29 November 2015

you have no idea how cold it was

that and the fact that I packed it in after 10 km and slowly crawled back into the hotel with all the mod cons and the minibar and the terrific breakfast choices - and yet, I haven't felt more alive in weeks

23 November 2015

Beauty will save the world. It will start with loving someone.
The Turkish journalist, social and political activist Gürkan Özturan and the Irish poet Maria McManus recently translated the poem AdA by the Turkish writer Sait Faik Abasiyanik. This is one line from it. On the same day, the news came in of the bombing in Ankara.

21 November 2015

For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First 33rd Birthday

When they laid you in the crook
of my arms like a bouquet and I looked
into your eyes, dark bits of evening sky,
I thought, of course this is you,
like a person who has never seen the sea
can recognize it instantly.

They pulled you from me like a cork
and all the love flowed out. I adored you
with the squandering passion of spring
that shoots green from every pore.

You dug me out like a well. You lit
the deadwood of my heart. You pinned me
to the earth with the points of stars.

I was sure that kind of love would be
enough. I thought I was your mother.
How could I have known that over and over
you would crack the sky like lightning,
illuminating all my fears, my weaknesses, my sins.

Massive the burden this flesh
must learn to bear, like mules of love.

Ellen Bass

20 November 2015

My father calls early, he is upset. But I couldn't even tell him that and how I notice. I would not dare. Not my place in the careful arrangement of family hierarchies.
He would like to have a word with the French president. All this talk about wars. What does he know?! This is not war, this is threats, this is warmongering, this is dangerous. And so on.
But, I say. No but, he thunders back. Believe me, I know this.
But, I say, you were only 10 years old. Exactly, he replies.
But, I say, the French president has just announced that France will take on 30,000 Syrian refugees.
Not nearly enough, and it has nothing to do with it, don't change the subject, he shouts into my ear.
He has a point, my dad.

So we change the subject, slightly. There is always the weather to talk about, that and getting older.

Shortly after 9/11 and after another president had spoken about being at war, we were flying to Malaga. I had been warned about Malaga airport, only one toilet in the entire airport, downstairs, long queues, dirty. But of course now this was trivial information.
Waiting at the gate, the predictable crowd of off-season holiday tourists, mostly couples without kids, off to a bit of late summer in Andalusia.
And one single young man. With a beard, a black beard. His complexion and hair colour seemed darker by the minute, as did the expression on his face as he noticed being watched. Discretely so, but we all had a good look. All the time. There was so  much to scrutinise, his suit, the open-necked shirt, his slightly scruffy shoes, a small bag too big or maybe too small for what?, but most of all, his seemingly determined stares. And now he put on sunglasses!
Of course, we played it down, we joked and R told me to get a grip and on board we ordered red wine.
When he did not collect any luggage, we knew it! But then we walked out onto the shiny marble floors of the arrival hall, flooded in sunlight and laughter, and, well, there he was, surrounded by his family, a toddler pulling his leg, a baby in his arms, tears in his eyes. We sneaked past him like the idiots we truly were.

Why do I remember this now? Because I just read this here:

Gate A-4
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Peso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye

17 November 2015

15 November 2015

I am at a loss. We talk and reassure ourselves, we think we are all in a safe place. 
This religion of them and us, it's deep inside us all. Don't kid yourselves. But so is greed and fear and misery and self pity.  From time to time, we must reach there and touch these nasty spots deep inside our souls and admit it, and while we're at it, our anger and our helplessness too.
What do I know?! Fear is not the answer, hate is not the answer. But what is? Love sounds too sticky right now. I am not sure I can trust love. Or people or myself. I watched a documentary about the new caliphate or whatever in London and when this gentle old man who looked a bit like the convert Cat Stevens said, the world must free itself from the demons of liberty and democracy, I got the shivers.
And yet. 
My comfortable wealthy world, the one I move in, has always been an open world, diverse, messy, chaotic, welcoming and off putting, imperfect, always trying, growing, nourishing and struggling, but most of all, open, wide wide open. The world that I dream of as a near ideal world doesn't look much different and I want to believe that I am not alone with this dream, that as diverse as we are, we can remain sane and human and practical and helpful and whatever it takes to look after each other and our planet.

Meanwhile, the river has reached a new record low. This is not good. We need constant rain from now until the new year to fill it to a seasonally acceptable level.

13 November 2015

happy 70th birthday Neil Young

It seems I have been humming and singing this song under my breath all my life. Long before I could understand the lyrics.

Right now, I remember singing it at the top of my voice while painting the walls of the former industrial school in Letterfrack in bright purples and reds. At the time, I didn't know a thing about the horrible history of that building. I was a clueless student of theories and ideals.

But I was happy, really happy. I had just fallen in love, I had met wonderful people and together we set out to make this place habitable again. We had grand ideas involving woodworkers, weavers, potters, children, gardens. You know, the whole shebang.

Today, my paintwork is long gone. Instead, it has become "a place of excellence".
I am still in love. 

12 November 2015

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. 

Pema Chödrön

Let's pretend I read this quote for inspiration and relief. Let's pretend I am brave and can look my negativity in the eye and give out a tiny non-squeamish hiss of recognition. While I wouldn't have the energy to jump for whatever reason, I somehow managed to go to work for three days in a row. I am not sure about tomorrow. And every evening when I get home in this exhausted and foul mood I am starting to contemplate a life without the job. (Whereas every morning I think it's not really that bad.) 
But right now, I am ticking off days waiting for my body to pack it in once again. One way or the other. Yet maybe maybe maybe, plan C or D or whichever is about to begin, will actually do the trick. Only, I am waiting for my lovely immunologist to call me with the war plan and the dates and then I have to figure out a way to get there and back. I have been given a booklet with information on side effects and what to expect and how to react. I've attempted to  read it a couple of times but found the narrative difficult to follow. Every page is illustrated with pictures of extremely healthy looking people and I get distracted checking their outfits and their suntans. 
Matters did not improve when I went from Downton Abbey straight into The Leftovers. Talk about negativity. With a capital N. Like November.

