14 August 2018

an obituary 1944

Karoline H. was born on 30 January 1864 as the third child of the brewery owners Johann and Katharina O. in U.
She lost her father when she was still a child. Faithfully and diligently, she stood beside her widowed mother until, in September 1890, she entered into marriage to Johann
K. H in F.
The happy marriage produced four children. In her unselfish, devoted way, she dedicated herself to her family, assisted her husband in running the family business, and raised her children in quiet modesty.
In the year 1930, her husband predeceased her. For the last fifteen years she lived in retirement partly in F., partly in A.
Humbly and peacefully as she had lived, she passed away on Sunday morning, trusting in her Redeemer.

I find this obituary among my grandmother's letters. She wrote in her neat handwriting, adding and crossing off bits of information here and there, in the week after her mother's death. This appears to be the final version which must have been published in the local newspaper. My grandmother was the oldest of Karoline's four children. She may have been raised by her mother in quiet modesty but believe me, she was anything but quiet and as for modesty, it depends on definition.

But this is about Karoline of whom I know nothing.

Karoline is seated 2nd from left, my grandmother is standing next to her

So I call my father.

How did they meet, I ask, your grandparents, my great grandparents.
He laughs. "His family paid a Hochzeitsschmuser (schmoozer, matchmaker) to find her, it wasn't cheap."

What was she like, tell me.

"She was a tiny person, but tough, never talked much but always humming under her breath, always busy, cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting. After her husband died, her sons bought the old forester's lodge and fixed it up for her. You know the house, it's where E and G live now. The one with the steep slope of a garden, the typical Franconian orchard, pears and apples (I don't remember the house, in fact, I am quite certain I've never been there, but he is in full flow now and I just want to hear more). She had a bedroom upstairs for me when I was sent to stay during the summer months. But I was scared of the dark and so she fixed me a bed in her bedroom.
During the summer holidays in F. I roamed through town all day, playing with my cousins, getting fed wherever I happened to be at midday and in the evening, I found my way back to her house and dinner. "

(F. where my father's grandmother and most of his mother's family lived, still live today, is about 25 km from A. where my father lived as a boy - and where he has been living again for the last 30 years. He was sent there to get out of my grandmother's hair during the long summer holidays.)

"We grew tobacco together, she showed me how to test the drying leaves and later, during the war, we sold it on the black market.  She always had chickens and I learned all about them by watching her. During the winter months, she always came to live with us in the big house in A. She brought her chickens along, one of my uncles drove up in the family business truck with her sitting in the back watching her hens, and the other uncle would pick her up come spring. We kept the chickens downstairs in the laundry until after the frost. My uncle, the locksmith, built an elaborate hen house on wheels and when the days started to get warmer, I wheeled it outside and once the days grew longer and the hens became restless,  I was allowed to let them out, had to watch them scratching and digging in the rose beds. By the time her hens got broody, it was time for my grandmother to move back to her house and start working in her garden.
When she stayed with us during the war winters, she disappeared into the library with my father after dinner to listen to the BBC, to Mr Churchill, she had a soft spot for him and his deep voice."

 (I suddenly realise that my father's father, my grandfather, was only seven years older than her, my great grandmother, his mother in law.)

Did you get on, I ask. 

"Oh yes, mostly. Lots of gardening, really. She helped me study for my holy confirmation, she knew all the catechism by heart. But once I got really mad. You see, I had to do homework over the summer holidays, mainly revising my Latin vocabulary and she had to test me every evening. Of course, she only went to school for a few years and knew not a bit of Latin, so I fibbed and she found out and wrote to my parents and then my mother arrived the next morning and well, you can imagine."

He sighs. Eighty years later, I can still hear the little boy in his voice.

13 August 2018

another self seeded blue banana pumpkin

It's that kind of day when the very best thing I am looking forward to is curling up somewhere like an animal in a dark burrow and falling asleep. But no, I have decided that I am fit for work, whereby fit is a term open to definition. Today, it means I am attempting to avoid the deadline when my employer hands over all responsibility to my health insurance, which is all perfectly civilised and proper but for reasons I don't really know, it's become my freak-out point.
And so I head off into the world of activity and decision making, like the idiot I am.
Watch me fail.

06 August 2018

have a guess

When I read the news, I dawdle, I skip from one site to the other until I end up with funny gifs or cat videos.  Rarely do I allow my brain to highlight connections.  And that's not because I am scared or prone to panic attacks. No, it's because so far, I am not affected, we are not affected (if you exclude climate change which is kind of obvious but not yet dramatically so in our part of the world) and even if things progress as some wish and - heavens forbid - the ignorant right wing populists gain more influence, we will remain untouched provided we stay schtumm. Because we look and act the part in our quiet middle class neighbourhood, with just a mild touch of hippie eccentricity but a clean tax bill and no illegal asylum seekers hiding in the attic. We are way down the line of suspects.  But of course, who knows, there are several dual nationalities in my family, dodgy visa stamps in our passports, strange foreign names in our lists of contacts. Enough material for a collection of short stories or a list of crimes against the state, depending on circumstance. And we can be stroppy and loud, to the point of getting evicted from a venue, when faced with a perceived injustice.
But just by looking at us, we should be safe for the time being.

Of course, I am getting carried away. And yet, metaphorically speaking, it seems that these days,  politicians do not work for the people whose house is on fire or for the firefighters who help to put the fire out, but for the angry spectators who gape from a safe distance cross the road.

