24 December 2018

this is what I see right now

All is new and all is changed. I am at the other side of the planet holding a baby, eating fresh apricots (only briefly contemplating what having just enjoyed a second midsummer in six months will do to my aging process).

Deep inside of me a hundred million fears are hissing even when - and especially while - I look into the eyes of this new person, utterly strange and yet completely familiar, who looks back at me with open clear eyes, safe in the arms of my radiant daughter. And my heart aches watching my own, so amazingly adult child in the knowledge that she will now have to learn to carry these fears herself, the ancient fears of motherhood and all the new ones, the ones about our planet, our home, our future.

"Losing hope is the same as dying. Recovering hope as a social force is the fundamental key to the survival of the human race, planet earth, and popular movements. Hope is not a conviction that something will happen in a certain way. We have to nurture it and protect it, but it is not about sitting and waiting for something to happen – it is about a hope that converts to action."
Gustavo Esteva

". . . the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope."
 Wendell Berry


I don't have much time to be online, to comment but I enjoy reading your blogs - as always. 

05 December 2018

listen to Greta

 Greta Thunberg
"For 25 years countless people have come to the UN climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future, I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.
Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago. We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard."

Greta Thunberg is 15 years old.

We need to listen and act, we made the mess. One way or another.
I need to listen and act, I made that mess. One way or another.

I am about to fly to the other side of our planet. When I arrive back home in January, I will have contributed 11000 kg CO₂ to the atmosphere.  That's just me, not us, not the entire plane load of happy people.

And now what? Many years ago I decided to fly only for family emergencies and this is one, in a way. In my daily life, I work hard on keeping my CO₂ footprint as low as possible. I will offset the carbon emission from the flight. I act like a fool pedalling against the wind.

02 December 2018

Early this morning we woke to a strange sound. Heavy rain! In fact, it has been raining all day. This is the first rain since early July. From time to time, I open the windows just to listen.

My body is slowly packing it in with nerves about the events unfolding in the coming week, such as last minute work commitments, packing, travel etc.
At least I hope it's not something else and thinking about it makes matters worse, of course. Which is why I shall not dwell on it and sustain my nervous stomach with cold porridge for the time being.

Thank you for your comments!

As for this beauty


click here for the proper scientific description it. Or just watch this short film:

30 November 2018

four pictures

We are tired, we are in a flurry of activity, we are holding it together.
It is cold outside, the garden has suffered from neglect and frost. But the calendula is still flowering like there was no tomorrow.
The house is filling with bags and stacks and open suitcases. We are going on a journey.
(The baby has arrived.)

And now for something completely different.

I have saved these four pictures on my desktop in recent months and now they feel like baggage I must get rid off.

Picture one:

source: Dr. Andrea Kamphuis, https://autoimmunbuch.de
This is the so-called saw tooth image of autoimmune disease. Doesn't it look cute.
The area below the dotted line is referred to as the honeymoon period. All bliss after a few hickups. See how the little person is whisteling a merry tune while recovering. He thinks he's doing great, not a bother in sight. Little does he know etc. I am way off and above to the right, BTW. I am climbing mountains. If I accept this analogy of the disease course, my life is defined by steep climbs. One mountain top after another. I am excpecting the air to get thin eventually, altitude sickness any day now.

Picture two:

The real challenge at times. I am working on it. In fact, I need to learn to quit doing stuff that is stopping me from getting rest.

Picture three:

Probably politically incorrect.

Picture four:
Please just tell me with a yes or no if you know what this purple-pink thing is. Don't tell me and other readers what it is (ie. don't name it). I am doing a tiny survey. Just for fun.

27 November 2018

Thank you for all your comments on my last post about the twelve years ahead.

I could have written them myself, I share your feelings and opinions and despite the gloomy outlook I am so grateful to read them and to know that you are there. That there is a web spanning our planet, a web of goodwill and care and attention.

However, would we/you/ I write the same comments but replace every "us", "we", "humans", "people", "folk", "everybody" with "me" or "I"?

Maybe go back to your comments and try it. Read out your changed comment and tell me how it feels.

This exercise has been brought to my attention by a group of young people currently occupying a forest not too fat from us. In fact, it is the pityful rest of a formerly massive ancient forest which - together with several towns and villages - has been slowly erased by lignite surface mining. In recent months, R has spent some time with them, while I follow their activities on twitter.

More about the forest here.

We are still waiting for a baby being born. Any day minute second hour now.

23 November 2018

we only have a dozen years

This is what I read while I am waiting for a baby being born. While I am torn between excitement, wonder and terror. And, I admit that with shame, relief that in 12 years I may be long gone.

Yesterday, I was stuck for almost two hours in a traffic jam on my way home from work. At one point I contemplated leaving the car there and then and just walk away from it. I imagined a long line of abandoned cars while more and more people walked and skipped and danced along the roads and down to the river, laughing and holding hands.

