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2008
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July 31st; Franc & I meet as arranged. At 10am precisely his train is passing through my metro station and I board. He reiterates his belief that the Irish economic growth of the last thirty years is wholly due to Riverdance, and we buy sports shoes in northern Pest. Hot sun. We sit at a shady cafe afterwards. Then I get some afternoon sleep.
Sounding sweet, some early Minnie Riperton. The 1970s took her & Rotary Connection further afield.

July 30th; Brief gym session with Franc in the morning. Lunch with Eva P. She tells me about her research into share-price movements.
July 29th; Still feeling limp after Sunday's cycling jaunt. Hot and sunny. Do some mild exercise at the gym. Bump into Muhammad on a street corner, looking thoughtful. This website gives amounts of EEC/EU subsidies to the Republic of Ireland over the last 35 years. Gross of 60 billion euro, net of 40 billion, so about 500 euros gross per Irishman per annum or 300 euros net per Irishman per annum. A couple of hundred quid a head each year then, or two per cent of Irish government spending. Is this kind of amount enough to transform an economy?

July 28th; A masterful website, rich in colours and details, that everyone should visit. Some soothing hippies-say-farewell-to-the-60s stuff here & here. And from this decade? Much the same sort of thing, I suppose. Ibiza, innit.
July 27th; Meet Franc & Mystery Friend 2 [who warns me that in long trousers I'm going to be "sweating like a rapist", so I roll them up past my calves, Alpine yodelay-yoo-hoo-style] for a cycle to Szentendre. Hot sun, beautiful route along the Danube, much pain in thighs, major thirst. We chat about fitness, and they both have masochistic tales of "hitting the anaerobic wall", "going through the pain barrier", "forgetting how much it hurt last time". I start to conclude that some insensitivity to pain is crucial to getting fit. As we sip beers and look at the river, Mystery Friend 2 mentions the Caspian Sea Monster, a giant, once top-secret, Russian troop-carrying aircraft designed to fly only a few feet above water.

July 26th; Hot & sunny. In the late afternoon, join Politics Judit & Eva P in the Gerbeaud coffee house where we watch some kind of disturbance of public order on Vorosmarty Square over coffee & cake. Later, back at my flat, we drink wine, do Tarot readings, and Judit kindly helps me rehang my landlady's curtain properly.
July 25th; Sacci/Draco mentions this: a restaurant in Peru where you can zoom in and turn the image through 360 degrees. Try full-screen mode. Or... Brazilian beaches.

July 24th; Last night, drinks with Eszter & Fraser. Today, a last coffee with Mihaela before her flights to New York & Boston tomorrow.
July 23rd; Wonderful photograph of nature meeting man.

July 22nd; Sacci on the lawyers' talkboard has a dream about sheep with telephone heads, then finds these photographs. Lovely dinner at Franc's. We talk about Facebook.
July 21st; Curry with Nathalie. We chat about Andrea, among other people, now apparently living in Nice. Over a cup of the fiery herbal tea I play her the seemingly ironic Laibach cover of 'Life is Life', somewhat undercut by this creepy early interview. Not to mention this interesting but equally unsettling documentary: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8.

