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2010
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January 31st; Sunday. Meet Nikola for a coffee to learn of literary life in Croatia.
January 30th; Saturday. Evening out with Mystery Friend 2 & his friend Exotic Girl 3 visiting Budapest for a couple of days. Mike Foxtrot 2, as he starts to call himself during the evening, confesses after a visit to the loo that "I found it incredibly liberating to get the old chap out in public.... I do it whenever I feel the need, though sometimes in a more private setting." On the theme of his old chap, he explains that "We're a team. It's never clear who has the upper hand. The old chap has - let's say - a one-track mind. He doesn't have my liberal outlook." Exotic Girl 3 suggests that him having a name for his phallus is silly, but Mystery Friend 2 grandly brushes her aside, continuing "When I say me and the old chap, it's like Athens & Rome, or Britain & America. One is larger, but the other is the repository of more wisdom, style, and class." Exotic Girl 3 proposes that the future holds no place for men and that women shall inherit the earth, and what's more, women can give each other more erotic pleasure than men can. MF2 nods wisely at this point, agreeing that he understands entirely what she means. "It's the love between ladies," he says sagely, adding thoughtfully "Though sometimes there's a man helping. I've seen the films." When Exotic Girl 3 protests that this is no joke, and men will be disposed of, MF2 looks baffled. "But that's ridiculous. It's like you're suggesting a world run by squirrels. It makes no sense."

January 29th; Friday. Over at Mystery Friend 2 to watch three episodes of 'The Office' on DVD with him. No playful fluffy puppy joins us this time. The first time I see this legendary British comedy from 2001 - excruciating. The central character is an office manager who is vain & desperate to be liked. His insistence on doing funny voices and repeating bad jokes perfectly skewers a certain kind of call-me-Al manager, and the Big-Brother-influenced monologues to camera are clever, but the overall effect is cruel, embarrassing, and depressing to watch. It is nice to see the gibberish of Management Speak exposed, but like so many satires, the raw emotion is hatred. No redeeming likeable qualities keep us interested in the main characters, particularly the bathetic creep at the centre of the series. Pinpoints what is so grotesque about today's Britain, but squirm-making to sit through.
January 28th; Morning appointment at clinic to get prices of general health checks. Waste lunch hour plodding around in falling snow and irritatingly chilly wind, trying to find a shop that sells triangular graph paper: of course it takes 2 minutes on the internet. Pop in on Meghan for a cup of tea, see Emma the rescued Belgian/German shepherd dog restored to health after her double operation, bouncing around Meg's flat enthusiastically. Meet Dallan for Mexican snacks in afternoon.

January 27th; Lunch with Jill, dinner with Caroline {who intriguingly remarks that Hungarian girls "always seem to leave the loo seat wet"}. Dinner comes after taking fluffy rescued puppy Oscar in the early evening back to Anouska & Caroline's flat, where they are missing his cuddliness. Jill at lunch shares her wish list for 'non-lame boyfriend'. List includes 4. Must not live with his parents; 5. Non-clingy, doesn't kiss her in public; 7. Has to have voted; 9. "If he looked like Jesus that would be awesome, e.g. able to wear a good hemp shirt."
January 26th; Take Norwegian vet students Maud & Caroline to an XpatLoop wine-tasting event, where we bump into Niall & Henry among others.

January 25th; Out on a short morning walk to the computer shop in rather cold air, Oscar the abandoned puppy suddenly sits down on the pavement with a weary, stubborn expression I haven't seen before. I look at him and think for a second. Then I solemnly promise to him that it's going to be a short walk, and we aren't going up the Normafa hill again today. I give him my word. Oscar gets up at once, we continue the walk, and get back home ten minutes later.
January 24th; Meet Matthew Z & his girlfriend Krisztina at the Most restaurant once again {this time I'm unable to restrain myself from asking our Friday waitress how she got the cold sore right under her lower lip - she takes it well} and receive Oscar the former street puppy back, along with a bag of puppy food. He now has one paw in bandages due to a mishap with an escalator, has apparently been fed enormous amounts of food, and got taken up the big hill at Normafa earlier today on a mammoth walk. As a result of this action-packed weekend, the hound seems wiped out and in need of some slumber beneath our table. From there to Mystery Friend 2's flat, where he, I, and a still-snoozing Oscar watch a comedy film 'Year One' on DVD. This moves from forest caveman life to the world of the Old Testament. Climaxes with political adventures in Sodom. Slapstick and verbal humour on the way. Very enjoyable light entertainment - essentially an American Carry On film with some good moments.

