Surprise supper invitation to
& Eva's. I read his Tarot from three separate
packs, each time the spread includes the High Priestess and the Emperor. From spread
and pack 1 to 2 those two cards swap position, and in spread and pack 3, the High
Priestess turns up in the same position, and the Emperor moves one place.
Quiet Sunday. Stroll through the narrow warren-like alleys of stalls at the Chinese market,
mostly empty of customers, looking for a wire-mesh pasta strainer. Am reminded of another world,
where people are cheerful, and enjoy doing trade. Though business is slow, traders are there on
a Sunday, Chinese & a few Hungarians, all in thick puffer jackets against the chill,
chatting, laughing, drinking
and eating together. I pass three separate card games (all using the standard Western poker pack)
where the Chinese players slam cards down with impressive smacking noises on the rough wooden
folding tables as they show their hands. I couldn't follow the games, but vaguely recall that
if they were playing gin rummy they'd be playing the rules of mah jong, just with cards instead
of plastic or ivory chips. I also pass two separate tables (one at each end of the market) of a
game I have never seen, even in books. I've seen versions of Far Eastern chess on 8 x 8 boards,
either Chinese, Japanese, or Indian - from which the Renaissance European game clearly
evolved. But I'd never seen this. As with
counters were placed on the cross points,
not in the squares, meaning that the back of the board is nine places wide, and appeared
to be ten places long. At each end, one junction was marked out with diagonal as well
as rectangular scratched lines, as if the king or queen could move as is normal in the
western game, but only when on those points. What might have been pawns were placed ahead
of the back rank and spaced out only five or perhaps six across the 3rd or 4th rank. The
counters were thick white plastic discs each carrying a Chinese ideogram. Both the boards
at the market looked home-made - a rectangle of fibreboard or plywood scratched with
straight lines. The predecessors of the knight and bishop were recognisable from their
moves, but the men's shouting and confident banging down of the fast-moving pieces made it
hard to work out more. I got an off-hand invitation to go back and learn the moves with them
some time. Another ancestor of chess? They called it 'sock', and the Hungarian for chess sounds
like 'shock'. A few stalls on and I pass a trader walking around carrying a child who isn't his
but with whom all the traders are taking it in turns to play. Apparently four years old the
child is noisy, confident and clearly very loved. "Child for sale - only
500 forints!" he squeals at me in Hungarian, chuckling, from one man's
Finish a book kindly lent to me by a friend I must not name,
'Why Men Love
Bitches' by Sherry Argov. This is of course a book meant to be
bought by women, gullible women at that, but on balance it probably helps some
of them and does some good. The book relies heavily on rich use of the word 'sassy',
and it advocates women snare a man by doing two slightly different things. 1/
she should show attitude and if needed be a bit of a smartmouth, lay down firm rules,
and make sure she pleases herself rather than just letting the man "walk all over her".
(This is the "If you're not a strong woman, you're a doormat" part of the lesson. Male
readers might be intrigued at the apparent lack of any third way between
those two extremes.) 2/ On the other hand, along with making her needs and demands
clear, the woman also learns how to act silly and helpless in order to pump up the
man's ego. The author calls this the 'dumb fox' act. She always praises his
handiwork, even if she has to quietly get a carpenter in to redo that shelf properly
when he's not there. And so on.
There are some sad examples in the book of besotted women doing quite over-the-top
kindnesses for ungrateful men they love, and the men Sherry interviews don't sound too
bright either. The book seems to boil down to helping slow-witted women find themselves
a man who is enough of a dolt that even they can maintain leverage over him. Code phrases like
"quality men" (men just bright enough to earn a living but just dim enough for someone
who buys this book to be able to manipulate) help to hurry the reader past questions anyone
who thinks would naturally ask, such as "Suppose most men are already playing us like this?"
or "Do I want a man who is dumb enough to fall for these ruses?" Sherry tells us with a
straight face that almost all the men she interviewed agreed totally with this idea that a
woman who acts indifferent hooks them at once or that men seek out and enjoy the company of
smart-alec girls full of wisecracks. Of course, we never see her methodology or how she went
about selecting those men to interview. My guess would be by putting on her figure-hugging
stretch-knit frock (see back cover), some heels and strolling into a selection of hot-rod
garages where a certain kind of men work hard for months at making their cars look bizarrely
comical, but who knows? In any case, a tacit agreement about what questions she was going
to ask and what answers she'd like to hear from them was clearly reached one way or another.
