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2006
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July 31st; Meet Robin to attend a house meeting about possibly buying an attic. For a small, hot room packed tight with about nine rather weary people wedged into white plastic garden chairs, the meeting is quite good-natured. Afterwards beers at two locations as we find Istvan, who brings along Tamas, a man exuding ease and success. About 9.30pm on the lawns in front of Parliament a couple of hundred people are sprawled under the night sky watching a film projected on a screen. It is the last half hour of 'Crash' dubbed into Hungarian with decent surround sound. Istvan takes us to the front, where Andrea presides over a picnic. We join about ten people lounging on cushions and carpets, tasting sweetmeats and quaffing wines from metal goblets. At the centre of events, Andrea reclines langorously, wearing wraparound sunglasses, which - though it is night-time - do go well with her stylish all-black outfit. There Robin & I meet the elegant Katalin & Ildiko, while Andrea pops off at intervals to share food with a clutch of homeless folk on the perimeter. Ildiko and I talk about forgiveness and electroshock therapy. A couple of young men among the picnic group cushions have wheelchairs parked nearby. Their two muscular helpers wrestle on the grass by the silvery light of a silent film.

July 30th; Ice cream with Drew, supper with Ilan, drink with Muhammad.
July 29th; Go book-shopping in the morning before the heat gets too bad. Find the mysterious, clean showroom near me is a German-Swiss franchise for unusual spirits, olive oils, vinegars. The jolly lady gives me a shot of delicious tiramisu liqueur. Sleep through mid-afternoon, and wake at 5pm in a bedroom the temperature of a laundry. In the park, keeping cool with a freshly-washed still-wet t-shirt, sit down in some shade with a book, and after four minutes rain and thunder begin. Hide in a shop eating the apricots I bought while we, customers and staff, watch rain pounding down so that the road is covered with a sheet of water almost an inch deep. The storm continues for perhaps half an hour. Impressive.

July 28th; Lunchtime coffee with Zsolt about magazine work. Bump into Vandi the film-maker on Andrassy. Oliver & Andras pop up at the ice-cream place.
July 27th; Wake up at Franc's flat on the Wekerle estate, with hot sun pouring in through the windows. A stale smell last night alerted me to two of Esther's goldfish floating, already decomposing, in the fishtank. This morning I dispose of them, finding a third fish still alive & well. Get to Europa Cafe for a stimulating breakfast on the boulevard with Rob, who recommends an online article about memory. First ride on one of the new, all-yellow ubertrams, the number 2 along the river, where I meet Zita with a child already looking a lot like Jeremy. Genial Mr Saracco kindly treats me to a Dionysos lunch. He is on good form, having recently given up even the cigars. I crawl through hot sun for cooling with ice water and ice cream by Mariann, who is struggling to get her passport renewed. Lesson with Hannah lets me rant about identity cards & animal rights. This blends into drinks & dinner with Marion, Hannah, John - and tactful Keith the organist, who gently chides my view of the Hungarian character.

July 26th; Pineapple ice cream at the open-air cafe. Some casual swimming. Meet Hussam for a late coffee, where he tells me of the excitements of university in Newcastle and helps me pronounce some sounds in Arabic. Catch late metro to Franc's.
July 25th; I leave Robin's, my struggle to understand the Maloja Palace website still unsuccessful. I also fail to understand Georgina's Internet-connection policy. Georgina drives me to the Tiszaug signalman's hut, where cheery Liza is on duty. Pleasant journey into town - Radmilla in the dining car in much better mood today. Evening language-exchange meeting with Isabel goes well. Interesting digression about Ouija boards.

