29 November 2014

This day yesterday 41 years ago, I couldn't get to school because it had snowed all night. In Franconia, unlike today, snow and frost was the shape of things until February/March but the first snow always caused a bit of havoc. 
The rule was to wait at the bus stop for about 30 mins before turning back. My father had left hours earlier using one of his elaborate detours across the villages. Hazardous road conditions never stopped him. My brother stayed outside, he was still a silly little boy, and my sister had moved out only a few weeks earlier. 

So when I got back home, I was almost alone. I locked myself into the sitting room. Of course, I couldn't really lock the door. But I did shut it, which was never done, and I pulled the blinds up and opened my birthday presents. OK, opening is not the correct word because presents were never wrapped. We usually got what we asked for - and if we forgot to ask for anything or if my mother was going through one of her moods when we wouldn't dare ask, we got cash. My parents generally preferred cash unless we asked for books. Books were good. My mother had a thing about buying books for her children. 

Anyway, I had asked for a ton of stuff, whatever had come into my head in the past couple of months, partly because I wanted to make it real hard, like a test, and well, it was all there: the exact black suede boots as specified, the correct pair of Levi's jeans, the triple album box set of The Concert for Bangladesh, the German version of The Woodstock Craftsman's Manual, a couple of school things, pens mostly, and my mother's standards: Baumkuchenspitzen and Borkenschokolade.

Outside, it was snowing, the house was silent. I knew my mother would not be up for some time. I put on my new jeans and boots, let George Harrison be the first ever rock musician to disgrace my parent's stereo system, with decent volume, and - eating chocolate for breakfast! - started to leaf through pages of macrame and tie dye projects. 

My mother never came near me. Not a word about the door being shut, none of that you call this music? stuff.  I began to feel free and grown up and ready that day. Ready to leave and lead a different life, a wild life, a life of adventure, daring, honest friendships, really loud rock music and - well, yes, macrame.

26 November 2014

So it did catch up with me. Somewhat. The cold, frost even, the dark. That November. Unraveling in bits here and there. Various infections, eyes, joints, a nasty case of tendonitis with a fetching limp, the gastritis, obviously. 
First thing in the morning before getting up I now have to stick a couple parts back on that must have broken off during the night, like one of the paper cut-out dolls that S used to play with. 

Of course it's nothing to do with November but it adds a dramatic effect and, oh dear, do I have a thing for drama.

I tell you what it is. Tedious, it's tedious. Repetitive, this three-steps-forward-two-steps-back pattern. Or maybe it's the other way around. Same difference. Never mind. Yawn.

No, I am not (yet?) gone all blasé about it. It seems, though, that right now there is only one trick left in my magic box of coping skills: expect nothing. Which offers its own beauty because it allows me to just be.

Occasionally, there's a tiny spark of stupid sarcasm, very briefly illuminating that vast boring November greyness, such as this example of fb wisdom: Love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it's probably shit.

Replace love with life and you get the idea. Expect nothing.

22 November 2014

When people ask me where I am from, I tell them I'm from Europe. Depending on circumstances, I might mention that I was raised in Franconia. Nobody outside Germany has a clue about Franconia, neither do I for that matter. I can tell you that my father comes from old Franconian stock, I have a copy of the family tree going back to the Thirty Years' War, but that there are quite a few Italian and Slavic traces here and there. As for my mother, who had a thing about the superiority of German culture, her background is a wild mix of Swedish, Russian, French and, apparently, Sami. 

When the discussion gets too territorial, I occasionally blather on about the world being our homeland etc. 

When someone mentions that there are too many foreigners here, I add that I am married to one of them. 
But no, comes the reply, he is a different kind of foreigner. 
Meaning? I ask. 
Oh, you know, the proper kind, like us.
Like us? Who are we?

And so on.

Which gives me an excuse to quote at length from an article by Moshin Hamid in today's Guardian:

The scale of migration we will see in the coming centuries is likely to dwarf what has come before. Climate change, disease, state failure, wars: all these will push hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, to leave one country for another. If we do not recognise their right to move, we will be attempting to build an apartheid planet where our passports will be our castes, and where obedience will be enforceable only through ever-increasing uses of force.
There is another way. We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa. And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.
It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants. And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.
I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.