July 20th; Early to Montelimar to catch 9am train to Lyon, then Geneva, then Milan, to connect with flight to Budapest. Bit of a long day, with a tight connection at Milan between the train and the airport. Eat a "croissant" in Geneva, and there is immediately apparent a Protestant Pastry Problem. Just a few miles from Lyon, and the item was more like a British Rail Cornish Pastie, hard, stale and salty, than any French croissant. Why is this? Perhaps among the watch-assembling burghers of the Swiss Alps no talented craftsman will take up the pastry-making trade - too much else is well paid in an advanced economy? The Swiss French ticket inspector speaks to us in a sing-song dialect that at first sounds like a funny voice from a comedy skit. Gradually we grasp that he is speaking a dialect, but is also playing it up, and rather enjoying our embarrassed bafflement. Some wonderful sights from the train. These include a station in northern Italy where a couple of fluffy clouds hang motionless on a pine-covered mountainside above the station, like cotton wool snagged on green velcro. Later the train goes alongside a big lake with narrow islands clustered with red-tiled roofs of villas, a lake so huge that sometimes I cannot see the far side and it could be open sea. Kind Federica on the train assures me that I can get a bus to the airport from Milan station, but once there I find no information desk, just vast halls of chaotic, wrongly signposted chaos. I run around and the driver kindly lets me onto the right bus out to the airport, just as he is pulling away from the car park. As we weave through traffic, I take off my jacket and prepare to sit down, overwhelmed with relief. My shirt is soaked with dark patches of sweat. Two very pretty girls three seats back look at me with well-groomed disgust and pointedly move right to the back of the bus. I collapse into my seat and become aware over the next hour that the driver has the coach tuned into an Italian radio station that plays exclusively British pop music. My flight back to Budapest crackles with lightning on all sides, and heaves with thundery turbulance, so the stewardesses never get to sell me any crisps or fruit juice. Back in my flat close to 1am.
July 19th; To Jean-Claude & Mette's rocky fastness in a former Cathar village built on a mountain ridge, where we look at the photos of doorways Sasha & Jean-Claude are making into a book, and eat wonderful quiche in the shade on their roof garden looking at the hills around. Then coffee & cakes with Sasha in the small but chic town of Buis, with its enormous old trees lining the streets, hot sun obviously and later another swim with Jean-Claude & Mette in their pool.

July 18th; Breakfast to the sound of the bells on the neighbour's EU-grant-earning sheep just under the balcony. In the afternoon Sasha & I go swimming in the pool up the hill belonging to Jean-Claude & Mette, who join us later for dinner. Jean-Claude mentions the richness of the Occitan language. Sasha tells me that black & green olives are not different types, but the same type picked at different stages, something I had never heard. Excellent views - lots of fields here are devoted to lavender farming. The precisely planted clumps fuse into fuzzy rows like giant lilac caterpillars. A large wheeling bird in the sky might be one of the local eagles, or perhaps one of the vultures reintroduced by biologists who toured the valley in helicopters dropping dead snakes to help get the carrion-eaters restarted.
July 17th; Go to the Paris Apple centre and they are charming, but have not had time to replace the sickly hard drive, so I take away the laptop as is. I make it to the station and catch my fast, air-conditioned train south to Lyon. On the journey, I try to put my impressions of Paris in order: the city's wide range of pouting, leggy brunettes waiting, even if a bit irritably, to be kissed, sticks in the mind. So does the halfwitted habit of putting separate ticket-operated turnstiles on each platform on the metro, thereby costing twice as much as if they put one machine down the corridor before both platforms, and inconveniencing passengers who go down to the wrong platform and so have to pay again to change train direction. Even London transport planners can work that one out. Also noticeable is the habit in France of always stressing the feminine even in sound: television advert breaks, PA systems in transport centres, radio call signs repeatedly use high, soft, girlish sighs or giggly gasps in light rising notes to ask for attention, instead of the blunter, instrumental notes or bells of most airports or broadcasts. At the cluttered, 70s-ish station complex of Part Dieu in Lyon, I change trains for Montelimar, home town, apparently, of a distinct kind of nougat-based sweetie. Sasha kindly drives out from near Nyons in the afternoon heat to pick me up from Montelimar station. This is Provence: hot, dry, with cloudless blue skies, intense sun, noisy crickets, and scrubby but vigorous vegetation in a range of olive greens. For an hour or two it seems as if Isabel & her friend Marta, driving across France to return to Spain might drop by this evening, but they stay the night in Lyon instead. Sasha & I talk until late - she tells eerie stories of the peasants in the valley, and their dark outlook on life. These include the peasants whose ramshackle electric fence around a vegetable patch was trashed by a wild boar who ate all their veg because they were too mean to switch the electricity on. Two brothers who share a double bed in their seventies, and used to tie their strong mother into a chair by day and a bed by night [right under a light bulb always left on, which they failed to connect with her habit of not sleeping]. Another fence, about 20 feet long, which took 12 years to build, despite the fence-builder owning a tractor with a fence-post/pile-driver fitting. This fence keeps a handful of mangy, partly-bald sheep in merciless sunshine all day only yards away from some shade. A seller of an outhouse who frantically demanded payment weeks ahead again and again and couldn't even wait on the morning of the legal transfer at the notary without repeatedly demanding his money before the meeting, like a stuck record. A goatshed with a decades-old mound of fossilised excrement so high that goats inside had to tilt their heads to fit under the ceiling. A large and sinister villager, who disliked his sister-in-law until she was found floating down the Rhone, minus her head. Sasha's charming former etching tutor from art school, Richard, and his apposite phrase "early men". Two sisters who refused to speak for the decades until their death because one had moved a fence several inches into the other's territory. What Sasha describes as "the most beautiful girl in the world", serenely making jam with her glossy tresses of hair held in place by a pencil. Another neighbour who has been going into the mayor's office week after week for many years to demand action on Sasha's unauthorised window that looks onto a foot-wide strip of his land. He is now sueing the mayor for negligently giving permission for the window. Her troubled brother, who died a few weeks ago, who was a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in the 1960s and 70s, so might have worked with or for Cressida's father. A lively, noble community of people in Derbyshire living in the world's first workers' housing. Sasha's time in the West Indies in the 1980s, noting the sharp racism between islands, and the frank corruption and broken families. The jumbo jets full of white Canadian women who used to fly out for holidays of having sex with black men. A striking beach scene on a Caribbean island, when her son and her late husband spot a man swimming out into the bay straight towards the boat they've hired to get there [and get back]. In a Bondesque moment, Sasha swims out, beats him to the boat, and stands on the prow in her swimsuit with a machete. Whereupon he turns around and swims away.

