Saturday. Zsuzsi's secondary-school graduation ball. After dark we drive to Kecskemet to her school. Her friends Juci & Csenge are there. Much dancing, as young ladies in bell-shaped white ballgowns glide around in carefully choreographed waltzes. Afterwards there is a buffet dinner in two classrooms of a nearby building, where different kinds of meat are plentiful, and the girls fill my pocket notebook with Hungarian and Brazilian street slang.
Zdravko shows me coloured dots also waltzing.
Friday. Robin & Gio From Rio drive back to The Village. I finish writing a budget exercise for Letty. Chilly dark settles on this small group of buildings, the thick flanking woods past the wall and its wobbly wooden gate, and the surrounding plain. Dense belts of bright stars hang above in the sky.
Thursday. Two hours with Student Eszter looking at her intriguing pack of French collective-subconscious symbol cards and discussing what kind of childhood makes a fanatic, up again at the strange pseudo-Sicilian cafe with the three-legged emblem on the top floor of the shopping centre. Oddly similar to the Isle of Man symbol - both Viking/Norman images? Then I catch a train into the empty countryside as darkness falls. Cheerful Gyuri is waiting to pick me up at Lakitelek and Zsuzsi & Letty are both at home. An electric fan is labouring full-speed in Robin's kitchen trying to blow the smell of burnt toast and exploded toaster out of the windows. The two Komondor dogs seem both keen to play with each other and me outside in the dark, now that mother and daughter are about the same size for proper romping.
Wednesday. Slowed-down crickets a bit like a human choir.
Tuesday. Rheumatology Kata tells me about biosimilars. Later Operatic Zita tells me about her four days in Naples as we butter slices of her warm soft bread straight out of the oven.
Monday. More mystery from Indian nuclear science and the cryptomystics.
Sunday. Although the amoxicillin is now finished and I feel better, Gio practises healing on my left elbow in the kitchen. My skin heats up instantly, even with his hands 3 or 4 inches away. We are meant to be appalled by these photoshopped paintings from the past, but the software-slimmed versions look so normal to me I now wonder if it's simply that shapely girls through most of history were marriageable enough to be financially and socially blocked from working as artists' models?
Saturday. Drive into countryside with Robin & his Italian friend Gio. We find Sanyi of the Stranded Truck's structurally challenged cottage. He cheerfully brews us strong coffee in his kitchen.
Friday. Things looking up, almost. Find clearly-told documentary about how the Frankfurt School created the postwar "political correctness" movement. Lukacs & Gramsci leading on through Adorno & Marcuse. Notice narrator's pipe.
I update this page today and the FTP handler declares the transfer happened at date 11:22, time 22:22:22. Uncanniness, citizens.
Thursday. Dark, gloomy skies. Interesting article about divided elites. Then a biology game where you can build cells!
Wednesday. My morning task is to repair the illuminated switch on the four-socket extension board now feeding my landlady's fridge among other things. Tools used: some glue and a butter knife. Once I work out how to reinsert the two springs (a lot like the ones you find inside retracting ball-point pens), turns out to be quite simple. A London police investigation has decided that the dead cryptographer did padlock himself into a zip-up sports bag to asphyxiate and die after all. Amusingly his lack of personal enemies is cited as evidence for suicide, not as connecting his death to his espionage day job. Here is a game based on being an immigration official: 'Papers, please'. And a fascinating review of early anarchist experiments in North America - not quite the William Penn we were taught about in Quaker Sunday School.
Tuesday. 2 interesting articles via Abu & Adrian. Links between prewar ethnic-hate fascism and today's Green movement, both among Germany's early ecologists and in Britain's odd & forgotten 'English Mistery'. In the evening, I clean my floor and rearrange my sofa.
