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2008
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May 31st; Something strange. Wake up in the night with appalling cat asthma, worse than for years. Might be the DMAE I'm trying this week altering my metabolism, heightening my cat sensitivity. Quite ill through Saturday. The family (I decide to sit this one out indoors) tries to remove a stone from Lupi's paw. To Zsuzsi's shock, the big dog bites her. They drive Lupi to the vet and the stone apparently falls out by itself in the car on the way there.
May 30th; Robin & I drive out into the countryside. Even by 4.30pm, the road still shimmers with heat. On the road, I phone Robin's younger daughter for two jewellery words I have forgotten in Hungarian (bracelets, earrings - yes, shameful, I know) so I can text Gyongyi and tell her what to bring to the photo shoot. Intriguingly, neither Zsuzsi nor her mother Georgina (they're in another car driving somewhere outside Kecskemet, as if we're all in some kind of orienteering exercise) can think of a third Hungarian word though, for 'choker'. They suggest 'nyako:rv' which is 'collar', as in 'dog collar'. Not quite what I'm after. Though did not sleep much last night, and was dozing under my open book out on the apartment building steps this afternoon waiting for Robin, find I cannot nod off in the car. Even in this heat.

May 29th; Drinks with Monika on the shady terrace of the bar, looking onto hot, dry streets, and the still busy building sites nearby with their cranes and dust and two-storey stacks of prefab site offices. The back wall of the inside of the bar is painted a heavy orange to make it welcoming at night. But today a door behind the bar is open so Rita, the leggy barmaid, can cool herself. A gorgeous oblong of soft, cool green light enters from a hitherto hidden courtyard with trees just the other side of a paper-thin wall. Just like those secret garden stories in children's literature. I suppose I thought there were only dusty cupboards behind that surface, if I thought anything. Resembles one of those moments where you meet someone for the first time, after writing to them or speaking to them on the phone, and you realise their appearance is a big surprise. Yet you cannot remember any explicit image of what you thought they looked like. How is that? Lovely dinner with Heikki, chatting about television, writing, and history.
May 28th; Iced coffees with Terri before we visit the camera tripod shop. We sit at a shady cafe table. Terri is so excited about the meticulous, painstaking work of a house painter she uses called Bela, she wants me to tell you all his phone number is 0620 496 0512. Hot sun. Robin & Peter the film-maker drop by in the evening, both with throat complaints, and both drink a glass of the burning, chilli-based schnapps Rob gave me.

May 27th; Hot sun. Suddenly, as every year, girls with long legs, short skirts, and already immaculate tans are everywhere, having been invisible a week ago. Franc drops by for tea and tells me about the cheerful call girl with the perfect body who paid him at the weekend to rephotograph her portfolio. One snap he composed had her in high heels sitting astride his giant inflated banana.
May 26th; Finish a very dreary book called 'Lust in Translation'. The author, a Wall Street Journal reporter called Pamela Druckerman, travels the world interviewing sex researchers and ordinary people about the local cultural 'rules' for marital infidelity. She compares the US, France, Russia, Japan, Finland, Britain, South Africa and one or two other places. Druckerman frankly admits her own earnest American background makes it hard for her to fully take in the variety of sexual cultures worldwide. She shows how boring and joyless the self-absorbed therapy industry around American infidelity is. {The French remark about the British "taking their pleasures sadly" comes to mind.} Despite this insight she never goes further and realises quite how boring and joyless she is as a writer, and probably as a person. I can now understand why the book was at a reduced price. It takes rare talent to turn a subject this naughty into a book this dull. A struggle to finish.

