31 December 2012


three wishes for the new year

1. Be Calm. calmer.
2. Stay open to whatever happens.
3. No more Less gum inflammations.

30 December 2012

29 December 2012


It was a strange visit with a mean aggressive sparkle. At times I felt like I was 15 again fighting for my 20 seconds of attention and not getting anywhere. Listening to my father's lectures on corrupt politicians and people without decent education and poor understanding of science and all the other evils responsible for the state of affairs we are in and none of it is our fault because we have a university degree. 
I want to bury my head and cry or laugh and try not to treat my 84 year old father like a precocious child. 
And then I must pinch myself as if waking from a bad dream and stop being so condescending. 

Totally unrelated:

26 December 2012


The house is clean, the cake is cooling, the cat is asleep. My father is somewhere on the motorway heading this way. I am terrified that he will fall down the stairs one of these mornings, on his early shuffle around the house before day break. My sister's angry voice told me on the phone that he is well able to lift his feet but simply too obstinate to do it. The bad boy.
This could be the year he will have to stop driving his shiny car. I hope not. None of us has a plan B for this.

We have been watching the river flooding the park and the promenades. Xmas day was the mildest on record ever, in between the heavy downpours it felt like Easter Sunday. Not right, not good, but what is?

The air is getting thinner and I don’t feel secure. The powerful and mighty have met and postponed once again anything remotely concerning climate change. The arrogance is simply overpowering. Throughout my adult life I have gone a fairly long way through various stages and methods of personal protest ranging from the emphatic and angry activities of my student years to slow, pragmatic and cowardly withdrawal having faced again and again such raw power and injustice way beyond my means and energy. We confuse money for wealth and are becoming poor (in many of the components of true wealth incl. environmental health). I believe we can no longer achieve anything in protesting, rallying, organising resistance to the big power elites, they have become too self satisfied, too entrenched. The horrible truth is that people at the top are not better off than you and me in the long run but it’s the planet and the ones down at bottom level that are sacrificed. I used to think only fairly recently that the only viable activity in this scary scenario was to work locally, think globally, i.e. lobbying for those who have become lost, who are forgotten - but I think this is just a distraction.

And yet.
Last night we looked up to the almost full Moon with Jupiter close beside it and when I gave it a little wave saying that I hope whoever is out there is making less of a mess than we humans, R hugged me and whispered, we are stardust.

21 December 2012

For nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent.


The swans and the waterfall at Glencar Lough, a place were Yeats spent a lot of his time, faded pictures from a visit in early 1982.

19 December 2012

Remembering the birth of my child, the beginning of my life as a mother, of our life as parents, makes me weep with joy every time. Home birth was a given, I cannot remember us even discussing a hospital delivery. I was so extremely lucky, with supportive friends, understanding family, generous experts and the fact that we lived in the right place at the right time. 
First, there was Mrs Ritchie, a retired nurse/midwife who phoned one day and offered free-of charge ante natal classes to both of us. There was a vague connection, a friend of a friend who knew her as a midwife in Nigeria during the Biafra war. There we sat on the carpet in her sitting room and practised breathing and afterwards she poured the tea and offered home made cake.
Then the midwife, pragmatic Helen who had delivered babies out in the sticks of West Cork for 40+ years, she charged 50 pounds for her services, which included three ante-natal visits (the scheduled six were cut short because of the premature delivery) and four weeks of daily post-natal care incl. a pint of milk from her Jersey cows every day. 
And then the doctor, this calm man who had delivered babies all over the place, he charged us nothing, not a penny, for the entire ante-natal care and all the back and forth during labour, incl. staying with us for the final 15 hrs of labour throughout the night. In the end R planted a walnut tree in his garden.

12 December 2012

We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid. 

