Tuesday. Moody, late-night tunelet by Harrison BDP: Life Unlimited.
Monday. Finish a book I found on a shelf here: 'Bachelor's Japan' by the rather flamboyantly named Boye Lafayette de Mente, from 1962. A curious period cover, mid-brown with a late-50s/early-60s-style pen sketch of a pair of shoes wearing a hat (as if bachelors are somehow missing the rest of their bodies - and souls? The casual symbolism in cover designs can be interesting.) The book gives quite good value, and it's interesting to see 'punk' used to mean 'young thug' and "gay" written with double quotes but already meaning 'homosexual'. The chances of a foreign male being beaten up in early-1960s Japan seem to be not inconsiderable, although de Mente doesn't dwell on this aspect. A lot of it is refreshingly frank (especially by today's self-censoring standards), and de Mente warns male readers that Japanese girls will quite deliberately use suicide attempts to either blackmail a foreign man into marrying them, or to vindictively harm his reputation with work colleagues.
Sunday. A gene mutation seems to make mice think more flexibly.
Saturday. Depressing article comparing Dickens and Orwell shows how far standards have fallen. Guff about 'systemic solutions' is just glibly stated without any sense of the futile struggle to make those work for almost a century.
Friday. The electrically-operated front gate out here in the suburb known lyrically as the 'Pearl of Buda' seems to have a persona, a bit grumpy and prickly as those go. Sometimes the inner white button starts to open or close it, but sometimes it refuses. Then on occasion, it changes its mind, reversing direction in mid-whirr, beginning to open but then closing again or vice versa. The external keypad on the gatepost seems to be no use in dealing with these moods either.
A friend in France writes a fascinating, rather dark, article about the French left's paedophile tastes.
Thursday. Read a book I find in Iris's office, by John Berger 'Art and Revolution' from 1969. Really it's appalling that someone of the aesthetic sensitivity and empathetic insight of Berger could, as late as the 1960s, still be defending the deeply nasty regime of the USSR. He seems to genuinely believe that Stalin was some kind of betrayal of Lenin, as opposed to the (surely obvious?) reality that Stalinism was the natural fruition of the vileness of Lenin and his feral co-conspirators. Yet Berger's prose, here as elsewhere, is sensuous, tactile, and often exquisitely precise when he turns it to examination of artworks, the artistic process, or the patient stoicism of the people he admires, the poor.
Here he describes part of Eastern Europe viewed from a moving train:
"The sky is very big, the light is stretched across it - stretched so it gives the impression of having been worn thin. Dog-roses along the railway embankments look like mulberry stains on pale green linen - such is the lack of definition, the endlessness, the edgelessness, of the light of the plain.
A woman is watching her cow graze. A couple lie on the pale green linen grass. A cart is drawn by two horses along a straight uneven road. A man bends over some vegetables to see whether they can be picked today. A cyclist appears like a moving post on the far side of the wheat."
Even the rhythm of the journey subtly appears in the short sentences as briefly-seen details flick past the train crossing the huge flatness of the steppes. Reading a writer of such poetic sensitivity lauding the Soviet Union, describing in a closing section the poor world's "three continents" that are "exploited and oppressed" by Europe, speaking with unfeigned sincerity about Marxist revolution, is deeply embarrassing. It's like seeing someone whose hands profoundly understand the sweet physical language of clay or wood ignorantly mouthing cruel dogma from a barbaric religious sect: two sides of one mind out of sync.
The case he uses the book to outline is that a sculptor called Neizestny is sincerely in favour of the socialist revolution that the Soviet state, by the 1960s, is in contrast only partly committed to. Niezestny, he explains, has by historical accident a resonantly symbolic name meaning 'The Unknown One'. Superficially, his sculptures resemble
Berger describes himself what he sees as Niezestny's debt to, and difference from, Moore.
"Moore's imagination is oceanic: his figures are the creatures of forces that overwhelm them. His world, although his sculpture is entirely unliterary, is not unlike
Thomas Hardy's. Neizvestny's imagination, as we have seen, is anthropocentric and based on a heroic conception of the human will." Those three sentences left me wondering whether perhaps Berger's imagination is oceanic and like Thomas Hardy's. In any case he responds thoughtfully to the Russian's sculptures, noting how Niezvestny's technique of working at the inside surfaces of mould pieces gives his pieces a sense of something like a life force pushing out of each human body.