Monday. While waiting in the hospital corridor to see Rheumatology Kata for her first bartered English lesson, I finish a school library copy of 'Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid' by Douglas Hofstadter. A bit of a doorstop, I recall the maths students at college having high praise for this late-1970s book. I've long meant to read it. The idea that Escher's playfully paradoxical engravings might have something to say about Bach and Godel always struck me as odd, but it is lavishly illustrated with his and other people's artwork, line diagrams, and musical scores. The book is about self-reference in formal systems and Hofstadter does two main things. He gives an excellent introduction to how Godel's incompleteness and inconsistency theorems worked, and compares them to Church's and Turing's similar proofs. Secondly he presses an interesting case that self-references (in particular what he calls "strange loops") are fundamental to intelligence, and are how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have to proceed if it is to ever succeed in truly giving birth to autonomous intelligences inside man-made systems. One odd feature of the book is that dotted through the text are curious parable-like chapters with conversations about contradiction between Achilles & the Tortoise of the Zeno paradoxes, the Crab, and other animals. They are clearly meant to sound like Lewis Carroll since they are all being painfully polite to each other, vaguely Victorian in tone, and he has the same aim of discussing paradox in a whimsically charming way. This doesn't quite work, is obviously influenced by the much better 'Annoted Alice' (original texts of the two Alice books, with original Tenniel drawings, extensively marked up by American mathematician and puzzle-setter Martin Gardner), but you get used to it and the discussions take some unusual turns. There is a clever metaphor for one Godel proof in terms of a special gramophone record that destroys any machine that tries to play it, and a lot about logical jokes involving levels of reference. I was reminded of the story (designed to create a correct & non-trivial English sentence with "and and and and and" in it) where the owner of a pub called 'The Pig and Whistle' demands the sign-writer repaint the sign because the words are too close together and he wants more space between "'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle'" on the sign. Of course, it's easy to imagine a pub frequented by logicians, grammarians, programmers, which due to this well-known joke is deliberately called 'The Pig and and and and and Whistle', and outside that public house a sign-writer being told there isn't enough space between "'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle'" to non-trivially give us the word "and" 21 times in a row. Quite a lot of Hofstadter's book is about this kind of thing, along with Bach being able to encode his own name into melodies, and pictures by Escher where two hands are drawing each other. When I first skimmed through this book in the early 1980s I had the feeling that Hofstadter misses something basic about intelligence & computing. Then I went through a few years of having faith in AI, then after that losing faith in AI. Now finally reading the book carefully I had the feeling that Hofstadter misses something basic about intelligence & computing. On page 714 he shows us an Escher print called 'Print Gallery' (central whirlpool blurred versus
central whirlpool drawn in). Hofstadter calls this image a "vortex where all levels cross", although it clearly isn't. The usually visually rigorous Escher cheats and tries to depict a man looking at a print yet also being in the print he looks at. He fails to do this (in neither version of the centre do the edges of the two layers trying to meet spiral in convincingly). It's either not a vortex, or all levels do not meet in one place (imagine where you think the edge of the print frame should go, for example). It's a bit worrying that Hofstadter announces this as the climax of his book, also describing a Godelian vortex where (contrary to what he claims) all levels also fail to cross. With a bit more thought, if the levels crossed or met, we couldn't have a proper vortex - the word 'vortex' shows precisely that the levels can never meet or cross. Rather, if I understand Godel's work at all, what he showed was precisely that logicist attempts to have different levels interact would always fail. Like logicism, the whole book seems trapped at the level of description Godel undermined, despite many moments when we see the author trying to break free. On the other hand, hard to be churlish about a book which is such a labour of love and must have enchanted thousands of people into taking a deeper interest in logic, as well as in Godel and/or Escher and/or Bach.
Rheumatology Kata is riled that I think her ungloved nurse might have reinfected me on Friday morning by touching the bandage. She protests that the fluid they drew from my arm (before the nurse put the bandage on my arm) tested as sterile, missing the point of course. I soothe her hurt feelings by saying everybody makes mistakes and the antibiotics seem to be winning now in any case, and peace is restored. Together we examine the pictures on her office wall, all gifts from grateful patients, and start the English lesson.
Sunday. Still dazed from drugs and inflated arm, though the antibiotics are now clearly winning - either against the original infection or against that plus the reinfection. Hearing wailing outside I go out onto my balcony and see immediately below me a drama involving the adorable toddler twins from just over the landing. One little girl is fairly quiet and is with her father, while about fifty feet away the other girl is not just yelling with hurt and rage but tottering around in small circles dodging her mother's attempts to catch her and hold her. Somehow I'm sure this is not just a spoilt child being bratty. From the stubborn way she evades her mama's embrace and the pitch of her sobbing and yelling I get a powerful sense of that thing children sometimes express so keenly: unfairness. Someone (perhaps her twin sister) has violated her dignity or betrayed her. The emotional pain is tangible. This goes on for minutes and she will not be mollified. Her heartbreak cuts right into me: I go back into my flat.
It seems you're now not allowed to say anything negative about Poland's airline. Nostalgia for communism?
Saturday. Arm still swollen, but seems to be no longer getting worse. Sleeping on sofa on and off through day as the medicine takes effect, I finish 'Just My Type' by Simon Garfield, another gift from the Nigel of Light. This is a cheerful book about typefaces (founts or fonts) and how they subtly influence all of us. A bit sad that David Kindersly's serifed fount for British motorways lost out to the sanserif lettering now called 'Transport', despite actually coming narrowly ahead by a couple of percent in the speed-visibility tests. Reminiscent of how around the same time the BBC's self-conscious groovy modernisers closed down the Light Programme, despite their own poll showing that light orchestral music was more popular with the public than either pop music or established orchestral music.
