22 September 2016

Some days I become a factory for sad thoughts: the night shift starts not when I go to bed, but when I decide to go to bed. As I turn the lights out. the factory lights come on. I used to make them by hand, the sad thoughts, but lately it's become more of an assembly line, the machines doing all the work: I sleep, and in the morning I have another consignment ready for distribution; for export, for import.

Patrick McGuinness 

I watched the documentary about the Syrian Civil Defense last night. It's only half an hour long.
It has won prizes at film festivals. This is the world we live in.

My father only talks about the war when I ask him specifically. Only once did he speak about the bomb raids . Now, he doesn't want me to mention it.
My mother never said a word, but when there was a heavy thunderstorm at night, she would walk the house, silently stand by our beds until my father came to bring her back to bed.
I never even tried to understand, I was far too angry. Why don't you just get on with life, I asked her.

19 September 2016

my homes, part 1

My first home was the drafty two room apartment my parents had moved in after they got married. I have no memories, only pictures. This was in the small, extremely catholic Bavarian town of Freising, with a large cathedral, one of the world's oldest breweries and - most importantly - the agricultural science department of the university of Munich.

Money was tight, my parents were young with two small children, my father worked as a junior researcher and my mother was slowly losing all hopes of ever returning to her university career. The story goes that I slept in one of the large wicker laundry baskets I now use in my attic to hold S's toys and a variety of sleeping bags.

There is a family anecdote whereby I fell out of the window while my big sister, who was four years old at the time, was watching me. The window was on the ground floor and I fell onto a soft lawn and my sister apparently went to my mother with the news that I had walked out. Soon after that, my father got his first car, a beige VW beetle, and his career took off.
My mother got pregnant for the third time and we moved to spacious apartment with a large garden and babysitters when my parents had dinner guests. The one vivid memory I have of this place is of the day my baby brother had an accident. In the evening, me and my sister were sent home by the neighbours, who had been looking after us and I noticed that one of the paving stones near the front door was cracked. For some reason, I was convinced that the ambulance crew had broken it and that made me mad enough to throw a massive tantrum.
Shortly before my fourth birthday, my father was headhunted away from the university and we moved north, back to my father's Franconian homeland into a newly built semi-detached house. In fact, it was still a building site. We moved during a very hard winter and during that winter, my mother's life started to unravel.

16 September 2016

Two weeks ago I watched the agonisingly slow monoclonal antibody infusion dripping into my vein, my blood pressure dropping so low I could not keep my body upright.

This morning I stood in the basement gym of the local protestant church, in a group of mostly elderly Muslim women, getting ready for an hour of Qi Gong. Lots of deep breathing, confusion, sweating and plenty of laughter.

Last night, a short downpour after another week of record temperatures, and autumn is in the air.

13 September 2016

This film is based on a poem by Jenifer Toksvig called 'What they took with them', which was inspired by stories and first-hand testimonies from refugees forced to flee their homes and the items they took with them.

07 September 2016

summer gatherings, final

1988, already steps ahead
The ground not quite there where it should be underneath my feet. But this I know: Soon I will feel it again and eventually I will go upstairs and take the sheets off the bed and fill the washing machine, the last couple of loads of summer gathering laundry.
Maybe not exactly today, there is no rush.

It's been a full summer and she was my shiny diamond throughout. It was a wonderful summer when she was around (and a pretty awful summer when she was not. Next time, I want intend to be considerably more healthy).

I forgot how deep it goes, how physical this feeling is, how heavy my arms and legs become  watching the departing car. Her serious face behind her sunglasses, while I am wiping away tears. Only minutes earlier we were snapping at each other, stop taking pictures of me, (stop being such a mum, stop being such a teenager) and now there she goes again, a car on the motorway to the airport.
In a couple of hours I will check the website that allows me to track their flights over the next two days and by the time they are back home with the cat and the dog, I know that I will have found the ground beneath my feet as well.

She moved out 14 years ago, slowly widening the gap (which now is 18,000 km wide). I know the drill. We usually argue at the last minute. Before we start crying.

Again. I let her go back to her amazing life. And you have no idea how amazing!

If this is true:
I suppose we are all products of our parents' joy and suffering. Their emotions are written into us as much as the inscriptions made by their genes.
(Siri Hustvedt)

Then she got all our joy genes.

Thank you my love for a wonderful summer.