A different comparison might be with the paintings of Francis Bacon, where physical flesh endures nihilistic humiliation & pain. Yet Berger fluently persuades us that this is more a Russian sense of hope, a triumph of life over death, less a negative expression of horror. The cramped, almost unlit, workspace of Niezestny in Moscow oddly recalls Bacon's crammed and equally lightless studio in London. Niezestny defies the regime in certain measure, pursuing his own vision of proletarian socialist art (loyal to what Berger touchingly sees as the inspiration of the Bolshevik revolution). He does this in a way which threatens the official values of the 1960s Party, Berger says, more than a dissident artist could. An open quarrel about art with Krushchev at an art gallery in front of Party dignitaries shows that Niezestny is brave, and that by then some criticism could be tolerated. For Berger, this shows this sculptor carries the flame of 1917 ideals and has potential to bring Russia back to its great moment. For me, it shows Russia was on a slow upward curve, very gradually, painfully healing from the 20th century's primal moment of political thuggishness four decades earlier. The trick by which the Leninists seized power, like hijacking an oil tanker, prefigured Mussolini's power grab, Hitler's power grab, those of all the other students of Lenin.
Wednesday. I quite often have dreams which feel vividly different from my other dreams, and seem to be reports from longstanding other lives. Of course, because I haven't kept a proper dream diary (and even that wouldn't really prove much), I cannot distinguish between the "feeling" I keep revisiting certain alternative lives in my dreams years apart, and whether I really am having dreams that link together across months or years in coherent narratives of their own. So, during the night I am for some reason attending an event at the House of Commons, where I'm on the invitation list because two of my old school English teachers are being given some minor award. All the same I miss the actual event, and am wandering around inside the building. One woman I call up on an internal phone line asks me "Are you War?", meaning am I on the list of arms dealers usually invited to such events, and a few moments later I'm carrying two briefcases, one of which is large, boxlike, and dark grey (but oddly not heavy), and another female official asks me, politely enough, "Weapons trade, sir?" for the same reason.
Tidy little film runs over the pros and cons of storing energy in flywheels.
Tuesday. The pink fluffy socks I bought from a discount store facing Simon's with their smiley faces and chirpy brand name Mr Pamut ('pamut' = 'cotton') perhaps herald a new buoyant phase in my life. They're very comfy. Evidence continues to mount that the 19th 'coronavirus', or COVID-19 has been absurdly oversold as a threat - Nobel Laureate predicts quick recovery, 12 specialists question the panic, and Swiss doctor notes that the average age of deaths in Italy with COVID-19 is 81, with 90% of victims over 70. At the same time, evidence is also mounting that, even if less deadly than claimed, COVID-19 looks manmade, like an unsuccessful attempt at or an early draft of a biological weapon.
Monday. Three days ago, a good-natured Hungarian woman remarks to me as I arrive at an address that "it only feels like a proper home once there's a man in it," (meaning me). I've heard this frequently said about women (that their presence makes a home a home) but struggle to recall any Englishwoman ever saying anything like that in my hearing: that it's a proper home if a man is there.
Meanwhile, for anyone needing guidance on the term 'fruit bat', the following short film might be helpful.
Sunday. Read a 68-page report Iris has lying around, dated to early 2019, about strategic concerns facing Russia and its "international partners" (meaning the US, China, the EU, etc). 'Russian Challenges from Now into the Next Generation: A Geostrategic Primer' is an INSS report in a series called Strategic Perspectives, number 29: authors Brigadier-General Peter B. Zwack and Marie-Charlotte Pierre. Written in standard Pentagon English with a few typos, the overall message is (convincingly) that Russia is under strain, carefully using its military and quasi-military power to counter long-term threats to its territorial integrity. As ever with documents like this, it's the omissions which are interesting. Timely US responses to Putin's occupation of Crimea in 2014 (which could have forced a Kremlin climbdown if they had been promptly carried out within a window of a fortnight) are passed over, while the claim that Russia interfered in US 2016 elections is mentioned a couple of times without any admission the story holds no water. Accounts of intervention in Syria leave much out, and discussion of Turkey's rather alarming politics are also strikingly tactful: a minimal mention of Erdogan's sham putsch in the summer of 2016, and no mention of the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey in December of that same year. A strangely public killing on camera in an art gallery that looked very much like a planned provocation by some player trying to set the two countries against each other.
Saturday. Quiet day, lots of sleep. Fun talk on orbits & ancient history.
Friday. An epidemiologist talks sense about the exaggerated fuss over the current "pandemic". Meanwhile another allegation that COVID-19 is manmade.
Thursday. Charming short film explains Machiavelli's main idea. Lovely bits of Renaissance art animate a broad view compared to last month's introduction.
Wednesday. A few days back, an online friend linked to this scene from the 1960s Zulu movie for some reason, I suppose about overcoming fear. I have to say I struggle to see the accounts of COVID-19-quarantined Italians singing opera from their balconies in the same light, but that's probably just me being unkind.
March 17th; Tuesday. Budapest's streets seem sunnier and prettier with lots of people staying indoors. It seems that COVID-19 responds well to a Japanese anti-viral drug Favipiravir, sunshine & fresh air, and another cocktail of existing drugs some Indian hospitals are using successfully. Then we hear that the "coronavirus" already has a 2nd-century saint. Saint Corona is apparently patron saint of pandemics, although here is a nicely-researched counterclaim.
