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euskara {basque}
magyar {hungarian}
nederlands/vlaams {dutch}

other links : i ii iii

Can you translate the next 300 words into Hindi, or Korean?; if so, please contact me and there will be rejoicing.


January 31st; My mother's birthday. At least this time I am on hand. Sad that the Co-op has run out of the pink Lambrusco she likes, though the white version is almost as tasty.

January 30th; Finished the old copy of 'Augustine' by Christopher Kirwan [from the 'Arguments of the Philosophers' series] I was part-way through. Not as dry as I remember it [unless I got drier in the meantime]. The part that really interests me, Augustine's view that God is outside time, was well-explained but a little unsatisfactory, as Kirwan mainly looks at logical difficulties reconciling being outside time [or 'before' time] and yet acting within in it. More a cue for a real discussion of time itself than a run-through of Augustine's manoeuvres in dealing with it, I'd have thought, but I suppose the series isn't called Arguments of the Philosophers for nothing. A glossary of Latin terms used by Augustine, and a few pages outlining roughly what happens section by section in each of his works would have been nice features for this book.
January 29th; Paul Johnson's book 'The Renaissance' is stylishly readable and beautifully concise. A treat to find buried under other stuff on my mother's sofa. A few odd points in the book gave a slightly overconfident, High-Table feel to this crisp overview. Johnson stresses the centrality of Florence and Italy, breezily apologising for the awkward fact that printing was invented in Germany and oil painting was invented in the Low Countries. He decisively describes Christian Europe's first university as Paris [though Bologna predates it by almost a century] and the world's first university [Fez, Morocco, founded in the 800s, still teaching] is completely avoided. Even the Islamic universities in Moroccan-controlled Europe [Cordoba, Seville etc] which predated Bologna by a further century, go unmentioned: perhaps a sore point for the seriously Catholic Johnson. He deals with Islam in a single paragraph about Arabic commentaries on Aristotle. Clipped biographies of individual artists are the best thing about this book. Donatello is perhaps the central artist of the Renaissance, Johnson states boldly, adding "Here are a dozen ways Donatello innovated." I couldn't find reason 5, and number 11 appears to be that Donatello had a really nifty way of doing clouds, but Johnson's love for the subject and his flair for summing up is undeniable. Only when an "gold and enamel salt"(sic) that Cellini made in two years is described as something no individual or team [Goodness, Paul] could make "in a century" now, do we detect the role of lashings of black coffee and bottles of a doubtless wonderful vintage in knocking off this book. Perhaps no-one at W&N is quite brave enough to edit the grand old man, and granted, his prose is so good it needs very little tweaking. Two pages about how the technical limitations of fresco painting on wet plaster create the light, clear colours and sharp outlines we associate with Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi and other Florentine artists are probably the highlight of the book for me. If anyone can write a useful and attractive book about Renaissance sculptors, painters, and architects without any pictures, this is it.

January 28th; Finished my mother's copy of 'Among the believers' that I started last year. Engrossing, though the cool gaze of Naipaul on any religious naivete he encounters is sometimes almost too cool to bear reading. With donnishly deceptive gentleness he interviews Muslims in Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia and depicts them as well-meaning but darkly narrow-minded, just as with the Hindu village-pride activists he takes apart in his books on India. He finds blinkered fanatics with genial, sincere, civilised exteriors. Worrying if he is misrepresenting them, even more worrying if he is depicting them as they really are. His chat with two "brave girls" who earnestly mouth Islamic platitudes about sexual modesty and covering their own female bodies, is interesting. Though he mentions the pretty high-heeled shoes one is wearing, and their admission to eagerly reading Mills and Boon romances, the meat is in their confused answers to his mild questions.
Naipaul's overall claim in much of his writing is that 20th-century anti-colonialism despises and blames Western culture as a magically given world background, even while using it without apology for its superior technology, banking system, cultural openness etc. His soft manner disguises contempt for Third-Worldism and how it sees Europe and America.
Sheer rarity of admissions that being invaded might be a good thing brings back film-director Zoltan Kamondi telling me in the Astoria coffee house that "of course" Hungary benefitted from the Ottoman Turkish invasion. Blinking, I asked why. "Contact with a higher civilisation" he answered wearily. It is over three centuries since the Turks left Hungary, and I have not heard in ten years another Hungarian say this [apart from Edina, a specialist in Turkic languages]. Which suggests wounded national pride can take a very long time to heal. It says something about our time that Naipaul only gets away with saying these things because he is [a] elegantly diplomatic and [b] a dark-skinned Indian man brought up in the Caribbean during the closing years of the British Empire. In the final paragraph he sums up Islamic revivalism as a kind of neo-socialist provincialism.
January 27th; My mother's Taschen photograph book 'High Gothic' is lovely to look through. Perhaps it was a little bit of a mistake to actually read it, though there were lots of interesting things to learn from Gunther Binding's slightly list-like text. He convincingly dismisses the idea that the cathedrals in themselves encapsulated a philosophy, and emphasises the role of northern France in pioneering most of the stylistic innovations within Gothic. I would have liked more line diagrams to help explain the photographs, and especially a diagram or diagrams at the start showing all the special architectural terms [instead of a diagram at the back showing a quarter of the terms]. This would have complemented a better-compiled glossary, rather than the confusing and incomplete one you get. For example, what's a 'gablet'?. Black and white photographs would have better brought out the textured detail of some of the most encrusted surfaces, such as Lichfield, Wells, and Strasbourg cathedrals' detailed facades.

