New Year's Eve. My head cold escalated in recent days and I moved from the studio indoors to the warm library vacated by Lisa when she left on Monday. As I get iller Lacko & Joli begin (thank goodness) to ply me with super-strength antibiotics they obtained from folk in Transylvania. Tonight, after lots of daytime sleep, I am well enough to set out with Robin & Gio from Rio to the 11pm bonfire just between the garage and the recently-built hut for the schnapps still & jam boiler. This is where the New Year is to be welcomed in with the many friends and relatives of Lacko & Joli currently staying with them. We group round a pile of burning lintels drinking mulled wine and slowly noticing that even three feet away from the fire it's colder than we expected. As midnight passes and we move onto schnapps it goes gradually from minus 10 to minus 15 and some fireworks appear on the horizon from the neighbouring village over the rooftop of the chicken coop. The party's two 15-year-old girls take turns getting young Bela to escort them off into the chilly dark to survey the various bits of the farm. Around 2am, Gio's bravely restrained protests about the temperature begin to be taken seriously, and I help him into the warmth of the Transylvanians' kitchen. Outside meanwhile the stalwart trio of Laci, Levente, and Lacko (only freshly recovered from his own chest infection) stay in the bleak cold with Robin fanning the embers with a sheet of cardboard. They rake over the still-hot embers and starting to grill slices of the pig Zsuzsi had killed last week. They lay out the slices of meat on a heat-exchanger frame from the back of a cannibalised fridge, just the right size and shape to go on top of the glowing shards of yellow-hot wood between two bricks. Back within the packed warmth of their kitchen there is lentil soup, freshly-grilled pork, cake, and more squiffiness-inducing schnapps. The warm kitchen is also crowded with 4 or 5 women tending the groaning board, pouring drinks and warming soup for their men.
Here's a rather interesting article about the formal logic behind early Buddhism. An Asian tradition of logic very different from the Greek beginnings we know from Aristotle. No excluding the middle.
Tuesday. Finish Robin's or his friend Mike's copy of 'The Old Straight Track', the 1920s book by Alfred Watkins which first started researchers off on the search for ancient leylines across Britain & elsewhere. Written in earnest detail, specifying directions, walks to go on, and giving distances, Watkins makes a good case that a very old system of dead straight lines criss-crossed the British Isles linking sighting points, notches in ridges, artificial mounds, and pre-Christian shrines. He suggests it was largely an early form of direction-sighting, orienting travellers and traders. It was later writers like Michell who introduced more esoteric speculation about lines of energy or force, but Watkins, a late Victorian, had a much more down-to-earth view on the ancient landscape-surveying points & routes he helped rediscover.
Monday. A bold, confident excerpt from a book by a lesbian about turning straight women. Probably meant to sound sensuous & masterful rather than snippy & tiresome. In contrast, a long article about
a Dutch psychology researcher who faked his results. One of those meticulous, carefully researched pieces by an American magazine writer and in the end you wonder a little bit why. + several scientists & philosophers asked
which scientific idea deserves to die? Fine question. Feeble responses.
Sunday. Head cold continues. Chilly here in Hungarian rustic hideaway. Furniture designer extols use of sticky tape. Not drinking at all harms health? The free-will chestnut roasts on. Some compatibilist dodging around mulberry bush by Dennett.
Saturday. Do a little work checking Laura's homework solutions. Some chill Tokyo club tracks from Antennasia. Production a tad lush, as the music journalists used to say:
Mamma Mamma /
Qus-cus - The Cat in the Mirror.
Boxing Day. In the gloom and long shadows of mid-winter interlocking shapes slowly drift together. Lisa solves the nine-piece jigsaw puzzle that defeated me last winter. She does this from first principles with her own reasoning, disdaining shortcut cheats like consulting the internet for photographs of the solution pattern. Robin, Lisa, & I watch 'Kind Hearts & Coronets' starring Alec Guinness as almost everybody. Set perhaps 4 or 5 decades before it was made in the 1950s, judging from the women's fashions. What's interesting is that at least two people in the past related in detail to me an incident from this film which isn't there. In this incident (presumably from some other Ealing comedy) an army general sees a toy tank trundle into his study, bends down to inspect it, and gets shot dead by it. This moment was so clearly related to me and knitted so well into this film's plot I can almost see it in my mind's eye - yet surprisingly it isn't in Kind Hearts & Coronets. Nonetheless, the story is excellent, smoothly told by a voiceover, with a good script. The black-and-white shots of an almost-lost comic England of precise manners, handsome buildings, and people who speak in full sentences, are beautifully judged. The psychological realism of the tale gently blurs into an unrealistic but neat dramatic tableau at the close.
