16 January 2017

Here is another photo from my father's stash. The box I was allowed to take as my share of his estate. He thinks these are useless mementos or maybe he imagines I sell them and make lots of money.
It's all in my head anyway, he says, what do I need old photographs for.

The year is 1943. The location, a Franconian town in northern Bavaria, first history records dating back to the 13th century, dominated by a large Baroque castle with impressive grounds. Napoleon's troops passed through it on their way to fight the Prussians. The group is standing on the stairs to the back entrance of their school, which was founded in 1528.

It is the last day of school, not because the boys are about to graduate (they are barely 13 years old), but because of the war. The school will shut down, the last remaining teacher is posing here with his class. He taught the Classics, Homer and Tacitus, rhetoric, logic, debating. Unlike his colleagues, he is too old to be drafted. However, in less then two years, he and all of these boys, will be put into ill fitting uniforms, armed with the dregs of the remaining weaponry and sent off to utterly and completely unsuccessfully defend their hometown against the approaching US army. But that is another story.

My father is the tall one on the right in the front row. When I asked him about the pins on some of the lapels, including his, he was not sure. There was so much you had to be careful about, even in this sleepy town, he said shaking his head. We were reciting the Iliad, debating Plato, what did we know.
They all survived the war but today, my father is the only one still alive. The small one in the front was my father's best friend, an artist and professor of fine art at the university of Munich, a member of the Munich Secession. When I last met him three years ago, he was wearing a handwoven tweed jacket with a dramatic pink silk scarf, his leonine hair like a white crown. He kissed my hands and told me to always wear something blue to match the colour of my eyes.
After his death two years ago, my father almost cried, little Ernstl is dead, now I am all alone.

15 January 2017

in which I try to come up with a positive outlook

I just wrote another whiny post about my life as a stranded beetle in pain and halfway through writing it, I knew. This. Won't. Do.  All my pep talks about how my body constantly produces new cells striving for health. Useless at 3 am. Anyway, it is down below as a record of this cloudy January morning with a few snow flakes here and there. 

For now, let's take a look at this:

I found this in my father's sideboard last summer. Apparently, this is the wedding of someone from my paternal grandfather's family, maybe his sister's. I recognise nobody, my grandfather is not in it, so it must have happened before my grandparents got married in 1919.

This was the Munich branch of the family, the wealthy educated bourgeois members of a wealthy society. They had salons and debating clubs and musical soirees. These men were judges, attorneys and senior civil servants. The women were wives and sisters and daughters. They did needlework and played musical instruments. To my eye, the picture looks like a game of charades, the "crying" girls, the "angel" holding her hands above the couple. I wonder if they were ready to burst into laughter. Or maybe it was a fashionable thing young people did at the time, barely tolerated by the more elderly (female) family members. 
But maybe it simply was like that, two upset little girls, the sister of the bride a bit tipsy on a chair in the back, playing up. The spinster aunt on the right not amused. The protestant pastor on the left keeping his distance.
Actually, I think this picture was possibly taken before the first world war. If so,  Munich was still the capital of the kingdom of Bavaria.
I wish I knew more about photography and fashion and eye glasses to date this picture.

Whereas the lament earlier was as follows:

Once again I wake at 3 am with that pain all along my right leg.  And my mind goes into overdrive. Before I know it I see myself battling a future life with chronic pain. Jeez. This is night 10 after surgery. Early days. I hope.  

Thing is, I recognise nerve pain. It's bloody obvious. Ten years ago I lived through the great dentist disaster and although I eventually came out at the other end alive and well I very much don't want to have a repeat experience elsewhere in my body. 

R is grumpy and worried and coughing and insists on me eating some toast, which I find almost impossible. My brother calls and again, we compare notes on our various surgeries and injuries. Stay on top of it, he tells me. Distract yourself. 

Make yourself small, says the tiny voice in my head. The world is enormous and this is a small event. Watch yourself cope and remember that millions are also coping, mostly under worse circumstances. But also: prepare yourself and seek help. 

I am scared. It's the easy option for now. I am not proud of myself.

13 January 2017

First things first: 

Thank you, thank you, thank you, wonderful readers. Thank you for your supportive and kind comments, for your suggestions and your encouragement, for reading and letting me know that you are there.

Woke up at 3 am tossing and turning with aches and increasing pain and after that, little sleep and working hard on keeping all that miserable worst case scenario thinking out of my mind. I eventually settled on the theory of the two steps forward, one step back recovery road and argued for a while with my impatient self. In the end, I saw my daughter's feverish face, aged 9, during a week of a nasty childhood illness, and I could hear her tiny voice whispering: right so, I have to get through this and then it's over, yes?
She doesn't remember but I do. She did say this.

I took one ultram from the emergency pack they gave me when I was discharged and it had no effect, which is a relief in a way. It is not a nice drug. 

The snow chaos has not (yet?) happened. My man went to work coughing. Life goes on.

When R was 20, his mother, my beautiful future mother-in-law, had a terrible accident. Her car was hit by the delivery van of her local grocer and pushed against a wall. She just about survived it and spent six long months in traction, unable to move, staring at the ceiling.
Many years later, when I had become a member of that family, I was told various versions of this time, bits of memories here and there. The main story was always that her hair, her beautiful thick dark brown hair, after it was shaved off grew back white. She had just turned 51.
Whenever I ask R about the time, he tells me that his memories are all very vague, hazy. That he was busy being young and wild, ready to move to England for the summer. I ask him if he spent time with her in hospital and he replies, Oh I'm sure I did, and I love the certainty in his voice. 
And occasionally he mentions her shaved head with the holes in it for the traction cables and how close she was to being paralysed. He also remembers quite vividly the white leatherette sofa in the grocer's sitting room where they all sat that evening, crying, the two families, neighbours, a priest. Imagine, white leatherette, R says, shaking his head.

