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2011
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December 31st; Robin drives to Budapest. Georgina's friend Agi arrives and we spend the evening reading Tarot spreads and chatting.
December 30th; 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.

December 29th; Finally get down to work list. Reacquaint with gorgeous images of the sun like this for the physics book. That photograph comes from this man's website. 2 tunes from clubness & smoovdom land. Ambassadeurs / Zeb.
December 28th; 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.

December 27th; 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.
December 26th; Boxing Day. Finish another of Robin's art books about Brancusi, just called 'Brancusi', 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 the smoothed, egg-shaped, 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 up hugely.

December 25th; 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: 212 and The Chill$.
December 24th; 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 Groove Armada tune with some plinky lemon off-notes.

December 23rd; 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.
December 22nd; Tea with a friend who shows me her newly-assembled furniture. More tea with another friend afterwards in a book shop.

December 21st; Christmas shopping carols in Corvin mall by now well irritating.
December 20th; A retired Hungarian tells me he is hearing disgruntled murmurs from former police officers wanting to assassinate Orban.

December 19th; Two more songs by Electronicat's Fred Bigot, a man who really likes the button marked 'buzz'. Un, Deux.
December 18th; 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 day.
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 the world.

December 17th; 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?
December 16th; Friday. Gets slightly chillier. 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.

December 15th; 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. Seems Christopher 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?
December 14th; Wednesday. Never trust someone who's never been punched in the face? The double book launch at Brody House for Sylvia & me goes well.

December 13th; Tuesday. One of those illnesses that takes its time about departing. Some panicky rushing around town preparing for tomorrow.
December 12th; Viktor visits again. We drink Croation schnapps & use both laptops at once.

December 11th; 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 'Extreme 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 our imprint's compilation about the financial crisis, 'Collateral 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.
December 10th; 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 "Paris 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.

December 9th; 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 The Bacillus.
December 8th; 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.

December 7th; Find pictures for, write, and then voice over an extra minute & a bit about alchemists in Cesky Krumlov 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 specialising in 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.
December 6th; Button Trader Sylvia kindly whips up a quick supper and we discuss buttons & books.

December 5th; Morning work with Kalman.
December 4th; Sunday. Like yesterday, am unable to get an internet connection.

December 3rd; 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 modafinil.
December 2nd; 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 movingtoyshop web page, and pop on a Facebook button.

December 1st; 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