New Year's Eve. Thick chilly fog hangs in the streets here. Go out in the dark afternoon and can see it imperceptibly thickening, as if extra sheets of tracing paper have slid down behind blocks of Budapest buildings each time I look round, making views down Ulloi street each way whiter and closer. Have been visiting the narrow high-shouldered church opposite the hobby electronics shop of late, and when I step in today a strange new construction has appeared in the chapel on the right just inside. A sort of tripod - but with eight legs, so an octopod (in fact each splits in two, finishing in sixteen pods at the bottom) - in bronze-coloured steel. The eight main rods come together in a conical cage at around head height, forming a sort of rosette out of which rises a single rod another 8 feet up with a kind of metallic cup at the top. Some kind of church-konform lighting unit, since a white electric flex snakes up the outside of the rod to the top, though there is no light there now. This makes me look at the chapel differently. Before I always looked at the vaguely Greek image of Mary in the wall image, but this time I turn to the mosaic wall-tiling on the left and cannot get close enough to read the inscriptions (obscured also by a random set of large tropical plants in pots filling the space behind the railing), but am startled to recognise a shape I had not noticed before. Ten labelled circles up the wall each enclose various symbols, (the sacred heart, this or that saint, a pile of books). But it is the arrangement that is the surprise. Ten discs altogether: three at the top, four in the middle, and three at the base. Not precisely the tree of life layout, but oddly similar. Further inside the church are little cards on the pews saying 2012-to-2013 is the Year of Faith and this is The Church of Eternal Prayer.
Listen to another one of the Melvyn Bragg radio shows. This one about the cult of Mithras. Curiously no-one in 45 minutes mentions the suggestion the bull-killing (repeated in images at every single Mithraic site) might have celebrated exit from the Age of Taurus and entry into the Age of Aries around 2000 years before Christ. Precession of the equinoxes moves any given point on the horizon 1 degree each 72 years, and so backwards through the zodiac by 'Ages'. Perhaps a far-fetched theory since the cult appears in Rome two millennia after this date, but if it had pretensions to antiquity, or real links to some earlier cult, at least a theory worth mentioning to debunk. One would imagine. Nor is the fairly obvious guess that the Spanish bullfight might be a survival of the cult of Mithras mentioned or dismissed. British computer journal The Register ("Biting the hand that feeds IT", arf!) prints an economics piece. This article points out (quite rightly) that a falling share of GDP for wages does not imply a rising share of GDP being company profits.
New Year's Eve Eve, often an interesting day. Meet the ever-positive Mr Saracco for a green tea, and hear about an Icelandic fireman he knows who specialises in putting out underwater fires (for example fires involving sodium). He recommends an owl-branded language website called duolingo. My 2ndary-school spokescreature was a lovable owl, but without giant green eyebrows. Both 'Shoot Me Down' by the Stanton Warriors and this Lady Waks remix of a deekline tune mention warriors, and have in common girls with high breathy voices singing "You got me". Not sure why else they strike me as a pair. Here is a man explaining why sage Americans should bury pipefuls of 5-cent coins in their gardens. And The Register on why the digital economy boils down to stealing ordinary people's copyright. Alerted to last article by the watchful Giacomo.
Poignant tale of boyhood past, via Jacques R. A patient father helps his son laboriously type in code from magazine pages to enter software into a 16-kilobyte personal computer in the 1980s. Reminds me of that Serb restaurant owner a few years back getting Stojko to help with his laptop, ruefully remarking he had in his youth a career in computing in the 1970s on a research mainframe with 44 kilobytes of memory. Returning to the article: 'And so, in May 1988, COMPUTE! wrote the editorial that broke my 12-year old heart. "COMPUTE! begins a new era," announced editor Gregg Keizer, "one that doesn't include type-in programs."' Can feel the hurt of that day all the way from here.
Before we leave the festive season, a Merry Christmas from the Jackson Five. Interesting
article on Don Giovanni recommended by Stojko. Oh and anyone shopping for 15,000 carats of rough diamonds please get in touch.
Saint Stephen's Day, Eastern version. Intriguing midday coffee with Cristiana, who lives and works in Italy. She and I have lots of friends in common and we find we have lots of experiences in common too, before I almost miss a 2pm appointment by forgetting the time. By night a wonderful party at Terri & Alvi's where I meet lots of lovely people. Stojko is there. In the middle section of the evening he tells me some extraordinary things about mutual acquaintances, Mozart operas, and the cult of Mithras in Slovenia.