If you have the time, listen to this before reading the rest of my post, while you do the dishes, while you cook a meal for someone you love, while you weed the garden, while you wait in line, a traffic jam, while you hoover the carpets, while you have a bath, while you are otherwise involved in whatever civil and somewhat boring occupation:


Apart from that magnificent (and prophetic) line from a poem by W.B. Yeats:
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend
This podcast mentions the Overton window. Which sent me on a long winded search.

It is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment, created by one Joseph Overton, a conservative think-tank intellectual from the US, now dead.

It's the idea that there is a certain amount views on every sociopolitically relevant topic that society broadly regards as acceptable which are found inside the Overton window. All views outside the Overton window are considered provocative, sensitive, radical etc. If a politician  - on the right or the left - deviates from the Overton window they may risk their chances to be elected. 

But what's inside the Overton window can shift, slowly as well as intentionally, it seems.
According to wikipedia, the Overton window theory recognises four factors that favour a shift: facts and logic, moral appeals, emotional response and events, errors or disinformation. And once a factor has been found to be particularly effective to promote a change in the desired direction, eg more to the right, politicians tend to go for the overkill.  Example, the refugee situation where in Germany, right wing populists call for firing squads at the border (aiming at women, children, "the lot") and in the US, the construction of a gigantic border wall, neither of which will be feasible or - in the German scenario - constitutional. The purpose is not to actually shoot at the German border or build that wall, but to shift the window, to change the limits to what society tolerates, to normalise the previously unutterable. 

(Disclaimer: This is not a genuine right-wing populist idea, but simply a name for a strategy that has already been used in democracies, long before it was called Overton window.)

But - to return to the podcast (which again, I urge everybody to listen to) -  it's also a gigantic diversionary tactic.  So, maybe populist right wing politicians, the insolent fiends with the straw hair (the obvious ones in the US and the UK and that one in The Netherlands), are toys thrown at us by those who really want to pull the strings, via life-time appointments of extremely conservative supreme court judges, brexit, border walls, Muslim conspiracy theories, the lot.
Who are they? Have a guess.

BTW: I seem to have a very avid reader of absolutely every single blog post incl. comments. For the past month, someone from the same US IP address/location has been - quite systematically - reading every day and throughout almost all day and night.  R thinks I am done for. I tend to have a more benign explanation. So if you read this, who are you?  Even if you are a robot.

30 July 2018

In August of the year 1918, an assistant lawyer of the government in Munich travelled by railway to F. He was on his way to inspect the new post he had been assigned to as head of the tax authorities.
At the railway station as he turned to walk to the address he had been given, he noticed a young woman setting off by foot in the same direction.
Too soon he stood in front of the tax office.
Upon his return from F. he told his mother that he had seen the woman he intended to marry.
And so it happened that less than one year later, I became his wife.

I don't know when my grandmother wrote this, judging by her handwriting and the paper, maybe early 1950s. I found it taped inside the lid of one of the boxes of letters from my father's (ie her) sitting room chest.

For several weeks now, I have sorted these letters back an forth in various ways, by date, by writer, by recipient, unsure how to proceed. There are several hundred.
In the end, I decided on sorting them by writer and then chronologically. On one of the hottest days so far, I was squatting on the floor of my study surrounded by stacks of brittle paper, afraid to switch on the fan. It was very tempting to just read and read, despite the handwriting (in Sütterlin font) - challenging and in some cases, probably impossible to decipher. My great grandfather, for example, wrote in what looks to me a selection of fine horizontal lines.

The letters from my father's brother, dating from 1930 to 1956, I carefully stored in a large and sturdy document box and sent them by registered mail to my father. They need to be somewhere in Franconia, don't ask me why, just a feeling. He wrote home from boarding school, university, various army postings in Greece, Albania, Croatia, Latvia and after the war from his first postings as a junior judge out in the sticks. I can't even begin to explain how he wrote, the details and the careful omissions to spare his family, the repeated requests for tobacco and news from his favourite football teams. The description of snow capped mountains in Albania on new year's eve 1944 and his coded message for it all to be over soon. 
In his last letters from the early 1950s, now a married father of one, he repeatedly and somewhat exasperatedly suggests to my grandmother weekly phone calls as a much more direct way of communication. This must have taken some persuasion as she again and again stresses in her letters the importance of what she calls the decent habits including her Sunday task of writing at least three letters before dinner.
My father is reading them now and over the phone I can hear there is joy and heartache in his voice. Next week, he will hand them over to his three nephews, his brother's sons.

Today, I have started on my grandmother's letters, one a day I promised myself, just one.  At this rate, it will take me forever and a year. And while this little snipped above is strictly speaking not a letter it is nevertheless the oldest event mentioned and in every way the basis of all of this unexpected treasure that is covering my desk.

Here is the couple, both a bit younger than on that day.

My grandfather was 43 years old when he first spied my grandmother that day. She was 24. WWI was in its final year, the Allied Advance had just begun, the German forces retreating. My grandmother's brothers were still at the front. My grandfather, apparently, was considered too important for the efforts of the government tax office to fight in uniform. Whatever. 

All my life I have been told that this marriage was not a love match, that my grandmother married for status. It certainly fits with her character and the person I got to know. But, well, there is stuff I have been reading that tells me otherwise. I'll never know, it's too easy to come up with a romantic answer. If anything, these two are now even more mysterious to me.

