31 May 2016

Sometimes my father took me along when he went on his field trips on a Saturday. He did not invite me as such and I don't think I ever volunteered. Mainly because I always got so car sick. It was probably more a matter of getting me out of the way at home. Anything from infectious siblings to my mother refusing to get dressed.

A typical field trip involved endless driving along country roads with my father pointing out the various field crops and their state of maturity. He would nod his approval of properly harvested and stacked bales of hay or shout out his dismay over some obvious neglect. He especially disliked "those young lads" who ran the risk of bad weather damage for one more week of growth.
When we finally stopped he pulled out his small pocket diary to write down his cryptic notes and figures. The diary was a give-away from the local pharmacy, the type with a fake leather cover and a pocket to hold a small ballpoint pen. At the end of the week-to-a-page section, there were lists of the different German car registration plates and their corresponding cities and districts and postal codes, a world map with time zones and international holidays, annual school holiday dates, and one of those tables of distances between large European cities. At the very end were a couple of blank pages which my father used to draw maps and directions to remote villages or motorway intersections beyond his range. These maps were really just a set of lines, crossing or parallel, unlabelled except for initials but always with a small arrow indicating north at the bottom. On one of these trips, he explained to me - briefly and unsuccessfully, I was barely five years old - how to determine the position of the sun and all that.

Usually, he then would be off into a field or a barn or a farm house, while I was left with strict instructions to not leave the car and I spent what seemed small eternities looking at these lists and imagining wondrous scenarios from his lines and notes.

I don't think he had the slightest idea what to do with me and I tried to be good and quiet but I have memories of sobbing my heart out in that lonely car.  Sometimes, the farmers whom my father was meeting in some field or farmyard or barn, discovered me and called a wife or a daughter who would try (and fail) to get me to talk or even just smile with the help of kittens or piglets or other small animals. Eventually, I would end up sitting in a farmhouse kitchen watching the women cooking and talking.

Many many years later when I was an angry student in Heidelberg, my linguistics professor was lecturing on connotations and language learning and he explained how sometimes, not always, specific words will bring back a short memory or physical reaction (smell, taste, fear, hunger etc.) from the time when we first discovered that word. Immediately, I was back in one of these kitchens where the women were baking Kerwa Küchle (Franconian deep fried pastries traditionally baked only for church fairs and deeply disliked by my mother for being too common and unhealthy), dipping the dough into hissing fat, whispering that "she was trying to hide a pregnancy".

Later in the car, with one of these flat bread baskets on my lap, filled with pastries wrapped in a striped dish towel, I asked my father what a pregnancy was but I don't remember his reply.

26 May 2016

Photograph: David Mercado/Reuters 

Watch me climb. I am getting there.

Seriously, this is such an amazing picture, and the most wonderful story

For years, Lydia Huayllas, 48, has worked as a cook at base camps and mountain-climbing refuges on the steep, glacial slopes of Huayna Potosi, a 19,974ft (6,088-meter) Andean peak outside of the Bolivian administrative capital, La Paz.
But two years ago, she and 10 other Aymara indigenous women, ages 42 to 50, who also worked as porters and cooks for mountaineers, put on crampons – spikes fixed to a boot for climbing – under their wide traditional skirts and started to do their own climbing.
These women have now scaled five peaks – Acotango, Parinacota, Pomarapi and Huayna Potosí as well as Illimani, the highest of all – in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real range. All are higher than 19,500ft (6,000 meters) above sea level.

25 May 2016

Life at the moment is hollow, fragmented, boring really. I try and fill it with small bursts of anger and activity here and there but my fears of overdoing it and thus extending this dull slog even further are too strong. I am still hopefully counting the days of this sick cert, ignoring any thoughts of having to renew it next Monday. I try to occupy myself doing little things. I watch the sky, smell the wet garden with its slight whiff of rotting voodoo lily blossoms. I work curled up on my bed, reading through long articles of UN resolutions stunned by their simple beauty (right to safety and health at work, right to land and natural resources, right to maintaining traditional knowledge, right to seed, right to land, right to social security and so on). But mostly I wait. I try not to, but underneath it all, there runs this strong current of watching and listening and waiting.

