Robin drives to Budapest.
Georgina's friend Agi arrives and we spend the evening reading Tarot spreads and chatting.
Start planning & writing an intro for the Wolfson
Prize essay about how a euro-currency country can make an orderly exit from euroland
and restore its national currency.
Finally get down to work list. Reacquaint with gorgeous images of the sun
this for the physics book. That photograph comes from
this man's website. 2
tunes from clubness & smoovdom land.
We continue to feed logs to a fire & a stove. Standing by the glowing hearth in the sitting
room, a fire which hasn't gone out now for a week, Robin makes the interesting suggestion
that 'hearthlessness' = 'heartlessness'. We are talking about how the first decades of
homes heated without any open flames by radiators and electricity saw people buying electrical
heaters with revolving mirrors hidden behind backlit plastic coal to give the comfortingly
familiar impression of dancing flames. Many years ago the Nigel of Darkness remarked that
the modern role of the television set in most homes is as a warm flickering hearth around
which people can gather and talk, largely ignoring what is on the screen. When I suggest
that electric heaters with revolving mirrors were not so stupid, and subtly revealed a
real loss, Robin
speculates that homes with no hearths created a generation of
people with not quite no hearts, but at least uncentred people with no
sense of any logical centre to the activities of the home.
As we potter round restarting stoves in the kitchen and studio, and I get something of a caffeine
buzz from drinking a lot of black tea I find myself telling Robin that the quince (he has some in
his kitchen) is a kind of "hyper-pear", with a flavour "over the horizon of pearness".
I read his 1970s book 'In
Search of Dracula' in which Raymond McNally & Radu Florescu research
the life and mythology of Vlad The Impaler, nicknamed Little Dragon ('Dracula'), after his
father Dracul. Vlad's real-life career in Romania, five hundred years before Bram Stoker's
late-Victorian novel that mingled the horrific Vlad with the vampire myth, was
cruel enough. Perhaps the
special dread he aroused was due to his mix of sadistic nastiness and twisted humour. The
incident where Turkish diplomats refusing to take off their turbans in Vlad's presence get
their turbans nailed to their heads is an oft-quoted example of this humour at work. It seems
the book got made into a documentary film in which Christopher Lee starred in a double role,
wearing both the red-lined cape of Stoker's villain and the traditional costume of a
15th-century Romanian prince. The book's historical research is interesting. Many Romanian
peasant folk myths are vindicated by independent sources and there is an interesting contrast
between Romanian views of Dracula as a patriotic hero who terrified the Turks as no other
leader had, and the hatred of the Saxon German-speaking minority who were among the first to
feel Vlad's wrath. The authors even speculate that German-speaking Romanians had blackened
Vlad's reputation vindictively and that, while certainly not a very kind man, he was perhaps
not quite as monstrous a ruler as he was depicted.
Boxing Day. Finish another of Robin's art books about Brancusi, just called
by the Beaux Arts Magazine for a show at the Pompidou Centre in 1995. The book consists
of three long articles: 'Brancusi & his times' by Harry Bellet, 'Symbols & Forms' by
Claire Stoullig, 'Brancusi's Photographs' by Elizabeth Brown. The illustrations are
excellent, showing sculptures like 'Timidity' and 'Princess X' in their sensuous simplicity,
on their elaborate stands, stone on wood or wood on stone, stands often more complex than
polished works on top. The three articles contain
intriguing details about Brancusi's life, his talent at self-publicity, and his saintly
focus on a kind of spiritualising purity in his work. This meticulous simplifying in his
sculpting, involving lots of scraping and polishing, represented - the authors claim - a
direction different from that of the king apparent of modern art, Picasso. Interesting
also to read about the early support of Marcel Duchamp, who was able to live for many
years after from gradually selling off his shrewd early purchases of the Romanian's
sculptures before Brancusi became sought after by American collectors and their price went
Christmas Day. Last night in the small hours finished a very short biography from
Robin's library of 'Turner'
by Michael Kitson with 50 pages of plates
and 40 pages of text about the English painter's artistic career. Kitson sees Turner
as very much an eighteenth-century painter who went in a new direction, discovering
the subjective effects of light independently from the French Impressionists he was so
often compared to but predated by thirty years.
