Wednesday. Things are getting odd. Knitted animal dissections.
Tuesday. Russian radio DJ show more voicey/soulful: #347.
Monday. More on that story about a drug-company boss jacking up the price of a life-saving medicine here. Oh and Twitter predicts bourse movements?
Sunday. MIT now has a super-fast camera. Not so different from Britain's dullest men.
Saturday. The KGB was good at spotting American spies in the field? Well, I didn't find it so hard.
Friday. Book on Britain's dullest men. Collecting vacuum cleaners & measuring the heights of hills, they sound like early scientists.
Thursday. A couple of days ago saw that the last black crosses of tape have gone from the wall-sized ground-floor windows of the office block on the corner. A woman was cleaning the floor in there with a strangely small rag.
Wednesday. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Tuesday. Heikki, back in CH from Morocco, gives me vital assistance, and Akos helps me over the technical hurdles.
Monday. Chocolate Lego!
Sunday. Art critic Brian Sewell died yesterday. Here he is slating Hirst and Emin. And this is Sewell's poignant account of his own sexuality and unhappy discoveries about his father.
Saturday. A historian of WW2 I'd not heard of called Snyder sees Hitler as a "racial anarchist", rather than a deranged nationalist. 1st article has Snyder outlining Hitler as an ecological thinker, putting lebensraum in centre place. 2nd article is an Atlantic Monthly interview with Snyder. 3rd article is an attack on Snyder, both for equating Hitler & Stalin, and for criticising the Russian defensive militias which harried the German invasion while the Red Army was still retreating. 4th article is our man in Bucharest weighing up Snyder and the 3rd article's criticisms.
Friday. Slavoj Zizek grapples with Europe's Syrian migrant crisis. Poor love still clings to 'global capitalism' to hold his views together.
Thursday. Designer of Univers dies. Woman & pussy mirror gazes.
Wednesday. Two recent Russian radio shows,
#344, and an everyday tale of Russian toddlers
tunnelling out of the grounds of a nursery to go shopping for sports cars.
Tuesday. A couple of days ago found on the 4/6 tram/villamos a large purple Hello Kitty watch laid out along the side of one seat. No little girl around, woman opposite me denied knowledge. Any distraught small child's parents in Budapest should contact me here. Confusingly, the watch features Kitty being Catwoman: trigger warning? Since Lorinc's kind gift of his old snail-on-speed wristwatch fell out of my pocket a month or two back, I've been coping without a dedicated timepiece. Not sure if a nagy lila Hello Kitty in black leather suits even my eclectic look, however.
Been for a while mulling over the strange pride with which Hungarian shop assistants (or owners) tell you they're out of stock in some item. It's almost a kind of relief in their voice, a reassurance that things are under control. No, we don't have that item in, thank goodness sir! One nearly slipped in last week but we caught it at the last minute and sent it back! They almost tell you they don't have a particular thing in the shop the same way a restauranteur would protest that there are certainly no mice in our kitchen you'll be glad to know! I used to half-think this might be an attempt to assert order - the absence of that thing is a small scrap of certainty. However there's rarely any offer to try to get one, even more rarely a suggestion of where else Mr Customer could get one today. The non-presence of the item in the shop is clearly & smugly stated rather as if not having the item was some kind of accomplishment, and there's an extra edge on top of this. We don't have it, all right? So - You - Can - Leave - Now. Over time I've come down on the side that sees this as a passive-aggressive way of expressing anger at the customer, anger at working in a shop, anger at not being rich yet, anger at the petulant demands of someone they wish would just go away and stop requiring them to exert effort. There's a kind of bitter shame at having to work at all here I think. I've caught a few Hungarian friends letting slip astonishing remarks like "those people used to be our servants" or "we used to have other people doing this kind of stuff for us" (said with a strange laugh) - and this is not from a nation that recently had an empire, except some neighbouring peoples the Austrians let them oversee between 1867 and World War 1. It's as if there's a residual nomad arrogance echoing down the centuries which regards other nationalities as there to do menial chores for the noble-warrior Lords of the Horse.