06 September 2016

and so the night comes without fuss
like the quiet and graceful appearance
of an orca's six-foot dorsal fin
beside your kayak -
the whole creature bearing you
until it passes

Lynn Davidson

02 September 2016

What was intended as a 12 hrs max exercise/adventure has now expanded into three days and two nights of interrupted sleep and questionable food. However, the coffee is fabulous.
At this stage - helped by the prospect of going home as soon as the infusion has been fed drip by slow drip into my vein - I am so grateful for the kindness and skill and indeed thorough treatment plus detailed explanations of every step that I could start crying when the next smiling face walks into the room to monitor my process.
This morning I assured the ward nurse that I can find my own way to another  dept. where yet more tests had been scheduled and for the first time I walked across "my" campus as a patient using the shortcuts through a small green area only staff know. The early morning air was like a special welcome and as I stood there with my eyes closed facing the September sun and letting the breeze gently lift and carry away all lingering traces of the night, the smell of disinfectants and illness and fear that had  gathered inside and around me, this poem by Wendell Berry came to mind. 

There are new challenges, new results as I move into autumn and winter and I am not sure how I will be able to accommodate it all. But nobody knows and this is a comfort. 

31 August 2016

I am in a hospital room. Almost everything is white except for the pale wooden doors and a non descript painting on the wall. A tranquil beach scene. Possibly a donation from one of the local charity artists auctions. 
Things did not proceed as expected but not I hope due to anything I did or that was found in the myriad tests and blood samples that were done all day.
I am all by myself with the aircondition humming for company. Tomorrow after breakfast, they promised me. Which means I could be home in the afternoon.

In between and all day I have been reading one of Colm Toibin's earlier novels, The Blackwater Lightship, with his exquisitely sharp description of a failed mother - daughter relationship and it has brought back so many memories of the days when all I could think of was how to get away. Far far away. From her and the house and all that was in it. I know I tried to mellow with age - something she wasn't able to either. Well meaning friends as well as total strangers have urged me to forgive and forget and all that stuff about closure  (what is closure?). I did try and I will probably go on trying. But there is no getting away from it. Our relationship was running on a strong current of mutual dislike, disgust and distrust (nice alliteration here but coincidental) and my sister and I are doing our utmost to keep it going. We have set our course, we keep at it.  We had an excellent teacher.
Oh there are moments of genuine kindness and even sisterhood, the positive kind, but these are mere sparks from a time we have almost forgotten.

The day before my mother's life was so unexpectedly reduced to those remaining six months of misery and agony, one day after her successful heart surgery, when she was totally sober except for whatever pain killers they may have given her on the ICU - totally sober for the first time in maybe 30 years - I had gathered the courage to phone the hospital (a safe 300+ km away) and before I could protest they put her on and for a brief five or maybe fifteen minutes my real mother, the one I had loved so fiercely as a child and who had truly loved me as she once did love all her children, spoke to me. She spoke to me the way a mother speaks to her daughter regardless of time and age. Like I can speak to my daughter so often and so easily. Her voice was calm and reassuring and she called me by the name she used when I was small. A name she had not used for 30 years (or if so, only sarcastically. She had a thing for sarcasm.)
Her lungs collapsed later that day and with it her power of speech and her will to live. My sister has not forgiven me for being the first (and last) of us to speak with our mother. We have tried to talk about it but she carries this inside her heart like a sharp weapon and I know I haven't a hope.

30 August 2016

In a nutshell

The boss meets the negotiator from the personnel dept. who meets the negotiator from the government agency (who will partly fund my assistant if the boss pays the rest) who turns to me with that cheery social worker smile (no offence) and asks me: in a nutshell, how do you notice a flare up of your what was the name of your chronic disease?

Well, I imagine I answered, it starts with this feeling of utter tiredness washing over me. You know like the time when I was breastfeeding for nights on end. No sleep until I lost all sense of time. But this here is without the exhilarating happiness. More like something fierce holding me down and pushing against my chest. Like walking through deep wet snow. Or trying to swim against a strong current too scared to let go but knowing I will have to.
When the stuff that's been clogging up my sinuses for the last couple of weeks turns out to be crusts of blood and it takes longer every morning to clear. When the tinitus bass quartet in my ears (ok I know it actually is in the brain but) has become a full orchestra with cymbals and trombones and a massive percussion section.
When I count every blessed hour without vertigo - keeping fingers crossed but knowing it can happen any minute because my ears are throbbing and aching ready to explode.
Basically, I could explain, basically this is just the beginning. Those weeks when my head packs it in because you know, everything is too noisy too fast too much even my own miserable voice. By then usually my stomach and my liver and my intestine begin to act up which can be rather painful and tedious because food becomes a problem and sometimes the heart cuts out for a bit on and off and I wake up about 100 times at night soaking wet and shivering and wondering what the heck and I could go on.

