16 October 2020

sorry sunshine

The test came back negative, the head cold went into overdrive. I am getting better. I think. I cut R's hair today, I made breakfast. The numbers are climbing steadily, the city is quiet, I have been told.

Here’s the thing. If you buy into a false narrative that the body is controllable, that illness can always be prevented, you better realise that you have reached a damaging, erroneous conclusion: the belief that a person’s ill health is their fault. And regarding a pandemic, we better learn that this virus is bigger than what we think we can explain in our imagination and arrogance.

Anyway, this is for all the sorry sunshines in your lives:


This is Winston Peters, a very conservative, right wing NZ politician. Currently deputy PM but on his way out. Still, he got it.

03 October 2020

that mysterious splendor

 

 

As we walked through this sunlit forest, I once again felt such betrayal, such loss. How can we ever again call a forest like this one by its name? Beech forest, Buchenwald. (They chose that name for a reason. The monsters in their leather coats and shiny boots.)

That was two weeks ago. Now, autumn has arrived, I am looking for my cycling gloves and we turned on the heating. Autumn could be lovely if only it wasn't a gateway to winter.

I am unwell and eventually called the covid hotline, on a Friday evening, no less. In the past, this would have been a bit of a blocked nose, no fever, sore throat, headache, shivers sort of scenario. But apparently, I tick too many boxes. Now waiting for my test slot, while R hovers at a distance with cups of tea.

 

We’re all hurtling through our lives, and the planet is hurtling through space without a seat belt. We have to discover successively more freedom inside the terrible things that have happened and the terrible things that certainly will happen, and the whole of it is also a mysterious splendor, full of kindness, welcome, and cups of tea.

John Tarrant 

 

As for the other news, I leave you with this, because, whether he's ill or not, whether he knowingly passed the virus on or not (and in my humble opinion, he did), whether it matters or not that the news broke after the stock market had closed for the day, stay focused:

First, let me say that I am fine with Trump being called a fascist because he is using fascist tactics, and it's a word that resonates with the public. We need a wide, inclusive, and resolute American opposition movement, and this word conveys the necessary urgency. 

But I've largely called him an authoritarian or autocrat instead of a fascist because "fascist" implies loyalty to the state. A fascist wants to embody and expand the state and usually has imperial ambitions. Whereas Trump wants to destroy the U.S.: he wants to strip it down and sell it off for parts to both domestic and foreign backers. His cohort's ambitions are similar to what oligarchs and other hyper-capitalists did to the U.S.S.R. after its collapse — which is not surprising because the Kremlin and an associated network of plutocrats and oligarchs are the prime backers of this operation.

Sarah Kendzior




24 September 2020

people have the power

People Have the Power - VOTE 2020 from Pathway to Paris on Vimeo.

If you vote the present monster out of the white house, we will play this at full volume for I don't know how long, and we'll dance in the street. And not just because we are old hippies. Promise!

23 September 2020

The real test is not the virus but our response to it

One thing I know—and this is the central paradox of COVID-19—is that despite the isolation, we are not alone. The pandemic has brought about a sense of shared human consciousness and experience. A friend emails to say: “I find I’m beginning to tune out the politics of it and get more into the humanity of it.” Maybe this is what COVID-19 means: a referendum on humanity. A societal performance review.

 Kennedy Warne

 The only way to fight the plague is with decency. 

Albert Camus (The Plague)

and for the winter, this:


 

 

 




.

 

 

19 September 2020

bla etc.

 

artist: EJ Hill
 

This week has been somewhat tough, despite holiday rest. I did have that long overdue shingles vaccine on Tuesday because heaven forbid I catch a case of shingles while living in my isolation cocoon. But then again, R had it out of the blue this time last year and the friendly GP has been reminding me ever since. 

So, with such splendid fatigue and a grand potpourri of aches and pains, I try to remind myself that, yes, this body is still my own.

Most days, I try to make a joke since after all, I have been working really hard to be one of those people who seem to live through all of this with courage and humour. And sarcasm. Don't forget sarcasm, that handy disguise of despair.

Anyway, don't try this at home, it doesn't work.

In the absence of any further cohesive thought from me,  I will just paste a couple of things I have picked up along the way.





11 September 2020

swinging on a star

Half way through my two week September holiday - and still more to come! A week each in October, November and December. The beauty of German civil service regulations. 

I don't miss a thing, apart from maybe a visit to the seaside. I mostly sit on the patio, R's voice drifting out of his office upstairs, explaining to some (un)fortunate final year student the intricate workings of cell membrane structures, around me the busy noises of the retired neighbours exercising their expensive gardening tools. 

I crawl out of bed every morning in disbelief that this body is actually me. Morning stiffness is a glorious euphemism. This is when dawdling comes in handy. Slow dawdling.

And so I fill my time with pleasant useless stuff until eventually, my limbs begin to respond to my wishes, at least enough to push the bicycle out into the world and get a move on. I have slowly but purposefully increased my daily distance to a now staggering 20 km, which is still a crying shame compared to my healthy past self. Anyway, must take things as they are. By the time I am back home, triumphant and sore, inflamed tendons screaming, more dawdling awaits. 

And thinking, trying to explain the world in my head. 

In no particular order, this is what's swirling around:

1. The covid conspiracy theories - there are people I know, who really truly want to believe that the world is good at its core, that all power lies with nature. And now this evil nature dishes up a creepy virus. So it must be someone else's fault. I have given up any desire to discuss this. I admit I have avoided phone calls.

2. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
(Isaac Asimov)

3. Garden. Here is one blossom from each of the currently flowering plants. As of today. We are inundated by wasps this year and we have completely surrendered one apple tree and most of the grapes. They feed on it in a frenzy for a day and end up dead on the patio stones. In other words, they are starving. It won't last much longer.


4. Sir Ken Robinson died in August. I was a great fan. Watching this talk always brings me back to my student days, when I still had dreams of changing the way children are educated - something I soon realised as utopian on a grand scale. Anyway, listening to him still makes me a tiny bit hopeful.

