I returned to Budapest in the first week of March 2004 to experience another AtjaroCon,
and to tramp through snow subliming into mist. Eastern Europe in the snow: exhilerating! I felt like Dr Zhivago, or a Sherpa, my Dr Watson black bag loaded with useful drugs which I usually give to other people such as gypsy fortune tellers with allergies or to fans with hangovers.
At Mom Park on Saturday 6th March the publisher Beholder launched the Hungarian edition of my God’s World, and in honour of Mel Gibson’s new movie I read to the audience my story “When Jesus Comes Down the Chimney,” which inverts the roles of Jesus and Santa Claus, with Santa getting crucified. .
Once again, a wonderful and convivial occasion, although on my new visit to the exotic labyrinth below Budapest Castle (where it was much warmer than above ground) I only pretended to drink from the ever-flowing fountain of recycled red wine — when I tasted the wine last Summer it was very sour and vinegary and could not possibly have improved meanwhile! Peter said that the largely unmapped tunnels meander for 60 kilometers. All but about 10 kilometres are now sealed off because people used to get lost and die. At the end of the Second World War, German soldiers fled into the tunnels, and skeletons in uniform are still there. Inspired by the fountain, Luisa and Roberto and I decreed a special wine-pouring ceremony for all future Hungarian conventions in memory of Darth Vader’s last visit.
Because I would be a guest of ItalCon 30 (with DeepCon 5), a few days later in Fiuggi south of Rome, Roberto drove me through snow from Budapest to Genoa in 15 hours non-stop, apart from taking a few short breaks for coffee and some sausage and crêpes in a snowy Austrian valley to which we were diverted circuitously because of a crash on the motorway, then some focaccia in Italy. Italy by night seemed to consist largely of wonderful tunnels through mountains and bridges over ravines, the pièce de resistance being a grand prix race down sharp bends for at least half an hour into Genoa itself. Since I hadn’t realized we were high to begin with, the continuing failure of sea level to appear puzzled me. During our journey Roberto and I conceived two surreal sequels to our collaborative story of pathos and cyber-lunacy, “The Grave of My Beloved,” born in Hungary last Summer (although still to be published somewhere).
Some very steep hills loom inside Genoa, so huge lifts take people up to the next street. This allows many different perspectives, Roberto observed. Because he advised me not to enter the huge labyrinth of the old city of Genoa without a guide, naturally I did so, and nearly starved since only raw meat or raw fish or ice cream were on sale at the time, not the best fodder when it’s very cold. However, next day Roberto’s sister Daniela, a tour guide, guided me, and by magic in a coffee bar we met Marco Firinu, world-class tattooist and artist interested in cyborgs. This serendipitous encounter seemed to indicate that I should be tattooed. Marco offered to design a tattoo specially for me. But what? Spontaneously I said, “An alien cyborg butterfly,” partly because of my recent story about very mobile phones, “The Butterflies of Memory,” due out in Italian in time for ItalCon. This decision was reinforced when Daniela took me to a restaurant where the place settings consisted of big sheets of paper printed with a long poem in Genovese dialect about how to cook a swordfish. Immediately the word farfalle (butterfly) leapt to my eye. The line translated as “Make sure there are no butterflies in the swordfish.” Eh? The reason for this could be that fish are often dried and need prolonged soaking before cooking. If a sack of dried fish gets too old, little moths may lay their eggs. In due course their children might fly out of the bag.
Alas, time ran out for an alien cyborg butterfly tattoo because Marco had another client, so I’ll have to return to Genoa another time. Later, in Fiuggi, Vittorio — chief editor of Robot magazine in which my Butterflies story appeared – promised a mini-con of 50 friends at his home in Piacenza (not too far from Genoa) and in the local restaurant, to inspect my tattoo when I get it. So I am committed.
While in Genoa one of Roberto’s friends explained to me exquisitely and at length on a mobile phone about how bondage is best accompanied by Mahler. I suggested Bruckner – all those long crescendos rising up into golden Alpine meadows of chords, or cords – but he said that now he was getting older Bruckner’s symphonies would last too long. Popi explained the meaning of life as the sea rolled ashore on the pebble beach outside his front window. I met Roberto’s Dad who built the first discos in Italy, 50 of them, because architects weren’t taught how to.
Fiuggi is a spa town where Michelangelo went when his back was stiff from lying under the Sistine Chapel roof. Since the season hadn’t yet begun, Fiuggi was shut apart from the convention hotel – where I mutated once again into H.G. Wells, traveller through time and space. The convention was great fun, not least the four-course banquets twice a day for everyone, where wine flowed which was a bit better than in the Budapest labyrinth. “Un altro rosso,” I called out to a waiter, and Roberto hastily translated into English, “Yes, we need another red wine.” When I talked to somebody in Spanish, someone else grieved that Spanish is steadily destroying Italian. Italians go to Spain for a while, and return, their minds colonised, unable to speak Italian any more. Spaniards move into a neighbourhood in Italy and cause the same linguistic devastation. ¡Qué lástima!
Pioneers of a hoped-for Sci-fi Channel in Italy filmed interviews with Star Trek and Xena actors, and with the Martian Ambassador from Mars Attacks who won the masquerade, and with Italian writers and fans and me, conducted by the vivacious ex-girlfriend of the manager of the Formula One Renault team. The sf fan club gave me a blue and white glass alien dildo, or maybe it’s a dolphin. One of the first films I saw as a young schoolboy was called Boy on a Dolphin.
Roberto’s full photo gallery of Atjarocon 2004
Roberto’s essential photo gallery of Italcon
Roberto’s full photo gallery of Italcon