30 December 2019

looking NE outside Uffenheim

. . . recent studies have shown that people who use GPS, when given a pen and paper, draw less-precise maps of the areas they travel through and remember fewer details about the landmarks they pass; paradoxically, this seems to be because they make fewer mistakes getting to where they’re going. Being lost — assuming, of course, that you are eventually found — has one obvious benefit: the chance to learn about the wider world and reframe your perspective. From that standpoint, the greatest threat posed by GPS might be that we never do not know exactly where we are.

Kim Tingley 

The above picture is Franconia on a frosty Sunday when we found that the motorway entrance was closed due to an unmarked building site and that by looking at the sun and digging up memories of river valleys and childhood journeys, I could direct the driver to the right direction before he had to fiddle with google maps. Not an easy defeat for some. But a minor triumph for others.

Meeting 50+ members of family is too complicated. I am beyond exhausted. Also, food. As in too much of it.

27 December 2019


This is a tough time for reasons I am trying to figure out.

Of course, the usual:
When I wake up, in those first few moments, I feel like myself. My healthy self and then during the next couple of minutes, it doesn't take long these days, I am swiftly waking into the boring unhealthy chronically ill self that I have become. The person who on good days may hope to reach 80% of her former levels of whatever. Eighty percent, in the words of the immunologist (the one I didn't see eye to eye but apparently, she requested to have me back on her list as the young and sprighty one with the argyle socks had overlooked something or other bus shh, don't tell). Eighty percent is all you can hope for, and that only occasionally, she said sternly. Manage it carefully, don't overdo it and don't expect more.
Ah yes, she has a way with words. I had forgotten.

Yesterday, I was so tired and it was such a struggle to pretend mixing a salad eating dinner stacking the dishes and getting into bed, I almost cried. Or actually, I did. In bed I started to read a novel of calm sentences and I felt that this may do for a while.
For a while it did the trick. Ah yes, novels. I had forgotten.

Also, tomorrow we have to drive for a couple of hourse to meet the family. I am supposedly going to be hunky dory because my father has booked me into a hotel "to have a little rest" before the party. I shall give it all of my 80%. Rest included.

Also, music on a Friday (as always a big hello and thank you Robin for the idea).
Maybe I am going to do this alphabetically, let's see how far I get.

A is for Ane Brun who first appeared on our horizon about 15 years ago.

24 December 2019

21 December 2019

It is hopeful that the language of patriarchy, currently having its last gasp at destroying the Earth, has been unmasked by the global feminist movement, which has given everyone another sort of language. On some intuitive level, we all know that the personal is political.
When men get their kicks from insulting female schoolchildren for giving us the correct climate science, we understand that their own women and children are not in safe hands. It is truly hopeful that more people in the world know this than don’t know this.
 Deborah Levy  in yesterday's Guardian

20 December 2019

xmas music on a Friday

Today is my last day at work before the festive week or whatever we shall call it. In this house the plan is for almost complete inactivity involving dressing gowns, reading and pots of tea. Also red wine for R and possibly watching some crime series after dark. Of course: phone calls. Maybe a walk or a cycle, weather permitting. By Saturday, however, we have to get organised and ready for a family event cleverly combining belated xmas celebrations and my brother's birthday.

I have written about my childhood xmas here. You don't need to read that post, just listen for a bit to this piece of classical music and you get the idea. This is what spells xmas for me in a million ways. I can smell my mother's beeswax candles and see the hissing sparklers that hung from the tree. I can hear us arguing about who gets in first when the door opens and I can feel the itchy lace collar of my dress.

Fast forward and I am with my Irish in-laws where xmas is something completely different. I have written about it here. Again, you don't need to read that post, just listen to this song. I can see my father in law singing it, while he shimmies into the dining room, cigar in hand.  He reaches out to my little daughter and swings her around and around until she screams with delight. The room is crowded, dogs and kids, all the adults hold glasses of sherry, we wear paper hats and there is the smell of too much food.

Whatever you do for xmas, don't eat all the sweet stuff at once. Think of your future health.

16 December 2019

Bande à part

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than being cool. But I was only 14 and it was the 1970s and my big 17 year old sister had it all. As usual.

I tried hard. Make-up and cigarettes were involved - secretly, behind my mother's back. Mostly, however, it was music. Those were the days when you swapped albums and made tape recordings and you could win approval for showing off your unusual tastes. Nothing middle of the road, like Genesis or King Crimson, or everyday stuff from the Stones. Anybody could come up with that.

The same with films, and books, and suddenly, you were trying to be an outlaw, a nouvelle vague outlaw, without the slightes idea what it meant. But: black eyeliner, ponytail, dark tights and this dance. For a while, even the French lessons made sense. Briefly.

Anna Karina, the dancer in the middle and my beautiful role model for a time, died last weekend. It's been a while, I still remember the steps, though.

13 December 2019


Like all good parents we sang to our child, in fact, we still do occasionally (when she lets us) and we sing to our grandchild, obviously.
This was one of our lullabies. back in the day.

10 December 2019

Last night I had a dream about bread and forest. That's all I remember.

The thing is, if you ask me what the two most important things are for Germans, I would answer bread and forest. I realise there are people who would choose beer and soccer, but when it comes to places and memories, items of longing and belonging, of anything that could spell home - and that's a difficult word for Germans for too many reasons - it's forest and bread.

Both are usually dark. And I don't mean black as in pumpernickel or Black Forest, these are quirky exceptions.

We Germans may do have many faults, but bread making is not one of them. In fact, we are the best bread bakers on the planet and we have earned the right to ridicule whatever white mushy tasteless spongy whatnot, often wrapped in plastic, goes for bread in other countries.

