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Thursday. A 1970s conference suggested a cashless society would be the perfect surveillance state.
Wednesday. A video from the (mostly) new Brasilia of Kazakhstan, Astana, showing off its Sinbad-inspired fascistic modernism, vaguely humanised by a dancing girl. Rumour is the new capital has an almost unbearable climate, with one or two references to an annual season of blood-sucking midges the size of bluebottles. I also heard Kazakhs eat boiled or fried puppies, but mustn't be churlish. Nice video. As for dance moves: :::
Tuesday. The voice of the by-then-elderly Florence Nightingale, from 1905.
Monday. Travel back into Budapest on what Gyuri promises, as he drives me to Kunszentmarton train station, is going to be a kanikula/caniculae day, over 100 degrees Farenheit. In Kunszentmarton, I meet Aranka's contact Editke in the fabric shop and we look at various pieces of cloth together. The train journey itself is hot enough to change sides of the carriage every time the shady side shifts. At Szolnok station, leaving myself ample time for the transfer, I walk down the long white cement tunnel going under all the tracks to get to platform 16. These are of course, in order away from the 60s modernist station, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16. Obviously. If this was a 19th-century British station Guardian readers would blame this kind of illogicality on tradition. On Britain missing out on a proper bourgeois revolution, of which Hungary is unlucky enough to have suffered at least four. Once I am relaxed and waiting at the last platform I see there is a view across at least another ten tracks. New grass vigorously grows between them, but the shine on the rails shows they are all in use. Then a line of parked empty carriages hiding the horizon. Above this only some sort of white-painted gas/silo fractionation-type tower rises sci-fi-style into a blue sky. Almost like looking out to sea. A Hungarian man politely asks if this is the right platform for the Budapest train. I say yes and - whoops! - he is able to smoothly move in with the next question, about "how I see" the next 3 or 4 years unfolding. He is angling for some kind of catastrophist view of current events, and I say yes another bourse crash but no matter, and no, no climate apocalypse. Doggedly the poor man, obviously a Jehovah's Witness by now, soldiers on and asks me about the book of Daniel and the kingdom of God. I say I favour Augustine's view that the city of saints is outside time and space. A very tiny twitch of irritation here gives him away, but he maintains his calm wheedling sales patter, and we finally compromise on a leaflet and part in peace. Later in the afternoon, having handed a basket of 24 eggs over to Robin at one of Budapest's grand railway termini, I meet a new student who is going abroad soon to study ceramics.
Sunday. It seems that yesterday Jeffrey Epstein, he of the private island, private jumbo jet, and parties full of very young girls for celebrity guests, killed himself yesterday in his cell in a maximum-security prison. It appears he was taken off suicide watch (despite an apparent earlier attempt a week ago), his cellmate was removed, and the CCTV cameras were switched off. As one wag on the internet jested "If you were surprised that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself yesterday, just imagine how surprised he must have been!" Hur hur.
Saturday. An intriguingly odd discussion of human/machine merging from the eccentric perspective of Rudolf Steiner followers.
