30 March 2012

I'm on holidays, since yesterday as I had some leave left over from last year which my employer insists must be taken before end of March or else. My annual holiday allowance is perverse, 35 working days plus ten public holidays. Such riches, if I could I would distribute some of it to the needy masses, but instead I have to fill out complicated applications which need two signatures and an extra form specifying my cover plan and as much as I try I usually get something wrong with my figures or I have to wait until some of my colleagues with school children had their turn etc. There is someone working in the administration whose sole job it is to double check these forms and send stern emails to all of us who get it wrong.
Anyway, I have been told to take six days now or else. And add to this Good Friday and Easter Monday and two weekends, this comes up to probably 12 days but I wouldn't bet on it.
Which is all very well.
So I have this delightful image in the back of my head of me curled up on my sofa with the cat and a fresh pot of tea, reading my way through the stack of unread books. Someone recently told me that I was only inches away from a kindle. Actually, he said millimeters, we are in metric land, but it translates poorly. I get the benefits, especially if I were to travel for months etc. but I like second hand books and second hand bookshops and libraries. Although, libraries make me kind of dizzy what with bending my head to the right reading the spines of English books and bending to the left for the spines of German books. And then there's the smell. Books smell good. And didn't I only last week find a voucher for two coffees from the Artistas Restaurant and Bar in Lagos, Portugal, in a second hand copy of a Northern Ireland thriller. It is a bit smudged, the voucher, but maybe one day I will find myself in Lagos, Portugal, thirsting for coffee.

Instead, there is the prospect of setting out to the Sauerland mountains, pushing our bicycles to a small rock circle high up in a forest which marks the spring of the river Ruhr and then spending the next couple of days cycling along it until it meets the Rhine. Weather permitting, i.e. anything except rainstorms, sleet or snow. Or sloth. And it's a thrilling prospect. I am nervous and excited. It's a short little run really, compared to the cycle tours in my previous life, but We Shall See.

26 March 2012

" ...and then the guy at the garage said, interested in a trade in? Upgrade to the new model, this one has park-assistant sensors. And I thought, why not? But don't tell your sister yet, she will be mad soon enough.  Anyway,  I think this could be my last car." I try not to laugh out loud and soon we are talking about other things related to his recovery or rather, to his getting used to the fact that at age 83 your body does not recover from multiple fractures, that it is all a matter of adjusting to stiffness and aches and having to use walking aids. Which he dislikes. Instead, he usually shuffles along with two Nordic walking poles totally convinced that he could be mistaken for an athlete on his way home after a long trek.

Next, he wants to discuss explains his plans of dropping the floozie which are so cruel that I almost try and defend the woman but instead make an effort to Keep Out Of It, pretend the line is bad. "I will probably never find myself in a decent relationship," he says. Not a hope, I want to reply, try taking a look back at the ones that didn't work. But instead, we crack another joke and laugh about it.

When I put down the phone, for the briefest of moments I am overwhelmed by memory, a smell, a taste, I see flashes of my grandmother's grey silk blouse with tiny mother-of-pearl buttons, I am licking crumbs of something good off my fingers, there is a strong adult arm holding me safe on a lap, the murmurs and laughter of adult conversation around me. And then it's gone, like a sigh.

I have a box of black-and-white photographs my father took when he was a junior research scientist involved in agricultural field work. Lots of machinery and lab equipment and large weighing gadgets. And then there is this picture of a very large herd of goats, lots of white Saanen kid goats, and in the middle of it a frightened looking toddler. Could be my sister, could be me. It's too grainy and none of us can remember a thing.
Whenever I looked at that picture, I would see all these goats and this cute/uncomfortable toddler but only now have I started to imagine a lanky young guy, not even 30, putting his little daughter just so between these goats and stepping back to take the picture. Laughing like a schoolboy.

