Watch the 2004 film 'Primer' for the 3rd time, on this occasion at Attila's. Now starting to get a vague grip on the second half of the film.
With Rosemary all day as we attend a six-hour first aid course at a nearby Red Cross address. R needs to pass it for some forthcoming work, and I struggle to be a useful interpreter. The instructor is genial and laddish, but speaks perhaps the fastest Hungarian I have ever heard. Everyone takes the motorcycle helmet off the rubber dummy torso head very carefully, but half of them would snap the spine of anyone they had to drag out of a crashed car. A blonde to my immediate right is a lot like a younger version of the weary betting-shop lass from the film 'Snatch', one-time good looks washed out by exasperation with life. I fight back the urge to say in her face "All - Bets - Are - Off" and get on with whispering the English for stray bits of gabbled medical Hungarian into Rosemary's ear.
Jolly day. Apart from the fact that The Found Bentwood Chair is now a vile cappucino cream colour, most things are right with the world.
The council in Yorkshire are now pretending that they never meant to auction my house against my will in July, but had always dated their act of unhinged arrogance for mid-September. Good news from the deadline perspective.
Perhaps today or yesterday planted some new seeds in eight tiny pots and one large pot. Within half a day a couple of miniscule bright green loops appear above the soil, like loose stitches. Lively!
Here's a very disturbing article about the media in Putin's Russia, and by extension about a lot else besides.
Read a copy of 'The Zen
Teaching of Huang Po' translated into English by John Blofeld. The translator
has helpful and sometimes apologetic footnotes scattered through the books about bits he did not
understand fully. The book is short and enjoyable, as usual emphasising the Zen idea that
enlightenment can come in a flash, and cannot be attained by intellectual study. The
anti-intellectualism of Zen always struck me, curiously reminiscent of the hard-core High Tory. I
remember accepting a lift across the Midlands from a serious-looking but pleasant and helpful
Buddhist Englishman many many years ago in his car. I think he wore jeans, spectacles, and a
nonedescript shirt in something like brown or grey. It was a warm day and the passenger side
window was wound down. I had my elbow resting on it, out of the window. At one point in a small
traffic jam in a town when I asked him what he saw, he said of me in a neutral, not unfriendly
tone, "Your head's full of plans and your arm's in the sun."
Also hard to forget our 6th-form teacher Len Rix forming a Buddhist Society at school, whereupon around 30 of us turned up and met him on a staircase where he said the main thing he wanted to achieve was to see if it could be done, and he was dissolving it there and then. I suppose one of us could have kept it going if we'd wanted to. I recall Rix on another occasion saying he had become a Buddhist himself in Rhodesia twenty years earlier at the age of about 15, stopped doing all school work for a couple of months, and then did really well in his O levels on account of having had that refreshing break from study in the quarter year before his exams. Anyway, mental categories are out for Zenists (Huang Po is very firm on this), dualistic ideas (such as 'enlightened' versus 'unenlightened') are bad. They are all a peril for the student who wishes to grasp the oneness of Mind, Buddha, or anything else that counts. I do tend to feel a bit sorry for the novice monks struggling to unthink all those thinking habits (Oh no! I just made another opposition myself!) and getting thwacked with teachers' sticks at intervals. The river really is the river and the mountain really is the mountain then.
Still wondering why Robin's friend thought it was so important we read the slightly dog-eared paper printout of this article about Joseph Smith that's been on the top shelf of the backless bookcase in his studio for a couple of years. Got round to it a few weekends ago. I suppose I'd write #King_Follett_discourse, #Zohar here if this was Twitter and I was a hash-tag sort of man.
Perhaps that Voynich tome isn't twaddle after all?
Longest day. Stupefying heat making 4 or 5 cold baths a day a proper tonic. Excitement in commodity markets continues. I am looking for any firms in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, with a punch press for making jigsaw puzzles. While we're on the topic, if you can write apps in Phonegap, then please drop me a line. Paul's article, the very first in the collection, now vindicated by Rolling Stone's own bankster critic in this piece.