Friday. I go from Robin's farmhouse to see Seamstress Aranka in the next village Tiszakurt, unfortunately accompanied by Siegfried, the grandson of the komondor sheepdog Lupus or Lupi, appropriately enough, since he was a bit loopy. Siegfried's mother Sissi died just a couple of months ago, leaving the grandmother Domor, Lupi's widow, as the senior hound. The current foxterrier also died some weeks back this spring, so the doggy social milieu at Robin's is a little altered. It's a hot, airless day, and I go to the next village on foot, equipped with large straw hat and sun-blocking cream. Parts of the garden wall collapsed some months now, replaced with not-so-effective wire netting. Knowing the ways through, Siegfried suddenly pops up next to me on the walk once I'm about ten minutes into the journey, refusing to go home. He has no collar or leash. He looks and acts like a pale labrador that's had a bang on the head. None of the aggression of his grandfather, just a good-natured streak of daft curiosity and stubbornness. We get onto the main road and it's clear he has never seen large vans or lorries before. He actually hides from each one in the ditch as it passes, clearly seeing them as more menacing than the cars. He goes up to each barking dog in each garden to say hello, but never barks back at them. We reach Aranka's and she has finally mended my stuff. She and her family are a bit nonplussed that I'm with a dog that has no leash, and their cuddly mongrel Dumpling, tied to his post, is upset about this too. Wilting somewhat in the heat we hide in the shade of a bus shelter, and magically one of the only 2 or 3 buses a day arrives to save us, 3 minutes behind schedule. I talk the driver into letting us board the packed vehicle, and I crouch on the steps holding the hound while passengers discuss the whole conundrum of a dog without a collar in the company of a funny foreigner in straw hat etc. We get to Tiszainoka, and a villager fishes a long ribbon in the German colours out of his parked car, and expertly fashions a collar with slipknot and loop for me to hold at the other end. We pop this on the astonished Siegfried (the man teasingly mentioning he gave me a lift a year ago, and I'd forgotten him) and the small group of locals agree that order has been restored. I walk the final 15 minutes with the hound, confused and unhappy at being tethered to a person, a whole new experience for him. Siegfried has reluctantly got used to the leash by the time he & I return to the farmhouse, triumphantly bearing my blue bag that Aranka has magnificently repaired at a very modest price, albeit taking about
four months. I can leave Robin's basketwork hamper case at the house now.
Thursday. Going straight from my lesson with Esoteric Veronica, I catch a train down to Robin's place on the flat, sun-baked Great Plain by the Tisza river. Two (I think deliberately) Bond-themeish Goldfrapp tunes: Pilots and Lovely Head.
Wednesday. Surprisingly interesting and even-handed BBC web article about hysterical Malaysian schoolgirls. Though this is from a heavily Islamic region, comparisons with other religions suggests that strict moralistic governing of adolescent girls might be a factor in mass crazes of screaming, fainting, heeby-geebies etc. Perhaps the Beeb should evolve into a long-format paper/web magazine like the Atlantic, and give up on the broadcasting.
Tuesday. On my way back to Budapest for a lesson with Esoteric Veronica, I finish Michael O'Sullivan's book about the 1934 adventures of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters Between Budapest and Transylvania, an English traveller across Europe. With an elegaic tone, O'Sullivan traces Leigh Fermor's journey on foot from chateau to chateau across the Hungarian-speaking parts of Eastern Europe with evident pleasure. At the same time his regret at how so many of those grand families were later brought low under communism is just as sincere. Small black-and-white photographs like those in Sebald novels add to the other-worldly mood, romantically recalling the grace & taste of vanished aristocracy.
Monday. Zsuzsa's mount strides around us looking glossy & elegant while Zeno the Alchemist, Bela, Gyuri and I take items from the car in the late-afternoon sun. It's parked round by the seed & grain store area next to the chicken coops. The big chestnut-coloured horse Solero seems to genuinely want to help us unload groceries out of the small car, but has not much idea what to do in practice so strolls around a bit, getting in the way. Later in the kitchen, I find Bela, supervised by Zeno, injecting dozens of doses of strong schnapps into a melon using a 5-millilitre syringe.
Sunday. More rain outside all day. Read a 1983 picture book I found in a bedroom at Robin's house on the Great Plain, 'Kozep-Azsiai Muveszete Avicenna Koraban' (Central Asian Art in the time of Avicenna) by Lutfija Ajni, E. Guljamova, Karolyn Gombos, G. Verhovskij, and translated into Hungarian by Ilona Kovanecz from what I assume is Russian. That's judging from the original title, written as 'Iszkussztvo szrednyej Azii epohi Avicennu Izdatyeltszvo "Irfon"'. The text is thorough, explaining what was going on politically & culturally in parts of Central Asia around the year 1000 AD. During the lifetime of the brilliant poet, medical physician, and philosopher Ibn Sina - Latinised to Avicenna - much was occurring in what by the 1980s (when this book was produced) were still Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. Pictures a little disappointing, though some are beautiful, or at least show an object which seems to be beautiful even if the picture of it isn't. Some photos of the fragments of arch from vanished mausoleums or collapsed mosques have a look-upon-the-works-of-Ozymandias feeling. A few bits of thousand-year-old tile or brick work are still striking. The overall impression from the history text in the book is of a region, era, and religious system so violent and despotic that it was no surprise the period's handful of bright individuals like Avicenna left little long-term trace in the culture they were unlucky enough to be born into. Avicenna himself moved home several times and spent time in prison for political reasons. In the early evening Artist Robin arrives from the big city, and we bounce ideas around until late as usual.
