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2004
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March 31st; We end Wednesday with the teachers inviting us out to a buschenschank for cold meats, smoked cheese and local wine. Bob gets his guitar out and sings for our supper. I go home to bed early. I am sleeping a lot here.

March 30th; Houellebecq's 'Atomised' or 'The Elementary Particles', translated from the French by Frank Wynne, is one of those novels which makes a general point about alienation by making the sex sound alternately clinical and crude, or both at once. Two half-brothers, Bruno and Michel, drift in and out of each other's lives during their progress through post-war France, having relationships with women which are either frantically crass or numbly distant. There is a scientific element which keeps popping in, either as part of Michel's life as a professional scientist, or as a dreary way to underline that religion is dead - discussing people's emotions in terms of evolutionary and hormonal adaptation, for example. It says a lot about France and the literary world in general that such an unoriginal book (author?) has been widely praised as tremendously original. The book reminded me vaguely of Trevor Hoyle's late-70s novel 'The Man Who Travelled on Motorways'. There are some harshly amusing bits, though most down to crisp abuse, such as calling Brazil a "shithole", or describing someone as whatever translates into English as "thick". One idea I did find it good to see said out loud was that 1960s socioeconomic egalitarianism shifted competition from material wealth to the sphere of sex.
The ending - a sort of scientific transcendence of sex - owes a lot more to Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' (mentioned in 'Atomised' as a crucial 20th-century text) than Houellebecq admits. The whole book, with its only partly convincing characters, irritably nihilistic tone of voice, and stagey set pieces of philosophical discussion between characters, yearns to live in a world as simplified as the one it says Huxley depicted. The scientific wrap-up, with cloning as the solution, makes no sense of course, even within the logic of the book.
March 29th; A charming village, Pischelsdorf, with a dangerous mix of hot sun and chilly shade. The usual sweet children but unusually sweet teachers. They keep pressing yummy little cakes and sandwiches on us. Classes go well, then finish the 'Tangled Wing' book Ryan gave me as he left Europe. Review later. Snuffling again by night though. Phone is back together with me, but does not work from here.

March 28th; Waking in the night with a scratching cough, I go to the kitchen to find some garlic and honey. I open the fridge and find - Phone. So I put my own mobile phone in my own fridge, then totally forgot I had done this. Hmmm.
Apart from being sent to the wrong railway terminus, an uneventful trip to Austria by train & coach. In the evening, finished the copy of Houellebecq's 'Atomised' Elysia recommended. Of which more later.
March 27th; After limping home to find and lance a blister so large that for a second I thought I'd grown a sixth toe, I slept like the dead for eleven hours. Woke this morning to the muffled strains of Wesleyan electric-organ music from the Salvation Army over the road. Throat a bit better.
Whole afternoon with Miklos readying interview notes for FedEx. Met Jim without having had time to prepare material for his or my lessons starting on Monday. Clocks move an hour tonight, the little bastards.

March 26th; Phone is lost. Please come back, telephone.
Lectures a bit tricky with sore throat, but not too bad. Long day. Bob from Delaware pops through town and cheers me up in the evening with tales of architectural beauty in Transylvania. Why does walking hurt?
March 25th; Saw Miklos thrice. 9am, 3pm, 9pm. Paperwork problems. Where is Phone?
Why am I coughing?

March 24th; A longish day of Excel spreadsheet data entry ends in a tiff. Ah, we're all such sensitive flowers when it comes to our own feelings.
March 23rd; As I wrap up an evening of data entry, one very very happy man rolls vigorously around on the floor of the Internet cellar bar, like an overjoyed dog.

March 22nd; I try to explain constitutions and voting systems. Who'll check out Kenneth Arrow?
March 21st; Out at Robin's, Eva the dentist comes over with her youngest daughter and a very small kitten. She ends up driving me to Lakitelek to catch the train back in. Held back at two level crossings, yet still caught the train.

March 20th; My Blunkett article is up.
March 19th; Translating late, s u r v e y stuff.