January 23rd; A bit late {though just last night I saw a confused street woman wrestling with some discarded Christmas trees that still haven't been cleared up}, here's an ex-nun, Karen Armstrong, saying why the Christmas story is subversive. Meet Mystery Friend 2 for a late Mexican lunch, where I grumble, perhaps a bit unreasonably, that all the meals on the menu seem to have Spanish names. Very tasty, whatever it was I ate. Still cold and crisp outdoors. By night I meet Exotic Girl 2 for a Thai meal, and when I mention that computer people talk about Debians, she reminds me of her onetime phone-texted misprint 'lerbians', warming to which theme she asks why men get so much stick for not putting the loo seat down again, when {she claims} some women pee standing up and don't bother putting the seat up in the first place. "Do you ever hear complaints about that?" she asks, crossly. Several realisations gel, as she recalls women she shared flats with who always left the loo seat wet, and how each of them casually asked her at one time or other if she'd ever thought of "being adventurous" and "going to bed with a woman". Hence her tentative conclusion, strengthening over the evening, that lerbians like to wee standing up. She also mentions having been to the circus for her first time ever, earlier today, where she saw some rather tired-looking Latvian lions still stiff from their night in the caravan. She reminds me giggling that I once referred to Hungarian girls as "Space Bitches from the Planet Fuck".
January 22nd; Elevenses with Peter the Filmmaker, who then comes back to my place for tea to meet Oscar. In the afternoon, make it over to a curious restaurant called Most {Now} which welcomes people with dogs, has wallpaper in one room consisting of shelves of books photographed in black and white, and wallpaper in the lobby consisting of lots of old tape cassettes photographed in black and white. I meet Matthew Z for dinner, he says the code word and I hand over Oscar to him for two days, like exchanging briefcases with that man in the park. My dinner is good overall, even though my pasta dish is the hottest I've ever encountered, suggesting someone in the kitchen used the wrong spoon for the spice powder.

January 21st; Fresh snowfall, exciting Oscar the rescued puppy. At 9am, take Oscar for a long walk to the potting cellar to meet Fitness Mariann's ceramics teacher. We go down steep steps - Timea the Potter is completely calm and happy about letting Oscar sniff & explore the interesting new space. We lose him temporarily behind a big set of cabinets and kilns, but one of Timea's delighted girl students coaxes him out. After dark, tea & snack at the nearby Turkish kebab restaurant with Andy the DJ.
January 20th; Lots of people admire Oscar's fluffy puppy fur and his markings. He is a dusty black with his lower legs white for a couple of inches above each paw, like school socks, an inch of white at the tip of his tail, and a white throat and tummy. A few streaks of white fur appear in the floppy tufts above his face, giving him a vaguely 1980s New Romantic haircut. Though, like Emma, he doesn't like being left alone, he has a busy air about whatever he does and bustles around my flat, carrying things that interest him from one place to another, though, remarkably, damaging nothing important when I go out and leave him indoors for an hour. Perhaps a yoghourt carton retrieved from the rubbish to be given a good chew, or a candle from the handicraft zone. Neither Emma nor Oscar have ever touched my books, still stacked on the floor.

January 19th; Have taken to having odd naps in the afternoon, not quite sure why. Depressing that winter is bitter and still here - I've got used to it being mildly chilly for a couple of weeks in Hungary before a sudden burst of spring makes itself felt in late January, early February. I still have the remains of my permacold too. Here is a Japanese artist who takes excellent, artless photos. And a Canadian potter based in Japan trying new things with porcelain. Here are two house/club tracks where voice & rhythm work well together, as so seldom happens, both given their final go in the blender under the aegis of DJ Ray, Stereo Flo, Feel the Wave.
January 18th; Fresh fall of snow, about an inch. Oscar the stray puppy is delighted and fascinated. He bounces and skips in the snow, relishing something about it. How cool & soft it is, perhaps. Funny how people walk around playing music out loud on their mobile phones now - it's like going back 30 years to the era of transistor radios and hand-held tape players, before people used headphones on the street.

