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2007
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August 31st; Two harpies have a loud, prolonged quarrel in the lobby of the gym.

August 30th; Still no word from my MP about this.
August 29th; The third lot of printers have moved from the address Complott gave me, of course. Dubbing audition. Again today on the new yellow ubertram my peace is disturbed by the hideous, self-congratulatory message on the tannoy encouraging us to give our seats to older people. The voice is that of Susu (pronounced something like Shoo Shoo), a children's dragon from a 1970s Magyar TV series. What is unbearable is the voice itself, a kind of cross between the elder Steptoe's dirty-old-man voice & the crumbly pastry tones of Mr Kipling's friend. Its phlegm-filled chuckle perfectly captures the smug pomposity of a certain kind of older Hungarian, roughly describable as Fat Old Perv. The dragon begins and ends crooning his theme tune "I'm the famous one-headed one..." (Susu's back story is that his parents were upset he was born with only one head). The creature shares Hungarian pensioners' nauseating habit of addressing everyone under 55 as "children", while cackling proudly at their long lives of non-achievement. Budapest tram passengers must endure hearing this message around ten times a week currently. This is partly because these new trams have fewer seats per carriage and partly because most older Hungarians are so full of themselves no-one wants to stand up for them. The new through-connected ubertrams are also ideal for the unwashed man with no legs who uses a pair of hand-held bricks to snail his way down the length of the four-part vehicle muttering some kind of incantation.

August 28th; Beginning to despair of printers here. This lot sold the printing machine that was ideal to someone in the countryside, and bought themselves one that is no good for my needs. Super. So they send me to a third lot,
August 27th; Early to rise. Lunch with Anonymous Friend, then green tea with a Hungarian demographer and art historian. Early to bed.

August 26th; Visit S c o t t 's flat. Watch glossy film clip.
August 25th; I get sent a rambling e-mail letter about some distant acquaintance of mine's views on the Palestinian problem. He starts one paragraph "Salad dressings in New York are still very good." Leisurely lunch with Marion at OK Italia. She buys me a George Eliot book, passionately praising it as the best novel in English. We follow with a Tarot reading for her in a cinema lobby while she waits for her friend Eve. This is with my new pack of slightly peculiar Aleister Crowley cards. Designed in the 1940s they now look very dated to that decade: vaguely post-Vorticist swirly abstraction. Acidic yet muddy colours fashionable among British modernists then, crammed with Crowley's Egyptian references. Later on, vegetarian dumplings & Chinese tea with Ilan.

August 24th; Long, hot day. In the morning, I see a mass of insects buzzing around a lamp post, barely fifty yards from the front door of my tower block. An old lady & I inspect more closely, and the insects are chubby and short enough to be bees, not wasps, swarming in and out of the slightly open curved metal door to the junction box at the base of the lamp post. She asks "who let them go?", and seems puzzled when I point out that there are also such things as wild bees. Day goes moderately well until I reach a printer officially closing at 6pm to find that today they decided to go home before 5.30pm. Then for several hours in mid-afternoon, I cannot find my mobile phone in my bag, and start thinking it has been stolen. The man in the cafe calls it up, but there is silence - serves me right for keeping the ringer switched off. Same afternoon, one of the orange people starts a discussion thread putting me on mock trial for glibness. Last thing, I find I had my phone all the time. It had slipped down a kind of sofa crack inside my crowded bag. Someone trying to teach me some kind of lesson today.
August 23rd; On bus into town finish Robin's friend Mike's copy of 'Greek Science in Antiquity' by the splendidly-named Marshall Clagett. Though he writes about the medical authors and Aristotle's natural history, some of which was found to be right as late as the 19th century, the stress is naturally on Greek astronomy, mathematics, & mechanics. Particularly striking are late critics like John Philoponus who see right through Aristotle's arguments about motion and momentum, and come tantalisingly close to Galileo's understanding of mechanics. Perhaps the astronomy is the most impressive, along with the early version of Ockham's Razor, where some Greek cosmologists tried to always choose simpler models. Rather than a decay in late antiquity, the cleverness of mathematicians like Pappus make it seem that Greek science could have anticipated the Renaissance by a thousand years if political and religious pressures hadn't pushed it under. The relative weakness of Latin science is particularly striking. Afterwards, first gym visit since my summer cold.