Saturday. Last night slept 15 hours. Outside dark and rains all day. Today read a picture book from Robin's library, 'Sufi: Expressions of the Mystic Quest' by Laleh Bakhtiar. The illustrations are wonderful, and some consist of large, clear, whole-page pieces of black-and-white calligraphy, perhaps the single most impressive craft in Islamic culture. While pictorially wonderful, some of the text is confusing, often providing a minimalistic, laconic reference to some intriguing giant diagram of Sufi concepts which diagram is mysterious, pretty, but leaves rather a lot still unexplained. For example, there is a fabulous wheel taking up page 62 representing stations of the moon, along with signs of the zodiac, each of the Arabic letters, and handy categories like 'The 4th Heaven, The Sun, Abode of Hermes' or on another spoke, more simply 'The Hidden'. No clue what's going on there. Fifty pages later a similarly baffling section has some rather lovely magic squares doing arithmetic with the names of Allah (eg, if Allah is 66, that name can therefore = 21 + 26 + 19, or 20 + 22 + 24, or 25 + 18 + 23 : and so on). More methodical commentary in more detail would hugely improve this visually lush book. Solero strides around in the garden Biblically, chewing horse-chestnut branches within reach. Apparently he is in his new paradise because he's killed no fewer than three lambs out in the meadow by charging the flock and taking out his frustration or boredom on straggling youngsters. Hence he now potters about outside the house, sniffing the fruit trees as if in a picture of Adam naming the beasts.
Friday. Interesting article comparing the search for partners by men & women to two separate economies, with very different degrees of inequality. Catch train. Uneventful trip out into the Great Plain of rural Hungary. The leggy serving lass at Szolnok station looks tired, snappy, blank-faced of late. After dark find Zeno the Alchemist & Peter K., his & Robin's artist friend, smoking quietly at a small table on the verandah, sheltered by foliage, rain pouring down 3 or 4 feet away.
Thursday. Seems I got quoted in a Breitbart piece.
Wednesday. Strange, thought-provoking piece about an entire century-old underground-railway system (under Cincinnati) which never got used. Apparently even the tracks were laid.
Tuesday. Hot sun. Finish book borrowed from Michael A., 'The Closing of the American Mind' by Allan Bloom, describing what he thinks has gone wrong with humanities teaching at universities. His focus of course is the US, and this was written in the 1980s. I've been meaning to read it since I saw the Nigel of Light with a copy years ago. However, it's even more topical now. An excellent read, perhaps the best thing I've read for a year. Bloom addresses how college students and the culture they're brought up in has changed since the 1950s, he traces a range of European intellectual influences on US humanities teaching over the decades of the 20th century, and he has some fascinating personal anecdotes about anti-Vietnam demonstrations on campuses in the 1960s along with the involvement of black power groups in those university sit-ins. The chapter on classical & pop music alone is worth reading the book for.
Monday. Slightly unfair April article about the old tweets of a new 24-year-old National Union of Students president. In these she proclaimed she "wants to oppress white people". Given she was 17 when she wrote that, it should perhaps be overlooked. Her current views might be obnoxious enough, but plenty of people say silly things while still adolescent.
Sunday. Overview of Lebanese artist whose sensual, body-centred artworks might be coming into fashion after decades of relative neglect.