January 17th; First day with Oscar the Puppy. Noticeably a boy dog, Oscar is drawn to the garden-shed area of my main room, a space under one of the big table's two trestles {too small for Emma to get into} full of tins of paint, screwdrivers, rolls of iron wool, bottles of thinner and stripper, bits of sandpaper, candles, and the square, thick fired-clay tile Robin gave me for melting silverwork safely with the blowtorch. Emma uses this thick tile as a step for her two front paws so she can raise herself a couple of inches to beseech me more longingly for another walk. Oscar, perhaps using Boy Thinking, seems to see it as a tool or workplace. He finds chunks of the bones I got Emma, and, ignoring an entire room of tiling and lino flooring, he chooses this thick, flat brick-like tile as the perfect space on which to place a bone in order to give it a proper gnawing. He uses the thing like an anvil or workbench. The crunching, snapping sounds of bone-chomping echo through the fired-clay tile with an outdoor acoustic, and this adds dignity to his labours.
By night, take Oscar over to not-hungover Mystery Friend 2's flat for another tasty pasta supper with tea, where we eat, and watch three more episodes of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', with Oscar dozing between us. If anything, these episodes seem to lay bare American insecurities even more savagely than the ones I saw already. If Cleese in 'Fawlty Towers' needles at the tenseness, nastiness, and hypocrisy of the English, David in his series depicts a Los Angeles full of pushy, needy narcissists who have no idea how to dress and no idea how to treat each other, yet many of whom believe they are reasonable people being victimised by others. The intended humour is a group of people mocking their own mores, but the real humour {note many actors play themselves in the show but go to pains to say "I'm not really like that"} is watching Hollywood people so smug they think they can exaggerate themselves and have everyone else laugh along with them rather than at them. The culture the show takes for granted as its backdrop has freed itself from etiquette, dress codes, agreed markings for social rank, distinctions between private & public, and it looks hellish. Never have I seen a TV series that shows so sharply {or at all} the benefits of having an explicit class system, and why formal manners are what give people real freedom, but intentionally or unintentionally, this show does that. The snobbery & hypocrisy & pettiness of Cleese's England are there in David's California, but now set loose like monsters to roam free, unchecked, somehow not even identified. Incoherent phrases like "Quit being an asshole", "Am I the only one who does that round here?" mask deep confusion in a void with no social structure. The lack of any code other than reciprocal self-interest cripples the show's characters and exposes the thinness of American society: the same thinness the personally frustrated Said Qutb faintly grasped but misunderstood. In the three episodes we watch, 1. Larry is befriended by a Muslim women in a burkah who strikes him as the perfect romantic interest for his blind male friend - she gets along well with the mentally-handicapped men who wash his wife's car and steal her sun block 2. Larry's dental hygieneist tells everyone how bad his plaque is, and a friend's child hides one of his shoes, 3. Larry finds a major figure in the Jewish community is going to be buried with his, Larry's, rare golf club in his coffin, after which a friend's Alsation dog bites Larry's penis.
January 16th; Emma the Dog is taken off just after lunch for her operation, I go weight-training, then about 5.10pm I get back to find Caroline the Norwegian vet student, with her Budadogs white van {the logo is a big paw print}, ringing my doorbell, wondering where I am. We get Emma out of the van, and it is immediately clear the spaying & anaesthetic were quite a shock for the Alsation. She cannot stand up alone, and sinks to the tarmac looking confused. Caroline takes my bags and keys while I carry the bitch into my building and flat. She shows me how to fit the white plastic lampshade to the hound's head - vital to stop Emma from picking open her own operation scar and spilling her intestines out onto the floor. I wrap Emma up in a blanket and am instructed to check the dog's still ice-cold gums every half hour to see if they are warming up and she is recovering from the anaesthetic. The old lady & her pastry cook brother at the patisserie had this theory that Emma is not eight years old, but closer to four or five, being still too supple and perky in her movements, but now, seeing how badly the dog has taken being drugged, her youth is not so obvious. As my evening wears on, Emma starts to move around, still very drowsy from the anaesthetic, but repeatedly summoning strength to try to get the lampshade off her head. I put her on the sofa to sleep. I start sending text messages to Caroline saying the dog is not recovering so well. Around 8.30pm, the dog gets off the sofa and I see a deep patch soaked in blood, and see that she is dripping blood wherever she walks. I text that Caroline should come over. I try to keep up with cleaning up blood coming out of Emma as she staggers around the flat, still intent on removing the blasted thing tied to her head by any means necessary. She keeps crashing around, I keep holding her and getting her to sit in one place while I try to clean up, so the lino & tiled flooring gets increasingly splattered with red. Caroline arrives, we tie a bedsheet round Emma, and Caroline carries her down to the van, with me holding the other bits and pieces this time. She carefully ties the grumbling, bleeding hound into a cage, while a small fluffy dog crashes around the front of the van. Caroline gets into the front of the van as the terrier puppy ricochets around the vehicle, and asks if I can look after the little hound overnight. Since any distraction is hardly going to help during late-night surgery with Emma, I take the small black fluffy dog with white paws under one arm, and the van drives off.
The terrier, {Caroline sends a text to say it is called Oscar. There is a distant resemblance to the Sesame Street puppet} is quiet, with soft fine fur, and on entering my flat, at once begins quivering and trying to hide from me behind a basket of packet soups on the floor. I suddenly realise that my whole flat smells like a butcher's shop and is visibly splashed with cupfuls of doggy blood across much of the main room. The terrier thinks it is in some kind of David Lynch film and has been lured into the lair of a serial killer of hounds. I start mopping up the blood - 2 whole rolls of large kitchen tissues - and Oscar slowly edges out from behind the cup-a-soup stash. After some reassurance he carefully gets to know me. I get messages later from Caroline & Anouska saying that Emma had internal bleeding, a normal risk after spaying at this time of the month, and seems to be surviving after the 2nd operation.

