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Sunday. Bump into Anti-Market-Garden Mark on the street. He alerts me to Korean poet/word-artist who makes full use of big letters on the screen, with bebop & modern jazz sounds. Click items on list to enjoy the full impact of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.
Saturday. Useful summary about how Arabia's Saudi rulers, put in power by Britain and the US before the war, were nonetheless involved with extremist Islam from the outset while constantly bluffing us that they're serious about growing up.
Friday. Yesterday Esoteric Veronica told me to make use of cosmic energy and seize the moment.
Today, strangely tired by all that cosmic energy, I do a lot of sleeping. Hilariously, now emerges that saturated animal fat is in fact good for you and that the research evidence it wasn't never really stacked up.
Thursday. Variation on the age-old couch/naked-girl/mirror theme. Horizontal self-assessment.
Wednesday. Engineering Gabor tells me interesting stories about his past. Recent news that ISIS, or IS, or ISIL or whatever they're called beheaded some American journalist prompts (1) an uninvited proclamation by some British police officer claiming that watching the video is "illegal" and then (2) judgements that the beheading video is probably faked - most likely the reason for trying to bluff us out of watching it too often or closely.
Tuesday. Return to Budapest. Chinese artist explains
how to disable security cameras.
Monday. Finish Esoteric Veronica's copy of a book by Roberto Assagioli that I've been meaning to read for many years since seeing it on Phelim's bookshelf: 'The Act of Will'. A curious book, this is a sort of superior self-help text, and the real action only starts in the appendices. One of these is headed by this powerful though clunkily phrased motto, presumably from Assagioli himself.
"We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate, direct, and utilize everything from which we disidentify ourselves."
His mission is to explain how - unlike the self-bludgeoning force of popular imagination - skilfully applied will is a subtle and sophisticated faculty which can be practised and developed.
+ Fascinating obituary of a French priest.
Sunday. Sugary song.
Saturday. Train out to Robin's, reaching a different station, Kunszentmarton, at ten o'clock at night. I read on the train and finish the same night his copy of 'Letters on Cezanne', a short set of collected letters by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. In these letters to his wife from 1907, Rilke hero-worships Van Gogh, describing him as a saint, and finds in Cezanne's struggle, his obsessive dedication to the difficult visual tasks he set himself, inspiration for his own poetic hopes. In some sections, there are fascinating glimpses of yearning and the imagining of other lives, moments all of us have had, but nicely caught here. As he walks past "little secondhand bookstores or places that sell copper engravings" he muses on a life owning a shop like that. "Ah, if only this were enough: Sometimes I dream of buying a full shop window like that and sitting down behind it with a dog for twenty years. In the evening there would be light in the back room, the front would be dark, and we would be sitting in back together, the three of us eating ---" By daytime he goes along other streets in Paris and
"One of the gates was just about to close; a servant in his morning livery turned around again and looked at me carefully and thoughtfully. And at the same moment it seemed to me that it would have taken only a very slight shift in the pattern of things at some time in order for him to recognise me and step back and hold open the door. In order for an old lady to be up there, a grand'mere who would make it possible to receive her favourite grandson even at this early hour. With a smile, quite affectionate herself, the familiar lady's maid would carry out the order and lead the way through the draped suite of rooms, inwardly turned back and hurrying for sheer eagerness and uneasiness at having to walk ahead of me." There are a few inspired sentences about Cezanne's use of colour. However, the letters mostly convey the feeling of being young, unsure, intense - yet haunted by a mysterious source of elusive, sacred beauty tantalisingly just out of reach. And who hasn't also felt this?
Friday. Continuing muddle in the particle zoo.
Thursday. Slightly smug little video explains how most of us will be unable to earn money very soon.
This plus yesterday's book brings back a ditty from Hilaire Belloc:
Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the duty of the wealthy man
to give employment to the artisan.