July 16th; On my way back from Gare de Lyon at midnight last night I am wandering through floodlit tiled metro-station hallways and corridors. A slightly rough young couple with two dogs are hanging around the deserted electronic gates that only open if you put a ticket into a machine. I head for a gate, and behind me I can sense the girl scooping the pale brown dog into her arms and suddenly coming up right behind me. The three of us shuffle through the fierce electronically-operated sliding gates as one organism. She thanks me. I wander on through the complex. Somehow the man with the larger dog got through a different gate, although I saw no-one else about. Suddenly, another set of gates ahead and they are by my side again. I find myself sighing dramatically as I approach the new gate, ticket in hand. Behind me she says "Thanks again in advance" and we shuffle through again as one. Somehow I can feel I am becoming pompous & bourgeois, as if I might give her a little lecture about getting her life in order. I don't, not least because my spoken French isn't up to it.
Today I return to the station complex to buy my tickets for Lyon tomorrow. A blonde woman pushes in front of me in the general queries queue, and demands in accented English where she can recharge her phone. I offer to help and start telling her where I recharged my phone last night. I say she should go three blocks and she interrupts me, snapping "What does that mean?" I say 7 or 8 minutes' walk, and she sneers "Impossible" and struts off while I'm still talking, without even thanking me. Russian nouveau riche is my guess - but undoubtably an East European.
July 15th; After a salady lunch, Mateus takes us, the rump of the weekend group (Selma, Kate, & me), to another esoteric bookshop where he knows the owner. The bookshop has an emphasis on astrology and geomancy, though the range is broad. Paris turns warm & sticky. My Apple Mac is definitely sick. I take her to a maintenance shop behind the unpleasant-looking Pompidou Centre (it really isn't ageing well close up). Sounds like my Apple's hard drive is dying. Finally locate an internet cafe near the Gare de Lyon.