5. I had to agree have been told to reduce my home office work and, after this holiday, will have to go back working on campus for two days a week. My GP is not amused. In theory, there is a strict hygiene protocol incl. airing the room every 30 mins which I can just see happening in the winter months. Not.

6. I leave this here for general perusal (for source click here).  When I am in my office, I'll be in the yellow. But currently, only 40 cases in my city.

Risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic people in different settings and for different occupation times, venting, and crowding levels (ignoring variation in susceptibility and viral shedding rates). Face covering refers to those for the general population and not high grade respirators. The grades are indicative of qualitative relative risk and do not represent a quantitative measure. Other factors not presented in these tables may also need to be taken into account when considering transmission risk, including viral load of an infected person and people’s susceptibility to infection. Coughing or sneezing, even if these are due to irritation or allergies while asymptomatic, would exacerbate risk of exposure across an indoor space, regardless of ventilation.
7. We are in for another heat wave, apparently. 

8. This week's music is in memory of R's parents, who taught this to my daughter one day driving back from the beach.


 

28 August 2020

In the silence the ever-present past

 

This is footage from Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland. It's a wild place, rough and windy. The land is crisscrossed by stone walls, protecting the fields from the wind. About 4  mins into this video, you see Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric hill fort, one of several Bronze Age sites on the island. But this is not a history blog, so for anyone interested, go here. 

The poem is spoken by Mike Scott of the Waterboys. He wrote it in the early 1980s when the band was living in An Spidéal, a small village on the Atlantic coast, overlooking the Aran Islands and the coast of county Clare. The village is famous for traditional music sessions.

I like to believe that the storm he is referring to at the beginning of his poem is the one we ran away from in October 1981 when we were staying on Inis Mór for a short while. I have very little memory of our time there other than that we walked a lot, were accompanied by all the island dogs, met very few people and smoked our very last joint sitting next to the fort looking out on the ocean. That day, we decided it was time to have a child, one of several, so we imagined. 

Back at the harbour village of Cill Rónáin, the fishermen had started to pull in their boats and gear, windows and sheds were secured and by dinner time, the storm warnings were all around us. Early the next morning we got the last boat back to the mainland. 

This was the time when I started to think of myself as becoming an adult.

21 August 2020

 
For the last couple of weeks I have been trying out a new approach. It sort of works surprisingly well and I am quite pleased with it. 

Step one: Apply the basic principle of life and death. Or rather life vs death.
It boils down to a quick analysis: Will I make it through the day? And if under the circumstances it seems that I do - and this is obviously so - I'll just chuck out whatever it is that bothered me. Away with it, not worth dwelling on it.

Step two: Discover the basic underlying pattern in your life and if there is none - which is what seems to be the case most of the time. Honestly, the chaos! - make one up as you go along. Divide the day into periods of food intake, dental hygiene, laundry folding, cryptic crossword solving, paid employment, a chapter of whatever book comes in handy, coffee intake, meditation (sort of), fresh air exposure, conversations with other humans, watching R cook dinner and drug taking (purely pharmaceutical).

Step three: If all fails, go online. Or read a book. Or both. 


This is the lake we did not swim in despite careful planning. Pandemically speaking. We did make online reservations for a socially distanced slot - four hours - to access the nature reserve that then allows you to get to the water safely. Alas, thunderstorms. Force something or other winds and flooded roads. We stayed home.
This is a maar, a very deep volcanic crater and the water is clear, cold and black. There are many of these maars in our part of the world, we are surrounded by volcanoes and hills that were formed by eruptions. Some of the lakes send up gas bubbles, so-called mofettes, warning us that there is activity, always. Volcanoes are never dormant.
 
In my healthy days, I swam across and back, it's about 1.5 km in total, several times. 
It's one of my brilliant memories.


 
 
This is Friday's music.


15 August 2020

 
 
Our national and regional media reports with disbelief about the deliberate slowing down of the mail system for voters in the US. Disbelief that this can happen and disbelief that apparently nobody can stop it. At the same time, we watch the crowds on the streets in Belarus day after day after day. 
What do I know.

13 August 2020

apple sauce day

Two nights ago thunderstorms washed over us from midnight until almost sunrise. After our first delight and the open windows to let the wind blow through the house, we got grumpier by the half hour and wandered up and down the stairs checking for damage (none) and whenever we had settled down to catch up on sleep, it started anew.

Obviously, we were not in top form yesterday. Also, it got steamy and muggy hot, and before we knew it the sky was closing in with black clouds and not a breath of wind. We got a storm warning from the insurance app and I pulled the router plug seconds before the lightning started. I've experienced my share of thunder storms but this was massive incl. hail stones and water in sheets so dense you could not see through to the other side of our suburban street. 

Today, I made apple sauce from the windfall apples that dropped from the neighbour's garden onto our back lane and cut R's hair, finally. The apple sauce is delicious but the haircut is messy. 

In the early hours before dawn I dreamed that a knife was repeatedly struck in my left forearm. It took me a while to wake up and realise that it was probably the tendinitis in my left elbow spreading down towards my wrist. I got up and leaned against the bathroom mirror while I held my arm under the running cold water. This is nothing, I told myself. A tendon is nothing. Tendinitis is just a minor ailment, even if it's chronic.

Last week I had to see one of the experts. I try to avoid them - like the plague (get it?) but every so often they want to see you in person just to reassure the insurance that I am still here, still chronically ill, still not faking it. Anyway, he is the guy responsible for my ears and the ongoing seasickness and the bouts of vertigo and sinusitis headaches. He now wants to inject cortisone into my ears (intratympanatic steroid therapy). I told him, I want a second opinion. I didn't tell him that I find the idea of no matter how fine a needle piercing my ear drum too scary right now. He shrugged and said, well, the ears are secondary organs, you don't need them to survive. Not like your kidneys. Or your lungs. Or your heart. You need to watch them more carefully. As if I didn't know that.