Though Turner seemed to be a disappointed
man by the end of his life he was supported by the artistic establishment, was
commercially successful, and strongly backed by the Royal Academy right from the start of
his career, showing there for the first time at age 15 in 1790. This is already interesting
since the careers of the later 19th-century artists we respect depended so much on shocking
the bourgeoisie, leading the avant garde, being a lone romantic rebel, yet somehow also
being counted as part of the subversive anti-tradition tradition of the Salon des
Refuses that got the Impressionists rolling. Turner by contrast joined the establishment
early, was helped and encouraged by them, and made his bold, visionary experiments
with light & colour from inside that establishment. Some of his smaller watercolours have
Turner float glittering colours over casual-looking outlines: apparently without effort
he conjured up masses, moods, shadows and perspectives of unforgettable light
fused with the landscapes or weather it shivered & surged across.
Light snow outside. Grey sky never completely becomes day. Help Zsuzsi make some mince pies,
and then afterwards we search out a jigsaw puzzle of kittens and a much harder "erotic"
puzzle we don't finish but which features some amusing jigsaw pieces shaped like a wine glass,
a bunny rabbit, a pair of handcuffs, the usual. Also today I read another biography, this one
rather dense with monochrome illustrations, about the life of the Romanian sculptor Brancusi.
Dan Grigorescu's book 'Brancusi
& His Century' is written with complex ideas and quite odd
English ('rigorousness' instead of 'rigour' and 'treasured in Museum X' throughout to mean
they own a piece) which can be blamed on the translator from Romanian to English, Andrei
Bantas. Nonetheless Grigorescu very carefully discusses what Brancusi (and Bantas's English
tries conscientiously to err on the side of precision, although 'precision' is another word
he uses very strangely) was trying to achieve
with his purified shapes and his debt to Romanian folk art. Interesting after the
short Turner book to read that Brancusi
also was quickly spotted and supported within Romania and given official support.
His journey to Paris in 1904 was not so much a heroic trek
on foot by a starving outsider as a conscious move by a young but already rising star sculptor
to the centre of European artistic thought at the time. In Paris - again - he was quickly
appreciated and given generous help by celebrated artists of the day like Rodin.
Much of day, Robin is sawing planks to redo the boiler-room floor. Much of
evening he & I are engrossed in two infuriatingly brilliant metal-link puzzles, one of which
I bought for Bela and one of which popped out of my Christmas cracker at lunch. We finally
get the hang of both little metal toys and feel happy, to Zsuzsi's amusement.
2 tunes by hiphop smart-mouth singer Azealia Banks. I suppose we're still in an age of
self-styled rebels if she's another success:
Christmas Eve. Sanyi of the Stranded Truck, still there at 11.30pm last night, has done
brilliant work taking up floorboards in Robin's boiler room to isolate a plumbing problem.
He is still around today, waving a pickaxe about and chuckling at his own jokes.
These are the jokes Sanyi tells in
his incomprehensible accent. Part of today Robin is replacing floorboards. Buzz-heavy
Armada tune with some plinky lemon off-notes.
Letty drives Robin into town. We meet my printers
to look at prices for his catalogue. Apparently a naughty
CNN interviewer was disingenuously
asking some commentator the other night if there might be
a "coup" in Hungary soon. Butter
wouldn't melt in the IMF's mouth, I suppose.
Late in the evening Robin & I drive out into the Great Plain without Letty.
On the way he drives us past a frozen goods lorry from a firm called 'Alex'
labelled with a mistaken logo featuring an octagonal ice crystal, although
of course all ice crystals are hexagonal. Later on down the night-time road Robin
mentions once waking out of an intense dream in which he felt a line of gold down one
side of his whole body.
Tea with a friend who shows me her
furniture. More tea with another friend afterwards in a book shop.
