14 August 2022

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water (W.H. Auden)

Did you know, that there is more water in the clouds and vapour above us than in all the rivers and oceans on our planet at any given time? If only it would rain. I lived in Ireland for many years and took rain for granted. I watched the film mentioned above here last night, an inspiration.

Because nutrients cycle through the ocean (the process of organisms eating organisms is the cycling of nutrients through the ocean), the atoms of those people who were thrown overboard are out there in the ocean even today. They were eaten, organisms processed them, and those organisms were in turn eaten and processed, and the cycle continues. Around 90 to 95 percent of the tissues of things that are eaten in the water column get recycled.

The sodium of human blood . . . (has) a residence time (the amount of time it takes for a substance to enter the ocean and then leave the ocean) of 260 million years.

Daisy Hildyard (from an essay found here

About thirty years ago, a friend was lost at sea. To be correct, a possible friend was lost at sea. When this happened, we were still at the greeting and recognition state that is common when non-African (white) people meet in the tiny African island paradise we were living at the time. It was only a few weeks or maybe a month since he had arrived with his family, just as we did a few years earlier.

We were in the early stage of getting ready to leave for India, packing and selling stuff, when we got the news. It was evening, we were sharing a dinner with a group of friends when someone mentioned that the boat he had hired had not come in before sunset. What followed were harrowing days and evenings taking turns sitting with the family, making tea, cooking dinners nobody ate, distracting children with endless games of volleyball underneath the jacaranda trees.

It was months later when a merchant vessel picked up the empty boat a very long way north, past the Arabian Sea and the Horn of Africa. I often think of him, out there under the sun in a small boat on the vast Indian Ocean. How happy he was that day we spoke on the most beautiful beach, watching our kids diving in the surf. And I assured him that they all would just love their time here, that the three years of his contract would just fly, that he should cherish every day and so on. I meant it.

And I think of the over 3,000 migrants that died at sea on their way to Europe last year, the 17,000 who lost their lives in the Mediterranean since 2014.

Meanwhile, our rivers are drying out. The glaciers in the Alps are melting at a rate nobody seemed to think possible quite yet. I cycle along my river at around sunset when the temperature has dropped to 30C (85 F). There are still some barges going and ferries but only just and the trees are rapidly dropping their shriveled leaves.

Today, as last week, R joined in a human chain of 35 people collecting 1000 liters of river water in buckets to water the trees in a local park

 The covid patch in the garden looks miserable. But deep underneath the brittle and dry stalks, there is wild thyme and oregano, some small clover and plenty of other greens coming up. I imagine it only needs a bit of rain to see more growth.


And almost a month earlier than usual, we harvested the grapes. According to R's measurements with his hydrometer gadget, they could have stayed on a tiny bit longer for more sweetness but it was us vs. wasps. I fought their corner for about two days.








 


 


 


06 August 2022

 For me, this is an example of true social media. Also, Belgium cities are lovely.

02 August 2022

solutions, solutions, solutions

If you're worried that it's too late to do anything about climate change and we should all just give up, I have great news for you: that day is not coming in your lifetime. As long as you have breath in your body, you will have work to do.

Mary Annaïse Heglar

It's really hot again, the bits of lawn we have left between the flower beds and trees are brown and yellow. Lawn will recover first, I know that, but it looks and feels so bare and brittle. We water as little as possible, mostly with the newfangled drip feeding system R installed earlier this year. The insects love it and sit all along the route. In the morning and evening, when the birds have had their wash, the bees and wasps and all their friends as well as the very small number of butterflies come to the birdbath for a drink. The hedgehog shuffles along after dark to his water bowl. The upstairs bedroom windows are shaded by an almond tree which has been dropping its leaves for the past month but before the sun reaches that part of the house and while I have the windows open, birds sit in it and the robins and some young female blackbirds have started to have a quick look inside, even hopping on the inside window sill possibly for some cooler temps.

We are taking stock for a drought garden future, making lists of what will have to go, what will be replaced with what next year. 

My father has recovered from his second bout of covid and seemingly has decided to stay in bed from now on. He sounds quite content that way but some of my family are quite angry and find it selfish and lazy. Also, if it escalates it could seriously mess up the holiday travel plans of some. My family is so full of surprises.

Back to the reality: There is this fallacy that keeps on coming up. All that talk about how it's too late anyway, that humankind is doomed and people are just stupid and will not change their ways etc. etc. Usually, this is expressed with dramatic sadness and, especially by people of my age set, that tiny bit of relief because we are too old anyway and we know it all. 

I am so sick and tired of it. The way we paralyze ourselves with words because what the heck, giving up meat, flying, driving, all our lovely consumer rituals is much too hard.

So I ask myself: Who do I want to be in this world that is about to ruin itself? Do I want to be someone who carries on with a thousand excuses? Are my life's luxuries more important than my children? Do I want to live in constant and increasing contradiction to my values? - Or should I at least act as if I could contribute to a better future, regardless of whether that future actually happens?