I always have a hard time imagining this. My wonderful mother-in-law was such a lively and energetic woman, talking, laughing, singing, dancing. And playing. On the rare occasions of actual snow in Dublin, she had us all, dogs included, tobogganing on bin bags and dinner trays down to Saval Park Road from the Killiney Hill car park, with a massive snowball fight at the end. 
Six months in traction. What have I got to complain. 
I loved her dearly, she changed me, she helped me, she loved me back. She died much too young. That bastard, pancreatic cancer, swept her away in three short months when she was 67.

12 January 2017

The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don’t get caught up in hopes of what you’ll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.

We are both not well, R is coughing his lungs out every night and I am doing my best to encourage him to stay home. But the man is so dedicated and after a lifetime of almost never being ill, he is finding this difficult to admit. Right now he is contemplating staying home at least tomorrow, resting on the weekend.
Heavy snow forecast for today and tomorrow. Hard to imagine, the evening air so mild, a soft rain. This morning I was watching the first blackbirds checking out the hedge for their nesting places.
The days are getting longer.

(this wonderful music is from Sweden)

11 January 2017

One week post surgery report

The day will come when I will look back on all this with a slightly bemused or possibly even blasé expression on my face before I completely erase it from the part of my brain that stores the really important stuff.

Today's achievements include a short and very tiring walk through the very soggy garden, cancelling a whole lot of stuff like the train tickets to my father's 88th birthday celebrations later this month, the qi gong with the muslim women, various suddenly unnecessary dates and appointments here and there, but most importantly, securing an outpatient follow-up MRI for next week AND keeping my breakfast down.

I still have to figure out the logistics of how to get to the MRI and back without asking R to take half a day off. Our reliable circle of friends includes only people tied to work commitments or currently battling various seasonal infections.

My energy levels are dragging way behind me. I could find this alarming but I am too exhausted to give a damn.
Pain comes and goes and while I try to handle this like a proper grownup it freaks me out totally. I kind of get the idea but the mind is weak.

The right foot is still a lead weight and most of the leg remains stubbornly numb but I can report some tiny improvements in my walking skills.

My steady companion is this nifty grasping tool for picking and lifting things,  incl. pulling up my pants. Actually, I am forever forgetting where I put it last and as a result I am kind of relieved that I am alone at home during most of the day.

Otherwise, I am resigned to accept life as it is right now as long as the wifi works.
Yesterday's therapeutic distractions included a documentary of George Michael  (fell asleep after 20 mins) and the excellent two part BBC drama of Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution.

Of course, I also read the news and keep myself informed, i.e. trying to be a serious, resonsible, informed and involved citizen who is just going through a tiddly bit of health bother.  OK, OK, at least some of of the time. It's a work in progress here.

One week done. Five more to go through until officially predicted recovery. I will believe it when it happens.
Isn't this exciting?

08 January 2017

Home and struggling in my familiar surroundings.

I feel like an invalid, I said to R last night,
Well actually, you are an invalid, he smartly replied, but a valid one (this in response to me hissing with mad fury).

That whole healing business is bloody hard work. I should have known but I am the last to face reality. Not fair, I want to shout out the window. But the place is deserted and utterly still with heavy frost. At 5 am we got a black ice warning from the local authorities. So I cancelled all plans to be active today. Ha ha.

Picture me mostly lying flat on my back or on one side, trying to keep a straight STRAIGHT back, occasionally standing upright or sitting - briefly - on a hard chair fitted with a slanting foam seat, shitting on the upstairs toilet only because this one has been fitted with a raised toilet throne, forever looking for that gripping tool to pick up stuff that requires bending, plus nausea from painkillers - or maybe a bug I picked up at the hospital. 
Every two hours or so I get up and try to walk for ten minutes, or until I get the shakes, forcing my daft right leg to move and trying not to plop that right foot down like a sleepy brick with each step. 

I am fucking exhausted, typing this makes my hands shake.  You have no idea how sorry I feel for my miserable self.

Yet, every once in a while I reassure myself that all this will get better, trying to picture the cells of my flesh and tissue and skin at the two large incisions in my back weaving and mending and meshing away, doing what they are supposed to do. Hurry up, I whisper, get it done. But they just send a few shivers in response.


07 January 2017

a very cold day, no sun
R brought me home, he drove extra carefully
I chatted like a silly teenager and then I sobbed my heart out
and now it seems all my energy has gone

06 January 2017


Healing hurts. I guess. I am not good with that pain. Not yet. At least I hope it's healing pain. Gosh, I am an impatient mess.

05 January 2017

So much to figure out. So much to remember and to trust. I used to be much better at this.

All that coping with a rare chronic illness does get in the way now.

Suddenly I am in a situation where the doctor produces the evidence, explains procedures in precise sentences, expertly circling shadows in the MRI printout, almost bored he stresses how often he has performed this surgery in the past.

Whereas the usual scenario is that baffled questioning look. ANCA vasculitis, yes I heard of that one but never met a patient etc. And I usually provide the prompts and watch them taking notes or doing a rapid search online.

So strange being a normal patient with a common and garden sequestered  disc that had to be removed from the spinal canal to release the trapped nerve and halt the advancing paralysis of my right leg.

Last night after surgery as I was lying flat on my back attached to various tubes I was unable to sleep for sheer delight that I did it and that the most awful pain was gone. I silently cheered my healthy self for her unexpected reappearance.

But now, 24 hrs later, I am again in familiar terrain, battling with the constant undercurrents of a chronic illness, the what if dragons, the supersensitive nerves and the overactive inagination of all the worst case scenarios ever.  There is a slight nagging pain in my right shin.  Possibly the end of the world. Etc.

It's hard work. But this is only day one.

For the next four weeks no lounging, cycling, driving, curling up in R's arms. But also no laundry, no filling or emptying the dishwasher, no housework. Period.
I am not allowed to bend or turn or lift anything. And lots more don'ts and no nos.

All I have so far figured out is the basics: getting in and out of bed and brushing my teeth with a straight back. And pouring a cup of coffee.

They tell me I am doing very well and that I can go home on Saturday. Maybe.

Must get ready to climb my very own Everest.