The editing of the book by Adams
Media seems a little shaky. On page 48 she says 'equivocal' when
she means 'unequivocal' and, more importantly, there seems to have been no-one to complain that her
100 subhead "Attraction Principles" (repeated in a list at the back to take up another 20 pages)
actually boil down to four or five principles at most. These are a) Men only appreciate sex if they
have to work for it (not how I remember it, but anyway...) ; the closely related b) Men are
instinctive hunters and love to hunt ("I don't hunt women, I fish for
them" jokes one American male
I know but I guess Sherry doesn't) ; c) Don't be nagging or clingy or talk too much about emotions ;
d) Use your dumb fox act to train him into the man you want ; e) Be dignified, stand up for yourself.
As usual, a postcard's worth of plausible if questionable homilies at the heart of the money-spinning
best-seller & public-speaking career.
Sherry tells her desperate readers that men do not actually desire women who
are sexily good-looking as the media claim. No no. Her proof of this is that everyone knows some
seeming catch of a man who is the hen-pecked partner of an unprepossessing but very confident
woman. The thought that perhaps this man has some hidden defects (dreadful in bed? crushingly
dull to be with? much-loved but nagging mother desperate for grandchildren? secretly prefers boys
to girls anyway?) that explain him having married a harridan never crosses Gentle Reader's mind
as Auntie Sherry briskly hustles her through the book. Nor does she pause to wonder if many men
put up with a particular rude woman who is bitchily self-centred and assertive because that
particular woman is more than usually attractive.
The familiar American self-help jingle fake-it-till-you-make-it is here wrapped
in yet another package. There is of course a grain of truth in the claim that if you act as if
you're used to being treated with respect, others are more likely to treat you with respect (a
truism which some American men urgently need to hear, if they really fall for the stuff in this
text), but this paperback's real message is older & cruder. This is the wisdom oft-repeated in the
ancient scriptures of S & M. Act like the dom you wish you were, and one day your sub will come.
Wake out of a complicated dream. At one point I am walking along a road with some
girl I don't find attractive but for some reason feel the urge to impress, so I
fold my feet up to about knee-height and hover along as if kneeling in the air,
levitating at about 18 inches above the ground while gliding forwards at walking pace.
She remains unmoved and I say in some exasperation "Aren't you impressed?". The
girl sighs wearily and all but rolls her eyes in response and I wake up. Perhaps
an effect of watching this monologue
two days ago.
Quick drink with Tim, Jim, Mr Saracco and Mr White as evening falls. Get into the city's
public library with 35 minutes to spare. In cheery charming mood ask at 'Information'
for world atlases. She says 2nd floor. On the 2nd floor again I ask for a world atlas
and am directed to a case of atlases. I look through. Not a single one is a world atlas - all
are just one country or one continent. I ask a third time and am directed to the 4th floor.
The woman on the 4th floor tells her young colleague, a trainee perhaps, to go the shelves at
the back of the room. The trainee takes me to the right-hand wall, at 90 degrees to the back,
searches a bit, goes back for extra directions, then takes me to the place where her colleague
told her to go the first time. By now it's about 18 minutes to closing. I search through a
second set of books she has shown me, and not a single one is a world atlas. Exactly how hard
is it for a Hungarian information specialist to understand the Hungarian words for 'world' and
'atlas'? Finally, on some other shelves nearby, I find the world atlases myself. 12
minutes left. I leaf through in a couple of minutes, finding the 3 maps I need. I go to the
photocopy machine. There are two machines, one broken, one being used by a shy girl with
dark curly hair. I wait 3 more minutes and it breaks down in front of us. I go upstairs to
a third photocopy machine. I put my card in, line the book up on the glass, and try to
understand the buttons, which seem to be locked on "20". I cannot adjust anything, although
I try. In frustration (6 or 7 minutes left before closing now) I press the GO button and it
begins to print 20 copies of one page. I stop it. 3 copies come out - I only pre-purchased 4.
