otherlanguages.org
. . . Main links

Basque / Dutch / English / Hungarian / Japanese / Swedish

link to i-mode page

#

#

non-alphabetic scripts

#

other links

#

endangered languages

#

sign languages

#

maps

#

songs and music

#

dead languages


*1

#

linguistic philosophy

#

artificial languages

#

AI, speech recognition

#

encryption, steganography

#

language history

#

calligraphy

#

cognitive psychology

#

mathematical linguistics

#

animal communication

#

language list

#

non-language links

2008
...............................................................................................................................................................

June 30th; During morning gym, Jim points out that, if the paint is cracking, the papier mache surface might be unstable. Last few days with the thick mix has been like learning to paint with clotted cream or even cottage cheese. Rather sensual. Strange to stumble into the shady flat from the hot balcony, sunblinded by the bright white paint, dazzled by two white, glistening letters of the alphabet in the summer glare outside.
Startling claim that news manipulation brought down Bear Sterns.
June 29th; Cold beer and pear schnapps at Heikki's office in the early evening, talking about Finland in the 1940s. Late at night, I finish Martin's copy of the intriguing 'Ponder on This' by written by Alice Bailey, or rather, dictated to her during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s by an entity on another plane of existence called 'The Tibetan'. Interesting quality to these "channelled" texts - they often seem urgently sincere and clear in tone, sometimes using some archaic or curious phrasing to package an essentially simple & heartening message. This book has the everyday earnestness of some Anglicans. Though framed in terms of Blavatsky-style spiritualism, the notion of a group of supernatural volunteers guiding others is used to introduce a quite boy-scoutish vision of world co-operation. To be part of the project we should work on being selfless, humble, and patient. Both Christ and Buddha seem to be helping out in this work of decades. A word I didn't know, 'anent' (regarding), is used a lot, and Bailey persistently uses 'vision' as a verb, and 'glamour' as a negative term, somewhat worse than 'illusion'. Apparently Bailey was an heiress who was disinherited on medical grounds when she started receiving instructions from beyond the visible world. So then she cheerfully went to work for years in a sardine factory while compiling texts that became a number of books. This is an anthology of excerpts from several of them, including the wonderfully named 'Glamour: a World Problem'. From a few days ago, some nifty language-learning communities recommended by Adjo & Francesco. These are italki, mango, livemocha, palabea, & a handy list.

June 28th; Meet Ibolya, then chat to Marion over cool lemonades. Hot outside.
June 27th; Find way to make white matt paint thick and sticky, as I realise I must redo some of the work on the papier mache. Delicious dinner at Terri's with Peter. We watch as Terri's robot vacuum cleaner happily glides around the room looking like a thick frisbee, or a giant draughts counter, bouncing slowly off walls tracing a random path round the room. At one point it gets stuck under a table, I feel sorry for it and have to set it free. What is odd is that I remember seeing prototypes of this in operation on the Tomorrow's World programme in the early 1970s, in other words 35 years ago. I still have the annual book of the show with the device pictured in it. Looks almost unchanged. What took them so long?

June 26th; Attend Drupal meeting on top of the Corvin department store building in sticky heat. They cannot help me reinstal Drupal because we find XAMPP was wrongly installed the first time. I have to leave them and spend an hour reinstalling XAMPP by myself, losing my once-in-a-summer chance to get the help I really needed with Drupal.
June 25th; I meet Robin with some friends at some bar where they are watching a football game and the TV transmission keeps getting cut. Afterwards, on the internet, minnie.minx from the lawyers' talkboard again suggests something for me. Two books by Simon Baron-Cohen about his autism research: 1 2.

