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Agatha Christie wrote lots of könyvek

Wednesday, 3 June, 2015 0 Comments

This year marks what would have been the 125th birthday of Agatha Christie, who was born on 15 September 1890 and died on 12 January 1976. She wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she’s best known for the 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which involve the investigations of Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Parker Pyne and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. She also wrote the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap.

Note: The plural of the Hungarian könyv (book) is könyvek.

Budapest train station


Train station, Hungary

Thursday, 21 May, 2015 0 Comments

Train station, Hungary

Railway stations stand deserted,
Rights-of-way lie clear and cold,
What we left them, trains inherit,
Trains go on, and we grow old.

Displaced Person’s Song, Thomas Pynchon


“To drive a car in Arabia is not only wanton”

Tuesday, 19 May, 2015 0 Comments

“In her Saudi Arabia homeland, Lubna Olayan can’t drive, show her hair in public or leave the country without her husband’s permission. She can, however, run one of the nation’s biggest conglomerates.” So begins Devon Pendleton’s profile of the Olayan Group and its manager in the Financial Review.

It is undeniably true that our world has progressed dramatically since Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world in 1964. Back then, she piloted a single engine Cessna 180, nicknamed “Charlie”, through a flight that took 29 days and covered 22,860 miles (36,790 km), but despite this achievement some things have remained stubbornly the same. From Three-Eight Charlie, her memoir of that historic flight, this is the touchdown scene in Saudi Arabia:

“Dhahran Airport may be the most beautiful in the world. Its gleaming concrete strip is 10,000 feet long, and the marble-columned terminal is a worthy reminder of the graceful grandeur of the Islamic architecture of the Taj Mahal. A U.S. Navy Blue Angel jet was taking off as I came into the traffic pattern. Several hundred white-robed people were crowded onto the broad steps of the terminal, waiting to see the first flying housewife to venture into this part of the world. As I climbed from the red-and-white plane and was presented with a huge bouquet of gladioli (they had been flown in from Cairo especially for me), they saw from my blue skirt that I truly must be a woman, and sent up a shout and applauded.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most puritanical, or orthodox, of the Muslim countries, and the Islamic religion makes the laws of the country. From the time of the Prophet Mohammed, Arabian women have been hidden from all but their immediate families. They may not see, or be seen by, the outside world. To show one’s face or even wear bright clothes is a great sin. For a woman to drive a car in Arabia is not only wanton but prohibited by law, under penalty of her husbands being sent to jail. While European or American women are permitted to go in public unveiled, even they may not drive. So the men were puzzled. Probably no one had thought to make a law saying a woman couldn’t drive an airplane, but somehow the men thought it couldn’t be happening.

Then, in the excitement, one of them evaded the handsome airforce guards that Prince — later King — Faisal had sent to look after Charlie and me. He looked into the crowded cabin, saw the huge gasoline tanks that filled the inside of the plane, except for my one seat. His white-kaffiyeh-covered head nodded vehemently, and he shouted to the throng that there was no man. This brought a rousing ovation.”

Jerrie Mock

Although she was warmly welcomed by her hosts, Jerrie Mock was not tempted to stay in the Kingdom. “It sounds terribly romantic, but as long as Islam rules the desert, I know that if I find a black camel-hair tent and venture in, I’ll be hidden behind the silken screen of the harem, with the other women, and my dinner will be the men’s leftovers.” Much has changed for the better since 1964, but Lubna Olayan still can’t drive, show her hair in public or leave Saudi Arabia without her husband’s permission.


Shadow dancers of the sun

Tuesday, 23 September, 2014 0 Comments

Sun dancers


Fear of flying

Friday, 25 July, 2014 0 Comments

It was a brave thing for Craig Mod to write “Let’s fly: How to survive air travel” on Wednesday. Brave because it has been a horrific week for aviation as 464 people have died in airliner disasters over the past seven days.

Yesterday, an Algerian plane carrying 118 passengers and crew from Ouagadougou to Algiers crashed in northern Mali, claiming the lives of everyone aboard. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways flight crashed during an emergency landing in Taiwan and 48 passengers died, and that tragedy came a week after Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing the 298 passengers and crew on board.