All three copies are at 90 degrees from the way the markings on the glass promised, so have
cut the map in half. Closing time. I go downstairs in disgust to get my two-pound deposit
back on their precious plastic card. Years ago I was a member of two libraries
where the card was not plastic but made of cardboard, worked perfectly in the photocopier
every time, and of course needed no deposit. I ask if the library will be closed for three
days because of their Day Of The Dead holiday this weekend, but no, four days, until next Wednesday.
Lesson with Brigitta. Join Ernesto & Eva at the opening of a Swedish
interior furnishings salesroom. Zita P is there, and I meet Serbian
carpet designer Vesna
who is working with Ernesto. Delicious little crumpets line a counter,
and the event as a whole has an impressive sprinkling of the other type of talent too.
More sound work at Kalman's office. His mildly eccentric Hungarian secretary Andi
for some reason now insists on addressing me in Spanish at unexpected moments,
not a language I can say anything in other than "Yes" and "Hello". Perhaps she likes
that. Today I take my Spanish / Hungarian dictionary into the office in case she decides to
initiate another chat in the language of Cervantes.
HTML5 looks like a return to sanity.
In my building, I pass the census taker on the first floor, and like a pair of
sulking girls we pretend not to notice each other. He suddenly pulls himself up to his full
height in a posture of wounded dignity and stares with keen interest at the panels of a
nearby door, as if quite unaware I am right next to him. Judging from his
crumpled defeated look he gets thumped or threatened perhaps twice a week.
The librarian in the
architectural library has closed it for a week. She
could have mentioned this last week when I introduced myself to her and said I
would come back after the weekend, but of course she chose not to. In the evening, a
snivelling official from the census office asks to come into the building over the
street-level intercom system and I say no,
come back the day after tomorrow. Then the odious little man sneaks into the building
anyway with Balint ten minutes later and appears outside my door saying it "will only
take a minute". I tell him he is not welcome in my flat and, making sure to address him in
English only, say "I don't want to answer your questions. Go away." The man shuffles off,
looking deeply offended. Balint is a bit shocked.
developers' page not too bad.
Sunday. Over to Marguerite's to watch an episode of
Seinfeld for research
purposes. A friend of hers joins us for dinner, fresh, it seems, from being threatened
on the street by a strange man telling her in English he would stab her through the
heart with his pen.
Saturday. Finish Esther's copy of her other book by Arturo Perez-Reverte.
'Queen of the
South' is a strange mixed pudding of a story.
It was translated from Spanish to English by Andrew Hurley. The book is
a semi-fictional biography of a Mexican girl who fled to Europe aged about twenty to get
away from narcotics gangsters in her home town, and within a few years had become a
successful drugs baroness in her own right in Spain. Throughout the novel you can sense
smugness on the part of Perez-R., who knows full well just what a journalistic
goldmine this woman's true life story is. Some of the fault might be Hurley's, for not
being able to bring across from the Spanish (perhaps it cannot be done) some trick of
the original language which makes the whole thing gel. Chapters roughly alternate, with
Arturo Perez-Reverte The Researcher inserting himself in every second chapter, saying
how he found people to interview about the enigmatic Mexicana. What I found awkward was
not knowing just what was certain, and what Perez-R. had made up or guessed from stray
bits of inconclusive testimony. Somehow this never knitted together, and though this
might have worked in the original Spanish it never worked for me. I'd have been much happier
with a complete story in which an afterword clearly states which parts were conjecture and
which parts are known for certain. On the other hand, the basic yarn is so extraordinary
as to rise above much of this. The girl has to flee because her illicit pilot/smuggler
boyfriend gets killed by his drug-dealing employers and the criminal code is that the
girlfriend must always be killed too. A friendly thug gets her out of Mexico and over to
Spain (or rather the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in north Africa), where she works as a
barmaid for an uneventful year or so before getting together with a new boyfriend. He's
a Galician Spaniard who smuggles drugs across the Mediterranean on regular
nocturnal missions in a rubber motorboat. For some reason that escapes me, and Perez-R.
