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2008
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March 31st; Robin and I drive around neighbouring towns on a sunny day which deserves to be called hot. In the bright sunshine all the cars have headlights on by law, because, out on the dry hot plain, mirage & heat haze effects are strong enough to cause illusions and accidents. We visit several scrap-metal yards in search of fine wire mesh, ask two fat men loitering around a couple of rusty tractors if they wish to sell one [they don't], and in a town called Kengyel [Stirrup] meet an incoherent old beekeeper entering a tree nursery through a back gate who cannot remember the names of the owners, their address or phone number, or anyone who might know. We have lunch in a deserted restaurant on the outskirts of a onetime communist model town called Martfu, and then drive on to Kunszentmarton for a coffee and cake in an empty patisserie with plaster ceiling decoration and pale wood panelling. While we are there, Robin tells me about his London friend Kuka and his adventures buying a house at Auch in south-west France.

March 30th; Wake up on the Great Plain in an empty house, and pour milk on some cereals I find called 'Zimtos'. Logically enough, they taste mildly of cinnamon. After lunch Robin and I drive to a funfair visiting Tiszafoldvar to find six or seven customers wandering around ten or eleven deserted rides and stalls on the edge of a field in the late afternoon sun. Fearing my old motion sickness, I shrewdly stay with Chloe the new fox terrier while Robin, Zsuzsa and Bela climb into hanging chairs on a go-round-and-round thing. It slowly starts up, then centrifugal force swings them wider and wider until their chained chairs are hanging at 45 degrees as they all whizz round. A nearby deserted machine belts out a passionate Falco song with that hollow outdoorsy sound you only get at funfairs, and Robin shouts out doubts each time he swings past me: "Excruciating", "Horrible mistake", "Wise decision" [of me], "Terrifying", and so on. The three get off that ride quite dizzy and wobble-legged. I am not let on the inflateable fun castle rubber slide because I'm an adult, but Zsuzsa, Bela and I all drive a dodgem car each for several minutes - excellent value for money. I hadn't remembered that dodgem cars have no turning circle at all - you can revolve on a point - wonderful things. We leave, walking out across the long shadows in the adjacent field, to the sound of a Hungarian reggae song. At some point around midnight, finding only Zimtos available in the larder, Robin describes them to me as the vilest breakfast cereal on the face of the earth.
March 29th; Quiet day. Warm sun. In the evening, we follow the Earth Hour idea of switching off all electrical things between 8pm and 9pm local time. We find there are only two candles in the whole house, so we move around with those, and huddle over the red glow of the log fire, with blackness all around. Strangely soothing to not have lights or music or anything on and realise all history was like this.

March 28th; Sleep lateish and drive with Robin out to the Great Plain around midday, picking up his two daughters from school in Kecskemet and retiring, to their slight irritation, to a sleepy cakeshop for half an hour, before driving on to Inoka. Actually warm and sunny - ready for the Hungarian trick of missing out spring altogether and going straight into summer. We drive into Tiszainoka just as a funeral is taking place in the graveyard at the end of Robin's drive. It is the funeral of the mother of Pisti of the Windblown Wall's wife. In the evening, finish my copy of Peter Carroll's Liber Null & Psychonaut. Remarkably concise series of short essays by someone supposedly from the South Downs, with some nice quotes about it not being for us to question the tastelessness of the cosmos, and curt warnings about the dangers of going "spectacularly insane" if some exercises are attempted with insufficient preparation.
March 27th; Swimming again. Today warmer sunshine and no snow. Another secretarial interview. By night join Robin and Andrea at what was a charming old patisserie now converted into a desperately trendy restaurant. We meet Chris, who relates how he drives his car all the way to Kecskemet so as to service it at half Budapest prices, and Laszlo, who kindly drives us all to another venue and home again.

