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2005
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April 30th; Latin-translator Zeno cooks dinner with millet.
April 29th; A mildly interesting article about Hungary now unlinkable, so here is Erik's reaction to it. I miss last train out of Pest, but Robin sweetly picks me up in Kecskemet with Zeno & his friend Istvan [another resident of the Great Plain who speaks Kazakh, Tartar & Mongol but has never met Edina].

April 28th; Linda & Mike pop over to Heather's for dinner. Linda says she once got very worried by a truck with a logo of a big eye displayed on the back.
April 27th; Feri berates Slager Radio's Brian for citing as two good-looking Americans Arnold Schwarzenegger [Austrian] and Pamela Anderson [French Canadian].

April 26th; Perhaps Keri was right: we should try to go to London with Scott.
Heather & I cancel our trip to see de Sade done with puppets tonight because she still has ringing in her ears.

April 25th; Feri tells me Salt Lake City Mormons like coffee, but see tea as a drug.
April 24th; Heather finds neuticles.com. My eyes water.

April 23rd; In an idle couple of hours, I make the mistake of reading a book SF Jessica kindly left me. Perhaps not a mistake - worryingly educational. 'The First Time I Got Paid For It' is a book of short articles by Hollywood screenwriters about the first time they got paid for writing. The subtitle ('And Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches') sets the scene for the mass of unctuous, self-congratulatory preaching inside. As if comparing the difficulties of trying to earn a living selling screenplays with risking death & maiming in World-War-One's trenches was not a tasteless, weak enough metaphor, the essays inside really hammer the self-love message home. The book is packed with dreadful prose. Someone called Miguel with no writing credits listed rambles on for 7 pages about how the first Apple computer he bought in the early 1980s now looks really old compared to the newer Apples he has owned since. One Australian is drily amusing about the twits he meets in LA, mentioning an agent who, at a restaurant lunch, "threatens" to saw his own arm off with a butter knife. But what is really startling is page after page of I-tried-and-I-tried-and-I-goddamned-tried-and-hell-I-finally-made-it text from people who are now apparently of galactic dimensions because they helped script three films I've never heard of. A writer called Tina describes with reverent awe a writer called Alex "On the breaks we'd walk the acreage of Haley farm finding artifacts, interesting rocks and unusual plants. He even found an ancient Indian arrowhead which he gave me." This Alex is such a martyr that he keeps small change to the value of 18 cents framed on his wall because he had only 18c in his pocket the day he learned his novel had finally been published. We even hear what he had in his fridge that day. "Suddenly" (Tina continues, respectfully bowing her head to One Who Has Suffered More Than Even She) "I didn't feel bad about my mounting bills for I had far more than 18 cents. I had a mentor - a great Sage." This is only page 6. Another 246 pages of this drivel lie ahead. I assume "irresistible browsing book" is a publisher's euphemism for something so badly written they don't expect anyone to ever read it all the way through. Of course, screenwriting is a different craft (they use words like 'craft', 'build', 'polish', 'structure' a lot) from writing an entertaining or informative three-page essay, but a naif like me might expect professional writers in their field to know that. Perhaps watch out for their own limitations in another type of composition? Believe it or not, several of these writers start off with a pompous opening paragraph proudly listing how good they were at English at school. After wading through this cheerleading by the vain for the vain, I'm no longer surprised at how dull most films out of LA are, even with all the interesting rocks and unusual plants. All these writers emphasise character in story-telling, but their histrionic self-importance suggests they have little of their own.
April 22nd; Stephen's birthday party at Castro's. Franc & company listen to my coffee rant.

April 21st; Cake & tea with Liia / Jasmina on Albania / company event on Raday street.
April 20th; Franc kindly drives me to village of Szada. Sweet Edit, from the Pocokmedia days, makes us lunch, we load up the old Apple iMac into Franc's car and return to Pest. Whereupon Heather rustles us up some dinner. Later, met Esther & Robin 3, the futurist. Esther & I choose photos for magazines 1 & 2.

April 19th; Elysia says: get barcoded. Missing her Tarot readings.
April 18th; Ah, so it's 'Leader Of The Pack', then.

