27 April 2016

Stormy, cold and wet. Outside on our quiet street, the kids from the primary school down the road are doing their cycling tests. Never mind the weather. It's all noisy chatter, bells and colourful raincoats as one after another cycles in lines and circles, practicing their turning and indicating and stopping skills under the supervision of an elderly police man, a couple of teachers and several mothers hiding under large umbrellas. I have been told that next, they will cycle on real streets with real traffic in long single file to the Italian ice cream parlour to celebrate their achievements with great cheer. This is the future.

25 April 2016

Sudden spring has been replaced by sudden winter - but we hope only briefly. While R hastily covered his vegetable beds with various elaborate sheets of plastic (it now looks like Christo was here), I said soothing words to the flowering lilac, which has been replanted to the left of the picture above. I think it will survive.
And now I am debating with my weaker self whether I will cycle to work, i.e. face nature in all its beauty and strength head on wrap myself in ill-fitting, leaking waterproof covers, or sit in the car listening to lovely music cursing and gnashing my teeth while looking for parking.

Ok, people die. Brilliant artists also die. It's sad, yes, but also a reminder. Life ends in death. Mine and yours and all others.
Malick Sidibe died earlier this month.

Janet Jackson once made a great video based on his photography. But I always hear this soundtrack here.

I think I will cycle. Life is too short to spend it sitting in a car.

19 April 2016

18 April 2016

And so, here we are. Sitting around the breakfast table with friends, home made bread, home made jam, coffee, a fat vase of tulips, the first strawberries, spring sunlight, reminiscing about our young and wild commune days, our children, the babies and toddlers now adults, talking about our aches and pains (knees and backs and ears and eyesight) and our fears of old age, illness, loneliness and dreadful old folks homes, when suddenly, we look at each other and all we need to do is smile. We have done communal living, home birth, we carried each others' babies when they were afraid of the dark, we should know how to do this. Of course.

16 April 2016

The Room in Which My First Child Slept

After a while I thought of it this way:
It was a town underneath a mountain
crowned by snow and every year a river
rushed through, enveloping the dusk
in a noise everyone knew signaled spring—
a small town, known for a kind of calico,
made there, strong and unglazed,
a makeshift of cotton in which the actual
unseparated husks still remained and
could be found if you looked behind
the coarse daisies and the red-billed bird
with swept-back wings always trying to
arrive safely on the inch or so of cotton it
might have occupied if anyone had offered it.
And if you ask me now what happened to it—
the town that is—the answer is of course
there was no town, it never actually
existed, and the calico, the glazed cotton
on which a bird never landed is not gone,
because it never was, never once, but then
how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying
as if I didn’t love you,
as if I wouldn’t have died for you.

14 April 2016

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race.

H.G. Wells

My luck has come in again and I have been that adult on a bicycle for the last two weeks now. This is what it looks like every day when I have managed to survive 8 km of busy city traffic. This forest is my antidepressant. What you don't see - and why can I not take a picture on my phone that shows how steep it is? - is that right at the top here in this picture is where the first of two very steep hairpin bends begin.

Once I have managed these two tough bends, it gets easier and after about 4 km, it is all easy peasy level.

Right here at the t-junction I could turn left and cycle on through thick forest, vineyards and more forest for a couple of weeks, cross the Swiss Alps and the Pyrenees and eventually arrive in Santiago de Compostela because this small road is a branch of the Camino, the Jakobsweg. There was a time when we were seriously contemplating this trip. Well, maybe in another life time.

But here I turn right and go on for another 4 km through the most gorgeous lush forest, complete with small bridges and streams and very noisy birds, until I reach the university campus and my desk.

I started cycling when I was 5 years old. This bicycle here is actually a fancy electric bike. I have just completed 10,000 km on it (since 2011). It has saved me from a life of miserable chronic illness.

10 April 2016

The lawn is speckled with daisies and everywhere, forget-me-nots and lady's smock are sprouting out of the ground between the fancy tulips and sturdy pulsatilla. They're just weeds, complains R - but with a smile. He will not touch them until long after they are finished flowering. The fruit trees are slowly opening their blossoms. The wind has lost its edge. The garden is gentle and secret and beautiful all of a sudden. Spring is here.
All weekend my energy has been sputtering like a badly tuned engine and I mostly wandered from bed to sofa to armchair, crossing off things from my to-do list either because I actually managed to do them (bake rhubarb crumble, ironing) or because I've suddenly decided resigned that it doesn't matter (sort out tax files, clean fridge).
Meanwhile, R is digging and planting and moving entire sections of the garden to new locations and so on. I watch him fling that spade like a paper kite and I close my eyes with relief.
Last night when I reminded him of the time, he looked up from correcting exam papers and sighed, oh jeezus, they still haven't understood. I don't know how to teach this stuff any longer. Treating viruses with antibiotics! Why don't they listen in class.


07 April 2016

From Paul Salopek's article yesterday:

More than three years ago, while researching this long and very slow journey, I visited the remote Kenyan camp of the famed paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey. I recall setting out one morning for a nearby village.

“Is it within walking distance?” I stupidly asked Leakey.

She stared at me, astonished. “Everything is,” she replied.