You have no idea how afraid of death I am some days. And most nights.

On The Covid front, I'll cut and paste as my latest public service announcement from an excellent article by Garret FitzGerald,  director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania (the bold markings are mine):

". . . the World Health Organisation estimates there are 165 vaccine programmes under way. This is unprecedented, as is the diversity of approaches to vaccine development. (. . .) Indeed, it is likely we will need more than one effective vaccine if we are to reach the numbers globally that are necessary for effective immunity.

Given the political, cultural, and logistical challenges, attaining the goal of population immunity of 60-80 per cent, necessary in our connected world, is likely to take some time, maybe years.

Population protection in advanced societies with an assured supply of a vaccine by late summer 2021 is a reasonable bet.

Despite politically and commercially-driven promises that we will be protected from Covid-19 by vaccines early next year, this is extremely unlikely. Mass vaccination based on trials of a few thousand patients – as suggested in Russia – would be reckless. 

Masks, distancing, and hand-washing will be the rule for the foreseeable future. In the meantime there is encouraging progress in the development of drugs to curb the severity of Covid-19 and this, as with AIDS, may lead us to a semblance of normality even sooner than an effective vaccine."

 (You can read the complete article here.)

 

 


 



08 August 2020

two songs


Right now, there is a lot stacked at the negative side. And I am not immune to feeling down over It All.
In a lengthy zoom meeting with far away friends last night, we discussed helplessness and being at a loss as to what to do when overwhelmed by the seemingly endless feed of bad news, climate change, mass extinction, the pandemic, the lot.

I haven't got enough energy to always be disheartened, depressed. Feeling hopeless is hard work. Even listing all the stuff that makes me feel upset and hopeless is too much work. 
But unable to turn away. I wish I could.
 
Anyway, Saturdays are difficult days while my body metabolises the weekly shot of immune suppressant medicine. 

Also, we are having a heat wave. The lawn turned into grey bristle in the span of 24 hours. We covered the greenhouse with the black netting, filled the bird baths, shut the house and let down the blinds. It could be a blizzard out there for all I know. But instead it's still 39°C out on the patio at almost 8 pm.  
 

So today, I am posting two songs to cheer myself up. To remind myself that we need to bear witness, to be aware, to stay open, to learn, to act responsibly. That nothing is normal, never has been.

05 August 2020

virus bits

First, I invite you to have a brief look here.

So, the virus, or The Covid as my Irish family calls it.

Like so many, I have by now had a couple of virus related dreams. In one of them, I was struggling to breathe and as a result, in the morning, I read through my Living Will to reassure myself that I have it in black and white, no ventilator if in intensive care. It's a thing, I admit but I have watched people on ventilators, incl. my mother and, no. I am old enough.
The other dream comes back in various guises. In it, I meet friends, dear friends, who come bearing gifts and who refuse to wear masks or keep a distance and basically laugh at me for being so vigilant. (There is one of them in real life. She is convinced she'll never catch it or if, just a mild case. We don't mention it.) Anyway, that one scares me a lot.

Our numbers a creeping upwards, ever so slowly and there is tons, I don't exaggerate, tons of information and appeals and catchy videos and songs in the media, tabloid incl., to remain vigilant. It's a shaky calm. In my city, we currently have six patients in intensive care and 21 infected cases.

Virologists now assume that almost half of the infections are caused by aerosol transmission, almost the other half by larger droplets and only about ten percent by smear infections. While the larger droplets fall to the ground rapidly within an area of around one and a half meters - keeping your distance helps here - the microscopic aerosols can stay in the air for a longer time, spinning around and infecting someone in the process. Since they arise not only when coughing and sneezing, but also when speaking, singing, shouting and breathing, it is almost impossible for an infected person to not produce them.

This means that, especially in closed rooms, a distance of 1.5 meters is not necessarily sufficient to protect yourself against infections. Indoor restaurant seating, church services or open-plan offices are all places where many have been infected in the past. If you need to be in such a place, the best option at the moment, apart from wearing a mask, is to ventilate by opening the window, because this ensures that the air is diluted or exchanged. And keeping a distance. Same old. Same old.

As a rule of thumb, the fewer people we see, the shorter we stay in closed rooms and the more distance we keep, the better.

The orange man apparently said something like: "This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away." It's almost philosophical. Almost.

One of the brilliant Monty Pythons sketches is the one about the dead parrot. If you don't know it, watch it here, it's a good laugh and we all need that. Not only because not all things do go away the way things should go away. And then watch the new version here.


In other news, this week was our 41st anniversary - we forgot.
Also, my mother died 21 years ago - I remembered, but only because my sister called me on a pretext.

Meanwhile, it is pink week with grapes:




 


31 July 2020

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere


Five decades ago, at the end of July, I am living at home with my parents and my big sister and my younger brother. My father has given me the task of reading the map and navigating him on the long journey to our holiday home on the coast in Denmark. This means that I can sit next to him in the passenger seat and not get carsick in the back. I love reading maps. I love school, I play the piano, I sing in a choir and I am so much looking forward to our seaside holiday where I can read all the books I packed. My parents are making jokes about how many.

Four decades ago, at the end of July, I am living with R in a tiny attic flat in Heidelberg and I have just decided to drop out of university with four months to go to my final exams. I know I never want to teach, research or lecture, instead I am working at the hospital, mostly mopping floors and sterilising bits and pieces. R is working for a landscape gardener. In the evenings, we sit by the river making plans about cycling all the way to Ireland. My parents stop talking to me.

Three decades ago, at the end of July, I am living in a small bungalow with a corrugated tin roof in a  tropical African country. I am married to R who is teaching chemistry and biology at the capital's polytechnic, our seven year old daughter is climbing trees and diving for crabs. My job as a business manager at a government training scheme has just come to an end and I am giving away/selling our things. In a few days we will move on to spend some time in India. Back in Germany, after my mother's latest suicide attempt, my father is preparing to run away in the middle of the night, he will be in hiding for several months.