I grew up with Franconian sourdough bread, big round loaves of about 2-3 kg, a hand width high, the dough (mostly rye) raised in a woven basket, baked with a splash of well water thrown on it to form a thick dark crust and most importantly, the spice mix.
The mix differs from region to region, from village to village, from baker to baker. To this day.
Could be caraway, could be coriander, could be fennel, ground or whole, any or all, in various proportions, plus an added secret ingredient.

Franconian bread is never sold ready sliced or, worse, wrapped. My 92 year old father prefers to struggle with his ancient bread cutting implements than buy something that's "dry inside and out and stuffed in plastic". Before a loaf is cut, a cross is carved into its base. Even my atheist mother would do this and my father still does it automatically. My grandmother cut the bread by hand, holding the loaf against her front and cutting slices with her big knife towards her stomach.
A loaf can last for a week, easily. It just gets more chewy.

In the city I grew up in, there are bakery shops that sell only Franconian loaves, the shelves stacked to the ceilings, the breads named by the villages that provided the recipes. Oberbernheimer, Spalter, Rother, Marktbreiter, Kornburger, Colmberger and so on.

To me, it tastes like bread needs to taste. Rich, sour, spicy. You come home from an exhausting day climbing trees and wading in carp ponds and you eat one whole freshly cut slice with butter and your mother's sour cherry jam.

We rarely eat that kind of bread now. There are too many varieties to chose from, with 10+ bakeries within walking distance (give or take 2 km). Maybe I'll write a bit more about it, something like: bread on a Wednesday.

As for the forest, that's for another day. Forest is holy.

08 December 2019

this also happened

Imagine a young woman in her 30s. She fluently speaks three languages and presented a most impressive CV with her job application.
She successfully completed three interview rounds, two entrance tests, four language tests and everybody in your department congratulates her and you and each other by now. It has been a while since we found someone so eminently suitable. This is the future, some whisper behind her back.

For the next two months she is assigned to you for assessment and introduction into the usual procedures necessary to figure out the academic research world with its slightly outdated rituals. You meet for several hours every morning. You set up her schedule of the required training courses - privacy, data protection, hygiene, safety, fire drill, the lot - and she dutifully hands over the earned certificates.

You spend a hilarious morning practising the university's communication terminology. Her telephone manners are impeccable. Her translation exercises come up tops. She does not bat an eye when her first editing assignment runs to 95 pages with a 48 hour deadline. She meets it without a hitch.

And when you first watch her rapidly formatting into neat tables large data of what looks like apples and pears to you, she takes your breath away. You shake your head and tell her she is a genius. She barely smiles.

She is also very attractive, dresses impeccably and is always on time. Her desk is neat, she cleans her keyboard diligently as instructed.

When asked after the first six weeks, what strikes you beside her exceptional skills, you reply that she has this tendency to think that the glass is half empty and that she rarely smiles.
You don't tell anybody about her daily complaints about the weather or the public transport. It's November after all. And when she grumbles about how nobody says hello or seems to like her, you reassure her, remind her that she has only just arrived, that things will work out in time.
Others call her moody behind her back, some shake their heads, mention that she has a lot to learn, socially.

In between work assignments, you share cups of tea, hand over the contact details of a really good dentist, download the weather app on her phone, direct her to a decent second hand bicycle shop and let her look at pictures of your grandchild.

And then one day, you arrive at work and this is what you are told. Earlier that day, several staff members here and elsewhere on campus, called your boss to complain about ongoing aggressive calls and emails from a person working at his institute.
Yes, it was her.
And when she was called into the innermost sanctum, aka the director's office, for clarification, she let out, at the top of her voice, what several of those present called a long shrill string of obscenities and defamatory statements about all and sundry but especially about yourself.

She called me a witch, a deranged woman with a death wish and the intention to mentally torment her. Be glad you didn't hear this, my colleagues tell me, her words were beyond rude. They hug me, they tell me to forget her. That she is ill, clearly.

She was fired on the spot and has since disappeared. Her desk drawers were stuffed with debris, unfinished notes, rotten apples.

I wish I could call her, see if she is ok. But she has already changed her phone number and her email address no longer exists.

06 December 2019

music on a cold and rainy day

Two weeks until midwinter. Yesterday morning we had the first frost.

Today it rains, that cold steady type of rain that gets into the small crack where your mittens slip when you pull up your hood running down into your sleeve and you try to rub it off but doing so you drop your mitten into a puddle and while bending down to retrieve it, you hood falls back and rain trickles down your spine and now the one mitten is wet inside and of course you only notice this after you put it back on which makes it rather difficult to take it off again later when you need to get your keys out to open the door so you roar at the top of your voice and kick the door a bit whereupon R opens it from the inside and you are safe. And dry. And warm.

Thanks to Robin always for this idea of music on a Friday.

01 December 2019

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
Neil Gaiman

What if the mess we are in is all down to our failure of the imagination? Of being stuck in the dark tunnel of repetitive nothingness? Of having forgotten how to rebel? Of feeling part of it, of being responsible?

29 November 2019

music on a Friday

Just following Robin's idea, albeit with less regularity.

This is for today's grey, cold November feeling. I took this day off because I wanted to go on the Fridays for Future demo. Woke up with a sore throat and general signs indicating a day on the sofa.
Sent R out in my stead. We call this teamwork.