(and if in doubt, I shall take my bicycle)

06 April 2016

Found this today on Beth's blog
Charles Bukowski was born a short distance away, it's a pleasant enough cycle along the river from where I am right now. 
One of these old towns dating back to the Romans and with a medieval fortress right in the middle.
It's pleasant and picturesque, I sat in one of the cafes eating Italian ice cream. But one New year's day we walked around in search of coffee and found only shut doors. These places are hell for teenagers. He would have hated it there, never mind the whole nazi thing which would have shaped his youth had the family remained in Germany.

No leaders, Please
by Charles Bukowski

Invent yourself and then reinvent yourself,
don’t swim in the same slough.
invent yourself and then reinvent yourself
stay out of the clutches of mediocrity.

Invent yourself and then reinvent yourself,
change your tone and shape so often that they can
categorize you.

Reinvigorate yourself and
accept what is
but only on the terms that you have invented
and reinvented.

be self-taught.

And reinvent your life because you must;
it is your life and
its history
and the present
belongs only to

04 April 2016

The paraphernalia of chronic illness surround me, rule my day, whether I am able to work and play or whether I am folding myself into blankets and soft cushions, there is a little box of medicines beside my bed that starts the day, there are excel sheets with lab data, folders of pathology reports, letters of discharge, certificates to show to the various agencies that finance my existence and so on.

Not a day without the effort to distinguish between being well and being ill but the boundaries are vague some mornings, I swing back and forth, almost violently at times, my mind wants one thing and my body dictates another.

Why do I continue to write this down, why this constant urge to find more words, another metaphor, a sharper description. Some times, all I want is spitting it out, in disgust and with anger. But on other days, I am simply driven by the need to document, to observe and to report, to myself, to the person I may be in weeks, months, years to come. To find a focus and not allow the impact to fade. 
The impact on body and mind. Before it all gets blurred and I should forget my healthy self completely. To let nothing stop me from being in love with my life. Being attentive, memorizing where I am today so that it all makes sense later. Because I forget easily how complete it all is despite the struggles and the sleepless nights, the exhausted evenings. There is no fight, no challenge, really. It may sound dramatic and impressive to some but no, I am simply alive, I am not fighting anything, there is nothing to win (or to lose). In all its difficulty, being ill has not really changed me, the way only I know myself. Maybe not yet, maybe it's too early. Maybe in the future. But today, I don't care.

30 March 2016

The German translation of Good Friday, Karfreitag, means Friday of grief or lament or wailing (kar is old high German for any of these).
It was a rainy and cold Good Friday this year.  We went to Dachau.
On the way, we had one of our minor squabbles, the way you argue about anything and nothing when you have been married for a long time. We hissed back and forth for a while and then went silent until R cracked a joke and I tried to remain insulted. That's the way we try to hide being nervous.


Two days earlier a friend had given me a beautiful soft pashmina shawl and as I walked across this bare stretch of gravel, I wrapped it closely around my head, hiding inside as much as possible, afraid to be found out. I was ready to deny everything: that I am German, that my grandfather was a nazi, that I loved him when I was small, that my mother was afraid of ghosts all her adult life, ghosts of her childhood in nazi Germany and ghosts of a war that she desperately wanted to forget, a fear she drowned in addiction and hate and cruelty. But none of it has any significance in this place.
And yet, they are my scars and my responsibility. 

The dimensions of this place are overwhelming, trying to fathom the numbers, the lives lost and the suffering, I felt like running and for a while, I lost sight of R and hiding my crying face even deeper inside the shawl I walked around like a lost child among the Chinese tourists texting on their cell phones right below the no phone signs, the Italian families with balloons and prams, having an impromptu picnic on the steps to the infamous wash house, next to another sign in four languages asking to respectfully refrain from eating or drinking. 

No, I did not point it out to them. I did not feel equipped with that kind of indignation. I was inside a black cloud of wailing and lamenting and I did not feel ready to lift my head ever again.

You can spend hours and hours here, reading and gathering information and watching footage and going through thousands of photographs and documents. And we did. We stayed for a very long time. At least that.
And everywhere reminders of what we need to know, especially now, about hate, about xenophobia, about racism, about fascism. These are not innocent times, we must allow history to teach us, we must be aware.

23 March 2016

Brussels 23rd March 2016
 picture credit Valentin Bianchi/AP     
The stars now rearrange themselves above you
but to no effect. Tonight,
only for tonight, their powers lapse,
and you must look toward earth. There will be
no comets now, no pointing star
to lead where you know you must go.
Look for smaller signs instead, the fine
disturbances of ordered things when suddenly
the rhythms of your expectation break.

Dana Gioia 

We are packing - or rather, I am packing our going-away-for-easter stuff in between short breaks or vice versa, while R is being noisy in the kitchen, listening to the radio, from time to time he shouts something or other upstairs that I fail to understand. I don't understand anything right now. 