28 July 2018

the blood moon

At 5:30 am I open the patio door and it is almost cool outside, the butterflies are feeding on the buddleia and the sweet william. I kneel in front of the blueberry bush and pick today's harvest, the young blackbirds are flying in and out of the vines, dropping grapes and generally making lots of noise. The rainwater tanks are empty, there are brown patches all over lawn and last night, like every night just after sunset, I pointed the hose to the roots of a thirsty plant and counted to 50 before moving on to the next plant. R put a black mesh cover over the greenhouse.
I make tea and set the table for breakfast outside. We are grumpy, relearning how to sleep on hot nights. I eventually pushed a mattress below the wide open windows of the front room some time after 2 am and fell into a deep sleep with a faint breeze washing over me. R stayed in the cool basement, dark concrete, surrounded by tool boxes and a faint smell of motor oil and white spirit.
So far, the house is pleasantly cool, so far, it's all a matter of when to close up and let down the blinds, opening up at night and readjusting your pace. The solar panels on the roof are providing all the energy we need and much more right now, we'll be rich, R tells me after reading the meters for the feed-in to the grid. I stop switching off the fans.
Over breakfast we talk about sleeping outside tonight, thinking about the insects and the cats and how to fix the mosquito net and we know it's just too much hassle.
There are fat peaches ripening, purple plums, apples, pears, figs.
Pinto beans, runner beans, beetroot, radish, tiny carrots, tomatoes and peppers, courgettes to feed the world, pumpkins as big as footballs.
On the radio a government minister talks about asylum tourism, in Austria, an elected politician wants Jews to be registered and in Italy, the first Roma camp sites are raided at dawn.
My sick cert is extended for another two weeks, my GP sighs when I tell her that I work from home.
She looks exhausted, too.
After dinner we make our way down to the river, R sets up the tripod right on the water's edge.
I open my flask of milky tea and listen to the conversations around me, children run with dogs and when the waves from a a large passing cargo barge wash too close, there is a lot of running and laughing.
It is dark and still very hot, sweat is running down my back.
At first we don't see her, so faint, almost grey but once our eyes adjust, there she is, massive, round, red, la luna, the moon.

23 July 2018

everything is related

For reasons I should not have to explain, Holocaust denial and showing the hitler salute are criminal offences in Germany.

Every so often, I come across an innocent looking exchange student, visiting scientist, tourist etc. expressing their outrage about this terrible offence to the universal (?) laws of free speech. At least, they complain, you must listen to the other side. The what? I reply before the conversation takes a nasty turn.

And, they often add, your journalists are biased because they rarely allow holocaust deniers a forum.
(For crying out loud.) I recently have started to reply with something along the lines of this twitter meme: If someone says it's raining, and another person says it's dry, it's not the journalists job to quote them both. It's their job to look out the fucking window and find out which is true.

Meanwhile the CEO of fb, a philanthropist, who believes that - having been raised in the Jewish faith - religion is very important, wants to allow fb users to make unintentional mistakes and for this reason, will not remove posts that deny the existence of the Holocaust.

I feel like we are standing close to the rim of the volcano, peering down into the crater, asking ourselves, will it erupt, will it stay silent? Surely, we try to calm ourselves, there's common sense, decency, experience, history, memory, empathy for godssakes.
Don't count on it, a friend told me yesterday. Being ignorant is the new trend.
When the generation that survived the war is no longer with us, we'll find out whether we have learned from history.
Angela Merkel July 2018

Too far fetched? Connect the dots.

Steve Bannon plans foundation to fuel far right in Europe.
 (click and read)
As for fb and friends, have a listen how your data is helping it along:

16 July 2018

this feeling of being useless when you are ill and unable to be active lying on my daybed (luxury) and asking myself how can I not waste my time, my limited existence notwithstanding, and realising that this is not wasting time

It's been a very hot day, my GP smiled at me this morning as she handed me another sick cert covering the rest of July (with me protesting, what ever is my problem?), let's reestablish some calm here, she said, you are doing too much.

The heat brings back memories. This used to be my favourite lunch place. Three spicy samosas and a bottle of fizz. Most days, the people in the queue very politely laughed at my attempts of teaching them in the art of capitalism.

15 July 2018

thank you internet

"How do you do it?" said night
"How do you wake and shine?"
"I keep it simple." said light
"One day at a time"

Lemn Sissay 

This is week two of vestibular neuritis, aka labyrinthitis, the 6th episode this year (R claims it's the 7th - does it matter?).
Episode? Attack is more like it. I am at sea with an engine roaring inside my head. The sea is pretty rough.
It will pass.

A couple of nice things that keep me entertained while reading is only possible in fits and starts, and watching is ok for short periods only.

To watch,

quiet resilience:

trying to understand brexit:


and cheerful gruesome, horrific podcasts because the eyes cannot focus:

The Home Babies

In the Dark

Death in Ice Valley

11 July 2018

Getting older has made me aware how amazing it is to have been alive in the first place, (. . . ) it used to be if I got caught in the rain, I’d think, what a nuisance, and now if I get caught in the rain I think that there are a finite number of times in one’s life when one gets caught in the rain.

Marylinne Robinson

Strange, almost forgotten smells and sounds. It's raining. Soft at first, and then a hammering downpour last night. The branches of the almond tree that reach inside the bedroom window sent a line of drops onto the sheets. I scooped them up in my hands, almost enough to drink.

In my early teenage years in arrogant academia, there was just one hour on Franconian radio designated to the younger audience. On weekdays at 4 pm, I sat, alone and motionless, holding my breath. Impossible to imagine that I was not the only one, the last lost soul, listening, starving for music, for sounds, for voices, to feel understood, recognised. Terrified that my mother would walk in, angry, you call that music.