One of our book's contributors says
China's inter-bank overnight loans market is freezing up - just like back in 2008 - fairly much ....now.
At least 100 degrees in the sun, over 80 degrees in the shade indoors, four or five days in a row now. Finish a 1999 book borrowed from a friend, 'Fractography' by Derek Hull. A lot seems to hinge on getting fluent with the Miller index convention for labelling crystal planes and directions. The book is packed with fascinating monochrome photographs down microscopes of surfaces of ripped polystyrene, fatigued steel, snapped glass rods, splintered wood, and cracked faces of rock. Alongside these are wonderfully clear black-and-white line drawings that explain only the points needed. A surprising amount of the subject appears to be a question of getting used to the look of a wide range of fractures. This means gaining broad experience in recognising types of stereograms, scanning-electron-microscope images, plus low-mag almost macro-scale photographs of break surfaces, and learning to interpret them on sight.
After only three hours of sleep in the heat last night, today a quick jaunt down to Lake Balaton for lunch. Ate right next to its extraordinary pale aquamarine water with Mr Wheeler. I just don't remember it having a colour that gorgeous. In the continuing hot weather, his car is, thank goodness, air-conditioned. More reminiscences about his career, and some very fruitful discussion. His boat seems intact, although sun has affected the varnish a bit. At night, after more reading about fractured surfaces, I drop a drinking glass in my kitchen and kneel on the floor to collect the pieces. I reassemble it on the green chair to see how many shards of glass are absent, waiting around to be trodden on. Seems one quite big, wickedly shaped sliver is still missing, somewhere on the cluttered floor of my flat. In the evening, last lesson for Zizi at Mr & Mrs B, and a surprise dinner afterwards with other guests out on their verandah. Peter recommends 'Margin Call' and vouches for its accuracy, saying a similar though luckily smaller (so just-about-manageable) incident exactly like that happened when he was running a bank a few years ago.
A whole set of peculiar events last night, as I start to get over my odd illness. At one moment both Apple laptops (mine and the borrowed one) seemed to go wrong simultaneously, with screens darkening in a curious way. I take one and then both batteries out to compare, and with the borrowed one I cannot get the battery back in since the insides of the two battery trays are different, despite being exactly the same model. A screw leaves the side and I find it jammed into the magnetic power inlet. I get the borrowed laptop battery back in after putting sellotape along one edge inside the battery tray to stop two small levers coming out (designed seemingly to obstruct battery replacement). Finally I get both working again, after both machines (same model but very different states of health) exhibit a worrying version of the kernel screen freeze, a version I never saw until seeing it twice tonight. They both then seem to get better. Out in the square after dark I find that some time today, while I am reading about fractures that follow an internal boundary, a small two-faced mirror (two glued back-to-back) in my jumbled zip-up pencil case has lost a long shard down one edge. Gingerly, I feel around inside the bottom of the pencil case, and without cutting my fingers fish out the slightly curved sliver, perfectly slotting back into the stepped-back gap all along the two-and-a-half-inch mirror edge. Half an hour later a luxuriant two-inch slug appears in the centre of my laptop keyboard despite me feeling I had only looked away for a second. Half an hour later the park sprinklers go off, spraying the keyboard before I get to safety. Luckily I remember how not to short-circuit parts of the keyboard this time, and get it gently dry back in the flat without damaging anything. This morning Jeremy W cheers me up with bacon sandwiches and announces the trip to Balaton will be tomorrow, not today. A stern downbeat ditty chosen by Eton Messy: Village, 'Nothing Between Us'.
Illness worse but cheer up with Franc. Ageless beasts?
Feeling a bit ill. This map of IP addresses is a bit surprising, since it makes the internet seem overwhelmingly European.