20 March 2012

stuff I've been reading

Without the moon the earth axis would tilt at 60° (instead of today's 23.5°), without the moon, the tropics would be covered in snow and ice, without the moon, the polar regions would be up to 80°C hot. In Central Europe, the sun would not set for months. No chance for higher developed species.
Our existence in the cosmos is completely accidental, I tell you. When our solar system was starting to be formed, a giant rock of about a tenth of the earth's size hit our unfinished planet. Accident, pure accident. It could have missed it just the same. But there it was, it changed the earth's crust into lava and spun it into space. There it rotated around the earth and solidified into the moon - which at the time was only about 20 000 km away (today 380 000 km). 
In an interplay of mutual attractions, the moon slowed down earth's rotation resulting in the tides. The length of day expanded, the lunar orbit grew larger, the lunar breaking effect diminished.
This goes on even today. A day on earth increases by 20 micro seconds every year and the moon moves away from the earth by 3.8 cm every year.
In about 500 million years, the moon's supportive, life giving closeness will come to an end and the earth axis will tilt further and life as we know or imagine it will cease to exist.
There you go. We are just tiny spots of accidental happiness.

When I look west on my way home, this is what I see these days:

17 March 2012

almost forgot, Patrick's day

Nor life I owe nor liberty
For love is lord of all.

14 March 2012

12 March 2012

... the muffled longing of a woman watching rain fall.

 (from a  short story by Amy Bloom)

This exquisite sentence has been baffling my mind since reading it - oh at least a week ago. It hums inside me while I take a break from working on this long dry paper on evidence levels in randomised controlled studies. Standing by my kitchen window watching the birds messing up the compost R spread on the vegetable beds yesterday. I am eating a banana, which gets me thinking of this time last year when I was translating the eco-feminism book. During a long editing session, one of the authors - the one who wanted me to help her cheat on her tax return - explained to me why eating bananas was bad for you. I forget why, maybe something about carbohydrates and sugar. Couldn't care less.
I don't particularly like bananas, not the ones we get here, dry and unripe, nothing like the little sweet ones we used to pick in the mornings from the slope behind the house in paradise. But I am a sucker for these fair-trade stickers, the promise that by eating bananas I am supporting some grand workers co-op deep in the jungle of Central America and I see a row of low but neat houses and kids running around and smiling workers coming along the hard mud path carrying big bunches of bananas still stuck to the branch.
Some years ago I was translating an exhibition catalog for a fairly famous painter who had spent a year on a tiny Pacific island playing to be Gaugin, a female Gaugin. One of her paintings was of a banana tree with ripening fruit and this magnificent purple blossom. The picture in the catalog was the wrong way around, with the blossom pointing upwards and of course I did the arrogant I-know-this-is-wrong routine and got them to reprint all of the catalogs. They probably still hate me. 

No rain today, none forecast all week. We will have to water those seed beds by Wednesday.

10 March 2012

My top boss, the smart one who zooms around the globe picking up awards and fat research funds, has done a big blunder. I saw it coming, I checked back with him in writing three times beforehand and still, he tried to blame it on me. Teenage tactics. Almost feel motherly here, but mostly I am mad, because who is now stuck with getting it sorted again? Three guesses. The big man himself is off to bigger and brighter fields, incommunicado as befits his important standing. Soon, he'll discover the cure to cancer or maybe MS or Alzheimer's or his bank account or all of it in one go. There is a lot that's wrong in scientific research and every time we get a new batch of junior assistants I want to sit them down and tell them about long hours, no weekends, very low pay and no recognition of all their efforts for years and years to come but usually, the stars in their eyes are already starting to shine back at me.

08 March 2012

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you. (Rumi)

 ...which I just found here. Thank you.