There is a world out there after all

My brother calls on his way to work and explains to me all he knows about the slow healing of deep gashes and cuts and tendon surgery and all the sport injuries he has survived and he makes me feel so much better. There are two deep wounds on my lower spine and I am slowly convincing myself that they will indeed heal. But I am a wimp when it comes to pain. That much we know.

John Berger has died. I don't know how to insert a link to his bio but do look him up. Read his quotes on women as art objects.  Watch "Ways of seeing" on youtube, esp. episode two. Or read his 2015 lecture on hospitality as a human right.
It's all out there to lift us up and open our eyes. He was an inspiration, he still is.

"The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing."

John Berger

04 January 2017

The rain is pelting on the large window of the hospital room. There is a storm coming apparently.
I accepted the sleeping tablet last night and now I am still drowsy. Waiting for the day to unfold.
After 10 days of conservative treatment, cortisone infusions and being wrapped in sheets of hot clay and electric currents running through suction pads along my leg (very nice!) and mysterious injections in my spine, the wisdom of the MRI images has won and around noon today I will dress myself up in that gown and hold R's hand until they wheel me on this bed down into the underground operating center.
This will be the fourth general anesthesia in my life. Someone once told me that we lose a certain amount of brain cells every time.
All I know is that I was much calmer and blue eyed on those previous occasions. Well, I was years away from editing medical research and interpreting risk statistics.

Then, I knew all would be well because I had child that I needed to raise and so many adventures waiting in my future. Contemplating risks or complications would have felt almost insulting to my sense of entitlement.

Now I am not so confident. But there is nothing I can do apart from chickening out which is definitely not on. Because I don't. Not in my repertoire.

So. It's: Roll it there, Colette.
(This is another of our family sayings, based on Gay Byrne - a very popular Irish tv and radio personality with a weekly chat show on Friday nights watched by the nation. He said this to introduce a film or a piece of news or a song. Colette was his long time assistant. My father in law would call it across the hall when he had the sherry ready before Sunday lunch. My mother in law would whisper it when she rolled the dice playing boardgames, R says it when I pour the tea and he fiddles with the remote to start the film we are going to watch together. We both say it when we take/drive/cycle off towards an adventure. Etc.) 

01 January 2017

Happy new year

Another first. Served by this life of mine. Or circumstances in general. Or maybe it is all a result of my mother's faulty genes, according to my father (who has developed a liking of superficial genetics when it suits him).

Anyway, watching the fireworks at midnight from the large window of a dark and silent hospital room. That's a first. And yes, it was a lonely watch. Oh never mind. I am not alone in this world. But a week of sleepless nights has screwed up my mind somewhat. Producing deep waves of miserable self pity etc.

In the early hours,  the night nurse added another drug to the cocktail and we discussed the relationship between nighttime and pain and low cortisol levels.

And so here I am. Watching the January morning sky turning pink. Hoping for miraculous pain relief. Trying to sort through my fears and hopes for surgery which appears by now most likely.

Above all the thought that this new year could be amazing and wonderful.

31 December 2016

Hospital essentials

"Who was it, anyway, invented the cool side of the pillow?"

Colum McCann
Thirteen ways of looking

30 December 2016

Calling Dr Clooney

I call this raw pain. I was warned that it may be severe after today's final attempt if conservative therapy. Strong the doctor said. The literal translation of the German stark can mean severe or strong. I wonder if google translate knows the difference.

But strong means strength and this
pain makes me weak. During the days I could concentrate on all the various tests and treatments and visitors and hospital routines. At night I have exhausted the repertoire of painkillers the nurses are permitted to administer - bar opiates which I just declined again. And worse, no drip tonight. My last remaining venous access on my black and blue arms and hands collapsed this afternoon, while my left leg was still pain free and paralysed after the early morning injection into my spine.

I spent a giddy afternoon showing off the dead weight of a painfree leg to my visitors. I should have used my time better, should have slept while the pain slept.

Another night to wait, wade through all my tools and skills of distraction and concentration. Slow breathing and humming. A damp cloth to wipe over my face and hands. I would love to sit under a cool shower except - the risks, the rules. It is 2:43 am after all, at the trauma surgery ward. I have the room all to myself.

Calling on memories of floating in a volcanic crater lake, deepest black water carrying my body while my eyes follow the course of sharp white clouds in the summer sky above.

Remembering family xmas days and Sunday afternoons picking raspberries and walking along the east pier on a windy evening.

While the pain, a knife, a snake, a hot stream of molten lead runs from my spine into my toes.
And I recall the MRI printouts they showed me two days ago.
See that dark area, they said. We take it out if all of this doesn't work. Early next week.
Four more nights. Five maybe.

27 December 2016

Shit happened at the ER

When we drove through the dark and empty city early on xmas day I expected to be sent home with the usual wait and whatever needed to be excluded as possible scenarios after 48hrs of quite awful lower back pain which dr google had diagnosed as mere sciatica. 

Little did we know.

On a scale from one to ten, the pain last night hit 25 and I was drugged out if my wits. My right leg is a furry lump and most reluctant to participate in the business of keeping an upright stance. My right foot refuses to lift which renders my attempts of walking to a silly duck-like plop plop shuffle.

The long road of diagnostic work up so far has excluded any fracture. I should be so cheerful. Most of all I would like to have less pain and a good few hours of sleep. Somewhere down the line this is waiting for me. Keep your fingers crossed.

From the large window beside my bed I can see the sky and the tree tops.
And the unlimited supply of coffee is decent.

26 December 2016

Jitterbug with George Michael

We are upstairs in the cozy room with the woodburning stove. The little black and white portable tv is on the desk chair. We are dancing to Top of the Pops. My toddler is doing elaborate jumping moves on the big sofa while I display my repertoire of shakes and fancy steps. Together we clap and snip our fingers and sing along at the top of our voices:


Downstairs the big front door bangs shut and I can hear A walking upstairs. He leans on the door frame, hands deep in the pockets of his corduroy pants watching the scene and when I see the smirk on his face I call, hey what?
Agh, he says almost angrily, here is another one who has to pretend, another one of the millions who won't dare to come out.
But his feet are quietly tapping.
The music is crap, he mutters and with a sudden smile he turns to the jumping toddler, did you leave any dinner for an old man or do I have to come up on the sofa and dance for it? And S explodes into giggles.

