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
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
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
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.
On bus into town finish Robin's friend Mike's copy of
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.
In the morning, join Robin at
where his fellow artists are discussing the wallspace for their forthcoming
joint exhibition 'Homesickness'. Then we go to
printers on the hill again,
after a quiet decaffeinated coffee at a deserted cafe in the sun. Later, I run
in a restaurant, now working full-time for the
He is attending a conference in Istanbul next week and learning some Turkish.
Zeno & I drive into Budapest at sunset. Beautiful clouds. Odd dreams.
A graphics day with
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.
Kasper's birthday. Another hot day.
I give Kasper my
pack, giving him the
usual warnings about being responsible with The Power, and so forth. In
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
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.
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.
& 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.
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.
& I talk about Arabic book while Chloe the fox terrier
whimpers and wriggles next to us, tethered to a stick
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.
Pick up prints from
They're rubbish. More filming with
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.
Whole day filming with Esther &
I fall asleep at several points during the day
at different locations within
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.
Sleep late to continue recovery from cold. Buy more card for
Rudi Giuliani supporting identity cards.
Herbal tea with Esther and
Later on, though very nervous, manage to give
speech about 'adventure' at
event without major disaster. Tom gives his views on
Hungarian social life, and Peter does a surreal review of smoking, wish-fulfilment
Try to sleep off cold, taking vitamin C, and
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
who moved here and defected some years ago.
Slightly dim, ad hominem review of what sounds like a rude but
Last night, on bus back home, finish the Graham Greene novel
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.
He sees "peace breaking out" all across the Near East. Together
we watch a TV documentary about crab fishermen off the Alaskan coast.
Take lots of vitamin C, discovered originally by a Hungarian called
Still snuffling, but my back is improving after two nights sleeping on the floor. Pick
up first set of prints from
printers. Not bad.
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
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
Point in Britain to the disaster at the Kansas City
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
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
the much shorter building
hit by no aeroplane, so with far smaller loads and no burning aviation fuel to soften its steel frame.
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
are waiting to take me to Ship-Building Island for the
music festival thing.
We wander about a bit, fail to meet
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
Brothers pack out the main mud area after dark. Lots of nice graphics,
including some rather good flashing orange rectangles.
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
Up at 6am to go into
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
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
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
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
& Nick: entertaining chat about city-centre flats and chess variations.
Reach Ujpalota exhausted.
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.
feature of the lift indicator is back too.
Make it to
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
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.
is right. Why is it so hard to
simply sit still?
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.
More matho progress in
language-learning. Finish Tim's copy of
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,
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?
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
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.
Lively dinner with Tim & family in Paty.
Tarot meeting with John. Go to library with
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 /
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