21 March 2016

study to be quiet

My GP would say that there is some activity. A misleading expression I think but nevertheless. I am not yet ready to see her for a sick cert. This is my day of grace, my employment regulations stipulate a doctor's certificate from day three onward and I usually settle on day two. A compromise of sorts. If I give you one day off the record you give me one too. But only in my mind.
Whatever the activity, it is diffuse. I am restless. I drink herb tea and eat three small chocolate easter eggs. I cough a bit. I sleep for long hours during the day and more all night. I am cold and I am hot. It is whatever it is. 
I want to lie down. I want to get up and sort the laundry. I make phone calls. I empty the dish washer. I need to lie down. There are mixed messages here. Or maybe it's just me.
When my father calls his voice reaches a plaintive pitch, howareyou and dontsayanything, all in one sound. We quickly move on to compare our agendas. Mine so disappointingly open and disorganised while he knows when and where and with whom he will have lunch in six weeks' time.
I lie down again and listen to the gurgling sounds from my busy abdomen, my heart beat skipping here and there and the almost reassuring booming noises from my inner ears. All that life.
I close my eyes and recall my daughter's tanned face, her skype smile from this morning. I drink more herb tea. Birch leaves. Lemon verbena. I walk to the window and watch R for a while, putting down potatoes. So much energy. I need to lie down again. I try not to fall asleep.

18 March 2016

Occasionally, not often, moments of clarity when it all makes sense. Not beautiful sense, no eureka moment, just a clicking into place, the voices in my head briefly full of meaning, forcing me to stop for an instance, facing what I am running away from most of the time. I still do, I should know it better by now, but who am I to fool. Every morning a short period of blissful nothingness where I am just me, or what I like to think is me. Before reality wakes me up.
It's nothing dramatic. I can handle it. I am fine. But I wonder when did it start that I took my life for granted, with all the safe comforts that have crept up on us over the years. There was always ambition, curiosity, energy. Stuff I wanted to do, see, influence, change. Endless.
I was ambitious and I was busy. Things were going on, I was always making plans, small projects, travel, visits, ideas, work.
It feels like another lifetime now. I was another person who felt this strong conviction of being a maker, a doer, someone who could influence and achieve simply because I wanted to.
Whereas now. Constantly having to remind myself of this. Over and over and over.

By hard work I cannot make it happen, by being good I cannot make it happen, by self-sacrifice I cannot make it happen, by being clever I cannot make it happen, by being more creative I cannot make it happen. My previous ambitions, reliant on skill and will, are rendered mute, inert, of no interest.
By no effort or will can I change the terms. All I can do is change the approach.
Marion Coutts (The Iceberg)

17 March 2016

I have no problem
I look at myself:
I have no problem.
I look all right
and, to some girls,
my grey hair might even be attractive;
my eyeglasses are well made,
my body temperature is precisely thirty seven,
my shirt is ironed and my shoes do not hurt.
I have no problem.
My hands are not cuffed,
my tongue has not been silenced yet,
I have not, so far, been sentenced
and I have not been fired from my work;
I am allowed to visit my relatives in jail,
I’m allowed to visit some of their graves in some countries.
I have no problem.
I am not shocked that my friend
has grown a horn on his head.
I like his cleverness in hiding the obvious tail
under his clothes, I like his calm paws.
He might kill me, but I shall forgive him
for he is my friend;
he can hurt me every now and then.
I have no problem.
The smile of the TV anchor
does not make me ill any more
and I’ve got used to the Khaki stopping my colours
night and day.
That is why
I keep my identification papers on me, even at
the swimming pool.
I have no problem.
Yesterday, my dreams took the night train
and I did not know how to say goodbye to them.
I heard the train had crashed
in a barren valley
(only the driver survived).
I thanked God, and took it easy
for I have small nightmares
that I hope will develop into great dreams.
I have no problem.
I look at myself, from the day I was born till now.
In my despair I remember
that there is life after death;
there is life after death
and I have no problem.
But I ask:
Oh my God,
is there life before death?

Mourid Barghouti 
(translated by Radwa Ashour)

The school boys from down the road. AnnenMayKantereit.

13 March 2016

The Greek philosopher Epicurus lived a very long time ago (he was born 2357 years ago on the beautiful island of Samos where people fleeing war and persecution and poverty are arriving everyday, if they survive the short crossing in these overloaded rubber boats having paid several thousand euros for the privilege. Should you ever find yourself in one of the many harbour bars in, say, Kusadasi in Turkey, and you fancy a quick trip to one of the Greek island so enticingly shimmering on the horizon while you sip your sweet chai, all you need to do is walk down to the pier and pay 40 euros for a round trip ticket. You get on to the shiny white ferry and let the wind ruffle your hair while you look at the blue sea and the fading Turkish coastline. That's your privilege because you own the world.). 
Anyway, Epicurus, he wrote lots of wise stuff. I know of him because my father insisted on a classical grammar school where the bored teenager I was then - dreaming of Woodstock and Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones - would spend hours translating and reciting and interpreting ancient Greek literature. I may give you a run down of Plato's cave allegory one day. But that's another story.

A friend of a friend died last week. Suddenly and quite avoidably. He thought he was strong and invincible and he never really needed to see a doctor before. Men tend to be like that in my experience.
He was wrong or maybe fate was waiting. Who knows. It is dreadfully sad, one way or another. 
And we who knew him, we who hear of his unexpected death, we are all now silently contemplating our health, our plans, our futures, our children's futures, our lives stretching in front of us.
Ten more summers? Fifteen? Two? Or is this it?