They worked hard in those days, the young radio men, who made these hours into something meaningful, dramatic, chaotic, weird and I loved them so very much. The next morning, on the sleepy bus journey to school, I whispered the magic names, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, King Crimson, Roberta Flack, Van Morrison.

In the interview that I linked to above (click on her name) Marylinne Robinson, when asked what single thing she believes would make the world in general a better place, replies, loving it more.

That is the grand answer. The one that works with everything.

08 July 2018

We are in endless summer. We do not call this a heatwave in Germany. Obviously, ALL my childhood summers were like this and when some miserable relative from Ireland complains about having to sleep without the duvet, we snigger quietly.

The lawn is brown and patchy, I don't care. The magpies are picking large holes in it searching for mole crickets. A treat, it seems. The buddleia is full of butterflies drinking nectar. Before sunset, we selectively water the garden. Once the hosepipe ban will kick in, in maybe a week or so, it will be survival of the fittest.

I have recovered from my eighth (8th!) colonoscopy, bits of me are as good as new. I may print a T-shirt to show off this fact.

The world is full of horrors. While we are able to follow - almost live - the rescue of 14 young men from a flooded cave in Thailand with no efforts spared (and rightly so), close to 700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean this week because some governments in the EU are now refusing rescue operations. No live coverage here. We can do trump, too.

05 July 2018

catch the heart and blow it open

Picture credit: National Archives of Ireland/The Irish Times

Yesterday, the brand new amazing wonderful exhibition of Seamus Heaney's archive was opened in Dublin.
Today, I had a gastroscopy plus colonoscopy.
These two events are completely unrelated. However, I could do with a drive out to the west, the salty wind from the Atlantic blowing away the fog in my brain.

28 June 2018

Our union is like this:
You feel cold so I reach for a blanket to cover
our shivering feet.
A hunger comes into your body
so I run to my garden and start digging potatoes.
You asked for a few words of comfort and guidance and
I quickly kneel by your side offering you
a whole book as a
You ache with loneliness one night so much
you weep, and I say
here is a rope, tie it around me,
I will be your
for life.

Today is our 36th wedding anniversary. Not that we make a big deal about it, never have. We got married so I could stay in Ireland and we had to travel to England for it because I am not catholic and in those days, it was extremely much too difficult to marry outside of the church. Life was complicated back then but we laughed our way through it. This is the link to that day, I post it every year and by now the whole world has read it. It still makes us happy to remember.

Today was hot, R went to the dentist for a check-up, I ate too many apricots and did some laundry. After lunch indoors (because 33°C /91°F) I went to work and did some important things to keep the world turning while R waited for the window cleaners and mowed a neighbour's lawn. For dinner, he grilled Irish salmon wrapped in slices of freshly harvested zucchini and roast some of our first potatoes with fat splotches of salty butter. All through dinner on the patio, we watched the butterflies and bumble bees frolicking on the phlox and buddleia and agapanthus. For dessert we crawled on all fours through the strawberry bed. I made some tea and sat on the patio to read a couple of sad short stories by Carys Davies because I have to return the book tomorrow and R harvested the onions.

I should add that we argue a lot these days, plenty of hissing and misunderstandings. You know, the stuff that comes up every so often.

Also, this music:

27 June 2018

On my last visit to Franconia, my father let me take two boxes home. They had been sitting inside the bottom drawer of my grandmother's bedroom dresser. He says, he never looked at them, has never been interested to go through "her" things. My grandmother died in 1995.

In her fine handwriting, they are labelled "history of the family in letters", and one is subtitled "the war letters".
At a rough guess there are about 400 letters, maybe more. 

I take my time reading them, there is a lot of tedious stuff, like going through your mother's texts on your cell phone (where is your laundry? did you lock the door? I wish you wouldn't wear this. etc.)
There are revealing (to me) insights into family life that I will treat with care and discretion.

And there's fascism and then the war. Or rather, there isn't.

The war never really happened in rural Franconia and its towns, no fighting, no bomb raids. 
From what I've read so far, the war mostly meant rations, petrol vouchers, the search for a bicycle tube, a decent winter coat.They lived secluded in the family cocoon, helping out and looking after themselves.

Fascism and its atrocities did happen. There and everywhere, discreetly and openly. My grandmother developed her own set of schemes to keep her children out of the compulsory hitler youth organisations, there are various medical notes claiming hay fever and chronic indigestion and there are her begging letters to friends in high places. My father's accounts confirm this but that's for another day. 
My grandfather knew and everybody knew that my grandfather knew because he was once almost arrested when a visitor noticed his radio was set to the BBC. That story is now one of the family legends. But my grandfather's story is for another day, too.

What strikes me most is the continuation of a seemingly normal life over many years. (I am well aware that this has been discussed by others in much detail.) Simply because at the time, my father's family was on the "right" side of things with sufficient resources, well connected and trying to remain unconcerned, looking after themselves.
What should they care.

Fintan O'Toole writes today in The Irish Times:
Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.
One of the basic tools of fascism is (. . .) the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.
But (. . .) there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.
It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.

This morning, we looked at each other over breakfast and decided, it's time to get ready.

