While waiting for Julia's friend Vinto to arrive with car along with George temporarily back
from Austria, I do another trip by trolleybus and bus, with a box of books. Arrive and,
wonder of wonders, again cannot open door. Opposite neighbour (a non-lemon woman, happily)
appears and kindly helps in struggle. After a few minutes, she gets me in. I leave box
inside and carry back Nina's now-empty suitcase to old flat. George is back.
the suitcase with new stuff, close it and give it to them for trip in small car with only
room for three passengers and luggage, and there in the hallway
heavy-duty handle snaps off. Blithely unconcerned,
George carries it to the car, casually mentioning
an overland trek of several days he once did between two
countries in Africa loaded with over three hundred pounds.
A couple more trips by car, and one by taxi, take Julia & me to new flat with almost all
our things. One more trip tomorrow morning. We get there to find that George has alone
moved a double bed apparently built from solid chipboard.
Not an ideal day. Get to sleep at 1am, knowing I must rise at 7am to teach the
Woken at 5am by the Dalmation, Samu, whining outside my door like a rusty
wheel. Every now and then, Julia, whose brother is the dog's owner, so is in charge of
walking and watering the dog, pops out of her door and hisses at it to shut up. At 6am,
knowing what a long day awaits me without sleep, I snap, open my door and slap the dog
across the face with the back of my hand. Shocked, Samu becomes silent. I lie down and
realise that a huge lump is rising on my hand and that I hurt myself on Samu's skull.
I might even have broken something. No sleep.
Up at 7am, shower, dress, go to student's surgery. He greets me
cheerfully, but explains he has already cancelled the lesson with my colleague. I come
back to begin moving house in earnest. Pick up large basket of clothes and catch
trolleybus. On journey realise am unsure of address, have left behind notebook and also
the newer mobile phone with Julia's number on it. I arrive, feel my way across the park,
and find what I am sure is the correct building. Instinct tells me the sixth floor, and
the door is unambiguous. I put down basket and get out keys. After ten minutes I start
to sweat and feel a kind of hollow panic. The keys turn, but the door does not
open. I ring on the neighbour's door, and a woman with a face like a dried lemon appears
and tells me it is nothing to do with her. Obviously I could not have guessed this fact
without her help. Continue to struggle and the door stays locked. I text the only Julia
in my older mobile, dimly suspecting (as is in fact the case) that this is not my flatmate
but someone else. Phone up twice and leave quietly desperate voice messages for whichever
Julia I have telephoned. After half an hour, artist Edit from
the gallery opening suddenly rings me
and invites me to a garden party on Sunday. A moment of cheer on the increasingly depressing,
windowless sixth-floor apartment-block landing. After three-quarters of an hour a
suddenly turns up, Tunde, and when I explain my predicament (the caretaker shuttles between
several buildings of course) actually offers to go and get him so I don't need to leave my
basket of clothes outside the locked door. As she speaks these words, the caretaker, Laszlo,
appears, to the surprise of both of us, from another floor. Tunde says she saw me on Thursday
night to reassure him. He commences battle with the locked door. After another six or seven
minutes he gets it open. Another dodgy security barlock the landlord had vaguely warned us
about. Am into the flat. Fighting back instinct to fall down on floor and sniff carpet in
gesture of gratitude, I deposit basket, lock door, and walk back through park.
Arrive back in time to meet
at station at noon. Then we find Constantine, have some quick lunch, go to the
as threesome, and organise more name cards. On the street before
we separate, Constantine tells us some anecdotes about meeting
the Marquis of Bath (he of the "wifelets") in the 1970s when his efforts to make it as a pop
star included a record-sleeve recommendation from Des O'Connor. Set off for the new
suitcase, trundling on its little wheels. Trolleybus.
Then express bus number 173. Back across the park among the
high-rise towers that allow there
to be lots of suitably municipal park between them. Trundling the suitcase through the
green open space that was supposed to transform 20th-century Man, I notice something while
walking over it.