One part of the anti-semitism here seems to be something like disgust at the way Jews actually try to please customers, make an effort to keep them coming back. As opposed to treating customers with proper contempt as people who should feel lucky & well-treated to be permitted to leave with their wallets intact. I guess this is because the noble-warrior thing to do would be to simply rob them, perhaps then throwing them out into the dusty street with a jolly sword-twirling laugh. We should be ever grateful they let us leave unmolested! It should go without saying that there are many exceptions, but there is something odd about a large number of Hungarians' relationship with the workplace, as if they are granting employers a generous concession just by turning up each day. Telling customers something isn't in the shop seems to give them a strange satisfaction, as if this is how the power relation should be. As if for a brief moment while frustrating someone's hope of obtaining some small item they can feel a little bit dominant. Dominance does seem like a synonym for respect sometimes. As if they feel we should be frightened of them, and they're quietly seething that we aren't. A couple of Hungarian women I've known seem with amazing frankness to see their marriage to a foreign man as a process whereby he works as hard as she requires him to and she gets as much money off him as possible. When a local woman is blocked from exploiting I've seen once or twice a reaction of intense rage, as if she's the one being violated. One Hungarian woman I knew who was badgering her husband for months to raise the rent on a house he owned where the tenant was a middle-aged woman, in private with me (she wanted me too to urge her husband to raise the rent) suddenly switched into a strange snarling voice, rasping "That bitch is taking my money!" Startled by her venom, I quietly pointed out that it wasn't her house or her money, and her husband's tenant wasn't taking it, but giving her less than she'd like. She then gave me a weird blank look, as if I was a broken food blender. This is the context in which growing rich gradually by sincerely serving buyers appears to be for many people here, even some owners, a bitter humiliation. Bad customer service in Britain or anywhere else shares some of this sullen spirit of course, but it's subtly different. In England I sense the rude shop assistant or waiter would just rather be doing some other kind of work and doesn't necessarily feel the very concept of being employed as an assault on their dignity. British college students often do part-time jobs working in bars or building sites, whereas there is something in the astonished horror among Hungarian friends when they see me doing menial labour (like a week of cleaning office windows) to pay a bill which makes me think something deeper is going on here. Something resembling the way many Arabs, another nation of onetime nomadic raiders, see work: as intolerably servile. Something you should have a wife or a rich husband - or slaves - to do for you. It's not just an effect of communism because you can immediately feel a perceptible shift of attitude over any border, whether into Slovakia or Poland or Croatia or Ukraine. I don't think it's about being invaded either: Polish stores don't have this attitude, and Poland's been literally wiped off the map by invaders a couple of times in recent centuries.
The number of Hungarian shops & offices like this does seem to be slowly falling over time. From how it used to be, a huge majority, by now it might even be down to about half. Some retail outlets near me I pop into a lot have genuinely sweet helpful staff (though of course this is a self-selecting group, since unlike many Hungarian shoppers I avoid going into the other places where they make their distaste for customers clear). I sometimes even wonder if I'm just being invited to play along and do a bit of jocular rudeness myself. As if everything would go with the flow if I could only be a bit arsier and talk more waz. Hungarians don't always like it when I do, but sometimes I've found a bit of caustic humour is just what they appreciate. I'm probably supposed to spend the entire day flirting with the women and being matey with the men. The right kind of waz perhaps.
Monday. Steady Harry lays some euros on me before he goes off for a swim. Recent world events include Elizabeth 2 Windsor becoming Britain's longest-ever reigning monarch (and she's had a tricky innings) a couple of days ago, and Jeremy Corbyn (The Geography Teacher) becoming leader of the Labour party I think yesterday or Saturday. Today Mr Corbyn appoints a Shadow Chancellor who (at first hearing) sounds a spectacularly ill-judged choice, but what would I know? It was a few nights ago that Your Man Henry took me for a drink in the 7th district while trying to sharpen my thinking on markets. How to create solutions to people's problems instead of selling pre-defined products, that sort of thing. And a few late afternoons past, I took a tram along the crescent/korut at the golden hour when the sun has almost slipped below the rooftops. Just the upper fringes of buildings glow with intense autumn evening light, almost buttery. Going across the big junction at Blaha Lujza, there was a glimpse down the long, fairly broad Rakoczi street, blocks on both sides sunk in cool shadow. Yet the Eastern railway terminus was visible down at the end half a mile away almost due east, hovering in a magical disc of yellow light. The grand station edifice was bathed in full sunset under a darkening sky, standing free of nearby buildings, outside their shadow.
