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.

08 July 2018

We are in endless summer. We do not call this a heatwave in Germany. Obviously, ALL my childhood summers were like this and when some miserable relative from Ireland complains about having to sleep without the duvet, we snigger quietly.

The lawn is brown and patchy, I don't care. The magpies are picking large holes in it searching for mole crickets. A treat, it seems. The buddleia is full of butterflies drinking nectar. Before sunset, we selectively water the garden. Once the hosepipe ban will kick in, in maybe a week or so, it will be survival of the fittest.

I have recovered from my eighth (8th!) colonoscopy, bits of me are as good as new. I may print a T-shirt to show off this fact.

The world is full of horrors. While we are able to follow - almost live - the rescue of 14 young men from a flooded cave in Thailand with no efforts spared (and rightly so), close to 700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean this week because some governments in the EU are now refusing rescue operations. No live coverage here. We can do trump, too.

05 July 2018

catch the heart and blow it open

Picture credit: National Archives of Ireland/The Irish Times

Yesterday, the brand new amazing wonderful exhibition of Seamus Heaney's archive was opened in Dublin.
Today, I had a gastroscopy plus colonoscopy.
These two events are completely unrelated. However, I could do with a drive out to the west, the salty wind from the Atlantic blowing away the fog in my brain.