28 November 2019

people have the power

For the time being, I promise, this will be the last post about climate change. But there is this one thing that has been bothering me and I have done a bit a lot of reading while I was knocked out with the (hopefully) tail end of this virus infection and I have discussed it with pretty much anybody who came my way in the last week.
It's the claim that we are just too many, that no matter what steps are taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, the sheer number of people on the planet will undo it all. It bothered me because in recent years I have edited a couple of scientific papers on population growth and the observable trends. Which all point to a halt and a decrease in the foreseeable future. This is not based on guesswork or estimations but on actual figures.
(Bear in mind that I am only the language editor correcting spelling and grammar, crossing out obvious stuff like tautologies, repeats and empty phrasing and so on. So, these findings just hovered somewhere in my subconscious, forgotten but not deleted. So from now on, all scientific errors are mine.)

So some facts first:
Between 1950 and 1987 (37 years, a bit more than one generation) the global population doubled from 2.5 to 5 billion people and the growth rate, i.e. the increase per year, peaked at 2.1% in 1962.

Since then, population growth has been slowing and along with it the doubling time. According to UN projections, by 2088 it will have taken nearly 100 years (compared to 37) for the population to double to a predicted 11 billion.

In other words:  The world population has now surpassed its peak rate of growth, and as the period between each billion is becoming longer and longer, population numbers are expected to drop.

Have a look at the video by the late Hans Rosling, Swedish physician and chairman of the amazing Gapminder Foundation, (according to Wikipedia) "a non-profit venture (. . . ) that promotes sustainable global development (. . .) by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels." More about Gapminder here.

(If you have the time, I urge you to take the short Gapminder test on global facts. Just to clear some cobwebs on the brain.)

Then I found some stuff on population growth myths especially in the context of climate change, where it is almost always used as an argument that we are fucked.

The first myth is that our planet cannot produce enough food for everyone.  It is true that according to the World Food Programme there are over 800 million people on the brink of starvation today. But at the same time, the world can still produce enough food to feed 10 billion people - as long as we avoid further climate disasters. People are starving because they cannot access/afford food, because their lives are affected by war and unrest and in case of crop failure, they are left without assistance, which is only a matter of organisation.

The second myth is that less people means less dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. This is based on the (simplistic) assumption that everyone’s contribution is equal. But sorry, no, it is the world's richest 10% who produce more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change - the world's poorest 3.5 billion people are only responsible for a tenth of that.
Here is a nifty graphic on these figures.

It is the greenhouse gas emissions of the consumer life style of the wealthy few that is causing climate change, not global population growth. Greenhouse gas reduction in our wealthy countries will have a much more dramatic effect on reducing climate change than stabilising growing populations in poorer countries.

I realise that even poorer populations will eventually emit more as they continue to develop. But according to scientific consensus and the Paris agreement, the world needs work on going carbon neutral now. Which means that by the time poorer nations may have developed a wealthier life style, we must have a working sustainable economy without fossil fuel consumption  – otherwise it would be too late anyway. So either we work on creating a world that can thrive on sustainable energy sources or we are fucked. It's that easy.

Don't get me wrong, stabilising the global population growth is important for a million reasons (and there are many ways to go about it) but it is neither the solution to the climate crisis nor is it the reason for it. It's a blame game argument and one that paralyses us. We use it to shrug our shoulders and just do nothing. And by doing so, we blame the world's poorest people for the mess we created with our life style choices.

Recently, I asked someone who is professionally involved in issues relating to the climate. My question was, what effect does population growth have on climate change issues.

The surprising answer: Seven billion people are not a dangerous mass, seven billion people can also translate into many million pairs of hands and many million minds with energy and ideas for change.

22 November 2019

a tricky answer

Thank you all for your comments. I am relieved to read that I am just as bewildered and helpless as you are.
(Despite living with a science teacher who has been teaching students on this subject for 15+ years, despite following widespread media coverage on the subject and also, despite participating in an online course on the science behind climate change, despite long and loud discussions with friends and family members, despite marching with local students on Fridays, despite wishing for a bright and healthy future for my grandchild.)

I don't have a science brain, failed utterly in maths, chemistry, biology and physics in school, cheated my way through exams, twice failed the statistics 101 course that was a requirement to my useless degree (I paid someone to impersonate me for my third and "successful" try) and my mind fogs over when I read or listen to any science or nature program apart from David Attenborough's anthropomorphic wildlife films.

But here is my attempt to sort it out.

First, two things to clear up (and all scientific errors are mine):

  • Climate change is caused by the drastically increased emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
The two main contributing greenhouses gases are carbon, aka CO2 and methane.

CO2 is released when we burn fossil fuels such as oil and coal. We mainly use fossil fuels for heating/cooling of buildings, for transportation (gasoline, jet fuel) and to generate electricity.

Methane is released by natural sources like animal digestion, soggy wetlands, natural gas and organic matter trapped below the surface of the soil. Main sources of high methane emissions are livestock farming, landfill waste, biofuel production and natural emissions such as the increasing thawing of previously ice covered landmass (in the Arctic, Siberia etc.).
While methane emissions are much lower than CO2 emissions, the impact is much more dramatic, about 20 times higher than CO2.

The only way to halt climate change is to drastically reduce and wherever possible, stop emitting these two greenhouse gases.

  • Plastics are mainly an environmental problem. 
Whether single use stuff or sturdy things, about 90% of the raw material of a plastic item is oil and like most industrial produce, fossil fuel is used as a source of electricity to manufacture plastic. However, the CO2 emissions caused by making plastic products are much lower compared to that of our other activities, like driving, flying, heating, cooling etc.