January 15th; Still find my whole day revolving round Emma, the once-starved German/Belgian shepherd dog, who is staying with me. It's five {long} walks a day with this enthusiastic hound. The charity that rescues unwanted & mistreated dogs in Hungary run by some Norwegian veterinary students has, I discover, its own web page as well as another page on Facebook. All animal-lovers should join their Facebook group to show support - they seem to rescue a lot of dogs from doom and find them loving homes. Good motto: "To err is human, to forgive canine." Change of plan. Emma's spaying not today, but tomorrow, Saturday.
January 14th; Yesterday afternoon, my long-nosed pliers came in handy. Emma the Dog is being particularly odd, bouncing around demanding walks, wanting to be stroked & cuddled every time I start doing some work, and as I check her fur I find a lump. Quite close to the anti-tick collar is a large fat tick, quietly feeding off her like a bureaucrat. I pull it out and throw it away, but then realise I failed to get the whole thing out of her flesh. As so often, the mouth parts have been left behind. Having no fingernails to speak of currently, I look around for a tool, and see the pliers. At this point, Emma looks very alarmed. Though she makes no sound, she continues to wriggle vigorously however I try to hold her still, keeping one beady eye on the pliers. I put the pliers down, and try to explain in a soothing voice it's for her own good. I pick the pliers up again, and again in complete silence she struggles against me with great strength. Of course, not evidence that her mistreatment in Heves involved tools, but a sign of very deep wariness. We go through several rounds, with me putting the pliers down, picking them up and putting them down again, all the time trying to explain in English {how else?} that I want to help. Suddenly, after about 2 minutes of resisting, she seems to accept that I mean well and goes totally still, like a child being brave at the dentist. I carefully get the mouthparts of the tick into the pliers and pull. Out it pops, like a miniscule grey lobster's head smeared pink with a drop of Emma's blood, fringed with 5 or 6 of her mid-blonde fur hairs. She makes no sound through all of this, shrugs her neck where it was and walks in a little circle, seemingly agreeing the ordeal wasn't so bad after all. I throw the repulsive miniature crustacean body part in the bin. Barely half an hour later, a tired-looking woman appears at my door. She and her mother upstairs are struggling to disconnect the washing machine as they pack to move out. Goodness - neighbourliness. I go up and find the machine in a dark cupboard. I ask for a lamp, and plug it into the socket inside the cupboard illuminating the situation. This evokes amazed cooing noises from the two women. Then the pliers help me turn off the tap properly before unscrewing the nozzle. Finally I'm asked to stop the boiler display blinking, and I randomly press one of two buttons on the display. It stops. Never really seen myself as a handy man, but if this is all you have to do to qualify, I suppose I could get used to the part. Today, the Norwegian girls tell me Emma is to be operated on tomorrow, Friday, because a roll in the hay at her Xmas kennels might have left her up the duff, endangering her legal status for flying to her new home in Norway on the 21st.

January 13th; After Emma the Dog sends me to bed last night at 11pm with her grumbling noises {she seems to have very firm views about me spending too long on the internet - I wonder if the laptop makes an annoying high whine I can't hear but she can?} I get up early this morning to find not one, but two, complete sets of protest poo both neatly arrayed on the only rug in a room otherwise totally floored with lino and tiles. Am I overfeeding her? Perhaps 2/3 of a tea mug of food granules is a lot more than one coffee cup of food granules? Or the bone? Ho hum. I clean up, pop the rug in the washing machine, and we go out for a mega-walk where we twice meet Hungarian dog lovers who pet her and tell me about their own dogs. We walk out of town east along Prater street and Emma & I discover the university botanical gardens in one run-down area. The last place in town I would have expected them to be. Back at the nearby patisserie, the old lady and her brother give Emma a scone each. Now she wants more, and acts personally hurt if I eat any myself.
January 12th; Emma the Dog is being very strict with me. We went out for six walks yesterday. She makes it clear she doesn't like me staying up past 10pm. Today we "only" go out four times, but I bring her back a bone and this seems to keep her busy for a while, though {understandably} she seems to need constant cuddling and reassurance that I love her.