On the aged asphalt pathway through the grass, an anarchist slogan is painted in three-inch
letters across the path. Since it is in dark grey on pale grey - like this website, except
with two greys that are much closer together - it is easy to miss for a call to
revolution. In capitals in Hungarian, the slogan, with a couple of letters A circled of
course, translates roughly as:
"Corruption is built into heirarchy! Organise from below!"
I reach the correct floor of the correct housing tower, open the door
successfully, and get into the flat. Then as I
unclip the suitcase and it does not open, I recall my finger slipping against the wheel of
the combination lock while on the trolleybus. I realise that I have locked
Nina's suitcase and do not know the
combination. Feelings of panic return. Slowly restore calm to self, and begin by testing
the eight combinations that are one digit away from how it is. One opens. Empty suitcase,
leave new flat and return to old flat across town. Julia & I drink rest of Limoncello, making
me bleary and relieved. Stumble out into the night for a kebab.
Visit printer again.
Samu still in hall.
Last night read a short book lent to me by Marion -
After Life' by Raymond Moody,
a doctor who interviewed about a hundred people in the 1960s and 70s who told him they
could remember odd things from periods when they were clinically dead, or came close
to death. These include floating around the operating theatre looking at their own
body, seeing the famous flashback replay of their own life, and meeting a sympathetic
of light' who asks them telepathically what they have learned or accomplished in life.
We're a bit used to these stories now, and it is easy to forget how odd everything would be
if they were objectively true. A lot like
in fact. Saving the best for last, Moody, who has since
this book had a whole career
documenting these near-death and after-death experiences, gives an example of a hallucination
which has nothing to do with death and is stranger than any that do. Apparently
some people get
hallucinations - external visions of themselves,
often only from the waist up. Moody cites a bizarre case from the medical literature of a
couple two years before marriage who one night saw together a shared autoscopic
hallucination of the two of them, so dark as to be almost in silhouette,
hugely enlarged, in some trees one evening.
They sat together watching their massive illusory images from the waist up talking
and gesturing for something like twenty minutes, comparing notes as it happened. Supposedly
it wasn't just a weird optical phenomenon, since their silhouettes were talking and gesturing
differently from the two subjects.
Early afternoon meet Boo Boo about magazine editing job.
Lovely night with
Esther, Nannette. On the metro journey getting to Franc's, I sat opposite
a well-stacked girl wearing a tight tee-shirt that said 'Devil Woman' across her breasts,
a large pair of red horns hovering above the word 'Devil' completing the effect.
Today, still warm and summery. Tea at
new flat. Hannah & Marion later.
is why I'm still single. Thank goodness we've got that sorted out.
Last night finished Constantine's copy of
Made Easy' by John Murphy. He did warn me it was a bit basic, but I learned one or
two new things in its short sixty-page span. Until Chapter 13, when oscillators are
introduced without any explanation of how they are generated. Lots of Limoncello with Julia as we talk to
the diffident Dalmation, back
in the hallway for another weekend away from home. Cleaning a flat and contents
with no washing machine or bath or vacuum cleaner is a little trying:
curious readers should attempt to wash bedsheets in a handbasin some time. Julia and I
hang around on her balcony a bit enjoying the sun. Out on the street
bump into Liia and go back to hers for a soothing cup of tea on her balcony, not the one
facing Julia's, but another one round the back onto a leafy garden. In the evening, run into
& their friends while in Castro's. Most jolly.
Weekend in Budapest. Ice-cream breakfast at sunny cafe table. Learn some
See Terri at Internet cafe. Day
looks pretty low-key.
Early morning start to meet new student Dr Hehl, a
surgeon, in his surgery. We look
at a working model on his desk, where the ligaments are made of rubber and can be
unclipped to see inside the joint. He says almost every
woman handball player sooner or
later suffers a serious joint injury. 1pm-ish, lunch at an Indian restaurant with
Mariann & Phil, where there is a powerful smell of wet paint, an adorable fluffy white
dog, and the waiter asks me what a
is. Meanwhile, a possible example of
Hot sun. Radio
Maxxima returns. In his office in south Buda, Attila tells me he stayed up
several nights to attend the demonstrations in front of Parliament. Long evening
bus journey with Julia to see possible new flat in Ujpalota, wherever that is.