Of course, there is the protocol and I followed it beautifully to the letter this time, lab works, ecg, lung function, and the eternally repetitive 'you need to rest'. 

I could remove myself and observe it all from a distance, add some irony and make it sound funny. I could shout and wail how unfair life is treating me - again. But all this requires an effort I don't seem to be able to come up with. Not again. 

There are times when I very much want to not be able to cope. Thinking what a relief it would be to abandon all hope of recovery and with it all fears of disappointment, loss.

This, of course, is not something I am capable of. I am one of those creatures who look at the shadow on the cave wall fully convinced of its reality. In the main staircase of my secondary school,  I walked past a mural of Plato's allegory every school day morning for eight impressionable years. It is true that most of these mornings I was far too sleepy to actually look at the thing but there you have it, the powers of subconscious perception and now I am living with the results of enforced study of classic languages and antiquities.

And yet, and yet:

Don't strain yourself, there is nothing to do.
Whatever arises in the mind
has no importance at all,
because it has no reality whatsoever.
Don't become attached to it. Don't pass judgement.
Let the game happen on its own,
emerging and falling back - without changing anything -
and all will vanish and begin anew, without end.

Lama Gendün Rinpoche

22 May 2016

This afternoon it finally started to rain. Watch out, I whispered to the ants on the patio, you had it coming. The temps have dropped from hot, humid and sticky still to cool, damp and very birdsong noisy.

I am working on the ultimate test to determine whether I will be fit for work tomorrow. So far I failed all attempts to iron or go for a bit of a walk. And washing the kitchen floor just now was quite an effort and has produced a level of shaky exhaustion that in no way corresponds to the size of our kitchen or the area within it covered by floor tiles. Maybe I'll recover dramatically over night. There's hope. At least I have been sleeping a lot since Thursday.

Whatever, I am resting in splendid extravagance. While R is downstairs in the clean kitchen, preparing delightful meals, from time to time running upstairs with a fresh cup of tea for me, I am reading through my next assignment, this one on the human rights of peasant farmers, the effects of exporting dumping our agricultural surplus in African countries thereby destroying viable local markets. Just one statistic: 60% of the world's hungry are women and girls. Actually, the correct term is 'suffering from chronic hunger'.

One of the accepted definitions of chronic hunger:  
a perpetual hunger, starvation, or famine due to unequal distribution of wealth or other social injustice
Sometimes it feels like some form of penance - if I only knew what that actually entails - us here in this house, safe and comfortable, harvesting our own excellently tender green asparagus, listening to the rain, and the absolute luxury of having the means, the time, the skill and the interest to translate such information so that people with far more dedication, time, skills and, most of all, conviction may use my minimal contribution together with whatever miserable means are at their disposal to try and make our world a better place.

 Jean Ziegler
in an excerpt from We Feed The World

21 May 2016

We need to welcome genius. To understand that disruptive change and technological revolutions can spread both immense good and harm. To celebrate diversity and overcome prejudice. To raise public and private patronage. To embrace change, and strengthen public safety nets in ways that embolden us all. To build new crossroads and welcome migrants. To tear up the (mental) maps that unhelpfully divide people. To stoke virtues – especially honesty, audacity and dignity. To champion collective endeavours as well as individual freedoms.

This is our age of discovery. We can succumb to its pressures, close our borders and our minds to new people, ideas and technologies, and thereby surrender the possibilities inherent in humanity’s present circumstances. Or we can seize this moment, navigate the crises of our own time and co-create a blossoming that the world will still talk about in 2500.

Flounder or flourish? The choice is ours.

Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna in last Sunday's Observer.