23 June 2018

just garden




morning glory

the white queen of Sheba lily

voodoo lily


red elder

second spud harvest

20 June 2018

World Refugee Day

In nature there are two approaches to dealing with flooding. One is to build a dam to stop the flow. The other is to find the right path to allow the flow to continue. Building a dam does not address the source of the flow – it would need to be built higher and higher, eventually holding back a massive volume. If a powerful flood were to occur, it could wipe out everything in its path. The nature of water is to flow. Human nature too seeks freedom and that human desire is stronger than any natural force.
 (. . .)
Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth. I know what it feels like to be a refugee and to experience the dehumanisation that comes with displacement from home and country. There are many borders to dismantle, but the most important are the ones within our own hearts and minds – these are the borders that are dividing humanity from itself.

Ai Weiwei

World Refugee Day is held every year on the 20th of June to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.

18 June 2018

Being unreasonable is the only way that we can have hope.

Arundhati Roy 

The Franconian sky on a hot June morning. If you see things the way my father expects it from me, you will of course observe the faint line defined by broken hedgerow and immediately connect this to some deeply buried forcefully forgotten knowledge acquired during years of excellent education.  And after a moment's hesitation, you turn to him and say, surely this is where the Limes was, ending your sentence with a firm note of conviction. He nods briefly and with a tiny glimmer of pride in his eyes.

Has it helped me in life to know that in the 2nd century AD the Romans build this wall across Central Europe, across Franconia? As a defence against the "Barbarians"?And that the great Roman empire collapsed when the Barbarians (the Goths, the Germanic tribes, the Huns, you name it) had enough of being treated like shit? And that the Roman economy crashed because the fat rich Romans ran out of slaves? It has.

Do I sigh in exasperation when my father repeats one of his favourite maxims, namely that history always repeats itself and that in human history, every revolution is followed by a tyrant and every tyrant is followed by a revolution? I do.

06 June 2018

blog housekeeping

As of May 25th, the new European Data Protection Regulation is applicable in all EU member states to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe. It is a good thing, I have turned to my favourite computer geeks to convince me of this.

And blogger recommends that I inform my readers re comments:
If users leave comments or other contributions, their IP addresses are stored for seven days. This is for our own safety, if someone leaves illegal content in comments and contributions (insults, prohibited political propaganda, etc.). In this case, we ourselves can be prosecuted for the comment or post and are therefore interested in the identity of the author.

I also had a very nice email from a blogger nerd explaining why I can no longer receive email notifications when there are comments to my blog posts waiting for approval - I didn't quite understand why this is so but the email was ever so nice so I must assume this is surely due to a shortcoming in my digital understanding department.
For now and eternity, I probably have to always go to the blogger dashboard and check and click and run around the garden three times etc. - so be patient if your comment takes time to appear and be forgiving if a comment has been lost in the past.
I also found mountains of spam comments overflowing in a newly discovered spam comment file. Life is full of surprises.

02 June 2018

the rambling rose after the thunder storm

from Middle High German winner and Old High German giwitiri and West Germanic gawedrja is really a collective noun for weather; the initial meaning being "totality of weather", yet in common modern usage "thunderstorm"

In the early hours just before sunrise, a heavy thunderstorm wakes us. The way my mother taught me, I count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, taking a rough guess as to how far away it is. It is clearly coming closer. I grew up with summer Gewitter, I can recognise the silence and the sounds, the smells, the way the approaching clouds change colour.

I don't want to get out of bed but if we don't pull the plug to the router and the tv and whatever else, the insurance won't pay in case of damage. Just then, the house is shook by a string of such heavy and loud thunder, that all I can do is crawl further and deeper below the covers. Too late.

The sounds of thunder slowly receding are replaced by the loud hammering of hail and rain and I peek through the blinds at a heavily flooding street and so we get up and check the basement which is damp with salty patches beginning to blossom on the floor surfaces but otherwise dry.
And now the sun is rising and the birds are awake filling the air with their urgent chorus as if they have to catch up for lost time.

The day is misty and damp, hot, we are clammy and moody. Later after dinner I am floored by another episode of low blood pressure and whatever else, which takes longer than the ones I had experienced before and by the time I make it into bed my first slight panic gives way to a dramatic, divaesque breakdown. The voice in my head whispers that there must be a better way to cope but like a child during a temper tantrum, I howl at the moon and wipe my tears for a very long time. A triumphant moment of exhausting anger.

At one of the earlier appointments after the initial diagnosis, I was given a list of the organs at risk and how to watch out for symptoms of, say, advancing kidney failure. At regular intervals, I have to sign various forms to confirm my responsible acknowledgement and to release the experts from any potential wrong doing.

I wish these form include the heart, not the muscular organ sitting somewhere behind my left chest bone (they include that, coronary risk factors feature highly), but my real heart, my innermost center of being and hope and love. Which I know is at risk due to fear and panic and loss and that endless always-stay-at-the-bright-side-of-life effort.

And yet. Another morning and as so often, my life today is not like my life before. Something has shrivelled away during my diva moments.  Gone. A bunch of fibers from my heart worn into shreds and gone.
A memory of R's worried face, shrugging his shoulders, asking me if I want him to stay or leave and feeling unable to absolve him from his confusion. My mind forms meaningful sentences but I am at a loss of words and send him away.

I do not for a moment ask that my life be exactly as it was before—no one remains static neither in health nor in sickness. All life is complex at any moment.  And yes, some moments are harder than others. But I know that I must understand what I feel and figure out what I am capable of. Every day.

Someone once told me that we have many more places in the heart, empty places in the heart, ready to exist if we allow it. Let this be so.