Air travel remains incredibly safe, however. According to planecrashinfo.com, between 25 and 35 major planes disasters happened each year throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But the last time that figure hit 20 was 1997, and it’s declined steadily ever since.

“You are on a plane but are not. You could be anywhere. You are untouchable. You are possibly the most insufferable traveler ever. You float and smile because you are the Dalai Lama.

This is how you survive air travel.”

So says Craig Mod.


Francis redefines the Popemobile

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014 0 Comments

When he greets crowds at the Vatican, his custom Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is completely open. So writes Alex Nunez in a Road & Track piece titled “Pope Francis on why he eschews a bulletproof Popemobile“. The Pontiff in trading security for intimacy and is quoted as telling Barcelona’s La Vanguardia: “It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”

There might be more to that fatalistic quip than meets the eye because on Monday the Vatican’s news service announced that that Francis is drastically curtailing his schedule by suspending his popular Wednesday audiences in July and skipping his daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives.

He’s had a busy year so maybe it’s just a well-earned break.


Cacti with Alps

Sunday, 23 March, 2014 0 Comments

“It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny. Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows, so fluffy someone must have plumped them up; the ground a series of humps and mounds, beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden; a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises — it was comic to […]

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You can leave that winter coat in Frankfurt

Friday, 20 December, 2013 0 Comments

Cold weather is setting in across the Northern Hemisphere and that summer feeling of sunshine on bare skin is already a distant memory. So, there’s only one thing to do: Fly to somewhere with beautiful beaches and smiling people and mysterious aromas and tastes. Given that 2014 will be World Cup year, the state of Bahia on Brazil’s Atlantic seaboard seems like a perfect destination as it has lots of deserted beaches and rainforests filled with wildlife. Those who know say that the small town of Itácaré is perfect for surfing, sailing, and barefooty walking, while Trancoso is rumoured to be best for beach-partying.

The only issue is what to do with the hypothermia-preventing winter coat that’s needed to get one to the airport alive. It’s bound to look out of place when watching turtles nesting on Ningaloo Reef or when strolling through the old town of Galle. Well, Frankfurt Airport has solved the problem. For €0.50 a day, travellers can check-in their cumbersome coats and pick them up when they return tanned and fit. This also deals with the challenge of increasingly full overhead luggage compartments. By the way, it looks like Frankfurt borrowed this excellent idea from Korean Air, which, on 25 November 2010, announced, “Korean Air will provide a free coat storage service for passengers leaving Korea travelling to warmer countries such as East Asia, Hawaii, Australia and etc.”

Winter coat


“What hath night to do with sleep?”

Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 0 Comments

That’s what John Milton asked in Paradise Lost. Ichiro Tanaka, 45, who commutes daily to Tokyo from Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture, may never achieve Milton’s level of immortality but his Zukai: Densha Tsukin no Sakuho (An illustrated guide to accomplishing rail commuting) has the potential for posterity. Do not close the book you are reading, look out the window at the platform or make a phone call is his advice to seated passengers on how to avoid giving a false sense of hope to the standing masses that they’ll be getting your seat at the next station.

Tokyo Dreams, “a journey behind closed eyelids”, in which the British filmmaker Nicholas Barker “contemplates the stillness and vulnerability of his fellow passengers and wonders whether they will wake in time for their stop”, is an absorbing clip about sleeping commuters in Tokyo, but it does raise some disquieting questions about privacy. Are all our public appearances now fodder for the filmmaker? What right to solitude does the unconscious person have? And, importantly, what aspectbs of personal dignity remain within the control of the individual today?


On the bus in Seoul

Sunday, 7 April, 2013 0 Comments

The binyeo is a traditional Korean hairpin. It serves as ornamentation, but its main purpose is to keep a chignon (knot of hair) in place. Binyeos are divided into two kinds, a jam, which has a long body, and a che, which has an inverted U shape. Although binyeos are usually worn by women, they […]

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Old town graffiti

Sunday, 17 February, 2013 0 Comments

“The truth was that for some months he had been going through that partitioning of the things of youth wherein it is decided whether or not to die for what one no longer believes. In the dead white hours in Zurich staring into a stranger’s pantry across the upshine of a street-lamp, he used to […]

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