Here is my to-do list, pick at least one that you can do. Sorry, it does not include recycling or plastic waste. It's based on the recommendations of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the intergovernmental body of the United Nations responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change):

  • Switch so renewable energy sources, even rural peasant farmers in Asia and Africa use solar panels.
  • Conserve and restore forests and ecosystems  (hint: gardens are ecosystems too).
  • Use (and if possible grow) climate-friendly food.
  • Eat much much less meat. In fact, a plant-based diet can save up to 50 percent of a person's greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Define happiness and satisfaction other than through faster, higher, further and ever more.
  • Have hope. Help each other. Love our planet.

This figure is from: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (for personal, non-commercial usages, reproduction of limited number of figures or short excerpts of IPCC material is authorized free of charge and without formal written permission).

25 July 2022

a very old, old joy

Since it came to Earth, the water has been cycling through air, rocks, animals and plants. Each molecule has been on an incredible journey. When you feel alone, try to remember that at some point the water inside you would have been inside dinosaurs, or the ocean, or a polar ice-cap, or maybe a storm cloud over a faraway sea at a time when the sea was still nameless. Water crosses millennia and boundaries and borders.

Remember, we all have something in common, and that is the water that runs through us.

 Christy Lefteri (from: Songbirds, a novel 2021)


Since 2013, I have been following writer Paul Salopek walking the Out of Eden Walk, along the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa spreading across the planet. He is currently in China and this is latest video.

 
Whether we like it or not, we are all walking together into a bottleneck new century, with the climate crisis upon us, with gigantic gaps in income, with rising tribalism across ideologies, we face a pretty difficult path ahead, a panorama of uncertainty. The walk teaches me this: That we stand a better chance of survival by walking together, by learning from each other, by listening to each other's ideas, and by pulling each other up as we move forward. There is a very old, old joy in this approach. Every new day on my trail, whether I wake up in a Buddhist temple or the hut of a Sichuan yak herder, the word that floats to mind always as I lace up my boots for another day is the same. It's yes.

Paul Salopek


17 July 2022

same old same old

Late this morning while we were cleaning up the breakfast stuff from the patio, R asked me why I was crying and I touched my face and yes, surprise, he was right. For a moment I was at a loss and then it hit me. I miss my child so badly, I said and then it was over, weird as it was. It is not as if she has suddenly vanished. I mean, she's been living far away for the best part of the last 15 years but we talk several times a week and as R says, she never shuts up, doesn't she.

Now I feel old. Actually, I am old. And ill. And a bit miserable. But other than that, it was a beautiful morning, clear skies, low humidity, bees and butterflies and birds, all the pleasant Sunday noises and so on. The extreme heat is supposedly going to hit us by tomorrow.

these beauties are flowering at last

So let's see. I've been sitting in a doctor's waiting room three, four, five times in recent weeks? I forget. Every visit was an example of careful attention, I have no complaints other than that I had to accept that, yes, this, these last couple of weeks of exhaustion and inflammations here and there and everywhere was a flare up and yes, steroids were called for. And people, cortisone is a miracle drug. If only it would not have all the side effects. The deal was for five days at high dosage and on day four, I was jubilant, no other word for it. Despite the stomach aches and the racing heart beat and the sleepless nights and the mood swings. Hence the tears, I think, but as of today I am coming down to normal grumpy me and keeping fingers crossed etc.

grapes ripening one month earlier than in recent years

When I am visibly unwell, English speaking people usually ask, what's wrong with you? And immediately, I could get all defensive and wish I could reply that there is nothing wrong with me, that - only - something went wrong with my immune system but that's it. 

I don't. I am polite and assume they didn't mean it, that social stigmatisation and - watch out: new terminology - ableism doesn't exist in my circle of friends.

(Ableism is defined as the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities, based on the belief that able-bodied people are superior. It is, at its core, rooted in the assumption that disabled people require fixing and, very importantly, defines people by their disability.)

The German terminology is somewhat different. Whether doctor or colleague, the question is: was fehlt dir? What are you missing/lacking? I feel looked after when I hear this. I do.

the covid patch gone mad

I know, believe me, that there are more important things in life than health. Of course, well-being is easier to achieve when there is no disease to worry about. To assume that health is the most important thing in life - this is an attitude only healthy people can afford. And I know that too well, I used to be one of them.

When you end up with a chronic illness, you figure it out, you must understand, eventually, that not life itself, but the conditions under which life takes shape are changed.

Or as one medical expert along the way told me ages ago, paraphrasing the words of Viktor Frankl: When you are faced with situations out of your control, you need to adapt to those circumstances. You need to find meaning in that situation. That is, to find what you can learn from it, and discover ways to carry you through.

apricot and cherry season, best of all

When I experience a flare up, I am lost at the very end of a seesaw, in the middle of which I try to balance most of the time. On the one side, the world of the healthy, with all the joys, banalities, tasks and adversities that life contains - all of which way out of reach. On the other side, the world of the sick, which is not necessarily darker overall, but in many ways very different. To achieve balance again and again and to figure out where I am right now, that is the skill - one that I will never fully master. 