January 11th; First day with Emma the Dog. I go out with her and get new & stronger curtain hooks so I can remount the big curtain without the landlady's plastic hooks snapping off regularly. Emma is apparently a mix of German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd {hence yellower fur and smaller build} and something else. An early life of constant starvation is fairly clear from her desperate interest in bits of bread and discarded sandwiches lying on the pavement, despite having been fed normally before we went out. In an odd way, Emma's presence is making me more organised. In the morning, I hear the clicking of her claws on my lino floor outside the bedroom as she waits politely for me to get up and do something interesting with her. The need to repeatedly give her walks {she seems easily bored, and enthusiastic to explore the neighbourhood - of course after seven years on a six-foot chain most of us would probably value getting out and about) chops my day up into small chunks, so I have to tick things off my list between trips out with Emma.
January 10th; After Mystery Friend 2 persuades me to help his Norwegian charity friends last night, Emma the ex-stray dog arrives at my flat in the evening for her 12-day stay. A rather dishy Nordic blonde climbs out of her white van holding a wriggling puppy under one arm, a lit cigarette in the other hand, and opens the back. She hands Emma, an 8-year-old Alsation mongrel, over to me, complete with sack of food granules, food & water bowls, rubber chewing thing, leash and sleeping basket. Emma has, I'm told, had a ghastly life in the town of Heves - home of the Scientologist builder Terri sued - where some Gypsies apparently starved her on a chain. The detail that she was found surrounded by her own dead puppies, some of which she had been forced to eat due to hunger, is hard to forget. Emma has been rehabilitated since then by six months with an Irish girl, I hear. Her fur has grown back, apart from the two front shins, and she seems quiet & diffident but very affectionate, with her spirit of doggy curiosity unbroken. Emma looks round my flat shyly sniffing at things, and we go out for two late-night walks. It occurs to me she might be still looking for the Irish girl, missing the company of the first human host who treated her kindly.

