27 December 2017

Irish word of the day

the loneliness felt at cock-crow
(pronunciation here)

I cannot speak a word of Irish, which is the official language of Ireland, in use - so to speak - at least for the last 2,500 years, outlawed by the British in the 19th century, an act that eventually, during the fight for independence in the 20th century, lead to the modern era Celtic Revival including a sudden deep interest in the Irish language. So, thank you Britain.

All I know is trivia, that there are no Irish words for yes or no, but at least three for woman. Also, three different sets of numbers, one for humans, one for non-humans and one for the maths.

My Irish family can speak Irish, some better than others, some mumble along if need be. Most of them have complicated Irish names like Caoilfhoinn, Rionagh, Eavan, Aoife, Oisin, Tadgh - and these do not even include what my man's R stands for or our daughter's S, but both are equally mysterious.
My Irish family has a great time listening to non-Irish speakers trying to pronounce their names. They all hated  - more or less - having to learn Irish at school and university where it was compulsory. R had to sit his Irish exam twice before he was allowed to teach science.
My Irish family couldn't give a damn whether anybody speaks Irish or not as long as they speak up and share what's bothering them.

As for cock-crow, this is the time in very early morning when it begins to get light.  Just in case.

Whereas loneliness is up for individual definition.
But when you bung it all together, cock-crow, loneliness, early morning, a distant single bird waking up with a chirp, your lack of sleep, the human silence everywhere, that big knot of fear in your stomach, an inconspicuous little box of dreadful drugs on the bedside table, there's that one word for it in Irish. Just in case.

Ancient Irish traditional tune in support of my post:

20 December 2017

the infinite succession of presents

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Howard Zinn

The sky is grey and a heavy wet fog has been hanging over everything like a dark curtain.
Our life is eminently comfortable. A few minutes ago, a steaming cup of tea and two hobnob biscuits were placed next to this laptop on my desk by an almost invisible hand. 
The bills are paid, the house is warm, the larder is stacked, the freezer full of summer memories, only the oven has packed it in, which gives me a wonderful excuse for not baking anything even remotely festive and R the opportunity to immerse himself into gadget investigation. He is in full research mode and earlier delivered a lengthy and I am sorry to say, boring lecture on induction vs. ceramic hob and other mysteries. Apparently, magnetism is involved. My polite suggestion to go for something basic, reminiscent of an open fire even, was met with disgust. 

A few weeks ago,  we spent some time in Heidelberg, forever my place of longing and eternal happy memories. The town where I found the adult me. It was freezing but we bravely cycled along the river and up and down the cobbled streets, stopping slightly dumbfounded in front of our old digs. Only when we looked at each other, did we notice our age. What have we done, we asked ourselves. What happened, did anything actually matter, then, now. Tomorrow.

Oh! How we cheer each other up, look for signs, facts, the science behind it, if need be, consult the cards, throw the dice, read the tea leaves. Anything. Give me anything. Tell me how to hope.

Today's students are so very nicely behaved and clean. I wanted to march into the well lit dining hall (with sushi, wok, fusion food, an army of baristas, for crying out loud)  wake them up, shout into their pretty faces reflecting the fb blue screens of their gadgets. But who knows, maybe they are plotting the real revolution. I do worry like a mother hen with my new sadness:

"The nature of the sadness that is and will be experienced in the face of the effects of global warming . . . struck me as unlike anything in memory or imagination. It occupies an entirely new category. Though it may contain aspects of malaises we know quite well, like regret, nostalgia, penthos, depression and despair, there [is] an unnamed something else; it seems as a whole to be other than conditions we are familiar with, other even than these in novel arrangement, with an unidentified intensifier."

Tim Liburn, quoted here.

Tomorrow, one more dreaded medical appointment, on Friday, one more day at work before the year ends.

And this:
One more night. Solstice.

12 December 2017

We got up at the crack of dawn. In fact, before sunrise, but that's easy in December. Last week when I mentioned to my Heidi Klum colleague that midwinter was only so many days away and she replied with her beautiful eyes all big and round, really? I almost said that it happens every year at the exact same week but instead I just nodded and she was so happy.

Anyway, after we got up so extremely early, we cycled in the dark to the station and took the train to the big city of Cologne because I had to attend a hearing at the Social Court. We both felt extremely sorry for the poor commuters crammed into the train around us and slightly smug for not being one or rather two of them.

The hearing went smoothly and as expected I lost my case but not without the judge telling the lawyer representing my health insurance to be a tad more socialist in future. As the dispute value was below 150 euro and since I had lodged my claim for non monetary reasons (also there are no costs/fees involved for plaintiffs at the Social Court)  everybody was happy with this lesson of participatory democracy.

Afterwards we briefly looked at the imposing-as-ever front of the big fat cathedral, complete with queues of Asian tourist, Peruvian pipers and schoolkids singing carols. Inside the station,  I bought an overprized small bowl of apple and walnut porridge from a hipster bar because the train back home was delayed as expected. The porridge tasted a bit lot like the papery wooden bowl (with such a pretty wooden spoon) it was served in but at least it provided some warmth and I did not want to spoil the day getting a coffee-to-go in one of these non-recyclable you-call-this-paper cups with a plastic lid because I was right up there on my moral high horse.