"According to this new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only twelve years to slash greenhouse gas emissions by forty to fifty percent. One dozen. That’s not much time when it’s already twelve midnight, and the ticking has grown loud. Do we hear it? Will we act in time?
. . .
History shows that humanity has the potential to mobilize masses to achieve success. But can we do this to heal the climate in a mere twelve years? Can we rally billions of people against something we cannot see, smell, or taste? Can we go after an enemy, even if that enemy is us? How much sacrifice can we inspire every person to make? Because this is what it will take, and more: Setting thermostats to a cool sixty degrees in winter and pulling on sweaters and hats indoors. Cutting industrial meat consumption in half. Ending food waste. Insulating all buildings. Slashing plastics production. Taking buses, bicycles, and the balls of our feet. And the big one: cutting our consumption of stuff by a whopping fifty percent, or more. Those who are most impacted by climate change are already living with very little. Now, it is our turn.
. . .
Yes, we will be cold at times. Yes, we will have to reuse almost everything. Yes, we will lose weight. Yes, we will make do with less. It will not be easy. It will seem impossible. But in the doing, we will also build community and share resources and strengthen our social fabric. We will make music and art. We will dance in the streets to stay warm. We will hold hands and stick together.
. . .
The babies born last week and this week and next week are waiting for us. And when they turn twelve – if we succeed – the world will be a better place. But we have only a dozen years. That fleeting window of time between birth and becoming a teen. One hundred and forty-odd full moons (more than one has already passed since the report was published). Twelve years. The pairs of ribs protecting our hearts and lungs. Take a breath. Now act."

Read the whole article by Gregg Kleiner here.

07 November 2018

Her voice flies like a swallow before the thunderstorm.
Someone said this on the radio about her today. Joni Mitchell is 75 today.

01 November 2018

Sometimes you want to see the forest and not the trees. Sometimes you find yourself starving for what’s true, and not about a person but about all people. This is how religion and fascism were born, but it’s also why music is the greatest of arts, and why stories matter, and why we all cannot help staring at fires and great waters.
Brian Doyle 

Earlier this week I was listening to a friend telling me of her recent research trip to the deepest forests in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. Initially, she was listing the various diseases she encountered (leprosy is prevalent, breast cancer too) and the way the communities are coping, but soon enough, she showed me pictures of sacred objects, artifacts, tools, baskets, toys, made me listen to recordings of songs and chants, and gave me two small woven bags she had smuggled through customs. 

I am at a loss of words to describe all of that. Beautiful? Stunning? Strange? Unexpected - definitely - and there is the obvious risk of romanticising what clearly is beyond my understanding.

These are examples of a daily life, a daily struggle, a sense of community and of traditions - some bewilderingly violent - that are beyond my imagination, certainly beyond my physical ability, yet they feel utterly hopeful. Comforting. The desire of humanity to create, to transcend, to share. 

Later, when we talk about this over dinner, R tells me that evolution can only work in isolation, that species that share everything will cease to develop. I ask again, bewildered, and obviously, this applies not necessarily to humans but he has been thinking beyond the potential of human evolution far longer that I have dared to. 

And for a moment I allow myself the thought that we as a species still have the ability to change, to retreat, to transcend. A precious thought.

28 October 2018

Like a fool I still believe it will get easier with time. Is this a survival instinct?
Anyway, it didn't and it wasn't, my seventh encounter with monoclonal antibody therapy. A grand word for spending a day in a state of drowsy nausea while attempting to act unfazed and not at all scared. In the early hours, I even converse with other humans until the world fades into grey.
You'll be here again in six months, the nurse tells me. I am not sure whether this is meant as a comfort or a dare.  Am I alive because of or despite this therapy? I have lost the plot a long time ago.

Instead, I get a treat and after the predictable 24 hour battle with extremely low blood pressure, I am packed into the car and chauffeured to the sea, dramatic clouds and open horizons, the flat landscape of southern Holland, sipping mint tea while watching the tide going out.

"When somebody does me a kindness, it enlarges me, adds to my life . . . And not only mine, it adds to all life."

Tim Winton   (from: The Shepherd's Hut, best book I've read all year.)

22 October 2018

We carry magic. But so does everyone.
It lies in water.
Human beings are mobile wells of mildly salty water. As every schoolchild knows, our bodies contain the same fraction of water—71 percent—as the portion of the Earth’s surface that is covered by oceans. This is no mystery. We are water animals born into a water planet. Water is everywhere and nowhere. It is a restless compound—transitional, unstill, always on the move. It shape-shifts constantly from gas to liquid to solid and back again. (Even frozen at the South Pole into a mile-and-a-half deep cap of ice that is one million years old, it still flows, albeit slowly.) The oceans hold 97.25 percent of all the water on the globe. The poles and glaciers trap 2 percent. The absurdly small, drinkable droplet that remains— the precious 0.75 percent of liquid fresh water that Homo sapiens relies on for survival—we squander like madmen raving in a desert.
. . . 
One oxygen atom. Two atoms of hydrogen.
Water molecules are bent like an arrow tip, like an elbow. This gives them a certain polarity, an infinitesimal charge, that collectively shapes the world. They are the magical solvent, binding and dissolving brain cells, mountains, the steam of morning coffee, tectonic plates.

Paul Salopek

This is the river, a short walk from our garden gate, after a hot summer without rain.

This river, our river, the Rhine, is fed to a large extent by glaciers in the Swiss Alps. Here, we see the development of water strored in these glaciers. According to various climate scientists, all in agreement, more than 70% of the remaining volume of water stored in these glaciers will have disappeared by the end of this century (my source: Swiss Federal Office of the Environment, FOEN, 2012).

 (Image: FOEN 2012)

13 October 2018

this is all over the place

Obviously, I read bad news every day and until recently, my reaction used to be, (example) so what if 15% would vote for the right wing populists with their conspiracy theories, there are 85% who will not.
Let's concentrate on what's to be done and get cracking. 