23 December 2016

After a lifetime of proper German holy xmas, all the beeswax candles and playing the recorder in the family carol quartet, the hushed atmosphere of quiet rituals (no tv, family only, classical music etc.), I walked into the hurricane of an Irish xmas.

The first thing that threw me was the tree. In my future in-laws house, the tree was situated in the corner of the front room. The front room, decorated in my mother-in-law's favourite pink, was only used for special occasions. For everyday family life there was the cramped tv room - or 'den', as it was renamed after  my future in-laws had visited the US.
From the first of December, however, the front room was opened and remained so in order to allow visitors to view the tree. This was a small white plastic affair, hastily decorated with blue, red and pink tinsel, gold baubles and a couple of ancient play-do decorations from R's distant childhood. A string of multi-coloured electric lights kept on flashing irregularly and on my first viewing, I suspected a faulty connection somewhere - which was received with great laughter all round.

Throughout December, the regular string of visitors to my future in-law's house increased dramatically, and every visit included a viewing, a glass of sherry, a mince pie, the exchanging of xmas cards and the placing of a wrapped gift parcel under the tree. By mid December, the tree was more or less covered by parcels. These were daily lifted and shook by passing family members to guess their contents. Even bets were placed.

While the tree as such had been a slight disappointment in comparison to my mother's, I was more baffled by the card business. This is how it looked to me (and still does): People write seasonal sentiments on xmas cards and then proceed to exchange these cards in person while verbally repeating the exact same seasonal sentiments written on these cards.

I was told that there would be no stockings on xmas morning as these were reserved for small children only. It took me a while to get the hint and we provided one small child two years later.

There was also no chance for breakfast in the morning as all female members of my future family-in-law, in their dressing gowns, were working their way through items on a secret task list in the kitchen, before getting dressed in splendid finery and leaving the house, in stages, to work their way through more secret tasks, such as going to mass, chauffeuring old folks to church, singing carols in some hospital ward, buying more cream (shops were open!!) and dropping off last minute presents and, yes, personally handing over more xmas cards.

By midday, the family was once again at home and for the next two hours or so the house began to fill up with a seemingly endless stream of coming and going visitors. Neighbours, colleagues, cousins, friends, friends of friends home from abroad, and a couple of priests. I was sent around with plates of canapés and R was taking orders for drinks. There was laughter and gossip and singing and yes, more xmas card exchanges.

When the last visitors had left, the family sat down for xmas dinner.

The menu:

1 smoked salmon on soda bread
2 soup with Melba toast
3 turkey and ham, stuffing, gravy, mashed and roast potatoes, celery (boiled, unfortunately), Brussels sprouts
4 sherry trifle
5 xmas pudding - with flambé whiskey (?)

Before the trifle, strange longish parcels wrapped in shiny paper were held in a complicated cross-over chain of hands around the table and pulled resulting in small plops (or not). This produced great hilarity with funny little trinkets and small slips of paper, which were unfolded and found to bear important jokes to be read out loud.

By now I was totally lost.

After dinner all proceeded to the front room and after much debate a Santa was chosen, who, wearing a Santa hat of course, would spend the next hour lifting one parcel after another from under the tree, reading the gift tag and throwing it across the room to the recipient, while the dogs tried it catch it midair.

Parcels were unwrapped immediately with much shouting, running or crawling acros the room and hugging etc. while the dogs sniffed their way through the growing pile of torn wrapping paper in the middle (the coffee table had been thoughtfully removed).

That over and done, it was now time for a good cup of tea and the last mince pies.

After a brief interval, glasses of bubbly were passed around and the birthday cake for R's sister (who for obvious reasons is named Noelle) was carried into the room and the next party began. You know, candles, singing, cheers, presents etc.

This is only a glimpse. There was much more, incl. charades, reciting, singing, children dancing and crying. But this should give you an idea.

22 December 2016

don't play dumb

In case anybody has blanked out the fact that both poles are rapidly losing ice, here is a graphic of the Antarctic ice loss as published by NSIDC. After years of increases the current loss of ice is massive. This marks a huge reversal in trend that is not only quite unexpected but also extremely worrying. Big ice shelves now have massive cracks and the glaciers behind them are melting into the sea.
This will lead to an acceleration in sea level rise in a few short years .

There is no way of reversing the trend.

21 December 2016

Midwinter, darkest day, longest night.
Cold frosty air.
A short hour of sunshine.
Now find the metaphor.

And this:

  (You will not get our hate in Berlin either.)

20 December 2016

There is ground beneath my feet again, knees still shaking though. I can look at the windows  from my horizontal position and the world is no longer turning. I am still struggling to get out from under the big wave that's been knocking me about for the last three weeks, my physical activity level is a laughable slow-motion at best. Actually,  I prefer to not move at all. Apart from getting all shaky and shivery when I do get up, there are new and interesting whooshing noises in my ears when I am vertical and R has started a spreadsheet tracking my miserably low bp  (I secretly believe that the measuring gadget he brought home from school is not working). 
In other words, I feel like shit. 
At least, R is as good as new and we have devised a cunning plan based on my various past emergency health scenarios and potential what ifs. Basically, we are ready for whatever will hit the fan but won't be disappointed if I just get better without much fuss.

Meanwhile, xmas. 
(This is mainly for Colette)
Even without being able to provide substantial proof I feel certain that in my neighbourhood - and in most German households - as of today, there isn't a single tree standing. There well could be one, wrapped in mesh, hiding in the basement, on the balcony or behind the garage. But indoors four days before xmas? No way. There are lots and lots of boring and/or hideously decorated trees in public spaces, schools and shop windows of course. They don't count, they are only for show, not the real thing. Right now, the good Germans at home will light the four candles on their advent wreaths and nibble Dominosteine, Spritzgebäck, Vanillekipferl and Springerle. More traditional households may also provide dried figs and dates. And juicy clementines of course.