Wednesday. Finish a hardback book I found on Robin's shelves called 'Perfume from Provence' written in the 1930s by someone called Lady Fortescue, who left England back then to live in southern France. There are illustrations from E.H. Shepard of Winnie the Pooh fame. The book has all the way through a tone of gently flippant charm I recall from old Punch articles, and it was no surprise to find that Fortescue also wrote for Punch. There is an impressively understated bitter-sweet sting in the tail, all the more effective for being warned of in advance only by the quietest & sparsest of clues. Now condemned as "patronising", her tone is a wonderful glimpse of balanced confidence, affection, and fairness from before our age of bitter class-conscious snideness. Today's sneering British puritans cannot enjoy someone enjoying their Italian maid giggling with delight at her first ever sight of snow Because Rich Bastards Should Be Ashamed To Have Servants blah blah blah. (It's not fair that rich people can write skilfully & entertainingly, more like.) Whereas here, still surviving across a mere 3/4 of a century we have text like "In England we did know something of the naughty little ways of vegetables, their likes and dislikes, their moods and caprices, but in Provence apparently they are more profligate, their appetites grosser, and their passions stronger." or this section where the gardener Hilaire is chuckling with Madame about the ways of pigeons: "[Hilaire] tells me the papa pigeon is now making love to another woman, and I express intense indignation. I prefer faithful husbands and strongly object to such goings-on in my pigeon-cote. Hilaire laughs until he chokes: 'C'est la vie, Madame,' he gasps, 'et elle est belle, vous savez!' jerking a knowing thumb at the shameless flirt who is alienating the affections of the husband while his true wife is in child-bed." This prose has no need of gags, wisecracks, or clever remarks, accepting instead the humour & moods of the people she meets. The writing represents an entire view of life, full of happy zest and worldly-wise wit, braced by the hidden steel of self-restraint. A coy pretended innocence adds to the subtle flavour of this book, which on the surface looks so light and silly, but actually gleams with all the intelligent challenge of a twinkle in the eye. A kindly poker face, no less sharp. The chapter about the cars and vehicles of her or neighbours (all given pet names) is wonderful, and she explains sadly that their new car is delightful in all other respects, but unfortunately this vehicle is also a snob, only running smoothly on trips down to smart seafronts on the Cote d'Azur.
Monsieur Pierre, the bee-keeper, explains to our patient but attentive narrator the doings of the honey-makers. "--- he told me that a friend of his imported queen bees from Germany, Egypt, England, and America. The German bees, he told me, always work overtime, and fill the cells of the comb so full of honey that it reaches and permeates the outer wax, thus spoiling the look of the sections, so that they cannot be exhibited. The Egyptian bees work well, but are fierce and uncertain of temper - mefiez-vous! The English bees work well, but only for a certain number of hours ; and the American bees are brilliant but erratic, sometimes working feverishly, and sometimes taking a day off.
Extraordinary, I thought, that bees should have absorbed the characteristics of their countries."
Tuesday. Southern belle says
90% of all men should die soon.
Monday. A couple of nights ago - when discussing plans to watch 'Jackie Brown' (adapted from an Elmore Leonard thriller) and also mulling over old films starring the recently dead Robin Williams, Robin & I briefly talk about writing. We contrasted the Dead Poets Society scene where the Williams teacher character tells the boys how to write, stating (my paraphrase) "Never say 'very' - you are not "very tired", you are 'exhausted', you are not 'very something' you are 'something else' etc", with the famous Elmore Leonard instruction to aspiring authors to "always use 'said' and 'says', never 'exclaimed, remarked, whispered, rejoined' etc". Leonard was a writer who (unlike Hemingway) really did get out of the way of his stories. Like a good typographer choosing a typeface readers don't notice. Whereas Hemingway advocated that goal, but in fact wrote with a swaggering, showy lack of ostentation. Not that Leonard was necessarily right, of course, but in a way he was the kind of writer Hemingway claimed to be.
Robin sees me off at Lakitelek railway station around midday. Back on Friday, the rock-chick bar-girl at the recently-reopened Kecskemet railway station cafeteria was on duty when I bought a sandwich and an espresso off her. Unlike last time, she had a high-necked top on. I asked if she is going to tell me what the paragraph of very squiggly italic writing across her shoulder blades I saw last week says. No, she says too calmly to be coquettish, though she tosses her bob of blonde hair a little while holding my gaze and smiling. What language is it in? I ask. English? Yes, English, she says. Then she casually promises that next time I'm in the station and she again has a low-cut dress on she'll let me read the tattoo across her upper back.
