27 March 2019

a post in 5 quotes

Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely.
 Deborah Levy

In psychology, the six basic emotion theory is very popular. It is is based on facial expression studies, and postulates that there are six emotions — anger and fear and so on — that we share with other species, and that we share them across the board. And that all of the other emotions [besides those six] must be uniquely human. So if you talk about, say, jealousy — that’s a human emotion, because it’s not on the list. Or love is not on the list. Even though we have quite a bit of evidence of the Oxytocin system [a bonding hormone] in other animals. There’s a lot of evidence that attachment and bonding occur in other species, of course.
But the more I think about it, I cannot name any emotion that is uniquely human. There are maybe emotions related to religion — let’s say spirituality — but even for that, I cannot exclude that animals have those kinds of feelings. Who says they don’t? In humans, religious feelings are not expressed in the face. That kind of emotion is not visible. And if emotions are not visible, how can we exclude that it exists in other species?
Frans de Waal

When a boundary in the known world— say, a geographical one . . . —becomes instead a beckoning horizon, the leading edge of a farther destination, then a world one has never known becomes an integral part of one’s new universe. 
 Barry Lopez 

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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

25 March 2019

after Christchurch

National Anthem

I pledge allegiance 

to love and good coffee
a sleepy heart
two sets of feet burning
a clatter of brilliant voices raised as one
I pledge my honeycomb tongue

to the five stages of peace

Open palms
and New Beginnings

to broken and plastered hope
to our phoenix youth
our devils dancing in the wind
sparkle and ashenning the day
the ancient maps left for us

to worship
or forsake
I pledge a bowl of molasses
and my grandmother’s laugh
to whoever will laugh with me
wrestle from the sun a hurricane
of Jinn stories and inside jokes
of multi-tongued monsters
finding homes in each other

I pledge myself to 

no flag
no border
no house of tress
no fairytale past
no charismatic king
no industry of false profits
burying their heads in the sand
to them I only pledge
a steady voice
an untroubled heart
a desperate compassion
a fist raised in the air
to those who would plot to sow me love
to bake me warmth and never break my art
to rob my eyes for safe-keeping
to drown me in unconditional trust

to build with me
a new sun

I pledge myself
to you 

21 March 2019

spring equinox

There is a short poem by one of the Romantic German poets that to my mind is all about this day. Spring equinox. The first day of spring.

(The Romantic era in Europe was at its peak during the first half of the 19th century. It was all about emotions and passion and expressing one's feelings, while remaining very male and suffering for it - think Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.)

Anyway, the poem. It's by Eduard Mörike, who started out as a young suffering artist, all the heart ache of a poet and a musician with passion and feeling, briefly became a Lutheran pastor and eventually had a career as a respected professor of literature. I must admit, I don't know much else about him despite my attempts efforts at German literature. He is not well known these days anyway.
But this one poem, almost everybody knows some of it. Nine short lines. My parent's generation learnt it by heart, my generation did it for fun. I remember the day when my third grade teacher read it to the class on that first day of spring and how later, during recess, we were reciting it in dramatic or whimsical voices, giggling even. I also remember that it was a cold and rainy day, that the wheels of my bicycle had skidded on the mucky field track we used as a shortcut to school and that as a result, my shoes were filthy. I remember thinking, how can this mucky, wet day be the first day of spring. I was nine years old.

There are a couple of weird and wondrous translations online, I opt for this one by an anonymous source (the German original is here):

Spring's blue ribbon
flutters through the air again.
Sweet familiar scents
drift over the countryside, full of promise.

Violets are already dreaming
of their time to come.
Listen - the  soft sound of a distant harp.
It must be you, spring.
It is you I have heard.

Some years ago, on the first day of spring, a friend working at the local whole food co-op draped a silky blue ribbon over the front doors. Just a ribbon that fluttered ever so slightly when the doors opened. And every time someone stopped and mumbled or quoted or spoke or sang at least the first line of that poem, she discretely put a tick on a tally list. But only for the first hour. Because literally everybody who walked into the shop that day did that, some unconsciously, almost automatically, but mostly with a smile.

That's school for you. Powerful romantic stuff they teach you there.  And that poem, it's still on the curriculum, I checked.

19 March 2019

On the Strength of All Conviction and the Stamina of Love

Sometimes I think
we could have gone on.
All of us. Trying. Forever.

But they didn’t fill
the desert with pyramids.
They just built some. Some.

They’re not still out there,
building them now. Everyone,
everywhere, gets up, and goes home.

Yet we must not
diabolize time. Right?
We must not curse the passage of time.

 Jennifer Michael Hecht 

17 March 2019

Waleed Aly speaking

(Australian writer, academic, lawyer, media presenter and musician)

13 March 2019

patience was never my strong point


We are a feather falling from the wing of a bird.
I don't know why it is given to us to be so mortal and to feel so much.
It is a cruel trick, and glorious.