June 24th; Workout with Jim. We meet Michael over coffee in the sun later. Drinks during thundery rain in the late afternoon with Robin, Mystery Friend 2, Zita P, Istvan. I am nursing my still-warm just-roasted chicken in a plastic carrier bag through the evening. Eva leaves us and Andrea joins us for a Mexican meal involving those beers with bits of lime in them and salt round the rim. In the restaurant, Mystery Friend 2 confesses a desire to become an architect. Walking separately between the restaurant and some bar by the Opera, Robin & I bump into Boo Boo on a back street, just emerging from a cellar where he has been teaching capoeiro. He enthuses about country life, with his new stallion, his silly sheep, his wilful goat, and the golden soup made out of his huge, healthy hens, which love the clean rustic air but also remind him of miniature dinosaurs. At the bar we regroup, to be joined by others, including Tamas, who claims there are family links between members of today's SZDSZ party (the free-market liberals) and the Stalinist 1950s Rakosi regime, while the family links for prominent members of today's MSZP party (the Socialists), he says, are with the post-1956 communist Kadar regime. More drinks later somewhere else with just Robin, Zita P., and Mystery Friend, where I suggest the Czech Republic should change its official name to 'Bohemia & Moravia'.
June 23rd; Sunny & hot. Morning gym with Jim, who tells me that Culloden was more a battle fought between Scots Highlanders & Scots Lowlanders than between Scots & English. Then sandwich and decaff coffee near the gym with Zsanna. She dislikes the heat and will spend July & August working on a theatre piece with another actress in a cellar studio under the Siraly bar. Later meet a sporty, glowing Nora, carrying her rollerblade skates. We have some drinks and I hear about her exam successes and forthcoming trip to Greece. Then see Terri at the revamped Muvesz for non-alcoholic cocktails, and hear about the clever people at Elmu (Budapest's power distributor). They refused to modify their records showing her flat as having three electricity meters (all totting up bills). Though an Elmu employee visited her flat and testified in writing that she has only one meter, Elmu showroom staff refused to look at the meter reader's paper because another of Terri's documents was one month old. No surprise the Budapest distributor's two German owners want to buy more than 90 per cent of its shares so they can delist it. Probably a prerequisite under Hungarian law to sacking the 90 per cent of Elmu staff who subtract value from the company - just my cruel guess of course. As we wander down Andrassy street by night, musing about what Ryan is up to, we pass a poster for some exhibition about dead bodies. Terri says a friend of hers has looked into the show. It seems the preserving process in 'Bodies: the Exhibition' was copied from a more ethical German rival (exhibitors of 'Body Worlds'). More ethical because, unlike the Germans, the exhibitors of this one, 'Bodies: The Exhibition' (Premier Exhibitions) are unsure where their bodies come from: they "think" from a hospital or a prison in China sharing the same name. The Burke-&-Hare-style cadaver sourcing of this travelling exhibition caused anger in several p l a c e s. However, in Hungary there seem to be no concerns: several local firms gladly endorse this show of Chinese corpses obtained without consent.

June 22nd; Last night, late in the internet cafe, a couple came in with a large pink rat. The Hungarian girl had it on her arm, she was stroking it, she told me it was called Szotyi ('Sunflower Seed'), and said it had no fur because of a genetic mistake. I stroked it too, and it was soft, smooth, and worried. I started to watch a video lecture by an American woman brain scientist recounting what it was like for her to have a stroke. At one bit she describes struggling to phone for help (because she has forgotten how to read phone numbers). The scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, finally gets through and hears her colleague making muffled noises on the phone. She realises that because of her stroke-impaired brain both he and she "sound like golden retrievers". I laughed out loud in the cafe, but the rat wasn't alarmed because it had gone home by then. I did find myself getting irritated for an instant when this middle-aged woman screeches in a nasal Boston accent "I thought 'Wow! This is so cool! How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?!'", but her talk has a very interesting conclusion. (Loud, shrill intro music of course.) Bolte Taylor's crowning idea, that we need to live more in the moment, with our parallel-processing, holistic, experiental right brains, is striking. She seems have found her stroke a mystical experience. As minnie.minx from the lawyers' talkboard said when showing me the link, it very much chimes with Eckhart Tolle's idea we should live in the present instant and silence our chattering left-brain monologues as much as we can.
Wake up today and the day is already hot & bright. Eat a bowl of chilled cherries from my fridge, like idealised spherical bruises. Strange how cherries are pleasant cold, yet have less taste like that. More painting of papier mache and watching the paint dry out on my hot balcony in the sun. Bits of painting alternate with starting the first few pages of Casanova's 'Story of My Life', and finishing Tolle's book 'The Power of Now'. Tolle opens, interestingly, with an account of what sounds like a very serious, even physical, nervous breakdown he had that gave him his new perspective on life - another link with Jill Bolte Taylor. Compelling and practical spiritual teaching. Breaking off at intervals to fiddle with my bits of papier mache, I try observing each moment the way Tolle suggests, and watching the substance of time open up. After dark, pizza & white-wine spritzers with Mystery Friend 2, along with his friends Edit & Eszter. Mystery Friend makes it clear he doesn't loathe himself because "as they say in New York, I have other people to do that for me."
June 21st; Secret Nazi Moon Base. Can this film fail?