Two decades ago, at the end of July, I am living in Germany again. We have just bought a house very similar to the one I grew up in, R is teaching and our daughter is preparing to move on to study and be an adult. I have just started my new job at the university medical faculty and at the obligatory health check-up for newcomers my blood works have come back with troubling results. I decide to ignore this and instead get ready for a three week long bike trip across Germany with R. My mother is dead, my father rejoicing, now that I am finally where he feels I belong, in Germany and at a university.

One decade ago, at the end of July, I am mostly at home resting in our house and garden. R is still teaching. Our daughter, after years of study, travel and work on several continents, is beginning to settle down on the other side of the planet.  By now, I have been out sick for 11 months and I am in no shape yet to go back to work. I am beginning to accept the reality of a livelong chronic illness. I buy an ebike and slowly begin cycling again, first minutes and hours, then a morning, a day, and eventually, after another year, a whole week. I have started to blog. My father is refusing to understand chronic, but tries to be helpful.

Today, at the end of July, I am still living with R in this house near the river. I am still working at the university, but part time and since mid March, from home during this strange pandemic. R is a retired teacher and a busy gardener. Our daughter is living with her small family on the other side of the planet and the pandemic has cut a big gash through all our plans and dreams. I am a virtual grandmother, my grandchild sings with me via social media. I cycle along the river. My father is in a retirement home. He is unwell and angry.

I blog. Some nights I sleep poorly. I am comfortably resigned. My energy is limited, I am not much in pain. I could miss a lot. I could complain, I could shout at the moon.

I read maps, there are places I think I still want, I still need to go to.



24 July 2020

the keys to paradise




"Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration."



". . . the belief that humanity will soon become involved in a deep and abiding worldwide partnership with nature. Millions of us will commit ourselves to reversing the long legacy of environmental degradation that threatens to destabilize the climate as well as the great ecologies that sustain life on Earth. We must develop a vast stewardship initiative, which will become the great work of our time. Fortunately, there are as many ways to serve the Earth as there are people willing to engage in this vast restoration project. It includes nothing less than stabilizing the planet’s climate as well as saving ourselves."


We could if we wanted to. But, ahh, distraction, distraction. Two days ago, I got sidetracked while I was searching online for a specific white cotton vest for my father and before I knew it, I was contemplating purchasing various underwear items I did not need to restock. I refrained, because: size charts, how do they work? Since then, this link keeps popping up to a site listing "the 10 female clothing items men hate". I am not even tempted, what do I care. As a form of interweb punishment I have since received an invitation, I kid you not, to view bargain funeral cars. There could be a message here.



19 July 2020

virologists rule



If you read just one more article about corona, read this whole interview with Dr. Fauci on Medscape
 One quote:
"Two things. One, I just try to express how much I admire the real heroes on the front line for getting in there every day and essentially putting themselves at risk. I'm operating from a different vantage point where I am, but I almost miss the days of being in the trenches with you. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is that, you know, this is so stressful for all of us. I think we have to remember that we're gonna get through this. This is not something that's gonna be forever. We're gonna get through it. It's gonna be over. And we're going to look back and hopefully say we really gave it our best shot. And it's gonna be over from two standpoints: It's going to be over from a public health standpoint if we get it right, public health–wise.
But I think science and good biomedical research are also going to come to the rescue because we're going to get a vaccine, hopefully sooner rather than later, and we will get effective therapeutics. So for the people on the frontlines and in the trenches, hang in there with us. We're all in it together and we're gonna get through it. So that's my message to them."

Apparently, the number of medical students applying to specialise in virology has quadrupled in recent months. At least at the university where I work. 

17 July 2020

home office



So there I was early, very early one morning, long before day break and even earlier than the birds, too exhausted to go back to sleep. The woman from the corner house, the painter who howls at the moon, had just shattered another glass bottle onto her driveway, throwing it out of her upstairs bathroom window with many curse words and threats. She is not boozing, several time that night it was empty water bottles she threw out, an expensive French brand, volcanic source, with a 1 Euro refund per bottle.

I lay there contemplating again if I should do something, go over and ring her door bell and offer my help and risk getting a bottle whacked over my head. Once again, I reprimanded myself for not having done that weeks ago, before she started with the throwing of glass and china and that walking over there in the dark would be tricky what with all the shards on her garden path. And then I started worrying whether I should wear a mask or not and well, I fell asleep again, dreaming of my mother.
The way she would climb onto the upstairs window ledge threatening to jump because we didn't tidy up our room.

In the morning, I wrote an email to the social psychiatric helpline about the scenario, bottles and howling and cursing and please, please, no police, and ended it with asking for a call back. Then I tried to delete the email but too late.
An hour later, someone called me, one of these firm female voices, professionally emphatic, and we had a decent enough talk and she took down notes and described the possible steps, i.e. a letter offering help, followed by a house call, no pressure, all voluntarily, but possibly not until sometime in August and that we should only consider calling the cops if she keeps it up with the bottle throwing and noise disruption at night and while I tried to frantically pedal back explaining that there was a lot more noise from neighbours revving their expensive cars and leaf blowers and hedge cutters and that it was her safety I was concerned for, the police arrived. I almost started to cry but it turns out, another neighbour was responsible for that and she never opened her door and stayed quiet as a mouse. In fairness, the professionally emphatic female on the phone seemed to get my point and we exchanged numbers and decided to keep an eye on things. Whatever that implies.

Why do I do stuff like that? That woman did not have the time of day for me in all the years we lived here and I have one bad dream about my mother and cannot keep my mouth shut.

In other news, I am officially on holidays. In fact, while busily working from home since mid March, due to pandemic measures, I have lost touch of my holiday entitlement and now must take at least one week every month until the end of the year or else. Also, I was informed by HR that since the beginning of my pandemic related home office confinement I have worked far more than my contract hours and must stop doing that as home office and overtime are mutually exclusive concepts. I reacted by collapsing into a deep semi coma of exhaustion and have now told R that I intend to sleep for the next three days. At least. Seriously.

