27 February 2015

a bit over 5 years

I remember the day I got the diagnosis. I remember the phone call, you have autoimmune vasculitis. Come back tomorrow and we set out a treatment plan. Gosh, I was so happy. It has a name! I am real! I will live!

All giddy, I called R at work and he took the next day off from work and after the appointment, we took the slow road home through the foggy winter wonderland along the river. We stopped for lunch somewhere fancy and laughed and he was all calm when I cried a bit.

I remember when the doctors explained the medicines and the side effects and what I needed to look out for and what I must avoid (trivial stuff like no grapefruit, no alcohol, no ibuprofen, no aspirin . . .) and so on.  Oh, never mind, I thought. What's a bit of hair loss, weight gain, moon face, nausea, maybe liver damage, possibly gastritis and a lot of other stuff with complicated Latin names like gingivitis and stomatitis - compared to lung and/or kidney failure or death? You couldn't possibly argue with that.

Luckily, I am still waiting for the hair loss and the weight gain or the moon face. I have more or less accepted that bitchy gastritis and I let my GP worry about the liver values going up and down. But there are nights when I lie awake and consider my future life stretching ahead for years and years with painfully inflamed gums, always the taste of blood and the feeling of my mouth being on fire. And that, I admit, is the worst. At night anyway.

And now for some soppy music from the boy from Monkstown, a place that once was home:

25 February 2015

letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is 
Pema Chödrön

Cycling for 40 mins home in the dark, first the forest, no moon, not a sound, just heavy rain, then down the hill and into the city, icy drops on my face and the obnoxious swishing noises from my not-anymore-waterproof gear, the drivers who come too close in their fat cars, who forget to indicate, who try and push me off the road. Note: try, not succeed because I roar at them, cursing and hissing I move through the evening traffic. At home I peel off the muddy layers trying to find my solid self underneath and fail, shaking and weeping and tired, my gums shot to pieces, at least I hope it's just the gums - she said to wait for it to calm down, maybe a week. If not, we'll try and save that tooth, promise, she said. Don't ask me how I slept, don't ask about the gastritis pains at 4 am. At least I got to hear the blackbirds before sunrise. My sister calls to discuss possible procedures re our father. Wishful thinking. I want to put down the phone. We cannot lock him in, he is convinced he does not have osteoporosis. Yesterday, he said to me, sod the tests, ignorant young doctors, what do they know.

Most of all, I want to be rid of that tooth ache or whatever it is. As for the rest, I can handle it. I think. Maybe.

24 February 2015

Whoa, I survived a week of tooth ache and a dentist visit and I still have all of my miserably few teeth! Glory days. 
While I sat in the waiting room I actually managed to calm down a visibly shaking woman. A lot of very fake bravura on my part met sheer desperation on hers. I felt almost strong and courageous after that and sat on my hands for the most time after she left. Just in case she came running back to me.

I am watching and re-watching Wolf Hall and not only because I try to follow the plot - I mean I can't, all these dukes and counts and earls and who must get married to whom and what has the church got to say about it. I am waiting for the next beheading, I think there is another one coming. I haven't read the books anyway. Historical novels are not my thing, but I have read and loved all the other books by Hilary Mantel (esp. her biography).
No, I am really watching Mark Rylance playing Thomas Cromwell, because he looks and talks a lot like a friend I had a long time ago. The kind of friend who knows what you need before you realise it yourself, who smuggles you into the staff canteen at the children's hospital after midnight because you have not eaten for the last 24 hrs since your baby was admitted with meningitis, who turns up unasked in a miraculously borrowed car during a downpour ready to drop you at the station in time - and without so much as a drop on you and so on. That was then. 
But he is also quite a bit like Thomas Cromwell, scheming, getting his way, always his way regardless. And at times my trust meant nothing.
We spoke on the phone a few years ago, after a friend had died, we spoke for a good long while and it felt almost right again. I know he has been asking about me, he knows I have been asking about him. He is getting on and one day someone will call with the news and I will board that plane back to Ireland. Maybe.
Anyway, Wolf Hall is splendid. 

19 February 2015

from a wonderful man

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
Oliver Sacks on learning he has terminal cancer

15 February 2015

As hard as I try, I cannot imagine what my mother may have been like as girl. Here she is maybe five or six years old. We used to love it when she told us stories of her childhood adventures, the horses, the house with the lion sculptures in the park, wild games with her grandfather, running away from her nanny. How many of these were really only tall stories, embellished over time? Does it matter?

This morning I looked into the mirror and yes, she looked back at me again. Some days, I don't mind that much. Today, for an instant, I also saw my old woman self, a mix of myself and my mother and my sister, a strange new woman with a somewhat incredulous look.

I wonder when I will start feeling old. Of course, my body often feels old but only because of the connotations between illness and old age that have settled inside my brain without permission. No, I mean feeling old and resigned about it.

For some years my mother had a thing about haircuts and how they take away years. So she had her hair cut really short and would wear my brother's jeans. 
I don't go for any of that but I wonder whether she ever felt old when she looked into the mirror. And what about her mother? My grandmothers. I start to feel dizzy.

12 February 2015

Lot's of oh dears fuck this. Back at work, that's the good thing. Whereas cycling in the cold air, uphill etc. through the windy forest, was probably unwise considering the feeling of someone sandpapering my bronchioles - thoroughly - since I got back.

Snowdrops and crocus are up but that won't do. I want spring. Now.
Too early, yes I know. 

