30 June 2016

So this was June. Monsoon June when it rained every day. And yet, the ants have won. They are out and about on their mating flights right now, flaunting their silver wings for the day. I shooed off a gang of them earlier today but ever so gently. One day we will lift the patio stones and discover an entire universe for miles and miles below them, all the way to the center of the earth.

Well, it seems June was also the month when my health soared and then packed it in again, slowly first but quite deftly now. I am back on old familiar grounds again, bed, sofa, deck chair etc. 

Today, the physiotherapist figured out a way to treat my sore back without me drowning in waves of vertigo and nausea and suddenly, the biggest achievement of my life - as compared to climbing mountains or editing a groundbreaking paper on molecular genetics - is to be able to move my facet joints again without too much pain. While the lovely physio explained about lumbar facet joint arthrosis (which I am quietly ruling out with all my willpower) she arranged my undressed back into a swooning curve and took some pictures of the strange bruises all along my spine.  They are only superficial, she assured me, but we'll have someone take a look - just in case.

The garden is a sea of lilies in yellow and pink and white, the fruit trees are packed - there is no other word for it - we are eating tender purple kohlrabi and I am half way through the blueberries, one fat handful a time.

And now, July. All year, I have been thinking of the promise of beautiful July and the wonderful times we shall have. I may walk in the Italian alps, if only for a short distance - from the car to the deckchair at least.

28 June 2016

Thirty four years ago, I had to get married. I wrote about the reasons here.
Briefly, my status as an illegal immigrant was about to be discovered and in order to avoid being deported, drastic measures had to be adopted. It cost us 40 pounds sterling we didn't have at the time.
Also, I was pregnant but while that was not the reason it helps us to figure out how many years ago we did this. If S turns 34 later this years it means we got married 34 years ago.
Mind you, there are moments when I have to think a bit before I get our daughter's age. But mostly because I often forget my own age. Simple maths was never my strength.
However, if S was born one week before my 25th birthday but not before I got married, what age was R then? What did he wear on the day and why did he almost got us thrown out of Marylebone Registry Office? And so on. Life is full of riddles.
When we had done the dirty deed and returned to Dublin, my new mother-in-law, once she recovered from the shock of this heathen foreign woman stealing the only son, organised a secret wedding dinner with all the trimmings, cake and buffet and speeches and all. At some stage and after a considerable amount of bubbly drinks, she attempted to read out the marriage certificate, one of those large rectangular forms that won't fit in the copy machines, at the top of her voice. But when she came to the long list of my father's first names (Friedrich Nikolaus Maximilian Johannes Heinrich) she gave up. Thence, ballad singing and dancing on the tables incl.
My parents did not attend, they were too affronted to even acknowledge the existence of Ireland as a whole but that was to be expected.
Today was a quiet day, R cut the hedge and picked raspberries and loganberries and strawberries, while I picked up another sick cert and had a grueling session with the physiotherapist, vertigo, vomiting, the lot. Much later, we remembered and had a bit of a laugh. Gosh, time flies when you are having fun.

26 June 2016

Waking, I turn my face to the open window. Blue sky. Someone is opening a car door, encouraging a small child to come on out. Sunday sounds.
My back hurts like fire and hell and I am expecting the end of the world any minute. I decide to go back to work tomorrow, to sort out the most urgent stuff and then call R with my whiniest voice to pick me up. But. If I cannot handle a full day at work (a full day is 5 hrs) I also will need to go back to my GP and I am already rehearsing my apologies for taking up more of her time (- which of course is borderline pathetic). I won't use my whiniest voice, no. I will make myself sound jocular and confident and I will shrug my shoulders slightly, indicating that shit has happened again and that it means nothing, really.
In my darkest self pity moments I am contemplating the next scenarios incl. herniated discs and permanent nerve damage and the worst case, namely that all my remaining teeth are quietly rotting away underneath and behind their shiny white exterior and that any moment, they will all crumble and explode with endless excruciating pain, simultaneously of course.

21 years ago, we crashed the car on the motorway driving west into the sun during a sudden and unexpected snow shower. Nothing too dramatic, slow moving rush-hour traffic, crawling along. We were on our way home from my grandmother's funeral. She had died just short of her 103rd birthday. The funeral was a brief affair and we left early to get home before dark but also because S was getting bored and cranky. 
The car - cheap, small, second hand, French - was a complete write-off, and after the police had been and gone, when the tow-truck had dropped it and us at a garage (closed for the night), we stuffed what we could carry into our bags and slunk away like thieves. Running along the dual carriageway towards the nearest railway station, mother father daughter holding hands and laughing hysterically. Always the lucky ones, we were. Fearless, we were. Oh yes!

