31 July 2014

Some days, I think what I do is a bit like probing with your tongue for the rotten tooth you know you will find. But still...

It's a plastic world - English from It's a plastic world on Vimeo.

29 July 2014

Yesterday during breakfast my 85 year old father explained his method of getting on his new bicycle without too much pain in his knees. I haven't seen him do it but it sounds practical and possible but then again, he has always been a convincing public speaker.
It takes him several minutes to get in or out of my car and only if I help lift his feet in their enormously large shoes (hand tooled from best leather no less). Once on solid ground he totters along with his walking sticks which he will use frequently to point out some architecturally or otherwise culturally or historically important landmark whereupon he will deliver one of his lectures.  This he usually ends with a slight grin asking me to check on my laptop if they got it right as well. He believes that there is some shady pretend authority that feeds my laptop from some obscure place with information.
Sometimes I think he's got a point there.
He tells me that he recently bought a book that explains computer basics to ordinary people - to catch up on the vocabulary for the crosswords - but it was so poorly written that he dismissed it after the first couple of pages.
In moments like these I feel a great tenderness for him but obviously, it would be out of the question to show even the slightest hint. Tenderness is not part of his repertoire. At least not with his children and certainly not when they try to explain something to him. After all, he paid for our education and can recite the Iliad in ancient Greek. That way we all know where our places are in the order of things.

25 July 2014

How many times did we watch our daughter walk through those gates, often holding the hand of a smiling female airline rep, waving back excitedly, ready to meet granddad at the other end. Other times, trying to catch a last look of her somewhere in a group of friends and sometimes, just her back slowly walking away, not turning because she is crying. 
I don't sleep when she is in the air, never have. And I know we will watch her walking through those gates again and again.
So much of our happiness and sanity as a family, as parents, depends on travelling, flying across vast continents, crossing time zones, feeling safe inside a pod made of aluminium and fairy dust.
I don't dare imagine the grief and the anger. I know it could be ours.

22 July 2014

After the road workers cut through the cable that seemingly connects us to the rest of the world, i.e. internet, landline telephone, radio and tv, after it got very very hot, humid and rainy, we went into paradise mode but without the pestering insects of the rainy tropics. 
For the entire time we lived there without radio, tv, newspapers and all the other stuff we now pretend are our social connections I don't remember ever being bored or at a loss the way it felt for a brief moment when we stood by the kerb with the two bits of cut cable sticking out. In fact, I admit to a tiny wave of triumph washing over me.  Ok, I had just read The Circle by Dave Eggers, but still. 

As it turned out, I read four books back to back in the last two days. As in: finish one, put it down, pick up the next, read the first page, make more tea, read on, etc.

If I had one thing that worried me while we were living in paradise it was that I may run out of books to read and on my visits to the two small but quite well stocked public libraries I sometimes tried to calculate how much reading time I had left and when I would have to start learning French or resort to those fat James Michener novels someone must have donated years ago.
(I didn't. Run out of books. improve my poor French or read the Michener tombs.) 

Whereas R doesn't read. It sounds awful and even after so many years (35 in fact) I have not given up hope. He conned me during our first couple of months when he told me that The Magus  was one of his favourite novels. I am still waiting to find out about the others. 
But we are different, he enjoys teaching maths for goodness sake, he gardens like the god of all horticultural scientists and his poetry is the periodic table of the elements. There was a brief time in our early romantic period when we attempted reading to each other - in bed, no less. It lasted exactly one half of a chapter of Lord of the Rings before we both fell asleep. And this was during our active romantic period!

But last Sunday, as I was starting on the second chapter of TransAtlantic I started to read bits out loud because not so long ago, we both stood up there by the monument in Ballinaboy overlooking the bog where Alcock and Brown  landed in 1919. And like the young boy he must have been once, mad about flying and still dreaming of becoming a pilot, he was lying there next to me, his eyes closed, listening and when we came to the bit where the plane took off, he whispered, chocks away, chocks away. And we both watched them flying off and out across the Atlantic.

Anyway, the cable has been fixed and we are back to the world of lit up screens. And apart from reading as if my life depended on it, I also got down on my knees and cleaned the stained stone tiles in the downstairs hall. Only I used some godawful stuff that apparently contained a minute amount of acid and now it looks worse and dull and blotchy. Any ideas?

