployment. Large, clear signs are placed at corners for stairs to different bus and tram routes, although none of them mention the number 1 tram, the most important one. I quickly get out of the warren of tunnels at the right place, however, by following the thin weary man's instructions.
Thursday. Confirmation that Nixon (and Kissinger) sabotaged Vietnam peace talks in 1968 to win the presidency. My Apple laptop is sick. Again.
Wednesday. More news (from the journal that bites the hand that feeds IT) about ice sheets not quite being time bombs after all:
Tuesday. As we get into the car with our bags ready to drive to Vac in intermittent cloud & sun, the chestnut horse Solero is munching grass a few yards away. I step towards it to wish it goodbye. The horse, sensing an opportunity, comes right up to me and buries his whole head in my chest and armpit. He rubs his face against my shirt vigorously to get rid of some flies. That might count as a farewell gesture, I suppose. During the drive across country, I talk - at perhaps a bit too much length - about what I take to be the Romantic mistake in seeking the forgotten spiritual at the interface between the mind and the body, somewhere in the dark, visceral labyrinth of the Gothic Novel. Tasty lunch in the country town of Vac, a little up the Danube north of Budapest, at a restaurant with outdoor tables softly playing what a previous generation might have called testcard music. Later we enter a bathroom-fittings showroom in Obuda with background music
The showroom has lots and lots of bath taps & wall tiles.
Monday. I finish Laura's copy of 'Divergent', a novel by Veronica Roth (that link contains plot spoilers if you read too much). Like the Hunger Games books another of my students lent me last year, this is a dystopian story aimed at young adults set in a post-apocalyptic version of the USA. In this case it's a crumbling metropolis (roughly based on Chicago) seemingly half a century or so into the future. Or perhaps an alternative version of the present. Society in the future is divided into five big tribes or "factions" with clearly-defined lifestyles & missions, and all 16-year-olds must decide whether to stay in the faction their family brought them up in, or whether to change faction and be almost completely cut off from their family. A parable of growing up, complete with the familiar US teenage horrors of fitting into cliques, being popular etc, combined with the never-ending American adult ache for identity, roots, a lineage, a code to live by. Although in parts it had the slightly stripped-down feel of a video game, the page-turning effect works. Moralistic and surprising without being too cloying. Of course words like Erudite or Abnegation or Amity (names of factions) count as exotic language for most of the target readers, so they function here a bit like Burgess's Russian-based street slang phrases in Clockwork Orange. Apparently this novel was written on a creative-writing course, which is interesting to know.
Sunday. Robin sits at an outdoor table sipping warm milky coffee nearby while I try out the trampoline, chatting with him about meditation. My chunky glass of cold black coffee is between us on the wooden bench. Solero the horse wanders up, bends his head over the back of the wooden bench, and starts trying to fit his nose and mouth into my tumbler of cold coffee, not knocking it over, but sliding it around on the wooden bench. He is clearly very interested by the scent of the coffee. Robin tells him several times to stop it and finally the horse reluctantly agrees to leave my drink alone.
Saturday. I take a train to Kuszentmarton after dark, and since part of the track is up, we are decanted off the train and onto a bus for a 15-minute ride, and then back onto the train. Hungarians handle this sort of thing rather well in general, with big clear notices, lots of people in uniforms standing around directing passengers, and surprising amounts of common sense.
Friday. Kirigami, or paper cut-out doilies, as clothing.
Thursday. More of the interesting rumours swirling around since Hockney's interesting book again suggesting that Renaissance painters used either early photography or quasi-photographic tools, hundreds of years before Niepce finally fixed light-sensitive chemicals in the 1830s. Recalling young Lorinc's striking dream from a fortnight back that he and a tiger playmate in a jungle discovered a hanging rope, went up it and found themselves in a higher desert where Lorinc had to play the piano for an audience.
Wednesday. Occasional tantalising flashbacks of warm sunny weather. Expensive engagement rings predict divorce - is that good news or bad?
Tuesday. More of this trend where you're guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
Monday. Read an old exhibition catalogue, beautifully illustrated, in Robin's library, for a
1985 Tate Gallery retrospective of the paintings of 'Francis Bacon'. The essays inside about Bacon's working method, his influences, and his artistic obsessions are well-expressed without getting entirely to the core of Bacon's ghastly on-canvas chamber of horrors. Not quite expressionist, not quite portraitist, Bacon's sitters hover somewhere between abstraction and the figurative, surrounded by flat blocks of house paint, smeared or scratched oils, and cloud trails of aerosol spray-on colour. Inspired (as the critics mention in this catalogue) by an awful line from the Greek playwright Aeschylus about a "smile that reeked of blood", Bacon's figures almost decompose into suffering blobs with open wounds instead of faces. He is fascinated by the glistening shine of spittle. For me they always seemed a mixture of the slightly puerile shock/horror side to British avant-garde you see in film-makers like Peter Greenaway or the 1960s playwrights set loose by the removal of the Lord Chancellor's right to censor stage plays, and something else more important. Bacon is struggling to cut a path between the abstract & the figure, and the difficulty he has doing so is testament to how dehumanising the background effect of abstract painting had already become, how removed from most viewers' sympathy and respect was the painted person by the 1940s. Bacon tries to steer clear of the main currents of 20th-century art, tries to do something alone, entirely his own, with post-Cubist, post-Expressionist, post-Surreal depiction, and what he finds left in this bleached-out artistic space is pretty desolate.
Quiet Sunday. Tunelet.
Saturday. Under white, cloudy skies take train to Kecskemet. Zsuzsi & Letty pick me up from the station. Later Robin photographs the front page of the magazine carrying my latest article.
Friday. A 2-hour conversation lesson spans universal consciousness and bullion, which I chirpily suggest is made of moonbeams & sunbeams held hostage in dungeons.
Thursday. Start groundwork for the #purewater project.
Wednesday. Spend whole day sleeping on sofa, dreaming strange bacterial dreams: feverishly vivid, yet oddly mundane in content. Speaking of the inner world of bodies, hormones, and overwhelming moods, here's a guide to women's cycles based on peer-reviewed studies, but with nicely laid-out visuals.
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood
ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated
people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or
animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity
is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or
precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That
should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may
also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle
differences and similarities
between languages are helping
archeologists and anthropologists to
understand what happened in the hundreds
of centuries of human
history before written history. And
that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the
textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag