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2010
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November 30th; More chill. Hungary's government now wants to vet websites. It's starting.

November 29th; French lesson cancelled. Chilly wind out after dark. Three of the best from the Daily Mash.
(1) Estate agents now showing houses to other estate agents;
(2) Mr Bishop also teaches geography; and perhaps the best found yet,
(3) Shiny Thing Make It All Better.
November 28th; Snow in the early morning. Finish 'Why Beauty is Truth' by Ian Stewart, a paperback book about the growing sense among mathematicians over the centuries that symmetry is what the universe {or at least mathematics} is all about. Ambitious mix of short biographies of various figures in maths & physics and rather general discussion of what they were researching and proving, largely extracting roots from different types of equation. The book finishes with the one-line paragraph "In mathematics, beauty must be true - because anything false is ugly." Stewart would agree this contradicts Dirac's view mentioned a few pages earlier that he, Dirac, would rather that a physical theory were beautiful than true.

November 27th; Interesting article about how religious fundamentalists are quietly outbreeding the rest of us. Silly but slick Dutch ten-minute murder movie. And, found by Zdravko, a film trailer both inspiring & eerie, of a man living alone in Alaska, filming his life there for 30 years. Striking how in this early part, where he builds his first log cabin, he sounds almost contented - and yet heartbroken at the same time. Wonder if some woman drove him to leave all human company behind.
November 26th; At the gym, Ilan looks in the mirror in the weights room and says "I need a haircut. I look like a Q-tip." Pretty Russian kaleidoscope.

November 24th; Mordant summary of the costs of the Irish banking bail-out, from some weeks ago. First read this in the motel just inside Belgium.
November 24th; Woken by two men who want to change my landlord's water meter. One of the workmen has a stutter. Afternoon brings marathon three-hour-long Arabic lesson. Class has grown, and there are now four of us. Manchester mixing-desk mojo from Mint Royale: Diagonal Girl / Blue Song / Stop the Rock remix / Shake Me.

November 23rd; Pack bags and take 3 trains across country to airport. On express meet Mike, who has a business transporting horses and horseboxes. I tell him how I recently read of jokers who create unicorns. Apparently baby goats' horns are soft at first and start just under the skin, only rooting into the skull later. This means {so I read} you can painlessly remove one horn and shift the other horn at this early stage to the centre of the forehead where it will root in the skull bone and grow. Hey presto, real, live unicorns ...or at least goat analogues of unicorns. Out of the train window we watch England's thick, grey ceiling of rolling clouds zip by over hours as we descend most of the length of the country during the darkening afternoon. An uneventful flight until landing in Hungary. As I get the silly bus the last fifty yards from the plane to passport control a passenger from the flight mentions a fire that gutted a high-security document building in London a couple of years ago where lots of British government documents were lost. Apparently during the cash-for-honours scandal: the fire started at two locations in the building and some fire doors were propped open to make sure it spread, but no arsonist was found or prosecuted.
Do women stop other prettier women getting jobs? Seems they do in Israel.
November 22nd; Pick up rubber stamps from wholesale stationer. Manage at length to meet genial estate agent. Find affordable tickets online.

November 21st; Sunday. Get into Leeds for lunch at the German Market with ROF John. He gives me some interesting leads.
November 20th; Saturday. Wake in morning and during cold shower in bathroom, a small cluster of rainbows appear on bathroom wall, hovering delicately. An effect of unexpected bright sunshine breaking into The Valley, and of the bathroom having several mirrors in it. Shift objects around in house. A strange mild headache has been with me since Thursday. It's not a caffeine headache, and painkillers don't work. Odd. Finish a book by Dean Radin, called 'The Noetic Universe', about his work doing some metanalysis of hundreds of 20th-century experiments into what he calls 'psi' - to simplify confusion over whether clairovoyance is sometimes precognition, and so on. Useful explanation of confidence intervals in statistics.

November 19th; Friday. Clear up house a bit. Revisit old estate agents as well as a wholesale stationer. Meet Ed in Bradford, and tell him over our curry what I'd like to do with Aristotle's 'Politics'.
November 18th; Thursday. I find a van-drivers' caff in the next village, which has free WiFi. Thereby get some things organised while eating a full English breakfast washed down with black tea, looking out of the window at mild rain. End up catching train to Bradford to buy more internet time and, as it turns out, another new modem.

November 17th; Wednesday. I catch train up to The Village. As grey, dark, and wet as ever, though the locals are as gruff & cheerful as ever too. Try to use WiFi in the village pub cum smart restaurant, complete with abstract bas-reliefs on a couple of walls in large, thick, weathered wooden tiles. Camp Scots in Yorkshire are a mysterious group {why would a Scot come this far south yet no further?}, but the food is very good. However, their WiFi is both narrowly restricted, and on this occasion doesn't work at all.
November 16th; Tuesday. Long lunch with Samantha in Bayswater cafe.

November 15th; Monday. Roam around in London, getting a couple of things done. Finish a book of Amir's called 'Seven Spies Who Changed the World' by Nigel West. Intriguing and entertaining, some of the claim in the title is exaggerated {it is really seven short biographies of spies from World War Two to the 1980s}. However, was interesting to learn that George Blake did far more damage than the other Soviet spies inside British Intelligence, and that Terry Waite was so close to the CIA.
November 14th; Sunday. I wake up in Amir's flat flanked by two large paintings. There is a view out of the kitchen window to part of Imperial College, London. We babysit for Amir & Nathalie, and meet their two children and very sociable spaniel.

November 13th; A visit to Aachen, just back over the border. Under grey skies and constant rain we go into the cathedral where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 AD. We look at the many odd features. There is a curious 18th-century side chapel devoted to Hungarian pilgrims in Rococo white and gold, and stained glass in dark rich colours elsewhere, a strange golden dolls' house about two feet high and four feet long supposedly containing the remains of the great king, and an eerie statue of the Virgin Mary clothed in a white dress, one of the many outfits the idol "wears". In dense pouring rain we continue to drive across Belgium, and after dark reach depressing bus-station/day-centre-clinic of the Dunkirk port complex to await our ferry to load. The waiting area has TV screens & walls painted in jolly colours. Robot cabinets dispense drinks & snacks. On the ferry a blonde girl offers me a neck & shoulder massage. She is with a relaxation therapy firm, and has a cold don't-you-try-anything glint in her eye which is offputting. England approaches.
November 12th; We drive up into northern Germany, and end up just the other side of the Belgian border in a tidy, slightly sterile motorway hotel for lorry drivers. We are in the tiny pocket of Belgium where the German-speaking minority live.

November 11th; Pack for today's drive to England with Robin. Many Austrian & German petrol stations later, Robin, Georgina & I are in Puedi's kitchen in Munich. Others go to bed, I chat late with Puedi about television & history.
November 10th; 2nd lesson near Oktogon in Arabic. Patient, methodical teacher. Ilan says the first sentence I should learn is "Please don't cut my head off on TV".

November 9th; Finish a book called 'In Your Face' by David Perrett, an academic at St. Andrew's. A round-up of the last decade's research into facial attractiveness, complete with handy little photographs of computer-blended faces. Soberingly, much is already clear. Beauty isn't relative to culture, but objective and fairly standard throughout history & geography, revolving round a mix of symmetry, youthfulness, perceived femininity & health, balanced proportions - modified by similarity to others around us and similarity to our parent of the opposite sex. Surprise, surprise, beauty isn't created by the fashion industry, though that industry might strengthen some of our biases by repetition. Intriguingly, most people can accurately spot which babies will be the best-looking adults {even when they think they can't}, can spot which faces belong to people with properly oxygenated blood, regardless of skin colour, can guess some character traits just by looking at pictures of the face, and can even accurately gauge how much fruit & veg that person is eating.
November 8th; French class given by Yomi. Meet cheerful Barbara.