Louise Erdrich

Also, ageing, growing old, watching the body fraying at the edges.
The lingering pain in your left wrist joint you ignored for the last six months suddenly explodes and another chapter of the endless story begins. Call it Road to Ruin. Or better still: Not Fair.
No cycling. No cycling!
Not now, with the first magnolia and almond trees in bloom. You want to howl like a teenager.
You start walking and come home after two hours exhausted and with blisters on your feet. Triumphant. Foolish. Your wrist is by now a swollen throbbing red lump. You tie an ice pack around it and ignore it because you will not grow old, ever.
At least not in spring. Not this spring.
You watch a Belgian thriller with another ice pack dripping around your wrist and while the detectives run through thick summer forests shouting in French, you whisper to yourself, two weeks, maybe three, green canopy, flowers, asparagus, strawberries, butterflies, birdsong.

X-ray tomorrow.

09 March 2019

"All of us—all life on Earth, including humans—are going through this horrible event called global warming. The way we talk to each other about it is also pretty horrible. We yell facts thinking that this will inspire and persuade people. We need an ecological language that doesn’t make the person who served me at my local fast food place feel stupid or evil.

Guilt is about individuals. Global warming is a billions-of-people scale problem. Let’s have a conversation about being responsible instead. If you can understand something, then you’re responsible for it."

Timothy Morton 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead

07 March 2019


The 300 year old plane trees in summer. Planted to orders from Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach in the 17th century. The Wild Margrave, as he was called, had serious delusions of grandeur and spent money like there was no tomorrow. He was married to Friederike Louise, a daughter of the king of Prussia, the poor unfortunate woman was 15 years old at the time of this arranged marriage to secure Prussia's foothold in Franconia. The marriage was a disaster as could be expected. Here is the unhappy couple.

Friederike suffered from one of the congenital chronic illnesses of the European gentry and after the birth of the heir, she was exiled to a small castle not too far away, where according to my father, she spent her days among women "knitting and sewing".

I walked around the castle grounds, the buildings are currently being renovated to become a "tourist gem", and tried to imagine what life may have been like for a young woman, an outcast, in this godforsaken village, surrounded by carp ponds and fields, far away from any family or social life. Her firstborn died, she gave birth to two more boys, the Margrave arriving drunk and jolly in the middle of the night now and then, let's call it rape, and in her later life, she apparently suffered from melancholia.

The Margrave lead a life of luxury, with hunting and falconry and plane trees imported from France. He had palaces built all over Franconia and churches here and there to absolve for any sins.

Alexander, his heir, the second son of Friederike Louise, continued in this vein, with many mistresses and endless luxury. But no children. In the end, he sold the title to the Prussian king and abdicated, leaving his luxurious residences (incl. all staff and animals) without a second thought and no provisions. He then married his current, English, mistress, Lady Craven, moved to her manor house in Berkshire and spent the rest of his life there breeding horses - as one does.
Any similarities to current political leaders - anywhere?

Plane trees: http://bilddatenbank.natur.de/default.asp?BildID=4138
Photographer: Erich Kraus, Weidenbach, Germany

The couple, Unterschwaningen castle, Benham Park: Wikipedia, public domain

05 March 2019

Everything is all over the place. It seems I am waiting for I don't know what to happen. I wake up early and feel the tension building inside of me, will I get through the day, I wonder.
And of course I do. It's not bad, this life. Just maybe too much.

On Saturday, we walked along a magnificent tree lined avenue, I counted 60 plane trees. The original planting included 100 according to the written submission which was presented by one of my ancestors, a forester, to the Margrave of Ansbach in the late 17th century. Later, we unsuccessfully searched for someone to unlock the small chapel in the nearby village because I wanted to show off to R the commemorative plaque inside recording the planting and my ancestor's name. (It's only a tiny chapel.)
There was some rain and a fierce wind but 60 plane trees, leafless as they may be, can make a person very happy.

Shortly after that, I witnessed for the first time my father's onset of slight senile dementia as we got lost on the back roads for a few hours. He grew up here and usually knows this area like the back of his hand. He is 90 years old, I don't think he is aware of anything missing.

Today, I listened to a friend describing the effect of last summer's drought on forests and bird life. A drought that is ongoing and if we are heading into another hot and dry summer, he told me, we will see massive and irreversible forest die back. He is a botanist. He encouraged me to use a new German word: flugschämen (feeling embarrassed on account of flying when not absolutely necessary). We agreed that there should also be a word for feeling embarrassed on account of leaving the fight against climate change to school kids. Which resulted in agreeing to meet up on March 15th. Because there is no excuse. Where will you be?
Maybe you don't have to go far:  https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/events/map