Pema Chödrön

don't just do something - sit there

There was a time, way back in my distant past (we are talking about a mere three years eons), when I set about my daily tasks with admirable energy and most of all efficient briskness. Stuff like getting up before daylight, sorting out various household chores incl. breakfast and laundry before cycling off to work where I would of course solve an immense amount of complicated and urgent riddles in support of medical research - easy. With a smile, never losing my cool, gosh, I was wonderful. The bedrock of research teams, and at home Martha Stewart with a toothbrush cleaning between the bathroom tiles.
These days I simply Potter About and completing the whole getting up/shower/breakfast scenario in under one hour borders on the miraculous. I seem to spend an enormous amount of time just sitting there, doing nothing, eventually thinking out my next step, while already composing reasons for not doing it in my mind.
Generous souls may call this mindfulness, good grief - even meditation!
But I call it sloth.

09 December 2012

He who wants the world to remain as it is, doesn't want it to remain at all.

Erich Fried

East Side Gallery, Berlin 

07 December 2012

05 December 2012

We loved her as much as we could and it was really hard work. Especially when she got so sad because she could not take a shower in the mornings because there was some of our hair in it, or because we had forgotten to practise the piano, or hung up the laundry the wrong way, or got sick in the car, fell off the horse after she had arranged lessons with the best teachers, or spilled cocoa on the beautiful new  matching blue gabardine coats she had made for us, missed a layer of dust under the record player, forgot to wipe down the kitchen surfaces after doing the dishes, left our pjs on the bedroom floor. Loving her was like walking on a minefield, you never knew when the next explosion would erupt which would throw you way off and out of her radius of motherly love. There were so many tears, hers and ours. So many hours spent locked into our rooms with the broken plant pot or the torn pair of dungarees, the muddy new sandals, waiting. For the door to open, for the hugs and the promises to be good, to try harder, to never ever make her so sad again. Never again.
My big sister always carried a piece of cardboard in her pocket with the phone number of our GP. She only called there once, on the day we had watched our mother crying and banging her head against the wall for too long. There was heavy snow outside and the doctor said he could not make it but would call the police instead. And my six-year old sister said, no thank you we will wait for our dad.
On rainy Sundays we often played board games, family tournaments, with score sheets and medals and a hollow ache in the stomach, the same nauseating taste as when we had to sit at the table until we had eaten up all that was on the plate. My little brother always developed cunning schemes to ensure that she would win. He loved her so very much. She would put down her cigarette and hug him, my prince, my one and only.

03 December 2012

02 December 2012

01 December 2012

Standing by the window after midnight, waiting. 
For my mind to calm down. 
Just listen: how still it all is, moonlit night, not a breeze, glittering layer of frost.
I no longer dwell much on the why me. 
So obviously futile. 
Asking why me is like asking why not me. 
So there.
But a lot of time and energy has been wasted on why and how. 
There are times when I'd love a culprit, something to blame, wrong diet, bad habits, drugs, drink, fags, that sort of stuff, having lived too fast and too wild etc. 
But, no. 
Even if I did, it makes no difference. 
Congenital, genetic, hereditary: empty phrases, even once you figure out what they mean and how to differentiate between them. 
Disposition? Nope.
A spell? Voodoo curse? Witchcraft? For goodness sake.
It just is. 
For no reason whatsoever.  

30 November 2012

November thinking

I have a concept of objective happiness and objective despair and I would say that as long as we are relieved of and not expected to accept complete responsibility and self-determination, our happiness in this world will remain an illusion.

27 November 2012

This exhaustion is like a huge wave that keeps coming back again and again. And I am not asking for much, all I want is to get back to my mediocre energy levels of six weeks ago. That would be nice, not shaking in my boots after a short - I swear, barely 3 km! - cycle to the market. No hills, no wind, old ladies overtook me with a smile of pity.
Tomorrow I will be 55 years old and I am huffing and aching like my granny did at age 102. Yes, there is that gene, she cycled until age 93.
R has to leave before daylight for another of these conferences and won't be back for two days, but we are ever so cool and grown up. There's the weekend. And I am taking the day off on account of Heidi Klum's birthday extravaganzas. She went on some workshop on office happiness and has now taken on the job of making everybody's birthday a "special event" which involves balloons and scented candles and singing, forced singing that is, in my office, around my desk. I have seen the look of despair in our postdocs' eyes at the first of these "events" and decided there and then to spare them when my turn comes.

26 November 2012

Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.