The real xmas tree is brought in on xmas eve and absolutely not a day earlier. I can also vouch for the fact that in households with small children, the tree will come inside under cover of darkness and will be decorated in secret, possibly by angels, elves or any other of the Christkind's helpers. Once the children have reached the age when they have figured out the whole shebang they may help decorating - to kill time on xmas eve. Public viewing will commence on xmas eve when it gets dark or when the family returns from their annual church visit (which could well be the once annual visit for many).

Again, despite the absence of actual statistics, I contend as follows:

95% of trees will be real trees
75% will have real candles, mostly beeswax
100% will be decorated, inter alia, with these little chocolate sweets
(The things about these chocolates is that you can quietly pull out one of them and eat it and nobody notices until all of them are reduced to two or are gone all together.)

On xmas eve, shops start to close from noon onward. By late afternoon, there is a hush and by the time it gets dark, the first trees in their full shiny candles glory can be seen through the windows. By now, everybody is dressed up and it's time for the gifts. (Yes, on xmas eve.) We call this Bescherung (giving of gifts) and there are as many different rituals as there are families.
(I wrote about my childhood xmas here.)

Same with the food served on xmas eve. Potatoe salad with wieners is very popular. My mother went for the more elaborate, little gratins in real oyster shells, smoked fish and Melba toast.

The real food comes out over the next two days. There is no traditional German xmas dinner as in turkey and ham. Game is popular, carp is traditional for some, roast goose, anything fancy with large whole fish. We mostly had roast saddle of venison, cranberry sauce, dumplings, red cabbage. Tons of different desserts.
And since for every child there is a Bunter Teller under the tree, the first tummy aches start on day two, latest.

The tree stays there until early January. There are fixed days for tree collection and tough luck if you miss the date.

The last xmas tree in this house was maybe in 2005. I vaguely remember S coming home from university and throwing a temper tantrum because we hadn't prepared anything and in fact had no intention to. So in the end, she went out with R and got the whole show on the road. The cats messed with the baubles as usual. But no fear, we used to have lovely trees, we were proper xmas champions. More about that maybe later.

This is one of my mother's trees, ca. 1966. White xmas and all.

18 December 2016

Birth is migration from the womb to the open air.
We are all immigrants
Death is migration of breath and air
The last migration. The vast migration.
Migration is our nature.

Lemn Sissay

from Whale Translation 

17 December 2016

The hard task of regaining balance.
I should know this, I have been here so often. But it hits me in the gut every time again and while these tiny little spirals in my inner ears are healing from whatever is attacking them, I am struggling with all the other balances in my mind and heart to recover some form of calm, while high dose cortisone is spinning my emotions to those weird levels of freakishness I would otherwise find ridiculous (in myself).
It's all down to hope, because this is so fishy. I have no clear symptoms other than waves of vertigo and/or hearing loss every other day, I am sleepy and exhausted but the rest of me is supposedly healthy. Medically speaking. So again, I rely on the niggling feelings of doubt and benevolence that medical experts express, those who have seen me better not too long ago and can compare. And have done their homework, i.e. reading about autoimmune inner ear events (rare but that's not my fault). I almost cheered when I sneezed out the first clot of blood, a little tadpole, from my cemented sinuses last night. A first picture book symptom!
In my Living Will I have stipulated that after my death I wish to donate my cochleas to medical research and should nobody be interested, which is highly likely, I want them made into the most perfect earrings for my daughter to wear. A cochlea is a beautiful thing. It's a pity I won't be around to see what my pair looks like.
Then there is seasickness.  My old companion. A childhood of puking in the car, sitting in the back, three kids sharp elbow to sharp elbow, my mother chain-smoking in the front and never an open window for fear of catching a cold. On every family holiday, a motorway restroom where my mother washes my face, changes my clothes, muttering curses under her breath. Gagging on dramamine while my sister licks her ice cream.
Ginger, acupuncture wristbands, eyes like saucers from cinnarizine, I have been there and done it.  On our first trip with a six months old S, as a drug-free breastfeeding  mother, I sat outside at the back of the ferry for the entire 30 hours, staring at the horizon, willing time to move faster. In the morning just before we arrived, a steward came up to me. There had been complaints. Was I drunk?
It's not always that bad, I am ok when I can drive myself. Of course, cycling works like a dream.
This is my third week of constant seasickness, a new record.

14 December 2016

This is from the archeological museum in the Italian Alps near where Oetzi, the mummy from the glacier, was found. I find this immensely uplifting to read at the moment. The way things stand, I am putting my faith and trust in women. Look at the mess the men have done.

13 December 2016

12 December 2016

everything is related

Just now, I clicked the last little box to cancel our xmas trip to Ireland, ten days of wild seaside and windy mountains and walking and dogs and very noisy dinners, deleted. Keeping fingers crossed we may get a refund and have another go at easter. It's dark and grey outside and after seven days of antibiotics, R's CRP level is still shot through the roof. He tells me that his brain is surprisingly alert, which is why he is working online most of the day in between coughing fits and inhalation sessions.

Not to be left out of the picture, I had a weird 24 hrs episode of sudden hearing loss, a euphoric morning of recovery followed by another 24 hrs of extreme vertigo incl. all of the nasty side effects (aka seasickness related emptying of stomach and guts). Today, I am nursing what feels like a massive hangover if I want to describe it kindly. Our polite GP sent us home to rest for another week. We walked out of the surgery like the blind leading the lame, tweedle dee and tweedle dum holding hands.

There is a tiny voice inside my booming head whispering flare-up, cortisone, flare-up, unemployment, end of the world etc. So far, I am successfully shutting it out with rest and mindless distraction. But I started bribing my colleagues to send some work and We Shall See.

Meanwhile, my father escaped from hospital ("nothing but a prison") after two nights and went into hiding only to have another fall and another one and after a couple of shouting matches lengthy discussions with his three grown-up children (not sure whether he sees us that way), he has backed down somewhat and is considering various options, incl. assisted living more or less across the road from my brother.