July 24th; I wear my rewashed and redried dark green shirt, though slightly nervously given what looked like a patch of insect eggs on it when I unpegged it from the line yesterday morning. Hard not to recall Gerald Durrell's anecdote about hanging a wet shirt out to dry once up the Amazon, and some days after wearing it developing blisters on his shoulders. Of course, when his skin broke and the blisters burst, dozens of baby spiders scampered out of the pustules in his flesh. Lovely story.
Another thunder storm on the way, judging by the rising wind, the cowering dog Vicki begging to be let into the house, and an ominous bank of purple sky approaching from the east.
July 23rd; In the small hours of the morning finish Dillian Gordon's large-format book 'The National Gallery: 100 Great Paintings' that I found in Robin's library. After a brief history of the gallery in London itself, the book proceeds with colour reproductions on each right-hand page and explanatory text on each left-hand page. While the long thunder & lightning storm rumbled on in the night outside, I lingered over the paintings and their stories. Subtitled 'Duccio to Picasso', the book divides up into national schools, but proceeds in rough chronological order through the centuries. Looking at pictures by Duccio, Sassetta, di Paolo and then by Masaccio, Uccello, Fra Filippo Lippi, I again wonder about a subtle borderline separating Siena from Florence in the 1300s, as if the difference between those two cities might unlock the mystery of Europe since the Renaissance. One extraordinary painting by Siena's di Paolo has a heavily gilded frame, two flanking panels containing studies of flowers, and a central picture almost entirely in pink and green showing two saints John the Baptist, one leaving a building on the lower left, the other, the same size though far off, entering mountainous desert in the centre of the picture. The painter uses some perspective, but seems unimpressed by it: di Paolo is not committed to the new geometry. A desire to show different times at once [St. John here, St. John there] suggests 20th-century cartoon strips, but is surely just the opposite of them. Cartoon strips subordinate each image to the overall movement of a story, whereas di Paolo seems to subordinate change and history to eternity: what to us look like ordered episodes are all visible at once to a God who sees all time. Somehow, the idea of depicting one moment in one picture breaks that spell, as if Florence was where the clock of modern European time started ticking, and Siena might help explain further back. Perhaps I just picked up Gordon's greater excitment with that period in the book, since she is/was apparently the gallery curator for the Early Italian collection.
Checking my washing on the line in the morning, I find my dark green shirt - soaked by the storm overnight, but already dried to a crisp by hot morning sun - has a dense, two-inch-wide patch of bright orange dry foam made of tiny globules, each 1/30th to 1/20th of an inch across. At the edge of the patch, the dessicated body of some sort of bee or wasp is also stuck to the shirt. Fungus? Insect eggs? Unpleasant, whichever. Kasper is off shopping with Georgina, so I nix the idea of keeping it to get his opinion, and wash the shirt again. The jar of water containing his horrid leech has gone an odd green colour in the kitchen, but I'm not taking the lid off that.

July 22nd; Robin is off on his canoe trip before I wake up. Georgina says he was ill in the night, giving me a moment of grim satisfaction at being right about last night's grease barbecue. Late afternoon swimming in the usual Tiszaug lake is cooler due to cloudiness, until the sun comes out again just as it dips below the trees, and the usual fidgeting ribbon of red gold returns to the surface of the water. A girl who is a friend of Zsuzsi paddles out to join us riding on the Coca-Cola-bottle-shaped inflateable sunbed I first saw some weeks back.
July 21st; Ice cream breakfast with Mariann. The jolly cafe owner proudly presents me with the sunglasses I thought I had lost a month ago. I tell Mariann about waking up yesterday out of a dream about James Lovelock and Spinoza. Catch train back to countryside, meet Robin for a dusk swim at the oxbow lake, followed by a dull garden party at the artists' centre Balla took us to two days ago. Robin & I join a queue for food that is only about six people long, yet it takes us exactly 30 minutes to get served. Even counting the couple of fat Hungarians who unembarrassedly push into the queue in front of us, quite impressive inefficiency. A self-satisfied woman is weighing each serving of deep-fried muck on scales to work out an exact price, instead of simply doling out standard portions. She has of course positioned the scales at the near end of the food dishes, instead of at the far end, so the queue of customers cannot move forward in order. Then she writes everything down instead of using a calculator [or adding it up in her head, as bar staff in Britain or France seem to be able to], and complains if we stand in her light, as if she couldn't have arranged a light for herself [as gardens at night can often be dark]. Customers cause extra delays by asking for changes to their servings, blithely oblivious to those waiting behind them. No-one except us seems to think there is anything odd about the slowness. I have premonitions of food poisoning, and restrict myself to a sausage and two slabs of chicken. Then we join the alcohol queue, manned by a male who thinks very slow use of the beer tap makes him look masterful. This is only three people long, so, sure enough, takes only fifteen minutes to get to the front of. After a brief chat with the Romanian painter Maria, who also knows no-one there, we begin to realise that the entire 200 folk, along with the East-German-style trad-jazz musicians, come from a couple of neighbouring streets and have no interest in the art camp. We drive back fairly early. As we cross the river Tisza over an old one-lane pontoon bridge, its planks of worn, smooth wood rattling under the wheels suddenly make the whole evening romantic again.