Plastic use is an environmental problem, because of the waste created by (mostly single use) plastic, be it incineration, land fill or dumping it any which way. While waste recycling is not a bad thing in general its impact on halting climate change itself is minimal.

What made me write my previous post was a survey carried out by a US/German consulting firm who asked randomly selected population groups in the US and Germany: What reduces our personal CO2 footprint?
It's been covered by a variety of media outlets here. I think this is the best of them.
Hint: we are all clueless and to quote,

Nobody is even willing to acknowledge that what is convenient to them is actually producing a lot of carbon (CO2). The Germans like their meat so it's not so bad. The Americans want to fly so it's not so bad. It's all sort of the reverse of virtue signalling.

But being clueless is a choice. We are better than that. I still want to believe it. I think young people all over the planet want to believe it.
Ok, what next.

First, calculate your carbon footprint. If only as a first exercise. Click here for a good place to do it, as it covers everything from shopping to travel to suggestion for taking action.

And then maybe have a short listen here:

and here:

Someone recently called my a spoilsport when I mentioned climate change in a conversation. I am beginning to consider being one a duty.

20 November 2019

not a trick question

Here she goes again . . .

Tell me, if you have the time, in your opinion which of these personal activities help to combat climate change by reducing your personal CO2 emissions.
You can chose as many as you think but please rank them according to what you think is the most effective:
  • no more plastic packaging
  • one flight less per year
  • efficient heating and proper insulation of buildings against cold/heat
  • regional and seasonal food
  • no more meat consumption
  • switching off stand-by modes
This is by no means a complete list. I picked it up from a review of several online surveys conducted this year by environment agencies in the US and Germany. I'll let you know more, when/if I get results. And, no sweat,  just answer what comes to mind.

08 November 2019

progress is incremental and not always linear

But there it is, progress nevertheless. From feverish snuffling and moaning to just being grumpy and shaky. The sighs of relief around me are loud and deep, even I can hear them. I am a rotten patient.

Ok, so this will pass and in a day or two, Monday the latest, I shall turn into a polite human being again. Meanwhile, let me provide three reasons why reading Louise Erdrich is such a profound experience.
We all got holes in our lives. Nobody dies in a perfect garment. We all got to face the nothingness before us and behind. Call it sleep. We all begin in sleep and that's where we find our end. Even in between, sleep keeps trying to claim us. To stay awake in life as much as possible - that may be the point.
Pain comes to us from deep back, from where it grew in the human body. Pain sucks more pain into it, we don't know why. It lives and we harbour its weight. When the worst comes, we will not act the opposite. We will do what we were taught, we who learnt our lessons in the dead light. We pass them on. We hurt, and hurt others, in a circular motion.
There is no trace where we were. No arrows pointing to the place we're headed. We are the trackless beast, the invisible light, the thought without a word to speak. Poured water, struck match. Before the nothing, we are the moment.
These are from The Bingo Palace, her fourth novel from 1994. I have read all of her books but in a higgledy piggledy way, whenever I found one in a library or at a second hand book stall - Germans do read English language editions (so do the Dutch).
This year I made it my task to read all her novels in the order they were written, which makes a lot of sense. But I am slow because internet etc.

And now for something completely different. Wonderful blogger friend Robin has just started what I hope and wish to become a regular thing, Music on a Friday.  And do you know what? I will do that too.
Thanks Robin for the idea and I hope you don't mind if I hook up.
From my songlist, Nadia Reid, a New Zealand songwriter.

06 November 2019

In Madagascar time was measured by “a rice cooking” (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a moment) and some native communities spoke of how a “man died in less than the time in which maize is not yet completely roasted” (less than fifteen minutes).

E.P. Thompson
 found here

Currently, I am measuring time by a packet of paper tissues, a pack of nine four-layered Tempo "soft and free" with aloe vera to avoid sore skin. It lasts for an hour but not for two.
I was explaining to R how Tempo tissues were part of my childhood, always available (surprisingly, considering the chaos) all crisp whiteness and starchy smell. We made paper flowers out of them and stuffed our first bras and have a quick guess what different stuff we wiped off with them. Before someone found out.
Anyway, a head cold, something other people shrug off,  and I used to be one these other people. But with immune suppression, it's a long hard struggle or at least that's what it seems.
There was a time when I was working in a Dublin bookshop, a big one, with Sunday opening and children's story time and red wine and coffee and quiet jazz musak. The xmas incentive was double pay if you worked every in December up to xmas day and after that one day off, on to New Year's eve. A day's work was 10 hours plus clean up.
I did it. I was greedy. And from about day seven onwards, I lived on nurofen, had no voice left and by day 12, I ran a low fever and on xmas day, I mostly slept. But I crawled right back on boxing day. All that filthy lucre to earn.

Whereas now, I spent a half hour with our GP, mailed the sick certificate to HR and deleted the email from the big boss suggesting demanding that I work from home. You must be joking.

I also think that Bryan Ferry sounds here as if he's a head cold too. (And he sounds great.)

01 November 2019

history will teach us nothing

A picture from Berlin, 1 May 1932, the year anybody who wanted to could put two and two together about the rise of hitler's fan clubs.
This rally was organised by the Iron Front, a coalition of social democrats and various workers' and trade union groups who were in open in resistance to the growing nazi regime. They used their logo - three arrows pointing downwards - to strike through the swastika and symbolically destroy it. The Iron Front was not without enemies, on both sides, left and right, I am not sure what I'd made of them.
On that day, possibly most of the demonstrators felt they were exercising their freedom of speech, freedom to congregate and that their protest would open eyes, that they could show what is what.
For me, this picture expresses confidence and political awareness.
The Iron Front was banned about a year later, on May 2, 1933, the workers' movements and all unions forcefully disbanded. The nazi dictatorship took its course.