January 26th; Robin & I drive up to Yorkshire where I arrive at my mother's and he continues up to the Borders.
January 25th; Pop into jaded London to do some market research for Nigel at the bookshops. Borders and Blackwell's have arrived, Dillons bought by Waterstone's. Foyle's depressing as ever, though their politics assistant was very helpful.

January 24th; On Nigel's computer, reading about schools.
January 23rd; Very hard to recharge a Pannon GSM phone with a Vodaphone top-up, say 11 or 12 local phone-card shops. In fact very hard to even phone [seamless voicemail menu overlooking my case, which hung up each time I tried to obtain a live adviser] or e-mail [no e-mail address, online form refuses to let me send query without a UK mobile phone number] Vodaphone for help. How odd such shoddy work goes uncorrected everywhere. Later, Nigel invites me out to a fine noodle house round the corner, where he tells me about an English friend of his who at 28 is already married to his 3rd Japanese wife.

January 22nd; Breakfast with Ralph & Robin. Ralph shows me a book about the Earl-of-Oxford=Shakespeare theory. After some tile dealers I go back to Nigel's, meet Rigo.
January 21st; Get into town to meet Robin at Christie's for a Hungarian Cultural Centre show about portrait painter Philip de Laszlo. With Nora meet modest Bea and mysterious Dodo. Ralph puts Robin, Dodo & me up at his for the night.

January 20th; Over breakfast Robin & I get very excited by a large picture book of Christian's about cheeses. Nuel shows us the latest at his gallery. The alarming visions of Corinna-in-her-wolfsuit and Julia Schrader will stay in my dreams a while, for sure.
A quiet ferry crossing. Once in south London, Nigel & Fiona welcome me with copious servings of chilli-flavoured vodka.
January 19th; We bid farewell to Johannes & Anna (+ Mario, Jacintha & Florina), in their Eifel retreat. A SEAT dealer replaces the spare tyre and rearranges the other tyres for the snow. At Nuel's in Cologne we meet Christian & Andre. Christian tells us how he has to think in feet & inches to work with French film directors, and startles us enthusing about how they divide space up more organically than metres. Well, yes. One French director, he says, enjoys declaiming that "an inch is an inch!". Gosh.
A rather wet evening ensues going round the Cologne Furniture Fair's various locations round town, in the rain. At the French Institute, beautiful Camembert cheese, the best carrot cake I've ever eaten, and little moist, bendy gingery things far too tasty to deserve the name 'biscuit'. Shame about the furniture designers.

January 18th; A long day driving and a puncture as darkness falls in Daun. Robin changes a front wheel under a streetlight outside a garage door with a talking treestump painted on it. Three miles later we reach Johannes and Annaīs. During a late dinner, Jacintha, aged three, introduces me to her fluffy stuffed snake. Then we watch a film by Matthias, `Be gottī, on video. Haunting use of didgeridoo music and beautifully-placed camera shots. Some nifty tricks in the story.
January 17th; With Puedi, we walk the two dogs by the river.

January 16th; Morning at Puedi and Axel`s, waking to the sound of a busy local woodpecker. In the afternoon Florian brings his Austrian-American bride-to-be Ilona and their large fluffy dog. Later Fuffi, Axel & Patrick arrive for merriment.
January 15th; Wake up in Assunta and Matthias`s house, unrecognisable from last year. In place of a collection of small rooms with wooden stairs next to an old barn, is a tasteful white-walled apartment, the kind that sprawls across architecture magazine picture spreads and soul-music videos. By the evening we make it to Puediīs, having, just like last year, got ourselves lost driving round Munich for a couple of hours first. In the kitchen, Puedi & Elke are discussing life.

