Latin-translator Zeno cooks dinner with
A mildly interesting article about Hungary now unlinkable, so here is Erik's
I miss last train out of Pest, but
sweetly picks me up in Kecskemet with
Zeno & his friend Istvan [another resident of the Great Plain who
but has never met Edina].
Linda & Mike pop over to Heather's for dinner.
Linda says she once got
very worried by a truck with a logo of a big eye displayed on the back.
Brian for citing as two good-looking Americans
Schwarzenegger [Austrian] and
Anderson [French Canadian].
was right: we should try to go to
Heather & I cancel our trip to see
done with puppets tonight because she still has
ringing in her ears.
Mormons like coffee, but see tea as a drug.
neuticles.com. My eyes water.
In an idle couple of hours, I make the mistake of reading a book SF Jessica
kindly left me. Perhaps not a mistake - worryingly educational.
First Time I Got Paid For It' is a book of short articles by
Hollywood screenwriters about the first time they got paid for writing. The subtitle
('And Other Tales from the
Hollywood Trenches') sets the scene for the mass of
unctuous, self-congratulatory preaching inside. As if comparing the difficulties
of trying to earn a living selling screenplays with risking death & maiming
in World-War-One's trenches was not a tasteless, weak enough metaphor,
the essays inside really hammer the self-love message home. The book is packed with
dreadful prose. Someone called Miguel with no writing
credits listed rambles on for 7 pages about how the first Apple
computer he bought in the early 1980s now looks really old compared
to the newer Apples he has owned since. One Australian is drily amusing about
the twits he meets in LA, mentioning an agent who, at a restaurant lunch, "threatens"
to saw his own arm off with a butter knife. But what is really startling is page after
page of I-tried-and-I-tried-and-I-goddamned-tried-and-hell-I-finally-made-it
from people who are now apparently of galactic dimensions because they helped script
three films I've never heard of. A writer called Tina describes with reverent awe
a writer called Alex "On the breaks we'd walk the acreage of
Haley farm finding artifacts, interesting rocks and unusual plants. He even found an
ancient Indian arrowhead which he gave me." This Alex is such a
martyr that he keeps small change to the value of 18 cents framed on his wall
because he had only 18c in his pocket the day he learned his novel had finally been
published. We even hear what he had in his fridge that day.
continues, respectfully bowing her head to One Who Has Suffered More Than Even She)
"I didn't feel bad about my mounting bills for I
had far more than 18 cents.
I had a mentor - a great Sage." This is only page 6.
Another 246 pages of this drivel lie ahead.
I assume "irresistible browsing
book" is a publisher's euphemism for something so badly
written they don't expect anyone to ever read it all the way through. Of course,
screenwriting is a
different craft (they use words like 'craft', 'build', 'polish', 'structure' a lot) from
writing an entertaining or informative three-page essay, but a naif like me might
expect professional writers in their field to know that. Perhaps watch out for their own
limitations in another type of composition? Believe it or not, several
of these writers start off with a pompous opening paragraph proudly listing how good
they were at English at school.
After wading through this cheerleading by the vain for the
vain, I'm no longer surprised at how dull
most films out of LA are, even with all the interesting rocks and unusual
plants. All these writers emphasise character in story-telling, but their
histrionic self-importance suggests they have little of their own.
Stephen's birthday party at
& company listen to my
Cake & tea with Liia / Jasmina on
company event on
Franc kindly drives me to village of
from the Pocokmedia days, makes us lunch,
we load up the old
into Franc's car and return to Pest.
Whereupon Heather rustles us up some dinner. Later, met Esther & Robin 3, the futurist.
Esther & I choose photos for magazines
barcoded. Missing her
Ah, so it's 'Leader
The Pack', then.