March 26th; Go swimming at pool on island, where there is brilliant sunshine and snow at the same time. Meet two more candidates for the secretarial job at a cafe in Mammut shopping centre, before a quick tea with Franc at the library. Rediscover 1980s Hungarian new wave music. How odd that this group didn't conquer the world, hm?
March 25th; Robin & I drive to Budapest, dropping the girls at boarding school in Kecskemet on the way. We reach an exhibition of paintings of beige dumb bells at the same time as Andrea and Istvan. Perhaps because of her dramatic high-heeled shoes, or perhaps because of her sore throat, the baroness needs a sit down in a neighbouring bar. We separate, and Robin & I eat some pasta in a restaurant that alternates a live accordian-player's Left-Bank-Cafe versions of 'A Kiss is Just a Kiss' & the Third Man theme with a pre-recorded soundtrack of 70s P-Funk.

March 24th; Easter Monday. Village boys come round to spray eau de cologne on Letty & Zsuzsa as part of the annual courtship/fertility/springtime ritual. Robin's shrewd 10-year-old boy Kasper comes back from himself going a-courting to some local addresses [and an old people's home], having in the process been given quite a bit of cash and a couple of stiff drinks. I finish Robin's copy of 'Electricity' by W.L. Bragg, a re-edition from the 1940s. In the lovely clear style of the time, Bragg vows to eschew mathematics altogether but instead to use lots of examples to build up "a kind of electrical common sense" in the reader's mind. Wonderful black-and-white photographs of suburban transformer stations, pylons, National Grid control rooms, and three-piece-suited pipe-smoking instructors showing table-top apparatus to small boys. Excellent line diagrams are plentiful also, though, sad to see, figures 102 and 103 seem to have been missed out by the publisher by mistake. I only had to reread the section on Back EMF a couple of times. Kind Franc reassured me a few nights ago that back emf is not straightforward to grasp at first. Lovely roast pork for lunch. As darkness falls, I hide some chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs around the house for the children to hunt down. While doing this, I wear a pair of furry ears to create a sense of occasion. A far cry from the full-size rabbit suit members of the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad wore while beating suspects into signing false confessions in the 1980s.
March 23rd; Kristos anesti - Christ is risen. Egg-painting with the children and Robin in the late morning, followed by wonderful lunch of lamb, mint sauce, roast potatoes, and gravy with red wine. Then I doze in library while children run egg-and-spoon race. At 4pm, John from England and Zsusza from Kecskemet, both retired teachers, come for tea and cake, and look round Robin's studio. John explains some of the charities he's involved with.

March 22nd; Quiet rainy day at Robin's on the Great Plain. Disturbing stories about the local who incompetently built his wall so it fell down in the wind (I am at last grasping the difference between Pityu, Rita's Pisti, and Pisti the dodgy builder). It seems that Pisti of the Windblown Wall builds many things which are not quite right, and is very vindictive with anyone who complains about him. It was the insurance assessor who pointed out to me that the brick pillars were not dovetailed into the wall sections, and therefore, since they offer no support, were completely pointless. After dark, Robin, Zsuzsa & I play scrabble by candlelight while the kitchen radio plays us opera. The second piece Robin thinks might be Wagner: it certainly sounds distressing and dark enough. Later still he reminds me about his good recycling friend Paul, still living alone in Chester Castle making a living by selling period Star Trek wallpaper by the yard on eBay.
March 21st; Get self to Franc's gallery in time to meet 2nd secretarial candidate who has arrived early for interview. Soothing day, with break at lunch hour for shopping. Two friendly Croatian photographers come in and look round. Decaff coffee with Franc afterwards, then make it to train going out of town to the Great Plain. Sit down in dining car ten minutes before train pulls out of station, and exactly one hour later, waiter comes to take my order. Simpering, he explains that "since there are so many people today" this is why it has taken him 60 minutes to walk down the carriage and write my drink down on his pad. I look round the dining car at the other nine diners, one of whom has finished her omlette, five of whom had one drink each, and three of whom seem to have an empty table in front of them. What can you say at such a moment? If I told him 17-year-old waitresses can take orders from as many tables full of people within fifteen minutes in a Western country - and that in fact, after factoring in different costs of living, her salary is lower than his - he simply wouldn't believe me. There is just no point trying to explain this to him: he sincerely thinks he knows what hard work is like. And after all, it is Good Friday. It's not as if I've spent the last hour nailed to a piece of mahogany, so I really shouldn't complain. At Kecskemet station, I have time to change shirts, give myself a wash and freshen up in the peculiar men's lavatory with the decorated blue ceiling. I only noticed two visits ago that the ceiling is painted mid-blue with pieces of 1/2-inch-thick polystyrene tile glued randomly to it in an approximation to clouds. None are cut into cloud shapes, instead odd triangles and curved slivers - perhaps from a set of off-cuts someone had to hand. Last week I was there and heard two men quietly chatting together in the last stall along, presumably doing a bit of cottaging, but this time I have the whole place to myself. Get on the small stopping train out to Lakitelek, doing a little reading on the way. Robin meets me at Lakitelek with a warm, night-time west wind blowing through the empty streets. On our way back to the house we drop in at the village bar, with its magnificent brown and cream strips of rubber walling, and meet a cheery local who tells us how much better he could have built Robin's now-collapsed wall if he had hired him instead. We smile and nod until the cigarette smoke gets too much and we have to leave.