Train back north to Budapest. Here's a splashy art website. Note how the Brazilian graffiti of birds is moderately pretty, the French graffiti uses nice colours though much else is boring, and the Australian graffiti is ugly & pompous, yet the website editors seem not to notice any differences. The girl manipulating water "with her mind" looks rather refined and minimal, though again it might be the idea of doing this that appeals more than what it is she actually does.
Still at Robin's on the Great Plain. Read a short book of his called 'Chelsea Chicks', by Maria Perry, which mixes history and street-by-street geography in a lightweight stream of natter about the London borough and its women. Its breezy conversational tone mostly works. Each chapter has a theme, and bounces back and forwards in time relating social scandals from Thomas More's day and the intervening centuries. Seems she wrote a similar short gossipy text called 'Mayfair Madams'. The book is slightly dated in tone, written around 1999/2000 back when lots of Brits who should have known better still thought there was something refreshing about having Tony Blair as a prime minister. It's cheerful pre-9/11 history, like the open-skies mood detectable in writing & films from the decade up until the 1973 oil crisis. The cover has silver print that rubs off on the fingers a bit easily. The writer seems to have proper Chelsea Girl lineage, dropping in references to her times strutting the King's Road (eg as a dancing girl in the 1970s London staging of 'Jesus Christ Superstar') without dwelling on them too much. Although odd to see in the bio at the back that she went to Manchester High School for Girls (always wondered what became of them in their wasp-coloured yellow-and-black outfits), and that the cartoonist Bernard Cookson studied at the Manchester College of Art. A good amusing gift book for anyone connected to that part of London.
Does refusing to help the NSA make imprisonment more likely?
Short interview with someone at No Such Agency who this week bravely decided to explain that now everything ever said is filed, nothing any more is private, and long-past indiscretions are to be used against anyone anywhere at will. Finally, some people have started paying attention. One of our contributors notes that sales of '1984' just shot up 6800% in the last 24 hours.
In the evening, finish reading a short paperback 'Zen Dictionary' by Ernest Wood, he of the Theosophy and education career in 1920s and 1930s India, learning Sanskrit and yoga. I thought Wood was more of an India specialist and didn't realise until now that the younger Alan Watts had competition from the Late Victorian Wood in the niche of Englishman-explaining-Far-East. As you'd expect, the book is crisp and clear in all entries, running through the main schools, techniques, teachers, and terms. Perhaps the main surprise for me was finding how much of Zen was Chinese - I'd got the idea it was almost entirely Japanese. 'Gedo Zen' is an interesting entry on Zen in other religions, and the love of Zen masters for hitting their students with sticks, or just waving sticks about, is gone into.
Roam about at day under Robin's cherry trees listening to thunder. Several are handsomely weighed down by succulent firm yellow cherries (a few red markings), looking a bit like miniature apples. Again at night he and I try to watch 'Primer'. I watched all of it last night after Robin fell asleep, getting some of the logic but muddling up most of it. This time we stop it halfway through, and I feel a little clearer on some of the details. Well observed fragile friendship between the two engineers. Dialogue densely realistic and credible. Definitely a film that demands black coffee be at hand.