Three weeks later, I woke up one morning in pain with a paralyzed right leg. 
Six weeks after the surgery I was running along Brittas Bay as if my life was always worth having. As if everything would always turn out well in the end.

I cannot remember when it stopped, my confidence, my ignorant belief that all will turn out well.  Maybe because it was too easy and I am fed up with easy.

24 June 2016

In the mid 1980s, we left our toddler with R's parents (and dog) in Dublin and drove our little red car to Northern Ireland. It was my first visit to what was then clearly a conflict zone. I remember sitting in a hotel bar just after we had crossed the border and exchanged our punts to pounds, looking out across the rainy sea waiting for soup and sandwiches, strong tea and R naming the mountain ranges in view. It all looked so benign and beautifully Irish.

We spent the first night with friends of friends in Belfast, an elderly Quaker couple, retired school teachers. It was a silent evening, both our hosts busily knitting. In the morning, they issued a detailed map to the city, where not to park, where not to go, what not to say etc.

In the end, we fled Belfast and its armed soldiers on every street corner, lots of body checks and bag searches, and drove on towards the beauty spots, Giant's Causeway at sunset, Dunluce Castle on a bright sunny morning all to ourselves, magnificient views across to Rathlin island, eating fish and chips on the windy beach of Portrush, even a guided tour of Bushmill's.

Somewhere in Co. Tyrone, we stayed with a brave farming couple involved in community work with both sides (courageous and very, very dangerous), in the evening, they walked us along the areas of the village that were safe for them to be in, the places they had been searched, the small army post they had been held prisoner for the odd night and we went to the one pub they could safely visit and tried to remain cheerful.

But what I most vividly remember is the first day, driving through the beautiful Glens of Antrim and looking at the neat and tidy bungalows and cottages, thinking that behind those nice lace curtains someone may be looking at us with our Republic of Ireland car registration, thinking, I hate you, you are vermin.

One morning, we were stopped and searched three times and in the end, we just drove away and across the border again, back in time for tea, watching granddad in the garden and trying to calm down an overexcited child, who suddenly and miraculously was potty trained.

This morning, I think I need to rewire bits of my brain. I have to start including the potential for divisive scenarios on European soil again. Divisive scenario sounds innocent enough but terrible wars have been started here before. Before the EU.

To be honest, I never wasted much thought on the EU. In my mind it is a costly bureaucratic apparatus somewhere in Brussels doing good and bad things I don't understand. When we have visitors from really far away places, we sometimes bring them for an EU drive, see five countries (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France) in two hours without a single border crossing. Sometimes, our visitors fall asleep in the car, it's that easy and boring - plus jetlag of course.
We then add some history to perk things up. Spreading out a map of the many different sovereign states, contested borders between small and larger empires, principalities, rulers and their many loyal and disloyal followers and underlings, bloody battlegrounds of tribal conquests long before WW1/WW2. This was the old Europe, we tell our visitors, a belligerent, self centered chaos.

My nightmare scenario: if this brexit leads to frexit and polexit, danexit and hunexit . . . you can come up with really funny terms here, we are on our way back to that chaos.

21 June 2016

This morning I had an argument with my father who admonished me for being too emotional as usual and warned me that I was heading for a miserable old age unless I start using my scientific brain. He put down the phone before I could tell him that I was never good at science and that he most likely is mixing me up with someone else.
I should mention that I don't think I was emotional at all. I may have said stupid things like, it has been a dreadfully rainy month and how strange it's almost midsummer, or, did you see the beautiful moon rising last night.
Number one, he replied, rain in June is normal due to the returning westerly winds from the cold Atlantic ocean reaching the warmer continental landmass. Of course, I should have remembered. I mean, everybody is aware of such simple meteorological scenarios. Everybody but me.
Number two, and this with considerably more impatience in his voice, the moon does not rise. The earth turns. And in an instant I am back somewhere around age 12 or 14, standing on a sandy dune watching the sun setting into the sea - or possibly feeling the earth turning under my bare feet - while my father disgusted with our ignorance and overbearing family life in this small Danish beach house in general, gives us the basic run down of the earth's rotation and solar time.
Sometimes I think both my parents would have been brilliant individuals, if only they could have been spared marriage, family life and their three disappointing children.
I didn't tell him why I am emotional. Not a word about the renewed sick cert and the sluggish days watching French crime series, twisting my back from boredom into painful sciatica and the lab tests from hell. I didn't tell him about the way the earth moved for me when once again I attempted - probably due to my lack of a scientific brain - to accept this as it is and at least in theory, decided to take things as the come - even if that involves crawling on all fours.

18 June 2016

Good Bones 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful. 