January 9th; Finish the book lent to me by Mystery Friend 2, 'The Triumph of the Political Class' by Peter Oborne. A disturbing and important book about British politics since the 1980s. Everyone who cares about freedom should read it. My only complaint is the startling fact he makes no mention of Labour's genuinely sinister attempt to pass their first draft of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in 2006, a law so nakedly authoritarian in its unamended version that most Britons seem to have completely blotted it out of their memory, perhaps in disbelief.
In the afternoon, I join Tiina, Ines, & Jill to watch a film I wouldn't have gone to otherwise, but which I thoroughly enjoy: 'Avatar', a large-budget sci-fi adventure set on a planet called Pandora. This is directed by James Cameron, the Canadian whose films are usually expensive to make but commercially successful. Cameron brings us not one but three relative novelties - a plotline about remotely inhabiting other bodies {the 'avatars' of the title}, lots of fairly impressive computer-generated footage {since the indigenous tribeseople on the alien planet are ten-foot-tall blue people with yellow eyes and vaguely catlike faces, they certainly need to be computer-generated}, and all of this shot in 3D for good measure. Wearing the special spectacles with polarised glass in the cinema is not too bad {my first 3D movie ever} though for some reason the spectacles pinch at the bridge of the nose quite unnecessarily. If this is not enough raw circus, we also get floating mountains, as promised by the poster. I assume these contain lots of the rare mineral {archly named 'unobtainium', arf arf} the humans are on Pandora to profitably mine. This would make sense since a small chunk of this mineral floats above the desk of the snide corporate manager in his office, but this is never spelt out. If it had been spelt out, we might have wondered why the human miners don't just tow away a floating mountain or two instead of turning massive firepower on the tribespeople's sacred home, but never mind about that. Jill claims to spot men firing from the open doors of helicopters without air-supply masks {the atmosphere is thin and the gravity low}, and some of the day-time/night-time switches look odd to me, but the overall spectacle is impressive & grand enough to carry you through. The blue-skinned people are likeable but, like so many computer-generated characters, still have an odd residual smoothness and 'float' about many of their movements. As well as being Australian abos resisting the mining company, they are also rather obviously the Red Indians who still haunt the USA's imagination, with their yodelling yells, feather head-dress, and proud warrior ethos. The film clearly owes much to Ursula LeGuin's 1970s eco-feminist sci-fi novella 'The Word for World is Forest' {set on an alien planet covered in forest, where green-skinned, peace-loving tribespeople with a poetic & magical culture are oppressed by a greedy human logging firm [Why would you transport anything as bulky as wood across space? Anyway, not important...]}, but enough has changed to make this copyright-different, at least in the groovy details like the bodyswapping and the hovering rocks. For me the starring character was Cameron's forest itself, filled with a variety of interesting animals and plants, made to look rather more unearthly yet still more believable than your usual alien flora & fauna. At moments the forest with its glowing plants succeeds in making the film dreamlike and haunting, as do some of the scenes where they fly on the backs of large pterodactyl/bat-type creatures doing vertiginous swoops off the sides of the mountains that hover in the clouds. To add to the pudding, there is a gigantic tree of the order of a mile high, our hero is wheelchair-bound in his human form, poignantly able to experience running and bounding when remotely linked to his ten-foot-tall blue alter ego, while the helicopters of the future look interestingly different and are complemented by a magnificently thuggish airborne sort of aircraft carrier. I can tell all this works on me because I am surprised to find the film is so long, and emerge blinking into the late afternoon darkness completely caught up in it still. Though my own 3D vision is faulty {my brain tends to ignore my right eye}, enough of Avatar is in depth that I occasionally feel the urge to brush away a fern poking out at me from the jungle, and I am caught up in a fairly 'shallow' fantasy much more strongly than I would be, I'm sure, in normal 2D.
After a milkshake with the girls, Tiina whisks us across town by car, and I join Mystery Friend 2, complaining of a hangover, for a tasty pasta supper with herbal tea at his flat. We watch three more episodes of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' on DVD, reminding me of Fawlty Towers in the way the central character gets into terrible scrapes that are almost too much to watch. In its own way caustically exposing more American insecurities {though knowingly in this case}, we get 1. a story about Larry accidentally going to a baseball game with a black prostitute after nervously buying cannabis to ease his father's glaucoma, 2. an episode about penis size, lust of white men for black girls, and problems passing medical checks and faking strokes, 3. a tale of a condom coated with a chemical to maintain erections worn inside out rendering Larry's wife's vagina numb until she is cured by the ancient herbal knowledge of the Red Indian gardener Wandering Bear. Home to sleep. I dream surprisingly vividly of flying & running through luminous 3D forests while being blue.
January 8th; Some quotes cross my mind that I failed to log. Mystery Friend 2 a week ago candidly describes his excitement about one girl as "...purely trouser-driven. She's just the hottest thing I've ever seen," Robin in the countryside at the weekend tries to claim that some Glaswegians inject flat beer into their veins. Whether this is true or not, it certainly sounds like it belongs with glue-sniffers eating deep-fried Mars bars. Robin also adds that his part of Hungary, where we are late that night surrounded by snow, "has some very interesting moths," bringing respectful nods from Lisa & me. Two nights ago, Mystery Friend 2 mentions a Norwegian charity that rescues lost dogs in Hungary, putting them for a few weeks with students in Budapest "before shipping them out to Norway to live in splendour in the frozen north. It's like Schindler's List."
I finish a paperback puzzle thriller I picked up in Budapest 2nd-hand a few days ago, and 2nd-hand it deserves to be, New York Times bestseller or not. '
The Rule of Four' is from the same stable as 'The Da Vinci Code', and though it is a lot better than the Dan Brown book, it is still pretty bad. Just as the Nigel of Darkness predicted to me years ago, history is the new cool thing in the 21st century. Mystery & excitement once again come from the past as much as {or more than?} from the future. The story is about a group of young friends at Princeton University drawn into a scholarly dispute about a mysterious Renaissance text. In its defence, it has probably made tens of thousands of readers passionately curious about Italian, Latin, & Greek learning for their very first time. Unfortunately, the novel is mainly a tiresome screed about two themes of obsessive, almost morbid, importance to US culture: (1) Americans' powerful longings about history, something they are both desperate to invoke and repudiate at the same time; (2) American men's peculiar & tormented fixation on their friendships with other men and with their own fathers. These two are the same problem in a way, one personally felt over one or two generations, the other larger-scale, felt over a couple of centuries. (1) and (2) can be seen at work in almost any piece of American pop culture, but this book is a choice example where these worries gnaw away at the centre of the narrative. There is also some pompous writing, stuff like pp 272-3 "...and the tongue of desire is forked, kissing two, but loving one. Love draws lines between us like an astronomer plotting a constellation from stars, joining points into patterns that have no basis in nature. The butt of every triangle becomes the heart of another, until the roof of reality is a tesselation of love affairs. Taken together, they have the pattern of netting; and behind them, I think, is Love. Love is the only perfect fisherman, the one who casts the broadest net, which no fish can escape. His reward is to sit alone in the tavern of life, forever a boy among men, hoping some day to tell stories about the one that got away." Of course this - apart from being an ugly mash of drunken metaphors - doesn't even make sense on its own terms: poignant evidence of just how illiterate a humanities degree can leave not one, but two authors {Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason}. The plodding tone gives us Scooby Doo without laughs. Along with bad prose, we get silly plot twists {the Botticelli in the post takes the biscuit, but there is more - only a Dan Brown fan could suspend disbelief with this}; a narrator of such weak character he accepts his girlfriend's ultimatum at face value; a gushing, breathless fascination with the general "ancientness" of Princeton; and - as said already - pages and pages of maudlin moping about male friendships and fathers. The title invites comparison with the Conan Doyle story 'The Sign of Four', but while Sherlock Holmes was pretty simple stuff, Doyle's writing was both tighter and lighter than this. Part of it is the strain of a short story puffing itself out into a novel, but other parallels are intriguing. The ambiguously homoerotic Holmes/Watson friendship carries many of the modern American anxieties, though Sherlock was less shrill. Conan Doyle was also a century fresher and more original. However, the most curious difference is that, flat as they are, the cartoonish Holmes stories exude mysterious confidence rather than mysterious doubt.
Here's an alarmingly Photoshopped Russian picture of an undressed girl.