The last couple of weeks have been hard. Professionally, especially. While most of my colleagues are delightful and delighted to have me back for a couple of hours four/five days a week, there are some who think it's time for me to act my age and my illness and make way for a younger, healthier and most importantly, cheaper person. So for a few weeks, we moaned and grinned and some called it mobbing and I didn't really because I put my foot down - and in it - for a bit.

Predictably, I will once again get too ill to work sooner or later and we shall see. But it left a dent in my armour, disrespect, disregard does that. If you let it. If I let it.

As for the bigger world, I am in despair and seriously so. I find myself in need of excessive hugs and love because well, what is happening to us? I want to scream. I want to shake people out of their apparent shopping stupor and their sloth and what feels like grievous neglect but what do I know. They all may be crying inside.
(But: Watch this video and read the comments and tell me I am imagining it all.)

Mostly, I feel ashamed. For my failure, for my lack of action. For being old and ill (and watching The Crown on netflix).

So here, let me moan and lament for a bit that I cannot see a light, a tiny, flickering one at least, of goodness and promise on the horizon.

The man in the house is trying his best to be reassuring, elaborating on tipping points and how species adapt until I ask him to shut the fuck up.

Also, it snowed - think blizzard - briefly, on Sunday and I don't do winter (as explained here).

03 December 2017

We wake to a cold grey day, a slushy snowfall, the smoke from the chimneys is drifting sideways and everything is silent. It could be a day for candle light and advent stuff but I am not so inclined. I wonder what will happen to that fat box in the basement with the trinkets and baubles and the beeswax candles in their fancy clip-on holders. 
It sits right next to the box with my mother's tea set and the one with my aunt's coffee set and the one with my grandmother's stemware and the engraved tumblers (my father's initials), the heavy crystal (you could knock someone out with the creamer), the silverware in red felt cutlery trays. Upstairs, there is the drawer stuffed with the thick table linens, matching and monogrammed napkins (my grandmother's initials).
Boxes and drawers of memories, dark rainy Sunday afternoons, waiting, willing the clock to move forward, may I leave the table. Denied. Just because. Be still, for once, oh do keep still for goodness sake.
I can count on one hand the times this stuff has been used (and duly washed, folded/repacked again) in my house.
Once, I tried to flog it but I am not the only one trying to cash in on dull childhood memories, it seems. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with gold edged bone china from the 1950s and incomplete sets of WMF silverware. 
One day. Out it will go. But for now, I hesitate and I don't know why.

It was easier with the books. The almost complete 18-something century edition of Goethe, every morsel he ever wrote except for that one missing volume, which according to family folklore, was appropriated by one of the GIs who occupied my grandparent's house for five years after the war. As a souvenir. I rather like the thought that he read it and forgot to put it back on the shelf. 
(Goethe is to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world.)
However, for the antique book trader (and I am not one) that one missing volume is a most dreadful thing to be burdened with rendering the remaining 74 or so bound volumes totally and utterly worthless. Think stamp collections.
I chucked the remaining ones out with great relish. 

I fell in love with Goethe once, in my final year at school. German literature class in the principal's office, Persian carpets, deep armchairs, just the five of us watching him pour tea and pass the delicate cups around, while we twiddled with our beads and bangles and braids (get it?). 
Whatever, we were cool.
For six months we went through Goethe's tragic play Faust with a fine comb. To some, Faust is simply the most important work of German literature, but I didn't care, all I needed was to top up my overall score. I steeled myself for nothing but boredom. But, oh, the sheer brilliance of it.  Especially when you are 17 years old. Every page was brimming with meaningful stuff that I needed to underline and reread and learn by heart:

"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."

"There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance. Strength is the lot of but a few privileged men; but austere perseverance, harsh and continuous, may be employed by the smallest of us and rarely fails of its purpose, for its silent power grows irresistibly greater with time."


"... all theory is grey but green the golden tree of life."

Anyway, I could go on. In the end, the required exam. I wrote my best ever essay and our principal was gushing with praise, announcing that it would be printed in the yearbook. Seriously, quite the achievement, especially since that year, the school was celebrating its 450th birthday with much pomp and celebrations. I played it cool and kept schtumm, waiting for the surprise to hit my family and the world at large.
Alas, as Goethe would say, it wasn't meant to be. An essay on Goethe's Faust was indeed published in the yearbook, only not mine. You see, it so happened that the father of one of my fellow literature class mates had made a large donation to the renovation funds and . . . you get the picture.

In the end, not just literature but an important lesson in social sciences (graft, lobbying, corruption, favourism etc.).

As Faust says at the beginning of the play:

"And here, poor fool I stand once more . . ."

In the afternoon, the sleet turned to rain, the temperature rose barely above freezing and I cycled for a bit along the river - like the poor fool I am. I dwelt on deep thoughts of the injustices of life as a whole and how difficult it all has become until I came across this cheerfull couple battling it upstream.

"Rejoice that you have still have a long time to live, before the thought comes to you that there is nothing more in the world to see."