29 May 2018

the Robin rose

I took this picture early today while the dew was still out. This May is hot, hot, hot and we are expecting thunderstorms later. Very early this morning, all our alarm notification apps on the various cell phones started beeping and the full neighbourhood grapevine is on alert, heavy rain, clear the basements, tie up the loose peonie branches, keep your fingers crossed for the fruit trees full of tiny apples and pears.

This picture is for Robin, who lost her beloved mother this spring and who once told us the story of a similar rose and who posts such wonderful pictures of the natural world around her.
Thank you.

We now call this rose the Robin rose, the queen of our garden right now.

26 May 2018

There it is again. That amazing urge to be alive. I wake up and walk through the garden.  Eight different roses are in bloom. After breakfast, I carefully go through the motions to get the dreaded sick cert and R walks me back from the surgery under the flowering linden trees and briefly, the scent reminds us of a visit to Paris many years ago with a moody teenage daughter and everybody arguing for a while until life/love caught up with us. A scent bringing back tiny sparks of memories that mean family and us and always and wide open hearts.

There it is again. The realisation that this memory sits inside our cells and all we need to do is lift our heads to the trees and say, Paris, laughing quietly.

To say that my health is rapidly improving would be an overstatement, but often within overstatements are kernels of truth and frequently at the nub of a kernel can be found the essence of possibility. See, I actually have the energy to type out such a convoluted drivel of a sentence.

Like so many people attached to Ireland one way or another, I spent a good part of the last two days on various news and social media sites following the run-up to the referendum. It's a lot more than voting for the right to have an abortion and I won't go into it. There's others who have done a great job explaining this.

As with the same-sex marriage referendum of 2015, tens of thousands of Irish people working/living abroad travelled home to vote (there is no postal vote for Irish citizens abroad).
Following #hometovote can restore your idea of dedication and may even make you cry.

But then this: Yesterday, a train service from London to meet the ferry in Fishguard (Wales) crossing to Rosslare (Ireland) was experiencing some hold-ups and delays. A considerable number of Irish people were on that train who would now miss the boat and thus their chance to vote in the referendum. Several passengers used twitter et al. to alert the railway co. and the ferry operator and both responded, providing a bus to bring the passengers to the boat, while the ferry operators agreed to wait until everybody was on board.  There were massive cheers from the other ferry passengers.

Life is a string of anecdotes that keep me afloat.

21 May 2018

the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do
. . .
and surely we shall not continue to be unhappy
we shall be happy
but we shall continue to be ourselves
continues to be possible

Frank O'Hara 

Not quite, let me add. Not everything. But who am I to ask for more.
My mood is lousy, my health is rough, I am doing all the wrong things and for reasons I pretend I cannot figure out. So yes, another medium sized flare up, unexspected and believe me, I tried to ignore it. But tell that to the vestibular nerves, the clue lies in the term labyrinthitis.

Once I was a schoolgirl on exchange in a strange land, afraid to enter the maze at Hampton Court, when a kind soul explained that upon entering a labyrinth, all you need to do is move with your hand along the right side of the path, never let go, no matter how many twists and turns, and you'll find your way out.

This is me at the moment, holding on to the wall on my right as I move through the house, slapping it with my hand in anger and frustration. And no way out in sight. Certain people are avoiding me for good reasons and so on.

This will pass, we all know that. I wish I was a better patient person.

(Oh. And I am reading all your blogs and in another life, I would comment. Believe me.)

11 May 2018

Spring morphed into a bit of summer, there is the beginning of a drought and basically, my mood is all over the place, incl. a couple of door banging episodes and frustrated shouts of anger to the world at large.
Some days I have to dig quite deeply to find my hidden store of tranquility. But, there it is still, surprise, surprise, once I have exhausted the latest wave of fury and self pity.

My grandmother has been in my dreams, also my mother and the war and I am attempting to sort it into shape and words. But, difficult.

For the time being, there is the garden. I play no part in this, I just watch. And eat.

01 May 2018

Hidden between faded holiday pictures, I find this letter from my grandmother. (The holiday pictures are from my aunt's first trip to Greece, sometime in the late 1960s. My wild aunt, my father's only sister, long dead. Another story.)

Barely two weeks after this letter was written, the US troops arrived and the war was over in Franconia.
The front door of my grandparent's house, now my father's house, is made from strong oak and there is a small window in it. When we were kids, we would climb on a chair and play the game of opening and closing this small window, shouting hello, hello, hello.
It was through this small window that my father, sent there by his parents (go, speak English), saw his first black person, a GI pointing his gun at him, and said "Hello, I am a schoolboy".

My grandmother's birthday is on May 30th. Always celebrated with fresh strawberries and large bouquets of Margeriten (leucanthemum), her favourite meadow flowers.
My father has cried real tears three times in my presence. When his brother died a sudden death in 1965, when Germany won the football world cup in 1974 and when he first told me of his mother's birthday in 1945.
He had gone out early to pick the flowers, the table was set under the plum trees, strawberry cake, when the garden gate opened and there were his brother and his sister, exhausted, dirty, hungry.

1st of April 1945

Dearest E.

Today is Easter Sunday! We enjoyed our Easter baskets, ate fresh fruit salad with sweet curds and later, we even had a cup of real coffee with our apple cake. Our Easter spread didn't look very warlike. 
But when I prepared it, I had to spend more time down in the shelter than in the kitchen. The air-raid sirens went off at 8.30 in the morning and while we were on our way to church, low flying aircraft started to strafe and we barely made it back home unharmed. Since then there has been no end to the sirens. 