19 May 2016

After my brilliant achievement of an actual proper walk (i.e. boots, backpack, packed lunch, rain gear, map and compass) earlier this month, we thought, what if this actually works, what if this drug enhanced immune compromised body has once again figured out what it takes. After all, it's only been seven years since this was our regular twice a month Sunday adventure.
And this time, why not double length, altitudes to climb, hours and difficulty. Which we did. It was fabulous despite the occasional lingering feeling of being run over by a truck and the two bloody blisters I discovered afterwards on my right foot.

Never mind blisters, I thought and I got carried away, cycled longer and steeper distances every day this week, worked overtime, registered with bikes vs. cars,  ordered decent maps for our Alpine summer walking adventure, cooked elaborate dinners and filled my calendar with a string of exciting events for the coming weeks.

(Little did she know . . .)

Just after I had filmed that little video from my last post on my way home yesterday, my knees started to buckle and after struggling for a while with my stubborn ego, I gave up and called R who without much fuss (thank you) picked me up, bicycle and all, while the volcano began to erupt inside of me. In our adult voices, we reassured ourselves with pleasant chitchat about virus infections and allergic reactions to the pollen overload in a dry windy forest. We did a fairly decent job drowning out the whiny voice inside my head, the one that kept on hissing, told you so.
When the first wave of nausea hit me in the early hours of this morning, I groped for the dramamine in the dark, skilfully avoiding the worst of the sea sickness, aka vomiting. By the time R woke I was well and truly back into my boring chronic illness life, shivers and fevers and vertigo, contemplating the Alpine summer adventure in a deckchair instead. In other words: Back at square one. The usual.

But it was such a great spell and although - of course - I overdid it, I'll do it again and again. There's always a next time, R cheerfully confirmed as he left for work. He is always ahead of me.

18 May 2016

I had a shitty day at work. The kind of day when I wonder what on earth etc. But then on my way home, this happened. It actually is like that every evening at the moment. Spring is noisy.

15 May 2016

The thought that one day I will just stop communicating with my siblings. I wonder how long until they notice? Maybe never, maybe with the same huge relief that I will experience.
Don't, says R, it would be a shame. 

To which I reply: We don't have to like each other at all. But for now we need to look after the stubborn old man in his shiny car. And even that has become a competition. Sometimes, I imagine that my sister is keeping a tally sheet on who he calls more often. She is so mad at me, her emails are like little explosions. This family is my ongoing source of sarcasm and arrogance. We goad each other on and have become experts in snide remarks, well hidden in best wishes and little anecdotes. Whatever it takes to be just nice, I haven't got it.  We never try anyway.

Sometimes I swear I can hear my mother hiss and clamor from her non existent grave. I told you so, you are all good for nothing. 

Meanwhile, the Ice Saints are upon us, today is the feast day of Sophie with a harsh wind full of pollen and the odd drop of rain. R is out there weeding and digging and planting like there is no tomorrow., while I drink pots of tea working my way through the translations of the myriad novel approaches to breast reconstruction. Please, dear women: never miss a breast scan if you can help it.

Yesterday, I did a bit of my civic duty and stood behind a police barrier watching a handful neo nazis shouting their convoluted slogans of hate and fear. I tried to remain all dignified and grown up but when this grey haired hippy behind me started to shout, Oh shut up you assholes, I found myself joining in with wild abandon. I know, I know. It doesn't change a thing. But it cleared my head for better things. I hope so.

This is my mother before she became a botanist.

11 May 2016

This is the view from the kitchen window this morning. The plumeria is not doing too well. And one of the small fig trees has not survived this mild winter. The roses are late but I forgive them.
While chopping some fresh strawberries into my porridge, I listen to the news, the road works and the birds, considering whether I should douse the evolving ant hills on the patio stones with boiling water or let them be. 
Bad karma. 
Years and years ago, we called on a friend living at a Tibetan Buddhist place in the south of France where we not only shared the bedroom with seven nesting swift families flying in and out of the windows, but also had to carefully accommodate various ant colonies in the shower. It was all done very orderly, the ants were provided with safe passage to and from the soap dish and stayed well away from the drains. 
Only two years before that trip, I daily spent a good amount of time killing large civilizations of ants, thick red ants, which ran along my washing line and nested inside the door frames and the box with S's colouring pencils and basically everywhere. Not forgetting the cockroaches, spiders as large as your hand (the smaller ones, the larger versions were higher up in the trees) and of course, mosquitoes. The geckos and the skinks and the giant millipedes, however, S wanted to keep as pets. Life in paradise was not without challenges.

