Davos Newbies Home

Hang your head in despair 

Language Log on John Kerry’s desperation to hide his fluency in French: “Geoff Nunberg pointed out to me that in Nebraska they once passed a law making it illegal to teach foreign languages in the schools, period. Foreign language learning is now, like sodomy, legal in all states; but these are not freedoms that a politician should brag about taking advantage of. Such is the determined linguistic isolationism of the USA. I would have thought that to have a US president (for once) who could argue fluently and convincingly in the native language of some other head of state would be a fantastic asset. But instead it is perceived as a kind of disloyalty, evidence of being an untrustworthy egghead, and you would lose millions of votes over it. It’s both depressing and amazing.”

For the birds 

During my break last week, among other things I went with my family to the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s reserve at Minsmere.

We’re certainly not twitchers, and couldn’t even qualify as minor birdwatchers. Until last Wednesday, I didn’t know you should call binoculars “bins” or the difficulty (near impossibility more like) of actually seeing a bittern.

But I now can understand the appeal of birdwatching. My children were of course delighted to have bins swinging around their necks, but in the hides they were genuinely interested in spotting birds. They were encouraged by the RSPB’s excellent children’s booklet which gave them points (and points mean prizes) for seeing certain birds or other wildlife. We never got the 30 points for a bittern, much less the 50 points for an otter, but we did score 20 for the marsh harrier.

What a thoroughly cleansing tonic after weeks of looking at a computer screen.

The best guidebook ever 

My friend Dave Winer is going to travel around Europe by train. There are many, many recommendations to make, but I told him the one must is to buy the best single-city guidebook I’ve ever encountered.

It’s hard to pin down what makes Andras Torok’s Budapest, A Critical Guide, so completely wonderful. First, I think it’s his intimate, personal tone of voice. Second, it’s his evident love for his city. Third, it’s his opinions. Finally, it’s his subject — one of the world’s great, complex, difficult cities.

Sure, Prague is more beautiful, perhaps Vienna is as well. But I like the strangeness and grittiness of Budapest.

I recommended Torok to my sceptical nieces a few years ago. They ended up spending a whole week in Budapest following Torok’s unerring nose.

One thought on “Davos Newbies Home

  1. MIra Matovic

    I came back from Budapest two weeks ago, and fortunately I happened to have Torok’s book with me. I cannot but agree with you completely – the best ever guide of a single city. And I CAN pin down what makes it so splendid – the clue point of his book, I believe, is not where he takes you, it’s HOW he takes you there.
    He is inside the things he writes for unknown people who will visit Budapest, as much as he would be if we were his best friends. This passionate, free, involved way of writing makes the difference. I’ve met him for a coffee, (but then I believe we all have) and I insisted he should write more. Who knows, maybe he can’t and it would be a great disappointment, but if he can…imagine the joy… Bye, Mira


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