March 20th; Coffee & buns with Zete at the other Auguszt Cafe. One secretarial candidate makes it to her interview. Strange mixture of sun and snow. Meet a Canadian-American couple who trade agricultural machinery, holidaying here with their grand-daughters. A couple of books arrive at my postbox. Start one about China in cafe.
March 19th; Apple battery stops working, completely.

March 18th; Decaff cappuccino with Andrea at Auguszt cafe.
March 17th; Visit three different shoemenders. Since generous Rob gave me yesterday's bottle of homemade schnapps, it now lurks in my flat, ready to subdue some unsuspecting guest. Feel empowered. Beers in evening with Mystery Friend 2. Three days to full moon.

March 16th; Lunch with Rob, who plies me with chilli-based home-made palinka or schnapps. This is at his flat with Eti and Mali, his adorable little daughter. Mali dances to folk songs. I get squiffy enough to refer to Guardian columnists as the 'wankocracy'. Rob tells me about the Hungarian linguist who translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin, and another writer, whose widow's tooth was in agony during his exhumation from a World War II mass grave until the exact moment of reburial. Later, I go to Franc's, still drunk, to return his hammer and German short stories, and we watch the second half of Ghostbusters 2, and the Black Adder episode where Atkinson's character tries to upstage Walter Raleigh at the Elizabethan court.
March 15th; Morning riding at Rita's with Zsuzsi, Kasper and Bela. Brisk wind, but warm sun. Danillo drops by for a chat. More wistful Back To The Future stuff from Stereolab. Robin decides not to come back to town for party. On train to Budapest meet three charming Phd students from the Central European University, two Russians and a Turk, all writing theses on imperialism. Shower, change into dodgy-looking clothing [black leather trousers, pink shirt, red shiny tie from Dave the LIFFE trader, blue-and-white-striped summer jacket and gold mirror shades] and set off for Mystery Friend 2's Pimp & Ho party. On the way find there are no trams, and police trucks with sirens and blue flashing lights have self-importantly parked at angles in the middle of street junctions to make it look as if they know what to do. Disgruntled men in shiny black zip-up jackets are wandering around in crowds, grumbling. I ask one pair if the trams have stopped because of the holiday. "No, because of the breakdown of order", they reply glumly. Reach Mystery Friend's party, and the girls have made a splendid effort to dress up for the occasion, though are more than a little irritated when their boyfriends try to get into character by saying things like "Over here, bitch." Only one girl has not put on lots of make-up or stilettos, but makes up for it with vigorous flirting.

