25 October 2016

I asked, acceptance, why is it so hard, tell me what to do.
And I was told to sit still, relax, breathe and repeat to myself quietly for the next 20 mins: who and what am I rejecting in my life right now?
Just this, don't search for an answer.
Try it. You may find a vast open space full of blue sky. Maybe.

21 October 2016

it is time for this

History will record that this was the decade when women owned funny. Or anyway drink this:
They lean in with the ingredients that they have been gathering for days, for years, to make the potion potent.
Eye of newt. Wool of bat. Woman cards, both tarot and credit. Binders. Lemons. Lemonade. Letters to the editor saying that a woman could not govern at that time of month — when in fact she would be at the height of her power and capable of unleashing the maximum number of moon-sicknesses against our enemies, but the nasty women do not stoop to correct this.
They drop in paradoxes: powerful rings that give you everything and keep you from getting the job, heels that only move forward by moving backward, skirts that are too long and too short at the same time, comic-book drawings whose anatomy defies gravity, suits that become pantsuits when a woman slips them on, enchanted shirts and skirts and sweaters that can ask for it, whatever it is, on their own. They take the essence of a million locker rooms wrung out of towels and drop it in, one drip at a time. Then stir.
They sprinkle it with the brains of the people who did not recognize that they were doctors, pepper it with ground-up essays by respected men asking why women aren’t funny, whip in six pounds of pressure and demands for perfection. They drizzle it with the laughter of women in commercials holding salads and the rueful smiles of women in commercials peddling digestive yogurts. They toss in some armpit hair and a wizened old bat, just to be safe. And wine. Plenty of wine. And cold bathwater. Then they leave it to simmer.
And they whisper incantations into it, too. They whisper to it years of shame and blame and what-were-you-wearing and boys-will-be-boys. They tell the formless mass in the cauldron tales of the too many times that they were told they were too much. Too loud. Too emotional. Too bossy. Insufficiently smiling. The words shouted at them as they walked down the streets. The words typed at them when their minds traveled through the Internet. Every concession they were told to make so that they took up less space. Every time they were too mean or too nice or shaped wrong. Every time they were told they were different, other, objects, the princess at the end of the quest, the grab-bag prize for the end of the party.
They pour them all into a terrible and bitter brew and stir to taste.
It tastes nasty. It is the taste of why we cannot have nice things, and they are used to that.

Perhaps if the potion works, they will not have to be.
The nasty women have a great deal to do before the moon sinks back beneath the horizon.
But that is all right. They know how to get things done.

Alexandra Petri 

20 October 2016

my homes, part II

This has been unexpectedly difficult. I don't know how many times I have started writing this post. Mostly,  I got lost in much too detailed descriptions of quite boring episodes from happy/unhappy childhood, seasons 1-15, in long and unwanted contemplation of my mother's life, which always ends poorly for both of us. Some days, I found myself considering motherhood in general and how so many adult children I know have this amazing capacity to keep a pragmatic distance, storing their mothers somewhere in a drawer marked 'slightly doddery and definitely tedious' until emergency strikes (this after watching season 2 of Transparent, esp. the last episode). My own daughter is a case in point. She can be adoringly ruthless and dismissive.
If only I could have had some of her confidence at the time.

Anyway, none of which gets me where I want this to go.

Throughout my childhood and my teenage years in southern and northern Bavaria, i.e. Franconia - and later as a university student in Heidelberg - the US army was all over the place. In Freising, where I was born, my parents lived next door to young GI families, sharing playgrounds and childcare and baby gear. Shortly before we moved, my father was offered a research fellowship in Alaska for three years and decided against it based on the recommendations of these GI friends (too cold, too boring). So I have been told but I suspect there were other reasons.
My point is that during the late 1950s, the US army families provided a much needed breath of fresh air, careless fun and pragmatic innocence, new references so to speak, to my parent's generation who had barely if at all begun to recover from the war and all that unmentionable shame.

By the time we moved to our brand new home in this Franconian city, my father, who was in his early 30s, had climbed to a surprising height on his career ladder and that allowed my parents to become somewhat haughty again, which means that our sitting room had walls of books, the music was ever only classical, the table cloth on Sundays old family linen etc. And most certainly no tv, not for ages, the world was always neatly separated into us and them (imagine a pyramid shape).
The house was a 1960s dream come true with central heating, a large open space sitting room with French windows complete with fringed striped canopy, jazzy ironwork banisters, crazy paving in pastels from the garage all through the garden and to the back door. Two (!) bathrooms, a fully equipped laundry in the basement and so on.
my mother knitted our matching blue coats with the white buttons

The area was about to be developed from a sleepy farming village, surrounded by oak forests and a disused historic canal perfect for ice skating, into a neat middle class hub of family life with access to the city. It all looked a bit like this watercolour by Albrecht Dürer. Actually, it didn't just look like it, this is the actual village, only he lived there for a while long before we moved in.

 It was a fabulous place with amazing freedom.

Lots of kids, on scooters, bicycles, roller skates, roaming the forest, climbing trees, building dens, gang warfare with snowballs in winter, collecting mushrooms on the way home from school, flying kites and crossing forbidden main roads, exploring the building sites of this growing suburb, coming home in the evenings covered in muck and dust, no questions asked.

And in between the proper German family homes with their pianos and cultivated gardens, the boring Sunday afternoons with Kaffee und Kuchen using the best family china, there lived many US army families, who had barbecues on the front steps. Imagine: a grilled hamburger between two slices of white toast (we only got white toast when we had a tummy upset). We stood there in our Sunday's best and stared at these lively people wearing shorts and playing loud music from a transistor radio  (music as in AFN). The gates stood open and that's all we needed, never mind the language. I spent wonderful afternoons exploring the mysterious world of Barbie dolls and Superman comics (we were allowed one comic only when we had to stay in bed with a fever and my mother would choose it personally), chewing bubble gum and eating peanut butter - with a spoon. Soon we were friends waving to each other in the mornings on our way to school, the US kids in their strange yellow bus, the German kids on their bicycles.
It was a wild time, believe me.