We hear that there is fighting in M. and that the Western front is approaching in giant steps. The Russians are already in Vienna. Is there any help for us? When will we meet again? I am keeping N at home with a stomach ache but his school mates are already in uniform.  Still no word from A, all our letters have come back.
Now it is quiet and peaceful but what will it be like tomorrow. Let's not think ahead.
How much would I have liked to climb B hill today but nobody would join me. They are all afraid and hiding indoors.

Write to us. We may not be able to stay in touch for much longer. Please answer.
Everybody sends their love but especially, your mother.

sweet curds: a very German dairy product, I just had some earlier
the shelter was the basement of my grandparent's house
M. is a town about 30 km away
N is my father
A is his older brother, in uniform and at the time last known to be fighting in Croatia or Serbia, but as we found out later, he had already deserted and was walking home
B hill is a local attraction with a viewing platform
I wrote about my father's account of these days here.
My aunt E who had started to study medicine before the war was at the time working in a military hospital in Austria.

26 April 2018

There it is, spring. Currently, we are enjoying lilac week. A flowering lilac in every garden here. It's a German thing. Which is why R doesn't like it and has been sabotaging - by constant replanting - the gnarled old one we inherited when we bought the house back when we were younger. The man who gardens here has a strict hierarchy and on top are plants that produce food not feasts.

This is today's view for those who arrive via the back lane on bicycle. I left my bicycle there for show.
My energy levels are shitty and I try not to think of the woman I used to be, the one who cycled daily come rain or shine. Right now, I mainly concentrate on making it through half a day at work and the tiniest, shortest cycle if I'm lucky.

My brain is equally shitty, tired and certain thoughts are going round and round where I wish they would not. I am now on five different meds throughout the day. According to the experts, this has become necessary in order to reduce too many risks and therefore will keep me alive. 
Seriously. All these new versions of being alive, I am learning. Must polish my appreciation skills and all that stuff about acceptance. Taking things for granted is overrated.

So, what else happens.
Steve's post on the collecting impulse brought back memories of stuffing the bib pocket of my overalls, getting water into my wellies trying to catch tadpoles, trapping maybugs, peeling flattened lizards off the road. And then I found this image online:

In which we see what writer Katie Munnik found in her 4-yr old's winter coat before washing. Essentials, basically. 

And BTW wasn't that congress speech by Macron refreshing. 
Whereas on a much more somber note, this did not lift my spirits but read I had to:
Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.
Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Mayer Hillman (here)



. . .

13 April 2018

No matter where I go these days, people talk about war and not in a detached way. Even my Heidi Klum colleague, who has a somewhat delicate selection of topics of interests, is very concerned about a real war that could even have an effect on our lives. In a way, that is.
Also, the news are of blood rain coming, which sounds almost as bad but actually only involves large amounts of reddish Sahara sands that have been detected in higher atmospheric clouds above Europe. Should it rain, chances are these sands will come down with it. Dramatic.

Anyway. Spring. Always so sudden.

When we lived in paradise with its eternally tropical climate and our time of departure and inevitable return to damp and rainy Dublin was approaching, I tried to prepare my daughter to things to come, incl. seasons.
There she sat on the sagging hammock that provided a handy bridge for the ants to wander from one mango tree to the other, sucking on a bilimbi ot maybe a green mango dipped in salt as she listened with wonder to my tales of spring with snowdrops and daffodils and strawberries and I must admit that I made it sound rather lovely, one happening after the other in a long string of delights, like chapters of a fairy tale. I left out the other seasons as they can be tricky in Ireland. She laughed at it as one laughs at a good joke and skipped off to vist the women singing and washing clothes down by the river.

So no, I don't think I made an impression one way or another. We returned to a mild and wet autumn and by the time there was real snow in February, life had caught up with us in so many unexpected ways that winter was actually enjoyable for the (one and only) day of chaos and snowball fights.

This spring feels different, everything seems to be happening late and all at once while I am still picking up withered blossoms of the xmas cactuses in my office.
Outside, magnolia reigns supreme. And as every year, R tells me in his teacher voice that magnolia are the dinosaurs of flowering plants, 50+ million years old and so on.
This one is about 150 years old, whenever I walk past it I take a bow.

Yesterday, my drug regimen was reshuffled and I sat there all timid and well-behaved listening to The Lecture on rest and paying attention to symptoms. On the way home I spontaneously decided on a short detour to the DIY store and totally out of the blue decided to hire a high-pressure cleaner for the weekened. As a result, for most of today, I have been cleaning the patio stones. Very soothing, let me tell you, and with the added surprise of rediscovering the actual terracotta colour.
My arms, however, are a shaking mess and I cannot lift my cup of tea. As for tomorrow, ah feck it, one day at a time etc.

06 April 2018

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

E.M. Forster

This may be the last day for the winter coat for a while, I am ready to chuck it deep into the darkerst corner of the wardrobe. This morning, I cleared the ice from the windscreen in the sharpest sunlight full of promises. Warmth, birds, colours.
The fog in my head and my bones is lifting, slowly. Getting ready for spring.

I am already overdoing it. Trying to calm the niggling thoughts that this exhaustion may stay with me - as predicted. Yesterday, I cycled furiously, yes furiously, for half an hour against the cold wind and pretended to feel invigorated for a while. In my office, I worked hard at being efficient and laughed at the right moments. Nobody noticed.
At night, angry dreams woke me up. At one point, I watched my feet changing shape, toes fusing into thick round swellings, nails curling upwards as if to tell me that my walking days are over.