I believe it when I see it. At night, I feel overwhelmed with sadness for him. This is what his hands looked like last summer. It's much worse now. You should see his legs. He claims it's all perfectly normal for an old man aged 88. He is so proud of his age and his independence.

09 December 2016

One of my nephews, a big strong young man with a shaggy beard, some questionable habits and a degree in marine biology, is preparing to start a new job. Come January, he will spend an entire year on a research vessel in the Atlantic, way south beyond the equator, towards Antarctica, where the ocean is rough and wild and cold.
He has been a troubling and troubled boy and young man, still is at times, this is his first job opportunity in a year or even more. But he loves the sea and all the amazing life forms in our planet's oceans and while we often, with a sigh and shaking our heads, call him a chancer, a cheater, a messer in so many ways, he knows what's at stake.
This is for him.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

06 December 2016

I will try to make this stop at the place of self pity the briefest possible. But be warned, I have a tendency to dwell. 
As a child, long before anybody ever considered contact allergies, I would forever pick and remove and restick the sticky plasters covering my multitude of injuries resulting from climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek on the building sites of our growing suburb, cycling accidents, general fighting, all that feral outdoor stuff. Once I got the plaster off for good, I continued picking the, by now, red and itchy wound or scab, trying to hide well away from my mother's slap and yet another application of sticky plaster. 
Years later, when I worked as a night cleaner at the university clinics in Heidelberg (a much sought after student job at the time) and developed a nasty looking rash, a dermatologist covered my back with a zillion sticky test patches for 48 very very itchy hours. The result was that I am allergic to just one thing, sticky plaster. (The rash was a chemical burn from one of the cleaning agents I used at work.)
Life can be so easy sometimes. 

Today, the house booms with R's coughing. The kitchen reeks of the eucalyptus and thyme oil concoction he inhales, his fever has dropped, the world did not come to a sudden end after he swallowed his first ever antibiotic pill and the resulting recovery process is a joy to observe. Of course, he would not describe events as such. He is suffering greatly and requires a considerable yet predictable amount of cajoling and distraction to get through this extremely unfair onslaught on his usually excellent health and the resulting massive burden of boredom.
Whereas I crawl along, exhausted yet fever-free, non-coughing yet miserably chesty, basically waiting for the ground to open up beneath my feet. I have no idea why I remembered the sticky plaster stuff.
Meanwhile, my father has turned off his mobile phone because we interrupted him too often, he is watching the skiing tournaments live on tv from his hospital bed.

In frost-free tropical paradise, this was our back garden.

05 December 2016

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer.
More about this quote of a quote here. 

What was it again about  things that come in threes?  Let me show off my Latin, wow I am so fabulous: omne trium perfectum - have a guess.

Like The Three Little Pigs and The Three Musketeers. Or specifically, my father in hospital, my man with his first ever strep throat still contemplating his first ever prescription of antibiotics (we are not there yet and you have no idea) and myself with a temperature of something above normal but hey, no strep throat.
Outside, heavy frost. Wait, that's four things.

04 December 2016

Our antidote to cultures of fear is knowledge, empathy, compassion. The open hand. The open imagination.

Paul Salopek

28 November 2016

this morning's cycle

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
Marilynne Robinson 

27 November 2016

In the mid 1980s I got lost in a dark space. I only realised this fully some time later when we moved to paradise and set up house as a family of three with a huge variety of insects (both a first for us). Back in Ireland we had been battling unemployment and the establishment with the radical agenda of the time, all the various campaigns ranging from the political to the philosophical to the environmental to the personal. It was a hectic, wild and full time. I have few regrets - but never again.
There was that one evening in our messy crumbling mansion, where we - about ten people at the time - had come together to watch tv. We were so full of ourselves that even watching tv had to be a commune activity and I remember that of course, we had discussed this beforehand. Eventually, we all sat in front of a small black and white portable tv and watched Threads, the BBC drama about the nuclear war.
It was screened in two parts with a panel discussion half way and at the end but I never made it beyond the first half hour. Instead, I can still see myself, I was rocking on top of our bed, a keening mess, begging R to get something, drugs whatever, to be prepared for when the time comes - or worse.
A year later, Chernobyl happened. But by that time, I had made room for my fear, incorporated it as yet another enemy into my radical  feminist agenda and I had developed some of that snide sarcasm we all seemed to polish up with every new doomsday scenario. Not enough at times, the Ethiopian famine and that whole Live Aid crap hit me big time shortly afterwards, but I got by. Mostly by reassuring myself that others could cope alongside me.
Now, thirty years later, I look at the innocent, dreamy woman I was then, getting so carried away. Was it motherhood, hormones? Probably.
I wish.

Last night we talked about fears again, we rarely do, but that morning I had opened up the news feed on my phone to this"Please don’t read this unless you are feeling strong. This is a list of 13 major crises that, I believe, confront us. There may be more. Please feel free to add to it or to knock it down. I’m sorry to say that it’s not happy reading."

We sat down to eat a delicious meal in a small Italian restaurant and cycled home through the cold night air, looking into the lit up windows of our comfortable neighbourhood. Back home, we watched a thriller with Mark Rylance, the only actor I have a crush on, we drank xmas tea (black tea with cardamom pods, anise, orange peel, cinnamon and safflower), we looked at the stars. We tried to change the subject a few times. We still try to. To be honest, I am not sure how to cope. One day at a time, I know. This fundamental fear has been the backdrop to my life for thirty years, there is no pretending that all has been well.

23 November 2016

This evening, I was once again the only person cycling through the dark forest. There was no moon and I had to be careful with the piles of slippery wet leaves and that sharp bend across the stream, but after all these years, I could probably cycle this stretch with my eyes closed anyway. All in all, I figured if there are monsters, I can handle them. Later, back in city traffic I cursed a lot at the top of my voice at the other monsters, the male drivers unable to use the indicator etc.
Possibly a hormone thing, testosterone-induced indicator blindness. Maybe they need a spell in my forest, in the dark silent forest. 
Anyway, I am home and didn't get wet, my fingers will eventually defrost and there is a nice man cooking dinner (he knows how to use indicators). We will pretend that all is well with the world. We are getting quite good at it.

