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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.

2002 Q1 & Q2

August 31st; Deadline stuff for Cannes and Milan.

August 30th; Changed trains at Kecskemet for the evening trip back to Pest. On the platform, a metal trellis mast has hanging inside its four verticals a stack of 11 cement hoops pulling the free end of a 1-inch-diameter steel cable tense. This is to hold the overhead power wires taut. The block of 18-inch-diameter, 4-inch-thick cement polo mints hangs a couple of feet above the base. It looks solid, but very slightly swings to and fro.
August 29th; Bob e-mails that I've missed the Budapest Pa-ra-de (vowels as in 'carjack spray'), the annual day of slow-moving truckloads of topless girls & loud music.

August 28th; Horrible cat-allergy asthma from Robin's new kitten. And a nasty needling cut in my left armpit makes me feel like a character in a Cronenberg movie.
August 27th; At 10pm, Robin & Constantine meet me off the train at Lakitelek. Village pool hall until midnight.

August 26th; On Tuesday, my Erd student, bless her, just back from Amsterdam, told me she was pretty sure that Hungarian (her native language) and Dutch (the language she couldn't follow a word of while in Holland) must be closely related. I checked several times if she really meant to say that, and she did. But today, she made a breakthrough, and started using the English passive correctly. Excellent moment. Later on, caught Bob zooming through town, and at Chez Daniel we discussed decorated buildings and how often prices end .99 in Arabic (How often do they end .99 in Arabic, people? )
August 25th; More tiredness. My Achilles tendons hurt, but I am not Achilles.

August 24th; A lovely dinner with Heather, Linda & Ally. Ally, the ex-hypnotist & soon-to-be management consultant, memorably describes John Kerry as "like tofu, but better than Satan".
August 23rd; Surprisingly tiring day. Probably the low point was sitting in the conference room with at least ten framed photographs, none hung straight, of one Hungarian TV journalist hugging or greeting Gorbachev, in order to hear out two musical composers cross that 2 of their electronic compositions ended up on a pornfilm soundtrack 8 years ago. Since the contracts showed the music was correctly bought, but from dodgy friends of theirs who dishonestly signed themselves as writers of the tracks, there was really nothing for us to discuss. Everyone spoke quietly, in the Hungarian style, one podgy composer managing low-key friendly insistence while the other podgy composer ground his teeth and twitched in silence. The wheedling reasonableness became harder to keep up once the sound of power drills coming through ceiling & walls started.

August 22nd; A reactor worker from Chernobyl who still lives. 'Chernobyl' in Russian and Ukrainian means 'mugwort', a spice. Meanwhile, good old Maddox is still going strong.
August 21st; For a couple of blocks along Szondi utca, I slowly catch up with a small blonde woman dragging her feet and an even smaller boy with pale brown hair. The boy was attached to two helium balloons shaped like animals. One was a zebra with black stripes on an iridescent, metallic silver background, exactly the same size as the boy. The other was a red-and-black ladybird beetle about 2/3 the size of the zebra and the boy.

August 20th; Coffee & cake with Heather & Linda. Heather tells me how classy the Chicago Style Manual is.
August 19th; Surprisingly hard to fax 2 pages to Paris.

August 18th; Over to Jeremy's office for Robin's disc. On the way out of the building, we find a discarded fluffy green crocodile, so I take it home.
August 17th; A very pleasant drink with Tim. We touched on the increasingly bossy & nosy state, and why so few people are opposing its tumour-like growth. To my surprise, we were waited on by Mariann's friend Margo. As we left, Ilan stopped by, perky as ever.