But these days, a sense of powerlessness is creeping in together with this idea of how much resignation would make my life easier, with better sleep and more time for the good things. After all, have I not been active and outspoken for most of my adult life and surely, I deserve a break without stressful thoughts and fears about the future. So, yes, powerlessness, take me on.

The thing about powerlessness is that it behaves like most sensations. It is a feeling, and feelings are very self-confident, much more self-confident than reason.
As in: Oh dear, did you read that IPCC report/watch these neonazi hooligans/listen to that hate speech etc. Let's lose all hope and curl up into a ball and hide and just wallow in finding everything unbearable. Don't even begin to suggest any concrete actions.

This helps neither the planet/my community/anybody I could assist nor my tattered self. And my problem is that I don't think I have the stamina to remain curled up wallowing in miserable powerlessness for very long. Probably only until I realise that I cannot step out of this world. So it seems the only thing that really helps is to start again, with endurance.

Endurance does not mean looking away, avoiding the bad news, nursing my wounded hopelessness. It means continuing to be affected, being shocked. If I refuse that and allow myself to be powerless I know that at some point I will just not feel like part of the whole anymore.  And this is a scary thought, to end up deciding that the world is bad anyway, withdraw even further into distraction and apologise for just watching. So no. I need to confront my powerlessness and respond, with courage.

I admit that this is were I get stuck because I after 35 years of calling myself a feminist/unionist/activist I am so used to the usual patterns, signing petitions, attending vigils, even chaining myself to a tree - been there, done that, bought the tshirt and look what I achieved. Nada.
There are people out there who continue to convince me that all this, alone and in combination with new amazing ideas does work, and yet I would love to remain reluctant. Partly due to my limited physical fitness, but mostly due to my seemingly unlimited supply of sarcasm.

Only, this morning my father shouted down the phone and into my ears that he has lived through it all before, the fascism, the lies, the fears, the war, the hunger, the destruction, the hopelessness and and and. His voice grew louder as he bellowed that he for one will not stand by idly while some idiotic whippersnappers waffle on about patriotism and how migrants are a threat.  As for climate change deniers, he roared, he has a thing coming for them too. It starts with science. (My father will be 90 years old next January and we rarely see eye to eye.)

So. This is what I know deep down in my heart and mind:  I must not allow myself to freeze into inactivity in a cold society. I must continue to nurture empathy, I must not look away.
Because if I refuse to look at or read or listen to the bad stuff,  if I give into my feeling of powerlessness, I willingly let all that shit happen.  

Instead. Responsibility, for myself, for others, for our planet. A wide open heart even if it hurts like hell at times to do so. To have the courage to suffer for what I believe in.
Sounds pathetic, I realise.  So what. 

some of the activists in this video are very dear to my heart, more about them here.

07 October 2018

On Friday, these two extraordinary individuals were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't find it coincidental that this year's laureates are dediacted campaigners against sexual violence.

I told them that I wanted to look the men who raped me in the eye and see them brought to justice. More than anything else, I said, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.
Nadia Murad, in her own words

At a time when men are being encouraged – by Trump and many others – to reassert patriarchal domination to demean women, to dismiss women and to define themselves in toxic ways against women, and to brag about how they can assault us with impunity, I would say: he is a model for men.

Eve Ensler about Dr Denis Mukwege

Dr Mukwege features in the documentary City of Joy (see my last post) and if you haven't watched it yet, do so. It will lift your spirits.


01 October 2018

"The only border that matters is that thin blue line of atmosphere."
 Nicole Stott (astronaut and artist, she painted the first watercolour in space)

Most days I get through ok, whacked, shaky and by 5 pm I can spell exhaustion in all caps. But the goal is to reach a stable state, enough to eventually allow for some extravagance, such as travel and a few wild nights and so on.  Stable state is not a magical condition, it's the best I can hope for (and oh, do I hope!). It's the little sister of steady state (physics: when a condition does not change over time or whereby one change is continually balanced by another) but less fixed. Basically, it means, don't go overboard for the next 12 weeks (max) until the dose increase of the drugs takes hold. And then we shall see if it works.
This is nothing new. As one of the world's most experienced immunosuppression drug user, I know that these little numbers don't work a la Hollywood movies where the distraught patient knocks back a large pill, preferably without water, and hey presto, within seconds feels better.

So I am really good these days, resting and reading and distracting myself from beckoning activities. Mostly. We did a deep clean of the tile floor in the kitchen yesterday, on our knees with brushes etc., but I swear R did most of it and the kitchen is not that big anyway.

I've watched City of Joy and it is simply an amazing, uplifting, empowering documentary about women, community, dedication. I cried and I laughed and ah well, in the long run, women have the answers. I want the whole world to watch it.

There's a blog to read as well, klick here.

13 September 2018

These are the last of the Muscat grapes. We harvested them last night or to be more precise, I held up a bucket while R stood on the ladder doing all the work. The wasp, hornet and blackbird community was not amused. But they had their fair share.

There is lots more to harvest. We have five different types of grapes in the garden: Muscat, Dornfelder, blue Venus whatever, the one Jack brought back from the US and the no-idea-what-it's-called. You have no idea how delicious the grapes are this year. Heat and drought, that's all it takes.

