31 October 2014

Just had two slightly bewildered kids at our door, calling out trick or treat (süsses oder saures, in German). Where did that come from? Too much internet is my guess.

This is probably one of the last countries on the planet where Halloween (and St. Patrick's Day) are not yet celebrated. But the pagans who once lived here did what good pagans all over the world do to channel their fear of dark nights. While the Celts in Ireland carved turnips into lanterns to scare off the dead souls and the Irish who had emigrated to America replaced the turnips with pumpkins, the local traditions and rituals here - which also go back to the dark ages - include bonfires and lanterns. But the mighty rule of the catholic church made it into a feast day for St. Martin whereby singing children carry cute lanterns and after marching through the neighbourhood after dark watch a man on a horse dressed as a saint from the Middle Ages jump over the dying embers.

Or something like that. This went totally past me when I was a kid. I think it was not invented by then or maybe my childhood Germany was not catholic enough. 

I do have hazy memories of searching the shops for the stupid lantern handle when S was making her obligatory specimen in school. That was a major hassle, that and getting the right kind of waxed paper. I was always too late.

Today, for a short moment R didn't even realise the novelty at our door step and over dinner, he remembered his own childhood Halloweens (plural?) in Dublin. 

But seriously, had Jesus not slain the giant pumpkin, none of us would be here today. Right?

29 October 2014

Sitting in the kitchen at 4 am, me and my old pal gastritis, we have been here before. Too often for my taste but who am I to complain. In the cup in front of me yet another herbal concoction with a fancy name.  I've tried them all. It's all the same, I could just as well drink a cup of tap water. Maybe next time. 
A hot water bottle in my lap, I try to concentrate on the novel I have been dragging around for the last week.  Nobody would notice if I just read the last page and get it over with. But of course that's cheating. I cannot recall most of the stuff I read anyway these days. Seriously, what is my problem here?

The moment of resigning. Unnoticed almost. One day you wake up and the territory has become familiar, the fear suddenly bearable, death has become a distant possibility again. The unthinkable has become routine. You have become slow, to the point of being lethargic. You withdraw, you spend time doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is all you have the energy for. None of this used to be acceptable. And so you have become a person you never liked. When you still had this abundant arrogance of being healthy, you felt - no you never even felt that, you took it as a given - that vitality was a birth right and - worse - an option.

Last week my immunologist told me that maybe I should be monitored a bit more closely, more blood tests, a couple of x-rays, lung function testing, the works. I successfully negotiated a compromise and we will compare notes in January. She mentioned that only 1500 people in this country have my level and combination of autoantibodies. Based on annual figures of diagnoses or whatever. Statistics. I have no idea but I wonder all the same, if ten percent of them have stomach cramps, that's possibly 150 people sitting in their quiet kitchens with a cup of herb tea waiting for daylight unable to finish a decent novel.

28 October 2014

French, seriously so: Talisco

26 October 2014

October road trip part 4

almost home, a short stop at the Chiemsee

October road trip part 3

Trieste, beautiful city by the sea.

October road trip part 2

Suddenly, we have crossed the Alps and are in Italy. Always, always, such a sudden sense of recognition, ah yes, this is what it is like.


Rilke stood here and looked out over the horizon, after he wrote this:

Look: the trees exist; the houses
we dwell in stand there stalwartly.
Only we
pass by it all, like a rush of air.
And everything conspires to keep quiet
about us,
half out of shame perhaps, half out of
some secret hope.

October road trip part 1

First, a Franconian castle (Aschaffenburg)

next, an evening in Salzburg

22 October 2014

The pain I feel is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.

C.S. Lewis

21 October 2014

In the middle of another one of these "It's surely all in the mind" days, what with the wind blowing through the leaves and all that pleasant autumnal showing off, I cycle down to my GP's office to pick up my lab report and it turns out things are not entirely good. But not absolutely awful, so there is stuff to discuss at my next appointment with the lovely immunologist. Which is on this coming Thursday. Provided the railway union will not go on strike again. They are threatening.

This time last week, we were on our October road trip and I was enjoying life in Italy and  now I have too many photographs to sort through. One will have to do for now.

Somewhere on the road across the Alps and through Austria and Italy I seem to have lost my digestive system. I do hope I will grow a new one in time. It's quite awkward, really.

