Easter Sunday. C
t is risen, citizens.
Interesting piece on some other religions
that had a resurrected saviour. Paint eggs in the kitchen with Robin, Zsuzsi, and her
pop-singer friend Juci.
Wake up in Robin's library on the Great Plain. It is Easter Saturday. Someone is frying bacon in the kitchen. In place of the vanished Babette, a thoughtful restrained black and white cat enjoys the newly-built wood stove Zeno had installed. Lupus the unruly shaggy white dog is now dead, shot last autumn at the family's request by some hunters, and another two Komondors - a giant amiable bitch called Do:mo:r, and her daughter Cici - roam around outside rather more calmly than Lupi ever managed. Young Bela challenges me to say how many tastebuds there are on a human tongue.
Good Friday. In the morning finish
a book of Ben's, 'Twitchhiker' by Paul
Smith. This is an account of someone who, after a career in local radio, has
somehow managed to become a professional writer and has the idea in around 2009
or 2010 to travel within 30 days to the opposite end of the earth from Newcastle
by accepting gifts and lifts only from people on
Twitter - also
raising money for charity to dignify the whole affair. Once I read he started off
working in local radio in the North of England, the dreadful writing style (and
the nature of the whole caper) suddenly made complete sense. The prose style is
pure adolescent local-radio soundbite, every sentence straining to sound funny &
weird. A view of natural beauty cannot simply be impressive or lovely, it is like
an eager puppy. Or a view
each sentence trying harder than the last. As he travels across the world, we learn
a couple of things. Smith is uncomfortable with foreign languages, did almost no
real hitchhiking when young (he seems constantly preoccupied by the idea that the
people he meets might murder him), he speaks no French or German but has visited
the United States several times and loves it. We hear a lot about the food and
drink he consumes, a lot about his tummy, his bowels, his rectum, how drunk he
gets, his vomit, his underwear, and how he frequently bursts into tears. Despite
growing up in the North East of England surrounded by twelve-hundred-year-old
churches or eighteen-hundred-year-old Roman walls and roads, he seems blind to
any history in Europe, yet immediately starts to gush with excitement in New York
at the idea of some bar serving drinks since (Oooh!) 1850. He wibbles on about the
"historic" districts of American cities, as if everyone in the whole
world should be fascinated, seemingly blind that the same but more interesting
stories describe his own part of England (pubs serving drinks since 1750 or 1650
for instance). He describes with proud feigned casualness being remembered and
greeted like an old friend by some bartender in New York who is a) from Glasgow,
b) an ex-boxer, c) has a "keen interest in the history of whaling". We never hear
another word about the history of whaling of course - that is just the poor man's
emblem, a kind of throwaway line to show just what amazing people litter the
bars of Manhattan. I mean, like, the history of whaling - that's just
The book was hard to finish. Despite him clearly being a well-meaning,
good-natured sort of man who loves his family, I struggled to care about each
stage in his global jaunt (which actually boiled down to a flight to New York,
crossing the USA, and then a flight to New Zealand). And despite portraying
himself as a down-to-earth lad frankly sharing how much he looks weird or smells
that day, he is surprisingly snobbish when other travellers look unwashed
or show their crotches or look weird anywhere threateningly near him. He reports a
New Zealand rural type asserting the internet won't catch on but who talks to his
children in England by Skype. Smith holds this contradiction up for
social-media-savvy readers to chortle over, aghast at this hilarious lack of
insight. Yet two pages later, Smith is sneering at a group of backpackers
(journeying like him, except at more risk to themselves and with more hardship).
As he remarks, suddenly sounding rather superior:
"Quite quite agonising, but also fascinating to observe those
teenagers struggle with self-awareness and emotions heightened by cheap
vodka." Oh dear me, Paul, yes quite ghastly indeed. How
utterly different from your own adventure.
Further, Smith wearily reminds us how "there is always one
twat" in the group strumming on a guitar he cannot play.