Saturday. Shortly before the lesson with Boardgame Orsolya, I finish the book I bought in the departure lounge at Heathrow Sunday before last, which I've been meaning to read for years: 'Moonwalking with Einstein' by Joshua Foer. Nicely written, a little unkind in one or two places about the people he meets, but overall sensible, encouraging, and inspiring. Cleverly helps make amazing enhancements of the mind seem more credible, feasible, and worthwhile. A journalist interviews a memory-champion competitor, refuses to believe competitors have normal memories improved by tricks, and ends up spending a year (coached by his original interview subject) training for a memory competition himself to test the claim.
Friday. Nazi scientists tried to train talking dogs, says 2011 article. Icelandic anthropologist asserts in 2016 that elves are real.
Thursday. Swathe of euro-weasels lose their Cabinet posts as Boris Johnson, great grandson of an admirable-sounding Turkish politician (briefly Ottoman Minister of the Interior in 1919), becomes Tory leader.
Wednesday. Two articles about alleged Jew-hatred inside the Labour party: a quite brave mea culpa from one former participant; and the rather wonderful thought that Ken Loach might be sued by a journalist he criticised.
Tuesday. Elon Musk opens up about plan to wire people into the internet. Of course, he adds, "This is not a mandatory thing. It's something to have if you want." Increasingly difficult not to see Musk and his clutch of loss-making businesses as a sort of tame technologist/guru/entrepreneur/kite-flyer for, and funded by, the US deep state.
Monday. Are men intimidated by highly educated women? Seemingly no. Two researchers say that men don't select for education in women partners, but nor do they select against it.
Sunday. Kai Fu-Lee is a Chinese engineer originally from Taiwan (the "rebel province") now based in Peking. He suggests China will overtake the US in artificial intelligence (AI), but warns AI systems will never be minds.
Saturday. A celebrated present-day thinker who is Korean but writes in German, Byung-Chul Han discusses privacy, social media, and self-exploitation. Unfortunately, since he studied philosophy in Germany, he's been contaminated with Hegelianism, uses giveaway terms like 'neoliberalism', and thinks there's a thing called 'capitalism'. Hence although it's interesting he's writing and thinking about these topics at all - doesn't feel like he has anything original to say about them, but I haven't read his 16 books. Here he is on "the Hell Where Everything's the Same".
Friday. Two songs by Kimbra. The disarmingly honest and tense Settle Down, and a self-critical
Top of the World.
Thursday. Esoteric Veronica tells me during our lesson that one of her grandfathers, a restauranteur round about World War 2, gambled away his wife in a poker game. This wasn't Veronica's grandmother: he married 5 times, she explains. Meanwhile, a handy guide to finding white witches in northern Poland; sad tale of Tory pro-EU rebel MP Anna Soubry losing faith in Mr Chuka; Guardian cartoonist goes supernova when his pro-Palestinian cartoons get censored; British government announces country's highest exports ever.
Wednesday. Smoking "scars" your DNA.
Tuesday. Journalist wears music-activated 'device' to night club.
Monday. An equation supposedly predicting the end of humanity. Underpins Nick Bostrom's rather dotty simulation argument.
Sunday. A very jolly Polish lady driver takes me to Heathrow for my flight back. My journey is seemingly shadowed by someone else in the TV production called Omar. I never meet Omar, but I find his driver outside the hotel in London, waiting to go to a different airport terminal. On arrival in Budapest an anxious driver there at the airport straight away asks me if I am Omar. Once back in the Big Pogacsa I drop by Simon's flat where he and Robin are watching the nail-biting England/New-Zealand cricket match projected onto his sitting-room wall. Slightly startled to notice the England team are playing in face cages and baby-blue pyjamas with a white cricket ball and black screens. Then Terri & Alvi & I dine together at a Thai eatery, where we talk about low-budget feature films, cricket, psychological drama, Tunbridge Wells, weird parasites, and prophetic short stories.