I wonder what happened to these same people who so openly marched in their thousands less than a year before the nazis came to power. Did they think it would blow over by the next election? Did they stay quiet, were they afraid, did they change their minds? How many were persecuted? How many played along? How many changed allegiance and followed the mob?
Remember: the nazi party was elected not by a majority, hitler was appointed after his party barely got in with about 43% of the votes. They had to juggle along with a shaky coalition based on false promises. But here is the catch: the election that brought hitler to power took place after months of massive campaigning with violent intimidation, repression, fake news and endless propaganda. Sounds familiar?

picture credit: © Carl Weinrother / bpk

24 October 2019

asking for a friend

I deleted my fb account about two years ago and never missed it. This was easy because everybody in my family had already (or was on the way to ) deleted theirs and most of my friends are real ones anyway.
Let's remember that fb started as a simple method for college nerds to rate the women they had been dating or wanted to date. It grew from there and it was fun for a while, looking up all school mates and stalking former work mates or exes, the cat videos and stuff, also following our kids around their adventures until they figured out what they wanted to share with us old ones (very little). And then the kids dropped out, literally en masse and we were stuck with the likes of us and nah, no fun. It got weird and weirder. We asked ourselves, why share pictures to whom? What do we want to show off here? When one of my nieces shared  to the family a little video where she told her 3-year old that there was going to be another baby and her 3-year old threw a massive tantrum for us to see, and when this video was later found on a geeky "news" website, we had a couple of phone calls allround and decided, no more sharing about kids, not from our family, never mind the "privacy settings" - which had failed anyway.

Then came Cambridge Analytica, data mining and Mr Zuckerberg feigning ignorance and that was it for me, for us. Surely, anybody with eyes and a bit of a brain . . .

So tell me, if you want, why are you still on fb? Or let me rephrase that: why do you let fb make money using your data, supporting fraud, fake news and vote tampering and more?

19 October 2019

On Friday, Steve did a lovely post on a selection of shells and rocks he had been accumulating over the years. And as it has been dismally grey and rainy and with the after effects of the flu shot cursing through my body, I spent a good long time sifting through the bowl of stones that sits on one of the shelves downstairs.
Of course, I have forgotten most of the occasions and places that made us collect them but luckily, R knows a good bit about stones and with a bit of actual thinking and remembering, we have the stories behind this little lot.

Top row from left to right:
  • pumice, from the volcanic hills of the Eiffel mountains (we live near an area of volcanic activity, although the last eruption dates back before humans arrived, the many volcanic lakes show regular signs of activity)
  • sedimentary rock picked up at a beach in Holland
  • slate from the other side of the river, just a ferry ride away

Middle row from left to right:
  • gneiss from the Ticino, Swiss Alps
  • ammonite in Franconian limestone
  • red sandstone, also from Franconia - used for building since the Middle Ages

Bottom row from left to right:
  • pink granite from Merano, Italian Alps
  • wind and sand blasted pebble from the Atlantic coast in Connemara, Ireland
  • amber found on a beach of the Baltic Sea

10 October 2019

It was 20 years this summer, August 4th in fact, that my mother died. I still don't miss her. I still feel relieved. Sometimes I think that maybe now I can remember her more often, from a distance, with something like kindness, understanding, even respect. But I can go days, weeks, months without a single thought of her, even when I walk every day past the one picture of her, here on my wall (she is four years old) and I come across the odd thing or two of hers that I have kept, a cookbook, her binoculars, table linen. There is that box of her good china wrapped in newspaper down in the basement.
What did I expect? I don't know. There is no sense of loss, also no need for forgiveness.
She was beautiful for a while. Energetic, purposeful, interested. Clever, intelligent; in fact, educated is the word she would have used.  Education, learning, reading, investigating, experimenting, testing, she valued all this above else. Always a book in her bag, another one open on her lap, a stack of them on her bedside table. She had no time for people who would not read, who could not remember the books they had read, could not recite at least one poem, never attempted to play at least one musical instrument, had no interest in science, birdwatching, plants, growing and harvesting. She could be harsh in her judgement of the - to her - ignorant masses. The people we were told to not mix with. To look down on.
Our relationship was never easy, marred by mutual disappointment.
Two memories.
Sunday afternoon walks, as a rule, mother, father, three children, along the street through the housing estate and across the main road into the forest or along the fields and back again. In our Sunday best. Parents deep in conversation, my father carrying my brother on his shoulders. I am almost five years old and have discovered words. On a fence post I stop and start to read out loud the sign the local authorities have put up as a warning after a rabid fox had been killed earlier that week. I have no idea what I am reading but I remember the excitement that these are printed words and that I can read them. When I finish, I can hear my mother laughing behind my back. Laughing at me and my stuttering attempts of proper reading. I feel ashamed, foolish and run ahead, my ears now roaring with her laughter, I know I have done something that was not expected and that I made a fool of myself. We all walk home. Nothing is said.
A year later. It is her birthday. I have made her a little book. A graphic novel.  Four pages about a rabbit under a cherry tree picking flowers. Red cherries, blue flowers, long rabbit ears. That kind of thing. It's a bit smudged and crinkled but I run downstairs as soon as I wake up to show her and to be the first to sing the birthday song. And there she is at the bottom of the stairs and I jump into her arms and she laughs and then she puts her hand on my forehead, you are hot, look at me. Oh no. I think you have a fever. I start to cry then and my throat hurts terribly and she sighs and sends me back upstairs.