The contrast with
Patrick Leigh-Fermor's trip 75 years
earlier could hardly be more stark. One man opens himself
to genuine hardship and goes on foot to the worthwhile destination of
Constantinople, refusing any lifts, genuinely living on his wit, luck, charm, and
an education he worked at that makes him respect other people and cultures.
Aged 19. The later man has a media job, is a decade older, has rather less wit or
charm, and has an education that enables him to do little besides mocking people
who don't "get" that Twitter is a game-changer. He goes by plane and boat paid
for by others to an arbitrary location on the far side of the globe. (This is to
an island he knows so little about, even with the massive resources of the 2009
internet to do his research for him, he doesn't even check beforehand if he can
land on it - it turns out he cannot.) Leigh-Fermor can write well, and even from
the notes he wrote at 19 has bewitching, lyrical things to say. Smith cannot write
well, notices nothing of interest and and has nothing to say beyond his relentless
wisecracking, one or two lines of which are funny. Leigh-Fermor
does not write his
books until 30 years later - the challenge itself is the
point for him. Smith has packaged and commercialised his trip before he even
begins. The man in 1934 is young, observant, and interested by and respectful
of all he sees. The man in 2009 is a strange mix of gauche and jaundiced,
frequently bored, and clearly has difficulty respecting the people helping him.
Leigh-Fermor is ready and excited to learn languages, and learns them well. Smith
is frightened by the strangeness of foreign languages and cannot hide his relief
at being with foreigners who only speak English. Leigh-Fermor sleeps rough
regularly in his genuine 1930s adventure, a trip that takes over a year, and
is welcomed as a guest by aristocrats and swineherds alike. Smith is morbidly
scared by the idea of spending one night of his 30 out in the open and complains
about the grim home of the one low-income Tweeper who gives him a sofa for
night. I soon sympathised with the manager at the radio station who fired Smith
in the opening pages, telling him it was his job to have big ideas, not Smith's.
Good-hearted or not, Paul Smith is that backpacking twat with the guitar he
Meet Robin at noon in pouring rain, and we catch the train south to Kecskemet.
Robin spots an amazing sight on the train. In the modern train carriage a
strange horizontal line is visible in the window of the seats in front. At moments
it sways and swells oddly. It takes a few seconds to see that the slim 1/4-inch gap
between the two panes of glass is half-full of some trapped water, so clear as to be completely
transparent. The meniscus looks like a flat line in stations, but goes through an
odd slow ripple, like a single isolated wave in a science lab demo, when the train
is moving. We watch it fascinated, also feeling slightly bilious after a few
moments as the giant see-through spirit level bulges and warps across country.
Good Thursday. Back in my room after a lesson with Anna, I get to watch dusk falling - often a sight as the furniture slides closer together and details slip into darkening grey. Here is an article about a man who paints pictures that look like old travel posters. And here is New Scientist finding someone interesting to interview (they are good at this) but as usual not asking the subject enough questions and not giving the answers enough space or time (one minute): a man who tried to write a universal computer language based on Arabic.
In the evening, finish Robin's lovely book 'The World Atlas of Cheeses' by Nancy Eekhof-Stork, a fine 1970s tour of the cheeses of the globe with colour photographs, black & white photographs, plus old prints and engravings. Impressively, it is only just about noticeable that Eekhof-Stork wrote the original in Dutch but also wrote the English edition, translating and rewriting the original Dutch herself. Adrian Bailey is credited as English-language editor, not translator. The text is uncolloquial enough in tone to show it was not written by an English-speaker, but correct enough to show Bailey did his job well. To a remarkable degree, the book explains how each distinctive cheese is made, how to distinguish it from similar cheeses, and what national or local traditions underlie or explain its emergence. Small cylindrical pie-chart-style diagrams show the leading type produced for each major cheese-producing country: Swiss cheese output is dominated by Emmental at 51,100 tons per annum, 55%, of which 37,600 tons is exported.... Italy makes 158,600 tons of Parmigiano p.a., 31% of all its cheese [but only 5,900 tons exported], and so on... Cheery, old-fashioned travel-book captions add to the charm of the book (a grinning Northerner in a flat cap in the Great Britain section is accompanied by the wonderfully earnest explanation "There's a lot to be said for a piece of Lancashire cheese and a good glass of ale" Indeed there is). The illustrations themselves are excellent, from period late-Beatles drawings, to photos of cheese-maturing in action, or even expert tasting in progress. The frequent photos of cheese spreads from one nation are impressive, explained in detail, and as exhaustive as the number of countries covered.