Magnificent black thunder clouds over
Heather throws party.
from Munich tells me about his adventures with
Perhaps the highlight was Heather in the kitchen asking some guests
if they wanted cream in their coffee while we all pretended not to notice an entwined
couple edging their way into the back of the room, and then into the cupboard.
map meeting with
down to south
Pest with the map-bag to meet
map-makers Zsolt &
Andrea my first time. At Hatar Ut metro station I
look to find which bus-stop the 194 bus goes from. A
typical retarded Hungarian map (a large-scale plan
of the streets around the station) shows where ten
bus-stops are in loving detail, except that north is not marked, there is no
mark showing where you are, no way to distinguish the
metro exits, no landmarks to help on the map [for
example the huge Europark shopping centre around fifty
yards away is left off the plan, presumably
because they refused to pay a bribe to be on it] -
and only one street name matching the bigger map. So
the plan confirmed that there was a 194 stop somewhere
nearby within a 360-degree arc. Useless. I asked three
people and finally found the bus. When I get to
the map-designers' address I discover that (slightly worryingly)
they had given me directions from the bus stop yet linked to
a junction 1/2 a mile the other side of their house, taking
me 20 minutes out of my way. Oh dear. Sun comes out. A
lovely suburb which would have been quiet and charming
if Hungarians could learn to train their neurotic
dogs not to bark all the time like
broken car alarms, but to bark only when an intruder
enters the house at night, for example. Sophisticated stuff,
definitely dawdling this year.
A girl in a metro station gives me a 3-inch cardboard cut-out of a
with the mixed-language slogan on it: "I
love ananasz". Its perfume is very
sweet, something between pineapple & strawberry.
Cool, damp weather. Hungarian spring postponed again. I can
get this sort of
Morning: waxing Heather's floor. Afternoon: back in the Marriott
still strongly scented by the new pine planking they put in about three weeks
invites me over to a lovely dinner with Csilla, John, Bea & Gabi. John tells of
his pastry-chef days in a bunker beneath the
We then watch
show while I blow at their fat cat to keep it away from me. Brunette TV presenter looking
even more deer-in-the-headlights than usual turns out to be (new hairdo)
Interesting to contrast
article about Pope JP2's recent death. Hitchens intriguingly compares the Catholic
church now to the Soviet Union in 1960.
copy of 'Generativ
Grammatika', an extended interview with
Chomsky, translated by
in 1985. Perhaps it was not particularly wise of me to read Chomsky on linguistics in
Hungarian, but it was mercifully short. He takes some trouble to tell his interviewer that
people who think 'deep grammar' is in some conventional sense 'deep' are getting quite the
wrong idea, and the closing pages of the book mention an intriguing-sounding subject called
'generative poetics'. Chomsky says it sounds interesting but loftily adds it is not something
he has anything to say about. He is meticulous about crediting other linguists who have done
some "interesting work", saying in the same breath how each is really separate from his own
approach. He has an odd view of the scientific method (Is
to blame?) which emphasises lots of detailed, piecemeal work, but also allows so many provisos
& changes of direction, it is hard to know what the thesis that would be tested actually is
any longer. Perhaps MIT is the new Paris. An odd echo with his political writing is the need
for an overarching explanatory theory which is both just out of sight, embedded in thickets
of detail, and yet at the same time oddly simple. People who are good at minutiae often seem
to be quite naive at the overview level. Despite the careful explanations, I fail to see how
his rival linguists analysing features like reflexivity and active/passive have somehow stayed
on the surface, while he is penetrating to some more fundamental set of grammatical relations.