June 20th; Reserve hotel room. Tidy flat.
June 19th; Lunch with Pauline. Buy cheese grater later. In fitness club finish 'Warped Passages' by Lisa Randall, another one of those books about there being extra dimensions, hiding just round the corner of normal space. As so often, a frustrating read, because you know you are understanding such a small part of it you are not really understanding it at all. She mixes clear prose and a refreshing willingness to state more of the problem than you usually get in a popular account, with unhelpfully confusing passages at the front of each chapter about some story loosely modelled on Alice in Wonderland. Her diagrams are excellent most of the time, and she does a good job of narrating all the successive extra-dimension theories (curled up really teeny, surprisingly large but hidden, huge but almost impossible to notice, different in different bits of the universe...). Only at the end does the obvious question come up of what - given all these surprising qualities - dimensions might really be. A humbling index gives a light taste of the maths the text leaves out. The huge array of particles sounds even more of a mess than the last time I read one of these books.

June 18th; Inspiring Serb fitness nutter.
June 17th; In warm, sticky, close weather, Robin drives me to Lakitelek station for my mid-afternoon train to Budapest. As we drive away from Tiszainoka, Robin relates how last week he tried to organise a fox terrier mating for Chloe. A male fox terrier called Szikra ('Spark') was let loose on Chloe in the courtyard of a manor house now a home for handicapped people in wheelchairs. Wheelchairs, some motorised, some manual, pass us on the road between Inoka and the next village as he tells the story: at last week's event a small group of handicapped people wheel their chairs into the courtyard of the manor house so they can watch the dogs mating. Chloe seems uninterested, and keeps fighting off Szikra. One of the handicapped women in her 20s says to Robin's 8-year-old son Bela in Hungarian "Well {if I was her}, I'd let him do it!". Bela finds this rather startling. Robin & I stop off at Tractor Man, who has a field of weeds dotted with about fifteen tractors he has in various stages of repair. He shows us a David Brown tractor with a good engine he has almost restored that spent its last forty years chugging around Austrian vineyards. A good salesman, he praises the robustness and simplicity of British engineering. He shows us a Bedford truck that has done several decades' work in Afghanistan and Pakistan - only its electrics remain to be fixed. He affectionately pats a newish Japanese tractor he has restored to health. As we drive on to the honey makers, Robin suggests that some of the classic English vehicles are trying to return from India and the East, perhaps silently appealing only to buyers who will move them westwards. Robin & I buy some honey, while Jozsi says that the mystery bee disease affecting Germany and the USA seems to have not touched Hungary much, apart from some hive-owners in Debrecen working with imported strains. As we leave the honey makers, they ask us to identify some plant called 'mahonia' in their front garden, not looking quite like this example. We reach Lakitelek railway station with not too many minutes to spare, and as usual, the ticket window has a curtain drawn across it. I go round the back, into the signalmen's office. Three Hungarians sit silently around the instrument panel in various stages of gloom.
I : Good afternoon. Excuse me, is there a train at half past?
(Short pause)
Woman : Yes.
I : Does it go to Kecskemet?
(Short pause)
Woman : Yes.
I : So... may I buy a ticket, please?
(Short pause)
Woman : I'll see you round the other side.
I go back round to the ticket window. After about half a minute the curtain whisks aside, and she is standing there, looking at me through the glass. She seems utterly desolate. We do the transaction. Then Robin & I enter the pizzeria to buy some drinks. Instead of the usual one or two serving maids, there is a batch of four adolescent girls working behind the bar, of assorted sizes between about 4'10" and 5'8", like a set of Russian nesting dolls, 17 to 20. All four look at us blankly, checking us out in unison. Their expressionless eyes scan us up and down to assess who we are, where we're from, where we stand, with that wearily-wary, pretty-yet-hostile look working-class girls do so well. Given their critical scrutiny, I suggest to Robin it might be more relaxing to have our drinks outside on their terrace. This is an area of wooden chairs and tables creosoted an intense red, as if marinaded in barbecue sauce. I cut short my mineral water as my train pulls in. Train officials in hats, coloured sticks, training shoes, deep in shame because of having to work, amble out of the building to sullenly shoo my train away almost on time. Robin is back inside the empty restaurant, negotiating pizzas with the hard-eyed teenagers. I get on quickly as the two carriages pull out into the thirty miles of high green grass & wild flowers separating Lakitelek from the nearest town.