In his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus wrote:

For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.

11 March 2016

Idomeni is a small village in Greece close to the border with Macedonia. At the moment, about 13,000 people, mainly Syrians and many of them women and children are stranded there since Macedonia has closed the border. They are stranded in the rain and mud with only very basic support from NGOs, individuals and a pretty helpless UNHCR. 

Menawhile, European politicians have decided that the seemingly never ending streams and constant images of people fleeing war and poverty has a negative effect on their powerful positions. People in Europe, they say, are sick and tired of seeing all this misery. Not our fault, they say. Don't come, they say. Turn back, they say. We don't want to share our wealth with you. We don't want you to mess up our good life. We don't want to help you. We had enough, we are shutting the doors.

So they are working on a clever deal with Turkey, which will involve shipping contingencies of desperate people back and forth like containers loads on heavy goods trains. 
This is the same European Union that was awarded the Nobel peace prize, btw.

Idomeni is another word for shame.

Just two images from today's papers:

07 March 2016

After a weekend with tooth ache I went to the dentist and the sky did not fall down. He was very reassuring and even made me a little drawing of the gap between the two molars that got infected because the world is not fair.
I think I will survive. But. Of course, I don't believe he is right and that my last remaining upper molars are quietly rotting away in all their shiny whiteness.
Still hurts but I am ever so cool and brave and grown up. Last night I read about Napoleon and the battle of Austerlitz until the dawn chorus set in. Not in my wildest dreams etc.

04 March 2016

I am now the age my father was when he retired. He was offered a golden handshake in one of those corporate takeover scenarios. It took him a year to settle his things and then he walked away from his old life and disappeared for a while. Many years later, he told me about those months. Mostly reading, walking, cycling, museums, listening to music, photography, lots of sleep, he said (he forgot to mention the women). My parents never met again. Lawyers did the talking. Phone numbers were changed several times. The biggest mistake of my life, he often tells me, marrying that woman. I used to shout at him then. Don't speak like that, I am your child and so on. But he never listened to me anyway.
The last time I met my brother, his face went white for a second. You look a lot like her with this haircut. For a moment I thought . . .
I turned to my father and asked, do I look like her? How much do I look like her? Tell me!
I have no memory, he replied. That woman is dead and gone.


My parents on their wedding day. 1954. Not quite nine years after the end of WWII. Two young scientists with big ideas and bigger plans. Soon life caught up with them.

01 March 2016


not all is lost

Human infants as young as 14 to 18 months of age help others attain their goals, for example, by helping them to fetch out-of-reach objects or opening cabinets for them. They do this irrespective of any reward from adults (indeed external rewards undermine the tendency), and very likely with no concern for such things as reciprocation and reputation, which serve to maintain altruism in older children and adults. Humans' nearest primate relatives, chimpanzees, also help others instrumentally without concrete rewards.

These results suggest that human infants are naturally altruistic, and as ontogeny proceeds and they must deal more independently with a wider range of social contexts, socialization and feedback from social interactions with others become important mediators of these initial altruistic tendencies.

from: Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello, The roots of Human Altruism, British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 100, Issue 3, pages 455-471, 2009

29 February 2016

With February ending I note with wonder that I had only five sick days and these at the beginning of the month right after the RTX treatments. But shhh, keeping fingers crossed.
My gums are shot to pieces, the inside of my nostrils a bloody battlefield, but what do I care. I cycled for an hour yesterday afternoon, icy wind from all sides, clear skies reflected in the swampy puddles of the forest and the birds heckling from their hiding places high up.
My inner balance is all over the place. There are so many good things to look forward to, visitors, travel, decisions, and I have stopped getting emotional about the teeny tiny damp spot in the basement. Instead, I cried over Leo's oscar speech, while R spent his weekend plastering and painting the walls of a former hospital together with Syrian refugees who are living there now, four to a room. Very polite people, gentle to a fault, he tells me.

22 February 2016

There will be spring.

All morning the cranes have come back in their large noisy v-shaped formations. The sky looks so benign all of a sudden. The dawn chorus is a glorious racket and for a while, I feel that everything is as it should be.

21 February 2016

Once again I am appalled, embarrassed, frustrated and horrified about the political debates I have been witnessing. The way these men in their bespoke suits strut up to the waiting cameras after another night of negotiating their pole positions in the endless power game (how do they keep awake? speed? cocaine?). Do we in all seriousness want to argue that over 500 million European citizens are unable to cope with two or three million refugees, that we are overstretched? That the burden is too much? It frightens me how politicians treat human beings fleeing from war, political persecution or poverty like annoying flotsam that can be piled up somewhere far away hoping that it will vanish all by itself. Just as long as we don't have to care.
Oh shit. There is no refugee crisis, there is a European irresponsibility crisis.

15 February 2016

The rich people are doing so well (...). I mean, we never had it so good.
It's class warfare, my class is winning (...).
Warren Buffett 2005

The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest.
Oxfam 2016 

Charity is the drowning of rights in the cesspit of mercy.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi approx. 1825 

Today, I am angry.