Things can only get better. 


 

28 June 2022

the world today

To our east, not too far away to ignore, a mad man intends to reinvent himself as Peter the Great, at least in terms of violent expansion of his reign. A distant relative with Finnish family ties reports on how their holiday home near the Russian border has been turned into a supply center for all things needed in case of you know what. And it's not only tins of food in the storage.

To our west, across the ocean, Margaret Atwood's Gilead is rising. I listened to a lengthy radio feature this morning detailing how social media, cell phone apps, bluetooth captured travel patterns (google maps, satnav etc.) and DNA stored by ancestry etc. websites can and most likely will be used to track down women seeking abortion, related health care and, eventually, birth control. We have watched our crime series and we all know that a person's DNA can be detected in the tiniest drop of blood, speck of tissue, evaporated sweat salts. And maybe we all should know that maternal DNA (mitochondrial DNA) is found in males and females and can be traced through generations. Think of these massive DNA data banks and how easy it will be to find a woman who left that tiny shred of tissue. All you need is a distant relative. 

Many years ago, there was outrage when a traveller from Ireland was arrested upon entry to the US based on what immigration had found on their amazon order lists - and that was at a time when amazon was mainly trading in books. Under his eye*.

*In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, this phrase is the prescribed greeting, meaning that someone—a Guardian, a Commander, a fellow Handmaid, God—is always watching.

While, far away to the southeast, across landmasses and oceans, a new public holiday has been celebrated for the first time this week in June. It's called Matariki., which is the Māori name used to describe the star cluster also known as Pleiades. (Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand.) Before sunrise on and around this day during what is New Zealand's winter, the cluster becomes visible as a faint sparkle of tiny dots on the northeastern horizon.

Matariki is aligned with the maramataka, an ancient lunar calendar which synchronises the daily activities of people with the natural world, moon, sun, stars and planets. It uses cycles and phases instead of counting days, weeks and months. 

So here we have it: war to the east, a new taliban regime to the west and celebration of our place in the universe to the southeast. 

All on the one pale blue dot.


19 June 2022

In no particular order, this happened in the last three weeks:

A short but massive heatwave.

For the second or third or possibly tenth time in my life, I had a dose of vestibular neuritis, aka inflammation of the balance nerve. It's all part and parcel of the weird autoimmune disease I have acquired ages ago. Basically, I acted and possibly looked like a drunken sailor in a heavy storm. Actually, no, make that a tourist, a non-sea worthy tourist, incl. some unpleasant emptying of stomach contents. It's exhausting but the euphoria once I was beginning to recover was probably not unlike what seasick tourists experience when reaching the shore. I am not quite there yet, small steps etc. I spent long hours listening to Louise Erdrich reading in her gentle voice The Night Watchman.

On Wednesday, the covid app informed me that I had spent an extended period of time in close contact with at least one covid-positive person two days earlier and that for the next ten days I should test daily, watch for symptoms and isolate. The close contact was at least one person at the ENT surgery, maybe even the doctor who examined me on Monday.  So far, I have no symptoms and all of the lateral flow tests have been negative. But apparently, I can still pass on viral load, i.e. be infectious, although I doubt that. Anyway, this new variant is a tricky fellow. 

For the last three days now I can walk without having to hold R's arm, I keep my food in the proper place and this evening, we even cycled a short distance - in splendid isolation - but afterwards, I felt like a train had run me over. 

The garden is a delight. 



29 May 2022

 

 

Somewhere on my desk there is a piece of paper with the covid helpline of my employer, the opening hours of the free PCR testing sites at the university clinic (Monday - Friday) and instructions on what to do and what to mention incl. the information leaflet of my medication.

Two days ago, one of the regular rapid lateral flow tests I am obliged by my employer to administer at home showed a positive line.  I went downstairs and told R that I would not be able to go to the farmer's market after all. Instead, I drove to the nearest testing center to get a conformation PCR test, only they refused to do it because I failed to bring my lateral flow test as evidence. Instead, they did another rapid lateral flow test which was negative. Back home, I briefly dithered between being seriously ill and who cares anyway, but as it was not Monday - Friday, I decided to get on with life and take it easy - my usual weekend activity as it were. This morning I did another test, again negative, and I asked google for information on false positive results with that particular test kit and it turns out that this is a documented manufacturer's fault that happens when the sample size is too small.

I cleaned the bathroom, kitchen and hoovered the hall and staircase, baked a blueberry-lemon cake without icing, cooked Sunday lunch (red peppers, zucchini and mushrooms with fregula and parmesan), had one cup of coffee and went on my usual 10 km cycle along the river. 

Later, we will make tea and maybe have some grilled cheese on toast and some fresh strawberries and then watch the Sunday evening thriller on German TV and the late news.