June 16th; Throughout the day & night, Lupus is either barking or whining or pulling at his chain, desperate to reach his irresistable love locked away in her inaccessible fastness. Chloe, the bitch, seems less heartbroken, but is still vaguely keen to get closer to him. Finish Robin's copy of Nicholas Ostler's book 'Empires of the Word', a world history told through the rise and fall of some major languages. While there are some lovely anecdotes and interesting sections, disappointing that there is not a basic summary of each language's grammar and not enough details to read each script. It's such a fat book, that an extra ten pages doing those things for each of the 6 or 7 main languages discussed wouldn't have hurt. There is also some repetition in the less edited closing chapters. Congratulations to Ostler for warning that English's global conquest is no more secure than that of previous world civilisations. However, in what is quite a long book, it never occurs to him once that electronic eavesdropping might lead to a completely new value for small languages: as informal confidentiality filters for wealthy, privacy-conscious groups. Police organisations worldwide are already reporting big problems infiltrating and intercepting Albanian criminal gangs because Albanian is hard to learn, and trusted Albanian speakers hard to find.
June 15th; Drive with Robin out into the cloudy countryside after a quick cup of tea at my flat. His two dogs are causing some concern. Chloe the fox terrier is on heat, and Lupus, the large fluffy white male komondor is in despair with lust, suddenly aware, as never before, of the bewitching charms of his little doggy companion.

June 14th; Lovely lunch at Rob's with Eti & Mali, followed by leisurely afternoon drinks in Pest. I say something about Voltaire sounding like a juvenile smart-alec, and Rob suggests 'Candide' was the 18th-century version of 'That Was The Week That Was'. Both thought tremendously daring & witty in their time, both offered nothing to replace what they mocked.
June 13th; In morning at the gym, finish 'How German is it' by Walter Abish, a 1980 novel. Clinical, eerie humour. Tricks like the missing question mark in the title & avoidance of quote marks throughout help him hint at some unmentioned menace. Here is the distinctive, insinuating prose style in a typical paragraph. "Daphne's apartment like his own overlooked the small park across the street. Standing at her window she could observe people, mostly single men, walking their dogs at night. Frequently the men would stop to speak to each other. Most likely they by now recognised each other's dogs. Sie haben einen scho:nen Hund, one of the men might say. The other, in all likelihood, will respond with a simple Danke. It was extremely harmless. Nothing sinister about it. Whenever he had trouble sleeping he would take a turn or two around the park. On several occasions he had briefly conversed with one of the men walking a dog on a leash. Once he had caught sight of Daphne at the window. But she quickly ducked out of sight as soon as she caught him looking up." Intriguing, clever story. Definitely worth reading. Later on, curry with Mihaela, drinks with Heikki and his friends from Geneva Olivier & TV documentary-maker Virginie. Some kind of hen party is in progress in the restaurant and a waif-like blonde in a white veil and white jeans (perhaps the bride to be) comes over to our table. She explains to me she has a dare from her girlfriends, to cut the washing-instructions tab out of the underpants of a certain number of men. Feeling honoured but not wanting the scratching sensation from the strip of cut nylon left behind, I save her some time & intimacy and rip the whole tab free of the stitching for her. Last thing round midnight at Deak square, with Robin I briefly meet Pauline, Istvan, Tamas & Krisztian.

June 12th; More active on some new forums.
June 11th; Text Eugenia to ask about that book.

June 10th; Retry guarana. Start to paint papier mache.
June 9th; Quiet Monday. Cheery Serb music v i d e o s.