Boxing Day = Saint Stephen's Day, Western version. Get grisly morning work out of the way and pop over to cheer up a rather depressed Jeremy. Watch 'Red Lights' at Jeremy & Csilla's. In an odd moment of boistrousness, Jeremy's slightly eccentric wife takes me by surprise. She play-acts punching me on the chin, but misjudges it, punching me rather hard in the mouth. Mrs Wheeler claims I had been teasing her in some strange way and, as usual with Hungarians, doesn't concede she did anything wrong. Some kind of bottled-up tension, doubtless. Jeremy whips up a delicious curry. 'Red Lights' is an unusual film where the heroes are anti-psychic scientists who travel long distances to debunk reports of paranormal powers, hauntings, ghosts and so forth. Robert de Niro plays a blind stage-psychic character best described as an Italianised and gangsterised version of Uri Geller. Without giving away the climax, the film has a lot of shouting scenes in it and a couple of genuinely surprising plot twists (No, really. Full marks to anyone who sees either of them coming.) There is also the usual inexplicable deserted warehouse that at least one character in every American film since 1980 sleeps and works in.
Christmas Day. After my morning spell of work, to Jeremy & Csilla's for a delicious Christmas lunch, and to watch 2 very enjoyable films with them. The first is a 1950s British comedy film in black and white: 'School for Scoundrels', adapted from the Stephen Potter Oneupmanship books. Not just the title but some of the plot was perhaps a distant nod to Sheridan's stage play 'School for Scandal'. Light but polished, the theme of the story is how to be a winner in life using tricks big and small. The big question of the film is, does a woman love a man who wins, a man who is sincere, or a man ruthless enough to win but who shows her some sincerity? The second is 'The Nines', a curious and well-acted recent American film with metaphysical pretensions. An ingenious drama in 3 parts, this is a filmic version of those pomo novels where the author gets mixed up in his own plot.
Christmas Eve. Actually the snow lay crisp and even yesterday for a while (though it seems The Feast of Stephen is Boxing Day) before quickly turning to chilly slush. Today fairly dry, and not too icy. A worthwhile talk by Canadian Manly Hall about what alchemy is for. He seems mainly, though not entirely, to take the Jungian line. Wonderful Crackly Codger voice, very much of the prewar era, though this talk might be from the 1950s or even 60s. Struggle and learn, as Ted Honderich once said of the overrated Donald Davidson.
Russian remix of a tune by a British duo my friends at college liked a lot. I forget the name of the girl singer but do recall one Hungarian woman crisply saying to me about halfway between then & now, "She's so ugly I can't look at her."
Finally Sir Christopher makes it online, not helped by my chaotic efforts. Here is his smoothly-written weblog - well done, Anthea! And finally, a nice illusion that clearly took some work setting up. See how slowly and carefully Mr Hand has to lower the can of beer and retreat to get it right.
Lovely lunch over at Richard & Julia's, also with their youngsters Ben & Laura.
Inspiration from seven+ centuries ago: a ladder of the intellect after Ramon Llull.
Winter solstice. Eagerly awaiting news of cosmic realignment. Put up 2nd article on site, this time about why the euro was always doomed.
A 2-cold-bath day. Am a bit hyper and overcheerful as a result. Christmas-Tree action over at Jeremy & Csilla's flat, from within whose Wifi bubble I also do exciting web-radio interview with Texan talk-show diva Tosha. Notoriety beckons!
Another finance lesson with Lili & Sofija at a different cafe.
back in the 16th century....
A good day, a day that very much shows willing. Finance lesson for Lili & Sofija takes place in a cafe I did not previously know about.
Though on the day of the actual sad thing in late November I didn't cry, for a few days afterwards did find tears welling up at odd moments, such as when reading a sad part in a book or looking at a painting of a queen about to have her head chopped off. That seems to have stopped now.
A thoughtful review in the Telegraph of a Paris art show that identifies the Bohemians of the Romantic artist's garret with wandering Gypsies of earlier centuries, gradually rebranded from enemies of society to freedom-loving rebels. The critic manfully ignores the whiff of worthiness about the exhibition. However, both he, and it seems the show, more importantly ignore the early-17th-century place of Bohemia as Rudolf II's strange & religiously-tolerant kingdom of painters, rabbis, astronomers, and alchemists, not longer after crushed by Austrian Catholic armies. Occultist Rosicrucian goings on in late-Renaissance Europe were a large intervening jigsaw piece. Outsider Roma and outsider Parisians both had links to a mysterious half-remembered kingdom.