January 7th; Finish one of Robin's books, 'Picasso's Mask', by Andre Malraux. Clearly translated into English {by June Guicharnaud} from a fluid, playful French, the result in English is in parts baffling & disjointed, even though I get the impression Guicharnaud did as good a job as she could. Malraux tackles several things in parallel. We are with him as Picasso's widow shows him round the paintings left in their home in the 1970s shortly after Pablo's death, as he reminisces about conversations with Picasso Malraux had, as he remembers the 'Museum Without Walls' exhibition Malraux was involved with, as he speculates about art in different cultures alongside our own. His writing style can be assertive {"Europe then tried to invent a universal Middle Ages" / to explain the differentness of non-European art} or cryptic, but if the reader can hang on to the thread, the reward is a rich and brisk text. Malraux dances expressively round the problems raised by the artistic revolution Picasso still seemed, even as late as 1970, to have dominated. Quoting himself answering Jacqueline saying "we never quite settled down", he replies "Did you ever really settle down anywhere? Judging from Mougins {another house}, I should say it was the flocks of paintings that had settled down there. And spent their time reproducing at top speed. What you two did was tend the sheep..." In his confident prose, Malraux emerges as a flamboyent and forceful figure, as powerful a personality as his friend Picasso. "During the period of Asia's great sleep, from Peking to Constantinople, admirable {?} small fragments of faience and mosaic used to fall gently into the silence. I had heard chips of mandarin tiles from Imperial City fall when foxes would climb into the violet asters at the foot of the high wall; and turquoise chips from the Koranic School at Isfahan, where roses grew wild again behind silver doors.... For the great ceremonies, thousands of kneeling women, who held in their long-fingered hands gladioli, as yellow as the bonze's robes, would, all at once, lower their field of flowers, which formed patterns that flowed like the wind's." As a poetic French rationalist, Malraux dodges the contradictions of saying that great artists literally have the power to transform reality {as he does}, yet do not outlast time and cannot replace nor invoke the gods they once depicted {as he also says}. The result is a book-length piece of lyrical paradox.
January 6th; Mariann's Phil volunteers some excellent links to something I'm looking for - prewar shirt patterns. Thanks Phil! Briefly meet Robin, Zita, Film-maker Peter, Kath & others for tea before attending an enjoyable mulled-wine-and-cakes thing at the flat of a Hungarian mathematician whose introductory course on topology I optimistically attended at college. Late drinks with Mystery Friend 2 at a bar where he tells me about the Druze. Then we watch an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' where the central character briefly believes he is a gentile, as a result nobly agreeing to give one of his kidneys to a friend who won't lend him a golf club in return.

January 5th; Drive back into town with Robin & Lisa. I have a vindaloo curry with Mystery Friend 2 to further combat my cold.
January 4th; Spend day coughing & steaming my sinuses in the house while Robin & Lisa travel off to some thermal baths. I also get his useless scanner to finally work mainly so as to scan in a magazine image of Stockhausen, when I could have had the same picture crisper and using only a hundredth as many kilobytes here. Sigh.