March 14th; Go over to the first street in the village to ask Odon to come and clean bricks in the morning. At dusk, drive with Georgina to Kunszentmarton to pop into a pharmacy. We are in a queue of ten sullen people for forty minutes as night falls, served by one weary woman filling out lots of little forms and writing receipts. The usual spotlessly clean yet faintly depressing House of Drugs done up in best wannabe-German Hungarian style. Cupboards and fittings done in vanilla-ice-cream yellow and powder blue, with shiny steel handles on scores of little identical drawers filled with pills. Brushed steel counter tops. 22 gloomy oil paintings, all hobby-Impressionist-style country views of trees and dark skies, neatly fill all spare space along the walls. In the evening, show Robin this short Nordic film about some percussionists.
March 13th; After retiring to futon in library at 9pm, I wake at 5am feeling completely refreshed. Perhaps an hour of sleep before midnight really is worth two hours after. Porridge for breakfast again, only today Kasper and I add cinnamon. I start to shave, and the two boys are so intrigued by my electric shaver we take the cutting heads out to see how it works. Robin and Georgina return from Rome around lunchtime today, missing the insurance-company assessor by about half an hour. He phones me from the gate around 11.15, slightly alarmed by Lupi, the guard dog, straining on his chain at the gate end of his tram rail of heavy wire. I show the assessor the three sections of collapsed wall, he photographs them, and then comes into the kitchen to write his report and have a cup of tea with me. We talk a bit about rural poverty and agriculture in Hungary, whereupon he volunteers that the EU has destroyed Hungarian farming, at the deliberate behest of the French. I sign his document, and escort him out across one of the sections of collapsed wall so he doesn't have to go too close to Lupus again. Half past midday Robin returns, very excited by several days among the grand buildings, beautiful food, and elegant people of Rome.

March 12th; Chilly, foggy morning. Curious, I go with the boys to their bus stop to see them get on their ten past seven school bus. One of their schoolmates joins us. A true yokel, he stares at me without pause for six minutes in a slack-jawed grin of sheer wonder to be seeing at first hand someone from a faraway land. Today's project: oxtail soup, using what in the fridge appears to be segments of an actual ox's tail. According to the cookbook, this takes three hours, four if you count the hour of soaking the meat. As it simmers, I redo iron-on shirt-mend thing with special melting fabric strip. Out in village, shopping, I find the postal van parked somewhere, and pick up some of Georgina's elusive mail.
March 11th; Yesterday I heard the dogs barking mid-afternoon, and found Odon with his bicycle, standing politely on the far side of a section of collapsed brick wall. Close-up, he looked charming, relaxed and remarkably untroubled by his pregnant betrothed's suicide attempt in early January. We gazed at the wind-flattened section of what was a five-foot-high wall, lying on the grass between us. Snapping two bricks apart and crumbling some mortar in his fingers, he mentioned low cement content. Perhaps a way of tactfully hinting Robin might have been better giving him the work. This afternoon wait until 5pm for vet to come over to give Lupus his injection. He drives up at the same moment as Rita comes to collect us for a riding lesson, so she waits in her car while I try to hold down the big white dog. Lupi has different ideas, and the sight of the vet keeping ten feet away from the end of his chain while I stand astride the riled animal holding its head is not very encouraging. 8-year-old Bela steps in and helps me hold Lupi's head still, The dog dimly understands he is not allowed to rip the flesh of one of Robin's children, but clearly regards Bela's initiative as cheating, and crossly wrestles with both of us while the vet jabs him with steroids. As we step back, the white fluffy Komondor gives me a quick bloodless bite on my right hand. Probably a telling off for my underhand trick of allowing a child into a man-dog standoff. Once he's chastised me, dog and I are on reasonable terms again. The two boys and I get into Rita's car and wave goodbye to the vet who drives off in the other direction. Riding lesson again with Otello at Rita's nearby field with stables. She explains that one horse that rocks from side to side in its stall is bored, and if other horses see it, the bad habit spreads to them, like nail-biting or yawning. Nearby is a small, half-collapsed kennel of corrugated iron in a group of trees in the stable yard. Next to the kennel, Bela and I stand and watch a demented dog chained to a pole who runs round it barking non-stop, like a mechanical toy. Rita told me yesterday the dog is not hers. Bela says the dog is mad. I say he would be mad if he was tied to a post all day. My words seem to have a strange effect. A few minutes later, out in the field, Kasper casually suggests I might go back to help Bela. I return to find a giggling Bela tied to a tree with a ball of twine. I briefly remember Jeff's Austrian-boy-wrapped-in-sticky-tape incident. Then I untie Bela. Out on the grass, Otello, ridden by Kasper, trots, quietly revolving round Rita. Rita's mother, a novelist, joins me. We sit on the two garden chairs facing the huge dusk-lit horizon of field. No dramatic clouds today. The sky just smoothly darkens as if on a dimmer switch.

