26 September 2012

watching Werner Herzog again

Werner Herzog's accent makes me feel safe. There are too many wonders to comprehend.

Through our eyes the universe is perceiving itself, and through our ears the universe is listening to its cosmic harmonies. And we are the witness trough which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.

Alan Watts

23 September 2012


This afternoon I translated the testimony of a 15-year-old boy from a Central American country. Earlier this year he had been kidnapped and tortured by a private security firm hired by a wealthy land owner who has been intimidating the local peasant farmers. He wants them to disappear because he started a couple of palm oil plantations. On their land.  
The woman from the NGO also sent me a video of his testimony so that I could decide on the details and the effects. He speaks slowly and carefully, somewhere outside where it is warm; I could hear roosters in the background. Then there is about 10 mins of shaky footage, armed men shooting into crowds of people, fancy pick-ups with masked drivers, women being dragged by their hair.
In between I stood outside on the patio and turned my face to the sun, while the cat was chasing imaginary mice through the vegetable beds. 
This morning I slept in and had a bowl of porridge with fresh blueberries for breakfast. We listened to the radio for a while and then S called and we talked for a long time about gardening and the time we went to Amsterdam together  when she was what, ten years old? And then she had to go to bed because in her part of the planet it was already midnight.
For almost thirty years have I been translating these stories, reports about human rights violations in literally every corner of our world. Statements, appeals, campaigns, urgent actions, progress reports, international hearings, position papers, proposals, drafts for legislation. Promises. Hopes. Hopelessness. 
When I translate I have to turn a switch and concentrate on the text, the words, the order of words. It's a bit like solving a cryptic crossword.
But it gets harder, I am getting older. The world is full of horrors.

21 September 2012

The dial has been altered by another tiny fraction, the air feels and smells of autumn. The light is hazy, even the background noises have a new quality, settling down, dimming. The nights are cold now.

20 September 2012

Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human. 

Pema Chödrön

19 September 2012

Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin, but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating. 

Something to look forward to after all?
A cold front swooshed in from nowhere, literally. Sitting in the garden for breakfast and next thing you are looking for your mittens. That kind of cold front.
My Heidi Klum colleague will have the heating turned up high in the office because apparently Heidi never wears cardigans or jumpers. Ah, she is lovely, really, we have a good relationship for the two hours overlap most days. We talk, about our kids and about neck strain and of course about the boss. She does all the things I always failed at, yesterday her fingernails were Nile green (so she told me) and last week there were tiny pink and blue striped bows painted on them. I am not kidding. And she is Blond, whereas I have always only been blond and now I am sort of pale-grey-blond-straw whatever. 
My Heidi Klum has multiple matching wrist-watch-earrings-necklace-arrangements that could make me drool were I so inclined. 

I vaguely remember a time when I used to wear jewellery, pick earrings out of a box every morning and so on. What happened? I gave away the last of my Bollywood bangle stash to S this summer. And I gave her the pink mother of pearl thing from Mona. She is old enough now to take care of it and not lose it and maybe get that crack fixed. I have the feeling that there is more stash somewhere, my mother's things, the stuff my sister eventually passed on. Vague memories of hiding it somewhere really safe a couple of years ago after  some houses in the neighbourhood were burgled. And this vivid memory of me taking off the big gorgeous silver ring before washing my hands, the one R bought for me from the Iranian silversmith, and then rushing to the car. I can still see it sitting there beside the soap dispenser. Somewhere. In Europe.
When we renovated Mona's bedroom before she came home from the hospital, we found most of her jewellery sewn into the curtain hems. She was already too ill to explain but I am sure she thought it was a safe hiding place.

Oh that whole sorry affair of distributing her jewellery according to her will. And against the combined wills of her daughters. That was a long time ago. 

And also a long time ago S carried it all in her small backpack to France and back, secretely. Well, almost back. Because on the way home, after she had brought it up and down the mountains, when we had driven north for a while she started wailing that she left the backpack behind. In the motorway restaurant on a Sunday in July, in the south of France, where a million people were queuing and eating and watching the Tour de France final stretch in Paris on TV.

Plus the day some years earlier when we were messing and splashing in the high waves just before sunset and in the corner of my eye I caught this glimmering arc as the first two rings R ever got me slipped off my finger and sank into the soft water of the Indian Ocean.

Many years later I would sit at a table in a small cafe in Turkey while Birsel explained all about cyanide based gold mining.

