28 April 2019

Adams The Tetons and the Snake River.jpg 

The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. 
Photograph by Ansel Adams. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1)

This image has been living with us for 30+ years in various sizes, as a poster, a calendar, a postcard, currently as a framed print. On the wall in paradise, facing you just as you came inside from the lush green tropical day, in our kitchen above the table where we eat, on a bathroom mirror, in the hall where appointments are recorded on a blackboard, above the piano in the sitting room and now on the wall in my study.
I went through a serious Ansel Adams phase with many more reproductions gracing our walls but this is the one that endured. 
I rarely look at it these days. It's of course stunning as ever. 

We like to think that it stays here on the wall because of the Golden Record. And the Golden Record is out there aboard the Voyager spacecrafts since 1977, now travelling in interstellar space, 18 billion kilometers from earth. You can track both spacecrafts online. 
One day it may arrive somewhere and who knows, the record will be watched and listened to, laughed or shouted at, understood or misunderstood.  Carl Sagan and his team, who assembled the contents, included lots of (to us) beautiful stuff: the sounds of wind, volcanoes, waves, thunder, birds, frogs and wild dogs. They gathered 115 images, including a woman breastfeeding, an x-ray of a hand, photos of seashore, sand dunes, fallen leaves, a tree with daffodils, a flying insect with flowers. Music by Mozart and Bach, Chuck Berry and Peruvian pipers, Georgian chants and Indonesian gamelan, Beethoven and Louis Armstrong.
And this photograph by Ansel Adams. 

Nothing about genocide, wars, nuclear weapons, plastic inside dead whales, melting polar ice caps, noxious pesticides, bleached coral reefs, gun violence and suicide bombers.

In any case, folks, we are ready. When the first arrivals from outer space walk into our home, they'll recognise this picture and we'll be off the hook. Hopefully. And once we are done with the greetings, there will be a lot to explain.

Meanwhile, I am still struggling with a congested chest and packed sinuses without any proper sign of actual infection/inflammation but exhausted like an old dog and extremely grumpy, increasingly nervous about autoimmune relapse and shit. After breakfast, I shouted at R - only once, I swear - and his endless reassurances about how this will pass and like a stubborn toddler, I shall go to work tomorrow, no matter what. I have long lost any concept of what being fit and healthy should feel like.

23 April 2019

the right to be present, to attend, to be astonished

Halfway through the first episode of the BBC's The Earth from Space you can see how a vast cloud of red sand from a dead lake in the Sahara desert is slowly and gently carried by the winds all the long way across the Atlantic to the Amazon rainforest where the fine sand is rained onto the thick canopy delivering its nourishing minerals.

You ask yourself, surely this is not coincidental? You admit that it seems nothing short of a miracle and immediately, you can think of a string of such miracles (see the video below for example) which so obviously reflect how Planet Earth is looking after Planet Earth - without human input, our useless, destructive, cruel human input. Also, miracle, what a stupid word, how limiting, how human to describe what appears to be self evident, practical, sharing, caring. There, I said it, caring!

Early in 1982, I was with friends whose baby refused to be born on time and what should have been a short visit turned into two, almost three weeks of hanging around, playing cards, and going on shorter and shorter walks. I had a lot of time on my hands and - as you do - started a very amateurish translation of James Lovelock's book Gaia: A new look at life on earth. On a typewriter, while the mother-to-be was napping. 

The baby arrived when I was halfway through, it's a slim book. I finished the translation much later, pregnant myself, full of mother hunger, and sent it off to my father, a messy folder of typed pages. 
I suppose I wanted to impress him or maybe shock him. He was disappointed with me at the time as usual. I had dropped out of my university career. No longer the shining achiever at one of the oldest and most glorious universities, I was living in a small country that was falling off the edge of his world, baking bread.
He wasn't impressed at all. He told me, would not waste his time reading it.

Many years later, though, at one of these family events where we all stand around, glasses of something in our hands, fake smiles and faked interest, I heard him, he was standing a few steps in front of me, talking to his cousin (who had invented something of photovoltaic importance and thus had earned some respect from my father): yes, Lovelock, indeed, of course I read his first book many years ago. 

Now, another decade later, he calls me and we remember, as if it was yesterday, how he received this folder from me and how impressed he was reading it, still is, and yes, yes, Lovelock, amazing, just recently, someone mentioned him on tv.