David Mitchell 

Never one for the races, but you know what I mean. There is so much that I really should think about, ponder deeply, remain aware of and so on. But it's November, grey, windy, tired, wet and most of all sleepy. See what I mean, how can a month be sleepy. Six weeks to midwinter.

25 November 2012

oh dear

I think I am the depressed hippie, sometimes.

21 November 2012


On yet another foggy November night we called her across the planet while she was getting ready to cycle to work.
You know what is so great about having my birthday here? The peonies are in bloom and strawberries are in season.
Lucky girl.

19 November 2012

"this is a catholic country"

I didn't have a clue about Ireland. Nothing. On my very first visit I innocently set out on a second hand gent's bicycle and one of those tourist maps adorned with shamrocks and leprechauns. Imagine my surprise when the road got steeper and more desolate with every mile. Well, I was really young and headstrong. And ignorant.

Anyway, it so happened that it was one of the hottest summers in history and clearly, there was no place more stunning than the coast of Cork and Kerry.

And the people were charming, lively, all the cliches. Incl. another one: Ireland has been good to me, welcoming, soothing, supportive, family. It has been my home for longer than any other place and still is every time again, like when I pick up the car at the airport and the guy handing me the papers says, well now Sabine, I better show you the detours, too man road works into the city. And his use of my first name is not some selling technique, and no, he has never seen me before.

But Ireland is also the place where I was told by a pompous school board that it was only good and proper for my non-catholic child to experience what it is like to be part of a minority from day one. Where I almost hit a young nurse/nun at the hospital A&E because she could see no way of admitting my feverish non-baptised baby.

It is also the place, where this happened. And this.

Another cliche: the Irish are a compassionate people. I know, I have experienced heartfelt compassion and generosity in so many unexpected places.

Another young woman.
But also again, the compassion.

The church will have none of this. Get back into the kitchen, you hussies.

This is Paula Meehan's poem in full, she reads the last part on the video:

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks.
By Paula Meehan. 1991.

It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
even wild things gone to earth, and I
stuck up here in this grotto, without as much as
star or planet to ease my vigil.

The howling won’t let up. Trees
cavort in agony as if they would be free
and take off - ghost voyagers
on the wind that carries intimations
of garrison towns, walled cities, ghetto lanes
where men hunt each other and invoke
the various names of God as blessing
on their death tactics, their night manoeuvres.
Closer to home the wind sails
over dying lakes. I hear fish drowning.
I taste the stagnant water mingled
with turf smoke from outlying farms.

They call me Mary - Blessed, Holy, Virgin.
They fit me to a myth of a man crucified:
the scourging and the falling, and the falling again,
the thorny crown, the hammer blow of iron
into wrist and ankle, the sacred bleeding heart.

They name me Mother of all this grief
Though mated to no mortal man.
They kneel before me and their prayers
fly up like sparks from a bonfire
that blaze a moment, then wink out.

It can be lovely here at times. Springtime,
early summer. Girls in Communion frocks
pale rivals to the riot in the hedgerows
of cow parsley and haw blossom, the perfume
from every rushy acre that’s left for hay
when the light swings longer with the sun’s push north.

Or the grace of a midsummer wedding
when the earth herself calls out for coupling
and I would break loose of my stony robes,
pure blue, pure white, as if they had robbed
a child’s sky for their colour. My being
cries out to be incarnate, incarnate,
maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed.

Even an autumn burial can work its own pageantry.
The hedges heavy with the burden of fruiting
crab, sloe, berry, hip; clouds scud east,
pear scented, windfalls secret in long
orchard grasses, and some old soul is lowered
to his kin. Death is just another harvest
scripted to the season’s play.
But on this All Soul’s Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
From the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
A cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
And release from being the conscience of the town.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,
and she lay down alone at my feet
without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand
and she pushed her secret out into the night,
far from the town tucked up in little scandals,
bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,
and though she cried out to me in extremis
I did not move,
I didn’t lift a finger to help her,
I didn’t intercede with heaven,
nor whisper the charmed word in God’s ear.

On a night like this, I number the days to the solstice
and the turn back to the

O sun,
center of our foolish dance,
burning heart of stone,
molten mother of us all,
hear me and have pity.