March 10th; Up at six to greet the sun and get the boys ready for school. Explore the three strangely empty shops in the village in the afternoon. Seem even more thinly stocked than a couple of years ago. The man-sized pentacle is still there, 20 feet up the church tower, though its fairy lights are switched off. As day fades, Rita picks Kasper, Bela and me up in her car and we go for a horse-riding lesson. I go round and round on a black stallion called Otello as huge dark clouds gather in the dusk sky.
March 9th; Busy day as Robin and Georgina prepare for their trip to Rome tomorrow. I finish Franc's copy of 'German Short Stories 1', a dual-translation collection in Penguin from the early 1960s. It contains eight postwar short stories by German writers like Heinrich Bo:ll, Ilse Aichinger and Gertrud Fussenegger, edited by Richard Newnham. Was relatively diligent, reading a page and a half a day, struggling to match each German and English sentence. Not sure if it has had any effect on my pitiful feel for German, but some of the stories were haunting. One goes backwards from a woman's funeral, with her being carried back to her sickbed, slowly recovering, revisiting the backstreet abortionist who caused her death, becoming unpregnant, meeting the man less and less often until they don't know each other's names, and then further on back into childhood. Another describes the fateful meeting at a beer garden of two very different men, but who both suffer from the same speech impediment. One intriguing story is a superficially suburban tale of three people quarreling over a garden gnome. Another pretends to be some diary entries by a contractor building Russia's famous fake Potemkin village in time for the day that Catherine the Great is to pass by.
To bed at 2.30am as Robin and Georgina drive to Budapest for an appallingly early flight to Italy.

March 8th; Robin wakes up with a cup of strong tea while I pack for the weekend. We drop in at his Turkish butcher, who has the Hungarian version of the cuts-of-beef diagram on his shop wall, to pick up some lamb. Drive to countryside in rain. Last week winds on the Great Plain blew down sections of Robin's new wall, giving the place a slightly wild appearance.
March 7th; Go to Palace of Arts to try to get paid. My cash invoice generates a request to sign four pieces of paper and a half hour wait, but no cash. Long lunch with the refreshingly bright Kathrin. Robin comes to flat later with Film-maker Peter, over from Reading for a few days. We play him one of Giacomo's 'Black Engine' discs, and Peter gives me a vinyl 7" record he made of 2 different kinds of crickets chirruping while Robin dresses for dinner. Peter and I join Daniel for kebab supper, and Peter tells us about various friends of his: his English friend whose father is a world authority on mosses, a sound-engineer friend who recorded a fly fighting to escape a Venus Fly Trap, and a friend who used to play with Cabaret Voltaire but now does wildlife-documentary sound work like putting microphones inside a dead zebra to capture the sound of a carcass being eaten from the inside out. Later, at his girlfriend's flat over a whisky, Peter plays me some Nurse With Wound and the breathy melodies of Stereolab proteges Broadcast. Get back to my flat 5 minutes before Robin returns from Jaap's party.

