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2011
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October 31st; Surprise supper invitation to Ernesto & 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.

October 30th; 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 Go, 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 shoulder.
October 29th; 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.

October 28th; 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 main 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.
October 27th; 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.

October 26th; 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.
October 25th; 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.

October 24th; Monday. Facebook developers' page not too bad.
October 23rd; 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.

October 22nd; 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.
October 21st; Friday. A sort of Alpine quasi-yodel tune from Goldfrapp.

October 20th; Thursday. Still stalled, half-way through several projects. 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.
October 19th; Wednesday. Having trouble finding a certain bit of Aristotle.

October 18th; 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.
October 17th; Tea with Esther. She tells me that Wayne once found himself at a party where he was the only person with earlobes.
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.

October 16th; Quiet Sunday. Glue some pieces of cardboard & sandpaper together and work on 2 articles for the Salisbury Review.
October 15th; 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.

October 14th; Lunch with Kalman. The best Goldfrapp tunes sound like themes from Bond movies.
October 13th; Coffee with Tim, green tea with Brigitta.

October 12th; Find Aniko in the afternoon by the cathedral to quickly discuss tokamak graphics. Book launch for Zita's 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.
October 11th; Bump into Henry in the morning in the shopping arcade, and he tells me how important "infinite white" is in videos, we touch on Hancock, and he urges me to look for a comedy called 'Galaxy 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.

October 10th; Catch 9am train to Vienna. On train do quite a lot of work on an article for the Salisbury Review. Also read Sylvia's book 'Old 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 coffee house to chat of many things. Something of an epiphany on the train back in the evening.
October 9th; Buy some white ribbon & an international train ticket. Some cleaning, some sandpapering, some playing with iMovie. The usual.

October 8th; Tongue-in-cheek slideshow 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.
October 7th; Walk over to Kalman's 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.

October 6th; 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 Bullet's 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 'Kontroll', 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 'Subway' 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 'Repo Man'. Some of the energy of the claustrophobic 1974 thriller 'The Taking of Pelham 123' set in the New York subway is there too - hard to know if Nimrod saw that or not.
October 5th; 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.

October 4th; 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.
October 3rd; 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.

October 2nd; 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 this and that.
October 1st; 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