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2002
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December 31st; By midnight, believing we are sober, we are sawing open shotgun cartridges to melt spoonfuls of gunshot over a gas ring and splash the molten lead into cold water for divination purposes. Later, Valentina teaches us a card game.

December 30th; We send sketches of tyre-walled sheds to Azhar, and Robin & I stay up late talking, if not of cabbages and kings, then at least sealing wax and many things.
December 29th; In which Follo shoots a pheasant for soup, I have a hangover, and Letty advises me on how to find a wife.

December 28th; Follo and Valentina arrive with small, dainty daughter + big, friendly dog. I eat too many star-shaped puff-pastry snacks.
December 27th; Robin and I wonder how big a structure you can build from scrap tyres? We ask Azhar about load-bearing strengths.
I finish the rather baffling Zelator.

December 26th; Lovely lunch with Edina and Geza. She lends me 3 intimidating books. No excuse now.
December 25th; Restful. We see documentary about the Gilgamesh Great Flood story.

December 24th; Extraordinary. Russian air-traffic controllers are desperate or angry enough to go on a hunger strike. Looks like it really will be the silent magical night, then.
December 23rd; We visit Kecskemet. Back at Robin's, his copy of Zelator suddenly starts to make more sense with one eye on excellent television version of Arabian Nights.
December 22nd; Idyllic, snowbound peace and quiet continues. Bob sends links to exotic-rug knowledge.
December 21st; A couple of days ago finished Bob's 'The Carpet Wars', an intriguing mix of war reporting and carpet trading in and around Afghanistan. It pulls together ten years of visits to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India by Christopher Kremmer. In the final chapter, Kremmer visits Esfahan, a fabled oasis city in Iran/Persia and is chilled by the way an ultra-smooth carpet trader seduces Western buyers. The trader tells him the tried and tested Heaven-and-Hell "now you live here!" joke and an appalled Kremmer describes him, with typical exaggeration, as "Satanic".
Kremmer is noticing his own wearying with the region. It has started to sink in for Kremmer that he is poor at carpet buying, not good at travelling in exotic regions, and, worst of all, bad at writing.
Uncomfortable suspicions for someone who has been doing those three for over a decade. More than once we cringe as Kremmer unwittingly reveals or conceals something about himself. He asks his old carpet trader friend Tariq to "be hard" and tell him the "truth" about how worthless most of the carpets Kremmer has bought over the previous decade really are. It is almost like a desperate comedian begging for reassurance. Elsewhere, he describes a carpet trader with a dreadful stock who has not sold anything for months begging him to buy something, anything "to show my son what his father is", ending the anecdote guiltily at this punchline, never telling us if he fell for this ruse, or answered this plea - whichever it was. Peculiar moments of shame and irritation dot the book. A whole page given to a bland description of how some visa officials were kind to him in Iran, and angry sentences about a Slovak backpacker who sponged a taxi ride off him, oddly sit alongside cultural destruction and vicious wars.
Bob warned me about the writing, bless him, though sentences as bad as "I pitied the misfit moon" are thankfully rare. Composition is more the issue.
Lots of places are described as haunting, beautiful - often with small passages quoted from travellers better at writing than Kremmer - but Kremmer does not himself show us, with words, how they were haunting or beautiful. People are described, their funny English sentences repeated, but it all seems an oddly lifeless background to the foreground of Kremmer's secretive awkwardness abroad. We never hear which languages he speaks or to what level. We never learn who paid for his journeys and who he was reporting for. The timeline is muddled. Small discomforts at remote hotels are a little too well remembered. The questions he asks {now dead} politicians like
Najibullah or Massoud seem reasonable enough, but still float oddly free of any context for each interview {Australian radio? European magazines? Is he shy about naming clients?}. Some parts are boring.
It would be over-clever to suggest the book needs less warp more weft - but it lacks what the carpets obviously have: strong repeated motifs and well-defined geometric shapes in warm, mellow colours. The tone of Carpet Wars is oddly cold, however repeatedly Kremmer assures us of his feelings for people he meets. A structure like two or three pages about a certain type of carpet to start each chapter, blending into a personal or historical anecdote about that design of rug for the rest of that chapter, could have worked very well.
December 20th; An indoor day, after a brief failed attempt with Robin to help handyman Sanyi get the motor of his snow-chilled truck turning over using a tow cable and a big wooden stick.
'
Cube' is a Canadian film with a big statement about life, and it is at least startlingly different. Several people find themselves trapped in a vast 3D grid of cubic rooms, each with six square doors, one in each face, each leading to another cubical cell, identical except for colour. To add some spice, some rooms are nastily boobytrapped. The film opens with a man being suddenly sliced into little blocks by a kind of cheesewire snap-trap. The small bunch of survivors appear to be inside a kind of endless Rubik's cube, and as they alternately squabble and sink into despair, they have to form a team and think their way out of this vast and literally fiendish geometrical puzzle.
An interesting idea for a story. Unhappily, the final result resembles a pretentious student play, complete with overwritten dialogue and overacted characters. Depressingly, it does not make sense as a puzzle either: the studious Asian girl who knows about maths is made to mistake prime numbers for composite numbers, a basic blunder impossible for her character and which could easily have been avoided. The laconic nihilist {pompously named Worth} is, as Rob pointed out, the only likeable one. He's rather transparently the voice of the writers.
Complete with endorsement from Cronenberg, this film is a reminder that anxious, earnest and morbid Canadians with their long winter nights are North America's Scandinavians. And the stupidly massive, undefeatable machine-maze that goes on forever in all directions is probably the US, just south of their border.