July 20th; Back to Budapest for lesson with Hannah, and lovely evening dinner at Marion & Paul's, with their friend Keith, who plays church organ in a small town in Norway. During the afternoon, on the way up by train from Robin's, I stop off for an hour in Kecskemet. After buying a pocket Spanish dictionary, I hide from the rays of the sun in an empty air-conditioned cake shop to wait for my train on to Budapest. A mineral water and decaffeinated cappuccino give me time to observe a hideous, electrically-operated puppet twitching in the shop window. Dressed in checked trousers, white coat & white cook's hat, the two-foot-tall thing endlessly kneads a soft, off-white bag standing in for a ball of dough. Even more creepily, another baker puppet in checked trousers has its legs under the table robo-chef 1 is working at, for number 2 is asleep, reclining on a bag of flour. A second hidden motor makes its chest rise and fall rhythmically so it seems to be breathing while snoozing. Vile.
July 19th; Day with Balla and his friend Eva. Robin & I swim in the river Tisza - very strong current and hot sun. This is after visiting an artists' centre, where we meet Maria, a Romanian painter. This centre holds a regular symposium for making artworks in concrete, and outside a scrubby gardenful of concrete sculptures starts a vineyard with concrete supports for all the vines. Robin succeeds in buying wicks and oil for an oil-lamp in a Csongrad hardware shop, before we stop off for a mineral water & pudding in an air-conditioned cake shop a few doors along. More Arabic homework before bed.

July 18th; Dusk swim in mirror-smooth oxbow lake.
July 17th; Breakfast by popping up the ladder in the garden to pick plump, fresh apricots from the treetop. Robin, Letty & I go to Kecskemet to meet my niece Fiona and her Austrian friend Antoinette. Pleasant afternoon roaming round town. The photography museum sweetly let us in even though they're closed.

July 16th; Actually do a bit of Arabic homework.
July 15th; Wake out of bizarre dream in Robin's spare room, where I am working in a clothing factory with industrious & joyful young women, who break regularly for gospel-style singing & prayers. Can still hear the tune as I wake up. Car Dealer Csaba comes over to grumble over being charged fees on two cars of his stuck at Rotterdam harbour, and then Robin & I go to see Csaba of The Stapled Head, who kindly takes us to meet a new beekeeper. This beekeeper, who physically resembles a whiskery fox, takes me to wash my hands after honey tasting, using those few seconds in private to hint he & I could cut Csaba out of the deal. Typical. Four types of honey tasted, all lovely, though the faint tang of tobacco in the wild-tobacco honey makes it stand out. We also eat some honeycomb filled with sunflower honey. On our way to drop in on Csaba from The Petrol Station, our Csaba, Csaba of The Stapled Head, is rung up by his pregnant girlfriend Agi on his mobile several times. We must turn round and take him back to face a domestic. We bid him farewell in his long, narrow garden with a basket of Robin's apricots. The dispute: Csaba wishes to work in Italy for several months, Agi wishes him to stay with her.
In the mid-afternoon I finish Robin's copy of Tom Wolfe's 'From Bauhaus to Our House', which has the same mischievous, accurate wit as his 'Painted Word'. In a few short pages of lucid prose and black-and-white photographs, the cult of 20th-century architecture is deftly picked apart until almost nothing remains. From Walter Gropius's worker-housing-driven Bauhaus vision to Robert Venturi's "ironic" tweaks of International Style orthodoxy, Wolfe's demolition job is done with the effortless light touch modern architects talk about but so conspicuously lack.
In the kitchen, Robin shows me the new pet, apparently resting. Little Kasper, who loves all manner of creepy crawlies, and has lots of insect and animal guide books, has placed a leech in a large jar of water. Apparently he lets it feed on his blood at intervals. I am assured it likes classical music. In the evening some Beethoven on the radio indeed seems to stimulate the leech in its water jar to rhythmic squirming, wriggling, and sometimes swimming at its full eight-inch length.
July 14th; Up early for train into countryside with Robin. Last night finished Scott's copy of 'Flashman and the Dragon' by George MacDonald Fraser. Entertaining. Have been told to try the Flashman books for years, and this is my first. Goes into detail about a campaign in 1860 to force the Emperor of China to sign a treaty. The narrator is a sly officer-class rascal. He is the adult that Flashman, a 1830s school bully in the Victorian novel 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', grew up into. Fraser's book is fun, giving a strong sense of being there, dodging danger and chasing skirt with the scoundrel himself, though some of the Mandarin/English translation details seem a bit unlikely. The pretence that the Flashman Papers are real historical records is maintained with some footnotes at the back, and a glossary. Makes me wonder whether Fraser's original goal was to make military history readable, making Flashman a dupe in his narrative role as much as he is during the story.
On the train, we breakfast. Robin worries that his egg has gone off in the heat. I struggle bad-temperedly through twenty attempts, and finally manage to update the credit on my mobile phone from a little card thing I bought at the station in Budapest. Georgina & Bela meet us at Tiszaug.
July 13th; Lethargic. Headache. Weather hot. Take genetics book back to Mariann. We eat pinapple & peach during brief summer rainstorm. Hot again straight after. Then, with some effort, manage to persuade Isabel & Heikki to join me at ACB gallery exhibition opening, where we meet Robin, Istvan, & Jeremy. Jeremy's chest under his shirt is covered in cardiological sensors measuring his heartbeat, as Ralph suggested.