I've been eating them before and after meeting the immunologist. We didn't see eye to eye. Especially once she upped all the meds in one big swoop when only four months ago she had told me it was time to lower the dosage (of one of them). WTF, I asked, and she said, well, look at the shitty mess you are in (our actual exchange of words was somewhat more medical and distanced), didn't quite work out, didn't it.

She also had a few more stern warnings about work and travel and risks and life expectancy and I had to look at that stupid calendar on her wall really hard and blow my nose a few times while she wrote her copious notes and then she shook my hand and I said thank you, see you in two months time and I ran out of there and almost crashed into R who laughed and said, what's the hurry love, we have all the time in the world, don't we.

10 September 2018

At the risk of repeating myself, this is to state that I am not and never was a religious person. There was nothing religious in my childhood home.  For a few years when I was in primary school, I went to church with my sister. Our school was a country school and going to church on a Sunday was part of the way things worked. My parents did not go. My father would wait for us in the sitting room before Sunday lunch, asking questions about the sermon, ready to ridicule every word, but we never remembered much. The sermon was the boring bit when I had trouble staying awake. At the church door on our way out, the kids all received a little magazine with stories about black babies in Africa and picture puzzles. I liked the picture puzzles, they had to be coloured in just so to reveal the solution. Also, there were these two seemingly identical drawings with ten hidden differences and for a while that was challenging.

Over the years, we all went to the instruction classes for (Lutheran) holy confirmation. Again, this was the way things worked and my mother would show up in church on the day. Mostly, it was all about the dress (black) and the shoes (heeled) and my first make-up and getting money presents. Only, my grandmother insisted I should get silverware for my future dowry. That was a huge disappointment to me as two years earlier, my sister had received enough money to buy a sophisticated reel-to-reel tape recorder/player, which I was not allowed to touch. Lately, I have started to look at the price of silver with the intention of finally selling my incomplete set of 63 or so knives and forks and spoons.
Then there was the youth club on a Friday night, where we would play table tennis and later had a disco, with secret stacks of beer and cigarettes, supervised by a trainee vicar who wanted to be cool and looked away. I remember watching the local male heartthrobs jumping up in the air to "Satisfaction" and also, my first time getting drunk. At midnight, we had to clean up and put everything back as it was for the ladies' coffee morning on Saturdays.
A few years later, I went through a very brief spell of infatuation with the Baptist church but soon lost interest when real adult life beckoned. 

Also, the children of god drifted by, all tambourines and long skirts, for a few weeks outside secondary school. A handful of Hare Krishna's at university. And then I met R's parents. Ardent catholics. I came into their lives shortly after the Polish pope had been to Ireland in 1979,  which was a massive, massive event, and every time I sat in the car of my future father in law, he played the tapes of that mass, watching me in the rear view mirror.

When after three years of unsuccessful attempts of their gentle proselytising I refused to have the first (and much loved and cherished) grandchild baptised, they went on a pilgrimage to Lough Derg which involved three days of fasting and endless hours of kneeling on concrete slabs day and night in the rain. One day, I may write about how I felt when they returned from that dreadful island in Donegal, bleeding and feeling cleansed, as my mother in law assured me.

But basically, I kept well away from all that. And yet, nothing I have since learnt about the catholic church in Ireland and elsewhere has come as a surprise. So when was the first time I had it spelt out that this church was teeming with child abuse? I tell you when, it was when Sinead O'Connor tore up that picture of the pope on US television. And let's not forget, she was/is almost universally treated like a crazy person who had said something bizarre and unforgivable. Did you think she was mad then, too?

05 September 2018

Memories crowd in my head and some of the time I cannot tell whether they are real or just my invention. Maybe there isn't much difference, maybe none at all. After all, it's just bits of my life and of no importance to anybody. Could be that we all make it up as we go along in life, pushing the hard and heavy bits far away into the part of our brain that forgets and embellishing the moments that make us shine or make us happy or make us proud or maybe just simply make us.

When I look back on what I remember of my life, it all appears to float and whirl without any beginning or order and I pick bits like flotsam and for a while, put them on my shelf to look at and it feels inevitable but also totally random. This remembering.

Some memories have been hidden for a very long time, too long for me to swear by them and to declare that yes, this is how it was.  

For example. Childhood. A messy time, memories are tricky.  

This is how it works: I compare notes, with my siblings, separately and on the rare occasions when we are together. Mostly, we cannot agree. When I mention something my mother did or said that was hard and painful, my brother's posture becomes rigid, he tries to not avert his face and to keep a bland expression, whereas my sister while agreeing on the basics will respond with examples of something my mother did that was good and generous, scolding me for not balancing out the memories, for always overemphasizing, for being ungrateful and so on. It's her show, she's the oldest. And then my posture becomes rigid and I try to not avert my face, keeping a bland expression. 

Eventually, we will begin to argue. We always end up arguing. If there is anything we really figured out during our childhood, it's how to get the day rolling arguing with each other. We can argue with our eyes closed, our brains on automatic. At a push, we know how to argue until the cows come home. My brother, the whiny baby that he is, will eventually withdraw, shaking his head, into the safe cocoon of his own, large family, whereupon my sister will feel compelled to continue in her search for someone to blame and I will play that game of shrinking deeper and deeper into the younger sister position where my opinions don't count anyway, working hard on staying arrogantly aloof.
Variations of this. Since 1962 or thereabout.