Still, stuff happens, life is wonderful - enough.

31 March 2018

Can you feel the world pull apart,
the seams loosen?
What, tell me,
will keep it whole,
If not you? If not me?

Blas Falconer

The thing is, when you are caught in the loop like me, the loop of chronic illness, that never ending hamster wheel, you are generally expected to be either noble or depressed.

Noble in the sense of, look how she copes, look how she finds meaning in every day things, look how brave she is, but most of all, look at her sense of humour.
Depressed as in downtrodden, slow, sad, withdrawn, but most of all no fun to be around.
Mostly, you are expected to be both.

Things get even harder when you don't look ill. But that's for another day to discuss.
Oh, I could write a book about the supreme efforts of schievement and the wasted days of doing nothing at all.  It would read like an ancient lament. Or like one of these self improvement tomes, complete with a set of motivational calendar wisdom cards, a whale sound dvd and a wall chart of pilates exercises.

However. I mostly ride the waves of sarcasm and distraction. Pretend there is nothing to get hung about. Be fucking jolly. Don't dwell and for goodnesssake, don't be such a drip.

22 March 2018

To insist on life's being life and recognising that it could easily be less but shouldn't be.

Richard Ford 

Rain and sleet, cold north wind. I get up and make tea. I go through the motions of a normal morning but something isn't quite right. My muscles ache, my hands will not hold this mug firmly, my taste buds are numb, I feel ravenously hungry and yet, the food on the breakfast table makes me gag. The voices on the radio are too loud and my eyes, my eyes, my eyes just don't want to take anything in.
My head, however, is full of thoughts and plans, swirling with distant images and ideas, potential. 
Alas, the effort.
Day one after the seventh monoclonal antibody therapy. This is what it's like when approx. 90% of my overactive B-cells have been told to disintegrate for a while so that whatever ongoing inflammation they have been involved in is shut down.

16 March 2018

Adorno and snow

How innocently we thought that this was it, winter was well on its way to outer Lapland or wherever. Little did we know. The wind has turned yet again from west to east and rain is slowly looking like snow.

This winter has done something to me, I can't put my finger on it yet. But I feel I've crossed into a new terrain, a sense a resignation. I couldn't tell what it is that I've lost but I feel it. The loss, a gap, like taking a breath and not getting any fresh air, just standing there waiting for it.

My immunologist called me four times in as many days with instructions and results from our last appointment. Because. The treatment of shitty-diseases-that-will-not-go-away follows protocol. And I tend to question some most aspects of it. As in: why should I have to take a prophylactic antibiotic that is contraindicated for people - such as myself - with a known history of gut inflammation? And being the good doctor she is, she assures me that this will be discussed with the experts and in the meantime, I better not take it. So we go back and forth in our merry ways.
This morning I almost asked her, what do you really want to tell me, but of course that was all in my mind. After a night of dramamine-induced swirling in space, I tend to be a tad otherworldly.

Anyway. Spring. Can't get its act together yet. So I am stuck with winter thoughts. And I was reading Colette's post about visiting a psychic and briefly, I encouraged various ideas of the metaphysical and the spiritual and the religious world.

I was raised by atheists and in my teens, experienced a short-lived infatuation with baptists, the benign European variety. After a few months, it got too tedious, no heavenly father ever spoke to me and getting up early every Sunday lost its appeal. Also, my parents took no notice at all, which somewhat dampened my enthusiasm. But I still know most of the songs!

My secondary education was heavy on philosophy, ancient philosophy, Plato's cave allegory and so on. I was not too keen, at age 15, my mind was on other things. But I went through the motions and yes, it does something to you. The concept  of a rational mind, reality and illusions. And before you know it, religion becomes something irrational, fed on myths, unconsciously experienced 'certainties', read tea leaves.

After a while longer, this happened:
I realised that there is no god. And not because my father always said so. And it got worse. I realised that the belief in a person-like god tempts us hand over our responsibility for our life and our world to some imaginary institution beyond our understanding. In other words: a cop out.

But there is something I would - for lack of words right now - call the god-like principle, the good that is incarnate in humans. (And in turn, there is no devil, no hell, only bad deeds done by humans.)
I admit that we cannot exclude metaphysics. It's actually exciting. I adore the thought that that there is something beyond our limited concept of reason, our rational and careful experiences. If we need to call it anything (yet I think we maybe should not have to) I suggest something along the lines of "always question yourself".
Because we, and we alone are responsible for this life. That's our terrible freedom. I can understand that this can be unbearable for some, at times I wish I could cop out, too.

Once we had regurgitated the classic philosophers for seemingly ever, we jumped to the critical theorists and Adorno in particular. I may have missed out some stage in between, I was often extremely tired in class for obvious reasons. But I managed to stay awake for an entire term dedicated to watching and discussing the replay of a seemingly ancient televised debate (1965) between Adorno and one of his adversaries (Gehlen) on the nature of human suffering and human violence. First they go back and forth for ages defining this and that in their clever words - the language and terminology of philosophers and sociologists is out there with Finnish or Hungarian (no offence), i.e. quite impossible to grasp.

 And at some stage half way through, Adorno said this:

I have a particular conception of objective happiness and objective despair, and I would say that, for as long as people have problems taken away from them, for as long as they are not expected to take on full responsibility and self-determination, their welfare and happiness in this world will merely be an illusion. And will be  an illusion that will one day burst. And when it bursts, it will have dreadful consequences.

And that's my credo, has been ever since.