22 November 2016

Life is not about knowing. Life is about feeling your way through the dark. If you say, ‘This should be lighter by now,’ you’re shutting yourself off from your own happiness. So let there be darkness. Get down on your knees, and crawl to the dark. Crawl and say to yourself, ‘Holy GOD, it’s dark, but just look at me crawl! I can crawl like a motherfucker.’

Heather Havrilesky

We needed to come down to earth, solid earth preferably, after the gloomy, wet and dark first half of November and watched the first episode of Planet Earth II. It delivered. David Attenborough is the best person ever, seriously. I would sell my bicycle to meet him. If you want to get a glimpse of hardship and endurance and love, watch the penguins. We humans are whining weaklings compared to penguins. And forget the Komodo dragons, all brute muscle and clout, strutting for show without compassion. The penguins break my heart every time.

20 November 2016

For a long time I stood at the kitchen window watching R digging and replanting, raking leaves with the last blustery winds from last night's storm around him. Last night, a long conversation with a friend who returned from the climate summit in Marrakesh about the unusual melting arctic sea ice and jet streams and possible outcomes.
Tomorrow is our daughter's birthday. The long hours of labour and her birth changed our lives dramatically, in ways we never thought possible, never expected in our hippie innocence and which we only realised and continue to realise in hindsight. The way we and everyone and everything is connected, the gift that will always return, the myriad faultlines that run deep below us all. There was a time when the memory of that day would fill me simply with happiness, incredible happiness that seemed to stretch forever into the future. Oh, it is still there, her voice, her face, her laughter and her tears, all of her will always reach into my deepest innermost heart. But there is also such fear now and a sadness I never expected. And worst of all, she knows. That her future will not be as easy and uncomplicated as the life we had as a family. That her generation and the generations to come will face challenges and disasters we never imagined.
This is a hasty translation of a comment in one of our national papers, by Kai Stritmatter, author and foreign correspondent currently living in China.

Shout! Do not stop being horrified. Do not hide behind jokes. Stop reassuring each other that it may not be so bad. Assume that it will get much worse. This is how it looks from China: the world is now ruled by Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping. And: America is fucked. Europe is tipping. The liberal West is a thing of the past. Democracy is seriously wounded. And now? What about our children?I posted these lines after the US election on Facebook. A friend replied: "Relax!"
I did that once. In Turkey. After the rushed election of Erdoğan. When he stood before the people and pretended to be meek. I did relax then, I told everybody: Give the man a chance. Well, I will not do that again. I've learned my lesson: We must take them at their word, these megalomaniacs, these narcissists devoured by their thirst for power and revenge. Believe them when they promise to sow hatred and practice retribution. I don't understand how we can pretend today that the world is turning as always. Something monstrous is happening. It happens now, at this second, it happens tonight while you sleep, and it will happen tomorrow when you wake up. Barack Obama just visited Athens. He spoke urgently about the flame of democracy. He also tried, so I read in the newspaper,  "to take away the fear of Trump". Of course, he wants to keep a bit of influence on Trump. I think that will be disastrous. If Obama were honest, he should say, "Be afraid!"

What is now referred to as "the post-factual age", I've been living in for almost 20 years as a foreign correspondent in Turkey and China. Living with lies, propaganda and resentment, I've learned that in China and in Turkey. Existing among autocrats and budding autocrats. In societies where one lives in a minefield full of uncertainty and arbitrariness. But throughout I always had two consolations. First, I can always go back home and rely on the values ​​I believe in. And second, the world is always striving to become a better place because people elsewhere also dream of freedom and human dignity. Well, the charisma of democracy has been disintegrating for years: America's wars in the Middle East, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The revelations of Edward Snowden. What do you want, you hypocrites, people were asked in Cairo, Moscow, and Peking? The world has become a feast for cynics. For how much longer will my home country be a safe place I can feel proud of? Will Europe also fall?Do not let yourself be lulled. Not from the smell of your morning coffee, not from the subway that runs today as always  The world is no longer the same as  yesterday. Shout. Wake those who still believe in the comfort of hope, who lack the power of imagination. Wake them up. There's a monster. It stuck his gaze on us. Look him in the eye. Shout! And then go to work.

15 November 2016


The Arctic's temperature is way above normal for the time of year. The water is much warmer after the summer ice loss and there is a flood of warm air coming up from the South.

The unusually high temperatures reduce the temperature differential between the Arctic and lower latitudes and mean that the jet stream starts to slow down and meander bringing unusual weather to populated areas. ​​

This is probably the fastest way that climate change will affect people in the heavily populated regions. Waiting for crops to fail when the temperature rises 2 C will take another thirty years and waiting for the ice to melt and raise sea levels is a slow business but this is quick. Reduce Arctic ice cover, temperature rises and straight away the jet stream moves course.
It can bring excessive rain and floods or it can bring dry weather becoming drought, but in either case it is quick, it is regional and it is very unpleasant and expensive. 
 read more here

These are maybe the only things that governments understand about dealing with climate change if they are able to look beyond their little bitsy power deals and are willing to deal with it at all.

14 November 2016

Jack Frost has arrived with a cold wind. I wrapped myself up and walked down to the river where everything was bright and shiny, the river, the ferry, the hills, the joggers and cyclists and I got carried away for a bit. How beautiful it all is, how comfortable and happy our lives are here in this small city where so many nationalities live and work and study together, where the ultra right demonstrators were outnumber 500 to one last time, and then I met the elderly Korean tennis coach swinging his racket. Predictably, we chatted about the weather and the cold wind and our grown up children and earthquakes and universities and - this happens regularly - Ireland. His wife, he told me, is one quarter Irish, so his children's blood is one eighth Irish blood. At this stage I laughed and mumbled something about blood being the same for everyone but maybe the DNA and how that could be a surprise etc. And he nodded and laughed as well before he said, whatever the science, at least we are not black.
What? I said. Are you serious? And before I  would grab his tennis racket to hit him over the head, I walked on shaking, while he called after me, sorry, sorry, only joking. And of course all the right answers came to me much later.