April 17th; Magnificent black thunder clouds over Erd.
April 16th; Heather throws party. Philipp from Munich tells me about his adventures with Swahili and Hindi. Perhaps the highlight was Heather in the kitchen asking some guests if they wanted cream in their coffee while we all pretended not to notice an entwined couple edging their way into the back of the room, and then into the cupboard.

April 15th; More floor-waxing. Quite therapeutic.
April 14th; After Prague map meeting with Annabel, down to south Pest with the map-bag to meet map-makers Zsolt & Andrea my first time. At Hatar Ut metro station I look to find which bus-stop the 194 bus goes from. A typical retarded Hungarian map (a large-scale plan of the streets around the station) shows where ten bus-stops are in loving detail, except that north is not marked, there is no mark showing where you are, no way to distinguish the metro exits, no landmarks to help on the map [for example the huge Europark shopping centre around fifty yards away is left off the plan, presumably because they refused to pay a bribe to be on it] - and only one street name matching the bigger map. So the plan confirmed that there was a 194 stop somewhere nearby within a 360-degree arc. Useless. I asked three people and finally found the bus. When I get to the map-designers' address I discover that (slightly worryingly) they had given me directions from the bus stop yet linked to a junction 1/2 a mile the other side of their house, taking me 20 minutes out of my way. Oh dear. Sun comes out. A lovely suburb which would have been quiet and charming if Hungarians could learn to train their neurotic dogs not to bark all the time like broken car alarms, but to bark only when an intruder enters the house at night, for example. Sophisticated stuff, I know.

April 13th; Spring definitely dawdling this year.
April 12th; A girl in a metro station gives me a 3-inch cardboard cut-out of a pineapple, with the mixed-language slogan on it: "I love ananasz". Its perfume is very sweet, something between pineapple & strawberry.

April 11th; Cool, damp weather. Hungarian spring postponed again. I can get this sort of climate in Britain.
April 10th; Morning: waxing Heather's floor. Afternoon: back in the Marriott sauna, still strongly scented by the new pine planking they put in about three weeks ago.

April 9th; Franc invites me over to a lovely dinner with Csilla, John, Bea & Gabi. John tells of his pastry-chef days in a bunker beneath the Barbican. We then watch a TV show while I blow at their fat cat to keep it away from me. Brunette TV presenter looking even more deer-in-the-headlights than usual turns out to be (new hairdo) Zita.
April 8th; Interesting to contrast this and this article about Pope JP2's recent death. Hitchens intriguingly compares the Catholic church now to the Soviet Union in 1960.