My father's bruised back has turned out be a lumbar fracture requiring surgery. He tried his best to act haughty and superior during his week in hospital but his voice sounded like that of a lost child. Today, of course, all this has passed as he lectured me over the phone on the future plans which basically involve him learning to walk unaided again. He is most confident that this will be achieved by mid March as he has tickets booked for operas and whatnots. His female friends here and there may get impatient. And no, no walking aid. Certainly not.
I want to admire his resilience and his arrogance. He could just as easily pack it in, like the next best 86 year old with mobility issues, read the papers, get meals-on-wheels and watch tv.  That would be the easy option for us, I know.
I remember my granny just before she died (a few weeks before her 103rd birthday). When I phoned her she used to confuse me with one of her daughters-in-law. Once I tried to correct her but she cut me short. That girl is too young to make phone calls, she said. Stop pretending.
That was twenty years ago, and I don't remember now whether she told me over the phone or someone else who then called me, but one day she decided that this was her last walk, that from now on she will stay indoors. She went to bed and died that night.
My father was her youngest, an unwanted afterthought. There was never much love between them or between him and his father, but he was dearly loved by his siblings, who all died in their early 50s. So those two, mother and son, had to battle it out for long years all alone. Sometimes, this makes me so sad, other times it explains a lot. But mostly it's just a confusing mess.
I know that I try to push my idea of family onto him. He fights it mostly. But as long as I come with a cake or some other treats, he'll open the door.

08 February 2015

Thanks to Robert, I spent most of last night with John Martyn. This is nothing new because John  Martyn features highly in this household. You could say that his music has been the soundtrack of my life with R, right from the very early hours. There was one particularly frantic dash across London in the summer of 1979 to hmv records where I spent most of my money on any and all of his albums before racing back to Victoria Station with seconds to spare before the boat train left.

So I watched the bbc documentary and of course he comes across first as a rite messer - the loudmouth, the wild one, the drugs and the drink. It's all there. But also there is the sadness, the quiet genius, the minute glimpses of deep loneliness and honesty. I read somewhere that he referred to himself as not a folksie, but a funksie. Whatever, his music made my life better in so many ways.

05 February 2015

You can deal with whatever life brings you even if you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Too long for a bumper sticker.

04 February 2015

Your word for today is: ninguid, adj.
† ninguid, adj.
[‘ Snowy; covered in snow.’]
Forms:  ningid,   ninguid
Etymology: <  post-classical Latin ninguidus (also ningidus) snowy, covered in snow (late 4th cent.) <  classical Latin ninguis snow (cognate with snow n.1) + -idus -id suffix1.
 Obs. rare—0.
  Snowy; covered in snow.
1656  T. Blount GlossographiaNingid or Ninguid, where much Snow is.

03 February 2015

don't be afraid of the light that shines within you

Today, I remembered that once again I forgot all about Imbolc - and it's the most positive day of the year! When the light comes back!! Celebrate!!!

Instead, I gathered my wits and my miserable little bits of energy in a tight bundle and took the train down the magic river valley, all grey nothingness with the odd snow covered north-facing slope. In a feeble attempt to limit exposure to yet another load of infectious agents I opted for first class. No, that's an outright lie, because when I booked the ticket online, weeks ago, I fell for the upgrade spiel and clicked on the magic button, maybe secretly guided by some deeper knowledge of this prolonged bronchitis encounter, who knows. 

Well, first class with all its legroom, fancy antimacassars and free coffee is boring and very very silent. Surrounded by blasé people who probably think that eye contact is spreading diseases I occasionally had to fight the urge to unplug my headphones and share this amazing podcast. Just to prove that I was not listening to some rubbishy pop or whatever they all thought I was doing. It almost felt as if my mother sat across from me. Almost. Actually, she would have enjoyed that podcast.

My lovely doctor was ill today, so I was seen by her boss who is an eminent authority on autoimmune vasculitis in this neck of the woods. Thanks to my lowly statutory health insurance status I usually never come near her. Which is just as well. She greeted me with Do you always have such dark rings under your eyes? My mother would have walked right out of the room, but I stayed, obviously, and got the full treatment incl. throat and nose swabs (yes, they do hurt). 

I must have looked a fright after that because the taxi driver offered me a lozenge and when I asked whether he had seen any sunlight, he turned of the main road, switched off the meter and showed me the view over the hills with a tiny bit of sun hiding behind the clouds. Then he told me all about hockey and how he used to play it when he was a boy in Pakistan and how people foolishly think cricket is superior. I almost asked him to come back with me to my first class compartment, we would have a great conversation.

Once again, I am waiting for results while pretending to enjoy my fabulous life. No, no, seriously: spring is on its way, all will be well.

27 January 2015

This picture is a fake, my father never learnt to play a musical instrument. He is posing with his brother's violin. He doesn't sing either, he sometimes grumbles along way out of tune. On Sunday mornings we would find him sitting downstairs, playing his records, symphonies mostly, Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven, while going through his notes and science journals and from time to time, he would stab the air with his pen, conducting his imaginary orchestra.

The window behind him is where he now has his bedroom. It used to be my grandfather's study before the war. After the war and after the American army had moved out - they stayed in the house for four years - my grandparents moved upstairs and the ground floor was turned into an apartment. My father moved into it soon after he left my mother, when he sneaked away with his car load of stuff while she was recuperating from yet another nervous breakdown somewhere on the coast. Apparently, she arrived home to find half of everything gone. My sister told me that he left because of the blood. My father faints at the sight of blood. I have seen this happen a number of times, he keels over like a felled tree. Bang and out. When my mother cut her wrists, he called my sister and hid in the car, she told me. And about the buckets and the sheets and the stains in the bedroom. The off-white carpet. 