But no. You want it in a nutshell. Microvessels get inflamed anywhere in my body but mostly in my inner ears, lungs, throat, stomach, guts and heart due to a programming error of my immune system.

Which is why I am going to hospital on Wednesday for another round of monoclonal antibody infusions. The miracle therapy - here's hoping.

(The boss BTW is going to cough up the money and recruitment for my assistant has started today.)

29 August 2016

Three disturbing things I found out today:

  1. The first shampoo was sold in 1927.
  2. The office of the dean at our local university (founded in 1777, 33,000 students, seven Nobel Laureates so far) is going to introduce parent - lecturer evenings so that the mums and dads of the undergraduates can check on homework and grades.
  3. At our local primary school, a private security firm was hired to supervise the first-graders first day, esp. preventing parents and their many relatives from sitting down at the desk next to their little ones, following them onto the hall stage when all first-graders came together for a song, and managing the queues outside the principal's office for special requests.  The situation at the parking lot was said to be chaotic to put it mildly. 

28 August 2016

Vanessa cardui

Look! All five chrysalides have hatched, these guys are getting restless, ready to be released tomorrow.

26 August 2016

cycled to GP, legs shaking and slightly weepy considering my lack of strength, got her blessings and went to work, survived five hours, drove home, outside temps nearing 40°C, ozone warning from city officials, hid inside the cool house, briefest possible visit to the self pity stop, watched silly cat videos for a while

25 August 2016

so then so there so what

I got a bit of an earful from R after mentioning "so then so there so what" without the proper reference. How could I!
So then  so there so what is the title of a song by Zig and Zag, two hideous puppets who for quite some time during the 1980s and 1990s were members of our family - sort of. They had a Saturday morning TV show that fitted in nicely with our schedule (parents in bed, daughter in front of the box) and they produced cassette tapes (remember?) which were used during our years in Africa to shut up the child on long journeys and/or retain a decent enough Irish accent. Of course, we all speak a much more refined version.
The song is fairly mediocre but it gives you an overall idea of the general attitude during our child rearing days.

We got a lot more mileage from the Belly Button Fluff:

And I could get quite emotional about this one (my daughter used to sing along):

23 August 2016

Classic mistake. I went back to work because I wanted to show my superhuman commitment and let everybody think what an obviously  tough and dedicated person I am but also because of cabin fever setting in and frankly, because I miss work and for a while I thought I could pretend it's all down to willpower and taking control and just doing it.
Of course it is not, what on earth was I thinking, and so here I am, the stranded beetle once again, trying to remain cool and calm and composed and carefree about the variety of new symptoms. Obviously, I could write about them endlessly but right now I just want to let them be.
So then, so there, so what - as we tend so remark in this family before we move on to our next mistake.

The summer is entering its seedy phase when you stop caring about the flower beds overgrowing with weeds and no longer brush away the spider nets between the garden chairs. The first apples are falling off the tree, there are masses of blueberries, R is shaking the hazel bushes every evening collecting handfuls, the blackbirds are eating the grapes and someone's cat has started to shit on our lawn. Or maybe a hedgehog. Never mind, go right ahead. We know this is going to be over soon enough. Hot sun on your skin, warm wind in the evening, open windows at night. In a few weeks, the spiders will be dust and we will wear long sleeved garments again. I even may be able to recover some semblance of health and fitness. Alternatively, I may find myself without a job and will start making quilts and read that silly meaningful book on how to reorganise your wardrobe with the sock rolled up in a peculiar colour coded way.

The butterfly larvae ate their way to fat green and black caterpillars before turning into shiny hard grey chrysalises speckled with a line a golden dots. There are now hanging almost motionless inside their habitat (a mesh cage) until some time maybe this week or next week they will mysteriously unfold their magic wings and teach us a thing or two about beauty.

It's amazing, isn't it, how all this goes on around me, just waiting for me to notice and be surprised and awed.