July 14th; Bastille Day. Refreshed, get up and wander around in bright morning sunshine. Up and down the Boulevard Saint Germain are parked military vehicles, with good-looking young officers in uniform leaning against them with studied casualness. At the junction of Rue de Sevres and Boulevard Raspail I count five jeeps and one small truck, all in sandy olive, yellow and brown camouflage colours (to blend in with the avenue of fashion shops obviously) and eleven soldiers, all immaculately dressed in freshly laundered camouflage fatigues to match their vehicles, white elbow-length gloves, medals, criss-cross white strap and sash things, pillbox peaked caps, and a kind of flush, tight white shirt that goes right up to the throat with no buttons or openings. One man is in a cement-coloured suit, white shirt & black tie, though also with medals, ribbons, pillbox cap - so he must be in charge. All the men look smart, relaxed, alert, and ready to slot me at fifty yards if I shout something seditious like "Vive le roi!" My feeling that modern France still has a vaguely fascistic undernote lingers through the day. Afternoon drinks with Selma & her Moroccan friends - it is her birthday today, so she could pose for La France. After dark I doze and wake to the sound of helicopters above the hotel, disturbing the quiet. After over an hour of this, I go outside. Despite being too far out to see the fireworks (though one does land in the street with a fizzing noise) there is a helicopter overhead watching the non-existant traffic just in case for a total of two hours. Back in my room, I switch on television and the news is taken up with some big military parade involving tanks, fighter jets, and nine different kinds of uniformed men marching in central Paris.
July 13th; Breakfast with Thomas, Giane, and Stephanie - all of whom are heading off home via airports and railway stations. I promise to contact Gaia, who came by train from Milan with her poodle, had lunch with Mateus & Stephanie on Friday and when her poodle vomited in the restaurant explained that she did not seek mediumistic powers but had them thrust on her. She then disappeared. I then sleep much of the rest of the day, starting to read my recommended texts between dozes.

July 12th; Mateus takes us to an esoteric bookshop, and urges me to buy three titles. I do. We are looking at the gargoyles outside Notre Dame when a remarkable wind, strong, gusting, dark with promises of storminess almost sweeps us off our feet. Laetitia & Selma join us for a leisurely lunch. Thomas leads a breakaway group (Stephanie, Giane, and me) on an afternoon cycling tour of central Paris. Renting the bikes involves lengthy negotiations with a machine that takes handsome deposits off our bank cards before liberating the bicycles from electronic locks. Apart from a couple of slightly chunky moments mixing with traffic on the Place de la Concorde, an excellent cycle. Dinner at a restaurant reminiscent of Eastern Europe: Mateus remarks on the waitresses looking tarty, the waiters make fun of us, and the decor involves giant shapes painted gold. My main course turns out to be shepherd's pie, albeit a very good one. Absolutely superb pudding, quite different to what I expected, but divine. The cosy (though no-nonsense) hotel Stephanie & I are staying in just off Saint Germain is wonderfully quiet, though it is odd to hear seagulls all the time. Obviously Paris is a port in 13th-century terms, but why do I never hear these birds in London?
July 11th; Morning flight to Paris. Paris turns out be rainy. Manage to meet up with Stephanie & Mateus, the two organisers: both very jolly people. At dinner meet Giane, Jaime, Evelyn, Katrin, Kate, Thomas. Katrin is very enthusiastic about Continental butter, and I urge her to open a specialist butter shop in London.

July 10th; Afternoon drinks with Martin - he tells me Scott McLellan has written about how Washington's anti-Iraq-War whistleblowers were punished. We move on to what makes cities vibrant: eg. Barcelona in the mid-1990s. Briefly meet Piera & Robin at Istvan's where he is making dinner as I rush through. Sadly, no report back yet from Tamas about the alchemists' conference in Szeged earlier this week.
July 9th; Last visit for a few weeks to gym with Jim & Gordon. Jim mentions to me that Max Mosely's interest in masochism, according to something he saw in the news, began in some oblique way while training with the Serbian fitness coach who prefers his fruit & veg raw. Tea and then evening feast with Franc.

July 8th; More weight-training with Jim. The two counter girls in the local roast-chicken place greet me like an old friend. Someone has parked a circa-1900 tram carriage on two short strips of rail almost outside the meat shop, on the Square of the 32nds. Cool breezes relieve the heavy heat of the last few days.
July 7th; After gym, Jim & I drink coffee with Gordon & Rodney in hot sunshine. When I grumble about storage space for books in Manchester (for example, these people charging four times per cubic foot what Pablo pays for storage in Zurich), Rodney gamely offers to put a postcard up for me in a post office in Hale the day after tomorrow. He also suggests I advertise for storage space on gumtree and craigslist, so I do. A hundred yards away as I leave, I bump into Michael, who tells me that Saturday's Gay Pride march in Budapest was heavily attacked by stone-throwers. Later, during an impressive, pounding downpour at dusk, we all meet again for beers on the same street, joined by Tim.