Last night, the collapsible blue umbrella that Andrea kindly lent me develops an odd snag. I open the umbrella so as to get to the shopping centre in the rain and when I get in there, I find I cannot close it again. One of the folding stems will not fold back. I sit down on one of the white plastic seating pods with the wood-plank tops that dot the plaza like mushrooms, and grapple with the little folding metal ribs. I cannot even see how this rib is supposed to fold back - there is a metal loop in a position no other rib has, and there is no way it can have moved to that position from the correct mode. So I open it back up, walk back to my flat with the umbrella open, put it down in open form on my table at home, and walk once again to the shopping centre through the rain. Today, someone I know on the internet thinks I should take this stuff. She recommends a video by someone who says he took it and he seems all right.
Nigel notes that my building is served by Schindler's Lift and christens a conceited modernist building we spot by the river The Slug (its designers make the chortlesome claim they were inspired by whales and the Central European Time zone both using the letters c, e, t). He also describes my noisily whirring MacBook as a Massey Ferguson laptop. After two and a half days of long interesting chats, the Nigel of Light leaves, all too soon, for the airport as I head to Buda to teach Ben. I now have pictures
2 for the next article on
the book site.
Go round the Castle District (the way Hungarians describe their citadel - appropriate, given that there is a castle on the next hill along they likewise mistakenly name the 'Citadella') with the Nigel of Light, in slightly parky weather. We stop for coffee in a sort of turret cafe overlooking the whole sweep of the river. Here is an intriguing article and short film about someone apparently algorithmically producing and selling books - 800,000 different titles.
Teach Anna in Buda. This documentary film - recommended by both Julia L. and Vanese -
has a narrator with a reassuringly glum, scientific-sounding Northern accent, reminding me a bit of some of the boys & teachers back at school. Seems a relatively sober attempt to tie together mystery bee ailments, mobile-phone health risks, and the Schumann resonance. I might take this one seriously. In the course of properly aligning my cardboard pyramid with Nigel's iPhone compass app, we establish that his GPS-based smartphone application deviates over a 20-degree range between measurements, while my physical compass is so rubbish it swings around wildly through at least 100 degrees from reading to reading. We settle for one of his readings that agrees with what the map seems to say (of course Hungarians publish lots of maps and street atlases, including the two we have to hand, without printing compass directions on them). If the map and the 5th or 6th GPS direction measurement really do agree, then they suggest my building is perfectly aligned with the four corners of the world anyway.
Wednesday. A good day. In the evening there is revelry with Franc, Henry, & Nannette. Nannette claims her breasts enlarge "to an embarrassing extent" under the influence of hormone-enhanced US dairy products and hence she will return to Budapest after Christmas handsomely stacked. I tell her to bring back lots of yoghourt. Then out to pick up the Nigel of Light at the airport arriving from London. On the bus back into town, Nigel & I are chatting about the Jimmy Savile scandal, and a perky little grey-haired lady from perhaps New York deftly inserts herself into our conversation. She steers it quickly towards contempt for the pitiful older men who come to Eastern Europe to meet young pretty girls. Confusingly, she also condemns older men for exploiting girls' natural respect for them, and says the whole thing is unfair on young Hungarian men who are apparently unable to compete with these pitiful aged foreigners for the attention of the belles of Budapest.
Earlier in the day finish Jeremy's copy of 'The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall' by Edward Majoribanks MP. The book is a biography of a famous English barrister of the 1880s to the 1920s, a courtroom star of his time. Marshall Hall, without really intending to, became a specialist in defending in murder cases. He astonished contemporaries in a handful of high-profile cases by turning round public opinion and convincing juries against seemingly hopeless odds. Never claiming to be a great lawyer in terms of legal erudition, Marshall Hall used a mixture of quick-witted eye for detail (work in a pharmacy had given him a knowledge of poisons and a lifelong hobby made him expert on gems and antique jewellery) and passionate oratory to change hearts and minds in cases where all the evidence, at first glance, appeared unassailably stacked against the suspect. Trials such as that of Robert Wood or the case of the Green Bicycle Killing had a prominence in the newspapers it's hard to imagine today (the prosecution of O.J. Simpson in the US in the 1990s was one of someone already famous, at least to Americans - few trials seem to exercise such public fascination any more merely on the merits of the case). Marshall Hall defended two different men in separate cases a few years apart who coolly sketched (rather good) drawings of people in the courtroom, even while on trial for their lives. The barrister's character is well rounded out, as the book sails majestically through the challenges of his life in chronological order. His passionate seriousness is very nearly his undoing, and certainly ensures his political career was effectively stillborn, but this same quickness of emotion seems to have been what also made him such a great advocate. Marshall Hall deeply cared about (almost) every prisoner he defended, never gave up on one, and tried every trick he could to get a client off and spare him from the gallows. The most sobering effect of the book is to make the reader realise that these qualities of big-hearted intensity and a deeply-felt sense of honour were unusual enough in courtroom lawyers (and very likely still are) to have made Edward Marshall Hall a legend in his time.