But with the cold war getting hotter, the army moved their families into compounds and our neighbourhood was once again ruled by Mittagsruhe and white knee socks on Sundays. Still, we had the great outdoors all to ourselves and for a while longer at least, no adult interference.
It ended when I started secondary school - at age 10 - and had to spend hours commuting back and forth, plus piano lessons and horse riding lessons and tennis lessons and whatever else my parents considered essential in molding us into proper representatives of their make believe world of academia.

18 October 2016

We are on autumn midterm break and move around the house and garden in very slow motion. Wait, that's me, R has been digging and relaying a path at the bottom of the garden most of the day. After which he wolfed down the delicious dinner I prepared (pasta with pears, wild mushrooms and gorgonzola, a very small bowl of the first tiny tender Brussel sprouts and a salad of baby spinach with Moroccan olives, beetroot (boiled and sliced) and sour cream dressing) and now he is sitting at his desk marking exam papers listening to African jazz or something equally lively and invigorating. Whereas I have almost exhausted my daily dose of energy and typing is all that stops me from falling asleep.
I am exaggerating. I am merely lazy as hell. In fact, I cleaned the downstairs windows this morning and I finished editing a long and rather repetitive paper on genetic predispositions for lipid diseases. Seriously, I am hopeless with genetics (and science, I admit it, I admit it), all that stuff about heterozygosity or homozygosity, I haven't a clue. Well, we all have to earn a living somehow. Just don't ask how I got stuck with this line of work. Maybe I'll write it down one day.
Last night I had the weirdest, most vivid dream and this morning, I read several blog posts about people's weird dreams. The moon, never underestimate the moon. But don't tell my father I said so.
Anyway, in my dream, an old friend from long ago brought me to a party with lots of drugs and mountains of food and everyone was dressed as a character from Alice in Wonderland. It went on from there. I was glad to wake up eventually. But I remember that one of the guys wore gold trousers.

13 October 2016

These are almost the last grapes. There is one chock full vine still out there waiting for even colder nights and a few more sunny days to give the grapes that extra thrill and sweetness. This lot here has a sugar content of 16% and a potential alcohol content of 8% but we have already devoured them. Rapidly. The plumeria, now indoors, continues to produce buds. So there is hope. Every morning, I whisper my encouraging thoughts while I dust it with distilled water.

What an exciting week so far! I made new friends and no enemies. When I walked out of the surgery yesterday, pressing onto the small bandage in the crook of my right arm, it all made sudden sense. But only for a second.
The good news is that while both my kidneys are odd, they are well. So after he explained all that business about floating kidney and stuff, we parted for good, the nephrologist and I, both hoping we may never meet again.
Whereas the moody rheumatologist and the jolly radiologist are now in my inner circle of close buddies after we spent a fair amount of time together, mostly considering the state and fate of my hands and feet, of which all four have started to display signs of 'involvement'. 
Strictly speaking, my hands have always been involved hands, I tend to wave them around a lot and as my disgusted father remarks - unsuccessfully in my case - one does not point with a naked finger at dressed people and so on. But recently when I make a fist with my right hand it shifts sideways reminding me of Kermit's face when he gets aggravated. My two new friends agreed and provided the proper  terms like cysts and ulnar drifts. 
It seems, that all my secret dreams of becoming a world famous pianist are now shattered but I can, so far, do all the necessary stuff excl. opening a new jam jar in the morning which is where R comes in. Handy  (sic).
As for my feet, any hill walking expeditions scheduled for this winter may have to be curtailed. Obviously I shall cross the Alps by bicycle instead. 
I'll have to anyway.
Last December, I successfully avoided the big boss's Xmas dinner but only after I had submitted the dreaded list-of-three-goals for the coming year: one academic, one business, one personal (while he is a brilliant scientist, he is a lousy business manager). In a fit of madness and giggles, I wrote "crossing the Alps by by bicycle" as my personal goal for 2016. Deep down I thought he would get the joke but as it turns out, he used my email as part of his pep talk at the dinner. Which explains why from time to time people come up to me and ask for cycle routes from Oberstdorf or Mittenwald or whether the Inn valley is a better choice.
So, maybe next year. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, here is something I whipped up in the last couple of weeks, just to show them, rheumatologists and all the other busybodies .  

09 October 2016

Of course some women will continue to collude with these scumbags, they will vote for Trump, they will excuse him. Women are good at excusing men. If we weren’t, the human race would die out. Some women will look away, believing men can’t help it and carry on humouring the “banter”. You drop something in a restaurant and a guy says: “While you are down there love…” and you laugh because if you didn’t you might stick a fork in his eye. And you remember being 14 and being bruised from mere “groping” but thinking yourself lucky because the worst didn’t happen. You think about how you knew the practice of misogyny long before you heard the theory, so wonder how the good guys are slightly baffled by it.
For misogyny is not some secret society, a form of freemasonry. It is mainstream. It is endorsed by Trump. It is not simply unacceptable, it is murderous.
Kill it dead.

Suzanne Moore - to the point

08 October 2016

I want to write down a good few things about all sorts but we just got an orange alert on our phones for night frost and although we doubt it will be happening - much too early, but you never know - the task at hand now is moving all of the delicate plants incl. the massive plumeria indoors.
So briefly, I was the only person cycling through the rainy forest yesterday after work.
Plenty of birds all around me though. It was gorgeous - and cold.