The video above is the free entertainment laid on for us on the patio. The one below is music for a Friday.









10 July 2020


Surprise, July so far has been cool and wet. Cool-ish and wet-ish. We are holding it together at the fort here, plenty of gardening and housekeeping and home office to bring in the dough.

I sort of lost it for a bit after I read about the risks to airline travel regardless of whatever air filter system gadgets and seat spacing. One of the eminent virologists told a reporter that he would only go on an airplane at a push and then wearing a protective suit and those super duper masks and for the life of me, I cannot see myself on a 33 hrs trip geared up that way, never mind the stop overs. Maybe on a couple of cargo ships? And I read the bit about mild cases who after a speedy recovery have developed neurological symptoms (tremors, balance loss, encephalitis, more here) and then the findings of how the virus attacks heart cells (more here).

Before that, I was skipping about asking people to dig deep into their creative thoughts and to come up with positive stuff and no more hankering after our has-been normal life and moaning about what we cannot change. Acceptance, I shouted with a smile. Should have known I was way over the top.

This is something that happens to other people in other times; something you might imagine, might read about – not experience. But it is real, it is happening. The plague is back. It never went away. Welcome to the future. No, welcome to the present, to the reality of an ineradicable highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus. There might be a vaccine for it at some stage, as there is for measles. There might not be, as there is not for HIV. A reliable treatment might be developed, as there is for HIV. Or it might not be, like measles.

In any event, there is a gap between what we know about our situation and what our gut believes, a gap that creates confusion, promotes outrage over inconveniences, complacency after early successes. We “know” what’s happening, but we don’t quite “feel” it. Our collective gut is still telling us normality is just around the corner. The reality has been slow to sink in because it’s beyond our privileged experience.

As you will yourself into the reality you perhaps start to understand how the millions before you didn’t understand either, didn’t read the signs, didn’t grasp calamity unfolding, were unprepared, were lost in history’s turmoil, thought their mass grave impossible even as they dug it. We’re out of practice. Mass disasters don’t happen here, not in our lifetime. The plagues and total wars and famines and deaths in the thousands and millions are confined to television screens. Even our hard times remain relatively soft in the broader, longer scheme of things. Other people’s individual tragedies have gone on regardless. In groups sometimes, in planeloads. Communities when fire or flood or landslide tear through. Bad, terrible, but this, this indiscriminate imposition … on everyone? And slowly the comprehension comes – it has always been everyone.

The single diagnosis and mass verdict, the individual execution and the genocide: Each one, one person, however many. One person facing mortality. We’re born to this. We will get used to it. Adapting is what we do best.




07 July 2020

We have a bit of a drop in temperatures, even a few heavy showers. But summer, nevertheless.
After the last month's heavy cluster of infections in the meat packing plant and the expected media frenzy about animal welfare and underpaid seasonal workers from Eastern Europe, we wake up to the news that in a neighbouring town, several members of the local Baptist church got symptoms and the entire congregation has been tested and all (!) are positive. All the singing and praising, well done, 500+ people are now in quarantine.

My father has been moved to a geriatric intermediate care facility for the next whatever how many weeks. He is still angry but slowly realising that he has to work on his cunning and charm to make do. The virus restrictions are complicating matters, he thinks we are all scared ninnies but has resigned to play along for a while. Anyway, picture a 91-year old in bed, unable to stand or walk for the next 12 or so weeks if at all, with his phone in one hand and his tv remote control in the other. He has a nice sunny room with a balcony all by himself, meals are served at his wish and a string of physiotherapists, doctors and carers are coming and going, like a hen house, he tells me.
When I call him, I don't get a word in one way or another, I listen until he declares the call finished and afterwards I search my soul for feelings.

Here is a picture of the cycle path along the river, looking north. That spiky church tower in the distance on the left, that's as far as I'll cycle, then I am almost home.



A few weeks ago, one of our big weekly papers asked seven leading experts in the fields of virology and epidemiology (from Germany, the UK and the US) six questions on the corona pandemic.

The last and sixth question was:

When do you think our life will be the same as it was before the pandemic?

These are the answers.

Expert no. 1: I wish I could answer that. I'm afraid we'll have to live with restrictions for quite a while. It will probably only be really normal again if we have an approved vaccine and a good part of us has been vaccinated.

Expert no. 2: Only when we have a vaccine and enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. But I also want to ask people to think about what kind of normalcy we want to return to. In many countries, a large number of older people have died in care facilities. I want to ask people to think about the circumstances that led to it. This also includes the underlying problem of neglecting older people. As a society, we can and should do better.

Expert no. 3: The corona pandemic has made many people aware that, despite technological developments, there can still be uncontrollable events that come from outside bringing, in addition to significant medical consequences, also economic and social cuts. A bit of the "lightness of being" has been taken away from modern society.

Expert no. 4: Never.

Expert no. 5: I believe and hope that in some areas, our life will not be the same as it used to be. Perhaps in the future there will be less travel, less presence culture, fewer meetings and more home office and overall improved local structures? The pandemic has shown many inequalities and many weaknesses in our existing systems and I think it should serve as a wake-up call.
I think that many of the good things in life, like close social contacts, being with a lot of people, festivals, big weddings, going out, going out to eat, celebrating, will probably only be possible with a vaccine with the "old" lightheartedness.

Expert no. 6: I think the pandemic will have a lasting impact on our social interactions, on closeness and distance to other people, and on attitudes towards hygiene in our lives. People will be more careful with each other for a very long time, many will avoid mass events for some time and travel differently. We will be ready to invest a larger proportion of our economy to prepare and prevent further pandemics, which will affect different professional groups. Hopefully there will be an intensive debate about media, information, influence and truth - and there will be a fresh exploration of the basis on which social decisions are made and should be in the future.

Expert no.7: Life goes on. After this pandemic, we will have developed a new culture of dealing with each other that will change us in the long term. I sincerely hope that as part of this new culture we will be able to redevelop ease and impartiality.