November 7th; Quiet day. I pop out to the OBI home-improvements warehouse with the more sullen, disappointed staff north up the blue metro line, and buy 20 small screws. To my delight, back in my flat they exactly fit the holes I drilled with the new, harder bit early yesterday evening - in the steel tubing of the shoddy, unrigid Moebelix clothes rail on castors. Attach struts [12" saw blades} and thing is now more stable. One job finished.
November 6th; Go to Cinetrip at the Rudas Baths. My first time for a while. The slide shows have been replaced by video screens, playing for example giant dancing flames, the males are more boistrous and monkeylike than usual, the girls on the whole plainer. The music-mixing seems to have developed to the point where in both baths it feels like being inside a large jet engine. The hard, reflective walls of the 17th-century Turkish baths echoed back a blend of deep thrumming laid over with a continuous metallic screaming. Not the best DJ work I've ever heard. Around midnight in the old octagonal hot bath under the dome with its stained-glass ceiling lights, I saw two of the reception girls in plain red frocks standing, one against each pillar at one side, like a pair of bookends. Each had one leg crooked up resting back against the pillar, and one leg straight. I realised something was about to happen. The recorded music built up not quite to a crescendo, but certainly increased in pitch and volume over several minutes. The lights dimmed. The crowd in the hot water kept up a continuous roar, like a mob of football fans. This bellowing carried on as, in the darkness, a set of hand-held candles appeared between the two pillar maidens, half-revealing the silhouettes of several posed dancing girls in long see-through skirts of some red fabric. My wild guess 8 or 9 years ago that belly-dancing is a living fossil that has survived across the intervening three thousand years, a relic of the cult of Ishtar, Queen of All Heaven, got only stronger. Clearly something very pagan & primitive was happening, not simply an entertaining show at a party event in a modern city. But another thought that flashed into my mind as the lights came up and five lithe girls in glittery push-up bras performed three quite complex and polished dance sets {the roaring of the crowd undiminished}. This was that in some way the traditional opening to each of the James Bond films also refers to this. Silhouettes or reflections or shadows of naked girls moving over or under the opening credits of a typical 007 movie from 1960 to about 2000 have this same ritualistic flavour. Surrounded by instruments of death, symbols of status, and bold, oversized lettering, the "Bond girl" looks at first like decoration. Or is she some kind of priestess or shrine, the start of each film a ceremony? Did this feed the curious orientalisation of Western women's fashion in the last twenty years? The ankle chains, the body piercings, the tattoos, as if the unconscious goal of girls now is to be a concubine of a powerful sultan: swathed in silk, clinking with trinkets, trained to please. All very odd. The belly-dancers on stage certainly had practised their dance moves with precision, and they openly exulted in their power over the crowd. I looked around and the girls in the pool were as entranced as the men. Quite extraordinary scene really.

November 5th; Guy Fawkes Night doesn't quite happen, but I give Bullet his copy, meet Esther, see Alvi & Terri, and drink late with Marguerite & Jen. Now the nearby shopping centre is open {as if Budapest needed yet another mall}, I now understand the blue tarmac in some streets round here. It is to guide in motorists to the underground car park under my district's newly built palace of consumption.
November 4th; Day of arranging stuff. Meet Karoly the Mechanical Watch-mender inside the goods entrance of the national museum. Exotic Girl 1 tells me the Dalai Lama is a keen watch hobbyist, and is the only owner of a Philippe Patek able to do all his own repairs. Then around midday find Regina again on the cathedral steps in sharp, chilly sunshine to give her her copy of the book, now looking as it should.