December 19th; A Greek salad with a slightly tense Gordon and Tim. I depressed Gordon a bit by telling him it was no accident Kafka lived in Habsburg Europe.
Got out of town late. By midnight out on the Great Plain, Robin and I were chatting under his kitchen candlabra over cheese and whisky, the blue glow of miles of moonlit snow coming in through all the windows.
Where to start? India Knight's novel 'Don't you want me?' is in many places very funny, and narrated with appealing sharpness by the central character, a half-French, half-English single mother {Stella} of a girl toddler called Honey. They live with one Geordie lodger {Frank} in Primrose Hill, north London. Yet something about the book sneakily becomes annoying as the monologue unfolds. After the adroit opening three pages of humour, which Knight squirts in our face, as it were, we build up a picture of a woman who is
a] a stylishly simple dresser {une Parisienne dans London, poor thing} who cares for appearances, grumbling of her own slight plainness in a lovable way;
b] critical of others' appearance, then self-critical for being so critical, then appealing to us to be forgiven for being so critical.
Her feminine precision for noting interior decor and clothes in order to socially categorise people gets wearying though. I began to tire after the third description of a living room with requisite brand names rounded off by her confident judgement of that person's bearability or lack thereof. Revealingly, the reasons Stella is so happy Louisa at the dreadful playgroup will be her special friend boil down to 1) Louisa {like her of course} is not physically ugly; 2) Louisa dresses prettily and tastefully like her; 3) Louisa has the same obviously intelligent opinions as Stella. Each time, we get a mock-apologetic assertion of the "I mean please, am I demented? Is doing your poo in the middle of a crowded room just hideous or is it totally mellow holistic motherhood?" type. Haven't we all used exaggeration to make others laugh and agree?
Knight has enough craft to make the two female rivals [the younger women: one going out with her previous husband and one with her former boyfriend] sympathetic. The Sloaney Cressida who keeps saying "Gosh" and the Japanese girl called Keiko are not allowed to be nasty, but Knight/Stella cannot resist making them sound stupid. Keiko cheerfully making sexual jokes about her boyfriend in front of him in a roomful of mixed strangers is ridiculously unJapanese of course, as is Keiko's Cod-Asian-using-always-gerund-imperative-talking. Must trying meeting actual Japanese {and must real listening!} before writing, Ms Knight. They don't talk like that. A bit disappointing after the better French touches from Knight's own upbringing.
Pages kept turning and it still stays funny, though the last 1/3 of the book clearly got fewer rewrites than the first 1/3. But characters are weak, however zingy the narrator's natter. The only really interesting and attractive person in the book is Stella's adorable toddler Honey {"Ow, me."}. Her brief, intriguing utterances {"Oi, mouse."} are a refreshing break from her garrulously oh-so-modest mother.
Is some of that vulnerability real? Some of that charmingly deployed self-doubt, casually tossed in whenever her demands of life start boring us, rings curiously true. Stella, like her creator, at some level senses her own superficiality {however much she pouts fetchingly until we reassure her judging people by their taste in clothing is absolutely reasonable}. Her puzzlement at the gruff northern male {oddly simple yet so mysterious!} convinces, but the ending is boringly pat. Like so many women, for Stella the character, and, I horribly suspect, for India the writer, after her serious feelings for her lovely child, her only real hobby is herself.
December 18th; Last night Rob took me to the film 'Cube' of which more soon.
Who thinks that central banks will keep on unloading precious metals in order to cover the cost of defending currency targets, and who thinks they will start seeing bullion as too valuable to unload? I mean soonish?