Weather still a bit boring today. Some walkways are cleared to leave mounded walls of white fluffy stuff on each side, replete with snowfulness. In other areas, snow has been trodden hard into strange flattened pathways of ice, snaking under arches like mini-glaciers raised one inch above clean dry pavement either side. Michael Crichton gives a thoughtful talk about overreacting.
Henry spots me passing his afternoon office in the mall. We briefly chat about the narrowness of Greek monks.
Finished Richard L's copy of 'The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, Vol 1', which contains 'The Quattro Cento' and 'The Stones of Rimini', plus a few reviews at the end for Ben Nicolson, Barbara Hepworth, and Henry Moore exhibitions printed in The Spectator at dates in the 1930s. Along with his detailed praise of one particular villa at Urbino (this room in that villa, he asserts, is the single best room of that style and period), he also discusses in the second book Sigismondo Malateste's complex in Rimini, the Tempio, rich in carving by Agostino.
Having already in January read the Pelican compilation of selected Stokes writings drawing from many books, reading a couple of the texts felt a bit like going back to the chocolate box having had someone already pick out the best ones, but something else emerges. You get a weaker sense of Stokes as a violet stylist and a stronger sense of him as a critic with particular but subtle ideas, anxious to carefully argue them out. He believes the difference between 'carving' and 'moulding' is basic to all art, and celebrates Italian quattrocento art. (His curious neologism Quattro Cento lets him claim something from another place or another century for this category, and equally to exclude some Italian quattrocento pieces or buildings as being in fact Gothic, or whatever.) Interestingly, he sees modern architecture as a victory for moulding, and regrets but does not bewail what he anticipates will be the inevitable decline of the importance of carving, in his very specific sense of the word. His sensitivity, alertness to the values of each period, and his courteous thoughtfulness when he tries to explain and persuade, are in every paragraph.
Jeremy and Mrs Wheeler back from Miskolc. Over a lovely pasta & salad dinner we watch a Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn film from the early 1960s,
'Charade' with aformentioned dogs. Wander back home, surprisingly still caught up in the film, wondering what it would be like to live with a girl as feminine as Hepburn.
Looking after some dogs for the day. Oddly bleak cold on the streets.
Read an article which opens with the words "For nearly two decades, my social, sexual and philosophical life revolved around the subculture known as S/M, BDSM or leather. I spent every weekend and many weeknights at dungeon parties and S/M discussion groups. I traveled around the country monthly, teaching workshops like 'How to Take More Pain - and Get More Pleasure From It' and 'Warm Cheeks, Warm Heart.'" and continues sturdily in the same vein. The tale is one of a normal everyday bondage and pain enthusiast shocked to the core by the horror of a Tantric orgasm. One hardly knows which gems to choose from these riches of embarrassment: the humourless, earnest tone; the wonderfully pompous lines like "When it was over, I laughed softly in wonder."; her explanation that she weighed 200 lbs and the woman straddling her weighed 175 lbs; or the closing offhand thought that she lives with "a spouse who has also lost interest in sex along his own equally intense and complex journey." Even while reminiscing wistfully about her leather lifestyle of exciting abandon in times of old, she still cannot resist tut-tutting at others. "I have met people --- who live in tantra retreats, who have built lives in a place where it is entirely appropriate and understood to drop to one's knees shrieking as the bliss takes over. Those people were, I have to tell you, awful - with thousand-yard stares, dirty robes and the reek of bodies long unoccupied." Goodness - who would have thought it?