17 November 2012

Slow stuff, this recuperation. Still working on it. There's only that cough now and the soppy exhaustion, the sore head and the ringing ears. Mostly. I am getting so much better. I think.
When I had to start the immune suppression almost three years ago I was warned that patients often pick up one heavy duty inflammation after the other. Am I ever glad that this is only the second one of that caliber. 
In my previous life I was fairly healthy, I seem to remember. At least I can count on one hand the number of times I was off work and on antibiotics in the past 25 years.
Gosh, I was robust.
Losing confidence in your body is a nasty condition. Every hour I have been repeating in my head: all things change, all the time. This will pass. Billions of cells are restored and restoring. Our bodies always strive for health, that's what they are programmed for.
And yet, I try to read the expressions in the looks of the experts, listen carefully to any hidden message in their words. Dr B just laughed, she knew what I was up to right away. She probably heard this little voice from deep inside my mind, what if this... No, she said, we cannot tell. Just rest, enjoy the rest. 

13 November 2012

12 November 2012

The good news. The touch of pleurisy has been just that, a touch. Although it felt at times like one giant hand forcing me down onto a horizontal surface whenever I wanted to get up. Still does, a bit, the hand seems to get smaller and weaker, however. But let's not dwell on this, might jinx it. Ride it out, wait and see. No more fever at least.

The German translation of pleurisy is Rippenfellentzündung, literally inflammation of the fur on your ribs. Which brings to mind fairy tale witches with mangy cat furs wrapped around shoulders and aching backs, beaked noses, with something dripping from it, and cackles. 
My head is sore. This being November doesn't help. Out there, the light is either too bright or too grey. 
I get distracted while I try to distract myself from my self pity. Instead of reading I find myself picking words from the page, words with i, like inchoate, inconsequence, irreversible, idiot. Yep, all on one page. 

Down beyond the garden hedge I watch the birds on my neighbour's trees. Two mature fruit trees, leafless but full of fruit, wrinkled purple plums and fat yellow apples. Since her partner walked out some time ago, she and her two daughters have ignored the garden, now a wild jungle. We are all welcome to help ourselves, she said as a by the way. But we all just watch the birds and smile politely.

Sometimes my child is just too far away. 

10 November 2012

We were just looking out of the window and into the garden. R has been talking about replacing the car and we were juggling figures and insurance options and the fundamental admittance that despite our super duper theoretical morals of sustainable living and transition we will replace that old car with one not quite that old. At least not a brand new one. We will postpone our dreams of car sharing until that yet to be purchased car will eventually break down, until some of the glorious futuristic concepts of sustainable transport will come true.

Until the cows come home. 

And all through R talking the guy from across the road was testing his brand new leaf blower which looks like a weapon out of star wars. He lifted up the nozzle (if that is what it's called) to wave to us, happy with his new toy. 

The nice bit, apart from looking at the beautiful messy leaves all over our garden, was when we remembered buying the car before the one we will have to replace now. How I stood at the window of the third floor of the hospital, barely a week after surgery, while R drove eights and circles for me on the parking lot below. I signed the contract on that day, after I was told that all went well but that for the next three months I was only to stand upright or lie flat on my back definitely not sit down. That was 17 years ago. For whatever reasons we think this is a funny memory.

08 November 2012

yesterday's harvest


Possibly the last bit of lettuce, spinach, crunchy fennel and baby turnips.

Mixed the lettuce and grated fennel with some walnut and apple, tossed the spinach with onions in olive oil and stirred in some feta cheese; roasted the sliced turnips with garlic and olives. Plus warm bread from the French bakery. Dinner.

cabin fever


05 November 2012

acoustic nerves have feelings, too

Things got harder, still. Life has interfered again with my plans. My energy level is now so low that I am crawling upstairs with a painful chest these days, trying to hide inside my bed from the booming explosions around me only to find out that they are not anywhere around but in fact inside my left ear. And that my unsteady left leaning gait, the bumping into walls on my left, and that slight but increasingly noticeable loss of hearing in the booming ear are eruptions of the volcano.
The shivers are all mine. The panic, too. And that heart, jumping and stopping and fluttering. And the nausea.
Today the experts have spoken: heavy duty drugs from tomorrow morning (if I start tonight I will not be able to sleep and I am supposed to sleep lots and lots and lots). 
And: bed rest, bed rest, bed rest, bed rest until I die of boredom. 