06 October 2016

Suddenly we are looking for mittens and scarves and keep the windows shut!! Not quite but almost frost this morning. I had forgotten how cold air stings the face and ears when cycling downhill. Last night after I had taken this picture on my way home, I was just so miserably cold that I had to moan for a while about five months of this etc. until I found some decent cat movies on the internet. As usual, R just ignored my complaints.
One month since the 3rd monoclonal antibody treatment and I am slowly beginning to feel more alive, trusting the level of energy to not drop suddenly and in the middle of things - it still happens but not as dramatically as during the summer. I'll go with the flow for the time being, some days are best forgotten, others are brilliant. Four more medical appointments this month, I am losing the plot here. Anyway, thank heavens for this country's socialist health insurance. This month started expensive, I paid 10 Euros for 12 weeks medication. 

29 September 2016

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies
from a longer poem (I have news for you) by Tony Hoagland

You know what made me a tiny bit mad today, when this young smart healthy person in a moment of feel-good-compassion got all serious and put her hand on my arm, looked into my eyes and felt the need to tell me this was all wrong, that I was letting the disease take over, that I was losing myself being ill, that - oh no - I was becoming this disease and that she for one could not watch it any longer, because I am on my way to hell and depression and so on. And it hurts her to see how I have changed, worse, that I have allowed myself to be changed.
WTF, I almost replied, you don't even know how to spell  'this disease'. You have no idea of its symptoms and risks, you are too healthy to even dream of being ill beyond a sore throat. There are parts of our universes that do not overlap.
Anyway, said nothing. I smiled and thanked her for her concern before she was off on her merry way.
And do you know something else? I once was just like her.

Anyway, this autumn is like summer. The plumeria is about to flower, probably on the first October weekend. It feels wrong, there is no other way to describe this feeling in my gut.

22 September 2016

Some days I become a factory for sad thoughts: the night shift starts not when I go to bed, but when I decide to go to bed. As I turn the lights out. the factory lights come on. I used to make them by hand, the sad thoughts, but lately it's become more of an assembly line, the machines doing all the work: I sleep, and in the morning I have another consignment ready for distribution; for export, for import.

Patrick McGuinness 

I watched the documentary about the Syrian Civil Defense last night. It's only half an hour long.
It has won prizes at film festivals. This is the world we live in.

My father only talks about the war when I ask him specifically. Only once did he speak about the bomb raids . Now, he doesn't want me to mention it.
My mother never said a word, but when there was a heavy thunderstorm at night, she would walk the house, silently stand by our beds until my father came to bring her back to bed.
I never even tried to understand, I was far too angry. Why don't you just get on with life, I asked her.

19 September 2016

my homes, part 1

My first home was the drafty two room apartment my parents had moved in after they got married. I have no memories, only pictures. This was in the small, extremely catholic Bavarian town of Freising, with a large cathedral, one of the world's oldest breweries and - most importantly - the agricultural science department of the university of Munich.

Money was tight, my parents were young with two small children, my father worked as a junior researcher and my mother was slowly losing all hopes of ever returning to her university career. The story goes that I slept in one of the large wicker laundry baskets I now use in my attic to hold S's toys and a variety of sleeping bags.

There is a family anecdote whereby I fell out of the window while my big sister, who was four years old at the time, was watching me. The window was on the ground floor and I fell onto a soft lawn and my sister apparently went to my mother with the news that I had walked out. Soon after that, my father got his first car, a beige VW beetle, and his career took off.
My mother got pregnant for the third time and we moved to spacious apartment with a large garden and babysitters when my parents had dinner guests. The one vivid memory I have of this place is of the day my baby brother had an accident. In the evening, me and my sister were sent home by the neighbours, who had been looking after us and I noticed that one of the paving stones near the front door was cracked. For some reason, I was convinced that the ambulance crew had broken it and that made me mad enough to throw a massive tantrum.
Shortly before my fourth birthday, my father was headhunted away from the university and we moved north, back to my father's Franconian homeland into a newly built semi-detached house. In fact, it was still a building site. We moved during a very hard winter and during that winter, my mother's life started to unravel.

16 September 2016

Two weeks ago I watched the agonisingly slow monoclonal antibody infusion dripping into my vein, my blood pressure dropping so low I could not keep my body upright.

This morning I stood in the basement gym of the local protestant church, in a group of mostly elderly Muslim women, getting ready for an hour of Qi Gong. Lots of deep breathing, confusion, sweating and plenty of laughter.

Last night, a short downpour after another week of record temperatures, and autumn is in the air.

13 September 2016

This film is based on a poem by Jenifer Toksvig called 'What they took with them', which was inspired by stories and first-hand testimonies from refugees forced to flee their homes and the items they took with them.

07 September 2016

summer gatherings, final

1988, already steps ahead
The ground not quite there where it should be underneath my feet. But this I know: Soon I will feel it again and eventually I will go upstairs and take the sheets off the bed and fill the washing machine, the last couple of loads of summer gathering laundry.
Maybe not exactly today, there is no rush.

It's been a full summer and she was my shiny diamond throughout. It was a wonderful summer when she was around (and a pretty awful summer when she was not. Next time, I want intend to be considerably more healthy).

I forgot how deep it goes, how physical this feeling is, how heavy my arms and legs become  watching the departing car. Her serious face behind her sunglasses, while I am wiping away tears. Only minutes earlier we were snapping at each other, stop taking pictures of me, (stop being such a mum, stop being such a teenager) and now there she goes again, a car on the motorway to the airport.
In a couple of hours I will check the website that allows me to track their flights over the next two days and by the time they are back home with the cat and the dog, I know that I will have found the ground beneath my feet as well.