August 22nd; In the morning, join Robin at the gallery where his fellow artists are discussing the wallspace for their forthcoming joint exhibition 'Homesickness'. Then we go to the printers on the hill again, after a quiet decaffeinated coffee at a deserted cafe in the sun. Later, I run into Justin in a restaurant, now working full-time for the anti-car movement. He is attending a conference in Istanbul next week and learning some Turkish.
August 21st; Robin, Zeno & I drive into Budapest at sunset. Beautiful clouds. Odd dreams.

August 20th; A graphics day with Robin. After dark we drive to Cserkeszolo for some soup & salad. On the way back, the old Benz starts overheating. We cut the engine and stop. We watch lightning rippling all around the horizon in complete silence.
August 19th; Kasper's birthday. Another hot day. I give Kasper my Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot pack, giving him the usual warnings about being responsible with The Power, and so forth. In Robin's garden there are still several very large digger-type machine things, parked over the weekend, connected to some lake-excavating project. Kasper & Bela fire arrows from Kasper's new longbow in their general direction, but thankfully fail to puncture any of the 250-quid five-foot-diameter industrial tyres. Wonderful chocolate cake. I drink a bit too much home-made wine and raspberry schnapps at lunch, become confused and get a headache. Georgina's friend Agi is here for a few days. By evening, we watch a television programme about early Magyar raiding expeditions across Europe in the 900s AD, complete with men doing archery from horseback. A fabulous, largely silent, lightning storm breaks out while pasta for supper is on the boil. I go out onto the verandah barefoot to watch it, and find both dogs seeking reassurance. The new fox terrier puppy, Chloe, replacing Vicki who died earlier this spring, is very unhappy about the lightning and occasional soft rumbles of thunder. Lupi, the deranged Komondor who bit me a few months back also acts surprisingly affectionately. As I sit out there and each dog sits on each side of me on the bench, it is hard to avoid the feeling that both dogs are pretending to be unconcerned by the brilliant flashes stabbing through the night sky, but that their casualness is a little false. Several times Lupi, proudly sitting upright on the bench to my right, puts a paw on my knee or into my hand, while Chloe huddles against my left. Inside we eat by candlelight, Georgina & Agi agreeing they find it odd that Britons like bright light so much, even late at night. Over a pasta & pesto supper, Georgina returns to the documentary about the 900s, rather closely cross-examining Zeno on the period. She persistently asks him if burning French and German towns to the ground is something Hungarians should so easily forgive, never mind congratulate, themselves for having done - even a thousand years ago.

August 18th; Two parties in one day. Zsuzsi & Letty wake me at 11.45am so I can join the family at the village day celebrations of Saint Stephen. The new lady mayor has created a more social, open atmosphere with market stalls. We sit at a trestle table with Pisti the stone mason and his friends, drink some of their schnapps, and eat lunch. By evening, Robin & I drive about thirty miles west into the sun to arrive just as dusk falls at a smart buffet party lit by small candle things. The party is hosted by Gisella & Hans at their horse place. A mixture of very civilised German, Dutch, & Hungarian people, including the sparky Evelyn and the dreamy Klaudia. Though she is German, Klaudia speaks better Hungarian than English, and she tells me about her own love of horses and her small daughter in Vienna.
August 17th; Cycle with Letty through the woods to join family at Tisza river. Strangely steep river bank of surprisingly soft, fine sand - steeper than 45 degrees. Swim a little until Edina & Kadicsa arrive. Edina & I talk about Arabic book while Chloe the fox terrier whimpers and wriggles next to us, tethered to a stick Robin places in the river mud. As local nymphs splash around, Robin discovers he can peel a strip off Chloe's stick to make a belt out of bark. A faint aroma of rotting fish slightly spoils the idyll.

August 16th; Pick up prints from 2nd printer. They're rubbish. More filming with Mr V. Esther & I get to stand on camera in front of one of those white curves where wall smoothly rolls down into floor. Instead of being made of paper, the curve is made of cement. Robin drives me & Zeno out of town in the evening through a warm sunset and yellow villages.
August 15th; Whole day filming with Esther & Mr V. I fall asleep at several points during the day at different locations within a language school themed around the colour purple, to the point of having men there today wiring the whole building with masses of purple flex. I have my 3rd coffee of the year, and it just makes me tired.