17 October 2014

Two nights ago I was waiting for sleep to come in a fabulously grand hotel room in Trieste's Borgo Teresiano, diagonally across from the building where a century ago, James Joyce lived with his beloved Nora and their newborn son for a while, penniless and by all accounts in dismal squalor. As I listened to the noises slowly dying down I could not stop thinking of Am's comment to my last post  - thank you!

Earlier that day sitting - as one simply must - in one of the gorgeous cafes overlooking the grand squares and seaside panoramas, I had read an interview (link in German) with Susie Orbach where she described how mothers will always - consciously or subconsciously - negatively influence their daughter's body image. 

I tried to remember a time during my childhood and teenage years when my mother expressed anything close to approval of the way her two daughters looked or dressed. Maybe there was such a time when we were really small, but mostly it was a hard and nasty competition between the three of us, which my sister and I continue to this day. The first thing we do when we meet is check, ever so slightly, who has put on/lost weight, what are we wearing and so on. Before we even greet each other, we exchange one quick look of absolute disapproval, just for a split second. 
My mother disapproved of diets, as a food and agricultural scientist she at least had the theoretical knowledge. Yet, her secret diet of cigarettes and valium - at times she was painfully thin - was a hard act to follow and she would sharply remark on any weight gain. She was the queen of thin and dear me, how she had to suffer all of the world's sloppy, spineless characters with belly fat.
I like to think I did it a lot better with my own daughter. Would she tell me if I messed up? I wonder. But I think she loves her body a lot more than I do or did, even when I was raising her.

Illness changes a lot. That is the lesson I have had to learn. Suddenly, my body has become precious, and above all, oh please, don't stop functioning, never mind what shape and form, just keep going.
Yes, there are days when I am disgusted with the way my body has let me down, the tiresome and constant readjustments to the drugs and their long litany of side effects. But mostly I try to enjoy the surprise bursts of energy and vitality when they do occur and for the boring rest of it, easy does it.

07 October 2014

This one goes down like sweet milk with honey because in last night's dreams I was looking inside my body and found a mangled mess of burst and rotting fruit, complete with maggots and rats.
Listen to me, your body is not a temple. Temples can be destroyed and desecrated. Your body is a forest -  thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. You will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly you are devastated.
 - Beau Taplin

found it here.

05 October 2014

Yesterday at midday I stood in front of the house where my mother was born. Through a large gate at the side I recognised the gabled roofs of the stables and barns of her grandfather's haulage firm. I tried to see my mother there, the way she balanced on a stone as a two year old. 

Today it's all overgrown weeds, a couple of cars here and there, and in the main building, an empty shop front with for rent signs. I have vague memories of visiting the town as a child but never this building. It was sold long before I was born.
My mother was happy here. I know that. In the stories she told us about her grandfather, he was a dashing hero lifting her up onto his horse and setting off in a wild gallop through the estate. 

I know there are other stories, too. Of too much drink and rowdy scenes and of course, the war. Always the war.

On the motorway, I was trying to explain all this to R who was having fun driving without speed limits. I think it came across all sentimental and hollywoodish anyway. Just then we drove under a bridge where someone had written in big white letters: Somebody loves you
(- how do they do this, hanging down from the railings in the darkest nights with a spray can writing upside down?). 

Before we left I was up in the attic looking through the toxic box my sister passed on to me after my mother's death. I throw out some of it whenever I sift through. Last time, I threw away all the legal stuff, the threats and insults my parents exchanged over years via their lawyers, court orders to pay more, to hand back this or that, all water under the bridge. One day, the box will be just an innocent collection of faded photographs of people no one will remember.

And as it usually happens, I dipped into a couple of other boxes to find my balance again and I found a letter from my mother-in-law, which she had sent to me when my six months old baby girl had meningitis. It is one of the world's most beautiful letters and looking at the smudged ink where my tears had dropped onto the paper thirty odd years ago I had to cry again. 

My own mother had not yet met her granddaughter and when a few weeks later, we arrived after that long hot drive across France and I held S out to her, she recoiled and quickly stepped backwards. 
I will never understand it all.

02 October 2014

...illness changes how one is in the world. Moreover, the world of the ill person changes; it transforms into a different landscape, filled with obstacles. Distances increase. It becomes uncanny. The world of the sick belongs to a different universe from that of the healthy, and the interaction between them is clunky, difficult, abrasive. ... The geography of my world is no longer a shared one. It belongs to me alone, and separates me from the people I walk with. The healthy ones who don't even notice they are healthy.

Havi Carel