I was on the other side of the equator at the time. The last time I had seen both of my parents together, maybe two years earlier, they could not stop fighting and so I took my little girl and together we walked down the street. It was a hot evening and we waited around the corner barefoot until they stopped shouting. I packed my stuff later that night and told my father that it was time for him to get out, too. He just shook his head.

Last week when I called him on his birthday, he was still in bed. I could hear in his voice how he immediately regretted telling me that. Too late. I coaxed it out of him, how he slipped on the last step down to the garden, how he crawled to his car and pulled himself up and drove to the meeting with his Swedish friends and only noticed the pain when he got home. My father is a scientist and to him, the body is a set of plumbing works with chemical interactions and a slightly complicated set of nuts and bolts to hold it all together. Nothing to get worked up about as long as there is no visible blood. 
This week, he calls to inform me that yes, he has seen a doctor this morning but only to have his own diagnosis confirmed. A couple of bruises, so what. The way we all get so worked up about nothing. Tsk. Tsk.

26 January 2015

Really, I should know by now how to handle this. The usual waiting and observing, patiently, gently and with a positive mindset. In theory.
Actually, I am so much better at it. I think I am. I try to. Many people have suffered from a nasty cough and a touch of bronchitis with chest pain and all that exhaustion. Just because I have this autoimmune shit doesn't mean that it's something else. 
Ok, thinking back I can count the times I had anything as heavy as this on the fingers of one hand but obviously, I mean immune suppression, just use your brain, silly woman. 
Well yes, I do realise that this disease likes to dig into the lungs but hell, not my lungs. I am just slowly recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis. So there.

Oh, and that snow from yesterday? Gone. Washed away by the rain. And the wind will carry me.

24 January 2015

It started to snow just after breakfast. Quite a lot, really. But by tomorrow afternoon it will be gone. I am certain. Occasionally, I look outside and it's still there, unfortunately. Seriously, 24 hours, not a minute longer. I am telling you.
Meanwhile, twelve amaryllis are budding and flowering indoors. Take that, winter, you brute, you!

19 January 2015

Memory is like a dog that lies down where it pleases.

Cees Nooteboom
This is day five of antibiotics and rest and where is the fucking recovery? Shush! Of course it's happening, only in such tiny steps that you need to put on your magnifying glasses to see it. What did you expect?!

Easy does it. I should know. Champing at the bits is a waste of precious energy.

17 January 2015

auris interna

Tinnitus: January, thin rain becoming ice

Now footsteps on shingle. Make of it what you will. Sea-birds roost
on the breakwaters, accustomed, of course, to twilight.
The spirit-lamp in that house on the headland could easily fall
and spill
and the fire burn all night. Some time later, a subtle ghost,
yourself in memory perhaps, might well set foot
up there amid clinker and smoke, the whole place silent and still
except you bring in the tic of cooling timbers, and then the birds
in flight.
Now chains through gravel. Make of it what you will.
David Harsent 
(from today's Guardian)

Some of them are mine, too. At night, the fairy flies by my right ear tinkling her bells, a mean fairy granting no wishes. On most days, in my left ear, a steady wind is blowing through a vast field of swishing dry sugar cane in central Mauritius while I am leaning my head out off the window, seasick and cold so far below the equator. But most of all, the hum, deep and low, that old river barge slowly passing through my left ear, forever and ever. There is no harmony, no rhythm, no pleasure in it. And no surprise any longer. To be at the mercy of such tiny events inside the minute magic spirals of my damaged inner ears, even that had to become part of my life. Mostly now, tedious, boring. So what.


15 January 2015

Bear with me, I am coming out of the fog. My head throbbing, my voice like Rod Stewart's after a full concert, and the coughing, well I think it sounds pretty damn impressive. I tried to do this nicely, thyme tea with honey, plenty of rest and fluids, but no, the lab report was nasty and so plan B or rather antibiotics for five days. We shall see. My intestines will have a fabulous time.

Imagine a very unhappy teenager in a small grey town in Northern England sometime in the early 1970s, she doesn't understand most of what people are saying, she has been kicked out of school because she refuses to wear the ridiculous uniform, especially not that awful bowler hat. Her host family doesn't know and so she walks around town, spends hours in Woolworths when it rains, sampling the blue nail varnish and the glitter hair spray. She wants to feel so very much aloof and haughty and cool but really she is scared and lonely. With her last money, she walks into a hairdresser's and points to the Rod Stewart poster. Hair with attitude. She needs that now.

Happy 70th birthday Rod Stewart, you wear it well.

13 January 2015

. . . contemplate how human beings a century from now will view those of us who lived in the era when climate change was recognized, and yet there was so much more that we could have done. They may feel utter contempt for us. They may regard us as the crew who squandered their inheritance, like drunkards gambling away a family fortune that, in this case, is everyone’s everywhere and everything. I’m talking, of course, about the natural world itself when it was in good working order. They will see us as people who fiddled while everything burned.

