26 May 2024

the feeling

the rambling rose

It's been wet, so much rain, and the garden is exploding. This year, the three plum trees are so full - even after dropping some unripe fruit - it looks suspicious, as if the trees are giving it their final all.

the veg bed in mid May

There have been days when I felt I was losing the plot and on these days, I go through the motions with teeth clenched (not literally) and the thought that no, I am not going to stop doing what I want to do regardless of colicky pains and all the rest of it. I walk into the library, pick up my ordered books, move on to the whole food shop, sit down with a coffee, smile at everybody thinking, nobody knows. Surely, I must look healthy.

the tomatoes are meh this year

On the way home, checking the front gardens and greeting the cats, the feeling of dread surfaces. The dread has nothing to do with my health, it's much deeper, bigger. It has taken me some time to recognise that it has become a constant feeling, low down, watchful. It is a bit like the feeling you get when you are awake in bed, waiting for the sound of your teenage daughter's key in the door after the night bus has passed the stop down at the corner. Only bigger. Because, your daughter has grown up and can look after herself. In hindsight, it was such a tiny feeling of dread, for such a brief period. And what a relief to know it's over. Nothing compared to this big dread. Bigger even than the fear of war, of the madman in Russia. Of the fascists gaining ground in Europe again. Of the bird flu virus spreading to humans. Fiddlesticks.

And I look at the people I pass on my walks, greet and smile at, watch them in their gardens, on their patios, playing with their kids and grandchildren, walking their dogs, the two guys who empty our bins, the postman on his e-bike, the mad woman across the street as she carefully covers her front steps with old crockery to ward off evil spirits, the toddler next door to her learning to walk, the twin girls across our garden playing Elsa and Anna. And I wonder if any of them, all of them, feel it too, maybe not right now but some day to come, the feeling of dread for our planet's future. The dread we keep on pushing away. And I wonder what would happen if we could share it and make it go away.

The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love — whether we call it friendship, or family, or romance — is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light. Gentle work. Steadfast work. Life-saving work in those moments when life and shame and sorrow occlude our own light from our view, but there is still a clear-eyed loving person to beam it back. In our best moments, we are that person for another.

James Baldwin 


the pillows are in place

19 May 2024

in which I brag about myself

Effort has never been my forte. In school, I was lazy. I did the bare minimum and basically sailed through it with equal portions of luck, bullshitting and because at age 10 I was deemed to be clever. For example, based on a lengthy story I wrote as a homework assignment, it was decided that eventually, I would be writer. Also, a small enamel pendant I had hastily manufactured in art class was proof that I was a budding jewellery designer. And when I correctly used an oversized protractor on the blackboard in my first week of geometry, I was considered a budding maths nerd. Whatever I did, it was enough to be placed one year ahead of my peers. That was my stroke of luck as it happened at that brief period before teenage arrogance when I was still amazed by what school and learning and the teachers had to offer. Soon enough, I found school confusing, there was much that was over my head and which could only be tackled if I invested time and effort, something that soon interfered with my other interests (I forget what they were) and in response, I decided that school was mostly boring. But whatever I did, I was still supposedly clever and so I sailed through school on the strength of that. It did not matter that I knew deep down that I wasn't clever at all. It was enough to just act as if. In hindsight, it was my first brush with politics because once you were deemed to be a clever kid, the teachers could hardly go back on their judgement, couldn't they and so I was carried along year after year, collecting dreadful results mostly, performing poorly in most subjects apart from German and Latin. I won't deny that there were times when indeed I was clever and that maybe I could have been clever all those years but basically, I couldn't be arsed to do a thing and I had figured out early enough that my shortfalls in science and maths could be nicely covered by my moderate skills in essay writing and showing off my love for reading. Plus learning Latin verbs and regurgitating translations of Tacitus and Cicero was simply down to working out the appropriate techniques and applying the stuff when required.
Modern languages were my worst subject. I failed three attempts of voluntary French and I barely made it to the end of the compulsory years of English, despite a lengthy and very boring time as an exchange student in Grimsby, one of the duller places on earth in what was then south Lincolnshire. What got me through English without complete failure was the American Forces Network radio. When I finally was allowed to drop English after year 10, I was looking forward to a life without ever having to bother myself with it again.

This morning, on the radio, I listened to a person interviewing a world famous writer. A long time ago, I knew this person - the interviewer, not the world famous writer - quite well, we were part of a crowd, young people who wanted to change the world the way you do when you are young. This set me off on one of the internet tunnel searches for the others who were part of the crowd. The ones I found, of course, are those who for reasons of their accomplishments, skills, and obvious cleverness have made their way, won awards, published poetry, lead important campaigns and so on. In all this pleasant discovery, these are good people and I am amazed that long ago, we shared a path, I felt humble. Me and my failed degrees, my zig zag course of a career, my meagre pension, my ill health, I could go on. But then R pointed out that if, for example and simply to brag about myself, I was to put my name into the Google Scholar search bar, there will be over one hundred results. That includes many double mentions and all of it is someone else's original work just edited and/or translated by me, but for a brief moment, I felt that yes, I have achieved stuff. I know my stuff, I work with language and while I was never on radio interviewing a Nobel laureate, I have left a mark, a small hidden one.

Sometimes, I regret not putting in the effort, I regret dropping too many subjects much too soon because they were not instantly appealing and obviously required time and mental struggle. I see this girl and this woman who was out looking for the short cut, the sweet and easy, the fun side of things first of all. Of this I am certain and I admit as much. Of course, life caught up with me, motherhood caught up with me, finances and lack thereof caught up with me. I managed, my life has been good, and yet I know that in terms of what people at the time - and they were no fools, they did see potential - predicted and expected, I failed to deliver. Too late. Although I just enrolled in an online course on human physiology of all things.


Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith


13 May 2024

Summer could not have come sooner.


the first lily

As usual, spring was just a skip and a hop, a nervous day or three with sunlight and blossoms opening and now we have summer. Full on. When I was a kid, my mother and German people in general, had this thing about Übergangskleidung - transitional clothing - when you get to wear a somewhat lighter anorak and ditched the mittens and scarf on your way to school but still had to stick to the warm tights. Not here in the valley of the fat river. From one day to the next, it's all tank tops and Birkenstock sandals. 

Anyway, this summer is different because I don't work anymore, it doesn't matter if there's a thunderstorm or if it's getting too hot to work without the fan on and the blinds down. I am only two weeks into full retirement and I am head over heels in love with it.

That's the good stuff.  

the veg patch is exploding, the glas cover is there to protect the corn, the pots in front are even more potatoes, all in all I think, we are growing eight different varieties this year

The not so good stuff is that eating contimues to be like gambling—sometimes I win, but mostly I lose. After some complicated blood work and bioelectrical impedance analysis I have now officially earned the title of malnourished and in the spirit of, let's try whatever, have been refered to the department of nutritional science where I was swiftly included into an ongoing study on the gut microbiome. I will do my bit for science even now! For the next three weeks I have to follow a very restricted diet and ingest something called PHGG. It's only a stopgap, a distraction of sorts, however, while I await the scheduled second and third opinion on possible surgery options and these now include removal of some of my intestine. To add some entertainment I have enrolled in an online course on improving muscle strength, eight weeks, every second day, 40 minutes including warm up and cool down. Another gamble, but so far, I am surviving.

the plumeria look kind of odd this year


On the outside, I am the same skinny woman, I walk a lot, cycle a lot, I use my roll of FKNZ stickers to cover the neonazi graffiti along my walking route and elsewhere. I chat to people, dogs, cats and birds. I whisper my appreciation to the rambling rose and the plum trees.  I sleep well, read a lot and solve cryptic crossword puzzles.

I knitted these three pillow cases using up some of the left-over wool that I had marked retirement. The pattern is from ravelry (designed by Jenise Hope) and R will do the sewing and stuffing, he is a talented tailor in disguise as long as the seams are in a straight line.

05 May 2024

from 1979 to here and now

The year of 1979 was an educational year for me. I was a second year student at the university of Heidelberg, I had just turned 21, was really naive and impressionable, although at the time I considered myself to be extremely well versed in all things politically. Every day I collected the leaflets handed out on campus, I even read most of them but possibly didn't quite understand all of it. I frequented the radical and the feminist bookshops, I attended various meetings, admittedly some because I wanted to impress a guy or was involved with a guy who tagged me along. I campaigned for amnesty international, reclaim the night and rape crisis groups, I attended various South and Central American exile groups mainly for the great music and food but ostensibly to support their fight against autocratic regimes. I rolled my own cigarettes, wore dungarees, had long hair, occasionally took the odd illegal drug, went to festivals, rallies, sit-ins etc. and in between somehow managed to attend courses and sit exams.

Among my friends at the time were three sisters from an Iranian family, whose father had fled to Germany to escape the corrupt regime of the last Shah. These three women knew how to have a good time and could be found at the best parties and festivals. Politics was never on the agenda until the weeks in January and February 1979 when the Shah fled Iran and the exiled Ayatollah returned. First, all three of my friends - together with happy fellow students also looking for a good time - were celebrating, there was dancing and drinks and food and lots of rejoicing. During the day, they were distributing leaflets about the Iranian revolution and freedom and the end of oppression of all people and especially women and so on. Within maybe a week or two, that changed. My friends were now wearing black headscarves, chanting slogans about the new supreme leader and the power of Islam. I didn't understand what was going on. Still don't.

I think of them often these days, when I watch images from students protests across various countries, mine included. I rewatched again and again a short clip of three masked but very apparently not Arab young women, somewhere in the US, shouting, we are Hamas, we are Hamas, we hate you, at a small group of Jewish people.

I want to accept that it is probably not really hatred that drives them, but the feeling that justice is being trampled underfoot. Justice is such a high motivation for many people - I get that. The suffering of the people in Gaza is obvious, as is their helplessness against a locally overpowering Israel. 

And yet, I am searching the various media channels to see if there is any resentment towards Hamas anywhere among the protests, and I find none. 

Yes, there must be an urgent end to the violence, a human catastrophe, possibly genocide, is unfolding in Gaza. Yes, the Israeli army is guilty of several war crimes, this must be investigated. Yes, the situation of the Palestinian civilian population is intolerable, a solution must finally, finally be found that enables peaceful coexistence in the region.

But, Hamas is a terrorist organisation that not only accepts the suffering of the civilian population, but has deliberately caused it in order to make political capital out of it. Hamas is a racist, homophobic, anti-women organisation. Maybe they are not (yet) as bad as the taliban but if you follow the money, you can see the relationship. Please educate me if I got this wrong.

On a more amazing and possibly cheerful note, two things here that moved me this last week:

The Chauvet Cave was discovered in 1994, one year after we had spent the summer roaming around that part of France and I like to think that we may have been near it, maybe pitched our tent on a meadow close by. Inside the cave, there are paintings, works of art created 32,000 years ago. Like this one:

click here for source and more


Then I read this report on how Orang Utans use herbal treatment on infected wounds. 

And suddenly, the world has become big again, full of wonder of possibility, and we humans, we are back to being just small co-inhabitants.