13 February 2016

don't talk about this in public

Usually on a Saturday I exchange emails with my sister, about the weather and our gardens and husbands, anything worth mentioning from work and our father's latest adventures, maybe a bit about our latest doctor's visits. We pretend to get on well but never have
Secretly, I think that for both of us this is the subconscious continuation of all our failed communication efforts with our mother.  The thing is, if I don't write she gets worked up worrying about my miserable health and will have sleepless nights and it will be All My Fault. And that of course, is just another subconscious continuation of my vast scope of guilty feelings (of which I have truckloads).  We both know, our sharpest weapon is the purposeful generation of guilt.
Without getting too nasty here, I must add that she gets enormous mileage from my being ill. On the rare occasions when I meet any of her friends, they are usually amazed that I walk and talk and look pretty normal. The heavens only know what she tells them. 

My family, the one I grew up in, has not been a happy one. Strange as it may sound, it feels good to be able to write this and I have also said it out loud and in company. And for this and many more sins I must have committed since I moved away and failed to return, I am not included in the inner circle and rarely get invited to the various family dinners and celebrations. But as a rule, I am told about them well in advance and afterwards with details about food and wine and the glowing lists of recent shiny achievements of my blood relatives.

Over the years, this has become quite normal and I am sure by now they don't even realise how odd it is to be told that "the whole family" is going to or was having a great time celebrating this or that or whatever in great style.  

My friends, however, are outraged and furious that I am so lenient, while I try and convince them that this is just the way we are, That this family is clumsy, competitive, mean. That we know how to dish it out without noticing, that we have sharp elbows, are quick with a little slap here and there, but always so it doesn't show in the morning.

Anyway, this Saturday, I am not going to write that email. I am taking a break. Stuff happened. I try to sort it out in my mind and one minute it looks ridiculously minor and maybe just the usual daft and careless stuff, but then again, it gets bigger and nasty and rude and all that shit. 

10 February 2016

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
Albert Camus 

Today I remember that I always wanted to live by the sea and that when I eventually did, I failed to appreciate it as much as I should have. What was I thinking? Of course, I didn't think at all because I was young and life seemed endless and the Dun Laoghaire pier or Killiney beach on a rainy day? 
Not even the dogs liked it.
But, oh how I wish for the comfort of an open endless horizon by my side.

Meanwhile, R is saving another stack of ancient (25 yrs old) negatives from certain death and when I occasionally look over his shoulder, I get these little stabs of memory and delight. Yes, I was there, for a while, we lived in paradise, this is me crashing through the waves. It was as perfect as it looks.
And no, this is neither the Dun Laoghaire pier nor Killiney beach, this is a place called Anse Lazio.

08 February 2016

rainy grey stormy Monday, occasional bursts of brilliant sunlight

What is the nub of such a plain grey day?
Does it have one? Does it have to have one?
If small is beautiful, is grey, is plain?
Or rather do we sense withdrawal, veiling,
a patch, a membrane, an eyelid hating light?
Does weather have some old remit to mock
the love of movement, colour, contrast –
primitives, all of us, that wilt and die
without some gorgeous dance or drizzle-dazzle.
Sit still, and take the stillness into you.
Think, if you will, about the absences –
sun, moon, stars, rain, wind, fog and snow.
Think nothing then, sweep them all away.
Look at the grey sky, houses of lead,
roads neither dark nor light, cars
neither washed nor unwashed, people
there, and there, decent, featureless,
what an ordinariness of business
the world can show, as if some level lever
had kept down art and fear and difference and love
this while, this moment, this day
so grey, so plain, so pleasing in its way!
Let’s leave the window, and write.
No need to wait for a fine blue
to break through. We must live, make do.

06 February 2016

The love one has for a child (. . . ) is a singular love, because it is a love whose foundation is not physical attraction, or pleasure, or intellect, but fear. You have never known fear until you have a child, and maybe that is what tricks us into thinking that it is more magnificent, because the fear itself is more magnificent. Every day, your first thought is not "I love her" but "How is she?" The world, overnight, rearranges itself into an obstacle course of terrors. I would hold her in my arms and wait to cross the street and would think how absurd it was that may child, that any child, could expect to survive this life. It seemed as improbable as the survival of one of those late-spring butterflies - you know those little white ones - I sometimes saw wobbling through the air, always just millimetres away from smacking itself against a windscreen.

Hanya Yanagihara - A Little Life

(Despite this quote - which rings true to some extent -  I gave up on the book about two thirds through. I did a quick speed read to the end to find out whether there were any big revelations in store but no, more splendid marble-based interior design details, bespoke suits and handmade shoes, trips to India and select exclusive European destinations, excellent menu suggestions and all that predictable suffering and trauma. However, no time frame, no history, no world events, just a handful of men ageing in style and incredible wealth and professional success so it seemed, with an absurd one-centred concept of friendship and compassion. In the end I just had to stop in order to get rid of the taste in my mouth, like artificially sweetened cotton wool. 
That and reading it in bed made my arms ache.)