05 October 2019

Occasionally, R gets asked about his wife at some event he attends, social animal that he is. He goes out a lot, meeting people, plotting to change the world, listening to music and/or dancing or simply eating and drinking red wine.
There was a time when I came along, naturally, when we went to these things together and returned home tired, maybe talked about it for a while in the kitchen.
But I rarely go out if I don't have to, not because I don't want to but being in a noisy place with lots of people is difficult, exhausting and it can take me days to recover (- I'm ok for small gatherings, walks in the woods and stuff like that).
Anyway, when he gets asked about his wife or, more specifically by those who have met me before, he says, oh she is a social recluse.
Mostly, I find this amusing and I almost feel kind of special, like a mysterious writer or artist living in a fabulous hideaway, haughty but with a purpose, maybe with some cats and so on.
But other times, when he tells me, it just makes me cry.

Yesterday on my way back from work, I listened to Lou Reed on the car radio and my mind wandered and I contemplated when and where he had an impact on my life and I could not remember the name of his partner, the wonderful Laurie Anderson. I frantically whispered The ugly one with the jewels, The ugly one with the jewels, The ugly one with the jewels, but every time my brain responded with Patti Smith.
The moment I walked into the house, almost running, almost calling out to R, I remembered.
So, not all is lost.

02 October 2019

It has rained for two days in a row. Not downpours or showers but that steady rain that goes on and on. The barrels and tanks are not quite full, there's a way to go yet, but now they say, this was it for the time being. They say, don't complain but don't rejoice either. This is not enough. They say that the winter could be wet and cold. There are models and statistics and meteorology has advanced in leaps and bounds, they say, but really, who knows.

And then there is the wind and the falling leaves which feels like November and we whisper to each other, strange, early.

My family has travelled and regrouped and some have returned to their far away home and others are walking across Tuscan hills and some are preparing for storms to arrive across the Atlantic. I wake in the night and check flight paths and departures and arrivals and storm maps.
Nobody is safe in this world of strangers and yet, wherever we are, we are surrounded by humans.

I have been back at work for two days showing my energetic cheerful self, or what remains of it, walking with a bounce along the corridors and calling out greetings here and there - as if.
This charade works for a couple of hours and when I arrive home, I fall asleep for a while and I wake feeling very old and stiff and not quite together.

My father's commanding voice informs me that to him I sound strong and healthy and then he quickly changes the subject. That's settled. We exchange our delight with his latest great grandchild and he briefly entertains the thought of flying for a visit to the other side of the planet, three stopovers in 35 hours. For a moment, I panic and then I tell him, no. There are too many steps up to their house, I say, you would find it too tedious with your walker and he relents.

And then there was that evening when I held my daughter in her arms, when she was sobbing and overcome with worry. When she asked me whether it was the biggest mistake of her life, bringing a child into this world and I told her that there was no answer but that children are not goods we exchange or replace and that I am counting on her to raise this child to become a guardian of our blue planet and all its life forms, that I am expecting her to teach this child about what matters and not to waste time and energy on useless stuff and gadgets and distraction. I told her about resilience and respect and the joys of being part of community and change and that we are all in this together shaping this child's challenging future to be amazing and fulfilling and worthwhile.

I read to her Joanna Macy:  
The most remarkable feature of this historical moment is not that we are on the way to destroying our world–we’ve actually been on the way quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millenia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves, and to each other.
I said all this this with all the conviction I could muster and in my calmest voice until I could feel her breath become more steady and she let me dry her tears. And then the grand child crawled across the hall and sat in front of us and clapped hands and of course, we could not help but laugh with delight.

24 September 2019

I’ve no idea what shape grief will take over the coming years, but I’m in for the long haul. The loss of human and nonhuman life, of systems and ways of living isn’t showing any signs of abating, and I think making friends with suffering and loss is one way through that promises a degree of sanity. Perhaps it’s because grief and love exist as a call and response to one another, a daily reminder in these times of the paradox at the heart of the human experience. It’s obvious to me that I can’t live a deeply human life without either, and that they are – everyone knows – intricately linked: we only grieve what we love.
Em Strang 

This morning I sat with my grandchild by the kitchen window and pointed out the signs of autumn, leaves, spider webs, dried up flower heads, windfall apples, foggy air, cabbages and phacelia and a pale moon in the sky. Then we sang for a while, mostly Row, row, row the boat and If I had a hammer (with a real bell to ring). I am the happiest and the saddest person on earth.

Here are a few Holland pictures.

22 September 2019

We are back. My father's gathering was the usual family thing, sly comments amid very loud laughter, story telling and three kinds of Zwetschgenkuchen with cream. He was happy and fell asleep sitting for short periods. It was very hot and sunny, I almost joined him but I cannot sleep while sitting.
The seaside was refreshing and calm and Dutch. The Dutch cuisine is to a large extent based on sugar and straight away, our teeth started aching. We cycled because that's what you do there. One of the bicycles had a child seat and the grandchild wore a cute helmet and waved a lot. From mid September the beaches are open for dogs and consequently, we made friends with several dogs. The grandchild loves dogs, and sand. We spent a lot of time watching the grandchild crawling after dogs through the warm sand.
Now we are back and my daughter has a cough and last night, R finally agreed to go to the A&E because the strange insect bites on his belly were definitely spreading and started to look suspiciously like - yes, shingles. We all started to itch and ache and have examined ourselves and each other about a thousand times by now but so far, it's just him. He is very brave of course and is taking the meds and seems to have no pain. When this morning, he started to fix some faucet and drill holes into a wall, I raised my voice and told him to get his act together and be sick like real.
Pictures to follow.