March 16th; Monday. Perhaps a new state of matter has been found.
March 15th; Sunday. Chatting with Bela out in the wilderness around the crackling log fire. When I cut bits of firewood outside the garage, the nearby geese in their enclosure pass comment quite irately. Is my sawing technique so obviously amiss?
March 14th; Saturday. Things seem to be getting complex. I get the train down to Bela at Robin's on the Great Plain. A crispy-sweet Jessica Pratt song with wispy-neat video to match:
This Time Around.
March 13th; Friday. The story around Dean Koontz's 1981 thriller seemingly predicting
COVID-19 not quite as good as it sounds at first, but that hasn't stopped his airport thriller re-entering the bestseller lists.
March 12th; Thursday. Mum's on the Council: a mighty cartoon strip indeed. Culture-Watcher Nick comes
March 11th; Wednesday. Programmer and almost-Benedictine-monk Andras reminds me of Michelle Gurevich. Although best known for songs like
Party Girl and
To Be With Others, it's really this adorably frank tune that makes her sound most East European:
Music Gets You Girls.
Then she has Behind Closed Doors, and a couple where the video-film itself is really more interesting than the song:
Fatalist Love and
Drugs Saved My Life.
March 10th; Tuesday. Man who sounds like Ice T says sleep is more important than diet or exercise.
March 9th; Monday. Finally the overpricing corrects. Phase Two of the 2009 global crash has, thanks to coronavirus, at last arrived.
March 8th; Sunday. It's happening, and just the way Herrick tells it.
So good-luck came, and on my roof did light
Like noiseless snow, or as the dew of night;
Not all at once, but gently, as the trees
Are, by the sun-beams, tickled by degrees.
Saturday. My memory of Everything But The Girl is partly housemates at college listening to them and dressing like them, and partly of a Hungarian woman translator at the state news agency, mother of two, a decade later. On one evening shift, as an EBTG video played on the office television, she said wearily of the singer, "She's so ugly I can't even look at her." Three songs:
Wrong (Todd Terry remix) /
The Future of the Future - Stay Gold (Deep Dish mix) /
Missing (Todd Terry remix).
Brilliantly chosen lyrical niche of course. Woman says "I was wrong", "I'll follow you" (in a moping manner rather than Lykke-Li style), "I miss you", in contrast to the jaw-clenching way most of them never ever admit they made a mistake.
Robin, Bela, & I visit the late-night swimming pool and sauna at the market town of Martfu (Dr D later tells me the town is still known for a serial-killing lorry driver in the 1960s who murdered several girls finishing the late-night shift at the shoe factory). Facing the baths is a brand-new but totally traditional building housing some kind of national agricultural institute: another straw in the wind. Something wonderful Robin says today: it's a mistake to not have a baby for cost reasons, because the baby brings the energy & hope that helps you find resources to feed it.
Friday. A Frieze article depressingly discusses British Surrealist painting as if leftist wisdom is finally reaching our shores after an inexplicable 90-year delay. Drive into countryside with Robin.
Thursday. Here's a guide to changing yourself.
Wednesday. Wonderfully-titled blues song from Lightning Hopkins: It's a Sin to be Rich, It's a Low-Down Shame to be Poor. He discusses this important question in the lyrics: a rich man ain't got a chance to go to heaven, and a poor man got a hard way to go // Gabriel going to be the next man blow that trumpet. I want to be there when he blow. Blow, Gabriel! // That's when the world be over with the people, and I can lay down and rest for sure..
Tuesday. This week's third visit to the sauna at the affordable Tempelfit2 club. On my first post-Patrick session in there last weekend I saw, in the far corner, a pair of jaunty male genitals scratched into the soft pine under the lamp, probably with a locker key. In sign language, two four-inch-high symbols are added together with the arithmetic operators, taking up the whole width of the horizontal plank at eye level: cock&balls1 "+" cock&balls2 "=" heart sign. Romance!
Monday. Someone tells me that London rhymeists are now calling Corona Virus Miley Cyrus. China's police state reduced to pretending there is no economic impact (see March 9th above). By one of our contributors.
Sunday. Go as guest with Greek Michael to his de-luxe fitness club, where we try out several of their absurd number of saunas - 13 or 14. One or two sharp-eyed brunettes in white towels checking us out. I find myself in a packed large sauna (15 of us) where there is a kind of no-entry/no-exit timed "show" or presentation from a polite towel-clad trainer explaining the benefits and wafting hot steam in different directions with another white towel part-wrapped round a wooden rod, a bit like a flag on a pole. Sedate applause when he finishes. One "sauna" seems to be gently spraying very finely powdered salt over me & a chatty lass in a bikini.
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