August 16th; On the way to catch my train, in hot, mid-afternoon sun, Robin, Bela, Vicki the dog & I visited the 8th World Meeting of Felt Art, mysteriously happening down the road in sleepy Lakitelek. Robin is suitably dressed in his father's felt racing hat. We got there and found, under a tree, a grinning Kyrgyz man enjoying a cigarette. He squatted quietly next to a yurt, gher or Central Asian tent (there were at least five of these in different stages of construction). Around him were about a dozen friendly hippy types rubbing wool into giant rubber balls - by this stage covered with matted, soapy felt. Nearby, outside the folk-art school building stood trestle tables where 10 or 12 others were soaping felt strips, braiding them, making colourful soft things out of... well, felt. Elsewhere on the grass, a serious German man was steaming willow strips to make gher/yurt frames; a happy Hungarian man wound string into rope with a big hand-turned wheel; a jolly Dutch lady was bouncing a large, soapy, felt-rubber ball. A girl in a long brown dress and a tall Dr-Seuss-style felt hat, when I asked her nationality, said "European", so she was obviously German. Rather refreshing to meet some people actually making things.
August 15th; Pegging my wet clothes onto the line in hot sun today, long grass chattering away with various insects, I suddenly remembered being in Ghana with my mother the summer I was 9. The heat and the quiet, chirruping bugs, mother & I in the shade reading our way through her Methodist friend's cardboard boxful of paperbacks.
Finished 'Szamok valosan innen es tul' by Donald Knuth, translated into Hungarian by Janos Viragh [original title 'Surreal Numbers'], from Moni's library. Despite being slim & chatty, this is a rather testing tale about two folk {Alice and Bill} in a desert-island-type environment, who stumble on a stone tablet giving the basic rules for a number system suggested by John Conway. This defines each number as represented by two sets of numbers, a left-hand and right-hand set, and two rules. Rule 1 is that no element of the left-hand set can be larger or equal than any element of the right-hand set. Rule 2 says a number is less than or equal to another number if no element of the first number's left-hand set is larger or equal to the second number, and no element of the second number's right-hand set is smaller than or equal to the second number. Still reading?
So Alice and Bill, in between falling in love, discussing pregnancy, and fixing an endless succession of bites to eat ["What a great lunch you cooked, Bill!" "Only because of those lovely fish you caught, Alice!"] work out Conway's numbers, learning how to prove results on the way. In other words, this 70s book is something like Blue-Peter-builds-the-real-number-line. Successive days create new numbers, in between pairs of existing numbers. Knuth is the author of the interesting-looking but intimidating book on algorithms I saw in Mate's flat during the Italian architecture contest disaster of 2001. A & B work through a series of proofs, all the way to showing that Conway's elegantly minimal two axioms can even generate Cantor's transfinite numbers. All a bit too difficult for me.
Later in the afternoon, while Robin motored off to pick up Zsuzsi from Tiszakurt, I finished his copy of 'Artistic Theory in Italy 1450 to 1600', a slim and clearly-written 1940 paperback by, of all people, Anthony Blunt. While not wanting to read too much Fourth Man stuff into it, there does seem a faint tinge of regret as he charts the shift from the rationalistic, republican Florence of the 1450s to the florid mysticism and complexities of Counter-Reformation Mannerism in Milan, Rome and Venice a century later. Blunt gives Leonardo and Michelangelo a chapter each, because each wrote quite a lot about beauty and aesthetics. As we move from Alberti through the two master artists towards Vasari, Blunt shows how interest in the outer world, at first intense, gradually faded away, how appearances and proportions yielded to emotionalism and NeoPlatonist dreaming. Back in Quattrocento 1450 Alberti teaches artists how to make nets and grids in order to perfect perspective - defining painting as copying a slice of the cone of light reaching the eye. 150 years later, the Mannerists love mystery and shadow so much that a friend finds El Greco on a bright summer day sitting indoors shuttered in complete darkness, because that way he can better see his "inner light".