Janet's article shows perfectly how the USA takes the fun out of fun. It neatly caps yesterday's article about the 1770s. Clearly this is what happens to a schizophrenic country blended out of purse-lipped curtain-twitchers and gambling binge-drinkers. "With a liked-but-not-loved friend, I essayed a few of the activities I used to enjoy most: I flogged her, caned her, had sex with her with a strap-on." That's the spirit, madam. A few lines later on she solemnly advises us that "You will perhaps be glad to learn that I am pondering the possibility of having sex again sometime this year." Yes, perhaps we will.
Interesting article highlights just how much independence for the Thirteen Colonies was driven by the same prudish killjoys who created England's short-lived Roundhead republic a century earlier.
Anyone know of a networking thingie
like this that works for Apple?
Poignantly excited-looking 1950s cartoons for book about jazz - plus some enjoyably misjudged book covers, collected by a woman who herself misjudges a bit.
Wake up on bedroom floor on Tuesday morning, very rested, out of a dream in which I was a guest "aboard" or "inside" some kind of benign sea monster. For the purposes of the dream these were called kraken (Is that a fish/fish-type plural, or is it krakens? Or krakenen?) and were a bit like giant manta rays crossed with massive jelly fish. In that calmly untroubled way dreams have of ignoring logic, this was both like a creature and like a craft, and there was no sense of having been "swallowed" by it. Rather, I, and some other humans, were welcome onboard and in a sort of control room with a membranous ceiling. Bits of the creature glowed around us, and we were conscious of human-manned metal submarines nearby in the depths. We were both hunting them and being hunted by them. Not at all threatening or sinister, it was all quite pleasant.
This Spectator article describes a book of letters between two witty men, both alive. A review filled with nothing but praise for their wit, style, fun etc, it manages to make both the men and their book sound strangely dull.
Up at 5.30am with Lake Balaton looking strangely grey and stormy outside my hotel room window. Though not quite at the level of winter waves crashing over the Blackpool Promenade, it is striking to be on a lake where the far side is not visible. Could almost be a sea. Breakfast in a complex of caravans parked outside The Manor House In The Future. What Hungarians call a 'castle', the Keszthely stately pile is much more of a chateau, latest changes probably from the early 19th century, perhaps late 18th. I spend about two hours speaking my two lines, getting my throat slit, and - again and again - collapsing with consummate skill onto a marble floor in a rather sumptuous little library in one of the wings. The room is packed with books and Japanese swords. Everyone seems surprisingly tense - there is money at stake of course. If it gets beyond this pilot, the series will be about a televised competition to find a girl to marry a debauched young prince in a post-apocalyptic future kingdom bristling with political intrigue, sword fights, TV but little else technological, dashing characters on horseback, leggy girls in lingerie, all the good stuff. My bit is done by noon. I stay for about half an hour in the wardrobe trailer doing Tarot readings I promised some of the costume people, then am driven back to my lakeside hotel, still looking out on grey waves bashing the beach. I sleep in my clothes on the bed all afternoon, and a car arrives to take me home around half past four. The driver takes me, the English actor who slit my throat in the morning, and a Hungarian dancer girl who choreographed the ballroom scene (she tells us she is married to a space scientist in Munich) east down the motorway as dusk falls. We drive through pouring rain the whole way, too tired to talk much. Back to Budapest flat by early eve. Pour last glass to empty the bottle of rather good Czech mead Mr Saracco gave me, and lie down on my landlady's sofa.