She moved out 14 years ago, slowly widening the gap (which now is 18,000 km wide). I know the drill. We usually argue at the last minute. Before we start crying.

Again. I let her go back to her amazing life. And you have no idea how amazing!

If this is true:
I suppose we are all products of our parents' joy and suffering. Their emotions are written into us as much as the inscriptions made by their genes.
(Siri Hustvedt)

Then she got all our joy genes.

Thank you my love for a wonderful summer.

06 September 2016

and so the night comes without fuss
like the quiet and graceful appearance
of an orca's six-foot dorsal fin
beside your kayak -
the whole creature bearing you
until it passes

Lynn Davidson

02 September 2016

What was intended as a 12 hrs max exercise/adventure has now expanded into three days and two nights of interrupted sleep and questionable food. However, the coffee is fabulous.
At this stage - helped by the prospect of going home as soon as the infusion has been fed drip by slow drip into my vein - I am so grateful for the kindness and skill and indeed thorough treatment plus detailed explanations of every step that I could start crying when the next smiling face walks into the room to monitor my process.
This morning I assured the ward nurse that I can find my own way to another  dept. where yet more tests had been scheduled and for the first time I walked across "my" campus as a patient using the shortcuts through a small green area only staff know. The early morning air was like a special welcome and as I stood there with my eyes closed facing the September sun and letting the breeze gently lift and carry away all lingering traces of the night, the smell of disinfectants and illness and fear that had  gathered inside and around me, this poem by Wendell Berry came to mind. 

There are new challenges, new results as I move into autumn and winter and I am not sure how I will be able to accommodate it all. But nobody knows and this is a comfort. 

31 August 2016

I am in a hospital room. Almost everything is white except for the pale wooden doors and a non descript painting on the wall. A tranquil beach scene. Possibly a donation from one of the local charity artists auctions. 
Things did not proceed as expected but not I hope due to anything I did or that was found in the myriad tests and blood samples that were done all day.
I am all by myself with the aircondition humming for company. Tomorrow after breakfast, they promised me. Which means I could be home in the afternoon.

In between and all day I have been reading one of Colm Toibin's earlier novels, The Blackwater Lightship, with his exquisitely sharp description of a failed mother - daughter relationship and it has brought back so many memories of the days when all I could think of was how to get away. Far far away. From her and the house and all that was in it. I know I tried to mellow with age - something she wasn't able to either. Well meaning friends as well as total strangers have urged me to forgive and forget and all that stuff about closure  (what is closure?). I did try and I will probably go on trying. But there is no getting away from it. Our relationship was running on a strong current of mutual dislike, disgust and distrust (nice alliteration here but coincidental) and my sister and I are doing our utmost to keep it going. We have set our course, we keep at it.  We had an excellent teacher.
Oh there are moments of genuine kindness and even sisterhood, the positive kind, but these are mere sparks from a time we have almost forgotten.

The day before my mother's life was so unexpectedly reduced to those remaining six months of misery and agony, one day after her successful heart surgery, when she was totally sober except for whatever pain killers they may have given her on the ICU - totally sober for the first time in maybe 30 years - I had gathered the courage to phone the hospital (a safe 300+ km away) and before I could protest they put her on and for a brief five or maybe fifteen minutes my real mother, the one I had loved so fiercely as a child and who had truly loved me as she once did love all her children, spoke to me. She spoke to me the way a mother speaks to her daughter regardless of time and age. Like I can speak to my daughter so often and so easily. Her voice was calm and reassuring and she called me by the name she used when I was small. A name she had not used for 30 years (or if so, only sarcastically. She had a thing for sarcasm.)
Her lungs collapsed later that day and with it her power of speech and her will to live. My sister has not forgiven me for being the first (and last) of us to speak with our mother. We have tried to talk about it but she carries this inside her heart like a sharp weapon and I know I haven't a hope.

30 August 2016

In a nutshell

The boss meets the negotiator from the personnel dept. who meets the negotiator from the government agency (who will partly fund my assistant if the boss pays the rest) who turns to me with that cheery social worker smile (no offence) and asks me: in a nutshell, how do you notice a flare up of your what was the name of your chronic disease?

Well, I imagine I answered, it starts with this feeling of utter tiredness washing over me. You know like the time when I was breastfeeding for nights on end. No sleep until I lost all sense of time. But this here is without the exhilarating happiness. More like something fierce holding me down and pushing against my chest. Like walking through deep wet snow. Or trying to swim against a strong current too scared to let go but knowing I will have to.
When the stuff that's been clogging up my sinuses for the last couple of weeks turns out to be crusts of blood and it takes longer every morning to clear. When the tinitus bass quartet in my ears (ok I know it actually is in the brain but) has become a full orchestra with cymbals and trombones and a massive percussion section.
When I count every blessed hour without vertigo - keeping fingers crossed but knowing it can happen any minute because my ears are throbbing and aching ready to explode.
Basically, I could explain, basically this is just the beginning. Those weeks when my head packs it in because you know, everything is too noisy too fast too much even my own miserable voice. By then usually my stomach and my liver and my intestine begin to act up which can be rather painful and tedious because food becomes a problem and sometimes the heart cuts out for a bit on and off and I wake up about 100 times at night soaking wet and shivering and wondering what the heck and I could go on.

But no. You want it in a nutshell. Microvessels get inflamed anywhere in my body but mostly in my inner ears, lungs, throat, stomach, guts and heart due to a programming error of my immune system.

Which is why I am going to hospital on Wednesday for another round of monoclonal antibody infusions. The miracle therapy - here's hoping.