December 17th; From the repeated hits I'm getting from presumably disappointed websurfers, it's clear I'd better get on with it and read 'Sorstalansag' by Imre Kertesz, so I can post a review. Will do, anon.
December 16th; Of course the best news last week was my mother at last mastering text-messaging on her mobile phone, the evening of Szilvia's party.

December 15th; In small hours, instead of Carpet Wars, quickly read 'Don't you want me?' by India Knight, since won't have it tomorrow.
December 14th; Opening chapters of book kindly lent by Bob: 'The Carpet Wars'. More soon. At online business forum noweurope Steve discussed paraskavedekatriaphobia {fear of Friday the 13th} yesterday.

December 13th; Haircut at 3 from Margo.
December 12th; Anyone know if radio-receiver tuner windows come in standard sizes? You know, those little strips of glass where the radio-station frequencies are marked on portable radios?

December 11th; I meet lots of teachers, and we discuss Czech men. A breed apart, apparently.
December 10th; Weather gets properly nippy. People start asking if I've put the heating on.

December 9th; Istvan tells me about Beuys.
December 8th; I burble on into the night at Rob's. I wonder: is Annika trying to tell me something important about Leibniz and Lully?

December 7th; Once again in sauna with Peppermint Man. End up at Szilvia's lovely party.
December 6th; Trees down Andrassy ut decked with white fairy lights. Gorgeous.

December 5th; Check wood's lot for spaciously-laid-out {Vancouver-based?} multiculturalism with elegant photographs.
December 4th; Read 'The End of Science' by John Horgan from the school library. Horgan interviewed about forty scientists, five or six philosophers and one theologian. I couldn't put the book down, so it clearly does something right. Much of the fun is the snide sketches of figures like cerebral superstring cosmologist Ed Witten, flamboyant science-philosophy anarchist Paul Feyerabend, icy biologist Richard Dawkins, black sheep astronomer Fred Hoyle and so on. I kept reading, convinced I would find out something interesting, but oddly, I never did. Their funny faces & curious ways of speaking are all there, but the bad feeling starts to sink in that, intellectually, Horgan is out of his depth with all of them, secretly knows this, and resents it quite a lot.
~ Explaining Feyerabend, he does not discuss Feyerabend's friend Imre Lakatos's rival {and more convincing} philosophy of science, even for a sentence. Sneering lines like "... he {Prigonine} seemed not arrogant so much as calmly accepting of his own greatness." "Gell-Mann may err - dare one say it?" "But behind his back we exchanged jaded smiles." "Eccles was frank - too frank for his own good...." begin to make us feel more than a bit jaded with the smart-arse journalist Horgan. A science writer who quotes a study on Francis Bacon, feeling no urge to quote Bacon himself.
~ Horgan has a greasy windscreen-wiper convey a metaphorical message Langton the complexity-theorist is too dim to notice, and a coffee table confront chaos theorist Feigenbaum with reality by banging his shin. If only they could see what Horgan sees! You read on ever faster, hoping traces of these driven and interesting thinkers' own ideas will survive the distorting lens of Horgan's self-regard.
~ Horgan is much too frank for his own good. An interesting episode left to the end - he relates a powerful spiritual experience and gets franker still about his so-far-unsatisfied self-importance - is bravely discussed alongside Frank Tipler's extraordinary Omega Point cosmology. Having shown off his term 'ironic science' for 260 pages, this science journalist gets to where he should have started, and looks for a theologian. A few words with one, Charles Hartshorne, seems enough to convince Horgan that he himself is a Socinian [a believer God is not unchanging but learns and develops through time].
~ Yet he really did have something here. These researchers' touchiness about the supposed endlessness of science is interesting. Most scientists are deeply naive about the philosophies behind their project, claiming there are none - unable to admit this is a position too, and Horgan was right to follow this through. But his ignorance & irritation blur everything far more than Langton's windscreen-wiper. Freeman Dyson is one of the only scientists here lucid enough to survive an hour with Horgan relatively undamaged. Ironic science journalism, in places embarrassing to read.

December 3rd; Tim and Peter appeared in jovial mood, flushed with triumphs on the cleaning-machine market. We repaired to the bacon-and-egg place, where over bacon and eggs I suggest women's insistence on controlling communication in courtship is rude. Tim and Peter nod sympathetically.
December 2nd; Righteous! August has re-emerged. The force is with me.

December 1st; Quiet day. Coffee with Steve. Tea with Ryan.

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Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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