The tendency to treat my imperfect existence as if it were a shadow of my real life, the one I would be living without a chronic disease, this mental image of my healthy self, it slows me down every time as if all people except myself are healthy and fit and have nothing to worry about.

When you are not one of the seemingly healthy, you need to work hard sometimes so you don't fall out of love with yourself as the illness tries again and again to run the show. At least I need to do that. Cycling, baking, strawberries, it all helps.

 


25 May 2022

Thank you Dervla Murphy

 

On May 22nd, three days ago, Dervla Murphy died aged 90. In my wildest dreams, I wanted to live a life like hers, at least the cycling and travelling part. When I read her first book (Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle), my then bicycle, my only means of transport, was a Dutch High Nelly with three gears and a wonky handbrake and I found it most reassuring that Dervla, before she set off to India in the middle of winter had the gears dismantled from her bike (an Armstrong Cadet men's bicycle from the 1950s) because she did not want to be bothered by cumbersome repairs and no spare parts along the way.

A couple of times, we drove past and once, actually stood in front of the gate to her house in Lismore, but  decided that it wasn't the proper thing to do, call in uninvited on a rainy Sunday. Her dogs went ballistic with barking, so we left in a hurry. I do wish I could have met her in person.

In Ireland, most people know her, know of her. I am always surprised that this is not the case elsewhere.

When we decided - on a whim, literally - to move to paradise, this small African country, with a five year old child, two tea chests of basics, mostly books and a sewing machine, eyes wide open and utterly clueless, I read On a shoestring to Coorg, her account of travelling and living in Southern India with her five year old daughter, penniless and with only a small backpack, and felt completely prepared. In fact, I was going to reduce the stuff we had packed but R stopped me (he had been working in Africa for a couple of years before we met and knew the drill).

This is from Eight feet in the Andes, her book of travelling in 1977 with her, by then, nine year old daughter and a mule from Ecuador to Cuzco. 

They have put down their tent for the night near Huamachucho, Peru, and Dervla has to get up at around midnight ("Nature called") and entranced by the moonlit night, writes in her diary:

. . . there was no stirring of a breeze, no whispers of running water: the stillness was so unflawed that it seemed the sovereign moon, floating high, must have put a spell on our whole world. . . . There is more to such experiences than visual beauty, necessary to mankind yet hard to put in words. It is the beauty of freedom: freedom from an ugly, artificial, dehumanising, discontented world in which man has lost his bearings. A world run by an alliance of self-hypnotised technocrats and profit-crazed tycoons who demand constant, meaningless change. A world where waste and greed are accepted - even admired - because our minds' manipulators have made frugality and moderation seem like failure in the Acquisition Game. . . . I know and have always known the we humans need to escape at intervals from that alien world which has so abruptly replaced the environment that bred us. We 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.
She was exactly 25 years older than me, we share a birthday and she had a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis in the end. I have been calculating what my life could be like, another 25 years, maybe I can have that, as I already have the rheumatoid like disease.




23 May 2022

garden secrets

Yet another storm is brewing, the weather app is pinging and shouting. Again, we cleared the basement floors, tidied up the garden furniture, shut the green house and with any luck, it'll pass.

The skies on Friday were dramatic. But that was it. Not a single drop of rain.

Others were not so lucky and who knows what this evening will bring.

My new friends, a pair of wood pigeons, woke me at the crack of dawn. The have found a favourite spot in the almond tree outside the bedroom window, where they bicker for a while before cooing back and forth at length and at volume. I have decided to actually not mind this at all. Even at 5:30 am. 

the Robin rose

I had to get up anyway for my immunologist check-up. The new guy is very jolly and we agreed that not much has changed or needs to be done apart from more blood work to figure out the low iron levels and sure, why not, maybe see a phlebologist because of that markedly swollen right ankle etc. etc. We discussed the 30+ hrs travel (two stop-overs incl.) later this year with medication that needs to be kept below 5°C at all times. Not a good fit but there should has to be way. And in the end, in connection with one thing or another, I forget which, he uttered the fateful saying "never change a winning team" (in English) and I tried very hard to keep a straight face but failed. We then discussed at length the origin of this phrase (soccer) and how it found its way into medicine (he did recall an actual lecture with this title) and for the life of him, he couldn't see how a patient as tolerant as myself could find this inappropriate. I told him, he will get there over time and how silly sayings convey not a message that one can trust and that especially when saddled with a chronic illness, these stupid remarks don't get any better when one has to hear them repeatedly.  To cut him short, I uttered WTF (in English) which he thought was hilarious. And so we parted as friends.

ash, black cherry, rambling rose and mackerel skies

On my way back, cycling through the lushest of forest, I stopped at the frog spawn pond but failed to take a picture. As it was still before 10 am, I sat down for a café au lait outside at the French place and then got some of fancy tea, which is black Assam with cream flavouring and blue cornflower blossoms and a punnet of blueberries. My life of luxury.