(The boss BTW is going to cough up the money and recruitment for my assistant has started today.)

29 August 2016

Three disturbing things I found out today:

  1. The first shampoo was sold in 1927.
  2. The office of the dean at our local university (founded in 1777, 33,000 students, seven Nobel Laureates so far) is going to introduce parent - lecturer evenings so that the mums and dads of the undergraduates can check on homework and grades.
  3. At our local primary school, a private security firm was hired to supervise the first-graders first day, esp. preventing parents and their many relatives from sitting down at the desk next to their little ones, following them onto the hall stage when all first-graders came together for a song, and managing the queues outside the principal's office for special requests.  The situation at the parking lot was said to be chaotic to put it mildly. 

28 August 2016

Vanessa cardui

Look! All five chrysalides have hatched, these guys are getting restless, ready to be released tomorrow.

26 August 2016

cycled to GP, legs shaking and slightly weepy considering my lack of strength, got her blessings and went to work, survived five hours, drove home, outside temps nearing 40°C, ozone warning from city officials, hid inside the cool house, briefest possible visit to the self pity stop, watched silly cat videos for a while

25 August 2016

so then so there so what

I got a bit of an earful from R after mentioning "so then so there so what" without the proper reference. How could I!
So then  so there so what is the title of a song by Zig and Zag, two hideous puppets who for quite some time during the 1980s and 1990s were members of our family - sort of. They had a Saturday morning TV show that fitted in nicely with our schedule (parents in bed, daughter in front of the box) and they produced cassette tapes (remember?) which were used during our years in Africa to shut up the child on long journeys and/or retain a decent enough Irish accent. Of course, we all speak a much more refined version.
The song is fairly mediocre but it gives you an overall idea of the general attitude during our child rearing days.

We got a lot more mileage from the Belly Button Fluff:

And I could get quite emotional about this one (my daughter used to sing along):

23 August 2016

Classic mistake. I went back to work because I wanted to show my superhuman commitment and let everybody think what an obviously  tough and dedicated person I am but also because of cabin fever setting in and frankly, because I miss work and for a while I thought I could pretend it's all down to willpower and taking control and just doing it.
Of course it is not, what on earth was I thinking, and so here I am, the stranded beetle once again, trying to remain cool and calm and composed and carefree about the variety of new symptoms. Obviously, I could write about them endlessly but right now I just want to let them be.
So then, so there, so what - as we tend so remark in this family before we move on to our next mistake.

The summer is entering its seedy phase when you stop caring about the flower beds overgrowing with weeds and no longer brush away the spider nets between the garden chairs. The first apples are falling off the tree, there are masses of blueberries, R is shaking the hazel bushes every evening collecting handfuls, the blackbirds are eating the grapes and someone's cat has started to shit on our lawn. Or maybe a hedgehog. Never mind, go right ahead. We know this is going to be over soon enough. Hot sun on your skin, warm wind in the evening, open windows at night. In a few weeks, the spiders will be dust and we will wear long sleeved garments again. I even may be able to recover some semblance of health and fitness. Alternatively, I may find myself without a job and will start making quilts and read that silly meaningful book on how to reorganise your wardrobe with the sock rolled up in a peculiar colour coded way.

The butterfly larvae ate their way to fat green and black caterpillars before turning into shiny hard grey chrysalises speckled with a line a golden dots. There are now hanging almost motionless inside their habitat (a mesh cage) until some time maybe this week or next week they will mysteriously unfold their magic wings and teach us a thing or two about beauty.

It's amazing, isn't it, how all this goes on around me, just waiting for me to notice and be surprised and awed.

Outside there's children laughing
The radio plays my favourite song
The sun is shinning
Oh and peace broke out in the world
And no-one says a cruel word
And peace is the sweetest sound I've ever heard


20 August 2016

I have been thinking a lot about the video of the young boy in Aleppo and why I posted it. Because my father is right, there is nothing we can do. And I admit that I posted it partly because he said this to me and also because I didn't know what to do with my anguish, how to soften the blow. Which of course has no effect other than a feeling of: see? There you have it. In your face, you cruel world.

The boy BTW is back home with his family, he was (physically) not seriously injured. We cannot imagine what "home" means in this context, how he, his family and the other 300,000 remaining residents of Aleppo get through their days.

I remember when the bazaar of Aleppo was burned to the ground in 2012 and the reaction in the media, what a loss and what a shame. I met a Syrian taxi driver a few days later (we have many Syrian taxi drivers) and he was so upset, the souk, our souk, he cried, all gone! Four years ago, there was outrage because a UNESCO heritage site was destroyed.

Meanwhile, we can donate some of our spare cash to the various aid agencies which are doing amazing things and sleep a little better. Or we can read this report by Dr Sahloul, a physician from Chicago working in Aleppo and lose more sleep.

But most of all, I would like to see this happen:

18 August 2016

My father tells me don't look at it. There is nothing we can do.
We are speechless for a short  moment before he berates me about something or other and I can take a deep breath of anger.

14 August 2016

There is this slight feeling of ground between my feet. Although to be honest, after almost four weeks  in the horizontal position I am not certain, could be wishful thinking.

At least I don't fall asleep any longer listening to podcasts. Which means that I have been discovering once more how everything is connected. Don't ask. But in my addled little brain this listening sequence was entirely logical: about folk singer Richard Farina, Irish spy and tearoom lady  Margaret Kearney Taylor,  the amazing story of Bala and Shamira Amarasekaran's chimpanzee sanctuary in Sierra Leone,  and the inspiring approach of flipping the script (reverse the usual or existing positions in a situation; do something unexpected or revolutionary) when confronted with hate.
In short, I have once again been able to reassure myself that the world is simply amazing.