July 6th; Wake up at Robin's and get ready for our afternoon drive to the Fot Ball, Fot being a town with an attractive country house. Tamas cannot come with us because he is going to Szeged to attend a conference of alchemists. Out on the lawn at Fot, Zita P points out I am wearing a woman's straw hat, so I put it on her, which forces me to flee for the shade with Eva B, who used to be a film journalist. Politics Judit, bubbly as ever, introduces me to Szilvia, her classmate studying agricultural tradition in Hungarian ideology, and Isabel introduces me to Eva P, another dramatic Spaniard. Jose, a Basque, generously answers my daft questions about Basque verbs. Laszlo the Count joins us, puffing on his pipe, and slips into what Isabel says is flawless Spanish to match his flawless English. She kindly takes Eva P and me back to Budapest at dusk. During the drive after dark we talk about crowds in financial markets and how the moon affects women.
July 5th; Get morning train to Robin's for Zsuzsi & Bela's joint birthday party. Piera is there in the hot sun, and we photograph each other rather manically in a field of enormous, triffid-like sunflowers. The conjuror is back for this party, better than ever. It is still the ripping-newspaper and the interlocking-steel-ring tricks which impress me most. Afterwards, Rita tells me how she and her horse fell together some weeks earlier, concussing her badly for an afternoon. This is while her boyfriend plays music on the turntables for children's games like musical chairs. I meet Piera's writer friend Genevre from Rome. Film-maker Peter is there, and I can chat to his girlfriend Agi at last, hearing about her Phd on Spencer's Faerie Queen. Istvan, Tamas and two friends of his turn up later, and the company drinks late while I sneak off to sleep in Robin's studio.

July 4th; Curious morning working at the Internet cafe. I get there early, and the soft-spoken French-speaking Arab chap, more doltish than the others, is in charge. He is driven to a quiet, helpless despair by the fact that, despite today's sticky heat, I still wish him to scan some drawings for me. He and his sweet-natured but also not-very-quick-off-the-mark Algerian friend struggle together to operate the scanner that - he tells me - he uses about ten times a week. Of course, it has never crossed his mind to download or print out the instruction manual for this machine. He simply waits as the hours and days pass, hoping to somehow avoid or ride through the next wearying ordeal of having to do this hard thing, like a lazy child surviving school a lesson at a time. I know I annoy him because I make him repeat what he says to me (he mumbles badly in all of Hungarian, French, and English) and because I point out he shouldn't close an hour early at night and open 20 minutes late in the morning. He squirms when I reveal that last night I came and saw he had closed two hours early: he obviously hoped no-one regular would know. He is slim, anxious, and perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s. His whole mood is one of being overwhelmed by the difficultness of everyday life. I've seen him unable to help a customer attach a document to an e-mail, unable to transfer a document between two terminals, unable to locate an incoming fax, unable to remember to write down the time a customer comes in and starts using the internet. I've had to translate for him between his confused Hungarian and the Hungarian of a local trying to communicate with him. Everything is a struggle. He and his Algerian friend (I redid his English-language CV as a goodwill gesture so I know he's from Algeria) simply cannot understand in either Hungarian or English what I mean by "picture resolution". When I carefully spell out I mean how much information there is in a given area of picture, they think I mean the physical size of the picture. The dolt steps aside, in a silent agony of humiliation, while I take over the cash desk to work out how to operate the scanner for myself. Thinking I cannot understand, he speaks to his friend, using the word 'Wahabi', while facing me with a simpering smile of submission so I won't realise he is talking about me. Giving the Wahabist reputation as flinty puritans, sticklers for the letter of the law, I would roughly translate his remark as "Humourless workaholic zealot". This is fair enough, really. It describes pretty accurately how I feel whenever I'm in his presence. Later, he gives me a reduction in my bill. It would be nice to take this as a sign he graciously concedes his own inability to do his job, but it is more likely to be his shrewd knowledge I'm friends with his boss. Like many of the quasi-dim, he has enough village wisdom to stay out of trouble, stay in circulation, and so carry on being a nuisance to all around for several more decades. Cunning and thick, interfering and lazy, all at the same time. So where do all these hard-of-thinking people come from? Much as I like the sound of having several beautiful brides at the same time, there is a worrying side to polygyny or polygamy. For many years I've wondered if cultures pay some kind of long-term genetic cost if a few rich men have several wives each. Might 20 or 30 generations of stable polygyny make a society somehow rich in sly dullards?
In the afternoon, a vivid "relative" peak experience lasting about fifteen minutes. The sky has an intense blue. I feel the curious romance of living in a language textbook, full of archetypal families entering comfortingly dated shops. Vast sense of power and cheerful calm.
July 3rd; I bake my two letters of the alphabet on Franc's suggestion, and the flat fills with the aroma of savoury biscuits, cooking. Visiting a hardware shop in search of rubber glue, I am leaving because I cannot find any and the woman is busy with other customers. She calls me back, asking what I wanted. I answer clearly and she at once transfers her attention to another customer, like a harassed mother punch drunk with distraction. I wait another minute. Then she looks at me, blank-faced, puzzled I am still in her shop. I repeat my request and she snaps that of course they don't have any, acting as if the assistant who asked me what I wanted two minutes earlier was a completely different person from her, someone she has no memory of. For a lot of Hungarians, even minding a small shop with two customers in it at the same time is beyond them intellectually. Round the corner, I pass a greengrocers and see some passable cherries. The assistant is dealing with a previous customer, so I wait. Then she asks what I want. I say the amounts I'd like, and she tells me to wait a minute longer as she walks out past me and potters round some other boxes of fruit a few yards away, clearly doing nothing but adjusting the positions of some peaches. I've seen this before: as a Hungarian she is ashamed to have to do a job. So she asserts her superiority over the customer to reclaim some of the dignity she feels she loses by serving others instead of having them serve her. I wait thirty seconds and walk on. She yaps after me that I should come back, indignantly adding she just had to do something else. They're like a society of broken former slaveowners, who've never recovered from losing the people who did all their work for them.
Later on, a lovely dinner with Pablo, in excellent spirits. He is over from Zurich, visiting Hungary for a wedding, and we meet some Italian and French friends of his who happen to be in the restaurant.