November 3rd; Finish '137', a curious double biography about the mid-20th-century friendship between Austrian Jewish physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Swiss, some-time borderline Nazi, psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The mathematically brilliant Pauli came close to a nervous breakdown a few years into a glittering career, and began meeting Jung to discuss his dreams. Both Pauli & Jung felt that a spiritual reading of mediaeval alchemy was a route to psychologically understanding human archetypes, and Jung's intriguing notion of the collective unconscious, as well as practically useful for stimulating scientific thought in new creative directions. Pauli himself, despite his own mathematical talent, felt more sympathetic to the English astrologer & magus Robert Fludd than to his more numerical & materialistic near-contemporary Johannes Kepler. Biographer & scientist Arthur Miller suggests that Pauli felt that without the move into maths, 17th-century science could never have progressed, but that the time had perhaps arrived to reintegrate the humanistic imagination that Fludd was campaigning to keep at the heart of physics. Before and after WWII, Pauli stays in close touch with Jung & his circle {intriguingly, Miller mentions at least two other German-speaking physicists who were keen followers of Jung's psychological ideas}. Although 1930s Switzerland shows him an anti-Semitic side and Pauli initially likes the tidy largeness of the US, after the war he returns to Europe and partly turns his back on the emigre school of German-speaking physicists that was then putting down new roots in America. He returns to Switzerland and dream discussions with Jung & students, and struggles for some time with Eddington's obsession to understand why the seemingly arbitrary but tantalisingly neat-looking 1/137 should be the dimensionless "fine-structure constant" for light spectra {dubbed "the DNA of light" in this book}. Involving several physicists, this becomes something of a mania with a bewitching appeal for some. Even Miller expresses polite surprise that 137 is the letter-sum of the Hebrew word 'Kabbalah'. As Pauli collapses with cancer he is rushed to hospital, and is horrified to find himself being moved to room 137. Though Pauli keeps a careful half distance from Jung's interest in tying the occult & supernatural together with collective unconscious and 'synchronicity', he has a strong mystical streak himself. Pauli, the physics and maths prodigy, readily accepts his colleagues' half-joking idea of the 'Pauli effect' {machines or equipment mysteriously breaking down in his presence}, and in one of his early-1950s dreams he explains to Jung, he sees a dark anima who becomes a Chinese woman explaining that images in the mirror are not real objects. In the dream scene, the other people there think that mirror reflections of objects are real objects - only Pauli & the Chinese woman realise they are not real. That is when Pauli is working on reflection, and postulates that with physical symmetry, reversal of time, and reversal of direction, it should be impossible to distinguish basic atomic processes in a mirror world from processes in this world. Four years after this, Wu, a Chinese American woman physicist in the US shows that this principle does not hold for weak atomic forces, as Pauli might have been able to guess from his dream. Pauli seems to achieve some integration and become a less biting, contemptuous critic of others' ideas as he ages and lets Jung encourage him to confront and respect his feminine side. Poignantly he is tracked down by a once-morphine-addicted girl he abandoned during his youthful whoring days when he was shuttling between the cognitive coldness of day-time physics labs, and hard-drinking nights of callous self-indulgence with dancing girls and prostitutes in the rough part of town. When they meet again they are both in their fifties. Pauli never makes it out of his fifties. Despite achieving a certain amount of peace, and making three major contributions to modern physics, he never achieves the overarching theoretical breakthrough he wanted to, and the tormented analysand is actually outlived by the generation-older Jung, who survives into his mid-eighties. Pauli's and Jung's curious decades of collaboration on trying to find a common point between theoretical physics and psycho-archeology might be their most lasting achievement.
November 2nd; Arrange documentation with shipper, travel out to Ujpest to the printer's warehouse, package up 80 copies in a box with the cargo manifest, wildly wielding one of those hand-held things that puts sticky tape everywhere, give some cash to Endre for tomorrow's courier, and come back into town to meet Marguerite and watch a documentary film about Egyptian Copts who live in a village on the edge of Cairo entirely devoted to collecting and recycling rubbish. We enjoy drinks before & after the film with, it turns out, exotic half-Egyptian Mai who made the film, and bouncy ex-Mennonite Tiffany who funded it. 'Garbage Dreams' itself is about a community in Cairo, an old clan of Christians, who have been collecting and processing much of Cairo's trash for three or four generations, gradually abandoning their previous rural animal herding niche. The film looks at the difficulties of three young men, all hoping to marry, keenly feeling their life's lack of dignity. Hovering over them like an angel is an irrepressible social worker woman who tirelessly rallies the seemingly easily downhearted community over years & years. She organises meetings, campaigning, inoculations, endlessly encouraging the clan, reviving their hopes, devising new plans. The three lads verge on the feckless sometimes, but it is hard not to be moved by their simple, frank confessions to camera about their life goals. One, Nabil, earnestly explains that "I imagine being married to be like having a best friend. I would tell her everything, we would face life's hardships together ....and our future will be in garbage," and with some effort I hold back a slight moistness in the eyes at that point. The community struggles to compete when the city council moves in foreign companies with modern trash-collecting equipment, and it becomes clear that this village actually need the rubbish and make money off reselling reprocessed waste. Two boys are sent on a bizarre fact-finding journey to Wales to see modern recycling, and are horrified that only 20 per cent of Welsh rubbish is recycled, whereas they, the Zaballeen, routinely recycle and resell 80 per cent of the waste they handle in Cairo. The trip also makes it difficult for one of the two to readjust to life in Cairo once he sees how well people live abroad. Rather wonderfully Dickensian study of poverty, struggle, and human resilience.

November 1st; Day of the Dead, a Hungarian public holiday. I finish the book Ilan kindly gave me, called 'Obsolete' by Anna Jane Grossman, with drawings by James Gulliver Hancock. A small photo inside reveals Grossman to be young & pretty, which probably explains how she got commissioned to produce this thought-up-over-lunch-with-the-publisher book in her smug slapdash writing style. This is a book about defunct everyday objects like mechanical typewriters, rotary telephones, and video tape cassettes, and she writes about them as if we were all at her secondary school. Like lots of American writers she drops in brand names & TV show titles, apparently unaware that there are billions of people with better things to do than know those US commonplaces. A lot of the prose is cute to the point of smart-alec, and she doesn't know that she means 'uninterest' when she writes 'disinterest'. Ilan warned me the book was a "one-liner concept book" and I see his point. Several times she refers to the years between 2000 and 2009 as the "aught" years - I suppose she means "nought". The illustrator Hancock hopes that his drawings are whimsical and charming, but in fact they are worse than her prose - all except the cover image achieve a kind of scruffy ugliness, as if laboriously scratched into an envelope. All the pictures reminded me of bad art by 12-year-olds and seem to be done with a thin felt-tip plus a thick black marker, aiming at the I-just-quickly-sketched-out-this-witty-caricature-of-a-phone look, but failing to be either winningly sweet or helpfully true-to-life. An interesting topic much better handled by the once-San-Francisco-based Dead Media Archive.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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