never quite gets me to accept, Theresa the heroine insists one day that her boyfriend take
her out with him on the night-time Gibraltar-Straits escapades, and over the next
couple of years she too becomes a skilful
smuggler. The story carries on like this, and the whole thing seems convincing on the face
of it, yet strangely hollow. I was never fully persuaded by Perez-R.'s efforts to get inside
his heroine's head, imagine how a woman thinks about her boyfriends and about herself. We
have a constant motif of her looking at a torn photograph of herself young & still in Mexico,
before she became older & tougher: this never feels quite right. As with most male novelists
who spend time inside a female character's mind, the verdict has to be well ....almost
right. I don't know what it's like to be any woman, never mind a woman gangster in Spain,
but we can sense when something is fractionally out, like a badly-sanded join. The only
thing to compare it to is the way women writers get it slightly wrong making the same
effort of imagination with their male characters. Usually better to say less than more
if there are any doubts.
A particular interview with a Russian thug worried me as a situation I feel sure (if it
was a real incident) must have unfolded just a little bit differently from how he writes it.
On the other hand, the adventure is good, the story twists and turns, and Perez-R.'s
fascination with books and reading peeps through in a few places. While it is depressing
to see how resilient the myth of the honourable bandit still is, this author's view of
books as a special way of sharing in adventures is refreshing, and against all my
prejudices and expectations I felt remarkably shaken and quite changed by the end.
Later meet Franc, Henry, Carl, and
James in the apparently rather smart Doboz bar, where I mention having passed two separate
branches of a lingerie chain with lots of different clocks in the window sped up, some
going forwards and some going backwards. In the very act of describing this odd
sight we all realise that this is a devious marketing ploy to panic Hungarian girls
in their late 20s into buying sexy underwear so as to catch themselves a man in time
so as to not be left on the shelf. The creepy window displays of assorted clock dials with
fast-turning hands are there to make concrete the obvious joke about their "biological
clock" ticking away. Pretty low sales tactic really.
Friday. A sort of Alpine quasi-yodel tune from
Thursday. Still stalled, half-way through several
Lift broken again. Given that this building is about ten years old, and the lift looks shiny
and new, the fact that it breaks down at least twice a month is really not very impressive.
Three days ago it was resting on the ground floor, doors open, lights on, for 24 hours. Now
it breaks down for a day on my floor, doors open right opposite my flat entrance. In the
night time through my bathroom window comes an odd light from inside the lift as it waits
there impassively, as if for me.
Wednesday. Having trouble finding a certain bit of
Go to a bar called Doboz with Esther and Esther's friend, where we meet Kate. Kate
tells me about radio-spectrum liberalisation and I tell her I am making an
especially tall chair for leggy girls visiting my flat to perch on. A pedestal, in fact.
Merrie asks me to find a good-quality still image to go with my film article for the
Salisbury Review, and the best
I can find is this.
Tea with Esther.
She tells me that Wayne once found himself at a party where he was the only person
Later we go to a bar to meet Esther's friend, who finds for me on a
pocket phone with a screen some synonyms for 'curse'. Our favourites are beshrew,
depone, maledict, and unchurch. We see a curious advert on her phone requesting
"Soviet watermelon germ plasm". Esther's friend also reminds me of the time she & I
were in her kitchen at a party while a couple noisily had sex in the kitchen closet,
knocking saucepans all over the floor in there as they made the beast with two backs.
Quiet Sunday. Glue some pieces of cardboard & sandpaper together and work on 2 articles
for the Salisbury Review.
Another Goldfrapp track yearning
for a 007 film to go with it. Out at night dancing and drinking with Marguerite, Kati,
& Antonella in a night club with a working model train set over the bar. Marguerite
mentions that there is a tavern in Budapest near her called The Dog's Bollocks.