This here is our covid patch, four square meters in a sunny spot we have left untouched in the bottom lawn since spring 2020. We just mow around it, never water it. Currently, it has about 25 different wild flower species in it, all humming with insects, one small walnut tree and a fat hedgehog moves through it at night. The secrets a badly tended lawn can bring forth. With the help of birds and squirrels and the wind.



 



16 May 2022

the great dental disaster

It's time now to put this to rest. I am well past it, it happened years ago. I no longer freak out from the minor pain I get when my gums bleed - which happens regularly due to immune suppression.

There is this clever sentiment, often used by instructors in meditation, that toothache is only a toothache because the moment it's gone, we cannot remember what it was really like. But let me tell you that is not true. I used to remember. To the point of panicking.

But first things first. Spring 2007. We are getting ready to visit our daughter who is studying in SE Asia. The flights are booked, the bags are in the process of being packed. The necessary vaccinations are done etc. and I develop a nagging tooth ache. Just as well, we say, let's check our teeth before we head into the jungles. The dentist finds nothing wrong, adjust some surfaces, rinses my gums and we agree that I may need one of these newfangled bite rails, but postpone this until our return. The tooth ache progresses beyond nagging, however, and I am back within 48 hours. This time x-rays without any clue and prophylactic antibiotic. Three days later, I am back with by now considerable pain. The dentists decides to drill into a crown on the off chance that there's a hidden something or other. 

I cut it short here. Nothing was found to be wrong with the teeth but on the morning of our - now cancelled - flights, molar no. 1 was extracted, I drove home chewing on a wad of tissue and cried. The pain got worse. Over the next four weeks tissue samples from inside my mouth were taken to identify possible causes of infection, six courses of antibiotics were administered, two more molars were extracted, countless dry sockets were scraped with sharp spoons, layered with tissue soaked in antibiotics, clove oil and  various anti-inflammatory agents, rinsed and scraped again and again. Eventually, we are now well into summer, a small part of the jaw bone was sliced off. 

By now, I had been given every painkiller known to dentistry, local and full anesthetics when necessary and also when not, people held my hands, stroked my face, wiped my tears. The hole in my upper jaw was no longer infected but simply would not heal. And never for a minute did it stop hurting. It was a fabulous summer for soft fruit and plums but I climbed the walls in pain unable to eat or sleep. 

Enter morphine. It did the trick. No  more pain. NO. MORE. PAIN. But what next? I was not going to live my life propped up by  morphine. Have you any idea what it does to your digestion? By that time, I was on seemingly - forever sick leave, had lost a lot of weight, our daughter had returned and watched with helpless worry. In the end, I found an expert in pain management therapy, who reduced the dosage in minute steps over a period of, I think, two years? And shortly after I had left it all behind me, had briefly chanted "no drugs ever again for me" with the hole more or less closed and healed, I got the diagnosis of the shitty chronic disease and during one of the initial meetings, the immunologist warned me to watch for possible wound healing disorders, especially in connection with inflammation of facial nerves and there you have it.

Unrelated music for balance.


12 May 2022

words and music

Last night in a dream, far away from reality, I heard the words "sharp spoon" whispered in my ear, and I woke up with one of these silent screams - like in the movies. A sharp spoon is a dentistry tool and it is exactly that, a tiny stainless steel spoon with a very sharp edge. I cannot remember how often I heard these words uttered by a dentist leaning over my mouth, as in "hand me that fucking sharp spoon", but every time was gruesome. Maybe I inserted the f word in my memory.

Briefly, (and bear with me, you are all safe) a sharp spoon is used to remove connective and granulation tissue, i.e. bundles of inflamed matter, from the tooth socket when, after a tooth extraction and against all of the rules of dentistry, the gap has not filled with nicely and rapidly coagulating blood. Use your imagination if you wish. This procedure is applied when you are immune compromised or maybe because there's a spell on you and you have spent a seemingly endless amount of time in tooth ache hell.

Anyway, all over and done. Worse than childbirth, believe me. And it's only recently that I have been able to vaguely remember the time this happened, the three months of my life I lived with a large hole inside my mouth that would not heal, without getting a slight panic attack. 

I have no idea where all this dream stuff is coming from now but we are both having various bad dreams, almost nightmares. A sign of the times? I don't know. Life, when I look at it without the bigger picture, is gorgeous early summer, mild evenings, the beauty of a twice/week cycling commute through the lush forest, pleasant work atmosphere, the first strawberries to pick and so on. But, oh yes, the bigger picture. One of these mornings after wake up, we discussed selling up and moving back to Ireland, neutral country etc. and just that day, the state media in Russia showed a clip of a mock nuclear attack. At the end there was only green ocean where Ireland and Britain should be. No use shouting that Ireland is an independent state, nothing British about it. (If you want to watch it, click here). And instead I am getting worked up about a sharp spoon, seriously.

Here are some random garden pictures.

wisteria, horse chestnut and black prunus

sweet cicely under the apple tree

woodruff under the pear tree




And some peaceful music with an amazing cello solo, wait for it.