June 8th; Sunny day in Budapest. For days I've been eating mainly peas in the pod, apples, cold chicken, bananas, cucumbers, kiwi fruit, and the occasional hard-boiled egg. Worked out how to boil eggs safely inside my electric kettle about 2 weeks ago: by placing two inside one of my landlady's tall, thick-glassed tumblers filled with water and placing that into my kettle with more water. Yesterday I used this glass-in-kettle mode to cleanly boil up some more flour/salt/water glue for the papier mache project. Still irritated by my modernist East-European chipboard wardrobe. To look "functionalist" and "uncluttered", it has no door handles, so you have to use the key to open one door and then the edge of the door to open the other. Yet the halfwits give the game away with the upper doors, which have small wooden not-quite-handles on them because there is no lock, so no key, so no other way to open those doors. So why not handles on the bigger, lower doors? Pathetic.
June 7th; I wait to see if I can catch a train today for the 2nd & 3rd night of the Cluj film festival. No luck. Of course, if Andrada's "travel agent" colleague Ioana had bothered to read the e-mail I sent her five days ago about places to stay, it would have been simple.

June 6th; Spend much of day trying to find from people in Cluj/Kolozsvar in Romania if I can buy accommodation if I catch the 1pm or the 5pm train to the film festival where Peter's Transylvanian film is being premiered. The hostels tell me they are full. Kind Andrada books an unpriced flat but only 20 minutes before the last train of the day at 5pm leaves, so we cancel that.
June 5th; As morning light streams into my room, I finish Franc's copy of 'Teaching as a Subversive Activity', a book I last read when at school and I was going through everything from the public library on education, trying to work out why the teachers at my supposedly famous secondary school were so dull-witted and boring. Remember almost nothing from reading it then. Interesting to see now how large McLuhan looms in the text. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner use some arguments that now look a little thin (ever-accelerating change has become the norm, by the time ten-year-olds in 1970 become adults we will have thinking machines and spaceships...), but the overall idea is very good. Namely that schoolteaching is largely authoritarian and stupid in general outline, too focussed on facts and not enough on processes, and imposes a narrow, unintelligent idea of intelligence on children. Put another way, most classroom teachers are people who themselves failed the exam of life, but who don't realise this.
In the evening, meet Rachel & Betty (a fellow student on Rachel's Russian & History course in London) for a long, intriguing chat at Pot Kulcs bar. This slowly turns into a discussion about Christianity. Betty explains how I misremembered Acts of the Apostles. I vow to look again at the peculiar Hungarian/English version of the New Testament I read. Both have apparently quite strongly atheistic parents.

June 4th; Lunchtime ice cream with Mihaela near her office up the 14 tram line in the semi-industrial part of the 13th district. She is still having trouble with her papers to properly join Bryan in Boston because Yahoo has bought IndexTools, and mergers take time. She warns me against a new money-changing scam in Romania.
June 3rd; To the gym by myself in the morning. In the shower, I notice that a scrap of skin under my armpit has twisted and gone grey and bloody. These unattractive four or five tags or buds of useless skin, each about 1/8th of an inch in size, in each armpit never give trouble, but every couple of years one gets trapped somehow, becomes sore, blackened, and falls off. A doctor once said something reassuring about no need to worry, and we all know how bright doctors are, so that must be fine. Another excellent day ensues. Like yesterday, I get several important things done. Meet Monika for mineral water, meet Esther for decaff cappuccinos, and then meet Nora for more decaff, to try to reassure her about tomorrow's defence of her thesis about the depiction of aborigines in Australian films. She sweetly buys me a kebab as we rehearse her defence. Earlier, Esther turns up on a bicycle I have never seen. She is still working for Bill Nelson. For some reason the fact that she's got into the habit of calling Bill "she" bothers me. Esther has sweetly brought me two tiny books as gifts. Each about 2" x 1.5". One is a Sandor Petofi poem in 50 different languages. At a glance the other seems to be a history of Hungary's mining union. I get back home, pleasantly tired, and read a little before bed. On a vague hunch I investigate the twisted bud of skin under my armpit again. I notice that several small black hairs are growing around it, which seems a little worrying. As I brush the hairs experimentally, they spring back and then, in an odd way, keep moving, almost ...wriggling. I try this again. Slowly it dawns on me that these armpit hairs are not hairs, but legs, and this is not me, but a skin-coloured creature, 1/8th of an inch long, feeding on me. Still half unbelieving, I grip it carefully and try to pull it off, aware that the one time I ripped one of those tags of skin off it was incredibly painful. Nothing happens. Then I pull harder, and suddenly, the room is so quiet that the tick snaps off my skin with an audible click, even a "tick" sound, its hair-like legs still waving around as I hold it between my finger and thumb. It seems I have got it out in one piece. No mouth parts left behind. Not even thinking to kill it, I drop it in the rubbish bag, and take the rubbish downstairs. So now perhaps I have meningitis or Lyme Disease or whatever it is. Lovely. And if it had just kept its legs still, I might have not noticed it and left it attached another day or two. All part of the repulsively rich variety of life on earth, I suppose.