August 14th; Sleep late to continue recovery from cold. Buy more card for printers. Find article about Rudi Giuliani supporting identity cards.
August 13th; Herbal tea with Esther and Mr V. Later on, though very nervous, manage to give speech about 'adventure' at Toastmasters' event without major disaster. Tom gives his views on Hungarian social life, and Peter does a surreal review of smoking, wish-fulfilment and film-directing.

August 12th; Try to sleep off cold, taking vitamin C, and Ilan's aspirins. Once I wake out of a vivid dream about a cafe, somewhere like the corner of a cinema or airport complex where I walk out through some doors, into the stairwell and re-enter through another glass door to find that I have stepped into the same cafe six years earlier. Some of the same staff are there, looking a bit younger, with differently arranged bar and tables. I take one girl back out through the doors into the corridor, and re-enter the cafe six years later. She sees the tables and layout are different after our absence of only seconds, and we ask staff the date. The second dream I wake out of has me in North Korea, packing my boxes to move flat after some kind of alarming training session as a North Korean spy. I am told that soon I will be able to meet Gordon, who moved here and defected some years ago.
August 11th; Slightly dim, ad hominem review of what sounds like a rude but important economics book.
Last night, on bus back home, finish the Graham Greene novel 'England Made Me', which Annika kindly gave me a couple of years ago. At first, I was a little worried that the central character, Anthony, a principled yet feckless chancer, was her image of me, but it now seems more likely she gave me the book because it is set in Sweden. Six anti-heroes - three Englishmen, two Englishwomen, and a Swedish man - intersect to create a tragedy of characteristically Greenian defeatism. There are some fine pieces of description, but I constantly had the feeling Greene was in some kind of hurry. Written in 1935, it was a little startling to see how much the outlines of Greene's writing stayed the same for the next forty years. Some parts are so compressed, I felt as if something had been missed out. The business of Anthony & Kate being twins never quite convinced, and the references to a childhood incident where Kate sends Anthony back after he runs away from school were never completely explained. Considering how crucial its importance is for their lives, this is a problem, and this central piece of the jigsaw never quite fitted into place for me. Depressing but readable, the pacing and storytelling are excellent. Minty, one of Greene's typically dislikeable English Catholic characters, is a bitter expat Harrovian journalist living in poverty. He quickly spots that Anthony, who wears a Harrow tie, did not attend the school. In one extravagant scene, Greene compares Minty to the spider he keeps trapped under a drinking glass because Minty resents his landlady not removing it. "...he turned out his own lamp and lay in darkness, like the spider patient behind his glass. And like the spider he withered, blown out no longer to meet contempt; his body stretched doggo in the attitude of death, he lay there humbly tempting God to lift the glass." A few pages later, Greene mocks the cheery, happy-go-lucky Anthony in his turn, out with an English girl, Loo. "'I want some cherry fizz,' Loo said. 'You've only just had some coffee.' 'But I like cherry fizz.' A family of ducks came downstream, one behind the other. They had an air of serious, if rather infantile, purpose, like a squad of Boy Scouts. One expected them to begin chalking messages on the bank or to gather around and light a fire with two matches. 'People make such a fuss about sex,' Loo said. The bright pink cherry fizz bubbled in her glass. The ducks one after another stood on their heads. 'Just because one sleeps with a man -' " Some lovely writing, but in the small print of the plotting and the characters something somehow not quite right.
Dinner at Ilan's. He sees "peace breaking out" all across the Near East. Together we watch a TV documentary about crab fishermen off the Alaskan coast.