13 September 2019

feeling a bit snappy

Pushing along. I am climbing mountains. It feels like it. Every day. So now they tell me that cutting down the cortisone after almost ten years does produce symptoms such as all the shit that is going on. Now! Seriously. There is me learning about the cortisol metabolism and how cortisone fits in and the adrenal glands and, wait for it, adrenal fatigue. Brilliant, isn't it, that there's a name for almost everything which feels great for a while until you realise it doesn't matter and certainly is of no help. None whatsoever.

Anyway, it could last for about 12 months, they said. And we all know that 12 months is one whole year. But, they said, it comes and goes. Ah sure. Doesn't everything. Come and go.

Cutting down the cortisone has now become my mission in life. I have a chart drawn. I am keeping a cortisone tapering diary and I am the best pupil in the school of cortisone tapering the young and well-dressed immunologist has ever had. He in his pretty argyle socks.

And, in the words of a learned and sceptical friend, if it all goes sideways, everybody'll know why and let them pick up the pieces then. Well-dressed or not.

There are bigger things to concentrate on. It rained! One whole day and most of the night. That was weird and wonderful. The word lush comes back into use. But with caution.

The larger family is assembling in my father's garden on the weekend. Instead of coming out in a rash, as some would at the the thought of 17 people talking at the top of their voices pretending to be close, I woke up with vertigo in the early hours and have been spending a considerable amount of time today dealing with seasickness and the various ways this causes voiding of half digested food stuff. Somehow I will get to sit in my father's garden eventually, R can do the driving, and once we arrive I could hide somewhere in a tree. Or under one.

After that, we are going to the sea side. At least it's booked. That's the plan. Let's not think of what could go wrong. In other words, I am on holiday. My boss suggested I take a rest. Very funny.

In an effort to not lose sight of the bigger picture, to avoid getting lost in too much self pity, and to keep the mind occupied during sleepless hours, I have listened to episodes from the Awake at Night podcast (https://www.unhcr.org/awakeatnight/) where "listeners will join UNHCR’s communications chief, Melissa Fleming, in personal conversations with an array of humanitarian workers, and learn what drives them to risk their own lives protecting and assisting people displaced by war". It's strangely uplifting, reminding me of the fact that there are good people everywhere.
I leave you with another sign of hope and happiness.

Trevor Mallard, New Zealand's House of Representatives speaker, bottle feeding Mr Tāmati Coffey's baby while he presided over a debate. Mr Coffey is an elected politician and is married to Mr Tim Smith and this is their son Tūtānekai Smith-Coffey.

03 September 2019


asparagus gone to seed
And suddenly, the air is cool again. It rained for a short while. We are beginning to grumble about dark evenings to come. It has been a hot dry summer.

In the garden, losses, surprises and changes.

horse chestnut, drought damaged leaves, paper thin and brittle

herbs thrive without rain, hyssop in large bundles

mirabelle plums are small sweet pearls, you eat a handful and another and another, while the reine claude vert plums are thick marbles with a crunchy skin and juicy delicious flesh - gorgeous, sticky, you end up with dripping fingers

morning glories by the almost empty rain water barrels behind the bicycle shed

conference pears, still waiting for a first taste

tiger flower, also called jockey's cap

swan plant, a bee's favourite, grows up to my shoulders

miserable grape harvest

the vineyard peaches will be a deep red when ripe

petunia, indestructable

orange cosmos everywhere

01 September 2019


MOOC stands for massive open online course. MOOCs are provided online and free of charge by universities, incl. top universities, and institutions from all over the world.

They usually consist of video lectures, questionnaires, readings, problem tasks, discussion boards etc. and provide access to sources such as libraries, journals, research papers and archives.

When I explained the concept of MOOC to my father, I said it was an online activity for bored teachers and their wives. He understood.

A MOOC typically lasts for a couple of weeks and depending on how serious you are, you can spend between 3 and 30 hours a week on it. There is no pressure, you can take from it what you wish and drop out any time. The language of a MOOC is not academic but you are encouraged to use your brain cells. If like me you get lost after the first bit of statistic or maths, there is the discussion forum and about 2k people ready to explain. I am also known to have skipped the hard bits. Nobody noticed.

I have done a MOOC from UCLA on dental medicine  (when I was struggling from the aftermath of gruesome oral surgery, you can ask me anything about tooth decay), a MOOC from Trinity College Dublin on the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, a MOOC from the University of Melbourne on the effects of climate change on Pacific island nations (not just because I find their names and language so amazing), one by the University of Copenhagen on Nordic cooking (that was weird), one by the University of Norfolk on food as medicine (which was very helpful) and I failed/dropped out of about 20 more.

The worst was the MOOC from the University of Cape Town on the threat of a sixth mass extinction. I did that together with a friend who is a biologist because I am shit at biology. About half way through, we just sat there shattered and in tears, calling our daughters across the globe to listen to their carefree voices.

I have stayed away from all this dangerous fact finding since then. Despite the fact that I open my big mouth all the time.

But today, I enrolled again.
This MOOC is provided (free online, click here) by Harvard and MIT via edX:

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact
In this course, you will explore the science behind anthropogenic climate change with climate expert, Michael Mann. By joining this course, you are becoming part of a global movement to act on climate change. The first step toward any action is knowledge and understanding.
Because, once you have a firm grasp on the science, you'll be able to translate your understanding into action, so we can ultimately curb our emissions and keep our planet from warming beyond dangerous levels. 