July 12th; 13 hours sleep. Dinner with Robin, Istvan & Karoly, who puzzlingly suggests that Mr Saracco works for the DIA. Seems that somehow Mr Saracco has managed to give Istvan the impression that before Hungary he worked for a couple of years as a journalist in Slovenia yet give Karoly the impression that before Hungary he worked for a couple of years as a journalist in Turkey. Dearie me. Later on bump into an inspired Ilan & Sylvia at Castro's.
July 11th; Since yesterday & last night the Nigel of Darkness and I finished off his modafinil, today had a slightly odd texture. Spent much of the night trying to understand the 2003 UK/US Extradition Treaty and Britain's peculiar 2003 Extradition Act and then enforced three hours of sleep from 7am to 10am with some melatonin. This m&m combination might have been unwise - I'm not sure. By the afternoon coach trip up to Luton I reach the childlike state where hot sun coming through the window as traffic crawls up the motorway is simply unbearable and I feel mild travel sickness, making it impossible to chat to the Mediterranean-looking girl next to me. Three Italian lads nearby natter through the whole coach journey. All three have a broad face with eyes very far apart and a monobrow. At Luton airport, I get body-frisked by a large, jolly security guard, far more thoroughly than usual. Though I have no jacket, so above the waist only a tight white t-shirt, the cheery guard takes at least thirty seconds just to check my t-shirt for concealed weapons, running his hands in a brisk-looking yet in fact lingering way over my biceps and upper chest. Flattering, I suppose. On the plane I am surprised by Constantine, who finds me and cheers me up with news of his newer trades. Like John in Manchester he is using candlestick notation more and getting to enjoy the discipline of trading. Meet two enthusiastic Dutch campers at Budapest airport at midnight. Nice to hear Dutch again.

July 10th; Relaxing day with Nigel & Juno in south London. Get interested in the NatWest 3 case, and the unratified 2003 extradition treaty supposedly governing it.
July 9th; Robin alerts me to a Times story claiming New Labour's identity-card scheme is dying, based on leaked e-mail letters between civil servants. Details of the story not quite that good, especially while the US is imposing its biometric passport specs worldwide. Plenty more work to be done. Striking that there are now even senior British civil servants who misspell 'adviser' by ending it 'or'. Elsewhere, a climate-science article says it's a myth that the Gulf Stream explains Europe's relative warmth.

July 8th; On train down to London meet two cheery Chicagoans, Stephen & Melissa, who work in the area of Harrogate. Ralph picks me up from South Ken tube, and we enjoy tea and honey at his house while I copy Giovanni's contact details off him. Later I get to Nigel & Juno's in Catford later, where a police helicopter is buzzing overhead. Soon after fifteen officers arrest one man and pop him in their van. A couple of days ago coppers closed Nigel's local bar for firearms-trading and other infringements of the terms of the public-hostelry licence. Chinese meal & pink wine with ice before sleep.
July 7th; Take laptop to Manchester to ask Dixon's about why my battery has such a short life. Am struck first that the shop in the Arnedale Centre has changed to become a branch of Curry's, and secondly that I am snidely told I should have phoned the help number and have no business revisiting the shop. This is what 200 pounds of my money purchased in the way of "cover". I get to make a long and unsatisfactory phone call from inside the shop, where it is made very clear to me that Dixon's/Curry's is only interested in taking money off people, and have designed a smooth system to minimise any other elements of customer service. John arrives mid-phone-call and confirms that PC World have a similar neutralise-customer-noncompliance policy. Quite a lot like trying to complain to an agency of the state. Then we go for a Dutch pancake, only to find that the restaurant closed down, for ever, a few days earlier. Later I buy a ticket to London online, and learn that the 'fast-ticket' machines at Piccadilly do not work until two hours have elapsed, so John & I have to queue for quarter of an hour in a normal ticket queue to pick it up. Over coffee, John tells me he recently visited Germany & Holland, both for the first time in his life. Since he's a good linguist, he found he could finally use his German O level, and speak German to Germans.