May 25th; Swimming & weight-training. Inspired by my recent mention of Nigel's cousin Vinny being killed by the wife with a knife while sleeping, Terri sends me this stab-happy story. Meanwhile, 3 playful melodies.
May 24th; The last interview. More papier mache work at home. The long-awaited Are You British in Bed? quiz. Finish short diatribe by Christopher Hitchens, 'Missionary Position', a hostile biography of Mother Theresa, closely following his film about her: 'Hell's Angel': '1 2 3. Mother Theresa comes out of this badly. He quotes her relating with a smile how a cancer patient is dying in agony [her order has huge amounts of money in its bank accounts, but the Albanian insisted on keeping the hostels and hospices austere and delapidated to create the impression of urgent poverty, including often not stocking basic medicine or painkillers], and she has the gall to tell this victim of pain "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you." Amazingly, she is so devoid of irony or imagination that she then repeats on this piece of film, Hitchens claims, how the dying person replied to her: "Then please tell him to stop kissing me." Fanaticism almost to the point of cruel glee. If half of what Hitchens says is true, Mother Theresa was a very nasty doctrinaire woman who over decades took charge of hundreds of thousands of street people at their most weak and helpless, as hostages to the glory of her ideology. Many of them she kept where they could die slowly in unhygienic torment when the money flooding into the order [one ex-nun claims that fifty million dollars lay unused in the bank account of the Bronx chapter of her order alone] could have relieved their pain, and in many cases actually cured them and saved their lives. He alleges Mother Theresa herself made extensive use of expensive Western medical care for her own illnesses, as well as consorting with fascist dictators and blessing a nationalistic shrine to the Greater Albania (complete with its map of enlarged borders taking chunks out of neighbouring countries) while on a visit back home. This would all explain why I always felt a shudder of instinctive distrust when seeing her face on television. She never looked saintlike to me, but something more like a sly old witch, a cunning peasant crone in some backward village. Hitchens uses a rather nice word I have never seen before, 'pelf': ill-gotten gain.

May 23rd; Three more secretarial interviews. For the first time one fails to turn up or cancel or apologise. The other two both seem excellent. Conservative candidate wins in a British by-election: Crewe. More tunes to soothe the savage b e a s t.
May 22nd; Buy darling little ring-file folder in blue to hold my receipts. Meet Albert in good mood on tram on way to dinner. Indian meal with Martin, Mystery Friend 2, and the young ladies. Mystery Friend in high spirits. He explains that German men have had their "manhood gelded, have become vegetarians and now wear ridiculous spectacles, herringbone suits, and tassled loafers." This is because "they've had their nuts cut off and shamefully couldn't even invade Luxemburg." Expanding on this theme as our main courses arrive, he remarks on how German women are very keen to go with Anglo-Saxon men because "they want to lay themselves at the feet of the victors. They're disappointed they didn't get the lebensraum they wanted, but they're very decent about it and squarely blame their own men for the failure." He concludes with a suggestion that Germans are "canine", showing aggression towards weaker players and fawning submission towards anyone stronger. This continues his dog-and-woman thoughtsof some weeks ago, when he told me over a beer that "a woman who reads lots of books is like a talking dog - you're so impressed the dog talks at all you're not worried it has nothing worthwhile to say." Later we all repair to the Corvin club, drinking cold beers and looking out over a night-time city of cranes and floodlit tourist sights from the rooftop terrace.
Supposedly, this man has sex with cars.

May 21st; Interview more secretaries. Some good CVs
May 20th; Four secretarial interviews at the cafe on the corner. I get caught in the rain between 3 & 4. Soup & cake with Isabel later, talking about m e d i a + & -.

May 19th; Coffee with Jim and Anja on the street in the morning sunshine before we weight train. Spend whole day contacting possible secretaries and arranging interview times. In the evening, Vanese from LA & I chat by Skype. She tells me about ancient Egypt and mushroom science. A 1980s song played by Hungarian group Trabant that's almost upbeat: 'Chinese government' .
May 18th; Quiet day indoors reading through 19 secretaries' CVs. Strange, dark, heavy rainstorm late afternoon. So-so New Yorker article about bees. From a decade ago, philosopher David Chalmers attacks Penrose's attack on AI. Penrose defends his position.