This here was our back yard in paradise.

11 November 2015

Being found is overrated. Being a little lost is good, because it keeps you alert, keeps you looking around. It keeps you scanning the horizons about to find your bearings, and you are not sleepwalking through the world.

 Paul Salopek

10 November 2015

My child lives 18 622 km away from me. Which is 11 571 miles. Which is quite a distance. Her garden is doing well, it's spring.  We are a living geography lesson.

09 November 2015

Today I pretended to be all healthy and strong and selfish and nasty. It was fun for a while. I watched Downton Abbey for breakfast, cycled the 400 m to the nearest optician and got my eyes tested for my new special specs for computer screen work. When he totalled up the costs I almost fainted but managed to pretend that it was no big deal and ordered them anyway. We could fly for a short holiday to Sicily for that money, off season and self catering, but still. I should probably carry them around in a gold plated case and lock them away safely every night. Instead of losing or, worse/better, breaking them, whichever comes first.
Back home, I sat in the sun. Outside! Together with the handful of leaves left on the hedge and the last three flowering plants, I pretended it was May instead of November.
After lunch I went to another doctor's appointment, I am so good at this. This was with the gastroenterologist who had made me drink the five liters of moviprep last year. After two hours of sitting in his crowded waiting room I got up, said good bye and walked out. Life is too short etc.
When I got home, I remembered that I am actually not healthy or strong, just selfish and nasty.

08 November 2015

People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.

Marilynne Robinson

07 November 2015

  1990 in paradise

Looking back over the last fabulous year I come to the conclusion that for most of the time I have been blissfully ignorant and over the top full of myself. While things were getting progressively worse health wise. I forget how often I have been out sick this year. I guess more often than at work.
Theory is a wonderful playground because in theory I am such a competent and confident person, calm and skilled and experienced. I can handle it, bring it on.
I can solve problems, I don't lose my cool, I am organised. Seriously.
As long as I can pick the problems myself. And get a good night's sleep once I am done.

I am kidding. This has gone way beyond a good night's sleep. (I still love that, though.) 
But there is this thing called health, or rather: ill-health. And I am floored. This is when my shiny theory comes crashing around me. It seems I have now reached a stage in this illness where I am all in it. It's all over me, inside and out. The novelty, the innocence , the disbelief is gone. And some of the fear, most of the panic, almost all of it. Gone. (I say that now.)

Right now, I am in a strange place. It's a lonely place. But not in a bad way. If I wanted to I could write a long list of my current unpleasant symptoms but this has become so boring and really, this is not about my weakness, my vulnerability or exhaustion. All that tedious stuff. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to imagine that a body can be repaired like a busted car engine, handing it over to the skilled mechanics and wait it out.
Those long hours of guess work and doubt. So what if autoimmune disease means that the organism is not allowing itself the conditions of its own existence. Do I care? I have no idea. I will never know. These are just words. My ill health is not a problem that will be solved, like a cryptic crossword puzzle. I have to put that behind me and move the fuck on.

All I know right now, seem to know right now, is that nothing good, nothing helpful comes from these thoughts. That instead, I need to concentrate on the mundane, the small daily tasks and rituals, whether they are enjoyable or awful, it doesn't matter. Come down to earth, cut the distractions and have it all. I mean it. 

04 November 2015

Sometimes we’re going to find ourselves completely caught up in a drama. We’re going to be just as angry as if someone had just walked into the room and slapped us in the face. Then it might occur to us: “Wait a minute—what’s going on here?” We look into it and are able to see that, out of nowhere, we feel that we have lost something or been insulted. Where this thought came from we don’t know, but here we are, hooked again by the eight worldly dharmas. Right then, we can feel that energy, do our best to let the thoughts dissolve, and give ourselves a break. Beyond all that fuss and bother is a big sky. Right there in the middle of the tempest, we can drop it and relax. 
Pema Chödrön

Clear days, clear nights, frost maybe. We moved the plumeria inside into the front room where it promptly dropped all its leaves. R is losing patience with it and threatens to give it away if there are still no blossoms by next summer. I prefer to call it frangipani, sounds so much more tropical. Once upon a time, when we lived in paradise, I carelessly stepped on frangipani petals on my way to work every morning. And a visit from the local tortoise was just a nuisance - because he would regularly get stuck trying to push into the back door.

For a long time I would play this make believe game, where you have one wish (one really selfish wish, not a world peace or end to hunger wish), and I imagined that I wanted us to be back there, by our kitchen door, sweeping the mango leaves and listening to the fruit bats screeching and the dogs barking and the kids everywhere. But not any more.

Now my one selfish wish is a different one. I have become more careful - but equally unrealistic. Now, I avoid wasting my wish on being healthy again (but oh believe me, I want it so badly). Instead, my one selfish unrealistic careful wish is for a life without doctor's appoinments. I would settle for that. Maybe.

02 November 2015


What you don't see is that I am wearing mittens, and that I can lean into a freezing wind, also that the river is very low after weeks of drought. What you don't hear is the church bells from across the river at noon, very noisy ravens above me and kids playing in the school yard to the right.