August 10th; Take lots of vitamin C, discovered originally by a Hungarian called Szent-Gyorgyi. Still snuffling, but my back is improving after two nights sleeping on the floor. Pick up first set of prints from printers. Not bad.
August 9th; Back still hurts, and summer cold still phlegmish. A bit better once I get up. Finish Tim's copy of 'Why Buildings Fall Down', and then his copy of 'The Empty Space'. 'Why Buildings Fall Down', is a book packed with lovingly hand-drawn pen sketches of girders under stress, bolts about to snap, and roof joints suffering unexpected loads. Authors Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori explain several structural disasters (collapsing buildings, dams, bridges) famous and important to structural engineers, from the partial collapse of the post-war council flats at Ronan Point in Britain to the disaster at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency, when two walkways full of people fell from height onto a crowded party. Other topics covered include the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the famous bucking suspension bridge at Tacoma Narrows. The authors add human details, including touching stories of several engineers dying of broken hearts and shame after one of their creations goes down with loss of life. Other features are inappropriate literary quotes at the head of each chapter, wonderful drawings which could have been a little better annotated and laid out considering how many there are, and a refreshing preference throughout for English weights & measures which makes it much easier to read. Some of the descriptions could have been edited for clarity a bit. Strange section bolted on the back (the book was originally published in 1997) gives a couple of pages to explaining how the World Trade Center Twin Towers fell in 2001: the authors make no mention of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, the much shorter building hit by no aeroplane, so with far smaller loads and no burning aviation fuel to soften its steel frame.
Peter Brook's 'The Empty Space' splits theatre into four types as a way of discussing the emotional relations between actors, director, audience, and text. Been meaning to read this for a long time - conveys much of the excitement of what actors try to do when they co-operate to tell stories to others. Not sure about the last sentence, "A play is play.", but the book overall is disciplined, clear, & inspiring.
Do some work for Marc-Henry on the screenplay, then make it to Margit Bridge where Drew & Andras are waiting to take me to Ship-Building Island for the outdoor music festival thing. We wander about a bit, fail to meet Natalie & Michael, eat some grilled chicken, avoid the mud, and discover a Turo Rudi machine. Later Drew & I see a very pretty girl stumbling through a moving obstacle course where huge padded mufflers made to look like giant sticks of Turo Rudi, Hungary's distinctive chocolate-coated rods of curds in their white and red polka-dotted wrappers, try to knock her over. In case we didn't get the point, there is a luminous blimp in Turo Rudi colours hovering overhead. After a session of moany songs by the man who was the voice of Blur, the Chemical Brothers pack out the main mud area after dark. Lots of nice graphics, including some rather good flashing orange rectangles.

August 8th; Wake up with pulled muscle in shoulder from yesterday's adventure with laptop and sheet of cardboard. Meet Anonymous Friend for lunch, then see new printer, then drinks with John.
August 7th; Up at 6am to go into Toastmasters. Speech against identity cards goes quite well - Drew speaks too about his podcasting, and Klara talks confidently about cultural misunderstandings. Drew & I have a breakfast coffee at Hattyuhaz, then Tim joins me there later for more tea. At this point, I begin to mishandle what started off as a promising day. Back in the centre of town I buy a large sheet of thick card from specialist paper shop and start odyssey up hill to printer. As this is a metric size of card, and it becomes more obvious over time that metric weights and measures were designed by people who were used to telling other people to do work, but never did any themselves, I am unable to fit the card under my armpit and have to hold it by top edge. At the same time, the other shoulder is holding a very heavy bag with my laptop in. Get to Moszkva ter, and look in vain for the map that used to show where the different bus stops scattered around the square are. It was very useful, so obviously it had to be got rid of. Ticket woman cannot tell me which buses go where, and directs me to a window with blinds lowered 7/8ths of the way down. I tap on the glass and a woman allows me to speak to her as long as I do something between crouching and kneeling to peer through this slot: the only proper position for a customer in Hungary. She takes advice and consults a colleague and we confirm several times that the correct buses are the 102 or 112. I ask if she is sure, and she confirms this is absolutely certain: 102 or 112. This extra confirmation of certainty is very useful to me, since in Hungary this helps clarify that the Hungarian is definitely wrong. I struggle outside with giant sheet of card and bag and try some bus stops at random. Yes, the two correct buses are the 21 and 90. Almost the same. Men have decided the afternoon rush hour is ideal time to retarmac road, so we weave slowly up hill through hot sunshine to printer. Printer looks at card and says it is too thick for their rollers. I ask what is their maximum thickness and they do not know - they start referring to paper by the grammes per square metre, and when I ask how many millimetres thick this is, they are baffled. I point out that if it is rollers they are talking about the thickness might be more relevant than the weight, and they nod and agree. But this is because they are sorry that I am sweaty & tired & disappointed, not because it will ever occur to them that I am right that people who put card between rollers for a living might also benefit from knowing some thickness measurements. We part on friendly terms. I take the bus back down the hill, catch the tram back over the river, and take the underground train up to the second printer. I arrive ten minutes after second printers have gone home. The most important zip on my bag then breaks. Hot & sticky in my second shirt of the day, I briefly consider despair, then mend the zip. The building janitor is only available if I phone him up, and by phone he tells me my problem is not his problem. I cannot leave the sheet of card with anyone. At last a resident shows me that I can slide it under the locked cage door guarding the stairs to the cellar printers. Later at Castro's I bump into Dallan & Nick: entertaining chat about city-centre flats and chess variations. Reach Ujpalota exhausted.