May 17th; Lovely dinner outdoors after dark with Sasha, Richard, Bonamy, Gordon, then Jim & Julia. Gordon's betrothed joins us for more wine & milkshakes later.
May 16th; Train at gym with Jim, and we discuss women and violence. I mention Nigel's cousin, stabbed dead in his sleep by his common-law wife. In court afterwards she got off with a plea of self-defence. Though she had form [she had a previous conviction for trying to rob a post office with a potato peeler], she claimed Nigel's cousin used to beat her, so, instead of leaving him, she killed him. The court bought this story. Jim then recalls a very pretty, petite girl he was at art school with who was always looking for ways to push the limits of any situation, and how he was puzzled when she asked Jim to come to "protect" her while she packed and moved out of her boyfriend's flat. Quizzed by Jim, the boyfriend denied in her presence ever being violent with her, and the girl said nothing. The boyfriend suggested she had really asked Jim along so as to humiliate him, a view Jim, knowing her, found more plausible. Two weeks after moving out, she returned to the building, waited for her ex-boyfriend on the stairwell, and stabbed him twice. She was never prosecuted. Jim and I try to imagine how many years in prison a man would serve, whatever provocation or defence he cited, for lying in wait and stabbing an ex-partner. Jim also has a memorable image for how we lose our freedoms. As a teenager he helped his butcher father by picking up meat from the slaughter house, and he often watched cattle being herded into a narrowing set of pens before going through the final gate into the abbatoir's guillotine room. He noticed the cows were apprehensive about being pushed into this final corridor, but that they were persuaded on with prods by a man wielding quite a small stick. This minor irritation made the cattle move away from the stick, and through the gate into the guillotine room. Jim suggests that this is just how governments chivvy us with small jabs and inconveniences, which we respond to by moving, as planned, away from irritation and towards something much more serious. Afterwards, having a mineral water in the sunshine, Jim introduces me to Sasha, Richard, & Bonamy, some friends just walking past. Sasha tells me about her tour of the Genocide Museum in Cambodia. Richard happily describes his career teaching etching at Chelsea Art School, and explains to me why etching is so much more fun than engraving. Bonamy makes films, and voices grave concerns about the dangers of television for society, based on his ten years working in the industry. In the evening, Marina, an online friend, in a discussion also about women and violence, describes a genuinely nasty cat fight at her school in north London in the 1980s. Apparently the scrap broke out in a high street where a butcher's shop kept freezer cabinets outside on the pavement, and some of the schoolgirls started laying about each other using frozen legs of meat as clubs.

May 15th; Meet Tim in the morning, and do weight-training with Jim & Gordon. Jim tells us a tale of a previous girlfriend who suggests one Christmas they were both so poor they shouldn't give each other presents. Jim protests that this is silly and they should give each other something symbolic. Absolutely not, retorts girlfriend. So Jim sticks to the agreement, doesn't get her anything, whereupon she breaks the agreement, buys him a present, and then for several years uses the fact that he didn't buy her a gift against him as evidence he didn't really love her. Advantage: girlfriend. Relaxing in the sauna afterwards, we return to this theme. Jim laughingly recalls he once caught his 13-year-old daughter practising sneering in a mirror. Clearly an essential part of becoming a woman. Curry & cocktails with Rob in the evening of another warm, thundery day. We discover a lovely Cuban drink called 'Nacional'. We dine in the Indian restaurant where he took a piss alongside George Soros and talk about lower-case music, quiet music, noisy music and book publishing. Back at the cocktail bar, a strange affair of outdoor sofas with plastic waterproof cushions, we are looking down a night-time street of lamps straight at the floodlit front of the Bazilika, feeling we are in some more tropical, exotic city than this. The scene reminds me oddly of the closing section of the book 'Indiai Ejszaka'. Rob teases out of me a claim that writing this weblog somehow enables me to notice & trap & enjoy peak moments that otherwise slip past through my life unappreciated. As if writing down transcendent feelings and insights of passing days makes me readier to see them and live them. We drink more cocktails as clouds of cigar smoke drift over from a neighbouring outdoor sofa. Some vintage Orbital.
May 14th; Warm sun with thundery bits. Thighs ache from Monday's riding lesson. Meet Robin for drinks mid-afternoon to perhaps help with a speech for a friend. Eva and Zita P drop by briefly, both low-key and articulate. Alone again, Robin & I are chased inside the cafe by a summery rain shower. Once inside we eat chicken salad and look through 'Intelligent Life', a magazine done by The Economist. Robin mentions a woman artist he met the previous evening who was distant, beautiful, enigmatic. A recent performance art piece consisted of her defecating in front of Hungary's Parliament building. Meet Akos in the early evening for our first English lesson, and then to Franc's flat on the Voysey-like Wekerle housing estate. Queueing inside the supermarket in the ground floor of his building, I notice the floor has just been washed and mopped. A man crouches next to me in the queue at the cash till, peering into an upturned plastic shopping basket. He lifts it up and sticks his hand in, and a small black mouse scampers out. He nearly catches it several times before it takes refuge behind a stack of beer crates in the corner. Everyone remains unruffled. Upstairs, Franc and I eat fruit and exchange confidences.