Many people believe that personal acts in private life are what matters in this crisis. They are good things, but not the key thing. It’s great to bicycle rather than drive, eat plants instead of animals, and put solar panels on your roof, but such gestures can also offer a false sense that you’re not part of the problem.
You are not just a consumer. You are a citizen of this Earth and your responsibility is not private but public, not individual but social. If you are a resident of a country that is a major carbon emitter, as is nearly everyone in the English-speaking world, you are part of the system, and nothing less than systemic change will save us.

Rebecca Solnit

11 January 2015

new word of the day

uhtceare : Old English noun meaning pre-dawn anxiety or lying awake before dawn and worrying.

10 January 2015

Together we will punish the killer. Our punishment will be more generosity, more tolerance and more democracy.

(Fabian Strang, mayor of Oslo after the 2011 Norway attacks.)

If you share my belief that an open society, a democratic open society is the only alternative to any murderous ideology, you must accept how vulnerable an open society is - simply because it is open and messy and multi cultural and mixed and complicated. Let us remain open, diverse and generous, let us refuse to polarise, to dish out blame or separate the world into us and them, let us stay subversive, irrational and above all, gentle.

07 January 2015

remember this

I wake with a sore throat and all the other aches and pains, my companions. It rained all night and the frost is gone, for now. Earlier, I think I did hear a bird call, just once before sunrise. Before breakfast, the it service man calls and accepts coffee but cannot solve the mysterious wifi problems. Because, so he says, this wave of gadgets and clouds with their blue teeth and constant additions and updates and whatnots, it's too fast and too much for mere humans to cope with. He switches a couple of sockets around like a priest performing a secret ritual. We agree that at least the sun has come up.

Once upon a time we lived in paradise and climbed the Nid d'Aigle mountain on a new year's day, up and up the narrow track, through thick humid forest with the odd voodoo doll on a stick or a fish head dangling from a branch, hissing insects, slipping on damp rocks until we finally reach Belle Vue where the skies open and the sun is so brilliant it takes your breath away.

Some mornings, this memory is all I need.

02 January 2015

Cycling through the dark forest after work. I am the only person on this planet. The cold wind finds a tiny spot somewhere below my scarf into my zipped up parka crawling along my chest. The tyres make loud swishing noises when I hit unseen puddles. The clouds open up and the moon shines on me and me alone. Here I go, my hands are freezing, chronic gastritis gnawing away at my stomach, something painful going on between my bladder and my inflamed intestines, cold tears running from my eyes to my ears, my hands are freezing inside the latest thermal gloves, I am 57 years old. I am racing through the dark silent forest with the moon shining on me and me alone. I am a miracle. I am the only person on this planet.

01 January 2015

The sudden snow has thankfully disappeared for a while - I love long term weather apps - and there has been only a tiny touch of frost. I can handle that.
We drove through the cold sunny valley mostly in silence, looking, occasionally pointing out a view.
I am starting this new year in a low mood. Or maybe not. It's life, it's complicated, is it really? The nagging regrets, what have I ever done to deserve this and so on. Oh, the injustice, the outrage, the self pity. 
How could life take away so much from me? My health, my happiness and so on. 

While at the same time I am fully aware, i.e not really that stupid (she hopes), to realise that life has done nothing wrong, has taken nothing from me. Life just goes on, changes and meanders like that godawful river we are unable to step into twice or whatever.

No, the mood is not really low, I take that back. The mood is moody. I start the morning with a talk to my inner teenager about patience and enthusiasm and compassion and soon enough, this eventually turns into a trial run of stepping back and observing and letting things be. Whatever it takes to hold back the deluge. 
A trial run, mind you. Let's wait and see. No promises.

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and. you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again; you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

31 December 2014


Only this I know

This I must admit: how one becomes two
is something I haven't understood at all.
How anything ever happens or one becomes what one is,
how anything stays in a certain way, what we mean
by words like body, soul, mind: I don't fathom,
but I shall always observe the universe
quietly, without words.

How can I
even for an instant understand the beginning, the end,
the meaning, the theory - of something outside of which
I can never go? Only this I know -
that this thing is beautiful, great, terrifying,
various, unknowable, my mind's ravisher.

This I know, that knowing nothing, unawares,
the current of the cosmos's awareness flows towards you.

~Rabindranath Tagore

30 December 2014


I used to read a lot more. Blame the internet and of course, newspapers and journals don't count.

The 5 best of 2014 were:

the Kent Haruf novels,
the Mary Lawson novels,
The Granta Book of Irish Short Stories,
Wolfgang Herrndorf in German and English (surprise!)
re-reading Marilynne Robinson.

The complete list is here.

29 December 2014

We each need to make peace with our own memories. We have all done things that make us flinch.

Lama Surya Das

22 December 2014


For a long time I thought that 1993 was my bad year, the year the carpet was pulled from under my feet. And in so many ways it was just that, the year of loss and picking up the pieces. That gigantic chaotic mix of juggling too many things, finding my bearings in a country I had never wanted to return to, my child silent and shy, my man working long days, the waves of hatred and xenophobia after the end of the cold war, the year my workplace was attacked, burnt down by racist thugs, cleaning up the smoldering mess and ending up in hospital, nothing too serious but if you want another child, maybe better to go for this surgery. Walking into it like a fool and waking up barren. Sorry, mixed messages, oh shit, you never signed for this one. Checking out, barely able to walk, on christmas eve, while the river burst its banks. Flood of the century, they called it on tv. Devastating, the reports read, massive damage claims expected.