Lunch with Kalman. The best Goldfrapp
tunes sound like themes from Bond movies.
Coffee with Tim,
green tea with Brigitta.
Find Aniko in the afternoon by the cathedral to quickly discuss tokamak graphics. Book launch
autobiography, bumping into Ernesto & Eva. Then meet Tony the Architect and Emma,
a friend of Robin H over from Dublin, for a jolly evening of drinks & banter.
Bump into Henry in the morning in the shopping arcade, and he tells me how important
white" is in videos, we touch on Hancock, and he urges me to look for a comedy called
Quest'. At a rather eerie moment out in
the square by the shopping arcade later, get chatting to a student hairdresser
called Ildiko. Do more cleaning & tidying of flat in preparation for 6pm lesson
with Balint. Emerges he & I remember each other from Vista cafe a decade ago.
Catch 9am train to Vienna. On train do quite a lot of work on an article for the
Salisbury Review. Also read Sylvia's
Buttons', and the photographs are gorgeous.
English a bit odd, but she warned me and intends to fix it soon.
I like the look of 'calico' and 'pietra dura' buttons, as well as the lovely
Ligne Gauge - a 17th-century French button grading system still used worldwide that measures
button sizes in, of course, 1/40ths of an inch. Midday meet Nina G at Westbahnhof. In the
Graben, she remarks that the astonishing Baroque sculpture commemorating Vienna surviving the Plague
(something of a theme in Austrian towns) looks like a cancerous tumour.
We go to a cosy & apparently historic
house to chat of many things. Something of an epiphany on the train back in the evening.
Buy some white ribbon & an international train ticket. Some cleaning, some sandpapering,
some playing with iMovie. The usual.
grades protest signs of Occupy-Wall-Street demonstrators. Two "communications
professionals" do this, and while the ad executive & the PR person are both witty,
somehow you hope never to meet them.
Walk over to
office to do some voiceover work. Now that I pop into the shopping centre almost
every day for an hour or two to sit on the pastel-coloured seats shaped like giant
throat pastilles so I can use the free WiFi (though the mall itself seems to quite
often not allow my laptop onto their signal, there are other signals available), I've begun
to notice how much like an airport it is. I had got used to the ultra-shiny floor these
places use now and the piped music, but just a day or two ago they introduced a new
tone to begin announcements with - the classic bing-bong two notes that airports have been
using for forty or fifty years now. Sometimes in the evening a small fat man on a big
wagon with rotating brushes making the mirror-like tiles even more unnecessarily clean
comes and polishes the floor around where I am sitting to hint that I might like to go
home soon. He is unable to meet my eyes though and just cleans round that part of the first
floor again and again, reappearing at the place where I am sitting every 3 or 4 minutes.
Sometimes I sit outside in the peculiar square picking up a different signal. This is the
square that looks a lot like drawings I saw on the property-developer's brochure & ads that
persuaded people to buy the luxury flats that comprise it. Cubes of dark stone with smoothed
corners are casually scattered around it, as if someone might want to sit on one of them.
These are to soften the tedious modernism
with their pseudorandom curviness we've increasingly been seeing since the 1980s.