03 July 2020

songs and pictures

Today, Friday, music day, I have the same song in two versions. There is a third version, which is the one I have been singing to my myself all day.  To the extent that R has politely asked me to cut it out.




And at the end of the week I am also tired. So just some pictures of and from the garden. The raspberry harvest is massive, the freezer is packed, R is making jam and clafoutis.

this year we have a massive raspberry harvest

The blackcurrants are already soaking in gin.


The onions are now drying in the wood shed



and that patch of wildflower is the square experiment, I insisted on leaving a section of the lawn go wild and with a little help from a seed packet, this is what happened. Apart from the poppy, there are eight other different flowering plants - so far.



The grapes ripen while we watch,



the lilies are just lilies



and the feijoa tree is somewhat camera shy, but it is simply loaded with blossoms and every morning buzzing with bumble bees, giving us hope of some fruit eventually.










02 July 2020

imagine the world anew



I try to cycle for while every day, always the same long loop - as we call it -, about 10 km, 35 mins at best. I check the sky for rain and get on with it, despite aching joints or that gruesome tiredness (fatigue, my doctor calls it, ever so proper). First I wind my way southwards through our suburb, past the string of old village houses, timber framed, medieval, low roofs, the playground, the fish shop, the pharmacy, the school yards, the park where elderly men wearing masks play boules, the villas from the Wilhelminian era with their high windows and fancy stucco fronts and topiary framing the garden gates, and so on until I turn sharp left and roll down towards the ferry and onto the bike path along the river. If I needed to, I could cycle north on this path all the way to the Dutch coast or south all the way to the source in Switzerland, always with the river beside me, on and on - I have almost done it both ways. It's nice but tedious in places.
But at that spot, here where the ferry crosses and I have rolled down that small hill, it's gorgeous. The river is like a sheet of blue green wavy glass, swans and ducks and barges and rowing boats, there are the castles on the top of the hills on the other side amid thick forest, the light, the clear air, and I could sing it's so lovely and expansive and pleasant. And I fly all the way back, pedalling faster and faster.

Listen to this short text by Arundhati Roy.
I think more and more that we are facing our one and only chance as humans to find our real potential at last. Provided we can shake off the distractions from these nasty old men and their empty dreams of money and power.


Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

27 June 2020

"Leggi almeno, tiranna infedele"


Let me tell you about a man I have known all my life. He is stubborn, harsh but fair in his judgements, very intelligent, unforgiving and steadfast. He loves a debate, any good argument, provided it is presented with conviction, knowledge and a decent sense of humour. He abhors smooth talkers, smart alecks, shower offers, fools pretending to be clever. He has no tolerance for dawdling. His sense of direction is excellent. He can name the constellations in the sky without hesitation and recite Homer's Iliad until you ask him to please stop it, that yes, you get his point. Then he will grin. Like a schoolboy.
If asked (but who would dare to) he would name as his principles, decency and punctuality. If asked, you would need to know and recite the five steps of the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, prediction, experiment, confirmation) without hesitating. As regards music, music is for listening, never background noise. He loves opera despite or maybe because of the fact that it puts him to sleep.

He hated the lockdown and as soon as the restrictions were lifted, he picked up all his regular habits. Lunch every weekday at the Italian restaurant, no more meals on wheels in his lonely kitchen. On Sunday a nice drive to the country inn. Shopping every Wednesday (sourdough bread, cheese, fruit, coffee and tea, dark chocolate and shortbread).

His difficulties walking, he claims, are due to being lazy and occasionally, he sets out exercise regimens. On paper only.

On his last shopping spree, with a supermarket shopping cart as his walking aid - as usual -, he found that the lift back to the underground carpark was out of order and since stairs are not an option, he decided to push the shopping cart down the spiralling downhill car ramp. The loaded shopping cart. The shopping cart that has no breaks which pulled him faster and faster down the ramp until he fell and fractured his left leg in several places.

He is stubborn, I repeat myself, I know.

He convinced the people who ran to his help that he was ok and no, there was no need to call an ambulance. With help, he made it to his car and when someone offered to drive him home, he accepted. Reluctantly. Some kind people did that, drove him home, parked his car for him, brought him indoors, unpacked his shopping and reluctantly left him there to walk back to the shopping center car park.
Alone at home, he was scared for a while. (That is my interpretation.)

His biggest fear is illness, he faints at the sight of blood (it's not his fault or weakness, it's called vasovagal syncope) and in any case, in his opinion, doctors these days are too young and uppity.

But he felt weak, physically that is, and in pain and also, what about dinner. He picked up the phone. Eventually.

He is now recovering from surgery, a metal plate in his leg, no standing or walking for at least ten weeks. After 48 hrs of confusion and disorientation, he is now furious with everybody and everything. And to demonstrate his fury, he has removed the venous access, the painkiller infusions and all the other useless stuff.

By the end of next week, he will be transferred to temporary geriatric rehabilitation in a newly built assisted living facility. We continue to stress the word temporary, although we fervently hope it will become permanent.

Currently, he is not speaking to any of us.

Last night, unable to sleep I was fighting waves of pity for him and of course, my fear of finally losing his affection and acceptance forever. By the time the birds started to sing, I realised that in my place, he would not hesitate for a second to pack me off to the next care home around the corner.






19 June 2020

this week

This was the week it rained heavily, some basements were flooded. Not ours. Instead we had a burst pipe in the laundry at 2 am a couple of nights ago. Thanks to my weak bladder, which forced me to get out of bed that hour and eventually awake enough to realise that, no I was not listening to a mountain water fall, we caught it early and spent only a half hour or five turning off the mains and sweeping the puddles into the drain with whatever came handy before getting back to sleep - only joking, not much sleep.