Sunday. Robin, Bela, & I watch (in my case rewatch, though it's been a few years) Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown'. Coincidentally this is, like last night, another film about a seemingly vulnerable woman forced to improvise and survive in a world of ruthless male violence. Here's a still image with song from one of the 1970s blaxploitation films Tarantino admired during his years working nights at the video-rental store, starring the then-young Pam Grier, the actress he then recast for the leading role in this late 1990s film. Here's the start to the 1970s film Tarantino took the opening music from. Even the final scene of 'Jackie Brown', loaded with doubt, ambiguous regret, and suppressed desire, is strangely reminiscent of the close of 'Nikita' last night.
Saturday. In the evening when asked, Robin casually mentions his first reaction on hearing that the American actor & comedian Robin Williams had killed himself this week was that he'd done it because he knew he wasn't very funny. We agree that although he was clearly a sweet-natured person, his acting & comedy weren't that good, something watching a few minutes of his stand-up act (both of us it turns out have watched Williams talking about golf in a Scots accent) really clarified. Robin pauses thoughtfully and then describes how something about the actor always made him want to squirm with embarrassment, how he seemed to trying very hard for effect the whole time. We try to think of films we've seen him in. I mention finding 'Good Morning Vietnam' vaguely annoying since it depicts a non-combatant radio DJ on an army base as a rebellious hero, and Robin says he found 'Dead Poets Society' quite a good film, adding though that any good actor would have been memorable playing that role. I mention finding some old photographs on the internet of Williams as a mime artist in Central Park, New York, in his twenties, and Robin murmurs in a faraway voice that explains a lot. How? I ask. His simple reply is that a background in mime might be why Williams constantly seemed to have to semaphore everything with his whole face and body, as if always afraid the jokes wouldn't work without extra help.
Later on the two of us watch Luc Besson's 1990 original of the much-copied and remade film 'Nikita' which Robin has never seen, and which while watching I start to think I never saw all the way through first time. Astonished, I see the whole thing afresh. Why did this film fascinate so many people? Why was it remade by the Americans, copied in slavish detail, and then turned into a series - what raw nerve does it touch? It's Rousseau's study of the ideal upbringing of a child, crossed with Rousseau's vision of a state that enacts the will of the people. It's the description of a woman being remade into a masculine figure, a sniper, by a society that believes - as do socialists and all true children of the French Revolution - that personalities are not innate but can be redesigned by the group. Nikita, the expressive wild child filled with rebellious energy, has to be channelled away from hate-filled, anarchic violence and reshaped to enact the clinical bureaucratic aims (focused, controlled, government-sanctioned violence) of the ideal state. A chaotic free agent being changed into a precise instrument of the collective will. Yet even after her training a powerful naivete shines through. The lover she meets is tender, modest, affectionate, and he sees this softer, more feminine side in her. The love affair with him is the counterpull of romance (and comforting bourgeois normality) against the dark glamour of the faceless, opaque, all-knowing state that trains and employs her to kill. The tragicomic scene in Venice where her boyfriend is sweetly negotiating with her hysterical feminine tantrum through a locked bathroom door while in fact she is, machinelike, about to execute an almost anonymous target - unknown even to her controller - with a telescopic rifle, encapsulates the contradictions of the film. The pro-feminist New Man, gentle and emotionally attuned, cooks for her and soothes her mysterious-work-related moodiness, while she struggles to allow her emotions to resurface from beneath her trained coolness, or else to push them back down below. Two men representing two aspects of modern republican France confront each other at the end of the film, puzzled, wrily amused at themselves, and ultimately unreconciled although both courteous and civilised. Both of the characters in the final scene have an emotional, romantic side and yet coldly rational, ruthless officialdom (whether efficient or dangerously clumsy) still keeps control of the story.
Friday. Take train to countryside. On the train I finish an odd short booklet, barely 45 pages long, called 'The Prague Loreto' by Marketa Bastova & Teresie Cvachova, translated into English by Kathleen Hayes. This is my first proper introduction to the curious Catholic idea of a 'Loreto', modelled on the house the Virgin Mary lived in, which was supposedly disassembled in the Holy Land during one of the Crusades and then shipped to Italy and rebuilt in a town called Loreto. It seems that replicas of the Santa Casa, copied down to the smallest detail, were also rebuilt - or built - in other cities in Europe, including Prague, as centres for pilgrims wishing to meditate on the holy mysteries of Christ's life. This booklet explains the various architectural and artistic treasures of this Marian site, including the several adjoining chapels. It ends with a litany.