May 13th; Robin takes Constantine and me to Budapest. Constantine lies across the back seats sleeping as Robin & I talk and drive through the hot afternoon. Ladybird books rewritten.
May 12th; Afternoon riding lesson at Rita's paddock. Robin, Constantine, Letty, Zsuzsa, Bela & I go there, squashed into the green Benz. As we drive off the road down the dirt track, the difference from the last visit a couple of weeks ago is obvious: walls of softly stirring shoulder-high green wheat hem the car in on both sides at roof level. The sun shines and Otello the black stallion seems bored and sad. Rita says a mare he hoped for has been taken away. Her boyfriend Pista rakes hay while two of us trot round on horses. Rita herself seems to be ripening like the wheat in the surrounding fields, her blonde ponytail matching her outdoor tan. Afterwards, the two horses are returned to their boxes and Zsuzsa stuffs her riding cap full of elderflower blossom. We all sit in the shade waiting for Robin & Constantine to drive back from a nearby town and pick us up. A strange sense of timelessness hangs in the air. We casually ask after Danillo and his horses. It is as if we could be there for hours or days, through a summer that never ends, at last living life at its own speed. Standing in his box, Otello seems to have picked up the strange bored habit, from another horse Bendeguz, of rhythmically shifting his weight from left to right, left to right, on and on and on. The horse equivalent habit of nail-biting, as Rita put it a few weeks ago. We all sit on a bench outside her office & stables. From there we can see Otello & Bendeguz in neighbouring boxes across the sandy yard, also shaded by trees. The two horses face us, and rock together from left to right like a pair of grandfather clocks with pendulums in step.
Back at the house after dark, Robin & Constantine & Bela go out cycling with the dogs, and Bela & Constantine return covered in mud. The story is that they tried to stop Lupi hunting down a cat, but the dog got the cat and killed it. Meanwhile, I stay indoors and finish 'The Turkish Diplomat's Daughter', apparently by a friend of a friend. It is about a Turkish girl from a privileged background who has sex with lots of different [often rich] men in late 1990s and early noughties London. The writing is that of someone who is used to being listened to and encouraged at length, whatever she wishes to talk about. "The doorman of Tramp appeared in an instant out of nowhere to open the back door of the Bentley in order to let us out, and we had to act like complete adults as we made our grand entrance into the club. And it was a hell of an entrance we made, faced with curious onlookers as we headed towards a table in the dining area where his Indian Film Producer friend stood up to welcome us. I have to admit, we did stand out together: a middle-aged finely dressed tall Asian man with his eye-catching red Hermes tie, three-piece tailored pin-striped navy suit, shiny diamond cufflinks, wearing a chunky diamond and sapphire encrusted watch on his left hand (which was different from the one he had on, on the night I met him), with a tall, young, twenty-one-year-old brunette on his arm, wearing a red Moschino cocktail dress and black stilettos. We were all very flashy." The tone is flat. The book looks unedited. The overall effect is of being trapped in a corner by a spoilt female version of the pub bore. Near the end the narrator cries her eyes out in a psychotherapist's office because she was not loved or indulged enough as a child by her father. Her declaration in the closing passage that she now loves herself [because of course you have to love yourself before you can love others, right?] comes as no surprise to anyone who has waded through the previous 300 pages.

May 11th; Robin, Zsuzsi, Kasper, Bela & I play squash for two hours at a small hotel complex in a nearby village. All 3 children show a precocious sense for the game. Afterwards we eat salted chips. Back at the house, Constantine has arrived from England, having moved back to London from Budapest a couple of months ago. His mother died only in March.
May 10th; A day of mainly reading in the countryside, though riding teacher Rita turns up to get some of Robin's dry grass for her horses. Three of us help rake in some of the sun-dried hay for her, under warm blue skies that stretch in every direction as if forever. Finish 'The Crossing Place' by Philip Marsden, a book by a travel writer tracing the Armenian diaspora around the Near East. Strangely sad. Unusually, Marsden bothers to learn Armenian and converse with people in it in places as far apart as Transylvania, Syria, eastern Turkey, and Soviet Armenia. Part of his goal is to return to some of the sites of the 1915 genocide still unacknowledged by the government of the Turkish state that came into being almost with that event. Boris Johnson, who has just become mayor of Greater London, had a great grandfather who served in the last Ottoman government just before 1915, and who briefly had Ataturk arrested before the mass killings began. Very depressing book, because so much of its flavour is familiar from the rest of Eastern Europe: unresolved grudges from the past; a sense of bitterly-felt injustice and indignation by all sides in each atrocity; tribal mania continuing to justify revenge and distortion of history into propaganda; hearty late-night toasts with eye-wateringly strong local spirits, and so on. Of course, all sounds hauntingly beautiful and moving too. Cheer myself up doing some papier mache in the kitchen.