17 June 2016

Last October, the mayoral candidate for Cologne was stabbed by an attacker with racist motives. She survived, only just, and has since been elected mayor of that city. The court case has been going on for a while and it looks like a life sentence or psychiatric hospital if the defendant is deemed criminally insane.
I have followed this in the news on and off, bits of information here and there, all very much as expected. A history of right wing activities, mostly violent, criminal record for this and that, unemployment, broke, no friends, no partner.
We can stop here and come to the usual conclusions.
In a spare moment, we can ask, who is this guy? Why on earth? Etc.
Today, I read that when he was four years old, he was found abandoned in a completely neglected flat, he had been feeding his younger siblings with bits of rice and only when all the food was gone did he knock on the door of the neighbours.

16 June 2016

Is it conceivable that people should never speak an audible language, but should nevertheless talk to themselves inwardly, in the imagination?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I still think he meant "each other" and not "themselves".

14 June 2016

On a day when I return home from work early, pull down the blinds and crawl into bed, on a day when the rules of behaviour are up for grabs, when this illness is hanging in the air like a raised fist, when I waste precious energy lamenting my loss of direction and purpose (as a woman with a properly paid job), when I am dangerously close to slipping into the comfortable maelstrom of self-pity where everything is to blame, I remember a TED talk I watched years ago where Wade Davis  described meeting a Tibetan nun who had spent 55 years in silent retreat on the day the door of her single room was opened once again:

. . . we began a pilgrimage to a curious destination . . . And the destination was a single room in a nunnery, where a woman had gone into lifelong retreat 55 years before. And en route, we took darshan from Rinpoche, and he sat with us and told us about the Four Noble Truths, the essence of the Buddhist path. All life is suffering. That doesn't mean all life is negative. It means things happen. The cause of suffering is ignorance. By that, the Buddha did not mean stupidity; he meant clinging to the illusion that life is static and predictable. The third noble truth said that ignorance can be overcome. And the fourth and most important, of course, was the delineation of a contemplative practice that not only had the possibility of a transformation of the human heart, but had 2,500 years of empirical evidence that such a transformation was a certainty.
. . . And so, when this door opened onto the face of a woman who had not been out of that room in 55 years, you did not see a mad woman. You saw a woman who was more clear than a pool of water in a mountain stream. And of course, this is what the Tibetan monks told us. They said, at one point, you know, we don't really believe you went to the moon, but you did. You may not believe that we achieve enlightenment in one lifetime, but we do.

Reader, I feel better already.

13 June 2016

hate is not the answer

It is 4:25 am and raining heavily. Sleep does not seem an option right now as my old pal gastritis has decided to come for a visit. I spent the last hour (s?) reading and clicking my way through the mad and sad world on this screen, falling deeper and faster into a tunnel of shouting colours and disasters until I found myself reading   a recipe selection for summer puddings.
For the briefest moment I considered my sanity or possibly the loss of it but then I remembered that R made raspberry jam today - and not for the first time - and how happy I was watching him there in our messy kitchen.
And right now the dawn chorus has started to compete with the rain. This is just another day for me, for you, for us. Another day when we will fail to grasp what it means to be alive. So unbelievably alive.

08 June 2016

Nobody has to make money. We need food, sleep, water, and love. We have been playing these complicated monopoly games so long and so intently, we forgot along the way that we can change the rules at any time because we made up the rules in the first place. Let’s play a new game, one we all enjoy, one that doesn’t destroy us.

 https://publicservicecompany.tumblr.com/ in response to this: 

I am not against solar. But we have to find a way of making money out of it. We cannot rely on subsidies.

07 June 2016

I get the news I need on the weather report.
I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.
Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile.

Still waiting for the deluge, we have been spared so far, while less than one km from our little road, people are clearing their flooded basements. I spread the different weather forecast in front of me on my desktop like a deck cards, shuffling them until I find one that makes me happy.

Half of the time we're gone but we don't know where,
And we don't know where.

05 June 2016

The towels in the bathroom won't dry, the doors make squeaky noises when we try to shut them and the basement no longer smells of the river, it's basically rotting away under our eyes. All week a string of very heavy thunderstorms has caused many flash floods in the benign and cozy suburbs around us, with the grounds saturated beyond capacity small tinkling streams that normally just go up to your ankles are swelling into mighty forces that wash away cars and entire houses. While the big fat river moves on quietly. It's not me this time, he seems to tell us, it's rain like Never Ever Before. (And midges like never before.)

Our house insurance keeps on sending frantic messages about orange alerts and this morning, we finally prepared for the worst and after clearing off everything of the entire basement floor, I put my welly boots and the two buckets and the broom at the top of the stairs. I suppose we are ready for whatever. Keeping fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the ants have burrowed deeper and deeper below the patio stones but their  basements - unlike ours, but the next storm is rumbling - must have flooded already because they stubbornly try to access the sitting room. Picture me sweeping them ever so gently back outside. I trust they are clever enough to find a better hiding place.