The butterfly larvae are getting fat, R has dug up all the potatoes, cooked huge quantities of tomatoe sauce, now ready to go into the freezer, he swept all the floors and cleaned the cooker (surface). He has been cooking dinners for the last six years anyway, knows how to change sheets and do laundry, enjoys grocery shopping to the point that I have given up all hope of ever writing a shopping list again - although this morning I had to mention the neglected bathroom and the ironing . . .
No, seriously, no I did not. I swear.

The summer gatherings are slowly coming to an end, our various visitors are on their last missions catching up with more family and friends elsewhere before coming here again for a last and possibly weepy celebration of life as a family. This is my kitchen window and my daughter cooking (she got that from her father):

11 August 2016

these are the days of miracle and wonder

On the day when your boss calls you to assess whether you are still an asset or possibly already a massive burden and you really couldn't care because you spent most of the night coughing

on the day your GP confirms that this isn't strep throat but in fact scarlet fever and that it will take a good while longer before you will enjoy whatever you imagined this summer still has to offer

on the day your sister tells you - sort of by the way - that just before we all got together under my granny's apple trees, three and a half weeks ago, her granddaughter, the sweet but somewhat cranky toddler we all passed around from lap to lap that afternoon, had developed the tell tale rash plus fever and that the pediatrician had warned earlier that she was highly contagious and should be kept at home but my sister felt what the heck

on the day that you open a small parcel that your science teacher husband has placed on the lunch table

you realise that obviously this is the day you start breeding your very own butterfly family.

These are the first five larvae just after arrival. If it works out, I am going for hundreds. This year, we have counted numerous useless Cabbage Whites, one Brimstone and one lonely Red Admiral on our butterfly friendly flowering plants. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

10 August 2016

Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degrees of presence.
Alan Watts

09 August 2016

The night sky reminds me of my wild and adventurous life. The mild breeze, the bats swooping through the air. These memories are good ones, mostly. The feeling that I have done stuff,  felt deeply and laughed often, experienced the freedom that is only possible when being loved.

It's a delicate thing. Remembering.

Other times all I seem to do is compare the present to the my glorious healthy past. This of course, is just bullshit. I am in good shape, diagnostically speaking, immunologically speaking. Everything is under control, all systems observed and checked. No imminent danger. Etc.

And yet, the mind does get stuck on limitations, loss, the never again scenario.  I wonder why.
Mostly now I can ride it out, I have been there often enough (she checks her back just in case). I can fool my people into thinking that I am honky dory super well. For a while, until my voice starts to crack for a microsecond now and then and my breathing becomes slightly uneven. And everything becomes a dead give away and R reaches across the table. (That in itself is a comfort and a luxury. I realise that.)

For some time and without being too aware of it I have started to cultivate places in my mind, quiet hidden places of withdrawal and secrecy where it does not matter how I feel, where I can forgive myself for feeling sorry and afraid. It's no use pretending I have stopped mourning for my healthy life but at least I don't do this  too often. It gets too tedious. And there are moments when even my most stubborn source of self pity shouts: enough.

I am running out of strategies but it doesn't matter. The unexpected has enough purpose and potential.

08 August 2016

pretending there is deeper meaning in Brit pop lyrics

There's nothing left, all gone and run away
Maybe you'll tarry for a while
It's just a test, a game for us to play
Win or lose, it's hard to smile
Resist, resist, it's from yourself you have to hide.
(Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel)

There are moments when I think I can see a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. A tiny little light, or should I say a spark, a really short spark, but what the heck. I have always been impatient and it has not never been to my advantage. That much I know after a long life of running into that wall.
It's hard work and only the heavens know why I am making it so hard for myself.
But the thought that I have been here before cheers me up nevertheless, that and remembering that not too long ago, I had the energy to walk and cycle and work and iron and wash the kitchen floor - even all on the same day.
This time around, I don't even have the patience for distraction. Instead, I just lie there in the boring horizontal position and watch the sunlight move across the ceiling, losing track of time.
Maybe tomorrow will be better, maybe the flickering light will get brighter.
Or maybe on Wednesday.

It's not awful, mind you. It's just so ugh, tedious, repetitive, pointless. But what do I know. Being ill has never made sense to me yet. Yet. And basically, i wanted an excuse to post the song.

What follows is totally random stuff from Austria, Italy and Bavaria.
The signs says: Watch our for roof avalanches (Füssen, Bavaria9

Pfunds, Austria (Heide was not in)

Lago di Vernago, Val Senales, Alto Adige, Italy

Pfunds, Austria

Füssen, Bavaria

Füssen, Bavaria

motorway restaurant Illertal, Bavaria

05 August 2016

What are days for?
To wake us up.
To put between the endless nights.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They flow and then they flow.
They come, they fade, they go and they go.
(Laurie Anderson)

A calm day, a pleasant, wonderful day. A day like an anchor. In the morning I faint after the shower and R runs up the stairs with a cup of strong tea. Based on this past week, whatever recovery I am expecting, it is going to be very slow. I spend large parts of the day in bed where I carefully select a podcast to listen to and soon fall into a floating dreamlike state, voices inside and outside of me fading through the open window and up into the sky. I like to think of it as meditation. 

Eventually, some part of me wants to get up and, dutifully and carefully, I move around, almost sleep walking, deadheading flowers, rinsing the tea pot, hosing down the patio, changing towels, until I am breaking out into a sweat and my heart starts banging with an angry fist. 
After my lunch time cup of milky coffee, I fall asleep for a while. Later, we watch Heart of a Dog, R leaning over the edge of the sofa holding my hands. In paradise, we often played our Laurie Anderson tape in the evening after sunset, sitting on the stairs with the dogs, chatting with passing neighbours, all the kids running around under the mango trees, singing O Superman.