10 May 2016

her blue body

I didn't go for mother's day stuff - we lived in a commune, it was the 1980s, my child was introduced to other things about life, we were serious hippy rebels.
There are vague childhood memories (mine) of colouring cards for my mother but that must have been before I went to school. And the teenager I was then would not be seen dead with a mother's day memento or a bouquet. And thankfully, my mother did not like the idea either. But I only found out this week that it was not a nazi thing after all, this day to idolize women as mothers. See what I mean, my teenage anger etc.
Still, my child called on Sunday - by total coincidence, of course. 

Anyway, in the words of Alice Walker:

We have a beautiful
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes

We have a beautiful
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs

We have a beautiful
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
her plentiful

We have a beautiful
Her green lap
Her brown embrace
Her blue body
everything we know.

08 May 2016

Way past my bedtime I am sitting here with my old friend gastritis. Life is full of surprises and every 30 minutes the timer of the dimming app on this computer reminds me that morning is on its way. In future,  I shall not mix fresh strawberries with coffee. Or don't eat strawberries and forget about coffee in general. All this scar tissue in your intestine is not helping either, the expert said earlier this year. So what. Fennel tea and a hot water bottle, while I attempt to edit a pile of manuscripts for the wealthy (and well paying) aesthetic surgeon. So far, I have worked my incredulously ignorant mind through ten different surgical procedures to improve the appearance of the humble hand. I had no idea and frankly, I am glad I didn't. Now I just hope that all this knowledge will rapidly fade from my memory.
The good news is that I went on a proper walk, for a couple of hours (!) and what a delight it was. My energy is coming back, never mind the nausea wars in my abdomen. But shhhhh, don't get carried away. Let's not brag about it. Not yet.

05 May 2016

04 May 2016

that plus sunshine = today

The only thing - apart from maybe a bookshop - that I missed when we lived in paradise was the change of the seasons. During hot tropical nights with the screams of the fruit bats and the boom of plopping breadfruit, constantly barking dogs and roosters crowing whenever - I would dream in slow motion of crocus and tulips, opening fruit tree flowers and the first strawberries, swallows nesting and bright evenings.

Our first spring back was a bit different, or rather, like actual spring when everything basically happens at the same time, explosions of green and colour and soft fruit.
Well, this year has been somewhat slow motion up to now - ignoring the fact that we did pick raspberries on x mas day - but it looks like the show is on the road.

03 May 2016

May arrives with heavy April showers and a distant promise of warmth. There is hope. Thursday is a public holiday, would be nice to spend it less wrapped up, both in- and outdoors.

Things related to my job security and chronic illness related disability are finally happening. If my boss finds the time to sit down with the various people representing me. He is such an important man, of course, and well, I am not so important but the smell of money may just be too convincing.
The best case scenario could involve a skilled and pleasant underling person working for me, the worst case scenario would be life as it is right now, i.e. absences and backlogs and overtime at home.

Meanwhile, I have been very crafty. After I completed these two pillows

I am now working my way through the left over wool, mittens in May.

And since R has been ingenious as ever, in this very cold spring, we are harvesting our daily salad overload from the inside walls of the greenhouse.

We made the huge mistake of watching That Sugar Film which was followed by a hasty search through our cupboards and guilty disposal of admittedly only very few items (mostly tomato sauce mixes). By disposal I mean that we rapidly ate the stuff, we don't throw food away if we can help it. But the future here is going to be extremely holy and healthy. Watch me.
And watch the full movie online here. While the link works. Great fun if you are into self torture and gruesome pictures of too many sweets and bad teeth and lots more stuff we should all know.