January 3rd; Thick snow everywhere. I am woken in Robin's studio by a double rap on the door. Getting dressed and going to open it, I find Lupus the large shaggy Komondor pronking about in the doorway, randomly matted with snow. The hound seems keen to play with me and in a good mood, despite being chained to a car tyre with extra weights attached. Looking for footprints around the studio, I see none. The snow is three inches deep apart from a couple of curving shallow runways of one-inch-deep packed snow behind wherever the Hungarian sheepdog has trundled here & there dragging its rubber ring in search of adventure. Against the dazzling white snow it is clear that Lupi is not white, but a kind of deep cream tone, the colour of butter almost going off. It slowly sinks in for me that the double rap that woke me up was not a human knock, but the enthusiastic Lupus headbanging the door at full canter followed a second later by his tethered car tyre whiplashing on the chain.
Everyone goes down to the dyke to do sledging. Robin & I follow them in the Izh motorbike with sidecar (once we roll the green Benz out of the garage into the snow to get the bike out of its corner). In places the snow is a foot deep. We go on a small trek through some impossibly perfect-looking woods where every twig holds a windblown blade of snow twice its own width, like a kind of 3D etching. This is when we lose two of the three fox terriers. After darkness falls, Zsuzsi cooks dinner and Kasper carefully melts four red candles into place in the candelabra so we can dine without electric light. Three hours later, while Robin is driving the children to Kecskemet, the two missing terriers find their way home around 9pm. This is the night I think Robin, Lisa, & I watch a DVD of 'The Motorcycle Diaries', an atmospheric, gentle-seeming film about a journey through 1950s Latin America by a 29-year-old Argentine biochemist and his idealistic young 23-year-old medical student friend. The younger man is of course Che Guevara before he turned into a bedroom-wall student poster {personally killing quite a few people in the process} and we are quite movingly shown how his chance meetings with oppressed poor people gradually radicalise him over the course of the continent-wide journey. Perhaps the best depiction I've yet seen of how much Marxism resembles a religion, whose visions of a transformed world urge the pure-hearted into personal sacrifice & martyrdom. Some lovely scenes and lightly-treated moments of character development. This is really a movie about quite early beatniks, since the point is that (1) both travellers are young, (2) come from privileged backgrounds, (3) and in the process of discovering others are transformed themselves in a kind of blend of picaresque quest and spiritual ordeal. The tag line for the film states precisely this - "Let the world change you... and you can change the world", though of course Guevara didn't change the world at all in any sense the shocked young student would recognise if he came back to check. Element (2) is vital to the proto-hippy worldview, since their privileged background is a/ what allows them to slum-travel in the first place, instead of having to work like everyone else, and b/ is what deprives them of any personal experience of work and thus any close understanding of how life really operates. The two together are a deadly combination, of course, since they build the youthful combination of confidence, ignorance, and outrage that leads the young idealist into a viewpoint where he is morally obliged to kill people in order to improve the world. Quixote as tragedy rather than comedy.
January 2nd; After some confusion, catch the right train to Kecskemet. This is the train boarded at the Budapest airport stop by Lisa from Notting Hill. She has just now flown from Vicenza, Italy. It's her love of Palladio's architecture that takes her back to Vicenza on repeated visits to see his buildings. Robin drives us down to Tiszainoka along almost black country lanes, where we can see only snowflakes slanting into the headlights. Back at his house, once the children go to bed, the three of us talk until the small hours round the fireplace of spark-spitting logs. Later on, I finish Robin's copy of 'Alchemy & Mysticism' by Alexander Roob, a Taschen art book foolishly published as a thick paperback with an easily breakable spine, containing a couple of thousand haunting images of the Western alchemical hermetic tradition. These have detailed captions, and some linking text. The book suggestively slips in four or five 20th-century art pieces by the likes of Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp (Duchamp's photo of a single door being used for two doors in a 1920s Paris apartment is the final image in the book). The text explains some links, sets out some categories of theory & influence, and briefly describes various views among the alchemists without settling on one interpretation. The final effect is one of the intense importance the creators of these images saw in what they were depicting while hiding behind elaborate symbolic codes. They share an odd mix of playfulness and deadly earnest, and cry out to be thought through, in some way solved.

January 1st; Tasty lentil soup with Kata, Zsofia, Ildiko, & Andrea. I fail to make it over to Martin's for midnight. Around 2am, the girls want to go to Piaf, so that's where we go. We squeeze down narrow stairs into its crowded cellar disco which does quite a good impersonation of Dante's Inferno. This is a swarming mass of bodies, packed tight into two airless rooms thick with cigarette smoke. At one point a girl, when I suggest she be careful about how much she's drinking, says "I don't know this word ['careful'] - I only know 'too much'," and my heart sinks. Not that old story again. I only escape the dungeon onto the bright, chilly morning street at 8am.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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