Surprise contact from 2 college friends,
of Darkness says:
"Big fight in Budapest. We angry people, make angry on street.
And make porno - dick in ass! Yes!"
Breakfast meeting at Constantine's, where Istvan updates us on
nights of demonstrations. Join Andrea & Boo Boo at
the bar they want to convert. Evening
opening for portraits by Sasha,
where I meet Wayne's bride-to-be Paula and fellow artist Edit. Robin sets off to
witness 3rd night of disturbances. I see
for cakes, Spanish lesson, & Tarot reading.
Slow soothing day, still sleepy from clean air.
drives us back to Bergamo, alongside Lake Como. We
stop off for an afternoon snack at elegant cake shop with fetching blonde maid.
Hot sun. Lots of lorries drive past our shaded pavement table. Reach airport and
return hired car. Wait around in
cluttered airport. Spot Italian woman in strange pinafore
skirt made to look like an inside-out denim jacket tied round her waist. Normal
flight to Hungary, get last metro into town. Chat at Constantine's flat until late.
& I have breakfast at a nearby hotel with
a photographer, and two of her
friends. I am already pink-faced from unexpected Alpine sunshine the day before, so
hide from hot morning sun under big table umbrella. Relaxing day as guests trickle
home. Sun turns to drizzle as Robin & I try to visit Maloja Church only to find it
locked. There is however a giant chess set outside it (64 flagstones in dark and pale
grey plus lightweight plastic pieces two feet high), so we play as light rain
continues. Robin wins.
By night-time, there are only three or four of us rattling around in the empty
corridors of the huge, increasingly
Soon to revisit the grandeur of
early days, it has just completed
several decades as surely Switzerland's
vastest youth hostel, a couple of hundred rooms each fitted out with five or six
spotlessly clean pinewood bunkbeds. Just before sleep, I switch on my mobile phone,
and receive a Hungarian text from a friend in Budapest inviting me to a spontaneous political
rally in front of Parliament, and asking me to pass it on, chain-letter-style. Forward
the text to four or five people back in Budapest, and go to sleep.
Wake to beautifully clean mountain air. Locate Robin in nearby chalet inn, where some
Italian guests of the event are discussing
complicated telecom scandal in Milan & Naples.
We breakfast on scrambled eggs. The son of the proprietor comes over to our table in
dark glasses, explains he is blind after a car accident,
and tells us a series of jokes in English about being blind. Refreshing walk before
lunch, during which Rebecca tells me more about Arabic at
SOAS. Lovely lunch,
interesting-looking talk, but incomprehensible to me and Danish guest Anna
because in Italian, from a priest. This is clearly the centre of the weekend.
hovers in the background, tall and shy, as lots of blonde Italian women
scattered over the white sofas in the main room listen attentively to the priest's
talk. Meet lots more
people at dinner. Stay up much too late.
Some cleaning & packing. 4pm meet
at Budapest airport, where I find a not-obviously sexual
message over the top of a doorway in the men's toilets: "UK jobs
00 44 161 437 1232".
A Manchester number. Perhaps I should ring it. We fly to Milan, find our travelling partner
has left before us, and we manage the exciting challenge, new to either of us, of hiring a
With Robin driving, we manage to escape from the road system around Bergamo airport, and enter a
sequence of long, sleek tunnels going north. 11pm we surface on a quiet section of street
near Lake Como, and find a cake shop open with some local youths hobbling around inside on
crutches, and a proud proprietor quietly peering out into the darkness. As soon as we enter
and try to communicate, the Italian owner takes us down metal stairs into his kitchens to show
us what food is available. Bringing us sandwiches and cold beer he joins us at a table outside
on the street and the three of us have a surprisingly successful conversation by mixing
Latin-sounding English words and French words in an Italian accent.
We drive on through more tunnels,
rain, a very low-key Swiss border post, and half an hour of uphill hairpin bends to finally
arrive around 1am in the village of Maloja, loomed over impressively by the
Teaching down in south Buda. After dark, polish my shoes in the company of
Scott & Sam.