Christmas shopping carols in
mall by now well irritating.
A retired Hungarian tells me he is hearing disgruntled murmurs from former police
officers wanting to assassinate Orban.
Two more songs by Electronicat's Fred Bigot, a man who really likes the button marked
Now I can see
book sales generated by my
Salisbury Review cover article
starting to flow. Our gloomy predictions about crisis in euroland coming true by the
On a few eerie occasions in the last six weeks I've been in the ground-floor lobby of my
building, waiting for the lift to come down, when I get
the sense I am not alone. Looking round I slowly make out a small, thin, dark, crumpled
figure sitting on a kitchen stool out in the lobby, smoking. Wherever he is sitting there
is always shadow. He seems to be the husband of the janitor, and he has the
curiously bruised, creased face some homeless people here have. He almost looks tanned but
on closer inspection his skin is not sunbrowned, but darkened by broken blood vessels, as if
the rings under his eyes have spread out to fill his whole face. We greet each other these
days, and his cigarettes smell strangely pleasant, as if he rolls them using pipe tobacco.
He seems permanently weary, but he might just have given up trying to impose himself on
Saturday. Over to Marguerite's flat to water her plants. Drop in on seamstress, who
seems in good spirits.
After dark, on the street I see an angry-looking man between two small children. Each tot
is holding one of his two hands as they walk. He seems extremely frustrated and is ranting
to them in Hungarian in a high mechanical voice.
He says "Iftherearelotsoffloorsinabuilding
Then You Need To Know The Number Of The Floor. Iftherearelotsofflatsonafloor Then You
Need To Know The Number Of The Flat..." and continuing for
several more sentences in this vein of
strained, near-hysterical sarcasm without pausing for breath. I overtake them and both of the
two patient little toddlers have faces of baffled embarrassment, wondering
why Daddy is off on one again and why someone else couldn't be their Daddy instead.
In related news about totally self-centred people who take themselves utterly seriously,
eight women in Britain are actually prosecuting police forces because undercover coppers
didn't tell them the truth. These women have decided that the single most important thing
about several undercover police officers
spying on various protest groups is that those men lied to them to get them into
bed and break their hearts, who cares about anybody else?
Friday. Gets slightly
Very nice mulled
wine in the evening at Jeremy W's Christmas drinks. Amazingly sell three books, and
hear about a woman's self-help book called something like
'All Men Are Jerks'. Nice.
Thursday. Do voiceover in the morning. Tea with Kalman at the Italian Institute. While I
am waiting there for Kalman to arrive,
the affable Italian bar man looks at me with concern and urges me to drink a beer and
relax a bit, but I drink a green tea all the same.
Hitchens is dead. Sad to lose such a cheerful wit, and especially sad he had to die
of such a nasty, slow illness, but also odd how someone so wrong & muddled could convince
so many he was right & clear. A quick tongue with the clever putdown obviously goes a lot
further in making you a "public intellectual" than actually thinking major topics through.
Style trumps substance once again - or was that lifestyle act what it took to get people
to read his often lucid & sensitive magazine writing?
Wednesday. Never trust someone who's
never been punched in the face?
The double book launch at
Brody House for
me goes well.
Tuesday. One of those illnesses that takes its time about departing. Some panicky
rushing around town preparing for
Viktor visits again. We drink
& use both laptops at once.
Viktor drops over, and we download a free disc-burning utility at a cafe with WiFi
while I read some Tarot spreads for him. By night I finish my copy of
Money' by Satyajit Das. This is a slightly intense but also
entertaining & detailed attack on the last 50 years' growth in leveraged buy-outs,
junk-bond trading, and complex debt derivatives. He stresses how banks' increasing
dependence on day-to-day trading in financial markets has taken over from traditional
lending as their main activity. The book is very much in the style of his piece in
imprint's compilation about the financial crisis,
Damage'. Illustrative quotes from popular culture intersperse careful
explanations of how various deals in the tradeable risk system were unsound &
in bad faith. This book is an excellent way to quickly grasp some of the
technicalities of what went wrong. Sleep 11 hours, still snuffling & coughing.