July 2nd; Meet a jetlagged Mystery Friend 2 for afternoon coffee. In a strange mix-up, we arrive late on a river boat with rude bartenders for an event involving Zita P just as it finishes, then meet Edit at Iguana, and twice fail to cross paths with Robin or Piera. Mystery Friend tells some anecdotes about Gloucestershire in the 80s and 90s. He is sure that 'chav' comes from the Gypsy word 'csavo' (geezer/lad/bloke). He cites how Gloucestershire farm labourers 20 years ago, long before the word 'chav' came into use in Britain, used to dismiss some people as "mali chavvers", a Slavic-sounding expression they probably picked up from Travellers or Gypsies. When he criticised a local labourer's slightly run-down car, the man indignantly replied "He goes, dun'im?", sounding wonderfully Hardyesque for the rather late 20th century. Then came some stories of a time working at a dressage yard in the mid 1990s, sharing a cottage with an ex-gamekeeper called Sean. Sean had a Lurcher dog called Piper. He would whisper in the dog's ear after breakfast "Come on Piper, catch me something nice for lunch" and when they came back from work at midday, there would be a dead hare or two outside at the door with the dog resting inside. Sean had apparently been disqualified for five years from gamekeeping after getting a little too enthusiastic at the job. Determined to nab some Pakistani poachers who used to drive down from Birmingham in a transit van to shoot in the woods on a big scale, Sean used his tracking skills to find where the van treads used to go in the forest. Then he built an elaborate, Ninja-style hide in a pit, equipped himself with ten double-barrelled shotguns in case he was outgunned, and waited three or four days in his hole in the ground until the Pakistanis turned up. Then he "slotted them", filling their buttocks with birdshot, and causing the local magistrates to hand down his ban. Since Sean had free board & breakfast along with his 80-pound-a-week cash-in-hand salary, three battered unlicensed cars, some growing lamps to assist his indoor herbal crop, and bartered some of his crop for food and drink at a local hostelry, he lived entirely outside the formal economy. Britain clearly needs more people like him.
July 1st; Dinner at Franc's, back with intriguing stories from Belfast.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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