January 14th; Superb day. Gorgeous, bittersweet winter sunshine. Pieces of puzzle fall into place while on bus to school. Marion invites me down the road for coffee & pogacsas. I get e-mail jobs done on the school computer. Meet up with Tim for drinks while we wait for Robin. Robin & I drive out of town and make it to Assunta`s outside Vienna for a wonderful dinner. Her husband Matthias hypnotically explains over red wine his advertising-film production job and why he got rid of the television from the house. He sees me as an old monk, and regards monasteries as engine rooms of psychic power.
January 13th; Tiring. Running around asking help from kindly Steve. Esther sweetly invites me out for a late drink. We bump into the charming Anthony.

January 12th; At school. Miracle! Both Hussam & Sari voluntarily pay ahead.
January 11th; Depressing Sunday wondering what will happen.

January 10th; Since Vicki the fox terrier is on heat and slipped her lead for 1/2 an hour after dark, a very cross Georgina takes me into the garage and holds the poor thing upside down by the back legs while I pour a bottle of dilute vinegar down her little whatsit. Apparently, Hungarian boasts no fewer than six distinct verbs for a female animal being on heat. According to Szabolcs, the splendid list is as follows:
kecske [= goat] uzekedik ;
[= dog] tuzel ;
[= pig] bug ;
[= horse] sarlik ;
[= cat] & nyul [= rabbit] bagzik ;
[= cow] & szamar [= donkey] folyat,
without any dots & ticks of course. Corrections, anyone?

January 9th; After I manage to wheedle no less than three painkilling injections out of her, Eva removes one of my wisdom teeth. Yes! Am naive again!
After dozing, finish 'A History of Islamic Spain' by Watt and Cachia, an appealingly stern-looking Edinburgh University Press paperback from the 70s. Still find Arabic names muddling, but at last seem to be getting clear that Averroes is Ibn Rushd's euroname. The survival of Granada as a separate Islamic kingdom in the south for another two and a half centuries after the rest of the country had gone Christian is probably the one fact that will stay with me. Not too much on the Sufi influence on courtly-love troubadours, the heart of what Romance means for Romance Europe, but at least I wasn't imagining I'd read that somewhere else. Ibn-Tufayl's 'Hayy ibn-Yaqzan' sounds intriguing if it really did prefigure Rousseau's much-praised 'Emile' by six centuries. Odd to see Toledo as the big town in the centre of Spain, with no Madrid on the map. Also the Alhambra palace, at least in grainy black and white photos, looked rather uglier than I expected, but am probably missing something.
So supposing Charles Martel had lost to the Moroccans/Moors in 732 near Poitiers? Might France & Spain never have emerged? Particularly striking that in 1492 Spain expelled its Jews, forced conversion of its Muslims, had an Italian expedition discover America for it, and pushed the Islamic kingdom of Granada into final surrender. Busy year.

January 8th; An opening at APA for two Finnish painters. Bruno Maximus, a mix of Salvador Dali and the Dr Seuss illustrations, was quite fun.
January 7th; Istvan helps Robin print. 2 fluffy giraffes watch from the office sofa.

January 6th; The Sexy Dentist looks in my mouth. Says 1 of my fillings has unfilled.
January 5th; Starting to recover. On telly, Dutch children playing cricket.

January 4th; My teeth ache & I get heavy headcold. Fab.
January 3rd; Toothache but a lovely afternoon at Diana's with Szabolcs, Janos & Virag. Diana kindly gives the children & me a quick spin on one of her horses. Janos tells Robin & me that a founding musician in the Galloping Coroners group is also an astronomer who has proved that periodicity in alignments of the planets causes our sun's 11.5-year sunspot cycle.

January 2nd; Venetians Giovanni & Margerita drop by with 6 other jolly Italians, including Chimera, Riccardo & Marianna. Not enough time to get to know them, sadly.
January 1st; Georgina reminds me how to make pancakes. Then Zsuzsa & I make some. Others get bored, leaving me alone in the kitchen with only the hiss of the gas-ring. The bowl of creamy liquid becomes a slowly mounting stack of warm, floppy yellow discs. Soothing. -

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact@otherlanguages.org

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