April 7th; Finished Miklos's copy of 'Generativ Grammatika', an extended interview with Noam Chomsky, translated by Maria Pap in 1985. Perhaps it was not particularly wise of me to read Chomsky on linguistics in Hungarian, but it was mercifully short. He takes some trouble to tell his interviewer that people who think 'deep grammar' is in some conventional sense 'deep' are getting quite the wrong idea, and the closing pages of the book mention an intriguing-sounding subject called 'generative poetics'. Chomsky says it sounds interesting but loftily adds it is not something he has anything to say about. He is meticulous about crediting other linguists who have done some "interesting work", saying in the same breath how each is really separate from his own approach. He has an odd view of the scientific method (Is MIT to blame?) which emphasises lots of detailed, piecemeal work, but also allows so many provisos & changes of direction, it is hard to know what the thesis that would be tested actually is any longer. Perhaps MIT is the new Paris. An odd echo with his political writing is the need for an overarching explanatory theory which is both just out of sight, embedded in thickets of detail, and yet at the same time oddly simple. People who are good at minutiae often seem to be quite naive at the overview level. Despite the careful explanations, I fail to see how his rival linguists analysing features like reflexivity and active/passive have somehow stayed on the surface, while he is penetrating to some more fundamental set of grammatical relations. Hard not to feel Chomsky is claiming credit for rediscovering nouns and verbs. Also the mystery of new unique sentence generation never seemed mysterious to me. When I see what little else they do all day, I am struck by children's slowness to pick up language 1, getting to a 10-year-old's proficiency after about fifty thousand hours of intensive practice - at least a hundred times what a bright adult needs to talk like a 10-year-old in a 2nd language. I also can't help finding this idea that every speaker can produce a huge number of new sentences totally banal and in need of no special account. How else would it be, and why does this suggest a "language organ"? It reminds me of what makes Newton's first law so hard to explain - everyday experience with friction makes us assume that moving objects not slowing down in space needs explanation. Newton was clever because he realised continual motion needed no explanation - it was slowing down in an atmospheric medium that needed to be explained. Similarly, everyone being able to produce an endless number of unprecedented utterances is the sort of thing you might think remarkable if you had worked a lot with early computers and small finite-state games like nim. But once utterances begin to be taken as labels for features of the surrounding world, which is sufficiently bitty and detailed to generate numerous possible utterances (especially with recursive rules) this combinatorically huge open-endedness need not be a mystery. Why should it? And has Chomsky's work helped either artificial intelligence or language-learning strategies for humans? He's probably the Comte of our time: pedantic, plodding, and arid.
April 6th; Late in office: Misi suggested I try PHP.
Finished Stephen's P.G. Wodehouse book 'Right Ho, Jeeves'. First book I've read by Wodehouse. Was always rather put off by the Bertie Wooster cult until now. Very funny and easy to read - reminded me of the Spectator reviewer who recently described Wodehouse's writing slipping down "like lemon sherbet". The plotting is extremely tight, and the language is enchanting, though I did find Wooster's unending linguistic gymnastics tiring at points. I can see why my mother always cringed at these books, and the slang is so closely observed and of its time, it is hard to imagine this fiction lasting long. Unless we get the slightly hard-to-imagine result that Wodehouse's books themselves keep those speech forms alive, like Shakespeare. However, beneath the surface of Bertie's cheerily twittish narrative lurks some acute psychological observation. No-one is quite a character in the full sense of the word, but the book is filled with lively and believable caricatures. Tuppy, for example, has "far too much lower jaw" and "eyes too keen and piercing for anyone not an Empire builder or a traffic policeman". I wonder if the near-overlap at the same school with Raymond Chandler means they had an English teacher in common. 1900 was Wodehouse's last year at Dulwich College (a school founded by the theatre-owner who employed Christopher Marlowe) and Chandler's first. Both writers use a distinctive central hero (both rather touchingly honourable) narrating in first person, summing up other people with vivid, pithy images ("It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.") and both were proud to write popular fiction - past that, hard to say. Lightweight by design, 'Right ho, Jeeves' floats to its neat conclusion almost like a fluffier piece of Anatole's cooking, while the Rolls-Royce of Jeeves' mind purrs smoothly into higher gear just in time. Highly polished comic entertainment.

April 5th; Pompous porters lock me out of map office.
April 4th; In the afternoon at Moszkva square I pass a pleasant-looking young man carrying a black briefcase. He was wearing a four-inch cross on a chain round his neck the upside-down way favoured by Satanists.
Now that, while the covers are drying, both the bedding and the floor are shinier, I can confirm that at night I do indeed rotate like a compass needle, in my case anti-clockwise. I go to sleep on the floor lined up with the room, so with my head pointed northeast, feet southwest, and wake up with my head pointing NNE and my feet SSW. I suppose what I should test is whether I continue rotating night after night if I don't reset myself each evening, or whether I come to rest once I'm pointing due north.

April 3rd; In WestEndCity shopping centre, saw a sad-looking man wearing a shirt that said twice in English "You have the power by being yourself". Once in white one-inch letters on pale blue, and once in dark blue two-inch letters on white. He didn't seem to really believe his shirt.
April 2nd; Cleaning flat with Heather. Then she & I meet Robin & James at Menza, at a table outside in brilliant sunshine slicing down Paulay Ede street. James tells us about speaking in Danish and playing tournament Scrabble in English. Then see Terri & her friend Jessica the plasterer to return two books. A good day.

April 1st; Office day, and then to a punk-style cellar of squatter types in the 7th district. Justin had invited me to meet a group producing a Hungarian version of an anti-car magazine. Meeting started late, so I took my time reading the walls. When we finally convened, Justin sat - without conscious irony, I think - on the detached car seat in the corner. Inside tram 4 going there, over the doors, was a small black & white sticker of a smiling woman's face, with the slogan: 'Work, Eat, Fuck!' Spring at last?

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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