Sometimes, I think it was really nothing compared to so much that has happened since, that it was in fact a lesson that has helped me cope and be grown up about life and all that stuff about getting the wind knocked out of your sails and the crack appearing - for the light to get in.

Memory is a wicked thing. There are days when I play my memory games that I am almost blinded by the golden light of how wonderful we were, the three of us forever walking into warm oceans, glorious sunsets,  magical fortress gates, all the warm kitchens we sat in and laughed and cried and talked and comforted each other as a family, as a couple. Oh, all that love and trust and how we seemingly take it for granted to be there for each other - always.

But looking back over my adult life as a woman, a mother, a wife, there are so many scars and some of them have been itching and oozing for so many years that most of the time now, I barely take notice.

We get knocked about, all of us, and not just by life itself but at times we do it to each other, we lash out, we hurt, we blame and we betray. The things we want from life, the things we feel we deserve, we need, we desire. Sometimes a compromise is just not good enough when we want something, when we think we need something so badly, so urgently. After all, we also know how to forgive. We lick our wounds and anyway, in the end things have always worked out well, eventually, haven't they?

We don't grow up and put away childish things. It is far more complicated. We each read a different instruction manual.

18 December 2014

Once again, I have too many holidays left to continue working. It's absurd, I know. But there are apparently nine working days stacked up that I am entitled to not work before the end of the year and even if I wanted to, the paperwork alone would be bizarre. Being a public service employee is like living on another planet.
And because R is already on holidays, we have plenty of time now to argue about who should cook or do the laundry or should we invite people for dinner and when and who should cook then and so on.
Plus, we sleep in longer and longer every morning and mess around doing nothing most of the day and sometimes talk about all the stuff we could do and before you know it, it's dark and time to argue about who should cook dinner. 

So it was with great effort that I went into town and while I did spend a good two to three hours walking around the xmas markets with all the cute and crafty things and the tourists and the mulled wine and waffles smells, pretending to shop - I bought one tiny box of fancy gingerbread cookies for a friend - and a half hour in a crowded cafe reading the papers, I felt out of place, completely and utterly. There was nothing, nothing, nothing that enticed me one bit. In an effort, I looked through an entire display of fancy bed sheets, pure organic cotton in myriad shapes and colours, and all I could think was, who needs this stuff?  I walked past a stall selling about 45 types of French nougat and almost ran when this nice woman offered me samples. Ok, I don't like nougat but still.
On my way home, I briefly stopped at my favourite bookshop but I never even locked the bicycle. A lost day for consumerism at least as far as I am concerned. 

16 December 2014

Tonight I went to an anti-neonazi rally in my city. I know the numbers are small and luckily, here the joyful crowd of all ages clapping and singing for an open society by far outnumbered the brown thugs, but I find it scary. Not just because I feel that people are being conned, that some clever Pied Piper(s) are playing with a general ignorance and unfounded fears, that nasty mix of xenophobia and manipulation, but also because at the same time, thousand more could only think of Xmas shopping and how the rally was messing up the parking and public transport situation.
There was a time when I could shrug this off, light a candle and trust that we all share a common decency etc. Tonight I just feel low. 

But still:
As we walked back to where we had locked our bicycles, I overheard a policeman explaining what was going on to a confused tourist: If you walk over there, you'll find a crowd of right wing people demonstrating. They are allowed to do this and we must protect their right of expression. If you walk over here, however, you will find people representing the open-minded, multicultural German society. 

12 December 2014

11 December 2014

Sheltering from rain today in a cosy cafe, I read that while there is a noted increase in specific types of depression during the winter months in the northern hemisphere, no significant evidence has been documented - as yet - that this is due to the gray and foggy weather. In fact, it's all due to lack of exercise and too many hours hiding under the covers in a warm bed.

I also read that for the next 16 days, the number of sunshine hours will be almost nil. 

I read that the number of people fleeing war and persecution, hunger and poverty today is higher than what it was after WWII. I also read about how European governments intend to criminalise refugees entering our wealthy countries with the aid of traffickers. To be so desperate as to pay someone to get out of hell will bring you straight into prison here.

Then I start to read some of the links on my news feed in relation to Human Rights Day (yesterday). 

This is difficult, I know what to expect but still. 

There is a president in tears and another former president praising patriotic acts of interrogation. 

Next, I open a link to a huge document, 400+ pages. I try to concentrate on the lingo and I fail. It's a descent into the inner circle of hell, carefully detailing a mix of ruthlessness and incompetence, about what happens when a person is forced to remain standing with his hands tied above him and not allowed to sleep for 59 hrs, how after 17 rounds of waterboarding, another person had to be resuscitated for further rounds as interrogations were as yet incomplete. I begin to feel nauseous when I read that on day five, the agents asked for permission to stop interrogations as it was too upsetting for them to continue. Permission was denied. 

I stop reading and order another cafe au lait. My father always criticised me for reacting with too much emotion and that it would do nobody any good.

05 December 2014

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life.

04 December 2014

03 December 2014

embrace it

What a grey day. I drive to work because I am too scared to cycle home in the dark with the threat of icy cycle paths. The car radio catapults me straight back to the big old house, dancing on a Thursday evening to Top of the Pops with a toddler on my hip. Oh, the mushy lyrics of 1980s Brit pop. 

It starts to snow, big wet flakes disintegrating on the wet roads. Awful stuff. Waiting at a traffic light, I count how many weeks to midwinter, to spring equinox. I never liked this season. I never will.
Later, R tells me of his new colleagues from far away places who ran outside dancing and shouting while the locals looked on in disbelief. This is not real snow, folks.