Outside there's children laughing
The radio plays my favourite song
The sun is shinning
Oh and peace broke out in the world
And no-one says a cruel word
And peace is the sweetest sound I've ever heard


20 August 2016

I have been thinking a lot about the video of the young boy in Aleppo and why I posted it. Because my father is right, there is nothing we can do. And I admit that I posted it partly because he said this to me and also because I didn't know what to do with my anguish, how to soften the blow. Which of course has no effect other than a feeling of: see? There you have it. In your face, you cruel world.

The boy BTW is back home with his family, he was (physically) not seriously injured. We cannot imagine what "home" means in this context, how he, his family and the other 300,000 remaining residents of Aleppo get through their days.

I remember when the bazaar of Aleppo was burned to the ground in 2012 and the reaction in the media, what a loss and what a shame. I met a Syrian taxi driver a few days later (we have many Syrian taxi drivers) and he was so upset, the souk, our souk, he cried, all gone! Four years ago, there was outrage because a UNESCO heritage site was destroyed.

Meanwhile, we can donate some of our spare cash to the various aid agencies which are doing amazing things and sleep a little better. Or we can read this report by Dr Sahloul, a physician from Chicago working in Aleppo and lose more sleep.

But most of all, I would like to see this happen:

18 August 2016

My father tells me don't look at it. There is nothing we can do.
We are speechless for a short  moment before he berates me about something or other and I can take a deep breath of anger.

14 August 2016

There is this slight feeling of ground between my feet. Although to be honest, after almost four weeks  in the horizontal position I am not certain, could be wishful thinking.

At least I don't fall asleep any longer listening to podcasts. Which means that I have been discovering once more how everything is connected. Don't ask. But in my addled little brain this listening sequence was entirely logical: about folk singer Richard Farina, Irish spy and tearoom lady  Margaret Kearney Taylor,  the amazing story of Bala and Shamira Amarasekaran's chimpanzee sanctuary in Sierra Leone,  and the inspiring approach of flipping the script (reverse the usual or existing positions in a situation; do something unexpected or revolutionary) when confronted with hate.
In short, I have once again been able to reassure myself that the world is simply amazing.

The butterfly larvae are getting fat, R has dug up all the potatoes, cooked huge quantities of tomatoe sauce, now ready to go into the freezer, he swept all the floors and cleaned the cooker (surface). He has been cooking dinners for the last six years anyway, knows how to change sheets and do laundry, enjoys grocery shopping to the point that I have given up all hope of ever writing a shopping list again - although this morning I had to mention the neglected bathroom and the ironing . . .
No, seriously, no I did not. I swear.

The summer gatherings are slowly coming to an end, our various visitors are on their last missions catching up with more family and friends elsewhere before coming here again for a last and possibly weepy celebration of life as a family. This is my kitchen window and my daughter cooking (she got that from her father):

11 August 2016

these are the days of miracle and wonder

On the day when your boss calls you to assess whether you are still an asset or possibly already a massive burden and you really couldn't care because you spent most of the night coughing

on the day your GP confirms that this isn't strep throat but in fact scarlet fever and that it will take a good while longer before you will enjoy whatever you imagined this summer still has to offer

on the day your sister tells you - sort of by the way - that just before we all got together under my granny's apple trees, three and a half weeks ago, her granddaughter, the sweet but somewhat cranky toddler we all passed around from lap to lap that afternoon, had developed the tell tale rash plus fever and that the pediatrician had warned earlier that she was highly contagious and should be kept at home but my sister felt what the heck

on the day that you open a small parcel that your science teacher husband has placed on the lunch table

you realise that obviously this is the day you start breeding your very own butterfly family.

These are the first five larvae just after arrival. If it works out, I am going for hundreds. This year, we have counted numerous useless Cabbage Whites, one Brimstone and one lonely Red Admiral on our butterfly friendly flowering plants. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

10 August 2016

Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degrees of presence.
Alan Watts

09 August 2016

The night sky reminds me of my wild and adventurous life. The mild breeze, the bats swooping through the air. These memories are good ones, mostly. The feeling that I have done stuff,  felt deeply and laughed often, experienced the freedom that is only possible when being loved.

It's a delicate thing. Remembering.

Other times all I seem to do is compare the present to the my glorious healthy past. This of course, is just bullshit. I am in good shape, diagnostically speaking, immunologically speaking. Everything is under control, all systems observed and checked. No imminent danger. Etc.