Saturday. I oversleep (due to getting no call times the previous day) but everyone is very nice about it. Driven into Westminster, I find I must get out of a black taxi driven by the lady-taxi-driver actress's amiable body double. We do this on camera four times, and am told then at 9 in the morning my work was great and I can go. Sleep a couple of hours in my Keats-carpeted bedroom, then spend most of the afternoon hanging around in the basement of the hotel basement with some genial extras. I eat some fruit and more cakelets. An effort to find a charity shop selling 2nd-hand clothes south of Waterloo around 6.30pm fails. Last night finished Paul's copy of 'The Strange Death of Europe' by Douglas Murray: moderately, carefully argued, full of interesting interviews with refugees coming into Europe.
Friday. Catch a plane in Budapest to get to London so as to play my small role as rude taxi passenger again. A charming but gloomy-looking man from Kosovo drives me from Heathrow to a rather swish hotel across a bridge from the Houses of Parliament. The cheerful make-up-and-hair ladies let me snaffle some darling cakelets seemingly abandoned outside their cosmetics den in the bowels of the hotel. The carpets in corridors and rooms upstairs have a curious design: an orangey tandoori sort of colour with the words of Keats' poem Asleep! O sleep a little while, white pearl! set into the carpet in yellowy-cream cursive italic. A block of text doing this poem twice recurs every couple of yards. Sweet idea for a hotel carpet, really.
Thursday. Finish Paul's copy of the 1975 book 'Biology of God' by Alister Hardy. He was a marine biologist involved at an Oxford college with research into people's reports of religious experiences. Hardy proposes that some higher moral sense of togetherness (perhaps some richer kind of telepathic communication across a tribe) was of evolutionary advantage for early humans. He's quite careful and thoughtful in summing up various positions on science-versus-faith.
Wednesday. Nicely restrained song Why Don't You from Cleo Sol. On the other hand, Amber Mark and Lose My Cool.
Tuesday. Interesting attempt to claim the great Tunisian historiographer Ibn Khaldun as an early economist centuries ahead of his time. Suggesting he anticipates both Smith and Keynes rather torpedoes the idea before it even gets going though. Still, I ought to check Khaldun myself.
Monday. Psychiatric diagnoses meaningless? Not a complete surprise.
Sunday. Brave firm reviews 3 ways (it says) to raise IQ. Not quite how I remember modafinil, but never mind.
Saturday. Two tunelets from the adorably named "Young Rascals", many moons ago. Feast your eyes on that green-satin-shirt-plus-waistcoat combination on tambourine man. Then another from the following year, again with some mighty outfits but noticeably more post-suit.
Friday. Curious research result that immune cells, the little tinkers, invade brain tissue over time. This is not a good thing, say men with clipboards.
Thursday. Pick up document from the FCO. Ja! My papers are in order!
Wednesday. 40 years on, China repeating Japan's Fifth Generation mistake.
Tuesday. Trudge over to new British Embassy location up bright, sunny 11 bus route on Fig street for my "emergency travel document" for July's filming. No! Is not so simple, my friend! Later find Theology Andras & two of his brothers, before a lovely dinner of steak on hot stone in small town just outside Budapest. We touch on Jaynes and Sulloway, among other coffee-fuelled topics.
Monday. The day (July 1st) one Hungarian colleague told me one year that summer was already over. Prizewinning example of looking on the bright side. Meanwhile, even a single exercise session helps brain cells.
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle differences and similarities
between languages are helping archeologists and anthropologists to understand what happened in the hundreds of centuries of human history before written history. And that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag
Sunday. Fascinating theory: depression caused by tissue inflammation.
Saturday. Finish a book from Robin's library: 'Wartime Writings 1939 - 1944' by Antoine Saint-Exupery, the French pilot and lyrical, almost mystical, author who never returned from his final mission flying over southern France in July 1944. A fascinating section from pages 106 to 116 shows his curious form of love for country, and how much it revolves around a kind of philosophy of joy, peace, and friendship. A memory of one occasion drinking outdoors in sunshine in a French village with a friend where they invited two bargemen (one German, one Dutch) to join them seems to glow in his memory as an emblem of happiness, a symbol of what it is the war is really for. The letter "to an American" that was published in LIFE magazine, where he is flying above France taking aerial photographs for the Allies while breathing oxygen bottled in New York, is a highlight showing how enchanting his writing could be. But his basic anxiety - what is civilisation? are we losing it? can we rebuild it? - comes through on every page. Even the "Pharoah's blocks" maths problem on pages 148 & 149, one of those he makes up to fill idle hours while grounded with an injury, is about reconstructing a relic of a lost civilisation. The book combines many of his private letters, diary entries, published articles, and a few letters and entries about him, written by others. There is an introduction for American readers by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, daughter of the pioneering aviator.