19 April 2019

Within 48 hours we moved from winter coats and mittens to "too hot for lunch outside". I went to bed last night with the plan to write down the names of all plants in bloom in the garden - with pictures.

 I woke up at sunrise with the familiar throbbing in my ears that accompanies an attack of vertigo. After some cursing and punching of pillows I crawled below the open window and listened to the morning activities in the almond tree (mostly insects but also a somewhat lost woodpecker and courting pigeons).

Today being Good Friday means that it's very quiet. The church bells had their last fling yesterday evening and will stay silent until Easter morning. There will be no cinemas open today, no dancing or music for the few who will stumble mistakenly into a sorry pub tonight. Also, Sunday rules apply. Only bakeries are allowed to open for a few hours in the morning because: bread (one day I'll explain, there are currently five bakeries within walking distance in our suburb with a total of 55 different  varieties of bread alone on a normal day). If you run out of milk or toilet paper on a Sunday or Good Friday or Easter Monday your only hope is the next petrol station. And good luck to you.

You see, this secular country takes its church holidays very seriously. May is the busiest holiday month with Whitmonday, Corpus Christie and Ascension  (both always on a Thursday - excellent for bridging day planning thank you Jesus) and for good measure we also get the 1st of May off for no holy reasons but to celebrate trade unions.

As for today, R made waffles for lunch and we have a decent supply of milk and toilet paper. We will manage.

I am officially under doctor's orders to show up at the A&E with the next vertigo attack but we decided to stay under the radar for now.  It's a holiday after all. I'm afraid that's all my spinning head can type for now. Actually I am impressed myself but then I am a vertigo veteran.

16 April 2019

skidding in broadside

Our hands contain bones almost perfectly like-for-like with the bones in the flat paddle of a dolphin’s fin, and with a horse’s front legs, and a bat’s wings.

No. This is not about evolution because we - humans - did not evolve from dolphins or horses or bats. If anything, we all evolve out of the same mushy green swamp after the stardust had crashed and created the planet. Or something like that.

My hands, the odd fingers bent this way and that by polyarthritis, ache and on - what I still call - bad days, my wrists are stiff and hot. I search for images of dolphin's fins and try to be amazed.
And reassured. Many years ago, holding myself carefully still at the side of a traditional rig sailing ship (whatever possessed me to go aboard?), seasick as never before, I watched my six year old and her father out there in the Indian Ocean swim with dolphins while the evening sun was setting at the horizon.

Anyway, I am getting used to it. Also, we changed the handlebars of my bicycle and invested in a gel-padded cycling gloves. This is exciting news to someone like me whose mode of getting from A to B has always been cycling. In fact, these gloves are almost one step too far as I am certainly not a fitness colourful lycra with snazzy helmet cyclist.

My grandmother cycled all her life, to the baker, the butcher, to church, she cycled to deliver her apples and home made jams to friends and family in town. After she had turned 80, rumour was that the police stopped the traffic on market day when she cycled to buy potatoes and onions and carrots. I am that kind of cyclist. I don't wear a helmet.

All I need now is to recover from a trifling chest infection that has sneaked up on me. Which has me flat out and wobbly. And of course I am already fretting about my job and what if this is getting worse (we are on day 3!). I have a sick cert until Easter Monday, after which, if I haven't improved, I'll go back to my lovely GP and we'll take from there. I have no idea why I am in such a heap about it.

In the words of the great Hunter S Thompson:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow!What a Ride!"

11 April 2019

Last night after dinner we packed a small overnight bag, got in the car and drove for a couple of hours to one of those empty cities further north. A city with ancient history and which after  complete destruction during WWII was hastily rebuild as a faceless, featureless assemblage of buildings and streets and a couple of parks here and there.
We arrived at the worst hotel because I had left it too late to find a room anywhere else. It took me a while to locate the off switch for the empty minibar fridge - once I had figured out where the loud rumbling noise was coming from. That was at 3 am. R was snoring. I discovered that the towels were unwashed after I had a shower at daybreak, and so on.
Right on schedule at 8 am, I presented myself at the university clinics of this city to be seen by a renowned expert in witchcraft and vertigo - an appointment I had been waiting for since last September. She asked all the questions I wanted her to ask and answered all of mine, sent me through four hours of diagnostics and waiting and now we are starting plan B also known as me being guinea pig and let's see what happens if we go down this route. In short, keeping fingers crossed - albeit with drugs.
Back home, I wrote a scathing online review of the hotel because, seriously. (It's a first for me.) Then I read in the London Review of Books Colm Tóibín's memoir of his recent cancer treatment  and with my head swirling with fears of death and loss and feeling foolish and very small, I started to cry for a long while.
"It all started with my balls. I was in Southern California and my right ball was slightly sore. At the beginning I thought the pain might be caused by the heavy keys in the right hand pocket of my trousers banging against my testicle as I walked along the street. So I moved the keys into my jacket pocket. The pain stayed for a while and then it went away and then it came back. I was doing readings every day, selling my melancholy stories to the people of Orange County and places south. I wondered, some days, if there might be a doctor in the audience who, if I made a suitable announcement at the end of the reading, could make this pain in my right testicle go away. But I didn’t want to make a fuss."