But for the time being, she has stopped talking to me. Suddenly, we are on uncharted territory here.
I feel relieved and cheated in equal measure. After all, it was me who has been scheming to stop communicating eventually, not quite now but sometime in the future. Naturally, I am incensed. So as always, she gets her way. Or something like that. I want to bang a door, stamp my childish feet.

Is she, I wonder, waiting for me to write the first email, surely not expecting a phone call, me asking, was it something I said? When I know bloody well it has always been something I said or didn't say or do.
Maybe all she needs is time, R tells me. Pah, I snort. She is just running her show. 
Well then, he replies, let her. Keep your distance and wait. 

What does he know, I grumble behind his back, he comes from a happy Irish family. The kind where they fall over laughing everytime some cousin remembers the day uncle Des almost swallowed his dentures.

Meanwhile, reading my grandmother's letters, I am reminded that I come from a long line of family feuds. 

To be continued, maybe. Uncharted territory, as mentioned above.

31 August 2018

happy 73rd birthday Van Morrison

There are many rumours about Van the man, especially in Ireland. He's said to be reticent, bordering on rude, a loner, mysterious. Today is his birthday.

This one's a true story, I swear. A cousin of a friend of a friend told me this many years ago. And he must know, he's from Belfast:

Before he became famous Van Morrison once met said cousin in a local pub and the two started talking about a tricky boiler repair job when they were interrupted. Van Morrison left the pub and subsequently his career took off, fame etc. Many years later, said cousin met him by chance at a function and Van Morrison's first words were "About that boiler . . . ".

Anyway, in my family, we have favourite songs.

This used to be my daughter's favourite when she was a young teenager, becasue she always likes a good story and as usual, there's a story behind this song (beautifully explained in Thom Hickey's blog):

This is R's favourite because it brings back memories, he says, of listening to the radio while waiting at the hairdresser's as a secondary school boy:

This is my favourite because it reminds me of a special day in Connemara:

And this is an extra just for the fun of it:

28 August 2018

. . . the slide into “post-truth” is not inevitable. In order to have the “post” you have to have had the “truth”, or at least some rough and imperfect arena in which it was actively pursued. That arena didn’t happen by accident. It was created and sustained by democracies for their own survival. History tells us that the awful questions never go away – but also that the decent answers don’t disappear either.

Fintan O'Toole

(There was a time when I found his writing sort of insiduous, distant, with that slight bit of contempt reserved to the lesser educated. But recently, he seems to be spot on and serious about it.)

26 August 2018

After the first cool night, and with a gentle breeze after breakfast, we walk, in fact, crawl through the garden and find hidden pumpkins and strange fruit, wasps buzzing and generally, the place is a mess.

22 August 2018

The last really hot day, so they say. The last really hot day, I whisper to myself, trying to imagine the normal summer that is being forecast, cool evenings, moderately high temperatures, dewy mornings, recovering lawns, even rain. Rain.

Summer heat has made me careless. I drop litter, kick an empty can along the dirty sidewalk. What's another one in all this dust anyway. In the mornings after not enough sleep when I realise that it's another scorching hot day, I grab whatever washed out tshirt outfit is lying around, drink a cup of bitter coffee and push my callused feet into the worn sandals. Door handles are sticky, the hallway to my office is packed with used-up air.

I briefly wonder if this is what it will be like in the last weeks, days, before human life will disappear from the planet. This lethargic couldn't care less approach, this looking away if you can help it. Just trod on as if, kick all the empty cans along the sidewalk, does it matter at all.

Later I sit in the passenger seat where a sign tells me that this is a rental car which I must treat with care because I crashed my car last week. Nothing dramatic, dented metal, scratched paint. While we stood in the midday sun, the other driver and I, waiting for the police to lecture us that we were both at fault, she told me her life story. Or bits of it. A long string of words, on and on, while I nodded and smiled and the sweat was running down my back and R's mailbox telling me he was currently unavailable.

The rental car is a testosterone dream fulfilment and all I need is to sit back and watch the dried up trees and the thick layer of brittle leaves on the forest floor while R happily chauffeurs me around, fiddling with the gadgets. Will it look like this, I wonder again, dry and dusty, sluggish. Branches hanging like exhausted arms unable to hold life. The river shrunk to a thin line meandering in a bed of grey pebbles. 

Trees and rivers. No life without them. Treat rental cars with care.

picture credit: B. Westhoff/General-Anzeiger

14 August 2018

an obituary 1944

Karoline H. was born on 30 January 1864 as the third child of the brewery owners Johann and Katharina O. in U.
She lost her father when she was still a child. Faithfully and diligently, she stood beside her widowed mother until, in September 1890, she entered into marriage to Johann
K. H in F.
The happy marriage produced four children. In her unselfish, devoted way, she dedicated herself to her family, assisted her husband in running the family business, and raised her children in quiet modesty.
In the year 1930, her husband predeceased her. For the last fifteen years she lived in retirement partly in F., partly in A.
Humbly and peacefully as she had lived, she passed away on Sunday morning, trusting in her Redeemer.

I find this obituary among my grandmother's letters. She wrote in her neat handwriting, adding and crossing off bits of information here and there, in the week after her mother's death. This appears to be the final version which must have been published in the local newspaper. My grandmother was the oldest of Karoline's four children. She may have been raised by her mother in quiet modesty but believe me, she was anything but quiet and as for modesty, it depends on definition.