Christmas Day. Soreness in tree-jabbed right eye eases during day. Joli & Lacko prepare more tasty food after yesterday's feast. We (Robin, Lisa, Gio, Bela & I) watch 'Withnail & I' while both girls & Kasper visit a scene of Dionysian revelry in nearby village.
Christmas Eve. Learning how to learn. Giotto depicts Francis, creator of the first model manger. Letty drives Lisa & me to an evening service at a Catholic chapel in the next village, Tiszakurt. Sermon on the theme of possibility. Service packed so we have to stand in the corridor. A lad in glasses tells us that the previous priest was murdered by some Gypsies about a year ago, so this priest is new. On the way out as we leave, a dark low-hanging tree branch jabs me in the eye.
Last night, crossing the grass the Plough and Pole Star seemed absurdly large and close over my head, bigger in the sky than I'd ever seen them. Tonight, they're far more normal in size, and a puzzle piece clicks into place.
Tuesday. Quiet day on Hungary's Alfold or Great Plain with Gio from Rio, Lisa from London, & Robin's children from right here. Paris Match interviews French airline executive who thinks that the first of the two recent ill-starred Malaysian flights might have been shot down for approaching a military airbase on Diego Garcia.
Monday. Christmassy angelic hosts flank apartment hearth goddess. During busy scrambling around town in the day a wonderfully restful early-afternoon interlude of hot Thai soup with long-lost Rob. We talk about shysters in general and one extraordinary Hungarian adventurer in particular. This man, early in the 20th century, became a Buddhist monk, a Liberal MP, a spy, and escaped from prison on the Isle of Wight.
Robin arrives after dark with Letty, Zsuzsi, & Lisa for the drive down to the Great Plain.
Sunday. Strangely hectic day. Bracing bittersweet winter sun pours down my street in the morning. A swaggering polka-dot mini-skirted future as imagined in about 1965. A slightly bleaker, emptier, quieter future
as imagined now.
Saturday. More time with Paul from Romania having leisurely coffees before his flight, discussing ambition, destiny, love & the value of history. On the subject of Portuguese dictator Salazar, he says "He personally intervened to make sure Coca Cola would not be allowed to sell their disgusting drink in Portugal. He truly was the father of his people." In between anecdotes about men on trial for having close friendships with their dogs, he wisely avers that "Assassination is the sincerest form of flattery."
Friday. Meet Paul from Romania, though somehow we miss each other off the night train. He tells me some excellent stories about life in Bucharest. In the early evening, Boardgame Orsolya explains that conventional fatalism and free will are not the opposites they seem. Her view: personhood is a mistake, and thinking either that a) you have to be a person to act responsibly, or that b) not being a person allows you to act irresponsibly, creates a false dichotomy. Working with what she calls the free play of universal consciousness is, it appears, not something like either orthodox free will or orthodox determinism. Perhaps like swimming with and against various currents, a view I had decades ago but couldn't articulate well.
Thursday. For everyone out there called something like Chelonis or Spektre or Remo. People with normal names aren't allowed to make tunes like this.
Wednesday. Along with oil prices (since the semi-secret US/Saudi oil-production-increase deal) the ruble is collapsing this week. Has Putin been foiled, as they used to say? One friend says this week that ISIS/Daesh is a better arch-enemy wheeze than bin Laden because "he was just one dude, now they've got a whole legion of dudes".
Tuesday. Markets mock investors. Statisticians
Monday. Junior RBS employee writes open letter to Russell Brand. Amateur humourist better at humour than amateur economist is at economics.
Sunday. Naughty cheat where someone sings a supposedly authentic ancient Babylonian song despite having only lyrics yet no pitch notation, so the tune is made up. Quite pleasant - again a bit Dead Can Dance in feel - but I'm sure if the same reconstruction had been tried in the 1950s, the tune would have been guessed at totally differently. Meanwhile, here is the little-seen earlier version of Mona Lisa / Giaconda by da Vinci. She looks perhaps a decade younger, sweeter, and the background landscape's better too. Somehow cleaner, sharper.
Saturday. Are swingers in open relationships happier than other folk? Seems unlikely, but these researchers think so.
Friday. Fresh from viewing Esoteric Veronica's riverfront office some distance south in the 22nd district, glittering in strangely bracing, uplifting winter sun, I pick up the 2nd batch of prints from the printer and then find Harry outside his stylish fitness gym at 4.30pm, the streets by then completely dark.
December 11th; Thursday. Photo of Apollo space project software engineer + code.