03 February 2016

drama queen

Yesterday, after I had done the slow crawl to my GP and back, after she had told me in her gentle voice to come to my senses and just rest for as long as it takes, while I was waiting in front of the microwave (never do that, R told me a long time ago, radiation and all) for the milk to heat up for my coffee, I could feel it coming from wherever it usually hides inside of me, the thing that we all have buried somewhere, and don't fool yourselves, you all have it, the thing that defines our existence, that makes us vulnerable and human, that in a flash can destroy all of our carefully fabricated order and meaning, yes, that nasty fear of death, I could feel it rumbling in my intestines, painfully expanding my chest and creeping up through my gagging throat into my head where it started to swirl around and around, with its booming hiss: what if this is it, are you ready?

And my eyes exploded in angry tears and I banged my fists on the microwave, shouting no, no, no, not yet. Piss off you bastard.

And then I had to clean the spilt milky coffee and before I knew it, I had washed the kitchen floor and only then did I start to rest for as long as it takes.

01 February 2016

Today is Imbolc or Lá Fhéile Bríde - the only feast day in my repertoire of rituals.
. . . a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring 
But I don't do any of the dipping my hands into the holy well stuff, not that there is a shortage of holy wells, this is catholic Rhineland, I don't cook special food (I don't cook that much anyway) and no prayers either, no bonfire to purify the air. No blackthorn in our garden.

I am just relieved that once again, the darker months are over and done with, that I am here, still in my shabby dressing gown, with a cup of lukewarm tea, washed up in one piece after another stormy weekend of vertigo and nausea, my ears ringing and booming, finding my bearings. Listening to Luka and the lovely Dublin crowd singing.

Luka Bloom, Don't be afraid of the light that shines within you

26 January 2016

My Heidi Klum colleague has decided to no longer believe in climate change. She is once again cheerful and delighted with the world. She is making plans to surprise her son with a weekend trip to Palermo (one overnight stay,  4 hrs flight each way). It is such a relief, she tells me. I never really understood it anyway and now I have seen this youtube video that explains it so well, it's all a hoax!
I fiddle with some envelopes and politely return her smile. Oh, how I wish I could just join her and together we would clap our hands and shake our heads, how silly of us, all that stupid talk and ice melting and sea water rising and weather patterns and terrible disasters. Away with it.

Throughout the day, I watch the people I meet and I silently ask them, what do you think, do you worry, what do you tell your children, what do you teach them, are you afraid for their future and if so, why are we so numb?

But of course I am not going to say a word. When R starts to talk about Stephen Hawkins' latest lecture on the end of the human race in the next 100 years (maybe), I ask him to shut up for godsake and at night I dream of a massive clock ticking away over my head. 100 - 99 - 98 . . .
I must stop being so gullible.

25 January 2016

cycling home from work this evening, almost like spring
When we label something good, we see it as good. When we label something bad, we see it as bad. We get so hung up on like and dislike, on who’s right and who’s wrong, as if these labels were ultimately real. Yet the human experience is an experience of nothing to hang on to, nothing that’s set once and for all. Reality is always falling apart.

Pema Chödrön

22 January 2016

Waiting. I am tired. So tired that I fall asleep sitting up, for a half minute, enough to jerk my head upright when a clanging noise, a cold breeze, whatever, wakes me up again. I want to look smart and presentable when the doctors knock and walk in with their white coats swishing.
Ever since breakfast I have been imagining what I'll do once they discharge me - which they have done by now or this post would not be up. The taxi ride through the cold and sunny Friday morning, searching for the house keys and stepping into the warmth of my messy kitchen. Putting on the kettle and sitting on the old leather sofa, wrapped in two blankets, looking out into the garden with a steaming cup in my hands and the newspaper on my lap. On the window sill, the first little pots are basking in the sun. We'll start with the peppers, R told me last night.

Not looking at the lab report from hell. Not yet.

To think that somewhere on these pages with their secret codes, the bold red type indicating where my blood sample failed to remain within the reference ranges, a hidden message may be waiting.
I am kidding myself. It jumped at me as soon as I got the print out and hastily I folded it and stuffed it in my overnight bag. I can see it with my eyes closed and I wish I would be ignorant, that nobody ever told me about transaminases and inflammation markers and all that shit.

Anyway. Spring is on its way somewhere. Get a move on, hear me.

Ottorino Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances

20 January 2016

This morning my father calls me to tell me - once again - the story of his visit to Syria. Maybe 15 years ago. He brought me back two exquisitely carved wooden boxes and a bracelet made from precious stones. For himself, he bought a waistcoat in velvet and silk. He wears it with his dark suit when goes to the opera. 
Once again, he spoke about that morning in Damascus when he collapsed in a small park and crawled onto a bench under a massive cedar tree (he knows his trees). When he came to, he was surrounded by a small group of school boys in smart uniforms and eventually they found a common language - Latin. 
And again, he told me how these boys peeled him an orange and made him eat it, slowly, slowly. About the grandmother of one of the boys who came running with a pot of herb tea and some bread, about the house with the beautiful courtyard, the vines and the flowers and the whole family who looked after him with laughter and kindness until he was better.
Only now, my father is in tears. I can hear it in his voice and while he puts down the phone to blow his nose, noisily, at the other end, I start crying too. I try to imagine what he looks like when he cries but I can't remember when I last saw him in tears. When his brother died? But I was only ten years old at the time and we all cried. Maybe after Germany won the world cup in the seventies?