In paradise it rained every day. Short sudden showers mostly, hammering on the corrugated tin roofs, the dripping water leaving a neat line of small craters in the soil around the house. Minutes later, a short steamy interval and back into the heat. Repeat that several times every day and you get an idea of life on a tropical island.
But there were also days when the rain would not stop and we sat inside playing scrabble and listening to the Dexter Gordon tape.  Outside, small puddles slowly expanding into big pools and  a water fall cascading down the concrete steps leading to the old plantation house. The hot air thick and humid.

the estuary with Joel driving his bus
One rainy morning during breakfast, the hill behind the kitchen window washed down into the estuary in one long deafening roar, filling the stream with dark red soil and all the western rubbish that the people had been burying for years, batteries, broken kitchenware well meaning relatives had sent years ago from overseas, old toys, car parts, and various animal skeletons. A couple of days later, when the river had returned to its normal size, the remains were duly collected from between the mangroves and buried once again. The locals were extremely clean and proud home owners and first thing every morning after sunrise, Joel from next door, in his spick and span uniform (he worked as a bus driver), would sweep up the dead leaves and dropped hibiscus and frangipani and bilimbi petals in a neat pile ready to be burned. You had to watch him because more than once he had cleaned our yard before I had a chance to finish my first cup of tea. I tried to dissuade him but he felt too sorry for us inept Europeans to get the message.
Of course, the next shower would send more leaves down and soon enough, someone would have to sweep them up again and again and again.

kids and dogs playing below the breadfruit trees

And yet, with all this rain, water was always short. Quite regularly, someone would call across the rocks between the houses or send a child with the message to fill the buckets and the bath tub because the water would be turned off in an hour. It was usually announced on the radio and since S had learned to speak in Creole in no time, she usually told me in time, but we Europeans had to be taken care of nevertheless.
The same way that the tourists in the very expensive hotels need to be taken care of, what with their twice/thrice daily showers and extravagant pools right next to the regretfully salty water of the gorgeous Indian Ocean (which is why the water has to be turned off for the mere locals).

01 June 2016

a working day

It has rained most of the night and the basement smells of the river. Or at least that's what I try to imagine. In any case, it's a very damp and wet first of June. The kind of weather that makes my hair all frizzy. The kind of weather that with a bit more heat could remind me of paradise, sticky and dripping green forest. Almost. 
In between showers I run out into the garden to save the fattest peonies from obliteration by rain and grab a handful of strawberries right from under the watchful eyes of the blackbirds.

Of course I put the bowl of strawberries there just for show. Forgive me, Martha Stewart. 

Afterwards, I brought the bowl to my desk and ate the lot and spent the next hour reading and editing a paper on social synchrony, ("the temporal concordance of behavioral and physiological processes among individuals") which in recent years has caught the attention of neuroscience research.  I think this research is so positive and enlightening for a change. Maybe because I can actually understand some of it as opposed to all that intricate DNA sequencing stuff.
Admittedly, I could snigger at these guys (in this case and in previous ones I edited, the cast of experts is all male) in their lab coats examining brains and saliva samples with and without oxytocin, testing their hypotheses about why and where humans show romantic feelings and what brain section rewards trust or why and after which stimuli we actually behave in a social manner. 

My sarcastic mind wants to suggest that all this research is simply due to the development of new imaging methods (the latest versions of functional MRI) which must be fun to play with. And that social synchrony is such hot news because it can be used to show yet another evolutionary advantage of our infallible species. 

". . .groups of insects, birds, and fish synchronize their moves and speeds, a social phenomenon called swarming, flocking, schooling, or herding (Xuan & Filkov, Synchrony in Social Groups and Its Benefits, in: Handbook of Human Computation, Springer 2013). In humans, social synchrony has been documented across a wide range of settings and contexts, ranging from choir singing  . . . to the concerted behavior of stock market traders (Xuan & Filkov 2013)."

See what I mean? From swarming gnats to the wolves of Wall Street in just two sentences. We are the pinnacle of creation after all. 
(Don't copy that quote up there, the paper hasn't even been published.)  

A bit further on in the text there is more exciting stuff about collective intelligence and various dull experiments involving video images and facial expressions and more tiny applications of oxytocin or placebo via nasal sprays and the usual endless bits on methods and statistics but I keep coming back to the choir singing and later on, I find this perfect and beautiful example of wonderfully inspiring human collective intelligence: 

"Recorded on May 31st at Clinton's Tavern in Toronto by Choir! Choir! Choir! featuring Aaron Comeau on mandolin. C!C!C! meets twice weekly to learn original arrangements of songs we love. There are no auditions - singers show up only knowing what the song is and, over the course of a couple hours, parts are learned and then we record a video. Check us out at choirchoirchoir.com/@choirchoirchoir on socials."