July 6th; Finish 'Inigo Jones' by John Summerson. A brisk trip through the architect's life work, including surviving and since-demolished buildings he erected. He died soon after Charles I's execution. Attractive with drawings & black-and-white photographs. Summerson argue that Jones' Palladianism has been exaggerated. I'd have liked more visual evidence of the difference between Jones' work and Palladio's.
July 5th; Read mother's copy of 'The Broken Estate' by James Wood. Very interesting. Essays by a critic who reads novelists not least in terms of their religious beliefs. In places overwritten ["Paranoia is like a cocktail party in which all the drinks have been poisoned."], but lots of fresh & convincing insights, all the way from his opening attack on Peter Ackroyd's forgiving interpretation of Thomas More's fierce prosecution of heretics to the close, where Wood reveals his own childhood as a Durham Cathedral chorister in the week, brought up as a charismatic evangelical at weekends. This closing essay, in which he dismisses Matthew Arnold, Don Cupitt & Richard Swinburne in their attempts to rescue Christianity, illuminates all the others in the book.

July 4th; 10 hours sleep again. Heat a bit sapping.
July 3rd; Wake after 10 hours sleep. Sticky heat unusual for Yorkshire. Read library copy of Matt Ridley's 'Genome'. Interesting read, but cries out for some black-and-white diagrams, since the whole book is about "this section of that chromosome", along with stuff about genes swapping places and other things that would clearly benefit from line drawings. Some greedy publisher thinks diagrams put off some readers so lower sales, obviously.

July 2nd; 15 hours of sleep rather suggests that modafinil is not quite so sleep-debt-free as its makers claim. Read mother's book 'Finding Fulfilment' by Liz Simpson, a book about using labyrinths to enter the self and wreak transformation there. Simpson, who on the back cover looks reassuringly perky and English for a New-Age life coach, surprises me by saying that labyrinths have only one path in and out, so are not the same as mazes. She quotes Jacques Attali's book on ancient mazes, which I recall as more fun, but this was all right in its way.
July 1st; Apparently am likely to be up all night & all day.
1 am: Can feel the modafinil starting to kick in. Halfway through the Peepshow episode a pleasant, fairly mild alertness comes over me. I am not full of energy, and not noticeably refreshed, but I have the sense that I am only as tired as one usually is in middle of the afternoon. Vision and colours are clear and normal, not exaggerated, but nonetheless sharp and a little clearer than one expects in the small hours.
2 am: Eyes bloodshot. Otherwise no ill effects. Do not feel wide awake, simply not tired.
3 am: Finish reworking CV. Send it to Al Jazeera in Qatar.
4 am: Rework book outline, and send out.
5 am: A bit like a mild hangover. Tired, yet not inclined to sleep. Not sure I like the idea of pilots flying aeroplanes in this state of mind. A sort of irritated wakefulness.
10 am: Around 5.30, have a warm, relaxing bath, lie on sofa, and get something resembling four hours sleep. After the best part from 12.30 to 2.30, I made quite a lot of mistakes, for example in this weblog, though I noticed & corrected them quickly too. It occurred to me that in fact I was very tired, but the modafinil somehow stopped me realising I was tired. [A tad dangerous, methinks.] Likewise, as I tried to sleep from 6-ish on, it occurred to me that I might sleep but might not realise I was sleeping. Each time my eyes opened, my eyelids sprang open with that Right!-time-to-get-up readiness, giving me the superficial impression that I was not sleepy. However, if I persisted and kept my eyes calmly shut and just meditated on exploring the cells of my own body, time moved on, and am pretty sure I got some rest. Am up now, a bit rough but much better than at 5am. How will this afternoon be, I wonder?
Rest of day: Lunch with Nigel at the cafe, where we are joined again by the affable Dennis. Hot sun. Catford Bridge ticket machine takes three pounds off me and gives no ticket. Train at Kings Cross takes an extra fifteen minutes to leave station because of another train in a tunnel. During this time a man in our carriage on his mobile phone relays to the rest of us the penalty shoot-out that puts England out of World Cup and lets Portugual through. What a relief. Around nine pm, change trains and watch a pink sun setting over Doncaster. A stocky, red-faced man on my platform wearing a St George flag as a cape expresses dissatisfaction with the football result. He squarely blames the players' wives & girlfriends. Two older women next to me agree with him. On final section to Leeds a student studying French & maths is reading Marie Claire. We chat about women's magazines. A lively Polish girl with a 2-week-old baby gets off at Leeds like me, and when I ask her if she needs help with her case exclaims "Of course!". She cheerfully tells me I should have moved to Poland, not Hungary.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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