13 November 2016

No rain today, cold yes, but clear mostly. Late breakfast, we make plans for the afternoon. I go upstairs to sort out my desk for the coming week and there is that ping on my phone.
The message reads don't worry we are fine and for the rest of the day I sit and watch a live stream camera of Wellington bay,  the waves of the Pacific ocean gently rolling in, rolling out, rolling in, no tsunami, no tsunami, no tsunami, at least 45 aftershocks. My child is safe.

11 November 2016

Our antidote to cultures of fear is knowledge, empathy, compassion. The open hand. The open imagination.

Paul Salopek
Thank you Leonard Cohen for teaching me that there needs to be that crack in everything - so that the light gets in.

09 November 2016

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear. Compassion—not what we thought. Love. Buddha nature. Courage. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.


06 November 2016

I wanted to do many things this weekend but my anger got in the way plus a couple of other things, like working on a translation about women and midwives in Upper Mustang (Nepal) which rapidly brought me back to my senses and reality. The picture above has been on the wall above my desk for the past five years. It shows Rensum, one of the older midwives. This is how she travels every day to the mountain villages at a high altitude to attend to her clients. (If you want to know more about her and the women in Upper Mustang, let me know.)
In between, I followed R around as he did our weekly shopping (bless him) and I felt like an alien in these endless miles of aisles. I eventually found two things to halfheartedly add to the trolley but generally, it was another lost day for capitalism. We won't starve as R shops with dedication and a list and he never ever gets tempted to buy crap except when there's wine to taste. Nobody said this would be easy, kicking and being furious in style and comfort. But I do have a talent for getting lost in my very own mess.

04 November 2016

Hello active world out there. I pushed this week in front of me like a sack of rotten potatoes. Last night I was so fucking tired I couldn't sleep, too exhausted to relax I just hung in there waiting for someone to come and knock me over the head or something. I know. drama queen. Anyway, nobody came. Just the usual banging noises from the fridge and R gently snoring.
Accordingly and following the developing pattern of slothfulness, I skipped this morning's Qi Gong with the Muslim women and instead nursed several cups of tea while gazing into the far distance for a few hours until my father phoned to list all his many many exciting plans for the weekend. I just let him talk on and on until the interference from his hearing aids became too loud. He only wears them for show, he has never been interested in listening.
Plus, it's almost freezing outside and while cycling to work is exhilarating what with all the colourful leaves and stuff, the thrill of cycling back home through the lonely dark forest is rapidly decreasing (do thrills decrease?). Also, once again I have come to realise that there is no such thing as windproof, chill-proof cycling gloves. They simply haven't been invented. Last night, I briefly considered immersing my hands into a dead horse in true Revenant style but this plan was abandoned due to lack of horse.
So there, life goes on. This is November, not July.
I shall finish this cup of coffee and go to work, I may even discover some purpose along the way.

02 November 2016

There are days when, well you know.
Days when I wonder what on earth etc.
One of them started with reading the wrong sections of the paper. I should stick with the glossy celebrity "news", I know.

Every seventh child on this planet - and remember it's all we've got - lives in an area of severe air pollution, the biggest environmental health risk. But of course, India and China are far away places.

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes.

And there is more. Shitloads.

Then I went shopping and I almost got into a fight with the young man who currently manages the local supermarket. It started very politely when I asked him why suddenly all the organic veg and fruit are now shrink-wrapped in plastic (actually, the bananas were unwrapped). We went back and forth for a while about regulations identifying organic produce, about stopping people buying organic stuff and pretending it was conventional, about making it easier for staff to clean and discard, about environmental pollution and how to recycle plastics (tell me another one) and I admit I was leading him on because I had just spent some time with someone on the phone who happens to research that kind of shit. And I walked away like the old biddy I have become feeling stupid and oh so well aware that this is not the way to go about it. But still. There are days, etc.

One of my friends-with-positive-mindset regularly reassures me with sentences like 'We have a planet full of resources, a body of knowledge and seven billion pairs of hands. The impediments to our finding an answer are not technical. They are organisational. How do we organise human affairs to prevent this?'

Currently we are still stuck in " How do we organise human affairs within the current rules, systems, mores, cultures and values to prevent this?"

And quite probably we will stay stuck there until it is actually too late.

Increasingly, there are days when I am relieved that I am almost old, that I probably have another 10, 15 years (max) and what the heck. But I am kidding myself. We all are.

31 October 2016

perfect day

lazy Sunday cycle along the river, clear air, a bit chilly, almost no wind, this is our life of luxury

29 October 2016

picture credit here

There are 27 bones in each hand and about 123 ligaments and there are times in the day when they all seem to shout at me for attention like one load roar. Also, morning stiffness, what a silly name.  Quite some morning, I tell you, it goes on and on.
At the back of my head I have stored the information from my last medical appointment, namely that I could either increase drug A or change drug B to drug C or maybe it was the other way around. I politely suggested to wait a bit longer explaining that I would like to pretend I could have a life without so much medication, at least until after xmas and the new doctor smiled from behind her desk and said, sure. For a while.
It's that easy. At least in my mind.
Now that I have officially switched experts, I wrote a long thank you letter to my lovely immunologist and sent it with a box of the best Italian dark chocolate covered torrone, wrapped in brown paper. Doctors are not allowed to accept gifts from patients, officially. But she will. I hope so. I will miss her, we had some good laughs.

Anyway, most mornings I wake and while I carefully move my hands and feet into flexibility, for a while it makes - surprisingly - a lot of sense, all this, life, death, being and stuff. Here in my bed, in my warm relaxing ocean of positive thinking, my mind humming with "Hell yes, I know how it works" and "I get it, I can handle it" until  eventually this huge wave rolls along which takes me away screaming "I will never understand!".
Maybe it's a winter thing. Clocks change on Sunday.

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.