Thursday. Esoteric Veronica imparts
Wednesday. Engineering Gabor, back from his trip to London with Psychology Eszter, identifies my bracelet of wooden crosses threaded on black cord as not just a Catholic rosary (each cord knot an Our Father+ and each cross a Hail Mary+) but (although from a Croat island Robin & family visited) a rosary in a style common at the Bosnian Marian shrine inland at Medjugorje. I dimly recall a very cheerful middle-aged Hungarian man years ago who briefly employed me. He told me of his work in the 1980s and early 90s organising busloads of Hungarian pilgrims to travel down to the northern Yugoslav town in hope of seeing visions of Mary. He claimed he did all this on a red rotary-dial fixed-line phone which repeatedly went dead because the 1980s communist authorities didn't like his Catholic proselytising.
Tuesday. Train back to Budapest after some relaxed chatting about life over coffee in sunny Kecskemet with Bela & Robin. Here's an excellent interview with Josh Kaufman about learning any skill. American can-do attitude at its finest.
Monday. Since on Saturday night arriving upstairs inside the studio I was buzzed by swallows in the dark, have slept last 2 nights in the library in the main house again. Midges encouraged by recent rain have been nibbling on me during sleep, but uncannily only the right arm is bitten. I assume the bracelet of wooden crosses on my left wrist has some kind of oil or scent midges dislike. I sniff the wooden crosses (oddly resembling Robin's crosses of dried clay, like Greek crosses but with the 4 arms trimmed back to 3/4 length) and they seem to have a very faint perfume - how I imagine rosewood might smell if I actually knew different woods.
Sunday. Target achieved: social-media reach pledged by deadline. Victory is close, citizens.
Saturday. Drive to countryside with Robin & Bela. After their family holiday on a Croatian island, the children brought me back a bookmark with a cheery sun & moon on it, and a bracelet of chunky wooden crosses knotted together by black cord. The bracelet ends in a tiny oval-shaped tag illustrating probably Jesus next to miniscule letters spelling out 'Lourdes'.
Thursday. Getting close to our target at the HeadTalker social-media project. Join us, citizens!
Wednesday. Pretending to be in love makes you really fall in love?
Tuesday. Revisit the gym with custard-yellow-painted brick walls, foolishly taking along my yellow towel instead of the orange one. The weight-training machines have synthetic cushions of exactly the same shade of tired lemon as my towel so that at a distance I'm unable to see where in the room my towel is. It's crowded tonight with perhaps 15 people milling about. Four separate pert honeys at different machines or mats each have a bull-shaped man crouching nearby murmuring instructions and adjustments to the girl's movements with a kind of gruff tenderness. One curious scene catches my eye because I'm nearby. A tanned, taut-looking girl in her 20s who has dyed her hair platinum & grey to emphasise she isn't old yet is lying on her back on a mat holding a 25-kilogram disc of iron across her stomach with one hand. She is thrusting up with her hips, raising them from the mat with the extra load of the free weight, and her Taurean Muscle Guide very slowly puts one foot onto the weight and presses down quite gently with part of his weight. He chuckles, someone else laughs, she grins and shows her strength by arching her back and pushing back against his force, holding her hips off the floor for a good 10 seconds until he takes his foot off the 25kg weight. An odd moment, somehow referring to both sex and childbirth.
Monday. 2 pieces about education: a/ Sweden messes up education vouchers by using Milton Friedman's proposal but changing it, b/ A New Yorker article ponders whether elite universities should teach technical expertise or something else.
Sunday. Gaining traction with the crowd-funding countdown. A curious book review which becomes one left-winger reminiscing about another left-winger. Part affectionate, part spiteful, the essay ends poignantly. Note the glint of steel near the close: "Nor did I say anything about hundreds of years of odious British aristocracy."
Saturday. Three interesting reflections on masculinity:
1/ One commentator says the German working class never stopped opposing the First World War.
2/ A curious, very American, attempt to explain 200 years in terms of mostly male
3/ A vigorous Russian rural man tells ducks what to do.
Friday. Microbes that live off electric charge ; an engraving that supposedly shows a young Adolf Hitler playing chess with an older Vladimir Lenin ; ISIS again - a careful look at Saudi funding for the new extremist entity.
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