But this is about Karoline of whom I know nothing.

Karoline is seated 2nd from left, my grandmother is standing next to her

So I call my father.

How did they meet, I ask, your grandparents, my great grandparents.
He laughs. "His family paid a Hochzeitsschmuser (schmoozer, matchmaker) to find her, it wasn't cheap."

What was she like, tell me.

"She was a tiny person, but tough, never talked much but always humming under her breath, always busy, cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting. After her husband died, her sons bought the old forester's lodge and fixed it up for her. You know the house, it's where E and G live now. The one with the steep slope of a garden, the typical Franconian orchard, pears and apples (I don't remember the house, in fact, I am quite certain I've never been there, but he is in full flow now and I just want to hear more). She had a bedroom upstairs for me when I was sent to stay during the summer months. But I was scared of the dark and so she fixed me a bed in her bedroom.
During the summer holidays in F. I roamed through town all day, playing with my cousins, getting fed wherever I happened to be at midday and in the evening, I found my way back to her house and dinner. "

(F. where my father's grandmother and most of his mother's family lived, still live today, is about 25 km from A. where my father lived as a boy - and where he has been living again for the last 30 years. He was sent there to get out of my grandmother's hair during the long summer holidays.)

"We grew tobacco together, she showed me how to test the drying leaves and later, during the war, we sold it on the black market.  She always had chickens and I learned all about them by watching her. During the winter months, she always came to live with us in the big house in A. She brought her chickens along, one of my uncles drove up in the family business truck with her sitting in the back watching her hens, and the other uncle would pick her up come spring. We kept the chickens downstairs in the laundry until after the frost. My uncle, the locksmith, built an elaborate hen house on wheels and when the days started to get warmer, I wheeled it outside and once the days grew longer and the hens became restless,  I was allowed to let them out, had to watch them scratching and digging in the rose beds. By the time her hens got broody, it was time for my grandmother to move back to her house and start working in her garden.
When she stayed with us during the war winters, she disappeared into the library with my father after dinner to listen to the BBC, to Mr Churchill, she had a soft spot for him and his deep voice."

 (I suddenly realise that my father's father, my grandfather, was only seven years older than her, my great grandmother, his mother in law.)

Did you get on, I ask. 

"Oh yes, mostly. Lots of gardening, really. She helped me study for my holy confirmation, she knew all the catechism by heart. But once I got really mad. You see, I had to do homework over the summer holidays, mainly revising my Latin vocabulary and she had to test me every evening. Of course, she only went to school for a few years and knew not a bit of Latin, so I fibbed and she found out and wrote to my parents and then my mother arrived the next morning and well, you can imagine."

He sighs. Eighty years later, I can still hear the little boy in his voice.

13 August 2018

another self seeded blue banana pumpkin

It's that kind of day when the very best thing I am looking forward to is curling up somewhere like an animal in a dark burrow and falling asleep. But no, I have decided that I am fit for work, whereby fit is a term open to definition. Today, it means I am attempting to avoid the deadline when my employer hands over all responsibility to my health insurance, which is all perfectly civilised and proper but for reasons I don't really know, it's become my freak-out point.
And so I head off into the world of activity and decision making, like the idiot I am.
Watch me fail.

06 August 2018

have a guess

When I read the news, I dawdle, I skip from one site to the other until I end up with funny gifs or cat videos.  Rarely do I allow my brain to highlight connections.  And that's not because I am scared or prone to panic attacks. No, it's because so far, I am not affected, we are not affected (if you exclude climate change which is kind of obvious but not yet dramatically so in our part of the world) and even if things progress as some wish and - heavens forbid - the ignorant right wing populists gain more influence, we will remain untouched provided we stay schtumm. Because we look and act the part in our quiet middle class neighbourhood, with just a mild touch of hippie eccentricity but a clean tax bill and no illegal asylum seekers hiding in the attic. We are way down the line of suspects.  But of course, who knows, there are several dual nationalities in my family, dodgy visa stamps in our passports, strange foreign names in our lists of contacts. Enough material for a collection of short stories or a list of crimes against the state, depending on circumstance. And we can be stroppy and loud, to the point of getting evicted from a venue, when faced with a perceived injustice.
But just by looking at us, we should be safe for the time being.

Of course, I am getting carried away. And yet, metaphorically speaking, it seems that these days,  politicians do not work for the people whose house is on fire or for the firefighters who help to put the fire out, but for the angry spectators who gape from a safe distance cross the road.

If you have the time, listen to this before reading the rest of my post, while you do the dishes, while you cook a meal for someone you love, while you weed the garden, while you wait in line, a traffic jam, while you hoover the carpets, while you have a bath, while you are otherwise involved in whatever civil and somewhat boring occupation:


Apart from that magnificent (and prophetic) line from a poem by W.B. Yeats:
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend
This podcast mentions the Overton window. Which sent me on a long winded search.

It is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment, created by one Joseph Overton, a conservative think-tank intellectual from the US, now dead.

It's the idea that there is a certain amount views on every sociopolitically relevant topic that society broadly regards as acceptable which are found inside the Overton window. All views outside the Overton window are considered provocative, sensitive, radical etc. If a politician  - on the right or the left - deviates from the Overton window they may risk their chances to be elected. 