June 2nd; Meet Jim & Gordon at the gym for 9.30 fitness training. Pick up tripod from shop. I find I have to sleep in the warm late afternoon again.
June 1st; Wake on Sunday in Robin's library at 5am with asthma slightly improved. The cat Babette continues to politely keep her distance from me. She's not the real problem. Now sure it was an interaction between Babette and the DMAE. I stepped it down yesterday. Today I stop altogether. Wake up again at 11am during a fierce downpour outside so heavy that the sky is darker than it was at 5. Sleep about two and a half hours on the sofa in the afternoon while everyone else goes for a swim. Robin & I have an exciting look round his studio as we talk over me buying one or two of his pictures. There is something intense, almost eerie, about the idea of taking a couple of the pictures I've seen so often away and watching their personalities change my flat. By the time Robin, Zsuzsi, Bela & Chloe the fox terrier all come with me to the station for my evening train, the asthma has completely gone. Reading on the train is a bit of a struggle. As I get to Kiskunfelegyhaza, and step out into the warm evening air to change trains, I get an odd sense of deja vu. The scent of the whole station - a mix of cool marble, warm cement, varnished wood, a trace of leather and the faint tang of a recently smoked dark-tobacco cigarette, combined with the smell of hot, dry grass, and the blossom which came out a few days ago both in Budapest and the countryside (lime tree? laburnam?), a slightly heavy warm wind carrying a mix of flowers... this is the generic, background aroma of southern Europe. I could be anywhere on a spring evening outdoors in Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia, most of France right now. I get a sense of space and spaciousness. A sense of personal chaos only half-ordered by distant imperial power. Room to roam. Licence to cheat. My train to Budapest arrives. I get on and share a compartment with two expressionless women. The young blonde stares out the window. The older blonde over to my right is reading a large colour book about Tutankhamun, the Egyptian pharoah. She might be a school teacher. She looks tired and pessimistic. Sensible pullover, long skirt, late 30s or early 40s. I look a bit into the usual curved tunnel of mirrors facing mirrors between our seats and the luggage racks, and then go to sleep for an hour. I wake up as we reach the outskirts of Budapest. Slightly dazed, I ask the older blonde to my right if the station we have stopped at is Budapest Zuglo. Yes, she says, in a don't-try-to-make-this-a-conversation voice, it is. For another ten minutes the train crawls through the suburbs. She slumps down onto her travelling bag, so that I can just see the back of her hair as she lays her head on her arms on her bag. Still feeling peculiar after my second big nap of the day, I start to feel a curious upwelling of tenderness towards this complete stranger, a woman not quite haggard, but drawn and weary. An urge comes to stroke her hair, to reassure her somehow. I'm sure she cannot actually be sleeping, though I cannot see her face. Of course, I do nothing but stand up and wish her goodbye. She raises her head to look up (indeed she was wide awake), gives me a sad, tight smile and wishes me goodbye as well, almost seeming to thank me for my thoughts. Of course she couldn't be doing that, obviously not.
The odd mood continues. I wander out of the station and get on a crowded tram, one of the last of the night, since it is around 11.30pm. I am suddenly conscious of being surrounded by women. Not that there are not usually so many women. It is just the same as usual. But their femininity, their physicality, seems clearer tonight than it has for some months. This is not a particularly sexual feeling. It's closer to the feeling of intimate, close-up otherness I get riding a horse or touching a dog. I have a strong sense of the living, breathing bodies of people on the tram, an urge to touch them. As if our animal natures are more vivid this evening. The zones you explore coming on and off health supplements - who would have thought it?

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

back up to top of page