Known mainly to English-speaking readers today for his 'Little Prince' children's book (which struck me as sickly sweet when I first read it), "St-Ex" (as he signs his letters) was much better known in the 1940s as a pilot who wrote. In particular, his experiences in French North Africa in the 1930s flying airmail postal deliveries seem to have filled him with an almost religious awe for the Sahara desert. Memories of crossing the desert, landing in it, being rescued, rescuing others dying of thirst, looking up at the stars during nights in the desert, seem to haunt him. He has an almost Bedouin reverence for the silent vastness of the flat dry plain and what it seems to say about creation, crossed with an excitement about what can be achieved with modern machines that echoes the Italian Futurists of two decades earlier.
It was these reminiscences about flying and about the Sahara that he was better known for in his own lifetime. In his disagreements with fellow Frenchmen who are Gaullists he already sees and dislikes the notion of a postwar bloc drawing together several nations together in one European Union, but St-Ex has an odd mixture of emotions defying political categories. He yearns for a return of religious sensibility, he is a passionate patriot constantly driven to return to the battle against Nazi Germany, and yet he also has a strangely naive belief in universal love and comradeship beyond nations. He seems to want to struggle against comfort, consumerism, suburbanism, reaching for some austere supreme good he cannot quite describe except in terms of aviation and the desert. Much of his writing sounds like a reprise of the British World-War-One poets, alternating between their early longing for a cleansing, purifying conflict and their later jaded anti-war mood. At a few points it's possible to sense how charming he was and what an enormous impression he made on those he met, something beyond his writing. His superior officers were right - he should have allowed them to put him to work in propaganda instead of letting him insist on enduring pain & risk (& ultimately death) flying high-altitude missions in his forties.
Friday. Short piece about attacks on satellites.
Thursday. Thoughtful review of a rather cross-sounding book called The Return of Race Science.
Wednesday. Writer says remove all furniture from your home. All of it.
Tuesday. Pick up mended basketwork picnic-hamper thing from Wicker Man, two trolleybus stops behind IKEA.
Monday. Some evidence human brains have DMT receptors.
Sunday. Do some filming in a rather hot mock-up of a London taxi, being towed around central Budapest, acting my small part as a rude passenger ('Banker Dude' in the script). My task is to be sneeringly patronising to a rather fit, sleek black girl who is the taxi driver (a major character in the show), curtly demanding she turn off her Nigerian pop music. Which tune shall we use?
Saturday. Short piece fills out the Whitby/Dracula connection.
Friday. Longest day. Seemingly the long-running "yellow-jacket" protests across France have pushed Teacher's Pet into recklessly increased spending & debt. Driven slowly to rage over long years, it seems, a segment of rural France has now snapped and is determined to riot every weekend no matter what, like a sort of revived Vendee uprising.
Thursday. Meet Laszlo the Wicker Man in a suburb, then visit Kerepesi street for a costume fitting for Sunday, then find Theological Andras at home behind the Keleti station. Here's some music the truckdriver/theologian/programmer/monk chopped up before it got used to back an interview. Sexy sexy.
Wednesday. Chatting late at a cafe with Michael, he tells me of black Africans' morbid dread of owls, and I have to check again who Holderlin shared his theological university dormitory with (Hegel & Schelling). I rant on about the misconceived Hegelian nature of the EU. We touch on Benetar and I find a rather startling review of the Cape Town philosopher's dismally nihilistic book 'Better Never To Have Been': "My girlfriend was on the fence about having an abortion so I picked up a copy of this here shit right here, had her read it and VOILA! Fetus Deletus! This shit is magic and I recommend all sexually active males retain a copy!"