Work is a mess, I try and find some balance, try to calm down a few angry moods, try and sort out a chaotic situation that needs more attention than I can offer. For a moment, I want to walk away, banging my door, cursing. But while I could do (and have done so often enough) this at home, the person I am at work would never do anything like it. The person I am at work runs after the angry intern and listens to her complaints and helps her to think she has found the solution all by herself.

On fb I watch Pema Chödrön talking to a dolled up Oprah (what's with that lip gloss?) about opening our heart. Compassionate abiding. Simple.
And in my inbox I find this Pema quote:

In Tibetan Buddhism there’s a set of teachings for cultivating compassion called mind training, or lojong. One of the lojong teachings is, “Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” This means if a painful situation occurs, be patient, and if a pleasant situation occurs, be patient. This is an interesting point. Usually, we jump all the time; whether it’s pain or pleasure, we want resolution. So if we’re happy and something is great, we could also be patient then, and not fill up the space, going a million miles an hour—impulse shopping, impulse talking, impulse acting out.

29 November 2014

This day yesterday 41 years ago, I couldn't get to school because it had snowed all night. In Franconia, unlike today, snow and frost was the shape of things until February/March but the first snow always caused a bit of havoc. 
The rule was to wait at the bus stop for about 30 mins before turning back. My father had left hours earlier using one of his elaborate detours across the villages. Hazardous road conditions never stopped him. My brother stayed outside, he was still a silly little boy, and my sister had moved out only a few weeks earlier. 

So when I got back home, I was almost alone. I locked myself into the sitting room. Of course, I couldn't really lock the door. But I did shut it, which was never done, and I pulled the blinds up and opened my birthday presents. OK, opening is not the correct word because presents were never wrapped. We usually got what we asked for - and if we forgot to ask for anything or if my mother was going through one of her moods when we wouldn't dare ask, we got cash. My parents generally preferred cash unless we asked for books. Books were good. My mother had a thing about buying books for her children. 

Anyway, I had asked for a ton of stuff, whatever had come into my head in the past couple of months, partly because I wanted to make it real hard, like a test, and well, it was all there: the exact black suede boots as specified, the correct pair of Levi's jeans, the triple album box set of The Concert for Bangladesh, the German version of The Woodstock Craftsman's Manual, a couple of school things, pens mostly, and my mother's standards: Baumkuchenspitzen and Borkenschokolade.

Outside, it was snowing, the house was silent. I knew my mother would not be up for some time. I put on my new jeans and boots, let George Harrison be the first ever rock musician to disgrace my parent's stereo system, with decent volume, and - eating chocolate for breakfast! - started to leaf through pages of macrame and tie dye projects. 

My mother never came near me. Not a word about the door being shut, none of that you call this music? stuff.  I began to feel free and grown up and ready that day. Ready to leave and lead a different life, a wild life, a life of adventure, daring, honest friendships, really loud rock music and - well, yes, macrame.

26 November 2014

So it did catch up with me. Somewhat. The cold, frost even, the dark. That November. Unraveling in bits here and there. Various infections, eyes, joints, a nasty case of tendonitis with a fetching limp, the gastritis, obviously. 
First thing in the morning before getting up I now have to stick a couple parts back on that must have broken off during the night, like one of the paper cut-out dolls that S used to play with. 

Of course it's nothing to do with November but it adds a dramatic effect and, oh dear, do I have a thing for drama.

I tell you what it is. Tedious, it's tedious. Repetitive, this three-steps-forward-two-steps-back pattern. Or maybe it's the other way around. Same difference. Never mind. Yawn.

No, I am not (yet?) gone all blasé about it. It seems, though, that right now there is only one trick left in my magic box of coping skills: expect nothing. Which offers its own beauty because it allows me to just be.

Occasionally, there's a tiny spark of stupid sarcasm, very briefly illuminating that vast boring November greyness, such as this example of fb wisdom: Love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it's probably shit.

Replace love with life and you get the idea. Expect nothing.

22 November 2014

When people ask me where I am from, I tell them I'm from Europe. Depending on circumstances, I might mention that I was raised in Franconia. Nobody outside Germany has a clue about Franconia, neither do I for that matter. I can tell you that my father comes from old Franconian stock, I have a copy of the family tree going back to the Thirty Years' War, but that there are quite a few Italian and Slavic traces here and there. As for my mother, who had a thing about the superiority of German culture, her background is a wild mix of Swedish, Russian, French and, apparently, Sami. 

When the discussion gets too territorial, I occasionally blather on about the world being our homeland etc. 

When someone mentions that there are too many foreigners here, I add that I am married to one of them. 
But no, comes the reply, he is a different kind of foreigner. 
Meaning? I ask. 
Oh, you know, the proper kind, like us.
Like us? Who are we?

And so on.

Which gives me an excuse to quote at length from an article by Moshin Hamid in today's Guardian:

The scale of migration we will see in the coming centuries is likely to dwarf what has come before. Climate change, disease, state failure, wars: all these will push hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, to leave one country for another. If we do not recognise their right to move, we will be attempting to build an apartheid planet where our passports will be our castes, and where obedience will be enforceable only through ever-increasing uses of force.
There is another way. We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa. And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.
It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants. And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.
I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.