Meanwhile, our daughter, our married grown up daughter is in Ireland, with her man and her friends, retracing our steps from the summer of 1979. They send little snaps from Connemara, smiling in the rain, running along windy beaches, like tourists in their tweed caps, cycling on Clare Island.

Turning time around
That is what love is
Turning time around
Yes, that is what love is
(Lou Reed)

04 August 2016

When you have no choice, don't be afraid.

proverb from somewhere, I forget

02 August 2016

My secret life of luxury

The main thing is juggling. Keeping it all in balance, not getting distracted by self pity and outbursts of angry howling and banging of fists into the next best pillow. 
It's a simple list of tasks when you look at it: rest, crawl into shower, struggle with towels and clothing, don't look in the mirror, ignore laundry and ironing, rest, answer - cheerfully - any phone calls, watch mindless online tv, rest, sleep, eat something, drink plenty of water, rest, read, fall asleep reading, ignore work emails and - most importantly - be nice to the man in the house.
That's the worst case scenario for the next two weeks, more or less.
Of course, in my wildest dreams . . .

31 July 2016

Can't shake off this strep throat or whatever it was (is?). While my throat is ok again, the rest of me seems to have been hit by a truck, repeatedly, and according to our newfangled infrared auricular thermometer, I am running a fever. R, my personal science teacher/health coach has established a detailed routine and is using his very own ear for control measurements.
So, well yes, this puts a damper on things. Yet again.

In my dreams last night, Vince called and asked me to come over and watch a video with him. I also got some weed and this movie is fab, he said. Or you can just drink tea, whatever.
Vince died in a car crash in 1997.
I mean, dreams. Come on.

When I told R - and I was laughing at the time - he got all worried for a bit. Could you maybe just resign from work?, he asked. No way, I replied, not because of a strep throat.

But I hate the thought of having to get yet another sick cert tomorrow.

Here are some more pictures I took on my fabulous holiday in the Italian Alps (only a few weeks ago, hard to believe) when we visited the Oetzi archeology park near where the mummified body of the famous iceman was found.

I week later, under my grandmother's apple trees, one of my cousins, a retired chief inspector with the police (I have all sorts of relatives incl. priests of at least two denominations), told me the story of Oetzi's curse, namely that to date at least seven people involved in the recovery of the mummy have died as a cause of accident or violence.
Remember the pyramids, he whispered seriously.
Oh give over, I laughed. Balderdash.

29 July 2016

Let the light in

I love Sicily and some time ago I found a blog by a Welsh woman living there. She blogs about her life as a teacher in one of the gorgeous ancient towns, about the food - equally gorgeous - , her travels and so on. Every once in a while she also posts stark reminders about the migrant crisis that Italy and Sicily in particular is trying so bravely and helplessly to cope with.

Her last post has brought me to my knees and with her permission (thank you!), I am posting it here:


"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
- Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914
It seems much like that now, given the events of the past ten days, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the lamps are going out all over the world, as the extreme right closes ranks and even reasonable people blame the easiest, most identifiable scapegoat, the migrant or immigrant, for their woes.
Meanwhile on the "forgotten" migrant route in the Mediterranean people continue to die. I have not seen one report on this in the past week in the British media so here are the facts:
On 20th July Médecins Sans Frontières doctors on board the SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius went to the aid of a migrant boat in trouble off the coast of Libya. What they found was horrific: bodies were lying at the bottom of the boat in a pool of fuel and it was obvious that these people had died an awful death, crushed or suffocated, as they had been, in the crowded and inadequate dinghy. Survivors, who had been on board with the bodies for many hours, were stretching their hands out in desperation towards the rescuers and are unsurprisingly said to be still traumatised.  Of the 22 bodies found, 20 were those of women and this tragic event is being called the strage di donne [massacre of women] in the Italian press.  In all, 209 people were saved.
On the same day, over 1,000 more migrants were saved in the Mediterranean in eight operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard and 1,146 migrants who had been rescued previously were brought to Palermo. Of these, 23 were pregnant women and 63 were unaccompanied minors. The next day a Spanish naval vessel brought 841 migrants and one body to Catania and a MSF ship brought 628 rescued migrants to Pozzallo. Among these were a 73-year-old man and a baby aged seven months. Does anyone really believe that a man of this age, the mother of this baby and others like them would undertake such a hazardous journey if they were not fleeing for their lives?

Rescues and arrivals continued over the weekend, when 375 migrants, including six children and a newborn baby, were brought to Messina.  Two suspected people-traffickers were arrested in Vibo Valentia [Calabria] and are thought to have been involved in bringing a migrant boat containing 16 bodies in the engine room into Italian waters. The bodies of 41 migrants were discovered on a Libyan beach, also over the weekend. These poor souls had drowned five or six days ago trying to reach Italy

UNHCR has tweeted  that 3,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean since January.
Now it seems to me that we either accept migration as a fact of our era, stop drawing pretty useless and difficult to prove distinctions between "economic" migrants and those seeking asylum and see that safe corridors are created for them or we accept an ever darkening world.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. "
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Let's keep those lamps lit, ladies and gentlemen.

27 July 2016

summer gathering stage 2

Rearrangements, more departures and more expected arrivals, as always it helps to have plenty of towels and sheets. And putting the kettle on, filling the fridge. A greenhouse with ripe tomatoes and who brought that big tin of chocolates?

Tomorrow I have to see my lovely immunologist to discuss plan B or plan C or whatever comes next.

Italy was gorgeous as ever. As my friend P says, it's the cooking that makes a place. To which I add, it's the music, and sharp suits.