But what's inside the Overton window can shift, slowly as well as intentionally, it seems.
According to wikipedia, the Overton window theory recognises four factors that favour a shift: facts and logic, moral appeals, emotional response and events, errors or disinformation. And once a factor has been found to be particularly effective to promote a change in the desired direction, eg more to the right, politicians tend to go for the overkill.  Example, the refugee situation where in Germany, right wing populists call for firing squads at the border (aiming at women, children, "the lot") and in the US, the construction of a gigantic border wall, neither of which will be feasible or - in the German scenario - constitutional. The purpose is not to actually shoot at the German border or build that wall, but to shift the window, to change the limits to what society tolerates, to normalise the previously unutterable. 

(Disclaimer: This is not a genuine right-wing populist idea, but simply a name for a strategy that has already been used in democracies, long before it was called Overton window.)

But - to return to the podcast (which again, I urge everybody to listen to) -  it's also a gigantic diversionary tactic.  So, maybe populist right wing politicians, the insolent fiends with the straw hair (the obvious ones in the US and the UK and that one in The Netherlands), are toys thrown at us by those who really want to pull the strings, via life-time appointments of extremely conservative supreme court judges, brexit, border walls, Muslim conspiracy theories, the lot.
Who are they? Have a guess.

BTW: I seem to have a very avid reader of absolutely every single blog post incl. comments. For the past month, someone from the same US IP address/location has been - quite systematically - reading every day and throughout almost all day and night.  R thinks I am done for. I tend to have a more benign explanation. So if you read this, who are you?  Even if you are a robot.

30 July 2018

In August of the year 1918, an assistant lawyer of the government in Munich travelled by railway to F. He was on his way to inspect the new post he had been assigned to as head of the tax authorities.
At the railway station as he turned to walk to the address he had been given, he noticed a young woman setting off by foot in the same direction.
Too soon he stood in front of the tax office.
Upon his return from F. he told his mother that he had seen the woman he intended to marry.
And so it happened that less than one year later, I became his wife.

I don't know when my grandmother wrote this, judging by her handwriting and the paper, maybe early 1950s. I found it taped inside the lid of one of the boxes of letters from my father's (ie her) sitting room chest.

For several weeks now, I have sorted these letters back an forth in various ways, by date, by writer, by recipient, unsure how to proceed. There are several hundred.
In the end, I decided on sorting them by writer and then chronologically. On one of the hottest days so far, I was squatting on the floor of my study surrounded by stacks of brittle paper, afraid to switch on the fan. It was very tempting to just read and read, despite the handwriting (in Sütterlin font) - challenging and in some cases, probably impossible to decipher. My great grandfather, for example, wrote in what looks to me a selection of fine horizontal lines.

The letters from my father's brother, dating from 1930 to 1956, I carefully stored in a large and sturdy document box and sent them by registered mail to my father. They need to be somewhere in Franconia, don't ask me why, just a feeling. He wrote home from boarding school, university, various army postings in Greece, Albania, Croatia, Latvia and after the war from his first postings as a junior judge out in the sticks. I can't even begin to explain how he wrote, the details and the careful omissions to spare his family, the repeated requests for tobacco and news from his favourite football teams. The description of snow capped mountains in Albania on new year's eve 1944 and his coded message for it all to be over soon. 
In his last letters from the early 1950s, now a married father of one, he repeatedly and somewhat exasperatedly suggests to my grandmother weekly phone calls as a much more direct way of communication. This must have taken some persuasion as she again and again stresses in her letters the importance of what she calls the decent habits including her Sunday task of writing at least three letters before dinner.
My father is reading them now and over the phone I can hear there is joy and heartache in his voice. Next week, he will hand them over to his three nephews, his brother's sons.

Today, I have started on my grandmother's letters, one a day I promised myself, just one.  At this rate, it will take me forever and a year. And while this little snipped above is strictly speaking not a letter it is nevertheless the oldest event mentioned and in every way the basis of all of this unexpected treasure that is covering my desk.

Here is the couple, both a bit younger than on that day.

My grandfather was 43 years old when he first spied my grandmother that day. She was 24. WWI was in its final year, the Allied Advance had just begun, the German forces retreating. My grandmother's brothers were still at the front. My grandfather, apparently, was considered too important for the efforts of the government tax office to fight in uniform. Whatever. 

All my life I have been told that this marriage was not a love match, that my grandmother married for status. It certainly fits with her character and the person I got to know. But, well, there is stuff I have been reading that tells me otherwise. I'll never know, it's too easy to come up with a romantic answer. If anything, these two are now even more mysterious to me.