August 14th; A Friday the 13th passed me by, and I didn't notice. On the train down to Robin's yesterday, we unexpectedly rolled to a stop among some fields and bushes. It was so quiet waiting to move again we had only the sound of one newspaper rustling in the carriage and one cricket chirruping in a bush outside. A young couple spoke on and off, but very softly so as not to wake the several passengers who were peacefully dozing, some with their mouths hanging open.
Today, after Robin & I zoomed off on the motorbike and brought back a new wheel from tyre man Mr Gold in the next village, an interesting chat in the kitchen with Georgina. She explained she believes in parallel universes. Bela found a dead snake, and a cheerful young couple came for coffee: a Hungarian girl, her father and her Italian fiance, a plumber. He cried "euro... casino!", claiming he no longer has enough money to save since the euro raised the cost of living in Italy.
August 13th; Yesterday finished Miklos’s copy of ‘They have a word for it’ by Howard Rheingold. Some nice entries, but quite a disappointment overall. The idea is compelling: a list of words from languages around the world for handy concepts for which there just isn’t a good word yet in English. This rather exciting project falls short in several ways. First, a lot are not words but phrases - which feels like cheating, since if you allow phrases, English already expresses many of these ideas very well. And single words like ‘piston’ and ‘zalatwic’, French for the English phrase ‘friends in high places’ and Polish for the English word ‘juice’ [informal influence that helps you get things done], hardly say something the English versions don't express. ‘Wei wu wei’ is the Chinese for what is described as ‘masterly inaction’ in Britain. Also Rheingold includes quite a few which migrated into English some time ago [Zeitgeist, Schadenfreude {misspelt throughout, putting a double d into Schaden}, Gaia, epater les bourgeois]. The largest number are those which aren’t worth importing at all. Among these I’d include ‘tikksun olam’ [Hebrew for changing the world for the better], ‘masa bodoa’ [Javanese for “sociopolitically passive and unaware” - that would be ‘politically apathetic’ in normal English, I believe], and ‘qualunquismo’ [Italian for “attitude of indifference to political and social issues”, which would translate as, let's see, ‘political apathy’?]. We get several Polynesian and South-East Asian words which mean something like ‘co-operate and talk with other people’, which the author piously suggests is something we could learn from those cultures. What do you make of a writer who includes ‘Korinthenkacker’ [German for a person overly concerned with trivial details, not unlike ‘Fachidiot’, for “narrow-minded specialist” 90 pages later] without reflecting that ‘pedant’ already does the job much better?
A lot of long words and phrases, many of which are difficult to say in English, are seriously advocated for adoption into English, even when we have something better, and often shorter. What is going on? After 3 or 4 pages, I found it hard not to feel that Rheingold took on what seemed like a fascinating commission, found a handful of excellent words, but then had trouble completing anything of saleable book-length. So he filled 3/4 of it with words & phrases which add almost nothing new. If anyone could make the case for language not making much of a difference, Rheingold has managed it.
Which are the good new words? People in martial arts might know the Japanese ‘zanshin’ [relaxed alertness in the face of danger]. Japan also offers ‘wabi’ and ‘sabi’ [the beauty of something imperfect, and the beautiful surface of something aged - though ‘patina’ already supplies what ‘sabi’ does, to be honest]. Anthropologists know ‘kula’ [Polynesian for ritual gifts which literally circulate, being regiven to new recipients at regular intervals] and ‘potlatch’ [Haida, Canadian native American, for ritual giving and destruction of presents to show off wealth]. But some of the gems are totally unexpected. ‘Tartle’ is apparently Scots for “hesitate before recognising”. ‘Hakamaroo’ is Easter-Island for “borrow something for so long the lender has to ask for it back” [intriguingly paired with a less useful Easter-Island - that's Pascuense - term for borrowing something as a way of subtly flattering the lender: ‘tingo’]. ‘Zwischenraum’, German for ‘between space’, nicely draws our attention to something we keep overlooking - the space between things, the interstices in the network. ‘Won’, Korean for “unwillingness to let go of illusion”, sounds handy, though also sounds like English words one, won, and wan. ‘Animateur’, French for “a person who is good at explaining complex ideas for lay audiences” is nice, though a bit close to ‘animator’. ‘Bricoleur’, French for “a person who gets things done by randomly messing around”, is pretty much adopted already. But it’s words like ‘lagniappe’ [Creole for an unexpected gift to a stranger or customer] and ‘fucha’ [Polish for using company time and resources to work for your own benefit] that deliver what the book promises. Unfortunately, ‘They have a word for it’ has a lot more words like the one it lists right between lagniappe and fucha - the unpronounceable, absolutely unneeded phrase ‘aroysgevorfeneh gelt’, Yiddish for a bad and irretrievable investment. Not only does the American ‘money pit’ say it better and crisper, and the British ‘throwing good money after bad’ more lyrically, this Yiddish phrase just screams “I ran out of words to fill this book with”. Making the book financially a bit of a dog itself.

August 12th; Iced coffee with Terri, beer with Franc.
August 11th; Mint tea with Catherine at Al Amir.

August 10th; Coffee with Olga, supper with Mihaly.
August 9th; Swam on island. Ran in park.