The Island of all Together (English subtitles) from Philip & Marieke on Vimeo.

17 January 2016

There is this:

The chemistry of the brain’s reward system means that when you receive a favour, like a cup of tea or a lift to work, dopamine is released, and this makes us feel good.

and the world looks quite nice all of a sudden
until you read on to this:

Random good deeds also activate our social brain, which is perked up by the idea that someone is looking out for us. Unfortunately when someone is looking out for us every day the brain doesn’t recognise this as much as it probably should.

12 January 2016

fiddly work in progress

imagine a pillow case - eventually

that an War & Peace (one chapter a day, thank you for the suggestion Elizabeth) are my daily rituals to keep the winter in check

11 January 2016

thank you David Bowie

for the blue nail varnish
for the glitter and the stripes
for the hair cut suggestions and the fights I had with my mother
for the wild dancing and shaking of my head until I felt numb and crazy and free
for all the gorgeous snogging on the dance floors
for the glimpse of rebellion you promised me in my youth
for the music
for the music
for the music

07 January 2016

Breakfast this morning was an elaborate affair, minimalist design meets carved fruit, that kind of thing. It all made sense once it transpired that the person in charge is Indonesian. Hence the apple roses and grapefruit flower petals. I praised her in two languages.
I pretended to be super cool and grown up when I stepped into the adjoining building with all the gadgets of modern medicine where I was soon put into place. As in stretched out and attached to a colourful range of cables and tubes. Or maybe this was already the effect of the clemastine injection. Beautiful stuff, let me tell. When R picked me up five hours later, his first words were, hey, you are tripping. Once inside the space ship on the rainy motorway, I could see the heavy traffic through my closed eyes. And back home, after the first cup of tea, I watched some amazing cat videos and read that Germany has invaded France again.

06 January 2016

This is your life.

The journey was dark and rainy and the train was late. I almost tripped over a sleeping Hungarian sheep dog in the hush hush silence of the first class compartment I shared with two eldery men who knew without doubt that I was only there because of the free upgrade. I am not first class material. The dog ignored me as well.
But I arrived eventually and walked out of the station among cheerful healthy humans. Nobody noticed.
The dinner menu listed more additives than options and it took a bit of persuasion to get a decent cup of tea.  I managed to appropriate the chocolate bar from the reception.  There are seven Arab, five Russian, three Chinese and only two English channels on the tv. The bed is strangely placed diagonally across the room. And the balcony is inaccessible. Everything is reassuringly labeled in four languages.
All this on the night before my first monoclonal antibody treatment. The adventure has begun. Tada!

03 January 2016

Just before I fell asleep last night I had all the answers right there in my head and this wonderful calm was rushing through me. For a second I thought about getting up and writing it all down - it was elaborate and complicated but very meaningful - but instead, I knew that I would remember all of it, word for word, in the morning because it was just, well, so obvious. Obviously.
Over breakfast, I tried to explain it all to R who politely listened and grinned in his usual annoying teacher way and I remembered the slight argument we had I tried to start last night and I could hear my voice the way it sounded at shortly before midnight, raised yet trying not to shout or cry. Something about the world being unfair and his lack of recognising this or maybe it was about the smelly bowl of 3-day old cooked broccoli in the fridge. 
He never confirms my greatest fears. But, he said, tell me all about it when it comes back to you, the stuff about all the answers.

I remember one sentence only: We are insignificant. 

31 December 2015

29 December 2015

Up on that hill again, we tried to count how often we have been here, a couple of hundred times maybe. Showing off the views to visitors from far away places sharing a late summer's evening al fresco dinner, escaping the heat of the valley, with an excited S after heavy snowfall, walking, climbing (it's a steep steep path) through the thick forest and down again along the old statues marking the stations of the cross or past the small vineyard, and there have been days when I was really quite dreadfully ill in mind and body when R drove me up here to look out across the west and find myself again in the order of all things.
Today, we visited the posh restaurant and spent a small fortune on two very small fancy cakes and coffee, seated between the Japanese and Russian tourists and their well behaved children.

There is a cold front rolling in from the west. Finally.

27 December 2015

So this is another xmas coming to an end. Unlike any of the other countries where we have experienced xmas throughout the years, this place has been at its usual sedate and silent best. The shops closed on Thursday at noon and will open again tomorrow morning, i.e. almost four days lost to consumerism and I pity the poor creatures who forgot to buy enough milk. 
We did fabulous things and until yesterday afternoon when I crashed quire spectacularly once we were back at the car park, my energy levels were amazing, like a reindeer's flying over the roofs.

I climbed a mountain hill (455m). OK, R pulled me up like a sack of coal but still, I got there just before sunset:

I cycled for hours (four, to be exact) through forests and splattering mud, puffing and singing and cursing, but generally elated:

And look, the days are getting longer again:
While now I am nursing various blisters, looking at a pile of mud coated jeans and boots and basically waiting for things to take care of it by themselves, there is much to look forward to, incl. a string of doctor's visits and well, mabthera, although I am trying not to think too much about it. Yet. Ok, I try not to.