August 6th; The dog with the foghorn howl is back after an odd absence at the start of the year - unless it's a new animal that's been brutalised in the same way as the old one. The floor-number-jumping feature of the lift indicator is back too.
August 5th; Make it to church this week. Two of us are the congregation until a couple with a jolly little girl turn up. The preacher is a likeable though intense blonde Russian lady. She is assisted by Sasha the painter in an astonishing green shirt, playing an acoustic guitar. He & I hug. Worship quite charismatic. Sasha in tears of joy several times. We sing alternately in English and Russian from handwritten lyrics on a transparency lit by overhead projector. It throws a giant illuminated lozenge on the wall which overlaps the Scottish church's austere wooden cross, like a distorted coffin of light tinged blue at the edges. As we sing, there is an uplifting sense of good in the large, bright room with its neoclassical plasterwork painted pale blue and cream. Sasha relates in both languages last week's visit to a charismatic congregation in northern Italy. Then he sits next to me, and the preacher begins her sermon. Everyone waits as Sasha puts each sentence into English for me. I start to feel the urge to fidget as it slowly dawns on me this service is not going to last only an hour. The theme is persevering not compromising, exercising patience & self-control, all qualities I find an increasing struggle as we pull into the final lap of a 2 and 3/4 hour service. Pascal is right. Why is it so hard to simply sit still?