An afternoon taxi takes me to a city-centre hotel, and there I join a minibus of two other male actors and two extremely dishy actresses. A driver takes us across the country on the motorway after dark to the western Hungarian town of Keszthely for tomorrow's film shoot - a pilot for a TV drama set several centuries in the future. Fans of Dr Who and postmodernism in general will recall that other galaxies and/or earth's distant future often look surprisingly like a baroque manor house. And so it is in our case.
Saturday. Meet a cheerful client for a coffee. She tells me how she once teleported between two streets in Budapest - in this case by accident. In the evening I hear from a friend who is mildly annoyed he might have to explore previous lifetimes on a meditation retreat to stay in with one of his business partners. Meanwhile BigDog's designers in New England have not been idle. The latest unsettling robotics news is that Boston Dynamics have taught BigDog how to throw (without falling over) respectably large blocks of concrete down its training hall.
Friday. Out on my balcony the snow lies crisp and even. I climb on the steady-footed green chair to clean a film of grime off the tops of my kitchen cupboards. Since the last four lightbulbs I bought all burned out after an average of two days each (A Czech brand with the slightly ominous name 'Heatball'), I buy another couple from other firms. One is from a maker called S. AMER (no address), and the other brand is the excellently named 'Top King' from Romania. If Gentle Reader wishes to correspond with the Hungarian importer of Top King lightbulbs, then email@example.com is the Aladdinesque contact e-mail.
Everything shuts today to commemorate a war with Austria in the roaring (18) forties.
Whole day going to different places round town coat over head in lieu of umbrella, always walking into a rich blend of wind, hail, sleet, and snow. Morning starts with some charming costume-fitting people on Ship-Building Island, trying different clothes on me for a TV series pilot filming in the next few days. Interesting couple of hours in a disused factory hall filled with racks of clothes. Wardrobe people bustle around with their tape measures and pins, exchanging views in Hungarian, Serb, sometimes English. A nice lady from London asks me to try to grow a moustache over the weekend.
Recovering from several recent all-night work sessions and the lump in my throat with ginger & garlic & lemon chopped into honey every hour. I find it soothing to often lie down on the sofa. While doing this I finish Jeremy's copy of 'A World Full of Gods' (subtitled 'Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire'). This is a curious 1999 book by Keith Hopkins, a Cambridge Late Antiquity academic. It aims to show how hard it is for us to imagine the political and religious world in which early Christianity went from being a tiny Jewish sect to becoming the ruling ideology of the late Roman Empire. He uses lots of narrative tricks, like having two Phd students time-(and-space)-travelling through bits of the Eastern Mediterranean in those couple of centuries visiting pagan temples, or having a television interview with an Essene-era Jew followed by controversy among the television-show producers in the editing room about which cuts to use. All very pomo. Hopkins also has academics from Germany and the US address him letters which he intercuts into the text, telling him what rubbish he is writing. "PS Send me more; I'm having difficulty sleeping." is how the wisecracking New York Judaic scholar 'Avi' signs off on one of these letters. I had some trouble working out if these people are real, either the modern academic letter-writers or some of the ancient quotes (like the deathbed confessional letter by Augustine), but of course, as Keith will triumphantly exclaim, that's the whole point! Clever Keith is showing us just how messy and uncertain is the business of picking one's way through rival unreliable textual sources in search of the 'real' Jesus, or equally the 'real' cult of Mithras, the 'real' Manicheeans, or the 'real' Gnostics. He wants to give us a vivid sense of how elusively out of reach what it all meant and felt like at the time is for us. The book works in a way. I suppose it's good for people who haven't ever been warned about this difficulty with history. Some fun parts to this strenuously hip discussion of the early church. Not wildly surprising to find Hopkins is a King's College don.
Some cheering news about endangered languages.
Two bars of Tunde's very creamy handmade soap on top of my laptop. Her brand websites
this one are up and working now.