20 November 2014

and more cycling

The Cyclist Philosopher from fifty beans on Vimeo.

subtitles in English: click on the cc button

16 November 2014

It's hard to believe we are half way through November already. This morning, R picked a bowl of fresh raspberries and the roses are at it for the fourth (fifth?) time. You could almost start to love climate change.

At the local farmer's market today I got involved in a conversation about old apple varieties. Thanks to my grandmother's orchard and my father's insistence of teaching his kids that apples had proper names I could contribute my fair share. The tiny, almost wrinkled apples in the picture are a variety that was first cultivated in the 19th century by a German nobleman and social reformer. They are juicy, sweet and high in vit c and they have a dedicated fan club. Apparently, there are only a few trees left which explains why they are sold out in one morning. I guess the fan club has a secret messaging system because they were all there, oohing and aahing and discussing colour and size. Generously, I was allowed to purchase one kilo. 

One of these days I will eat one. At least I hope so. Before I forget that there is a culinary life beyond porridge, dry toast and fennel tea. Some days, I dare to drink the odd cup of milky coffee or stupidly eat a tiny portion of risotto rice with pumpkin - at a price (see below). I have now been told that most likely it's a mechanical issue plus chronic gastritis. While both of which are here to stay, more or less, I still have hopes that modern medicine will eventually soon find novel ways to successfully recover my digestive system at least for periods of time long enough to try out all the recipes I have been bookmarking in the last fortnight. 

Meanwhile, I got a couple of prescriptions, painkillers, heavy duty PPIs, and good old antispasmodics. Donkey's years ago I took that stuff for really bad period pain. Stupidly, I mentioned this to my new GP and she had to laugh and we started to talk about childbirth and labour and when she asked me why I only had one child, I told her about what happened in 1993 and she cried out and held both of my hand for a while which was slightly embarrassing.

Anyway, these drugs are not really working which is why I am now sitting here in the darkest night missing my cat and listening to this wonderful talk about psilocybin therapy. Believe me, I want it. Now.

12 November 2014

Imagine this scene: a group of children playing outside on a sunny day, the game is turning into a race and now all of them are running down the road, except for that one child who cannot keep the pace. The others are already too far to notice.
On bad days, really bad days, I am that child.

The overwhelming feeling of having no direction, that nobody needs me, that my purposeful life is over.
Oh, of course, my daughter and my husband. They will swear that I am important, sometimes under duress, and sometimes when they do mean it. And there are others, occasionally, who value and cherish my presence, my input, my work. Honestly, I am proud of my work and all that, on most days, but especially on really bad days.

I know that I will never be healthy again and that this illness is claiming more and more of me, slowly. I know it does not look like it but like the fool that I am, I am still fighting it. 
All. The.Time. It is a hard struggle and a useless one, really. I leaf through my diary to count the medical appointments and sick days during the last 12 months and I feel grim. No wonder, R tells me that he has lost track of all the experts and why and when I have to go and see them.

There are still glorious days, occasionally, when I feel energetic, my face flush and tingling after a fast cycle, when I clean the kitchen floor last thing before bed and still have enough energy to run upstairs. On days like this, for a brief moment, I forget that all this is changing, that I am far into the tunnel of chronic illness. I know I am really lashing out at life, my unfair life, when I get mad with R, when I shout at him for not doing this or that. And oh, how much I really just need him to stop me, to tell me that all will be well.

This he cannot, will not do. And the last thing I want to do is blackmail him with my illness.
It is very tempting, but this is not his responsibility. Neither he nor me caused this illness and it is entirely my own body, my own burden. Harsh as it may sound, but believe me, pity can feel awfully patronising. Or maybe I haven't got the gift of accepting it properly, gratefully, to make others feel better.

Sometimes there is a wall between us that I can almost touch, the air is cold and hard and we try to fill with empty chatter, polite conversation. Carefully avoiding anything related to being ill. I look up and see this strong and energetic man, he is so well, so fucking healthy. While he carelessly pours himself another glass of red wine, we debate the upcoming conferences he may attend, one in Finland, another one on Mars or so it seems. Go out for a hike, I want to shout at him. Just like we used to do on a Sunday morning because we felt like it. Go and travel, explore, discover. Send me back pictures, bring me a souvenir. But it's complicated, confusing, and maybe I am not convincing enough, maybe I show a trace of regret in my face or maybe he feels a tinge of guilt in his mind.

How much I want to be done with this anger, with loss, with feeling hurt by what exactly I cannot even tell, and wanting to hurt back at what exactly I have no idea.

cycling . . . again

10 November 2014

09 November 2014

Sometimes when I am in the bathroom brushing my teeth and the window is open and I can hear the faint noises of the traffic from the main road, I am back in the house I grew up in, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing my teeth and while I hear the faint noise of traffic from the main road I am dreaming about being far away, somewhere exotic, different, very, very different and deliriously happy. 
All of it, at the same time. I would look at myself with half closed eyes, trying to imagine it: me being deliriously happy and far away, somewhere exotic and very, very different. 

Around that time I started stealing cigarettes and loose change from my mother's purse. Most days after school I sat on my desk in my room underneath the skylight, blowing the smoke outside and hiding the butts in an empty jam jar with a screw on lid. My mother was going through three packs a day and the house reeked of nicotine anyway, but, hey, the thrill of it. On the inner frame of the skylight I kept a tally of the boys I had kissed, a tiny line of initials.