08 May 2022

I think it was Andrea Dworkin who said - ages ago - something along the lines of to men, women are private property. Or at least, men think this is the case. The way drivers think that public roads are made for cars, never mind the rest of the public. I realise, this is not necessarily the best analogy but I am mostly travelling by bicycle and it is Sunday evening and I have yet to recover from the week behind me while getting in shape for the week ahead. I did cycle today and yesterday and the day before, as a means of getting from A to B on public roads. Also, Andrea Dworkin probably meant right wing men.

Anyway, I have just worked my way through my usual Sunday paper reading tasks and here is my top find.

To All Those Who Dare Rob Us of Our Bodily Choice, I ask you:

What is it about our bodies that makes you so afraid, so insecure, so cruel and punishing?

Is it their singular autonomy or mere existence?

Is it their capacity for immense and unending pleasure – orgasms that can multiply orgasms inside orgasms? Is it our skin? Is it our desire?

Is it our openness that rattles you and reminds you of where you are closed?

Is it the pure strength of our bodies that allows us to bleed and birth and bend and carry and continue on in spite of all the ways you have reduced us and objectified us, humiliated us and disrespected us and tried to shape us into baby-making machines? Our strength that is inherent and doesn’t need to prove itself or show off or rely on weapons or violence to control and terrorise? Doesn’t need to abolish laws, or lie to become supreme court judges or president or rig the decks when they get there.

Do you know this power? Can you imagine it? A power that comes from respecting life, caring for others before oneself, holding communities together?

. . .

What is it about our bodies that make you think you have the right to invade them, determine them, control and legislate them, violate and force them to do anything against their will?

Perhaps you mistake our generosity for weakness, our patience for passivity, our vulnerability for fragility.

 . . .

This is our world now. And these are our bodies. We know what you are up to – this is just the beginning of your diabolical plan to rob us of contraception and marriage equality and civil rights and on and on. This is all part of your desperation to prevent the future that is on the verge of being born – a future where we know our past and begin to reckon with it, a future where we teach critical race theory and the truth about white supremacy and sexism and transphobia.

A future where we care for our Earth and devote our lives to protecting air and water and forests and animals and all living things, a future where people have autonomy over their bodies and wombs and gender and marry who they want to, and don’t get married if they don’t want to, and have babies if they want to, and don’t have babies if they don’t want to. Despite all your lies, strategies and devious ways you are simply never going to stop us.

You have unleashed our fury, our solidarity, our unity.

 (to read the whole commentary article by V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) click here)

I live in a country where abortion is generally punishable for all parties involved but exceptions apply which means that abortion is exempt from punishment in certain situations incl. medical indications such as if the woman's life is in danger or there is a risk of serious impairment of her physical or mental state of health. Also, if the pregnancy is based on a sexual offence such as rape. The costs are covered by statutory health insurance, i.e. everybody. But we are watching. We know there are (mostly) men who are getting very excited watching what's happening across the Atlantic.


26 April 2022

 


This is the last item from my grandmother's house and thus, my father's home-before-the-care-home and therefore also the last item from my childhood that I have rescued. It is my grandmother's bread bin and has been my father's for the past 25 years. As he no longer needs to store bread, he graciously let me have it. Graciously is a euphemism, it was more, what do you want that old tin for anyway.

When during my childhood, we visited my grandmother we would always have a look into that tin just in case she did have some of her soft home baked rolls in it - not often, usually it was Franconian sourdough bread. My father had the exact same bread in it over the years. 

At the moment it's empty, we spent the weekend polishing 25 years of neglect from its surface and got half way to my grandmother's standards. It's solid copper, you need two hands to hold it. For the time being I am keeping it. If the price of copper soars one day when we are old and poor, we will sell it and live the life of luxury.

I should be sentimental but no. I have a considerable selection of my grandparent's Wilhelminian period wardrobes (2), bedside cabinets (2), too-short bed frames (2), sideboards with cracked marble tops (1), all in full use around the house, and what my grandmother referred to "the vertico", which I am currently attempting to sell because we replaced it with a cheap and nasty but enormously handy ikea press (which we managed to scratch while assembling). The vertico could look fabulous (for a beautiful one, not exactly like mine, click here) but currently it is showing its age and the years of use.  It always stood in the hall of my grandparent's house and held hat boxes, a basket of leather and lace gloves, a shelf of many scarves and most importantly, the fox stole. Next to it was the umbrella stand with the fancy sun umbrellas. Apart from the fox stole, I still have the hats and most of the gloves and some of the scarves and of course, the fancy umbrellas. My daughter played with all of these things as did I when I was small.

I should mention that on the back of the vertico is a stamp by the US army, declaring it as German property item 16 on loan.  The US army had confiscated my grandparent's house for several years after the war.

In other news, we had a good day of rain, we harvest plenty of fresh lettuce, rhubarb, radish and I am watching the baby apricots and pears and peaches and plums. Also, the spuds are pushing up.