Friday. In the morning, my arm is already much better, less swollen, the red almost vanished - the improvement after just three amoxicillin is visible. Still, at Rheumatology Kata's insistence, I attend her morning outpatients' clinic and she drains some fluid off my arm. Slightly disconcerted to see that while she wears rubber gloves, her assistant nurse who breaks the supposedly sterile bandage out of its wrapping does not wear gloves. Though I am still taking the antibiotics, later in the afternoon my whole left arm and even hand begins to tingle and turns red. It also swells up in an alarming fashion, far worse than yesterday before I started the medicine. Much to her irritation, I send Kata a phone text at night asking why her nurse didn't wear gloves to handle my bandage, since I am starting to suspect I have been reinfected. In between sleeping and resting on sofa, I finish 'The Dictator's Learning Curve', a book by William Dobson the Nigel of Light kindly brought with him for me last week. Slightly disturbing: about how pro-democracy activists and autocrats are in a kind of arms race of competing forms of PR, with police states growing every more subtle and sly in quashing dissent without looking like police states. This 2013 book is mainly about Putin's Russia, Chavez's Venezuala, the Egyptians who brought down Mubarek (only to find that Egypt's army has no intention of relinquishing control of the country) and current communist China. Definitely worth reading, both along the lines and between the lines.
Thursday. Meet Rheumatology Kata at 5pm. Buy amoxicillin.
Wednesday. Arm suddenly gets worse. Angry pink flush moves from left elbow down towards wrist. I start phoning around to find a doctor I can afford with the cash there is in my wallet. Operatic Zita recommends someone she knows, Rheumatology Kata. Meanwhile, it turns out that various illnesses do track zodiac signs after all, and now some nutritionists say butter, eggs, red meat, and supersaturated fats were good for us all along.
Tuesday. I obtain a key from the vigorous auntie-type lady upstairs to the mysterious fuse cupboard at the end of my corridor. Like appealing to a higher authority, this is the room where the super fuses reside, if the ones in our flats fail to restore power. I flip two fat grey switches and my flat is lit up again. Meanwhile I suddenly now have an infected swollen elbow - bursitis! Here is a little moving image that explains how sewing machines create stitches. I've long thought that the most remarkable thing Wittgenstein did in his life was, as a boy, construct a scale model of a machine-powered needle so as to see for himself how it operated. Never really managed to reach that level of creative curiosity again.
Monday. Most of my power goes, and flipping the fuses above the door doesn't help. Lighting a candle and powering everything off the fridge socket seems to work. No relation, but look at this intriguing clip of an aikido master teaching two students to "accept and give back" the energy of an attacker. Something very abstract and esoteric that seems completely tangible and real to him.
Sunday. A few interesting things happened this week. I scraped together a couple of fivers to pay Viktor to descale my teeth so he would also have time to finish grinding down the filling on the root canal wisdom biter. In the waiting room get chatting to artist and bookcover-designer Zsofi. Same evening, Wednesday, go with Nigel of Light to see a football match (Arsenal vs Dortmund) in a pub. We are joined by Nicolas, who boldly proposes to reform his own language, French.
Yesterday during filming delays finished reading a borrowed copy of the clunkily-titled 'Bioscience & Bioengineering of Titanium Materials' by Yoshiki Oshida. Though carrying some typos, and racing through masses of research, it does a reasonable job. It amasses all the 2013-current work in one fast-growing field (medical uses for titanium, with special attention to microsurfaces) in one hardback volume, instead of dispersed through hundreds of academic papers scattered online. Oshida mentions in the back how he had to allot a certain number of hours a week to reading simply to keep up as new papers get added. Some more internal organisation of the different sub-fields would have helped a bit.
Say goodbye to Nigel on the pavement just before 10am as he sets off to the airport and a minibus picks me up for day of filming. Bubbly actresses Caroline & Szofi travel with me down to Kecskemet. Lots of food during day of hanging around on set, and I finally perform my short bit before we get driven back, reaching Budapest around 11pm. Seems my American accent passed muster. A historical drama about late-19th-century Hungarian stage stuntman and escapologist Harry Houdini.
The Nigel of Light cheers me up. Hungary's seemingly stillborn Falcon Airways continues to baffle observers. Sorry, but you're not cool enough.
Thoughtful article. Will computers keep increasing social inequality?
Remember, remember, the 5th of November! Gunpowder, treason, and plot! Around 10pm I pick the Nigel of Light up from the airport. We chat nonstop for the next couple of hours.
Christmas trees appear dotted down the inside of the shopping mall.
Sunday. Dark dreary rain. Recent odd death of this journalist.
Saturday. Lovely lunch with Marion at Cafe Vain. Perhaps some progress on paper.
Lush use of buzzy synth in this Giraffage song.