Henry tries to film my flashing-LED circuit at different speeds in a bookshop that serves
coffee. This is in the hope that I can slow down the film later and count the flashes precisely to calibrate the speed, rather than just twiddling a screw and trying to count the flashes per second in my head. He also shares more useful thoughts on marketing.
Finish Richard L's copy of a wonderful book called
'Sienese Painting' by Timothy Hyman, himself a painter. My poorly-informed hunch while reading William Hood a few years ago that something crucial about the Italian Renaissance is concealed in the artistic and political rivalry between Siena and the more celebrated Florence was strongly supported by this beautifully illustrated text. Though not enough detail is given on the political events behind the rise and fall of The Rule of The Nine and The Commune, a clear link is made between Siena being governed for some crucial decades, looked back on nostalgically long after, by the popoli (roughly = lower middle class) - and the distinctively intimate and dreamlike style in common between Sienese painters like Duccio, Sassetta, and the Lorenzetti brothers. Some of the critics quoted suggest the recent revival of interest in the Siena painters marks the end of Florence-centric art history, an orthodoxy 500 years old, as one says. Sassetta's extraordinary Marriage of Francis to Poverty, with the three ladies (Poverty, Chastity, Obedience) rising cartoonishly up into the air after he makes his vow, is hard to forget. Meanwhile, Pietero Lorenzetti's Arezzo Polyptych of 1320 has a rich cast of characters grouped almost like a diagram around a miniature annunication done in jewel-like colours.
Short excerpts from an interview with MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen expressing thoughtful scepticism about global warming and rising sea levels. I remember the interview I did with one meteorologist a couple of years ago, asking him how much sea levels were rising. "Well," he said carefully "we think the oceans might be rising at around 0.8mm a year." So, over 300 years before they even rise 10 feet. How did we get so panicky and overreactive? Television might have something to do with it.
Chat with a friend in Norway. And finally a development that could really change civilisation for the better: dogs driving cars. Imagine cheap taxi-drivers that everyone likes who don't bore you with their monologues.
Short article about post-Christian politics in the US. A small glimpse of how nasty e-book publishers are going to get. And architectural minimalism that has something worthwhile being minimal about.
Boyhood tastes in architecture. Though I admired Mies, it was the more expressive, stripped-down yet cursive stuff that excited me, before I saw how authoritarian the International Style is. More of Brazil, with that beguiling tropical greenery that deceptively replaces the charm 20th-century buildings don't have. In a sunny country bursting with life & colour, raw concrete and Spartan lack of detail looks refreshing and fun. Supply some cloudiness, rain, & drab surroundings, and the aesthetic poverty of modernism suddenly snaps into focus.
Quiet afternoon of coffee and snacks at Lilly's flat with its Turkish & English books, collectible movie posters, brother and sextalingual mother. Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, French, German, and English, before any of you ask.
A warning (from Mr Assange as it happens, but it doesn't need to be him) of
what the internet is fast becoming. Not sure if I share his optimism about mathematical encryption.
The Beatles play death metal. Oddly right somehow. George Harrison in profile here looking uncannily like a fifth Monkee.
Wake twice in the small hours out of extraordinary, rich dreams. The first wakes me at 5am with the vivid conviction, certainty even, that I had really met someone in dreamspace, not just dreamt I met her. Scribble down words floating in my mind as I surface: giddy, sensuous, adolescent stuff about "raspberry bruise mouth" and "the pluming skirt of dark", not like me at all ...keeping in mind I haven't written any verse for years now. The second bout of vivid dreaming involves a friend from Brazil, and is mainly in Arabic, with him speaking brilliantly, and me just managing to chip in at the right moment with each of my three stock phrases.
Two Swedish journalists say the case against Julian Assange is very weak. They blame career feminists. Via Anti-Market-Garden Mark.
Interesting claims about fingerprint evidence from the John Kennedy assassination still being ignored.
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