24 July 2016

Ten days ago, I persuaded myself that I was in excellent health and on we cycled through the apple orchards and vineyards to the weekly market in Merano.
A large affair selling everything from the kitchen sink to exquisitely sweet cherries, apricots, Tyrolean speck and fresh borlotti beans.

I knew I was in deep denial after about 15 minutes and decided to sit down below the statue of Andreas Hofer for the next hour or so, while the others bought ridiculously cheap trekking boots, more apricots, jars of nuts packed in honey and fresh Schüttelbrot.

Via dei portici, Merano

I am trying to remember what we did next. Lunch was involved and more cycling.

bridge over Passirio

church Lagundo Paese

 I recall that I sang at the top of my voice.

Una festa sui prati
Una bella compagnia
Panini, vino un sacco di risate
E luminosi sguardi di ragazze innamorate
Ma che bella giornata
Siamo tutti buoni amici
Ma chi lo sa perché domani questo può finire
Vorrei sapere perché domani ci dobbiamo odiare.

(A picnic
in wonderful company,
bread wine, lots of laughter
The smiling faces of people falling in love
What a beautiful day
We are all good friends
But who knows, tomorrow this may all end
Tomorrow we may all hate each other)
Adriano Celentano

A couple of days later, another apple orchard, after driving north for six hours, slowly uphill and crossing the steep Passo del Rombo where we stuck our sandal clad feet into the snow at 2,500 m and ran from the icy winds back into the car, laughing.

Passo del Rombo

Now we are four generations sitting under my grandmother's apple trees, my father the central presence like a rock, observing and directing, we, his underlings, pass around coffee, cakes, toddlers, gossip. Earlier I had discovered a black leather box, forgotten in one of my father's massive sideboards and now we sift through  photographs of my paternal grandparents some of them over 100 years old. My father cannot understand our delight and decides that I take the lot with me as my share of the his estate. He loves to talk about his estate and how he will distribute it, forgetting that he already did this years ago (for tax reasons) but my brother is convinced there may be hidden treasures apart from my grandmother's china and cutlery, the large hall clock and his shiny car. 

On our drive home, the last leg of our tour, later that night, my body starts sending me urgent shrill messages of feeling unwell but I blame the car's air conditioning. The next morning, I am determined to ignore them but they sit there like a growing pile of dirty laundry. Stubbornly, I go to work and pretend for a while longer to be in control before finally crawling home after picking up yet another sick cert and a prescription for antibiotics (pharyngitis so I am told). And still, I push ahead like one of these battery powered toy clowns: laundry, kitchen floor, emergency translations, excel sheets for the boss, while my throat is on fire and my body breaks out in sweats and shivers.
Three days I play this game. Until finally I stretch out on the sitting room sofa, the doors wide open to the garden, green jungle dripping after a night of heavy rain, listening to the comforting noises from the fridge in the kitchen telling me that it is time to let go of any striving.

21 July 2016

Val Senales, Alto Adige, Italy

We humans need to be close to, and opposed to, and sometimes subservient to, and always respectful of the physical realities of the planet we live on. We need to receive its pure silences and attend to its winds, to wade through its rivers and sweat under its sun, to plough through its sands and sleep on its bumps. Not all the time but often enough for us to remember that we are animals. Clever animals, yet ultimately dependent, like any animal, on the forces of Nature. Whole areas of one's humanity could become atrophied if one remained always within a world where motor-roads are more important than trees and speed is more important than silence.

Dervla Murphy

15 July 2016


n. a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence, which force you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out all unwelcome and invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface, and propping yourself up like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

13 July 2016

We are all having a wonderful time, on the whole, in general, all things considered, by and large, for the most part etc.
The weather is all over the place. Thunderstorms are very dramatic on the southern slopes of the Italian alps, complete with hailstones, high winds and whoah, the lightning bolts across the valley! We sit on the top floor balcony watching the clouds racing across the peaks, weaving through the valley like white snakes.

Health wise I am constantly lowering my expectations. Right now,  I am dragging them on the floor behind me. Two days ago, I crawled and staggered across this gorgeous but hot hot hot town into the soothing arms and efficient hands of a wonderful osteopath who straightened and massaged my sore back into a brief semblance of sweet flexibility. But even she was somewhat baffled by the purple bruises along my spinal column. I try to cycle and walk a bit every day, along the stylish promenades where emperors and princesses used to take the waters and twirl their parasols, but mostly I seek out the soothing comfort of a deck chair or the stylish grey sofa in front of the large window with a view, while the gang is out and about, tasting wine, climbing peaks, swimming, listening to live music, visiting exotic botanic gardens and fabulous castles, bringing back ripe peaches, apricots (of course), fat black cherries, spicy sausages, the local flat bread baked with coriander and fennel seed, endless varieties of alpine cheeses and Italian dolce. I am spoiled for choice.

12 July 2016

When it comes to apricots, I am turning into an expert. I could go on one of these weird shows and tell with my eyes closed whether I am biting into a Bergeron, Lambertin, Orange de Provence, Hunza, Turkish honey or, currently, a Marille.
Marillen are the queens of apricots, fat, egg sized, deep orange with a blushing red cheek, they taste like nothing else, a touch of peach maybe, and, oh, the sensation when you bite into it, that slight pop when your teeth hit the skin.

Other than that, it's all our usual chaos, forgotten boots and blistered feet, sore backs and too much laughter, tears to follow, rainstorms, heat, thunder in the sky and the hot water boiler on the blink. A family of Cochin chickens, two mamas and four babies, walking and chirping around the garden, a dog patiently waiting for someone to play with, vineyards, apple orchards, glaciers and snow above us.

In no particular order.