May 9th; Another morning training session at the fitness club with Jim. In the evening, get the train to Robin's - this time getting off at the village of Homok around 11pm. Homok is so small there is no station building, so I sit reading Rachel's book under a powerful street lamp that lights up a small group of trees around the level crossing. I perch on the yellow-and-black stripy tubes of baffle fencing at the crossing that make cyclists & pedestrians zig-zag rather than rush across the track. After a while, Robin drives up, talking about a documentary he just saw on television's History Channel. He says this film claims just-released American documents show Jimi Hendrix was murdered by spooks.
May 8th; 10.30am at gym with Jim. We drink decaff coffee on sunny street after. By night, to Music Academy with Marion to hear piano recital by Zaza's & Marine's gifted son Nicolas. Rachel tells of her interest in Armenia.

May 7th; Breakfast with Robin. At dusk I bump into Mr Saracco & Jim.
May 6th; Visit the orange-jacketed dolts at OBI and look at their overpriced bits of wood. Clergham on the lawyers' talkboard thinks that the hideous brand spokescreature is a fat beaver. Visible in the vile flower display in the foreground of this photo, the very warehouse I trudged round today.

May 5th; Go to Franc's to assist him swap the hinges on his fridge doors so they open the other way. He gets the instruction manual out and follows each step precisely. I stand around looking helpful. All goes smoothly. Later we watch an early Fela Kuti video from 1971, not long after the Biafran war. Noticing his intense, restless eyes, and the almost witchdoctory way Kuti manhandles his dancing girls & male musicians, Franc describes him thoughtfully as "quite a serious piece of work".
May 4th; Wake out of disturbed sleep, including the usual bad dreams about mother dying last year. Despite a strange depression, struggle down to join nearby fitness gym, and in their giant deserted cellar do some bench presses and arm curls to the usual melange of drum & bass, techno, and R & B. Sit in the sauna for quarter of an hour, and as I stumble out into the shower, a curious strain of music weaves through the sweaty cellar complex of weight-lifting gear. Elgar's 'Land of Hope & Glory'. The inappropriate melody continues through my cold shower and as I towel myself down. It seems to have some odd significance, like one of those meaningful moments in a film. Never did like that tune.

May 3rd; Yesterday the CEU Library gave me a card, due to Zaza's kind help. After two hours in there reading papers about Rwanda's 1994 genocide, I became conscious of a fluffy feeling, neon strip lights buzzing inside my head. My hearing was muffled, as if the library was ascending ten thousand feet in a steep climb. I left, and the fluffy head feeling followed me round town for another hour. Today, during a long online chat session, a friend in Paris shows me two singers from New Zealand. Three of theirs: 1 2 3. Later on, a Skype call from Bob in Philadelphia. He tells me more of the 'Red Elvis', Dean Reed. Reed was an American who lived in several countries before ending up in the 1960s and 1970s Eastern Bloc, performing 50s-style Elvis songs to packed stadiums, while working his way through 3 marriages, all to East German film starlets.
May 2nd; 1. Sobering website of final statements by people in Texas about to be executed. Notice Roy Pippin's remarks. 2. Cartoon on texting & love. 3. A short film of people throwing babies off a 50-foot tower to improve their health. 4. A London rap video with a cute conceit.

May 1st; Summery morning meeting in Istvan's cool, shady flat. He instals Drupal on my laptop. We go for a walk. Today is a national holiday [the city is so quiet you can hear birdsong], but he & I find a solitary open cafe facing the Lehel square church. We take coffee & cakes. We chat about politics & Esperanto, watching a quiet, sun-drenched high street. Aqua Bassino, Ashley Slater.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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