Anyway, it's all fixed now and just before I could catch up on sleep, my father fell and fractured several bones in his leg or legs and now he had surgery and we cannot visit, or only my brother can, from a distance, and he probably will not walk again, not that he has been walking properly for years anyway. But this time round, we are looking at geriatric rehabilitation supposedly starting next week and care home because, in the words of the doctor who eventually was available by phone, the old man is currently very confused. No more living the life of Riley alone and fancy free. However, and this is the sleepless bit, care homes, even the fancy ones he deserves to spend his money on, are not open to new inmates because, you guessed it, the virus. My brother is all cool and, hey it's early days but seriously, I am a mess.

The weirdest thing is that the day before this happened, earlier this week, he called me outside of our schedule (which is unusual to say the least) and said a couple of very nice things to me about me, something he never ever does. He put down the phone in his normal abrupt way but it floored me somewhat. Because my mother, on the day I called her in hospital where 12 hours earlier she had heart surgery, she was sober and sweet and called me by my secret childhood name and said a couple of very nice things to me about me, something she had not done for 40+ years. And that night, her lungs collapsed and she lost her voice for ever and her dignity and eventually, after six hard months, she died in this excruciating, terrible, inhuman way that we are all afraid could happen again despite all the Living Wills we have at the ready.

I don't know why this song is in my head, but there it is. Nothing makes sense anyway.

15 June 2020

mostly lilies

Just figuring out how to insert pictures in the new blogger thingy. A few of the things from the garden right now.


Ethopian lily
Ethiopian lily


New Zealand rock lily


wild strawberries


one of (almost too) many butterheads


muscatel grapes with lily


calendula


white lily

12 June 2020


Hot and humid. Watching thunderstorms passing us by. We sit outside after dark and talk about people who have died, how we miss them and how happy their lives were or not. 
This is a different kind of summer.








We didn't really notice very much in the way we designed towns and streets, houses, drains. Didn't really design with anything in mind but us lot. And so, the idea that "outside your house is the outside" isn't quite true. It's actually still human centric social space and can be very dangerous for other life forces.

The end of the world has already happened. The climate crisis is a sign that things have already gone drastically wrong in our, or at least the white western humans' relationships with the world. That doesn't mean it's too late. It just means that the world we thought to live in turns out not to be quite as it seemed. There's this thing that we call anthropocentrism which is the notion of putting human beings at the top of the hierarchy. The end of the world is the end of the idea that humans are the only people who have a world on this planet.

Timothy Morton

05 June 2020

and now it rains

This is the second day of rain, on and off, nothing too heavy, but rain. What a relief. I want a whole week of it.
A young pigeon sits on one of the almond trees outside the bedroom window every morning now, cooing persistently just after sunrise. It is a very loud cooing, let me tell you, but so far I have resisted the urge to clap my hands chasing it away.
The expert called and confirmed that I should continue to work from home and that the reason why so few people with chronic autoimmune diseases have been found to get ill with the virus has nothing to do with secret immune powers but with the fact that chronically ill people know how to keep away from risks.
Anyway.
She also stressed again that this is it for me, that there are no miracle cures and also, age . . . I told her I was on top of it all and happy with my lot and smiled my zoom smile because this was a zoom
doctor's appointment. And when she logged off I cursed the screen and ran to R for comfort. Side effect.

In gardening news, here is our Robin rose (and especially for Roger to stay well).


Also, a flowering stretch and potentially massive grape harvest to come.



The first of many lilies.


As for music on a Friday, I cannot think of anything that could lift my mood. So here is some spoken words from 1977.


02 June 2020

The Republic of Gilead

For a long time we were going away from Gilead and then we turned around and started going back towards Gilead.
Margaret Atwood


It got summery, hot even. We sleep with our windows wide open. There's night scented stock mixed with the smell of dry lawn. I listen. To the artist in the corner house across, she is in one of her manic phases, shouting curses at the moon, banging doors and kicking something down her front path. To the engineer from Palestine, smoking on his balcony, laughing on the phone to his brother in Australia. To the river barges' chuck chuck chuck down on the river. A baby wakes up briefly in one of the terraced houses behind us.

I am thinking, unconnected night thoughts.
Of something a friend mentioned during a conversation, when does a democracy  become an autocracy. Do we even notice? What if looting is all the power you have left in a constant state of injustice? But listen, she said, people see what they want to see. And many prefer to get upset about broken shop windows rather than the real reasons people are taking to the streets. I just can't imagine that this will suddenly change. It's been way too long for that.
(We both sighed, not really involved, but.)

Earlier after dinner, watching the news, I mentioned Gilead and R laughs, you have been watching too many TV series. Checks and balances, come on. But there's this nagging thought, when does a democracy turn into an autocracy and do we even notice, watching from afar? Can democracy across the Atlantic survive with four more years of this shit, kleptocracy, nepotism, corruption? What do I know.



29 May 2020

this summer and next summer







"So often these days, every living thing seems overwhelmingly tender and fragile to me. I can feel angry at the stupidity of those joining crowds and rejecting personal and community protection, but more often, I cry that people are so anxious they’re willing to deny reality. I hear them laughing together on the trail and wonder if they’re robbing themselves of laughing together in a few weeks, or months. Next summer. Ever."



The rambling rose is still flowering like there is no tomorrow. The peonies are rushing it, out in full force at sunrise and spent by dinner time. The lilies are beginning their show and cosmos, well, I don't remember cosmos blossoms in May. But there they are. Maybe I am overreacting and this is just the way things go. A friend from Berlin sends me pictures of racoons climbing onto her 3rd floow balcony, eating the left over crumbs from her breakfast. Here, we wake early to the shreeking of parakeets.
It's a wild world out there.

I am still waiting for the results from last week's botched coloscopy. My shit is no longer blue, took three days to get the dye out of my system. Mostly, I am too tired to get worked up about it. My bet, it's probably just nothing.
My father is leaving short cryptic messages on the answerphone in case the results are not good so he doesn't have to hear anything upsetting in person and lose his shit live.
Anyway, he has decided to fully embrace the easing of the lockdown by inviting his various female companions to lunch. One after the other, mind you. It sounds more flamboyant than it actually is. He just wants company while he eats.