15 July 2014

Truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.

Nadine Gordimer

I read her books with a fierce hunger for more.

13 July 2014

Motherhood brings you to your knees in a way that doesn’t leave room for you to judge others. It makes you see that there’s no ideal – a constant struggle, constantly compromising, but ultimate love.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in today's Observer.

08 July 2014

a Luka morning

rain, lots of rain, lush doesn't cover it when I look out over the garden

07 July 2014

four stunning hours

not just beautifully crafted but also a timely reminder of poverty, oppression and emigration
not too long ago

06 July 2014

It is hot and humid and the next minute, the wind picks up and dark clouds appear and we run to get the laundry inside. A strange day. I am out of sorts, it's like an itch that's driving me mad.
Most of the weekend I worked on one of those manuscripts that makes no sense to me, something about DNA research, way beyond my limited mental faculties. I can still proofread the stuff, but even after the fifth read through, I remain baffled and just hope that the authors have a life of fun and enjoyment outside the laboratory. Or that they indeed are reaching the hypothesised break through in cancer diagnosis. Or both. I used to worry about our postdocs, pale and overworked and all the empty pizza boxes and soft drink bottles accumulating in the hall corners.
On Friday, a young woman crashed into my car or rather into the car behind me which then crashed into my car. Nobody was hurt and I managed to skilfully hit the breaks and neatly avoided crashing into the car in front of me.
Anyway, I have been dreaming of not hitting those breaks and driving down cliffs and various harbour walls etc. in paradise (where the roads were treacherous to put it mildly) for the past two nights. To be expected, no?

In between these dreams, memories of Jenita surfaced from long ago.

This is the woman I let down. What makes it worse is that she probably didn't even notice. This is one of those stories about women and poverty and inequality. And not just gender inequality but racial and economic inequality and the rotten taste of failure and inadequacy.
In the first days after we moved into our little house in paradise and everybody around us was done with watching us from a safe distance people started to ask for work. Not directly, nobody was that blunt and it took us a while to get the hints. After a decade of happy-go-lucky communal living, food co-ops, shared gardens and whatever, we were now expected to employ servants. Which was out of the question, not just because there was no garden to look after, nothing to guard, no elaborate dinners to cook, nothing much to clean or wash and so on, but also because we were anything but the rich expats who lived in their guarded compounds across the mountains. Some of our local neighbours lived in similar little houses with occasional electricity and running water, some even had tv sets, a telephone, chickens, pigs, certainly dogs and cats. But we were different, we were the white Europeans, we had books and a typewriter.

In the end, we compromised and hired Jenita.

At some stage we did agree on a whole string of jobs she enthusiastically suggested, picking  up S from school, ironing, washing the dishes, cleaning the floor including coconut husk polishing, shopping for fresh fish and the best mangoes and so on.

In reality, it was all quite different and complicated. But we had long chats sitting on the steps of the house watching the kids play. Her three kids from three different fathers, all long since disappeared, the German tourist, the North Korean sailor, the Italian photographer. We talked about the lack of food, real food like the meals served in the five star tourist hotels on the beaches, about mothers who leave their children and grandmothers who take you in and make you work for your keep, about birth control, about men who are lazy and drink too much and about living with them just to have a roof over your head and fish to eat. Jenita explained to me how the size of fish is related to how high up on the hill a woman lives because naturally, the man has so many women to visit when he brings his catch home.
One minute, Jenita would talk to me about her life of poverty, abuse and exploitation and in the next minute, she would fall over laughing about a silly joke or try and braid my hair, jump up to teach me a dance, blow bubbles with the washing-up liquid, play tag with the kids, leaving me confused and lost with my overblown ideals.
I did try to find her more work, real work but she carefully and deliberately avoided all my attempts and by the time I realised that the ironing was in fact done by one of her ancient aunts because Jenita did not know how to iron and certainly would never touch our electric iron, we were in our second year. By that time, this had gone wrong in so many ways, it didn't matter any more. On our last day, we pushed one of the three tea chests we had arrived with down the hill to her granny's hut where Jenita was living at the time, stuffed to the brim with our bits of cutlery, china, plastic pots, sheets and towels, toys, a lamp shade, the children's books, the quilts I had made for our beds, the machete and the fan. She was in tears and would not stop hugging us. The best day of her life, her granny assured me.