And yet, the mind does get stuck on limitations, loss, the never again scenario.  I wonder why.
Mostly now I can ride it out, I have been there often enough (she checks her back just in case). I can fool my people into thinking that I am honky dory super well. For a while, until my voice starts to crack for a microsecond now and then and my breathing becomes slightly uneven. And everything becomes a dead give away and R reaches across the table. (That in itself is a comfort and a luxury. I realise that.)

For some time and without being too aware of it I have started to cultivate places in my mind, quiet hidden places of withdrawal and secrecy where it does not matter how I feel, where I can forgive myself for feeling sorry and afraid. It's no use pretending I have stopped mourning for my healthy life but at least I don't do this  too often. It gets too tedious. And there are moments when even my most stubborn source of self pity shouts: enough.

I am running out of strategies but it doesn't matter. The unexpected has enough purpose and potential.

08 August 2016

pretending there is deeper meaning in Brit pop lyrics

There's nothing left, all gone and run away
Maybe you'll tarry for a while
It's just a test, a game for us to play
Win or lose, it's hard to smile
Resist, resist, it's from yourself you have to hide.
(Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel)

There are moments when I think I can see a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. A tiny little light, or should I say a spark, a really short spark, but what the heck. I have always been impatient and it has not never been to my advantage. That much I know after a long life of running into that wall.
It's hard work and only the heavens know why I am making it so hard for myself.
But the thought that I have been here before cheers me up nevertheless, that and remembering that not too long ago, I had the energy to walk and cycle and work and iron and wash the kitchen floor - even all on the same day.
This time around, I don't even have the patience for distraction. Instead, I just lie there in the boring horizontal position and watch the sunlight move across the ceiling, losing track of time.
Maybe tomorrow will be better, maybe the flickering light will get brighter.
Or maybe on Wednesday.

It's not awful, mind you. It's just so ugh, tedious, repetitive, pointless. But what do I know. Being ill has never made sense to me yet. Yet. And basically, i wanted an excuse to post the song.

What follows is totally random stuff from Austria, Italy and Bavaria.
The signs says: Watch our for roof avalanches (Füssen, Bavaria9

Pfunds, Austria (Heide was not in)

Lago di Vernago, Val Senales, Alto Adige, Italy

Pfunds, Austria

Füssen, Bavaria

Füssen, Bavaria

motorway restaurant Illertal, Bavaria

05 August 2016

What are days for?
To wake us up.
To put between the endless nights.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They flow and then they flow.
They come, they fade, they go and they go.
(Laurie Anderson)

A calm day, a pleasant, wonderful day. A day like an anchor. In the morning I faint after the shower and R runs up the stairs with a cup of strong tea. Based on this past week, whatever recovery I am expecting, it is going to be very slow. I spend large parts of the day in bed where I carefully select a podcast to listen to and soon fall into a floating dreamlike state, voices inside and outside of me fading through the open window and up into the sky. I like to think of it as meditation. 

Eventually, some part of me wants to get up and, dutifully and carefully, I move around, almost sleep walking, deadheading flowers, rinsing the tea pot, hosing down the patio, changing towels, until I am breaking out into a sweat and my heart starts banging with an angry fist. 
After my lunch time cup of milky coffee, I fall asleep for a while. Later, we watch Heart of a Dog, R leaning over the edge of the sofa holding my hands. In paradise, we often played our Laurie Anderson tape in the evening after sunset, sitting on the stairs with the dogs, chatting with passing neighbours, all the kids running around under the mango trees, singing O Superman.

Meanwhile, our daughter, our married grown up daughter is in Ireland, with her man and her friends, retracing our steps from the summer of 1979. They send little snaps from Connemara, smiling in the rain, running along windy beaches, like tourists in their tweed caps, cycling on Clare Island.

Turning time around
That is what love is
Turning time around
Yes, that is what love is
(Lou Reed)

04 August 2016

When you have no choice, don't be afraid.

proverb from somewhere, I forget

02 August 2016

My secret life of luxury

The main thing is juggling. Keeping it all in balance, not getting distracted by self pity and outbursts of angry howling and banging of fists into the next best pillow. 
It's a simple list of tasks when you look at it: rest, crawl into shower, struggle with towels and clothing, don't look in the mirror, ignore laundry and ironing, rest, answer - cheerfully - any phone calls, watch mindless online tv, rest, sleep, eat something, drink plenty of water, rest, read, fall asleep reading, ignore work emails and - most importantly - be nice to the man in the house.
That's the worst case scenario for the next two weeks, more or less.
Of course, in my wildest dreams . . .