 The course is open to all and is accessible to learners without prior background in the topic of climate science.

(Michael Mann is professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University)

I expect to be completely lost. But if a 16 year old girl with Asperger's can sail across the Atlantic Ocean and less than an hour after disembarking, speak to the media in clear sentences (and that not in her native language) about science and facts, fully aware of the hostility awaiting her from - let's face it - angry white men, I can at least give it a try.

23 August 2019

just another sunset in paradise - yes this was home for a while

There are new guidelines for the treatment of my shitty disease and let me tell you, according to the new immunologist I have been assigned to, guidelines rule. Which is why I am on yet another road of discovery. Which is also why the other expert I was sent to this morning gave a sharp whistle through his teeth when he saw the recommended procedures. I kept my head up and my face straight, no an easy task right now, but I did admirably. In the end we agreed on a deadline after which he may take matters into his educated hands, guidelines or no fucking guidelines.
We shook hands on the deal, like two cool stock brokers.
Whereas by the time R picked me up, I was back to being the miserable patient. One of these days, R's capacity of listening to my moaning will be exhausted. Or maybe it already is and I haven't noticed.
The house guests are on the road to a variety of other houses here and there and we are supposedly joining them in a while. That's the plan. I told the stock broker but I think he took it as a joke.

Anyway, another thing altogether:

From an essay by Douglas Rushkoff (the bold highlights are mine, I like to bring my messages home)

Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers. It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of “the future of technology.”
 . . .
After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own.

They started out innocuously enough. Ethereum or bitcoin? Is quantum computing a real thing? Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.
Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? 
 . . .
Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.
This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.
That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.  . . . they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.
. . .
I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an “event” in the first place. All this technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but entirely more collective interests right now.
They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it. They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. 

Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us. We don’t have to use technology in such antisocial, atomizing ways. We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.
Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It's team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.
To soften the blow, here is some music from the 1980s, a time when we thought we had it all.

17 August 2019

Is it a sign when you look at the clock in the top right hand corner of the screen exactly at the moment when 00:00 turns to 00:01 or are you just having another one of these nights. (You have.)
Coping and suffering. I've decided to have a go at these. 
Another way of accepting fate, the imponderable cruelty of life - depending on my mood and whether the sun shines nicely.

This morning, or to be precise: yesterday morning, my GP took one look at me and decided that I need to stay home until the end of the month. What if I feel better sooner, I ask. She raised her eyebrows and shook her head ever so slightly, just take it easy, on doctor's orders and now go and rest.
I went home and worked on some excel shit for two hours feeling guilty and relieved at the same time. Until R found out and shook his head in the most disapproving way. He is in charge of house guests, no time to discuss.

I know. I know. My options are to continue as is, with the health insurance and my employer checking my work ability at closer and closer intervals, or getting my act together and apply for early retirement  accept the meagre little pension that awaits me.
On good days, I know that we have what we need for a good life in the years to come (shelter, comforts, garden, community, family).
On bad days, I am working hard at not being a bastard capitalist counting out the money.

The Irish visitor groups are going through the usual adjustments (weather, German bread, the wrong side of the road etc.) and I think I have a good excuse for keeping out of it.
There is more to come. The summer is not over.
The kitchen is still where it's at.
The grandchild reigns supreme from the ikea high chair. All of us here are - one way or another - hooked on that thrilling, complex bribery strategy known as (grand-)parenting. Wonders abound.

14 August 2019

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems

The place is mayhem. Gorgeous mayhem. People are arguing about who will be cooking food in my kitchen.  They are almost fighting about whose turn it should be because, my recipe is soo amazing etc. Elbows are involved. Also, we are plotting to make the world a better place.

The days are mostly sunny. The plumeria started to flower!

People, I am delighted with it all.

But you have no idea how unwell I am. Just made the requested list of symptoms for tomorrow's appointment with the immunologist.

04 August 2019

More empathy Less greed More respect

Hot Sunday. I am crawling along below the radar. With a bit of a fever, slight vertigo, nausea and the usual stuff that builds up when you are sick and try to do it anyway. I changed sheets twice last night, almost convinved that the menopause has come back to haunt me. Not sure if I'd mind instead. But never mind. Seriously, never mind.
Because in general, the mood is upbeat. The summer visitors are on their way, the phone calls and bleeps, the fridge is being stocked, the garden and patio beautified, sheets washed and stacks of towels readied. You can never have too many towels.

The world is a beautiful scary mess.
Have a listen. Five minutes of your time. Kate Tempest.

02 August 2019

31 July 2019

On a hot summer's evening we meet friends. A long table has been set in the garden. A pot luck dinner. Children and dogs are jumping on a trampoline.
Some of the guests that evening work for the UNFCC, one of several international employers in our city. We talk about the future, about the lives of our children, we try to keep it light. Someone mentions Greta Thunberg. Of course someone mentions Greta Thunberg.

The big mistake, someone says, is that people are expecting her to have answers, solutions. While all she does is tell the truth. But here we are, we sit back and say, great, she is great, and somehow we think that's enough. She's doing something. At last.
Aren't the young people great, they are going to change it all for the better. 
(As if none of us clever fuckers ever knew what to do until now.)

Today, he calls us. We talk about Greta Thunberg's plans to sail across the Atlantic, to spend a year on the American continent. We are excited about the boat, a zero emissions racing boat and we speculate on the cramped conditions, the length of the journey, the seasickness.  
Actually, he adds, I am afraid for her, afraid for her life. All of us at UNFCC are.

And we know he is not taking about the sea or the weather.