About ten days now since the empty lot next to the shopping centre was suddenly fenced in and got its own big yellow machine going chug-chug-chug-chug at various points through the day, while the two corner fence panels are missing so we can look in and see. So far, a big hole and lots of men in safety helmets standing around the yellow machine, looking proudly at it as if they'd built it.
....Meanwhile 20th-century death. Does this diagram really explain much?
Lovely lunch with Marion & Paul. Fascinating natter.
Wake at 5.45am out of a vivid dream. I get out of a Tube station somewhere in central London that is leafy, like the Inner Temple, and there are men in suits standing around. One says, "I know about Britain. It's great for work, you just have to have your ockers somewhere like Greenland and commute." Even in the dream, I am surprised by this word 'ockers', assuming it means home or flat. At that point I woke up. While explaining later in the day to an American friend who Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu was, suddenly see him as a prototype Bond villain, hatching schemes for world domination long before there was a James Bond to stop him. Or were Dr No and Goldfinger really classic Bulldog Drummond villains, the heroes evolving faster than the Moriarty-type enemies?
Thursday. See Ben in the Buda suburbs at 6pm. Before returning it, I finish his introductory book on Python programming in the afternoon over a modest ice cream between lessons. This is after teaching Anna and bumping (seemingly by chance) into the soignee Dorothy on the bus down the hill from the British school. Ben is still plaguing the planet with his deadly outbreak, the latest version of which is still called Ben. We dine on tasty lasagne & fruit salad in the kitchen, while being reassuringly fussed over by a kindly Hungarian babysitter lady, Eva. Ben's book 'Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner' by Michael Dawson is a nicely laid-out starter text just right for me on how this object-oriented programming language works. It is broken down into fairly simple coding projects. Though a bit odd to see Dawson (or his anticipated reader) does not know the word 'anagram', so invents a term 'word jumbling', Dawson has, refreshingly, a sense of humour. When building the flying pizza game, he sweetly thanks the person whose photo acts as the game's icon for The Mad Pizza Chef as "my brave brave friend Dave."
Slightly alarming last Saturday to see just how happily engrossed young Ben is in a computer game called Plague, in which the object is to infect all the continents with some kind of microbe you design, kill as many people as possible, and defeat the pesky spoilsport bacteriologists who try to find a cure to your lovely disease. Horribly plausible that I too might have enjoyed a ghoulish game like that aged 13. It features a mildly hypnotic world map with lots of aeroplanes and ships quietly going hither and thither between landmasses, some of whom of course are carrying your pandemic. Ben has named his plague Ben.
American police forces accused of lots of agent-provocateur entrapment campaigns against the Occupy Wall Street folk.
A Hong Kong friend rates two writers on the Far East:
Big Lychee and
Mending that chair I picked up off the street 4 days ago. Not difficult, given how robust the thing is already. Few dabs of glue should do it. Strange how pre-war bentwood chairs are (a) lighter, (b) stronger, (c) better-looking, (d) more comfortable to sit on than the tedious succession of postwar utility chairs. The ones redesigned "from first principles" in a thousand furniture-college courses redone round the world every year. For example, the four black tubular-metal folding chairs (but not actually folding in a way that is useful or stable) that come with this flat, on every one of which now the fake leatherette seat skin has split, exposing the foam layer underneath, and all but one of which now have a snapped weld causing the tubular legs to slowly bend out of position. Less than ten years' wear, unmendable, and they all need to be junked far more than this bentwood chair did.
There is already a spanking new metal grille over the shoe-scraping tray outside our apartment building main entrance. The previous one was apparently stolen about six days ago. Moving with military speed & precision, the friendly but vigorous auntie-type lady who seems to run the whole place, the one who always has the confused dog & perky little 5-or-6-year-old girl in tow, has obtained and had installed a new grating. Class operation our address.
Nice Atlantic article about the prehistory of hacking: phone phreaking. Captain Crunch and the 2600 lads.
Am honoured to inspire these charming cuff links made by the nimble-digited craftslady known as Miss Mentalembellisher.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com