Sunday. Read to the end of a text I found in Robin's library (sadly this slightly battered almost-190-year-old copy runs out on page 436 with some end pages missing), 'Pinnock's Improved Edition of Dr Goldsmith's History of Greece' and enjoyed much. This text abridged to suit schoolchildren in the 1820s (A foreword vaguely implies this entailed taking out more explicit details of Greek scandal & sexuality) charges through the couple of centuries from Pericles to Alexander. Some of the emphasis struck me as odd. The Greek gods are mixed with other gods with Latin names, so the Roman Jupiter is frequently mentioned (without comment) alongside other gods under their Greek names. Numbers of men in battle are exhaustively given for both sides in every military engagement ("two thousand horse, twelve thousand foot, one thousand archers" and so on), yet there are almost no dates. In a couple of places early on a date since the beginning of the world is given (by Bishop Ussher's 17th-century calculation?) and in a couple of places a date before the birth of Jesus as we might be used to, and in a couple of other places a date according to contemporary dating, years into or since this or that emperor's or king's reign. This means the book contains accounts of almost 100 battles in close numerical detail yet fewer than ten dates. That was frustrating. Thank goodness, Goldsmith's history partly makes up for this by proceeding in chronological order, giving a glimpse of who else was alive when Pericles was, who else when Socrates was, who else when Aristotle was tutor to Philip of Macedon's boy Alexander, and so on. The English is very clear and close to today's language. One or two terms might not be obvious to some readers now: invest, meaning to lay siege to a town or fortress, reduce, meaning to conquer or take control of. Some very small & mild spelling differences, 'negociation' and 'havock' for example.
Saturday. Read three mini-books, all kindly lent to me by young Lorinc. All 3 are heavily abridged Sherlock Holmes stories or collections with restricted vocabularies aimed at foreign learners of English. While reading the Victorian characters of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' talking about everything measured in metres was daft, that one was the closest to feeling like a normal book. This was despite the style (this thing happened, that thing happened, another thing happened) which is naturally forced on these language-learner texts by the format. Though I enjoyed a couple of Sherlock Holmes collections when small, I'm not sure if I ever read the Baskerville tale in its original version. Wondered some years ago if it might be possible to write something new and actually good under such tight constraints, and if anyone would buy it if I bothered.
Friday. Rheumatology Kata, back from summer, cancelled her English lesson yesterday because her cupboard at the hospital is broken and she has to nurse it back to health first. A few days ago while bored I made a couple of boxes out of card, perhaps a sign of returning tidiness. Here's quite a nice summing-up article about the enhanced security promise of quantum computing.
Thursday. Things getting odder and odder among The Daughters of Wolves. With uncanny prescience, Kerrie warned me they might go mental. My Hungarian-border-migrant-fence article should be in the Salisbury Review print edition tomorrow.
Wednesday. Worthwhile, thoughtful article on meritocracy & inherited talent by Toby Young. Had no idea he was son of Michael Young, coiner of the word "meritocracy", originally meant as a negative term of course.
Tuesday. Some African music with disorienting juju-goth video.
Monday. Pop in on Ilan's flat for coffee & dates. We chat about furniture.