Friday. At dusk, walk over to the Kerepesi Cemetery to potter about under the trees and watch Hungarians celebrating the Day of the Dead, their version of All Saints' Day. A coat might have been wise, since though not quite chilly, the place is damp and cool. Night is falling and the city is still and empty. I walk there, crossing the tram tracks along Nepszinhaz, the street Houdini grew up on, moving past a small bleak park by a petrol station, and over a second tram line which goes along the side of the cemetery. Budapest feels not quite deserted but certainly deeply asleep at 5pm as darkness falls. Yet inside the high walls of the cemetery things are bustling. One or two shops are lit up selling flowers and lanes - between the mausoleums and clumps of gravestones under copses of dark trees - are packed with slowly moving cars. Their headlamps flash beams of light into the deeper darker interior of the cemetery. Streams of people in family groups drive in or walk in through the big gates. Not too far in, a bleak little cement plinth barely larger than a long restaurant table commemorating the dead of the Second World War has roughly a hundred candles in jars on it, and it doesn't look official - lots of different types of jars in clusters, quite disordered packed right up to the edge of the slab, with some fresh flowers squashed into the spaces left. The pedestrians chat quietly as they stroll into the depths of the park of death. Some bits are unlit and silent, and I walk along the inside of one gloomy wall lined with shadowy shrines of Victorian statuary harshly cast into bright and black by artificial light pouring over the top of the wall from office blocks just outside, meeting no-one until two people on horseback, one man, one woman, appear slowly down the gravel path, a pair of mounted police talking to each other in normal voices, unlike the mourners. In the middle I get lost walking past dozens of graves and statues in pools of shadow under trees, with just one or two twinkling candle lights fluttering inside their glass jars. One small group of lichen-and-moss-decorated 19th-century gravestones, still fairly clean and undamaged, face a single stubby L shape of white concrete in long grass, all that's left of some 1970s park bench of wooden slats between two L-shaped chunks of concrete, completely unsuited to the graveyard of course. Hard to see where the other concrete L has gone. No trace of it. Further in, start wondering who lights all these candles? After half an hour trudging through dry leaves I must have passed at least two thousand candle flames. About 3/5 of them in red-tinted glass containers like miniature jam jars, the other 2/5 in clear glass, so white.
Most graves have no candles, a few have one, but a sizeable number, perhaps a quarter of the graves, have small groups of 5 or 6 of these jam-jar lamps there. And they come clumped in neighbourhoods of light, whole rows of statues and stone slabs lit up, then gloomy sections where you can't see your way by one flickering flame on its own. Masses of candles already, and darkness only just fell. In the hour in the park I only twice see anyone actually lighting them, so who lit all the others? I try to imagine hundreds of people passing through in the day, lighting the candles on their family's grave. Then I imagine a couple of cemetery park-keepers going round in the afternoon, lighting any wick in a jar they find left over from last year, but that doesn't sound right either. Some of the family graves are fine stone structures a good century old, and some of these have candles burning - they must be for families that were once rich. Are the people visiting them now descendents of some once proud lineage who lost their nice flats and houses and got sent to live in a workers' apartment tower block in the 1940s and 50s? Or did they hang on to their charming villas and beautiful gardens by becoming communist officials? Retired or recently-dead officials of the people's republic are the ones whose children still live at the grandest addresses across the city.
Coming out of gloomy bunches of trees full of the dank scent of leaf-mould I find myself on a broad lane with bright streetlamps adding to the twinkling lights from the woods on all sides. It's between two facing Neoclassical colonnades, at least 30 to 40 feet high and almost 300 feet long. Niches behind the columns hold family memorials, quite large statues of angels, stone bas-reliefs of prewar men in suits sitting on chairs, seven-foot-tall weeping marble women. In between the two colonnades are a broad lane and pavements, streaming with slow-moving groups of cheerful people on family outings to or from seeing their dead. I sit down on an elegant little park bench, far prettier than the 1970s almost-vanished bench type. This one has wrought iron legs and armrests with wood-beam seating and a back of overlapping slats of iron encased inside a wooden frame. It must be regularly replaced wood in this damp park, but it looks old yet in good condition. It is of course, as well as being more human in scale, far more comfortable than those wood-and-concrete modernist ones ever are. People keep coming past me in small groups. This little section is the Champs d'Elysees of the necropolis. This time I didn't see anyone actually talking to their dead relatives the way I do sometimes. Nor any of the queer picnics by candlelight where some Hungarian families bring packed sandwiches and drinks and sit grouped round a gravestone as if the long-gone person was eating and drinking with them in the ring. More cars driving around quietly between the trees this time. Lost, I work out the way back to the gate by the speed of the cars. Coming in they drive at walking pace. Leaving they drive at jogging pace, relieved at having dutifully visited and paid respects to their deceased for another year. So much more eerie than the modern Hallowe'en, the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic larking about in Scooby-Doo or horror-movie costumes last night.
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