20 November 2014

and more cycling

The Cyclist Philosopher from fifty beans on Vimeo.

subtitles in English: click on the cc button

16 November 2014

It's hard to believe we are half way through November already. This morning, R picked a bowl of fresh raspberries and the roses are at it for the fourth (fifth?) time. You could almost start to love climate change.

At the local farmer's market today I got involved in a conversation about old apple varieties. Thanks to my grandmother's orchard and my father's insistence of teaching his kids that apples had proper names I could contribute my fair share. The tiny, almost wrinkled apples in the picture are a variety that was first cultivated in the 19th century by a German nobleman and social reformer. They are juicy, sweet and high in vit c and they have a dedicated fan club. Apparently, there are only a few trees left which explains why they are sold out in one morning. I guess the fan club has a secret messaging system because they were all there, oohing and aahing and discussing colour and size. Generously, I was allowed to purchase one kilo. 

One of these days I will eat one. At least I hope so. Before I forget that there is a culinary life beyond porridge, dry toast and fennel tea. Some days, I dare to drink the odd cup of milky coffee or stupidly eat a tiny portion of risotto rice with pumpkin - at a price (see below). I have now been told that most likely it's a mechanical issue plus chronic gastritis. While both of which are here to stay, more or less, I still have hopes that modern medicine will eventually soon find novel ways to successfully recover my digestive system at least for periods of time long enough to try out all the recipes I have been bookmarking in the last fortnight. 

Meanwhile, I got a couple of prescriptions, painkillers, heavy duty PPIs, and good old antispasmodics. Donkey's years ago I took that stuff for really bad period pain. Stupidly, I mentioned this to my new GP and she had to laugh and we started to talk about childbirth and labour and when she asked me why I only had one child, I told her about what happened in 1993 and she cried out and held both of my hand for a while which was slightly embarrassing.

Anyway, these drugs are not really working which is why I am now sitting here in the darkest night missing my cat and listening to this wonderful talk about psilocybin therapy. Believe me, I want it. Now.

12 November 2014

Imagine this scene: a group of children playing outside on a sunny day, the game is turning into a race and now all of them are running down the road, except for that one child who cannot keep the pace. The others are already too far to notice.
On bad days, really bad days, I am that child.

The overwhelming feeling of having no direction, that nobody needs me, that my purposeful life is over.
Oh, of course, my daughter and my husband. They will swear that I am important, sometimes under duress, and sometimes when they do mean it. And there are others, occasionally, who value and cherish my presence, my input, my work. Honestly, I am proud of my work and all that, on most days, but especially on really bad days.

I know that I will never be healthy again and that this illness is claiming more and more of me, slowly. I know it does not look like it but like the fool that I am, I am still fighting it. 
All. The.Time. It is a hard struggle and a useless one, really. I leaf through my diary to count the medical appointments and sick days during the last 12 months and I feel grim. No wonder, R tells me that he has lost track of all the experts and why and when I have to go and see them.

There are still glorious days, occasionally, when I feel energetic, my face flush and tingling after a fast cycle, when I clean the kitchen floor last thing before bed and still have enough energy to run upstairs. On days like this, for a brief moment, I forget that all this is changing, that I am far into the tunnel of chronic illness. I know I am really lashing out at life, my unfair life, when I get mad with R, when I shout at him for not doing this or that. And oh, how much I really just need him to stop me, to tell me that all will be well.

This he cannot, will not do. And the last thing I want to do is blackmail him with my illness.
It is very tempting, but this is not his responsibility. Neither he nor me caused this illness and it is entirely my own body, my own burden. Harsh as it may sound, but believe me, pity can feel awfully patronising. Or maybe I haven't got the gift of accepting it properly, gratefully, to make others feel better.