March 6th; Wake out of a curious dream involving a chatshow where I and someone else are sitting in leather armchairs suspended by wires at least fifteen feet up near the ceiling of a very high room. Robin has spent night on sofa. Breakfast together at charming cafe nearby behind the yellow church, where I meet Imola's friend Zsuzsi for the second day running. She tells me more about the restaurant Imola has apparently opened somewhere like Dob street. Afternoon juice & buns with Zsenya, hearing about his lingerie shop and bureaucratic delays with Hungarian paperwork. Two long-necked, gazelle-like creatures at the next table preen visibly when they hear us discussing whether Hungarian girls are prettier than girls from neighbouring countries, but they turn away huffily when they hear what I say next. Zsenya says he wants children, adding you cannot have children without the help of a woman. I tell Zsenya about some men I've known whose wives seem utterly unreasonable & selfish. I wearily ask him "Is that kind of unreasonable, spoilt behaviour really the price I have to pay in order to have children?" Zsenya explodes with laughter. "Yes, Mark!" he cries, loudly and cheerfully. The long-eyelashed wildebeeste twitch nervously behind their cafe lattes. "Yes, that really is the price you have to pay if you want to have children!" he chuckles, amazed I cannot see how life really works. Beers with slices of lemon in later with Mystery Friend 2: we are joined by Robin, Albert & Istvan. Mystery Friend is particularly enamoured of a girl in the bar with us he refers to as the "porn librarian" type.
March 5th; Lovely afternoon tea with Kathrin from Hamburg. Then see Nora dressed up grandly as she models in a fashion show of historical costumes at the Ethnographic Museum. An audience with a mixture of ages, including some earnest older ladies in coats & gloves. The girls in gowns are followed by a musical group involving a double bass, a violin, bagpipes, backtrack of a human beatbox, a strange weedy mouthpipe-type-thing, and a chubby rapper in a red sports top yakking in the usual rapid Hungarian idea of hip-hop speak. As I hear in the second song the Hungarian for 'Ethnographic Museum' and the English word 'motherfucker' in the same sentence, I decide it might be time to meet Franc for a herbal tea. Join Franc across town at a cafe full of black-and-white photographs of naked pregnant women for decaffeinated Irish coffee. Then find Robin eating with Albert & Ildiko in a cellar restaurant later. They are talking about boxers.

March 4th; Two largeish chimney sweeps turn up to inspect boiler, while I am sanding down a triangle of wood for my kitchen table. They have the softspoken Gentle Bear manner that some men adopt. When it is time for me to sign their clipboard, I find I do not know my landlady's surname. Eat breakfast on tram, find shoemender, find iron-on-tape for shirt repair, place advert in newspaper, pick up invoice from Kalman, and meet Nora for coffee. She tells me about a thesis she is writing on Aborigines in Australian films.
March 3rd; Make it over to CEU Business School for evening session with the Toasties. Mr Carlson practises his Death-The-Great-Teacher speech. Afterwards Peter says over a beer he thinks that Chomsky is trying to complete Russell's definite-descriptions programme. The Man from UNCLE in another light.

March 2nd; Sunshine & scattered showers. Walk down street past huge open building site then bronze schoolboys to get to main crescent & tram line. A strange hundred yards of crushed brick and smashed terracotta tile, along with scattered broken slats of off-beige plastic roller-blind, suggests a lorry from the construction site shed some load at some point yesterday. One of those teenagers-mime-to-an-old-song-in-their-bedroom videos: surprisingly good. Near-professional amateurishness.
March 1st; Up early to meet elegant Miss Szasz under the clock at Moszkva square at 8am. We go to a studio in Budaors to begin the day's filming. I am to be a manager so unsympathetic that I shall reduce a female employee, played by Miss Szasz, to tears. We meet the cheerful camera crew, Daniel, Damien, and the karate-injured Gergo. Sandor does the genial uncle bit in the background, Julianna acts the assessor with clipboard, and Zsanna is there to burst into tears in Hungarian opposite David. David is going to attempt an ascent of Everest without oxygen in the second half of this month, though this is unconnected with the management-training video we make today. A perky little girl called Blanca is thrilled to meet us, thinking we are real film actors. She tells me off for my English accent in Hungarian and explains her favourite animal is Pegasus. Bubbly Zsanna wants her Tarot read. A sudden thunder storm involving hail cuts the power off to the cameras for quarter of an hour, and it begins to look like we might be there all night. In her second Celtic Cross spread she draws a reversed Moon, reversed Hermit, and reversed Princess of Pentacles. Alarmingly large pizzas arrive in three boxes, each one the size of a desk. Surrounded by pizza, cake & fruit, we gorge ourselves as darkness falls. Just when I am convinced we will be working until 2am, Miss Szasz & I do our office-hysterics scene surprisingly quickly, the mountaineer pays me in full on the spot, and we are on the bus back to Budapest by half past ten.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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