We are watching films and episodes of series and I usually fall asleep half way through. R is not very good at recaps, let me tell you. I know we watched Canadian crime and Danish family drama, also a rather good road movie about a rich kid picking up a refugee in his stepfather's camper van (stolen) and both ending up in Calais. But other than that, it's a jumble.

I have attempted, with some success, to cycle a 10 km round trip along the river every evening. Except for one day when I fell asleep beforehand. I think that happened yesterday.

Friday's music is called Tiliboyo (sunset) and was composed by Foday Suso from Gambia. Played here by the Kronos Quartet. Their album Pieces of Africa is one my all time favourites.



22 May 2020

never a dull moment

 What should have been just another routine medical appointment turned into a rather lengthy painful procedure involving barfing all over the place and full anesthetics and sleeping it off at home - thankfully. Results in a week or so.

We had about seven drops of rain today. The sum total since I cannot remember when. This is the summer we need to seriously consider gardening in a changed climate. Daily watering is not an option. The rambling rose, however, is coping well. Even on a muggy day.


Words for our time:
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.
Flannery O'Connor

The most prominent and most frightening aspect of the escape from reality (. . . ) lies in the attitude to dealing with facts as if they were opinions.
Hannah Arendt


Also, it's Friday. This is music from Sweden.


19 May 2020

everything is going to be alright


flowering horse chestnut





Derek Mahon is an Irish poet, Andrew Scott is an Irish actor.


Today, I think that maybe we can be a society again, not just an economy.

15 May 2020

We will get through

 


Things to do in the belly of the whale
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.


Twice a week, I sit down and listen to our country's favourite virologist's podcast. He is a scientist by the book, someone who gets excited over a recent study regardless of the findings but because it was done carefully and with a high level of significance and proper statistics etc.
He tries - and succeeds - to explain the whole shitshow of media frenzy and panic stations and political scare mongering in rational, reasoned and factual words.


Our current national situation is, getting there. As long as we can keep the reproduction number (or R value) below 1 and preferably at around 0.75, we can handle the time to vaccine without overcrowding our medical services, using the hammer and dance approach, and in view of promising treatment strategies for those who get a bad case, keep the death rate minimal. 

The way I understand it:
1. The reproduction number, calculated daily by the national public health institute,  indicates how many people one person with the virus can infect. If the rate is equal to 1, it means that one person is infecting another, on average. We are currently hovering at or below 1, which is why a couple of social distancing measures have been relaxed. Should it climb and with it the number of new cases per 10,000 people in a district, we have to run for cover again. We are all becoming experts at numbers here.
2. Time to vaccine is - despite all the negative media headlines - estimated to be 18 months or thereabout, in other words, sometime before winter 2021. It take this from the virologist's mouth and I tend to trust him and his colleagues somewhat more than Tom, Dick or Harry on social media, regardless of how much expert knowledge they have gained from google university.
3. Read about the hammer and dance approach here
4. Promising treatment strategies are being researched in almost all science labs worldwide. I have great faith in this.

Enough of that. It is Friday, time for music.





08 May 2020

Music on this Friday, May 8th



When In first heard this music, as part of a documentary on concentration camps in Poland, several years ago, I felt crushed, burdened, stunned, obviously. This history will never leave us and so it should be. I was born into this history and I have no time for forgive and forget.
I know I am not alone with that thought. There must not be an end to remembering. Our shame would be not remembering.

This is the second movement of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The lyrics are a prayer inscribed on a cell wall in a gestapo headquarters in Poland by a young woman in 1944. It is the Zdrowas Mario, or Ave Maria: No, Mother, do not weep.



Seventy-five years ago, WWII ended. For a long time I felt relieved that both my parents had been too young to join the army, that my father was a schoolboy and my mother, well we don't really know, but not in uniform. She struggled all her adult life with demons and memories, and we struggled with her not knowing what that shadow was that hung over all of us.

Back in early January of this year when we thought life would just meander on the way we expected, I decided that this year we would go and visit all accessible memorial places and historic monuments on the nazi terror. This had been on my mind for years. I must admit that I had avoided this issue for too long but after we visited Dachau a few years ago, I realised that while it was really hard to do, I need to continue. This is not something I can explain very well and R, bless his Irish historically neutral soul, tags along to hold my hand.  So. We got out a map and circled areas and made lists and I downloaded all the visitors' information from the various sites and that was that.
But eventually.


05 May 2020

not quite there

this is from last year but it did look the same this year


Today is one of these days when I tell myself over and over and over that it'll be ok, that we will be ok, that I'll be ok, Eventually. Not today. Not quite. But eventually. Again. A year maybe, two years.

Conversations:

I attempt to explain to my daughter the differences in our mothering. I tell her how glad I am that she doesn't need to constantly fear that her child may turn away from her if she says or asks for something that may not immediately be pleasant, something that could demand an effort, an understanding, a challenge. I tell her that she comes from a different place, that she grew up with a mother who most of all and always wanted her to never feel rejected, who never ever wanted her to feel abandoned the way I did and that this resulted in her occasionally getting away with stuff for reasons . . . I know, Mum,  she responds calmly.

I attempt to explain to my father that just because numbers are down thanks to weeks of social distancing, the virus hasn't disappeared, that risk persons like him - and me - are still at risk. I keep my voice down reiterating the need to wash hands, yes even after getting cash from an ATM where you punch in numbers because someone else may have touched that key pad, and yes even if only one person was there before you . . . and I think how in an ideal world, many years ago, a father may have explained this to his daughter.


. . . the human condition today—an extraordinary and complex level of global interdependence unseen in the story of our species—will magnify the pandemic's effects on a profoundly disproportionate scale. One way or another, this pandemic will touch everyone alive today, thanks to globalization. Much of the result will be tragic. But I try to take heart that with massive trauma comes a new alertness—perhaps in this case, a heightened awareness that our lives are truly interlinked, and therefore must be valued everywhere.

Paul Salopek