Drive back to Budapest, or at least Budapest airport, with Robin & Georgina. Rest
at a nice empty cafe table for about an hour inside the airport. This is to use
their free, unlimited, easy-to-access WiFi hot spot (conceited
Airports" "free WiFi" promoters please note) to check a couple of things, then
get home to bed/floor by 8pm for 17 hours of rest. 13 hours asleep while snatches of
reading & coughing fit into the other 4.
Coughing more. Head hurts and scalp tingles. Am slow all day. Endure a horrible
night on Robin's sofa in front of log fire, battling
Day starts well, but I can half-sense another program running in the background.
Some kind of illness is gradually settling onto me, like a
big bat. Pretending it is not happening, chat with
Robin in the evening,
poring over his box of buttons.
Find pictures for, write, and then voice over an extra minute & a bit about
for Kalman. Am able to leave office at 1pm. God, is it possible? The Czech film
ordeal is finally over? At 4pm lesson with IT Attila do a bit of interpreting for him
with a British businessman
shopping malls. The Englishman luckily
also brings his own Hungarian interpreter who does most of the work. By 6pm I'm
on train to Robin's
house in the Great Plain, exhausted, but with the prospect of rest. Just before
getting off at Szolnok for the usual ridiculous sprint down the tunnel connecting
different platforms in the huge deserted 1960s station (just five minutes to change
trains, and no-one in 180 years of railway timetabling has worked out that if you
have the spare room you can often arrange that connecting trains be on facing
platforms) I am standing in front of my seat in my train compartment.
I look through the glass windows
onto the corridor and the windows from the corridor into the black night rushing
past. There appears the most astonishing & vivid optical illusion I've ever seen.
I can see all six of us in my compartment, five seated, reflected in the outside
corridor window very
clearly. There I am, standing, closest to the corridor and behind me the middle-aged
woman, behind her the teenage girl with dyed red hair on my side right against the
far window. Then on the other side, facing the teenager, is the old frail deaf
lady chatting silently in sign language with her grey-haired brother or husband,
also deaf. Next to him is - in our real compartment - a man of about 30 reading a
book, sitting facing me. But in the reflected image in the glass the man
with the book has vanished, and the old lady is there ....twice. Very convincingly
she has totally replaced the man facing me with his book, and in the glass
reflection are two identical old ladies, sitting either side of the grey-haired
man. I look from different angles to try to understand the illusion, but she has
replaced him perfectly and fits into the mirrored compartment without any sign it
is a double reflection. Most extraordinary is that I cannot see any reflection of
the reading man at all, not even as a faint image overlaid by old lady. Two
identical elderly women, gesturing in stereo on either side of the grey-haired
man, both women equally crisp, look obviously absurd. However, there is no other
sign that something odd is happening to the reflections in her corner of the
window, though that must be what it is. I wish I could have photographed it.
Button Trader Sylvia kindly whips up a quick supper and we discuss
Morning work with Kalman.
Sunday. Like yesterday, am unable to get an
Remarkable party at Marguerite's. A groaning board of snacks & treats. One feature
is that early on, four guests get stuck in the building's brand new lift at her floor.
We have conversations with the trapped guests through the lift door for half an hour,
until engineers can release them. Later some of us play scrabble while Emma the
fluffy dog runs around being social. I ask everyone how I can get
Meet IT Attila at Arkad shopping centre. Finally, in the late afternoon Kalman sits
down to edit the Czech film with me, and we start to make progress. While in the
early evening he takes part in a tenants' meeting I read a couple of old articles
at Frieze magazine
online, amuse myself slowing down the fadein and fadeout on the
web page, and pop on a Facebook button.
Impromptu dinner at Terri & Alvi's. A very happy-seeming couple, Kati & Davide, join
us, and Alvi snaps one of our
Tarot positions with his mobile phone, using some clever phone application to make
the tabletop under the card spread look like the surface of a lightbox.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com