 


 


24 April 2022

tell them the truth?

Time flies. Magnolia flowering season is over and done with for the year, we are halfway through lilac season and wisteria season is just about to go into full swing. Also, asparagus and strawberries season.

tulips and flowering blueberries
woodruff spreading under the pear trees


What has been on my mind most of last night and this morning was the discussion I had with a friend on how to speak with children about climate change. It wasn't a discussion as such, we spoke past each other and in the end, we were really upset about it. 

Her children are small, mine is grown up. She wants them to live blissfully unaware for as long as possible. I argue to tell the truth, always, at least when asked. In our case, I don't remember when the issue first came, if it ever came up, from us, the parents or from school or the news. No idea. But I know that my child knew, was well aware of what we knew, guessed, hoped and despaired about. What I do remember is R insisting to teach her about the four wheres: where does the water that runs out of the taps come from, where does the water go to when we are done with it, where does the energy come from that provides us with electricity and heat and where is our waste ending up. He has been asking these questions in all the places we have lived, asked every class he has ever taught and keeps on asking.

This has always been the start of further activities, often her own initiatives and ideas. After all, he is a science teacher, even when a father. She did get fed up with her dad along the way, obviously, but now she is teaching her own child.

Anyway, this is why we had the discussion: 

Largest scientific study of its kind finds climate anxiety affects the daily life and functioning of nearly half of children and young people surveyed globally.

The inaugural study, based on surveys with 10,000 children and young people (16-25) across 10 countries, found 75% of young respondents believe ‘the future is frightening’ - jumping to 81% of youth surveyed in Portugal and 92% in the Philippines. It found, for the first time, that climate distress and anxiety is significantly related to perceived government inaction and associated feelings of betrayal. 58% of children and young people surveyed said governments were “betraying me and/or future generations,” while 64% said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The full study can be read here. A short communication is here.

This is on us. This is the mess we created. And now we sit back and say it's too late, sorry?

Ok, I am getting carried away as usual. 

 

And They All Lived Happily

All bad guys died in the end. 
My kiss did make bruises better. 
It was right to put lost teeth under a pillow 
and that time, when you didn’t find money, 
there really was a tooth-fairy holiday. 

I told the truth about castor oil 
as you have grown big and strong. 
Broccoli, porridge, the last bit on your plate,  
have been the making of you. 
I really believed your Granny would get better. 
I didn’t think your eyes would possibly stick 
that way, but it seemed the thing to say. 
That report card wasn’t worth all my giving out, 
I knew your teacher had a pick against you 
but how to admit that to a ten-year-old?  

We weren’t made of money. I did need a break. 
Our dog did go to live on a farm, for a while.  
When I said I’ll think about itI did. 
You do know I was I right about that girl. 
Honestly, most of the time, I told you the truth. 

 

 


18 April 2022

Franconian interlude

On the long drive back, we decided that what my father is lacking is grace and a sense of humility. I wonder if I have any. As kids we were taught to send thank you notes to relatives after they had come for a visit bringing gifts. I doubt, I'll ever get one from him. When I phoned after we returned home, he quickly noted that I had already been back for almost 24 hours. 

Anyway, he lives in a pleasant place with great facilities. He spends a lot of his time looking for someone to blame for the fact that he can no longer walk. We covered my brother, my sister, and also my neglect, but as I had brought a splendid cake, he eventually settled on the surgeon (who saved his leg). 

The Franconian sky was beautiful when we stopped for our al fresco lunch on the way. I had forgotten to pack mugs, so we drank the coffee straight from the flask while the skylarks were singing their hearts out.

 
On the way home, we stopped to take in the view of the village of Castell where the Romans had started these vineyards a good while ago. The church bells were ringing as I took this picture. No skylarks.


 



garden in April

If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you.

Dougald Hine

I am too tired to write down what is going on in my mind, the debates and arguments between my inner voices about war and peace and how to justify stocking up on arms and history repeating or not, about the strange weather patterns and the decrease in birdsong. We have booked extremely expensive flights to a country that has yet to open its borders to visitors, it's still a while before we hope to travel but we are either sinking a ton of money or shall be the luckiest, happiest we have been for years. And so right now it has become almost unbearable to look at my far away daughter's face on my phone screen with this uncertainty.

Tomorrow though we will be on the road for four hours to visit my father. I made his cake this morning, packed the Easter chocolates and while I made a short list of what to get ready early tomorrow morning, he calls with instructions on when and how and where to park the car. 

Here are some garden pictures.

peppers and tomatoes waiting in the greenhouse

various veg waiting too, also some early strawberries

tomatoes, they will stay inside, the thing behind it is the solar heater panel

wild tulips

forget me nots under the hazel bush

one of the apple trees

corn flower

wild garlic

miniature daffs

woodland strawberries taking over


some of the pink tulips


potatoes are up, look how dry it is


11 April 2022

Seed, second version

 The poem by Paula Meehan from my last post, with soundtrack.