August 8th; Last night at club with Gabor, Carolyn, Jessica & Udo quite fun.
Early evening tonight read 'The Cryptographer' by Tobias Hill, one of the books Mr Carlson's bookswapping meet left me with. Not quite sure why though. Why did I read this? First 20 pages because I felt lazy, and it was odd to be reading a novel again. Following 80 pages because I couldn't quite believe how bad the writing was, yet kept feeling it would get better. Hill's brittle prose did get a little less squirm-making (or perhaps I just got used to it), and John, the cryptographer, seemed a character who might go somewhere. By then, it's half-read, so it was what-the-hell-might-as-well-finish-it. The idea is that it is about thirty years into the 21st century, and Anna, our heroine, is a "sedulous" inspector for the Inland Revenue given the honour of checking a discrepancy in the accounts of the mysterious 'Cryptographer'. He is John Law, inventor of SoftGold, a widely-used online currency that has rendered coins and notes almost defunct. Like most near-future novels, it's very dated, and reeks of the exact moment it was written - in this case the end of the 1990s. We get lots of stuff about little envelope symbols showing funny new-fangled "e-mail" thingies appearing on those "laptop computers" all the rage among young folk these days. This is a low-key dystopia like 'The Hand-Maid's Tale', but modelled closely on 'The Thomas Crowne Affair', even down to the elusive plutocrat being a Scotsman with humble beginnings. (Old-timers may recall Steve McQueen breaking into his best Glaswegian accent in the night-on-the-beach scene with Faye Dunaway). For extra cleverness points, our bored-yet-philosophical enigma of mega-wealth is given the same name as the 18th-century Scots adventurer John Law. The real Law was the man who broke the French crown by seducing Louis XV into the dangerous delights of printing as many state-backed promissary notes as the state felt it needed. That John Law, who created the financial boom and crash so almighty that it coined (hur hur) the modern word "millionaire", is mentioned nowhere in this po-faced novel, perhaps a way to make some reviewers feel erudite. Vagueness on economics & cryptography (Law's "unbreakable cipher" changes every two weeks, which would make it easier to break, of course) would be fine if the book was more fun to read. Some humour and worthwhile characters would help. We see Anna (the Faye Dunaway role, is she hunter or is she hunted...) slowly falling for the intriguing John Law. You get the feeling that she was the creation of someone who had often heard women in love described, but never actually seen one. The other women characters are even less convincing: sister of Anna, mother of Anna, mother of Law are there because they have to be. Law's wife, like Anna's ex Lawrence and Anna herself, teeter on the edge of believability, while nasty colleague Carl, Law's son Nathan, Terence the gamekeeper, and delightful little girl Muriet make it through into fully-fledged characterhood. With these last four, Hill consistently gets their dialogue right.
All this might work if his arch prose didn't try so hard: "They are Her Majesty's Inspectors after all. ("Her" Majesty, two decades hence?) They are in possession of the facts. They have seen the most unexpected clients lie, so that they have come to expect the worst of people, even of one another; and this is not always without reason, since they know about wealth without possessing it, know a few things about deception. They are not inclined to trust." We get this stuff larded onto every page until we arrive on Law's estate and can relax a bit. It seems we're allowed to relax when we are around Law because Hill is more in awe of mathematics and finance than he is of 'The Revenue', so refrains from patronising his Eminence Gris the way he patronises Anna. Overall, felt a lot like a wannabe film treatment. Or if cut down to a 10,000-word novella, it could have been haunting and atmospheric, all suggestion and mood. Every ten pages or so the embarrassingly bad writing produces a couple of excellent sentences, and you see what he was straining for the rest of the time.
August 7th; Swam 1/2 mile at pool. Overcast, thundery.

August 6th; Literary phone text from Sweden. Pitch German game-show to Tom over breakfast. Bump into Moni at the busstop. I wonder again about connecting two Turing machines 'back to back' (tape1 >> state-table2, tape2 >> state-table1) to model thought.
August 5th; Surprisingly unhungover. Normal day. Hussam tells me a story about a wireline log in Siberia that picked up the howling of souls in hell.

August 4th; Beers with Tim, Steve, Ilan followed by more drinks when I introduce Jessica to Scott, Sam, Rita.
August 3rd; Our name 'House of Harlots' may not work. Already a Brazilian film called that.

August 2nd; Monday in the middle of nowhere in the middle of summer not such a bad thing. Seen off by Robin from Lakitelek. Slow train back through pink-orange sunset. Tea with Jessica at the flat she shares with photographer David by the cathedral. By God I'm lazy.
August 1st; Georgina takes children to Szolnok to see a film. I sew up my bag on the verandah in the sun.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / contact at otherlanguages.org

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