The desk was very stylish, polished blond wood, Scandinavian design, slim brass drawer handles. It used to stand downstairs in the big room. Years ago I had chased my little brother around the room and he crashed into one of its rounded corners and the blood spurting from the gash beside his eyebrow spilt onto my mother's best Persian carpet. I was locked into my room for the rest of the day and I remember standing on my tiptoes trying to open the same skylight to climb out and give my mother a fright.
When my father bought our first tv set to watch the Olympic games the desk was moved upstairs.

Deep inside one of its drawers I hid my pathetic savings. But only briefly. I knew all along that money would not get my out of here.

But by now I have been all of it: far away, somewhere exotic and very, very different and deliriously happy. Even all of it at the same time, briefly.

05 November 2014

November. Not my time of the year, I could say.
It is ridiculous, really. Because I give into a mood, it's quite the thing to do. 
Oh oh November, I always get depressed in November, people tell me. Before I know it, I wake up and I think, November, am I depressed? And well, let's blame it all on this damp month with bare trees and wind and the dark evenings.

The little cat is dead, we went to the vet and he did the thing. It was dark and raining hard by the time we got home and while R dug the hole in the back of the garden, I washed the floors and got rid of the litter box and all the rest. 

Then the basement started to smell. We actually had a fight over who was going to check behind the stacked flower pots for maybe a dead mouse or worse and yes, it was pouring by then. Whatever it was, it just disappeared. I think.

Quite appropriately, R started to investigate his pension situation in what, three-four years and oh my goodness, we are going to be skint. Absolutely. And that is before tax. So now, we snarl at each other and I cannot sleep and really, I feel like a right fool. Because we always knew and we more than once managed with even less when we were young and wild (and healthy). We can always sell the house, R shrugs. But we both know how that will hurt. Or maybe not. Go to sleep, he tells me, no use thinking about it now.

A quite popular writer and poet here used to have this daily newspaper column, on the last page of one of the more radical national papers, where he would write a little ditty about current affairs, corrupt politicians or anything else that he wanted to get off his chest. So he wrote this little poem about November, how miserable and grey it is and what a waste of time and let's get rid of it and so on. 
Next day, the paper published a letter from a seven year old boy, complaining about giving November a bad name. And he listed all the great things November has to offer: leaves to mess about, raincoats and mittens and scarves to wear, puddles to jump into, hot cocoa to drink when you get home and so on. 
And of course, your man had to rewrite his poem and he did. And I have it all somewhere, the first poem, the letter and the second poem. I cut it all out and had a good laugh. Because, here's the thing: midwinter is only seven weeks away. Time flies. Before we know it we'll be old and poor.

31 October 2014

Just had two slightly bewildered kids at our door, calling out trick or treat (süsses oder saures, in German). Where did that come from? Too much internet is my guess.

This is probably one of the last countries on the planet where Halloween (and St. Patrick's Day) are not yet celebrated. But the pagans who once lived here did what good pagans all over the world do to channel their fear of dark nights. While the Celts in Ireland carved turnips into lanterns to scare off the dead souls and the Irish who had emigrated to America replaced the turnips with pumpkins, the local traditions and rituals here - which also go back to the dark ages - include bonfires and lanterns. But the mighty rule of the catholic church made it into a feast day for St. Martin whereby singing children carry cute lanterns and after marching through the neighbourhood after dark watch a man on a horse dressed as a saint from the Middle Ages jump over the dying embers.

Or something like that. This went totally past me when I was a kid. I think it was not invented by then or maybe my childhood Germany was not catholic enough. 

I do have hazy memories of searching the shops for the stupid lantern handle when S was making her obligatory specimen in school. That was a major hassle, that and getting the right kind of waxed paper. I was always too late.

Today, for a short moment R didn't even realise the novelty at our door step and over dinner, he remembered his own childhood Halloweens (plural?) in Dublin. 

But seriously, had Jesus not slain the giant pumpkin, none of us would be here today. Right?

29 October 2014

Sitting in the kitchen at 4 am, me and my old pal gastritis, we have been here before. Too often for my taste but who am I to complain. In the cup in front of me yet another herbal concoction with a fancy name.  I've tried them all. It's all the same, I could just as well drink a cup of tap water. Maybe next time. 
A hot water bottle in my lap, I try to concentrate on the novel I have been dragging around for the last week.  Nobody would notice if I just read the last page and get it over with. But of course that's cheating. I cannot recall most of the stuff I read anyway these days. Seriously, what is my problem here?

The moment of resigning. Unnoticed almost. One day you wake up and the territory has become familiar, the fear suddenly bearable, death has become a distant possibility again. The unthinkable has become routine. You have become slow, to the point of being lethargic. You withdraw, you spend time doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is all you have the energy for. None of this used to be acceptable. And so you have become a person you never liked. When you still had this abundant arrogance of being healthy, you felt - no you never even felt that, you took it as a given - that vitality was a birth right and - worse - an option.

Last week my immunologist told me that maybe I should be monitored a bit more closely, more blood tests, a couple of x-rays, lung function testing, the works. I successfully negotiated a compromise and we will compare notes in January. She mentioned that only 1500 people in this country have my level and combination of autoantibodies. Based on annual figures of diagnoses or whatever. Statistics. I have no idea but I wonder all the same, if ten percent of them have stomach cramps, that's possibly 150 people sitting in their quiet kitchens with a cup of herb tea waiting for daylight unable to finish a decent novel.

28 October 2014

French, seriously so: Talisco

26 October 2014

October road trip part 4

almost home, a short stop at the Chiemsee