La la la.

03 November 2012

Flemish is the language I have wanted to learn for a long time. It should be easy but it is not. And it is not Dutch, not quite. And I cannot speak Dutch very well.
It is a soft language, a rustic, basic one, with many diminutives, which make it sound pleasant and innocent but that's one of the misconceptions of translation. 
Winter morning in one of these old and prosperous Belgian towns, fat cathedral, cobble stones, lots of small shops selling art supplies, antiques, flowers, pottery, books in all languages, a pub with one long and heavy wooden table, scratched and soft. Soup, dark beer, coffee. Snow.
Another day, sunny, no wind behind the high dunes, a narrow road, in straight lines between polders, crossing the border to France and back, tiny villages, a garden centre, a roadside bar with two plastic chairs outside, sticky ice cream.
It's roughly a two hours drive, really. Through the rain on a busy motorway, squeezed between the trucks heading to Oostende and Rotterdam.
Instead, me and the cat and my rumbling belly (thanks to the antibiotics which I had to start yesterday after a night of high fever) watched Antonia's Line once again. This movie has almost everything, it is near perfect.
(Full version avaialable on youtube, click on the bottom for English subtitles.)

02 November 2012

01 November 2012

I should be in bed, really. The itsy bitsy cold that I have tried to shake off since we came back from our easy peasy downhill-ish cycle trip has exploded into all sorts of things, on of which is that I cannot get a decent breath when I lie down. There is an amazing quantity of yuk dripping down from the myriad caves and cavities behind my forehead and my nose and between my ears and my throat and so on - vast and deep it all is. I even scared the cat away with my sneezing and coughing.  So I trudge through the house with my blankets, littering the place with clementine peel and trying failing to solve this week's cryptic crossword from the SZ.
From time to time R comes along with thermometers and tea thick with lichen honey and gives me his serious look. In my wild days, when I rolled my own cigs and whatnot, this would have been nothing. A cracked up hoarse voice? Wow. 

29 October 2012

The cold, the dark, yuk. Dug out the neon yellow waistcoat with the reflecting stripes, got myself a brand new pair of wind- and waterproof thermal gloves, still not looking forward to cycling home in the dark for the next 12 weeks or so. Got the oil tank refilled this morning which will cost about two months wages (mine, and a good month at that). The oil man thinks we have between 10 and 20 years before the stuff runs out. For all. But he is optimistic and believes that the patents are waiting in the drawers once the profits have been squeezed out of suckers like us. What do we know, he's only the delivery guy. Me, I think we are doomed, pretending ignorance. Patents. What gibberish.

27 October 2012

26 October 2012

25 October 2012

we should listen

Sadness woke me up this morning. A small ache deep in my throat, remnant from a dream too vague to remember. I tried to hide inside my duvet for a while longer, grey fog seeping in through the half open window.
It has been so very mild and sunny, the very last bits of summer squeezed out of a crunched up tube. I took a double turn when someone mentioned the eight weeks to Xmas.
Today this is all over. 
The air is cold, the sky is heavy and grey. All we need is one windy night and the trees will once again be bundles of bare sticks. The weekend will bring frost. I will rub rosehip oil into my skin and add a spoon of honey to my cup of tea, I will walk through the garden and admire the morning glories, nasturtium, cosmea, fuchsia, all busy flowering for the last time.
Five months.

24 October 2012

Ok, ok. I overdid it with this cycling trip. I get the message. It has been staring at me from the baffled, incredulous faces, shaking heads and mutterings of disbelief from the various experts and well wishers in recent days. 
I feel like a naughty child. But it was nice, anyway.
So can I just nurse my cold and get on with it.

21 October 2012

in no particular order




Burg Hornberg

Schloss Hohentübingen

Tübingen Stiftskirche





Schloss Hohentübingen





along the Neckar