As well as a background scent in his studio, all the outer doors at Robin's house now smell of linseed oil. It comes back to me now that, 12 days ago as I left for Budapest, Marika the housekeeper was painting some kind of linseed-oil preparation onto the outside woodwork. During the day I finish another old sci-fi paperback from that 2nd-hand bookshop, a curious tale of interplanetary love called (after a line from a Michelangelo verse) 'Unless She Burn', written by Francine Mezo in about or just before 1980. Perhaps a bit facile to compare this to the Blish book I read a couple of days ago, but both books use the possibilities of space travellers encountering different species and civilisations on other planets to explore quite ambitious ethical questions. Mezo the female writer does so on a more intimate scale than Blish the male writer. She imagines a difficult love affair between a gutsy, bouncy female earthling spaceship commander (an all-American postwar Cosmo Girl, essentially) and a desperately serious, gentle, exquisitely tactful & sensitive 7-foot-tall priest on a planet with two suns and lots of sand. Tackling the biological quandries of interspecies love head-on, the tale tells of a race of vaguely human-like bipeds who nonetheless are physically quite frail and engage in sexual congress by (literally) holding hands. Lovingly related details of these creatures' (and especially their priest's) 1) immensely courteous consideration of others' feelings, 2) their grave insistence on ceremonial decorum, 3) the preciousness to them of tradition & faith. Speaks volumes about what qualities must have seemed alluringly foreign to 1970s American women readers. As with Blish, the likeably earnest alien folk are designed so that their stilted dialogue is nicely in character. However, Mezo's personalities are better drawn, imagined more carefully, and as far as the limits of the genre allow, psychologically more convincing. Slightly surprised to get caught up in the story. Apparently part 2 of a trilogy if anyone likes the sound of this. Later in the evening, Robin & I stay up late to watch 2004 low-budget time-travel movie 'Primer'. He falls asleep just before the plot begins to get confusing.
Catch train out to countryside. Suddenly it is hot again. Letty & Zsuzsi kindly pick me up from Lakitelek. They play this song in the car with the windows wound down as Letty drives us across the hot, flat plain through a string of small sun-silenced villages. After dark the two girls play this other song while trying out frocks for the party they're going to tonight in the nearest proper town. I find a short 96-page book by Patrick Leigh Fermor in Robin's library which I read after they've gone out, slowly recalling I read this once before, in the 1990s, before I knew of Fermor's more celebrated travel writing. The book is 'A Time To Keep Silence', three essays on his time looking round two and a half monasteries. I can now remember Mother's sarcastic remark watching me read my copy of this that she could imagine me as a humourless Dominican ...stunned to realise from that and her later remarks that she (of all people) literally thought I might be toying with entering a monastic order purely because I was reading a book about it - that realisation started me reassessing the true nature of her large personal library. Like the girl law student at college who started a rumour I was changing to law because I had been seeing buying a short book on the politics of the judiciary (mainly for my politics course within economics), and that student lacked the imagination to (a) grasp why anyone was studying any other subject than law, and (b) think that anyone might read a book on any topic simply out of interest. Meanwhile Fermor explains with beautiful clarity two main things - his sense of monasteries as oases of calm & quiet allowing the harassed city dweller to rediscover the true order of inner life, even during a few months stay as a guest in a Benedictine abbey - and his abiding conviction later on that even if he could not be a monk himself, their existence was and still is valuable for the rest of us. He is left with a strong belief that their mission to meditate and pray for humanity in isolation from the rest of us is an important, real task they carry on through generations. He also conveys the difficulty of transition. How first entering the abbey was painful for several days until he adjusted and began to feel the peace, inner and outer, as a kind of healing medicine. "The Abbey became the reverse of a tomb - not indeed a Thelema or Nepenthe, but a silent university, a country house, a castle hanging in mid-air beyond the reach of ordinary troubles and vexations." (I was reminded of Marxist-yet-saintly South-Korean film director Mr Choi, and his regular retreats to Buddhist monasteries in Korea to have time to go through reading lists in peace & quiet). Then at the other end of his stay, Fermor convincingly describes the vulgarity of the modern 1950s world outside as he re-entered it. This edition comes with a nicely written introduction by fashionable but very articulate ex-nun Karen Armstrong. Fermor in his cell/guest-room approaches the end of his time at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Wandrille de Fontanelle: "Sunlight streamed in through the three tall windows and, as I lay in bed, all I could see was layer on ascending layer of chestnut leaves, like millions of spatulate superimposed green hands, and the crystalline sky of October framed by the thin reflected blue-white, or thick milk-white, or, where the sun struck, white-gold surfaces of the walls and window-arches and embrasures."