06 March 2012

Watched Cry Freedom again last night and again I cried at the closing credits and memories came flooding in, of the night in 1982 before I started labour prematurely after I had danced and sung at an anti-apartheid benefit until the early hours, of the time we watched the movie for the first time with the two South Africans I knew (one just sat and cried, the other dug her fingernails so deeply into her hands that she drew blood), of my union's strike action in 1984 and some years later the first week in paradise sitting under a jacaranda tree reading Biko and watching S swim in the pool of the posh hotel we were put up in until we could move to our house, while fancy tourists watched us from behind their expensive sunglasses and S would stare back in wonder, wow, real life Barbies. It was a bewildering time and one day I asked my little girl who was splashing around the pool whether she wanted to go home, back to Granny and the dogs and all she said was, what? now? no way!, and shook her head in disbelief.

And now, this movie is just another soppy historical epic.

05 March 2012

04 March 2012

be here now

I was playing observant gardener, i.e. wrapped in a warm blanket, resting on the sofa and observing my gardener outside, when the cranes flew in their noisy v-shaped formations across the sky yesterday.
I remember watching them two years ago while I was high as a kite on cortison and my liver and heart were kicked around by the first immunosuppressing drug that almost buried me. 
There was a time when I would run away from memories like that. Still have the urge but where to? No place left to run. Not after two years of this. 

And yet, every time I come up from another blow to the system, another yuk inflammation here or there, a couple of days under that heavy blanket of fatigue, whatever - there seems to be an endless supply of things that can go wrong -, every time my silly childish mind cheers up and tells me that now, finally, things are getting better. The feeling that a good rest and a couple of early nights will see me right.
Bless your innocence, I want to hiss back, watch me come undone.

Some nights before sleep I run through all my fraying edges, down to counting all of the open sores in my gums, like a pilot getting ready for flight.
Other nights I just lie back, thankful that this blasted fatigue will drown out any thoughts. 

Compared to two years ago, I am coping. Occasionally, I am coping splendidly, efficiently, even with a sense of humour. You'd look at me and you'd think, why, she is fine, and I am sure many people think that (and suspect me to be a bit of a hypochondriac). But still, sometimes I can see this woman peeping out from behind the dark blinds, this middle-aged, healthy, energetic, active woman... she is fading fast. Sometimes I pick a book from the shelves and I remember that I read it in that gloomy period between getting ill and being diagnosed and I remember how I joked to my GP that I was rereading my way through our book shelves, starting from the bottom right hand corner, and that by the time I reached the top left end, surely I'd be well again.

Two years ago I had just come home from four weeks in the specialist clinic where twice a day a friendly woman would guide a small group of us seriously/weirdly ill patients through a half hour of relaxation, with gentle music, breathing and muscle movements. I used to love that music but now when I hear something that sounds even the faintest bit like it, I want to run. 
There is no agenda, no sense of direction or purpose, instead I simply make it through another day, another week without getting anywhere. And then again, why would I want to get anywhere at all. Be here now, I used to tell my impatient daughter when she was small and spinning towards a tantrum. And I was feeling ever so grand and superior and wise.

Ah well. She tells me it worked for her.

01 March 2012

forver mad, the lovely Sinead

   4th And Vine by sineadoconnor
The little cat woke us up before dawn. She was very polite, scatching the bedroom door ever so gently for quite some time. She usually never comes inside at night. Eventually, the smells hit me and we spent a while clearing up her mess. She screamed like a baby when I tried to touch her, with her ears all hot, and went off to hide in some place where I would have to crawl on my belly to try and grab her. Which I didn't. R mumbled something about nine lives and cats and fuck this and that was that.
Instead, I tried to get back to sleep while the dawn chorus set off at full force and I counted how many days until I can pick up S from the airport and then I thought that maybe downstairs a poisoned little cat was dying and then we overslept, incl. the cat who is very well, thank you.
So now I will do the ironing, which at times can be a calming and contemplative exercise, and I will dream of becoming  a woman of great courage. 
After that, I have to get on with translating some stuff on lipomodelling (which is the process of relocating autologous fat to bla bla bla). Argh.