Hard not to feel Chomsky is claiming credit for rediscovering nouns and verbs. Also the mystery
of new unique sentence generation never seemed mysterious to me. When I see what little else
they do all day, I am struck by children's slowness to pick up language 1, getting to a
10-year-old's proficiency after about fifty thousand hours of intensive practice - at least
a hundred times what a bright adult needs to talk like a 10-year-old in a 2nd language. I
also can't help finding this idea that every speaker can produce a huge number of new sentences
totally banal and in need of no special account. How else would it be, and why does this
suggest a "language organ"? It reminds me of what makes
law so hard to explain - everyday experience with friction makes us assume
that moving objects not slowing down in space needs explanation. Newton was clever
because he realised continual motion needed no explanation - it was slowing down in an
atmospheric medium that needed to be explained. Similarly, everyone being able to produce
an endless number of unprecedented utterances is the sort of thing you might think remarkable
if you had worked a lot with early computers and
But once utterances begin to be taken as labels for features of the surrounding world, which
is sufficiently bitty and detailed to generate numerous possible utterances (especially with
recursive rules) this combinatorically huge open-endedness need not be a mystery. Why should
it? And has Chomsky's work helped either artificial intelligence or language-learning strategies for humans? He's probably the
Comte of our time: pedantic, plodding, and arid.
Misi suggested I try
Finished Stephen's P.G. Wodehouse book
Ho, Jeeves'. First book I've read by Wodehouse. Was always rather put off
by the Bertie Wooster cult until now. Very funny and easy to read - reminded me of the
Spectator reviewer who recently
described Wodehouse's writing slipping down "like lemon sherbet". The
plotting is extremely tight, and the language is enchanting, though I did find Wooster's
unending linguistic gymnastics tiring at points. I can see why my mother always cringed
at these books, and the slang is so closely observed and of its time, it is hard to
imagine this fiction lasting long. Unless we get the slightly hard-to-imagine result
that Wodehouse's books themselves keep those speech forms alive, like Shakespeare.
However, beneath the surface of Bertie's cheerily twittish narrative lurks some acute
psychological observation. No-one is quite a character in the full sense of the word,
but the book is filled with lively and believable caricatures. Tuppy, for example,
has "far too much
lower jaw" and
"eyes too keen and piercing for anyone not an Empire builder or a
traffic policeman". I wonder if the near-overlap at
the same school with
Chandler means they had an English teacher in common.
1900 was Wodehouse's last year at
College (a school founded by the theatre-owner
who employed Christopher
Marlowe) and Chandler's first. Both writers use a distinctive
central hero (both rather touchingly honourable) narrating in first person,
summing up other people with vivid, pithy images ("It
was a blonde. A
blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.")
and both were proud to write popular fiction - past that, hard to say.
Lightweight by design, 'Right ho, Jeeves' floats to
its neat conclusion almost like a fluffier piece of Anatole's cooking, while the
Rolls-Royce of Jeeves' mind purrs
smoothly into higher gear just in time. Highly polished comic entertainment.
Pompous porters lock me out of
In the afternoon at Moszkva square I pass a
pleasant-looking young man carrying a black briefcase.
He was wearing a four-inch cross on a chain round his neck
the upside-down way favoured by
Now that, while the covers are drying, both the bedding and
the floor are shinier, I can confirm that at night I
do indeed rotate like a
needle, in my case
anti-clockwise. I go to sleep on the floor
lined up with the room, so with my head pointed
northeast, feet southwest, and wake up with my head
pointing NNE and my feet SSW. I suppose what I should
test is whether I continue rotating night after night
if I don't reset myself each evening, or whether I
come to rest once I'm pointing due north.
shopping centre, saw a sad-looking man
wearing a shirt that said twice in English "You have the power by
being yourself". Once in white one-inch letters on
pale blue, and once in dark blue two-inch letters on
white. He didn't seem to really believe his shirt.
Cleaning flat with Heather. Then she & I meet
& James at
table outside in brilliant sunshine slicing down Paulay Ede street. James tells us about
Scrabble in English. Then see
& her friend Jessica the plasterer to return
books. A good day.
Office day, and then to a
types in the
7th district. Justin had invited me to meet a
group producing a Hungarian version of an
magazine. Meeting started
late, so I took my time reading the walls. When we finally convened, Justin
sat - without conscious irony, I think - on the detached car seat in the corner.
Inside tram 4 going there, over the doors, was a small black & white sticker of a smiling
woman's face, with the slogan: 'Work,
Eat, Fuck!' Spring at last?
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com
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