15 September 2012

This is the moment that we come alive 
I'm handing out the breath and the kiss 
I'm electric with the snap and the crackle of creation  
I'm mixing up the mud with the spit


And I'm thinking big things 
I'm thinking about mortality 
I'm thinking it's a cheap price
That we pay for existence  

This is the moment that we come alive  
This is the breath and this is the kiss

end of summer

lunch at no. 5
storm coming

damson harvest

13 September 2012

Here we are, all innocent and full of regret? This is us.

11 September 2012

You know, sometimes we're not prepared for adversity.  When it happens sometime we're caught short. We don't know exactly how to handle it. When it comes up. Sometimes we don't know just what to do when adversity takes over.  And I have advice for all of us. I got it from my pianist Joe Zawinul who wrote this, too.  And it sounds like what you're supposed to say when you have that kind of problem, it's called mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

10 September 2012

So, I've got plans. Of course I have. I mean, there are things I want to do and thinking of it makes me all excited. And I make a list of what I need and at night when I cannot sleep I try and sort out where I'll do this and how I'll do that and before I know it I can see myself all busy and involved and it looks so good that I eventually fall asleep over it. Some nights. 
But in real life, in real real life, I am just waiting until I had maybe a bit more rest, a couple of good nights, or until the latest itsy infection (gums, stomach, sinuses, nailbeds, all those busy eruptions) has cleared and and and. I am just waiting for the energy to kick in, just enough to get started, to get going and surely once I am there it'll be easy peasy.
Fatigue, my doctor tells me with a smile, you must make allowances for fatigue. It's easier if you do. Believe me.

06 September 2012

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy'. They told me that I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them that they didn't understand life.

John Lennon

05 September 2012

04 September 2012

These are my thoughts at the moment. Memories, all that stuff pushing its way up from the dark somewhere. In my mind's eye it comes from deep in my guts while neuroscience tries to tell me about synapses and grey matter.
There are these little insignificant flowers in the forest, almost gone now with the cold nights that have started to creep in. My first Latin lesson at age five. My grandfather in his three-piece suit complete with watch on a chain and a freshly ironed handkerchief - you get the picture - pointing his walking stick at this tiny pod and snap!! it would open and scatter its minute seeds. Noli me tangere, he said and I would whisper this like a magic mantra for the rest of the walk and have done since whenever I see it and stop to watch a pod snap open at my slightest touch. Quite the party trick.
My grandparents, my mother's parents, used to visit at least once a year when I was small. There was a style of long ago to their train journeys with seat reservations by the window and small sandwiches in a hamper with a silver flask, the collapsible fruit knife and the small napkins with ship motifs. 
In the mornings we would fight outside the guest bedroom over who could climb into bed with him. Once there, cuddling up to his small bony frame, he would show me tricks, bending fingers just so, elaborate games turning intertwined thumbs and teaching me phrases in Arabic and French and Russian and Latin. While he got ready to shave and dress we fought over his travel slippers, made from very soft black leather which fitted just so into a matching soft leather bag.
This is what I know now. My grandfather was a scientist. There was a time when he was a famous scientist. I have a box of photographs from the 1920s of men in old fashioned safari suits and stiff explorer hats in front of mounds of rocks or staring down cliffs and ravines, holding up plants and a variety of dead lizards. There is one very shaky picture of a deck of a ship covered in millions of grasshoppers and one of a group of about twenty deeply tanned men in dinner jackets standing around a poor looking Xmas tree decorated with a banner "Borneo 1929".
I also know this. My mother adored him. My mother who was raised by nannies and house maids, who was driven to school by her father's chauffeur. I have been told that my grandfather published seminal works in his area of research, although I cannot find a single one. I have been told he was dined by kings and queens and dictators and mass murderers. 
After the war, my grandparents lived in a tiny attic flat, stuffed with monstrous dark furniture from much grander times. They were quite helpless without maids or driver. The only room with decent ceiling space was used as my grandfather's study where I would hide below his desk, while he worked, puffing away on his small cigars, carefully writing elaborate notes with a sharp pencil in a silver holder. 
So let's get this: Here he was, the famous scientist, the professor who - so I have been told - could electrify a crowded lecture hall with his quiet voice. Here, in a tiny flat. Very few visitors. A meagre pension.  While others rebuilt their fortunes, brushed up their standing, rose back to fame, honorary doctorates, senior experts, laureates.
He was a gentle smiling grandfather, patient and exciting to us with his stories of exotic locations and his deep knowledge of nature. He was never denazified. I have no idea whether this is so because he opted not to apply for it or whether he failed it. Of course, not a word. Not ever.

The famous professor.