December 10th; Wednesday. According to The Register, the US has the world's 2nd biggest welfare system, meaning biggest per person. North Korea, however, has the planet's largest submarine fleet.
December 9th; Tuesday. How could we forget the Daddy of the MacDaddy so quickly? After a flyby ale with the glamorous Kirsten, a wonderful surprise outing with Franc & Viki where, emboldened by a cherry-themed Belgian beer and a divine dinner, I ramble on about chivalric diplomats, lost civilisations, lesbians: the usual.
December 8th; Monday. Meet a charming illustrator for a drink and finish a text from Robin's library called 'The City of Florence' by R.W.B. Lewis. This is a curious combination of Florentine history, architecture, and anecdotes by a US writer who recounts how he first saw Florence as an army officer during World War Two, and came back again and again as an academic during the postwar years. There are episodes from the last 700 years. The book is rich in descriptions of the more recent centuries, visits late in the 19th century by American writers, and finishes strangely with write-ups of various much-loved shopkeepers and restauranteurs in several districts of the city. In places an awkward mix, there are nonetheless fascinating moments which other histories of Florence (once seeing itself as the new Rome) tend to leave out. The floods, the public debates about the placement of famous statues, the philistine dynamiting of the mediaeval city walls in the 1860s, its brief spell as the capital of the newly unified Italy, some family gossip of remarkable citizens who begat other remarkable citizens. Doesn't quite work as a book, but some fine bits.
Sunday. Met up again with Esoteric Veronica, her friend Ili, and Slovak Magyar Tarot reader Eva for some interesting discussion about the full moon and various turning points. Here an American conservative defender of public transit points out that cars and roads grew at the expense of bus and rail early in the last century due to massive government subsidies to road-building, combined with taxation of rail-based tram networks.
Saturday. Today joined Esoteric Veronica for a very enjoyable rock/classical spectacular thing she invited me and her friend Ili to at the large indoor stadium. Big music, big songs, big emotions: an audience of perhaps 12,000 was thoroughly entertained. The pianist at the centre of it clearly has the sure instincts of a proper showman. Light shows, dancers, video on a big screen all accompanied a programme of rousing orchestral numbers, ethnic song drum & dance pieces, intercut with a couple of quiet piano items for variation. A video back screen showed starry nights, orange clouds of fiery explosions, and slow-motion splashes of primary-coloured paint during one number where a woman singer seemed to be chant/singing (I might be wrong) "I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll-I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll-I'd-die-for-rock-and-roll---" at full belt. There was some Liszt and probably lots of other famous melodies, it all being too well blended and me being too ignorant of the classical canon for me to be sure, all put together with quick, well-rehearsed precision. The crowd applauded with sincere enthusiasm at every break. The overall effect was of
Hollywood thriller climax tunes crossed with the
Last Night of the Proms,
plus a smidgeon of
Dead Can Dance sprinkled over the top. A swelling, Proms-like ending had backscreen video speeding over valleys of sunflowers while black and white balloons descended on the audience.
Not so different, on the subject of emotional film scores, last night watched 'District 9', the imaginative 2009 alien-sci-fi film set in the Johannesburg slums. Some wonderfully convincing details, such as the way the South Africans refer to the ghetto aliens as 'The Prawn'. Hilarious and horrifying by turns, the bureaucratic back story is especially well sketched. If there is a flaw it was in placing the story 20 years into the future. 6 years, or 11, would have been fine for the tale to work. But, most unusually for sci-fi, a character persuasively undergoes real emotional change.
Friday. Yesterday was complex. Today more teaching. 2 articles about Putin & Russia:
Thursday. Remains of a big Norman palace have been found under Old Sarum, an odd hillock I've had my eye on for some time.
Wednesday. More dreary weather. I'm told plusher suburbs of the city had trees so iced up with freezing rain that heavier branches broke off and downed some power lines in the last day or two. Three different musical groups from sunnier climes or times that called themselves Something Continentals, evidently once a choice name that seemed to promise fame & fortune.
The Continental Cousins;
The Fabulous Continentals.
Tuesday. On train back to Budapest am able to get power socket in my carriage to work. Exult in the small victories, citizens. American radio broadcaster Ira Glass talks engagingly about
The Arabian Nights, about two ways in which his post-radio television appearances
changed his life, and about how he
became an atheist endearingly sympathetic to Christians' beliefs. Here Glass gives excellent advice on making good radio or television documentaries.
Monday. Tedious grey skies and drippy rain continue while I snuffle with a cold. Spend yesterday afternoon and all of today toiling over some 15-page business-plan document for a friend. Zsuzsi makes a nice piquant sauce with what's left of the
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