05 April 2019

alive and kicking

Every cell inside of me should know by now that I cannot ask for more. That this is all there is, all the support, help, interest, all the research and therapy options, all the drugs, and all the sympathy I will every receive, ever deserve. I cannot ask for sacrifices, cannot ask for other people's lives be put on hold, that they diverted too much from their own lives' goals, their purpose, their desire, or their joy.
Nobody can cut a slice out of their healthy life and pass it on to me. That's not how it works. In the long run, I am here to handle it alone. And while it is often difficult, I am well aware how vital it is to show that I can cope, to put on a brave face.
To even make a joke about it, sprinkle some dry humour on this mess from time to time.

Cue another gem from my very distant classical education, this one from Seneca, the Roman philosopher from Cordoba. If I remember correctly, he was also a satirist.  You never know how to read a satirist.

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in fate´s control and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? 

I am writing this on a Friday night, listening to the playlist I made for my grandchild earlier today - or rather for my daughter to listen to while breastfeeding and bouncing her baby and remembering the days when I swung her around on my hip, when danced in the kitchen and jumped on the bed together.
Earlier, I sent the man out into the world for drinks and live music with the healthy world while I grandly stifled my urges to shout something mad and angry about unfairness. Something I would regret later.
But I repeat myself.

04 April 2019

Just a bit of background to my last post.
As far as I know it began on fb by a group of writers/translators in Germany on International Women's day. Someone started a discussion on why is it still blue for boys and pink for girls. I must admit that I got this second hand as I am not on fb.

The discussion spread on to a couple of blogs (where I read it first hand) and someone wrote a short text and then the next person used the format of this original text for their thoughts and so on.

I suppose that's called a meme.
Several blog posts all beginning with "My favourite colour is..." and ending with "I don't think I've ever done anything just because I'm a woman/man. I think we should finally stop the male women thing and talk about people." but with individual variations of what's written between the beginning and the end.

That's what I did. Just to see what happens.

Try it. You can use my text and change it to your specifications.

02 April 2019

My favourite colour is blue. I love cycling more than driving and I can read maps. I am shit at parallel parking. I usually wear jeans but in the summer, skirts and dresses because I feel comfortable in them. I can work with figures and can calculate expenses and such but was never good at maths in school. I definitely think logically. I have about as many male friends as female friends. I can operate a power drill and plenty of other tools, and sometimes I even enjoy it. I know how to mix cement and plaster a wall. I can bake bread and make yogurt. I have been with the same man for 30+ years. None of us would have ever come up with the idea that the housework would be my job. I can be envious or jealous and I sometimes compare myself to others. It usually is my job to take care of everything that has to do with money and forms, but not always with enthusiasm. I love ironing, seriously, I do. I am not ashamed of my educational gaps and my occasional political disinterest. I have one child and that has been the most enriching event of my life. I like nice clothes. I'm great at finding things super. I no longer like to flirt but I am good at empathy. I know how to sew on a button so that it looks good and stays on. I can knit really well but dismally fail at sewing.  I like to sleep in. I can bring structure to chaos. I like having visitors but I hate cooking for them. I unashamedly exploit the fact that I live with a cook and a gardener. I have been working with scientists for almost 20 years and nobody has noticed - to date - that I am actually shit at science. My husband is a scientist and he knows and I don't mind. I like to eat. I do not consider myself particularly beautiful. I like to swim in natural waters. I like hugs. I like humans and cats. 

I don't think I've ever done anything just because I'm a woman.

I think we should finally stop the male women thing and talk about people.

(as initially suggested by Ruth Löbner)