But at the back of my throat are these thoughts, the images that won't go away, the dread, the fear, the conversations over a xmas dinner with friends back from the climate summit in Paris, about the inevitable loss of island states - people sent adrift, homeless and rootless - because we cannot get a grip on wasting fossil fuels, cannot accept our responsibilities.

I would like to have better ways to write about it, harsher, more urgent words, sending out signs and warnings and signals that everybody will understand until we realise what's at stake. Until we wake up from our pretend ignorance and the fake reassurance that there is nothing we can do apart from feeling sorry, oh how very sad and sorry. 
But really, who am I to wish for such power. I am just as careless and selfish as you all, as we all.

24 December 2015

Thus, from one extreme of human evolution to the other, there are no two kinds of wisdom. Therefore let us adopt as the principle of our life what has always been a principle of action and will always be so: to emerge from self, to give, freely and obligatory. We run no risk of disappointment.
Marcel Mauss

In the first days after we had moved into our little house in paradise, we were watched carefully from a distance. Slowly, people started to wave and smile. Children began to come one step closer when we turned our backs and a game of giggling and running ensued until finally, a very cheerful girl about the same age as S appeared at the back door and began interrogating us in the three languages most of the natives, we soon found out, could speak fluently: French, English, Creole. 
Soon, more children joined her bearing gifts. Huge golden papaya, baskets of pink mangoes, a large bouquet of hibiscus flowers, salted fish, coconuts freshly opened and straws inserted, limes of all shapes and colours, a kitten ... we tried to reciprocate in our clumsy European style: packets of biscuits, small toys, pens and colouring books - until a really small boy handed me an even smaller human baby, asleep in a tightly wrapped blanket. It was then that the adults stepped in, shy at first, but with firm handshakes and instructions on how to handle insects, bats and free range poultry and roaming dogs. The kitten and the baby were restored to their original owners but the endless chain of gifts never stopped.

21 December 2015

the real thing

Give Up Yer Aul Sins is based on the Academy Award nominated short film by Brown Bag Films. Based on original recordings of Dublin schoolrooms in the 1960s.

18 December 2015

We are on holidays, which implies that for the next 17 mornings I don't have to worry whether I am able to go to work or have to see the doctor for a sick cert. This is a very nice change of things and I'll probably be right as rain until the day I am due back.
Meanwhile, R is gardening, what with mild spring-like temps and stubbornly flowering roses and fuchsias and geraniums and more raspberries to pick. In December, one week before xmas. A miracle.
I tidied up most loose ends incl. the desk. I divided up my xmas bonus among the needy, wrote my six xmas cards, still pestering R to write his 25 (Irish families etc.). There will be dinners and bonfires, wrapped gifts for the under 18-year olds, but more or less, that's it for the festive season. I am so mean spirited, you have no idea.

14 December 2015

Right now, I don't have the nerves to read anything about the climate summit, the historic agreement, the big speeches, all that clapping and cheering. And the critics, of course, the sane cautious voices because who would believe anything anyway these days. In the end, we all ignored Rio, we laughed our way through the failure of Kyoto, so what else is new? A mad man in Russia, a mad man maybe about to be elected in the US, sure who cares. As long as our sweet little existence goes on as before.

Only, this beach here is almost gone. Literally. Today, now.

It is a special beach, I have at times been quite desperately homesick for it. But every rain shower, every storm surge (and storms have been increasing dramatically) means that more sand is swept away. Local people are blowing up the mountains inland, using the rocks to protect the beaches but it will not be enough. While coastal regions will be devastated all over the globe - and believe, they will be, everywhere, even in our own filthy rich and arrogant countries - island states will simply slip under the water. They will vanish. The homeland of entire nations will disappear, their schools and cemeteries, their churches, hospitals, harbours, playgrounds, markets, farms, restaurants, their wildlife, the magnificent birds, blossoms, trees, their beauty, all of their beauty. Their scents and music and all those wonderful calm Sunday afternoon picnics by the sea.

When we left paradise, I cried all the way to Mauritius (which was/is nothing in comparison, honestly and I tried to like it), I sat inside that sudden luxury of an Air France jumbo jet with my first fresh croissant and coffee with real (!) milk in three years served on a silver tray and all I could do was sob my heart out. At the time, we knew we could never afford to go back to our little shed of a house with the noisy bats and dogs and ants and giant centipedes. Money, jobs, family, and so on. Now we know that the loss is bigger, deeper and not just ours. Do we have any idea of the enormity of that loss?

13 December 2015

it's that kind of a day

rainy, gray, wet, not really focussed

09 December 2015

Some mornings, especially when it's sunny and clear and the garden shimmers in this glorious light that betrays its winter sleep, when the birds are busy messing in the compost bin and the radio with all the drama of our chaotic planet is off, I want to mess up my hair and scratch my face, tear my clothes and bang my shins against the stairs until bruises form, whatever it takes, anything, to show this beautiful calm world what it's like, to shove it in the faces of all the well wishers, to bare it all, my misery, my mean self centred lonely self pity, my losses, oh my endless losses, my purpose, my shiny future.
And so on.
Pathetic. I know.

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.
Neil deGrasse Tyson 

This quote is here to say, shame on you. Or something like it.