Wake at 5am out of a dream in which I am pontificating to my sister Heather about how much stock control matters to Japanese industry. Dear God, even my dreams are dull now. Far cry from December 2nd's night-time visitation where eerie, romantic-sounding lines like "raspberry bruise mouth and a cool grey glance of owl-shaped soul..." fluttered into my head unasked. Back to sleep. Wake at 7am out of a slightly more interesting dream in which I find some states from the original 13 North American colonies have tiny long-dormant intelligence agencies still officially existing. As I wake up I'm learning New Hampshire has its own 300+-year-old intelligence agency with the grand total of two employees, both drawing salaries in some forgotten office. A tad more oddness value than 5am's dream.
Much progress yesterday with kind help of Jeremy W. The Danube is rising.
These people say (again) you should buy physical silver. Thought you'd all like to know. Yesterday, unexpectedly 1/2 an hour early to teach Jacqueline's daughters, I entered a second-hand bookshop on a whim and bought a cheap sci-fi paperback in the English section called 'A Case of Conscience' by James Blish. This morning I finish it. A short 1950s novel/novella, republished in book form
seems - perhaps a sign lots of editors liked it but it tended to sell badly? Here in a 1970s Arrow Books edition with one of those airbrush-painted Big-Detailed-Spaceship-Type-Thing-Touches-Down-In-Alien-Jungle covers (the artist isn't even credited), I realise with a shock that this must be the first Blish book I've read since I was 11 or 12. The characters are a bit thin, but relieved by sometimes convincing accounts of how they think. The alien planet and its civilisation are well imagined. Four scientists from earth must decide what to do about an alien planet in 2050 peopled by intelligent and gravely courteous twelve-foot-tall lizards - to open it up to further contact or to leave it alone. The central character of the four men is a space biologist who is also a Peruvian Jesuit theologian called Father Ruiz-Sanchez. In the final words of the publisher's blurb "For him, Lithia is a Paradise among the stars - a Paradise created by the Devil himself..." This central plot metaphor is a bit more deftly handled than that sounds. There is a giant "Message Tree" on the planet used for a kind of radio transmission, and one of the earth scientists contemptuously refers to its rather gracious, pedantic reptiles as "The Snakes", but the overall conceit isn't too crass. The idea of a space tale from the heyday of sci-fi being (literally) a theology puzzle startles though. My most overtly Catholic science fiction reading since the moral of 'A Canticle for Father Liebowitz' dented my morale in the tropical forest heat of Kumasi.
June in Hungary and actually chilly in the evening. I feel someone should give me some money back for something. Here is an article about an artist who built a secret apartment on the premises of a shopping centre. I remember Plimsoll-Designer Jeremy years ago claiming he personally knew a builder in London who had carried out (without being discovered) a cleverer version of this. That builder had made himself a small Anne-Frank-style hideaway room inside the thick walls of a large house in Chelsea he had converted into flats and sold off. Still none of those owners realise his bolthole exists, apparently. Crucial would be working out who pays for gas, water, electricity (just stolen long-term from the rest of the building or somehow paid for remotely?) and making sure of an external access door. Just imagine lying low in your secret cabin for a week, then coming out into the stairwell to find the (real) residents changed the front door lock and you can't get out.
Interesting case of transatlantic humour styles. This story, about becoming a writer by having sex with someone in publishing, is so close to the bone it is only just funny. Had it been done by The Daily Mash, would have been under 1/2 the length, and would have contained a couple of other ideas. The Onion, however, just plays out that one joke through 13 paragraphs.
You'd imagine power companies under constant and dangerous cyber-hack-attack would think of taking their generators offline, wouldn't you? You know, design a way to run their generators that doesn't use the internet?
Picture of sad watercress and
happy watercress, allegedly created in an experiment where Danish schoolchildren exposed seeds to WiFi, says this slightly excitable article. Anyone checked this?
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markgriffith at yahoo.com