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?