Order namecards at printer.
Take tram 14 to teach Hannah. From inside tram see yellow evening sun lighting only tops of trees and crowning what
called foreheads of houses, like a kind of weightless gold.
Hot sun continues. Brief lunch of fruit & chocolate with kind Mariann, followed by a work meeting with
Paul at Hungary's
In the evening, finish Ilan's copy of
'Tomorrow's Gold' by Marc Faber. A great deal of the book is about stock manias and crazes in past centuries, and has the usual common-sense caveats about distrusting people who talk of new
business eras and paradigms. Having lived in Hong Kong since the early 1970s,
ex-Lambert-Drexel employee Faber calls himself a
with some justice. His section on
the ever-changing list over three thousand years of largest-city-in-the-world is interesting, and there are some lucid moments. The short descriptions of England's South Sea Bubble and John Law's Mississippi scandal in
France at the same time are very good. Some sections are slightly muddled in the writing, but the overall approach is sincere and intelligent. Although most of this has appeared elsewhere, contains some reasonable investing advice.
In the morning finish Nicole's copy of
Historian', by Elizabeth Kostova. For the first twenty pages or so, was very impressed.
From there to the end this gradually faded into the desire to get the measure of an
"assured" first novel that
The novel is told in the first person by a 16-year-old
vaguely American girl, growing up in Amsterdam in the 1970s, who discovers an eerie letter
inside a book on an upper shelf of her father's library. The letter starts
"To my dear
and unfortunate successor". Finding out what this means is
the first major hook. What
the dear and unfortunate reader gets is another novel about Dracula, though one told with
conviction. It's the novelist's visibly beady eye on the film rights that's a little
offputting. I was quite caught up and then my disbelief unsuspended itself
in the first quarter of the book, somewhere between the 1950s
Turkish official with bitemarks in his neck, and the sad death of the 1970s Dutch
librarian. We get some slightly precious but atmospheric travel-writing about different
bits of Europe, some vividly drawn people, summed up by clothes, faces, and mannerisms,
becoming almost believable as personalities, and heavy use of the story-within-a-story
technique. There is a lot about archives, libraries and old books smelling of leather,
vellum, dust, evil and so forth. At one point we are actually four levels
of story deep, with a 15th-century letter being quoted in a historical article, being
quoted in one of the narrator's father's improbably long letters,
being read by her on a train in the "present day" of the 1970s. Kostova
is careful to be clear which layer of narrative sediment we are in at any given point, and
deftly leads us in and out of the 1970s, the 1950s, the 1930s and other decades back to
the 1470s. This nested storytelling probably helps American readers to imagine
their way back over distances of history. On the other hand, the to-and-fro rather
gives away that you would never really know at any given
moment whether you were reading the words of the English academic young in the 1930s or his
American graduate student young in the 1950s, unless their names were
being mentioned frequently. The plot coincidences are absurd too.
If the book has a clear message, it is: Don't do graduate research - you lose lots of
sleep and go barmy. However, beneath the surface of this tale of eccentric archivists
pursuing clues in old books is the identity-blurring dream that sold it
hand over fist. The narrator is somehow 16, American, yet lives in Europe, speaks Dutch
and French and has the poignantly yet liberatingly absent mother of all girls' own
fiction. Kostova caters assiduously to the American fascinations
with Europe, civilisations older than theirs, amazing people who know foreign languages,
and family roots. Her strong, understated opening made me hope
that the terrible secret or conspiracy might surprise.
Later there is again a brief, tantalising moment when two jolly Turkish
scholars in 1950s Istanbul gravely announce "We work
for the Sultan" -
and it looks for half a
page as if the book is going to be about something a bit more interesting than vampires.
Another hot, sunny day. Fruit juice and chat with
followed by a wonderfully squiffy evening down in south Pest with
Franc & Esther.
Hot, sunny day. In the evening, join
the expansive Mr Saracco &
Csiga (Snail) Cafe at the
reunion of people who worked on the newspaper,
possibly unconnected with that website.