Lunch with Adam the mathematician and financial modeller. We lose each other in the maze
of the Chinese restaurant but finally meet. Adam rather wonderfully describes Excel as
"how you improvise", or "the jazz trumpet of trend modelling". He memorably says why he
sees object-oriented computer languages as "Platonic" and suggests I put the
three-martini-lunch counterargument to
Prozac Theory. After dark, over
to Marguerite's, where Marguerite, Emma the dog, a willowy English colleague of Marguerite's
called Lotta, and I all drink white wine, snack on Turkish food, and watch the
seven or eight year old Hungarian film
that I've been meaning to get round to seeing for a while now: a film set in the tunnels of
Budapest's underground metro system. It's stylish, with some lovely visual shots
and some cleverly handled music. During a romantic conversation with a girl, for
example, faint jazz music seems distantly piped through some other part of the station, and
is teasingly poised between being dubbed over as if imagined and being part of the scene's
"real" soundtrack. A director's debut film, it does the neat "and then I woke up" trick
of making everything symbolic and dream-like so we can't complain that the characters and
the plot don't quite convince. The hero and most of the characters are the despised ticket
inspectors who (at least until 3 or 4 years ago) dressed in scruffy civilian clothes but
suddenly pulled on an armband to catch travellers unaware and check their tickets. A girl in
a pig or bear suit is the love interest, and a mysterious character in a hooded jacket seems
to be pushing passengers off platforms in the path of incoming trains. Altogether clever &
showy and promises much, but I'm not too surprised Antal Nimrod the director seems to have
been quiet since. It owes something to Luc Besson's 1980s confident early film
where thugs chase a man into the tunnels of the Paris metro and he finds a world of eccentric
characters living down there. It also looks in places like an attempt at a Hungarian
Man'. Some of the energy of the claustrophobic 1974 thriller
Taking of Pelham 123' set in the New York subway is
there too - hard to know if Nimrod saw that or not.
Walk over to a cinema that rents out films to ensure a copy of 'Kontroll' will be
there tomorrow night. The video rental section of
the cinema is so quiet I sense I
am one of the only customers that day. All three staff members at once take a slightly
dizzy interest in my query. Perhaps they get lonely there. Isolated.
Wake out of one of these extremely vivid dreams I'm having these days. Very odd. I got
through all sorts of adventures on several largeish cruise boats, small ships in some port
marina at night with Dan from college, formerly Geologist Dan now Hedge-Fund Dan. At one
point Dan is somewhere else and I am out on deck on this evening. I am
on some gangway, I think packing some towels back into a bag, when at the top of some metal
steps just in front of me appears a tall man only in a pair of swimming trunks, rather oddly
pulled down to his thighs so that his flaccid phallus swings free. He just stands there on
the top step scanning the lights on the distant water line in the night of whichever warm
part of the globe the story is taking place in. In the dream I roll my eyes, thinking that
only an Italian would stand around like that literally waving his willy at the world.
Someone appears behind him, another man wearing longer shorts, wearing them properly.
Then the man with his todger
out suddenly starts speaking in a clipped English accent with real hatred in his voice.
"Just when she's supposed to be reining it in, she puts the whole bloody
tour in danger like the rest of us aren't working." The man behind him
mumbles something. Man With Willy Out continues "That bitch thinks she
can just rape some 13-year-old boy and there are no consequences? That the rest of us won't
get any edge from this? No laws count for her? Arrogant little fucking
tart." I gather he is some kind of manager and she is some kind of
singer. Back in some cabin, I try to explain to Dan what I just saw and heard. He doesn't
seem very interested or impressed and I wake up. It is Tuesday morning and sun is pouring
into my flat.
Clean behind oven, move oven back into position. For some reason, dyeing a shirt got me
to move it out into the middle of the room. In afternoon visit Sylvia's
spacious, sunny flat at Arany Janos metro for tea. We talk about
her button book.
Robin drops by after dark by surprise one night with the fox terrier Jeremy W. found on
Gellert Hill and has been asking people on Facebook for a week to find the owner of.
Robin likes that I keep two glasses of chilled tap water in the fridge at all times,
saying this gives the chlorine a chance to evaporate out of the water.
Finally, weeks after buying the stuff, successfully dye shirt. Now a dark muddy blue,
but not as bad as the increasingly weary brick orange it was fading to. Was this today or
yesterday? In the afternoon get over to Marguerite's new place she moved into yesterday to
try out her balcony. We drink pink champagne, overlooking big park on island in river a
couple of hundred yards before us. Right under the balcony, fifty feet away is
the nearer small park and leafy dog minipark promising to add to fluffy
white Emma's social life. As sun goes down we talk of
Nigel of Darkness sends footage of the forbidding successor to Big Dog. Alpha Dog
(for it is he) rolls up and gets back on its feet if pushed over, and is jolly hard
to push over. Be even more afraid.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com