Sometimes there is a wall between us that I can almost touch, the air is cold and hard and we try to fill with empty chatter, polite conversation. Carefully avoiding anything related to being ill. I look up and see this strong and energetic man, he is so well, so fucking healthy. While he carelessly pours himself another glass of red wine, we debate the upcoming conferences he may attend, one in Finland, another one on Mars or so it seems. Go out for a hike, I want to shout at him. Just like we used to do on a Sunday morning because we felt like it. Go and travel, explore, discover. Send me back pictures, bring me a souvenir. But it's complicated, confusing, and maybe I am not convincing enough, maybe I show a trace of regret in my face or maybe he feels a tinge of guilt in his mind.

How much I want to be done with this anger, with loss, with feeling hurt by what exactly I cannot even tell, and wanting to hurt back at what exactly I have no idea.

cycling . . . again

10 November 2014

09 November 2014

Sometimes when I am in the bathroom brushing my teeth and the window is open and I can hear the faint noises of the traffic from the main road, I am back in the house I grew up in, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing my teeth and while I hear the faint noise of traffic from the main road I am dreaming about being far away, somewhere exotic, different, very, very different and deliriously happy. 
All of it, at the same time. I would look at myself with half closed eyes, trying to imagine it: me being deliriously happy and far away, somewhere exotic and very, very different. 

Around that time I started stealing cigarettes and loose change from my mother's purse. Most days after school I sat on my desk in my room underneath the skylight, blowing the smoke outside and hiding the butts in an empty jam jar with a screw on lid. My mother was going through three packs a day and the house reeked of nicotine anyway, but, hey, the thrill of it. On the inner frame of the skylight I kept a tally of the boys I had kissed, a tiny line of initials.

The desk was very stylish, polished blond wood, Scandinavian design, slim brass drawer handles. It used to stand downstairs in the big room. Years ago I had chased my little brother around the room and he crashed into one of its rounded corners and the blood spurting from the gash beside his eyebrow spilt onto my mother's best Persian carpet. I was locked into my room for the rest of the day and I remember standing on my tiptoes trying to open the same skylight to climb out and give my mother a fright.
When my father bought our first tv set to watch the Olympic games the desk was moved upstairs.

Deep inside one of its drawers I hid my pathetic savings. But only briefly. I knew all along that money would not get my out of here.

But by now I have been all of it: far away, somewhere exotic and very, very different and deliriously happy. Even all of it at the same time, briefly.

05 November 2014

November. Not my time of the year, I could say.
It is ridiculous, really. Because I give into a mood, it's quite the thing to do. 
Oh oh November, I always get depressed in November, people tell me. Before I know it, I wake up and I think, November, am I depressed? And well, let's blame it all on this damp month with bare trees and wind and the dark evenings.

The little cat is dead, we went to the vet and he did the thing. It was dark and raining hard by the time we got home and while R dug the hole in the back of the garden, I washed the floors and got rid of the litter box and all the rest. 

Then the basement started to smell. We actually had a fight over who was going to check behind the stacked flower pots for maybe a dead mouse or worse and yes, it was pouring by then. Whatever it was, it just disappeared. I think.

Quite appropriately, R started to investigate his pension situation in what, three-four years and oh my goodness, we are going to be skint. Absolutely. And that is before tax. So now, we snarl at each other and I cannot sleep and really, I feel like a right fool. Because we always knew and we more than once managed with even less when we were young and wild (and healthy). We can always sell the house, R shrugs. But we both know how that will hurt. Or maybe not. Go to sleep, he tells me, no use thinking about it now.

A quite popular writer and poet here used to have this daily newspaper column, on the last page of one of the more radical national papers, where he would write a little ditty about current affairs, corrupt politicians or anything else that he wanted to get off his chest. So he wrote this little poem about November, how miserable and grey it is and what a waste of time and let's get rid of it and so on. 
Next day, the paper published a letter from a seven year old boy, complaining about giving November a bad name. And he listed all the great things November has to offer: leaves to mess about, raincoats and mittens and scarves to wear, puddles to jump into, hot cocoa to drink when you get home and so on. 
And of course, your man had to rewrite his poem and he did. And I have it all somewhere, the first poem, the letter and the second poem. I cut it all out and had a good laugh. Because, here's the thing: midwinter is only seven weeks away. Time flies. Before we know it we'll be old and poor.