28 July 2018

the blood moon

At 5:30 am I open the patio door and it is almost cool outside, the butterflies are feeding on the buddleia and the sweet william. I kneel in front of the blueberry bush and pick today's harvest, the young blackbirds are flying in and out of the vines, dropping grapes and generally making lots of noise. The rainwater tanks are empty, there are brown patches all over lawn and last night, like every night just after sunset, I pointed the hose to the roots of a thirsty plant and counted to 50 before moving on to the next plant. R put a black mesh cover over the greenhouse.
I make tea and set the table for breakfast outside. We are grumpy, relearning how to sleep on hot nights. I eventually pushed a mattress below the wide open windows of the front room some time after 2 am and fell into a deep sleep with a faint breeze washing over me. R stayed in the cool basement, dark concrete, surrounded by tool boxes and a faint smell of motor oil and white spirit.
So far, the house is pleasantly cool, so far, it's all a matter of when to close up and let down the blinds, opening up at night and readjusting your pace. The solar panels on the roof are providing all the energy we need and much more right now, we'll be rich, R tells me after reading the meters for the feed-in to the grid. I stop switching off the fans.
Over breakfast we talk about sleeping outside tonight, thinking about the insects and the cats and how to fix the mosquito net and we know it's just too much hassle.
There are fat peaches ripening, purple plums, apples, pears, figs.
Pinto beans, runner beans, beetroot, radish, tiny carrots, tomatoes and peppers, courgettes to feed the world, pumpkins as big as footballs.
On the radio a government minister talks about asylum tourism, in Austria, an elected politician wants Jews to be registered and in Italy, the first Roma camp sites are raided at dawn.
My sick cert is extended for another two weeks, my GP sighs when I tell her that I work from home.
She looks exhausted, too.
After dinner we make our way down to the river, R sets up the tripod right on the water's edge.
I open my flask of milky tea and listen to the conversations around me, children run with dogs and when the waves from a a large passing cargo barge wash too close, there is a lot of running and laughing.
It is dark and still very hot, sweat is running down my back.
At first we don't see her, so faint, almost grey but once our eyes adjust, there she is, massive, round, red, la luna, the moon.

23 July 2018

everything is related

For reasons I should not have to explain, Holocaust denial and showing the hitler salute are criminal offences in Germany.

Every so often, I come across an innocent looking exchange student, visiting scientist, tourist etc. expressing their outrage about this terrible offence to the universal (?) laws of free speech. At least, they complain, you must listen to the other side. The what? I reply before the conversation takes a nasty turn.

And, they often add, your journalists are biased because they rarely allow holocaust deniers a forum.
(For crying out loud.) I recently have started to reply with something along the lines of this twitter meme: If someone says it's raining, and another person says it's dry, it's not the journalists job to quote them both. It's their job to look out the fucking window and find out which is true.

Meanwhile the CEO of fb, a philanthropist, who believes that - having been raised in the Jewish faith - religion is very important, wants to allow fb users to make unintentional mistakes and for this reason, will not remove posts that deny the existence of the Holocaust.

I feel like we are standing close to the rim of the volcano, peering down into the crater, asking ourselves, will it erupt, will it stay silent? Surely, we try to calm ourselves, there's common sense, decency, experience, history, memory, empathy for godssakes.
Don't count on it, a friend told me yesterday. Being ignorant is the new trend.
When the generation that survived the war is no longer with us, we'll find out whether we have learned from history.
Angela Merkel July 2018

Too far fetched? Connect the dots.

Steve Bannon plans foundation to fuel far right in Europe.
 (click and read)
As for fb and friends, have a listen how your data is helping it along:

16 July 2018

this feeling of being useless when you are ill and unable to be active lying on my daybed (luxury) and asking myself how can I not waste my time, my limited existence notwithstanding, and realising that this is not wasting time

It's been a very hot day, my GP smiled at me this morning as she handed me another sick cert covering the rest of July (with me protesting, what ever is my problem?), let's reestablish some calm here, she said, you are doing too much.

The heat brings back memories. This used to be my favourite lunch place. Three spicy samosas and a bottle of fizz. Most days, the people in the queue very politely laughed at my attempts of teaching them in the art of capitalism.

15 July 2018

thank you internet

"How do you do it?" said night
"How do you wake and shine?"
"I keep it simple." said light
"One day at a time"

Lemn Sissay 

This is week two of vestibular neuritis, aka labyrinthitis, the 6th episode this year (R claims it's the 7th - does it matter?).
Episode? Attack is more like it. I am at sea with an engine roaring inside my head. The sea is pretty rough.
It will pass.

A couple of nice things that keep me entertained while reading is only possible in fits and starts, and watching is ok for short periods only.

To watch,

quiet resilience:

trying to understand brexit:


and cheerful gruesome, horrific podcasts because the eyes cannot focus:

The Home Babies

In the Dark

Death in Ice Valley

11 July 2018

Getting older has made me aware how amazing it is to have been alive in the first place, (. . . ) it used to be if I got caught in the rain, I’d think, what a nuisance, and now if I get caught in the rain I think that there are a finite number of times in one’s life when one gets caught in the rain.

Marylinne Robinson

Strange, almost forgotten smells and sounds. It's raining. Soft at first, and then a hammering downpour last night. The branches of the almond tree that reach inside the bedroom window sent a line of drops onto the sheets. I scooped them up in my hands, almost enough to drink.

In my early teenage years in arrogant academia, there was just one hour on Franconian radio designated to the younger audience. On weekdays at 4 pm, I sat, alone and motionless, holding my breath. Impossible to imagine that I was not the only one, the last lost soul, listening, starving for music, for sounds, for voices, to feel understood, recognised. Terrified that my mother would walk in, angry, you call that music.

They worked hard in those days, the young radio men, who made these hours into something meaningful, dramatic, chaotic, weird and I loved them so very much. The next morning, on the sleepy bus journey to school, I whispered the magic names, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, King Crimson, Roberta Flack, Van Morrison.

In the interview that I linked to above (click on her name) Marylinne Robinson, when asked what single thing she believes would make the world in general a better place, replies, loving it more.

That is the grand answer. The one that works with everything.