Sunday, 9 June 2013

Catching up while the Danube rises

The Danube in flood, Budapest, today at 7am

Time has shifted on very rapidly since my last piece and sometimes I think it may be wise to let the blog go, but then I think again, partly because of the news from Hungary, partly because I can imagine occasions on which I would like to write simply in order to think, and partly because life just continues to be interesting on several fronts at once. Ideally I would want to write a little each day. It needs daily upkeep to make sense.

But I fall behind for one reason or other and then it seems an impossible burden to catch up.

The pressure is on translation at the moment. I am behind with Magda Szabó's Pilátus - the English title yet to be decided - and am striving to catch up. But there are interruptions. Last weekend it was baby-sitting the whole weekend, which is wonderful, but not much translation gets done if only because grandchildren are exhausting. I should add that they are more exhausting for Clarissa than myself because she does more of the work, but while she is busy with one, I keep the other entertained and the mind is tired at the end of the day.

On Tuesday we went to hear Nick Cohen speak to the Skeptics at a Norwich pub. He is travelling around selling his book on censorship, You Can't Read This Book, which I bought on the strength of his talk - he is an amusing and erudite speaker - then read it in the next day or two. I am reading other books of course, such as Nicole Krauss's marvellous The History of Love and Sándor Iván's splendid Az éjszaka mélyén (In Deepest Night), and shuttle between them the best I can.

On Wednesday afternoon we went to see our charming financial advisor (hah! we have one to tell us we'll be all right in our retirement) and that was the whole afternoon. Next two days were packed solid with translation, then it was the grandchildren again yesterday, and today, a long grey day just graciously fading into evening, it has been more translation.


Some brief memories of the week before. Tuesday 28th, the whole afternoon at UEA seeing students after having lunch with Manohar, the Indian translator, discussing politics. On Wednesday down to London for a curious affair at the Hungarian Embassy.

I doubt they would have invited me but two friends, Colin Ford, the curator and great scholar of Hungarian photography, and Peter Zollman, fellow translator, were receiving honours from the Hungarian state along with Karl Jenkins, the composer, and Colin had asked Clarissa and I to be his guests. We duly dressed up, drank, and toasted the recipients and watched them being presented with their decorations then filtered into dinner where three tables were set, one titled The Good, another The Beautiful and the third, The True. I was placed on The True and packed between two politically safe people, one of whom kept trying to pick at me the whole evening because of my Guardian article, but I was quite happy and made conversation with others on the table, being only sorry not to be able to talk to the great photographer Peter Korniss, who seemed a very nice man indeed. The ambassador made a speech in which he remarked on the concept of the three tables, touching on their opposites, The Bad, The Ugly and The Lie. I think I must have been intended to be The Lie between the to Truths. He was perfectly civil to me of course, but it was a strange evening, relieved by having both Colin and Peter refer to me with much warmth in their speeches.

That was Tuesday and Wednesday gone, and on Friday we were invited to a neighbour's house for supper.

In the meantime I learned I had been voted on to the Hungarian Academy as an Honorary Member, a huge honour. It has been quite month with the Best Translated Book Award in the USA for Satantango, the CLPE Prize for In the Land of the Giants, Patrick Stewart reading my unpublished poem about The Matrix Reloaded and now this. Not to forget the Hay Festival in Budapest! I'll put up links to the Hungarian interviews (in Hungarian) later. No wonder the translation is behind!

All this is wonderful but the more wonderful it gets the less I feel I deserve it. It's like being up in a balloon. I'm not sure I should be in a balloon at all.


That takes me up to the present. Tonight the Danube is still rising and will reach peak height some time tonight. The lower embankments are closed and uder water. They seem confident they will keep the river  at its all-time record level from flooding the streets. I hope so. I love Budapest.

And I'd like to get back to the Manchester United / Fergie story, as there is more to say.

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