March 18th; Exasperating day, but at least a relaxing evening with Mariann at Gyuri & Margo's converted-attic complex, with wine, chocolate biscuits, dice games and slide shows. Seems that Magnum (they of the ice cream) give away pairs of dice - one with verbs in red ('lick', 'kiss', 'caress' etc) and the other with body parts in blue ('knee', 'toe', 'nipple' etc). Pretty naughty stuff, I agree. Then Margo started screening what were effectively magic-lantern shows featuring 1970s Hungarian children's TV and film characters. Small plastic reels wound on by hand about characters such as SuSu, the dragon Gyorgyi liked, who looks like a 3D rubber-and-cloth stop-go-animation character of the Clangers, Chigley, Chorlton era. Susu apparently was a disappointment to his parents, since he was born with only one head. Back in 2D, one quite alarming story (Mariann read out the captions at the bottom of each frame) was that of the three clever crows, all called Charles, done in savage-looking brown-and-grey Steadmanish cartoon depiction. They get a brickie to build them a house, but First Charles rejects the idea of a window since they let in cold, Middle Charles tells the bricklayer they don't want a door since doors let out heat, and Last Charles treats the builder as an idiot when he's about to put on the roof. "How are we going to get in and out if you put a roof on?" he chuckles mockingly. Then they sit on their open-topped brick box being rained on, wondering if they got something wrong. Not unlike a Charles I used to (do all his boring) work for.
Back in their kitchen, I found that 2-colour cardboard specs for viewing 3D films have an extraordinary effect: about every tenth or eleventh object looks iridescent, as if made out of mother-of-pearl. Is it my not-quite-binocular vision, or something to do with mixed colours or both? Must consult.
March 17th; Phone calls, Sari, quickly pop into Astoria to drop off and pick up books at Mr Carlson's's new book exchange. Dinner with Mihaly. He gets us talking about the government's new price cap on branded drugs, his son's university dissertation on injected foam-plastic insulation for integrated circuit chips, and his son's girlfriend, a keen chess evangelist in Hungarian primary schools, enthuses about Polgar's and Fischer's game variations. Mariann cheers me up when I get back.

March 16th; Long day. Start off writing six short porno dialogues for a film producer in south Buda. Then send phone-text messages to a bunch of telecoms executives I want to interview, interview one of same executives on phone, do some school business, cry off dinner with Mihaly, write an article about innocent people in prison, write another article, go to bed, sleep.
March 15th; Back in town in the late evening, I'm translating an overlong questionnaire in the local cellar Internet bar when a small fight breaks out next to the computer I'm using. Without warning, a man walks in from the room with the pool tables and punches a man sitting at the bar in the neck several times before being dragged off. All over in seconds. Then both parties sit around complaining for the next two hours.

March 14th; Windswept puszta, Robin sawing wood, distant barking dog.
March 13th; The empty plain still pretty empty.

March 12th; Olga explains her health fast.
March 11th; Ryan leaves. Then Pomaz by night.

March 10th; Encouragement from abroad.
March 9th; Ryan unexpectedly needs help packing numbered boxes before Customs come at 6am. By the small hours his hallway looks like a Carl Andre installation.

March 8th; Becoming addicted to those buttery-warm, fluffy little pastry things with cherry filling from the stall on Moszkva ter.
March 7th; Sunday is washing-machine day.

March 6th; Eszter invites me to my first Ribbon Ball, an event where Hungarian teenagers celebrate graduating from secondary school with.... formation dancing. The main hall of the Gardening University (oh yes there is) was packed with proud parents (I found Olga eventually) watching their sons and daughters getting ribbons and being photographed from about 6 to 7.30pm. Then the dancing began. Students in Tyrolean costumes and green hats skipped around to the sounds of Austrian slager, a strange medley of Bond-Thunderball + Pink-Panther + Men-in-Black involved black suits and imaginary guns, while Eszter was in a rather polished Chicago jazz thing. Then Viennese waltzing (Eszter again) with the lights going down at intervals so that in the UV lamps we only saw ghostly teardrop cones, instead of girls in white bustle ballgowns, gliding around. 24 teachers did a sharp Latin dance, surprisingly in time, and then more waltzing. Scores of pretty girls in radical evening wear not necessarily good for my soul, of course.
Invited afterwards by Mariann to a house in remotest Ujpest, where Gabor and Ivett were celebrating their ninth successful day in a large new house brought to them by the power of feng shui and positive thinking. Mariann and Ivett, a psychologist and astrologer, took me upstairs to the therapy room and made me lie down so their chi machine could wiggle me for a bit, filling my legs apparently with lots of positive chi. Cheery Gabor, gardener for Hungary's only British WWII cemetery (215 pilots shot down), showed me photos of his cemetery and other gardens he had designed, the 1941 tenor saxophone he lovingly restored and plays big-band jazz on, and pressed champagne and Stella Artois on me, while playing me his Smashmouth CDs. Quite quickly tipsy, I was roped into throwing darts at Gabor's electronic talking dartboard, and though there was a vague impression I was not taking the game entirely seriously, the Hungarians were all much too polite to mention it. They all had better aim than me, tipsy or not. Their plump black cat, Nirvana, wore a beautiful blue ribbon, just like the school-leavers earlier.
March 5th; Kind Eszter & Olga make me feel entertaining.

March 4th; Writers' group at Esther's new flat. I overindulge on beer, crisps & oranges while Jeff, Elysia & Esther tackle Wayne's rather good TV-drama synopsis.
March 3rd; Praise be, citizens! Phone lives again!

March 2nd; Phone still not working. Please e-mail me.
March 1st; Mobile phone is ill. I can't read any messages.

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Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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