August 4th; Visit the gym whose opening hours change at whim. Waiting in still-hot sun at 4pm for the bus to bring me back down the hill, I have a chance to look at the shrine at the crossroads by the bus stop. It is a lifesize figure of Jesus painted in slightly faded colours on a Jesus shape cut out of sheet tin, bolted onto an 8-foot-high cross. The cross is made of square-profile tubular steel painted matt black, and is fixed in a 2-foot-high mound of concrete. All is inside a small picket fence of wooden slats painted pale suede brown.
August 3rd; More matho progress in demystifying language-learning. Finish Tim's copy of 'The Dream of Rome' by Boris Johnson. This is a book that went with a television series, and suggests, persuasively, that people all over Europe still feel nostalgic for the Roman Empire and the EU is the latest attempt to restore it. His book is entertaining. He uses his amiable buffer style, mixing offhand erudition & deliberately slightly-dated jokiness. He explains how Pax Romana assimilated barbarians, paid for its army, and created a common identity for much of Europe that still lingers. However, he completely overlooks the most important point of all: that our wistfulness for the golden age of Rome blurs Rome's long peace with the intellectual brilliance of the Greek city states. As a result, we, and Johnson, overlook just how sterile Rome's 400 years in the imperial sun was. Not a single mathematician of note (as against Greeks like Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes - the last killed by a thuggish Roman soldier). No Latin science apart from civil engineering (doctors worldwide still study the Hippocratic oath, by contrast), and no real economic development. Latin playwrights & thinkers tail far behind the Greek trailblazers of Athens and the Hellenic era (Aristophanes, Aristotle, just to start on the letter A). Tacitus the historian might rank alongside Herodotus or Thucydides, but where is the Latin political reformer to compare with Solon or Pericles? In other words, nostalgia for Rome specifically is nostalgia for a large, peaceful empire of near stasis enforced by fascist brutality, political pragmatism, and magnificent lack of imagination. The Latin Romans dutifully studied the Greeks for five or six times as long as the Greek golden age itself lasted. Yet, outside a handful of poets like Virgil - and Virgil consciously imitated Homer - never equalled them. Latin architecture is a straight copy of Greek architecture. Even the outstanding Romans prove the point: in Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius we have two great military commanders who could write clearly. Rome's longevity came from subordinating everything to success in war. The obvious comparisons are with other long-lived empires that also enforced centuries of peace with overwhelming military might, like China, the Ottomans, the Russians. For all three, peace came at the expense of progress, and all three regions are still struggling after thousands of years of backwardness and political centralism to generate any new ideas of their own. Come to think of it, once the rich glow of the Italian Renaissance faded, the Romance-language nations of Europe, those closer to Rome, all frequently lagged behind the rest of the continent too. Three of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), the countries expected to have the biggest fiscal problems joining the euro currency in the 1990s, are the Romance-language countries most closely influenced by Rome, and the fourth, Greece itself, spent 500 years under Turkish domination. Colonies on other continents founded by Romance-language European nations still limp behind those founded by other Europeans.
Johnson does not give this - that Roman glamour was largely ancient Greek glamour perpetuated by military power - one sentence of his book. It seems to never have occurred to him. Was his classical education Latin-centred? I don't know, though his words of praise for the Latin language [and not the Greek] are suggestive. He agrees that Roman games were crass & bloodthirsty, Roman politicians were sly & treacherous, Roman superiority over barbarians often little more than a new standard of personal hygeine [though Roman 'garum', the fish sauce he mentions, sounds utterly vile]. Nevertheless, he can't swallow the thought that, like the Arabs in our Middle Ages, Rome's real contribution to world civilisation was just to archive and hand on the brilliance of ancient Greece for a few more centuries. Then comes an awkward closing phase about Islam. Johnson casually drops in that he had a Muslim great-grandfather without once, anywhere in a stretch where he proposes Turkey join the European Union, mentioning that this great-grandfather of his was a Turkish politician [briefly interior minister under the government of Grand Vizier Ahmed Tevfik Pasha, according to Wikipedia]. Johnson plausibly suggests EU membership for Turkey could begin a reunion of the Roman Mediterranean world. But why would we want to recreate the Roman Mediterranean? He adds membership could strengthen the secularising, and he says deserving, Ataturkists in Turkey. Yet, when balancing the Turkish genocide of the Armenians he discusses outrages perpetrated by Christians, he has to cite examples half a thousand years older to get anything nasty enough. Is the slight lack of candour about his origins from such a hale and hearty fellow why he peeps at us oddly from behind a pillar on the front cover? He brings up Theodora, the pornstar sex performer who married Emperor Justinian, as an example of a strong, openly sexual woman in the Western tradition. He leaves out the fact that many, including Gibbon, blame Empress Theodora's political meddling for crippling a startling revival by the Eastern Roman Empire that might have changed history. The tenacity of the Greek-speaking Romaioi of Constantinople in outlasting the Western Rome by a thousand years even after that failure is hardly touched on.
Johnson's storytelling has the wonderfully readable flow the best classicists learn. But behind his narrative craft there's not much evidence of real thought. He says the EU does not have the unifying rituals of imperial Rome without adding that it also lacks the ruthless army to exterminate all its opponents. The truth is that diversity [before Rome and after Rome] put Europe at the centre of the world, not unity. Had Rome survived as a great power, Europeans would have settled the Americas much later or not at all. [Johnson even asks what if the Moors had crossed the Atlantic before us, without working this out.] Europe wouldn't have hosted the scientific & industrial revolutions. The long sleep of Pax Romana is the sirens' lure behind every project to unify Europe, whether by open fascism or bureaucratic slyness.
In many ways Boris resembles the empire he describes. He's as multi-cultural as many late Romans or Ottomans, while with the reassuring, timeless manner of an imperial citizen. One of us, a style buffed to perfection. He's frank, firm, fair, urbane & beautifully presented. Yet underneath all that, nothing very special. A lot like the glory that was Rome.

August 2nd; Lively dinner with Tim & family in Paty.
August 1st; Tarot meeting with John. Go to library with Ilan, after which he takes me to an excellent Arabic food place near Petofi Bridge. As we walk in, Nura beams at us with a happy, welcoming smile from behind the counter, making it immediately plain she is not Hungarian. The tasty food confirms this.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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