28 March 2022

Monday

 

The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended.

Paula Meehan

Flowering fruit trees, bees pollinating, warm sun, lunch on the patio. There will be rain, maybe even some snow in the coming days. April.

To date, 1 500 refugees from Ukraine have officially arrived in our city, in the coming days, weeks, this number will go up to about 10 000, schools and kindergartens, youth clubs, hospitals, vaccination centers, churches, local community centers are organising language support, extra teachers, staff, volunteers.

As a result of one of my new year's resolutions (concentrating life's necessities to within cycling/walking reach) I walk to the new dentist. She also meets another resolution (switch to female medical experts), and she hums while she polishes and cleans. She laughs when I mention sage tea, yes, yes, the stronger the better, rinse every day.

My country's government is considering installation of a vast missile shield system, an iron dome. Our nation's elected leader explains on national tv during Sunday prime time why and how "we will not become militarily engaged there" and that "even if they are called peacekeepers, they are troops."  We try to consider this, R coming from a neutral country that was brutally colonised for centuries, I was raised in the country that brought about WWII and the genocide of 6 millions Jews. My sister-in-law, a pastor in the Lutheran church and peace activist, sends me links to anti-war songs, urgent petitions to sign, war resisters statements on non-violent solidarity. My child and her family live peacefully in an insignificant far away country.

Later, we bake the first rhubarb crumble, a bit too sour and too soggy but delicious as every year.



 




25 March 2022

 This song was written for times like these.

The pianist is Davide Martello. He turns up from time to time in places and at rallies in my city too. There are some interviews with him online if you want to know how and why he travelled to the Polish-Ukrainian border, just google his name.

 

19 March 2022

WTF

Spring, definitely, colourful, noisy and thanks to the winds from Africa, sandy. 

I am not well, what else is new. Yesterday, I gave a short presentation of a woman in her 60s who is fed up with chronic illness flare ups and the tedious pretense of remaining cool and calm. It was quite a performance, if I may say so, which was met with a solid round of applause from the one person who has seen it all over the years. Bless him.

I cancelled all appointments and tasks for the coming week which was supposedly a holiday week, with plans to climb mountains/cross the seas and have a haircut, obviously, and now I am blissfully resigned to listening falling asleep to podcasts and getting lost on the internets., while R has taken on my assignment for today, namely power cleaning the patio and greenhouse. He usually hates power cleaning and gave a little speech just now to tell me that he is doing this in exchange of me getting better. We shall see. 

So, here is what keeps me entertained.

More sheep and sheep dogs.

Stuff about dreams. Although I would have guessed, flying is on top of any list.
Human evolution, briefly:
 
 

Groundbreaking scientific findings: 

 

Benefits of swearing

Swearing in the physical therapy setting should be used to accomplish specific goals, such as relief from pain or stress. When swearing is based on biopsychosocial utility, it may add significant value if used correctly. Swearing tends to be more tolerated in private settings and among peers as opposed to a more formal and public setting. Swearing can lead to tighter human bonds and create informal environments where people are more likely to be themselves [3]. Social groups depend on some degree of shared willingness to participate in risks or taboo practices, swearing being one of them. In the physical therapy setting, an improved relationship or positive connection between a patient and a physical therapist, otherwise known as the therapeutic alliance, has been linked to improvements in musculoskeletal pain.

 It is advised to use a swear word that you would use in response to banging your head accidentally [15]. If no clear swear words come to mind, the S-word and F-word are the two most common swear words [8, 9] and were used by many of the subjects in the research showing the positive effects of swearing. There is evidence that a patient needs to use an actual swear word, not a made up or bad sounding word, to elicit the pain and physical performance improvements.

I can only recommend that you read the complete article, it's an excellent read, click here.

13 March 2022

Today, I wake early. Spring and birds do that to me. I make tea and look out into the garden listening to the BBC World Service where various people from Ukraine are carefully explaining their situations. I set the table for breakfast and later, when R sits down with me, I tell him what I remember. By the time I get to the part where the poet spoke about the taste of blood he suddenly had in his mouth when he heard that all four bakers of his most cherished bakery had been killed, my voice gets tight and I am struggling to breathe. 

Our Sunday is peaceful, I sort out the week's laundry, clean the bathroom, cook while R fits a new drip feed watering system to the greenhouse, after lunch, R makes coffee and we drink it sitting out in the sun - a first - by the flowering peach trees. I've had a rough two weeks health wise and for the first time in two weeks, I manage my 10 k cycle and arrive back home tired but triumphant. I call my father and we discuss the state of the world. 

I hear him turning pages and he tells me, he has been browsing an old edition of The Odes by Horace, and he reads to me (in German, not Latin, the English is mine):

 The wicked man advances, but punishment, though lame of foot, has rarely let him escape. 

There you have it, he tells me. It'll all turn out right in the end. We proceed to talk about the weather.