I leave early, meeting
& Esther on the street outside. Later, revisit web pages about
Meet Tim, Jim, Irish Tony, & Mr Saracco for drinks. For some reason everyone starts
calling Tony 'The Pixie'. Mr Saracco shares his
Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts with us, and
kind Tim orders drinks with chips & vinegar for the group. We
sit outdoors: I huddle feebly
under a soft red blanket in surprisingly vigorous wind. Tim describes some
middle managers at the latest
he is consulting for, as well as alerting us to a
attempt to overthrow the government of Belgium. Mr Saracco relates
how a building site emptied wet cement onto his new vehicle. Jim mentions
he finds The
Koran bossy and rather lacking in spiritual content. A good
was had by all, if I spell that right. Later on meet a tired but cheery
who gives me teaching contacts. He describes a Hungarian
printing firm that insists it does not need his sample envelope to do his job properly,
then phones him up to ask which side is the front of an envelope.
about science hoaxes, bad fingerprint evidence, and overreliance on maths.
& I drive along leafy sunlit B roads into Budapest, lunching on arrival, then seeing
some lawyers. Meet Politics Judit & Isabel at an early evening
gallery opening, then
up to the Castle District after dark for some
points out the crescent moon seems 90 degrees wrong: horizontal like a smile or a slice of
melon. Someone tells us there is a
Another day of hot sun. An interesting stripe starts to fade into my green shirt on
the clothes line. Robin, Bela, & I go to Cserkeszolo, eat some pudding, drop round at
of the Stapled Head to find him not in, then to
Sanyi of the Stranded Truck,
also not in. As dusk falls we drive slowly back through a rutted lane of powdery soil
between banks of high reeds.
& I motorbike over to Tiszakurt to borrow blank CDs from Edina. She &
Kadicsa share coffee & grapes with us in their earth-walled kitchen.
Back at Robin's, we look up websites on
Genesis P. Orridge, for example
(Sample quote: "Our enemies are flat.")
Eat ripe plums from one of
Robin's trees. Finish
library copy of
Spanyol Nyelvtan' (Short Spanish Grammar) by Judit Kertesz, a
handy 100-page review. The similarities of the verb endings in different
tenses slightly worrying, but other bits more reasonable. Definitely
one of the clearer, better-laid-out grammar books. Ryan phones from America, and recommends
George Lakoff &
Robin's daughters go to Kecskemet to start school. Robin, Bela, & I kick a football
and a rugby ball around grass littered with crab apples to an
Sex Fiend concert recording from the
studio. After dark, Robin & I fill a big basket with wood from the stables. We keep a
respectful distance from the hornets' nest over the doorway, then take the kindling inside
to make the first fire in the sitting-room hearth since spring. Once it is burning, we play
at the same time as watching
Gear' on television. We are unsure whether 'psis', 'joves', or 'qua' are
words. Robin wins comfortably.
Wake refreshed after 12 hours sleep in Robin's totally dark guest room. Last weekend saw
two small, dim lozenges of light in the blackness. Got up out of bed and felt
my way towards them. One is a faintly glowing inch-high sticker of a rabbit on
a doorframe from when it was the girls' room. The other is a matching luminous mouse.
By night Robin
& I attend the local school's 25th anniversary party and meet two cheerful Dutch nurses,
Anni & Jenni, speakers of
On the school wall is a huge piece of marquetry, a ten-foot diameter wooden sunshine by someone called
Up early for breakfast with
brief tea with Mariann, and some suitcase-moving with
to his new room at Nicole's flat. Nicole lends me
Nonedescript journey into the Great Plain, although the small train from Kecskemet is
delayed and contains an admiring group around a tireless human beatbox. Remember them?
Entertaining for a few moments, he
twitches his hands to manipulate imaginary record turntables
and makes rhythmic squawking sounds for
the ninety minutes he occupies our one-carriage train. Hungarians are
good at imitation.
Robin meets me in the dark at Lakitelek, in serene mood back from Jozsi the
honey-maker down the road.
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