Tuesday. Visit Paul & Marion at home. Remembering an evening at the open-air cafe with Michael and his art-trader friend Tony about 2 weeks ago. Tony & I urged Michael to write a zombie-apocalypse opera about sunspots. Next day I decide it should be a trilogy of zombie-apocalypse operas, the first one (obviously) named 'Maunder'. That was the night Sirius and the caniculae of mid-summer heat got Tony talking of having known Florence of the Machine as an eerily pretty little toddler running round her daddy's gardens, referring to this song.
Monday. Paul sends me a wonderful article on Spengler.
Sunday. Talking of Miklos, 2 weeks ago he showed me this 1950s TV chef from whom we must suspect Sesame Street's Swedish chef was comedy offspring.
Saturday. Rather confusing train journey through summer heat (changing at four places on Hungary's Great Plain: Kiskunfelegyhaza, then Szentes, then Tiszafoldvar, then finally reaching Kunszentmarton to meet Gyuri. He's chuckling in his car as he finds me outside the station dancing around in the dusk, dodging mosquitoes). While on the train, I finish a book by a friend Miklos Molnar '33 Hungarian Histories', collecting short 600-word biographies of famous Hungarians he wrote for issues of Time Out magazine before it pulled out of the country. Written with a light touch, he gives an entertaining mix of lively historical characters, some famous, some not. Would have liked to see chapters on Denes Gabor and John von Neumann, but perhaps a second volume is planned? Thirsty at throughout the second train journey, I asked a cute but tubby woman ticket inspector why none of these stations seemed to have buffets or bars or even vending machines on such a hot day. She said "Because they don't", but at Szentes pops out of the staff office with two 1-litre mineral-water bottles, one for me, free of charge. The bottle is squat in shape but quite feminine, not unlike her.
Friday. Short decade-old review of book claiming WW2 US general Patton was assassinated at the behest of his own government. Sounds intriguing.
Thursday. Last 2 or days suddenly hot & sticky, like a classic Budapest summer. Japanese Buddhist shrine unveils robot goddess of mercy.
Wednesday. Student Tamas tells me the floating crane I saw yesterday came from upriver near Slovakia, and had to wait six days before the flood river had gone down enough for it to fit under the several bridges to the north on its way here.
Tuesday. Crossing the Danube by bus east to west via Margit Bridge, and to our left an enormous yolky orange crane thing towers at least 40 feet above the bridge from a barge on the river. Must be there to haul up the wreck of the small boatload of South Korean tourists pushed underwater by a bigger ship several nights ago, dragged upriver some distance and rammed into the mud just under the bridge. In the afternoon I finish a book from Michael's late wife, 'The Aesthetic Adventure', by William Gaunt. It traces the century of "art for art's sake" from the second decade of the 19th century to the second decade of the 20th century in principally England and France. A good summary, breezing through Baudelaire, Whistler, Swinburne, Walter Pater, Walter Sickert, slowly building to a kind of climax with Beardsley and Wilde. Every page enjoyable to read.
Monday. Another lushly-orchestrated female solo about loneliness: 2Wicky by Hooverphonic.
Sunday. The strange death of Labour England?
Saturday. Old Moloko song, quite good, with a we-didn't-really-run-out-of-ideas video. "It's going to be brilliant, Jason, we just have them all dance in a tunnel. Back to basics, trust me."
Friday. That Brazilian cover of Fool on the Hill. More Brazilian music from back then: Panis et circenses.
Thursday. Portishead doing Glory Box live.
Wednesday. Nice article: learning about life from Mick McManus.
Tuesday. Entertainingly tetchy interview with Evelyn Waugh. Notice the BBC make sure to get their version of events on record at the start of the footage.
Monday. Weather is still cloudy, rainy, chilly. New moon.
Sunday. DJ Fresh decade-old tune: Gold Dust.
Saturday. Men with clipboards model human cells as circuit boards.
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