Sunday. More gloomy skies. Finish a book borrowed from Robin called 'The German Issue / Semiotext-e' from 1982, which is vaguely depressing in its own right. A sort of analytical, left-of-centre mosaic of texts, it describes a subculture - unfortunately still alive - where modern art, socialist politics, student agitators, and full-on terrorists are all regarded as enmeshed in some essentially noble, commendable joint project of social transformation. What more dates this "semiotext" is the brooding presence of the Berlin Wall, the curious GDR-surrounded enclave of West Berlin, and the grey reality of the Soviet-dominated East Bloc countries. Though the writers are very different from each other, almost all take for granted that "fascism" is something totally and utterly different from "socialism", that whatever seemed to have gone wrong in the communist countries the left-of-centre perspective on society was still worthwhile, indeed urgently important to clarify & develop, and criticising everything about bourgeois West German life was the natural starting point for anything positive. Events of the late 1960s and 70s hang in the background, with special emphasis on the Baader-Meinhof Red Army Faction group and communes of students occupying empty buildings in Berlin and Frankfurt. A few bits of anarchist activity in Zurich get a look in. Aside from quite a lot of irritating content, the presentation is incredibly annoying, with a split-page format that makes the whole thing extremely hard to read (doubtless the editors had a formal justification for this, perhaps the text being hard to read "mirroring the natural contradictions of linear culture" - something like that). The upper half of each page is in a serifed font, the lower half in a sanserif font, separating articles that start and end independently on different pages, so to read everything means constantly flipping forward and backward 3 or 4 pages again and again and again. The two halves of each page are separated by grainy monochrome photographs of things like graffiti-daubed sections of the Berlin Wall, rows of parked cars, the occasional firearm, shelves of German sausages, you get the idea. The editing is appalling, with typos, spelling mistakes, and blocks of text on at least 6 pages in the wrong positions, creating articles where parts are confusingly out of sequence - as if the layout wasn't already tiring enough. Although the fact that moderately intelligent people took (even worse, still take) this overall melange of non-ideas in this kind of format seriously is depressing, there are some very good articles scattered in amongst the trash. Early on an interesting interview with the Bulgarian installation artist Christo about his project to wrap the Reichstag building reveals one of the few genuinely supple and open minds in the book. An interview where a German journalist after the war tries (unsuccessfully) to get a British bomber pilot to admit that he could have spared parts of some towns is interesting, and a sharp-eyed garbage-truck driver discusses how the East Germans force West Berlin to pay high prices to dump rubbish outside the city boundary, frontier officials and truck drivers doing daily business without speaking a single word to each other. A cheerful transvestite relates his life in the brothels and night clubs of the 40s and 50s, an assassin analyses his botched shooting of a government minister, a confusing but intriguing chat with German artist de jour Joseph Beuys, an interview with Walter Abisch about his wonderful novel 'How German Is It' (one of the other rare flexible minds on display in this collection), one of the Baader-Meinhof gang explains what started to disgust him about their beliefs, some smart-alec twaddle from Foucault and Baudrillard - there are a few genuine bargains among 100+ pieces of jumble. A few sample double pages
Saturday. Cool overcast weather. Walk over to Keleti station to interview some of the not-so-desperate-looking refugees camped out in front of the station. One cheeky redhead from Syria sitting in a group that have planted themselves on the ground right in front of the main steps into the station tells me they're a bit tired of talking to journalists. Three sweet Iranians tell me they got a taxi from the border. They all look quite well-fed and all seem to have money for snacks & drinks while they wait out their stalemate with Hungary's authorities.
Friday. During our lesson Boardgame Orsolya describes cutting her wrist accidentally on a glass cupboard top last week and needing to visit hospital casualty at night to get stitches. It takes me to point out to her that the hospital staff first putting iodine into the cut (painful) and then wrenching her ring off her finger with soap and thread (very painful) before giving her local anaesthetic and then inserting stitches is just typical arsehole behaviour from healthcare professionals. Absolutely no reason not to lead with the anaesthetic. She is surprised when I tell her that an incredible half century between 1799 and the 1840s elapsed when surgeons wouldn't use already well-understood anaesthetics like ether on patients during operations. Doctors do like helping people get better, but there is another side to them (less discussed) that also enjoys the power and watching patients suffer a bit.
Thursday. Slightly suspect story of an AI bot telling a human in conversation it will put people in a "people zoo". Feel I've heard this one before. Most likely programmed in, another sneaky attempt to raise more research funds.
Wednesday. More excitement at the friendly stencil printers north up the metro line in Ujpest. Plus an anniversary (yesterday, September 1st, into today) of the Carrington Event, a solar storm in 1859 so huge & fierce that people in Spain or New England could read newspapers by the Northern Lights (visible even in Cuba and the Sahara) and telegraph operators worldwide were getting electrical shocks. Were another solar discharge like that to hit our planet's much denser mesh of interconnected electronics today, it might wipe that photo of you vomiting at Christmas off all the computers on earth.
Tuesday. Fine driving from Robin gets us all to Kecskemet, getting me in particular to the bookbinder in the city library building 15 minutes before it closes. A curious find in another library, one in Birmingham. Either a section of the Qu'ran so old it confirms current texts as canonical, or so old it raises the possibility that some of the scriptures predate Mohammad's lifetime.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com