31 July 2016

Can't shake off this strep throat or whatever it was (is?). While my throat is ok again, the rest of me seems to have been hit by a truck, repeatedly, and according to our newfangled infrared auricular thermometer, I am running a fever. R, my personal science teacher/health coach has established a detailed routine and is using his very own ear for control measurements.
So, well yes, this puts a damper on things. Yet again.

In my dreams last night, Vince called and asked me to come over and watch a video with him. I also got some weed and this movie is fab, he said. Or you can just drink tea, whatever.
Vince died in a car crash in 1997.
I mean, dreams. Come on.

When I told R - and I was laughing at the time - he got all worried for a bit. Could you maybe just resign from work?, he asked. No way, I replied, not because of a strep throat.

But I hate the thought of having to get yet another sick cert tomorrow.

Here are some more pictures I took on my fabulous holiday in the Italian Alps (only a few weeks ago, hard to believe) when we visited the Oetzi archeology park near where the mummified body of the famous iceman was found.

I week later, under my grandmother's apple trees, one of my cousins, a retired chief inspector with the police (I have all sorts of relatives incl. priests of at least two denominations), told me the story of Oetzi's curse, namely that to date at least seven people involved in the recovery of the mummy have died as a cause of accident or violence.
Remember the pyramids, he whispered seriously.
Oh give over, I laughed. Balderdash.

29 July 2016

Let the light in

I love Sicily and some time ago I found a blog by a Welsh woman living there. She blogs about her life as a teacher in one of the gorgeous ancient towns, about the food - equally gorgeous - , her travels and so on. Every once in a while she also posts stark reminders about the migrant crisis that Italy and Sicily in particular is trying so bravely and helplessly to cope with.

Her last post has brought me to my knees and with her permission (thank you!), I am posting it here:


"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
- Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914
It seems much like that now, given the events of the past ten days, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the lamps are going out all over the world, as the extreme right closes ranks and even reasonable people blame the easiest, most identifiable scapegoat, the migrant or immigrant, for their woes.
Meanwhile on the "forgotten" migrant route in the Mediterranean people continue to die. I have not seen one report on this in the past week in the British media so here are the facts:
On 20th July Médecins Sans Frontières doctors on board the SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius went to the aid of a migrant boat in trouble off the coast of Libya. What they found was horrific: bodies were lying at the bottom of the boat in a pool of fuel and it was obvious that these people had died an awful death, crushed or suffocated, as they had been, in the crowded and inadequate dinghy. Survivors, who had been on board with the bodies for many hours, were stretching their hands out in desperation towards the rescuers and are unsurprisingly said to be still traumatised.  Of the 22 bodies found, 20 were those of women and this tragic event is being called the strage di donne [massacre of women] in the Italian press.  In all, 209 people were saved.
On the same day, over 1,000 more migrants were saved in the Mediterranean in eight operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard and 1,146 migrants who had been rescued previously were brought to Palermo. Of these, 23 were pregnant women and 63 were unaccompanied minors. The next day a Spanish naval vessel brought 841 migrants and one body to Catania and a MSF ship brought 628 rescued migrants to Pozzallo. Among these were a 73-year-old man and a baby aged seven months. Does anyone really believe that a man of this age, the mother of this baby and others like them would undertake such a hazardous journey if they were not fleeing for their lives?

Rescues and arrivals continued over the weekend, when 375 migrants, including six children and a newborn baby, were brought to Messina.  Two suspected people-traffickers were arrested in Vibo Valentia [Calabria] and are thought to have been involved in bringing a migrant boat containing 16 bodies in the engine room into Italian waters. The bodies of 41 migrants were discovered on a Libyan beach, also over the weekend. These poor souls had drowned five or six days ago trying to reach Italy

UNHCR has tweeted  that 3,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean since January.
Now it seems to me that we either accept migration as a fact of our era, stop drawing pretty useless and difficult to prove distinctions between "economic" migrants and those seeking asylum and see that safe corridors are created for them or we accept an ever darkening world.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. "
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Let's keep those lamps lit, ladies and gentlemen.

27 July 2016

summer gathering stage 2

Rearrangements, more departures and more expected arrivals, as always it helps to have plenty of towels and sheets. And putting the kettle on, filling the fridge. A greenhouse with ripe tomatoes and who brought that big tin of chocolates?

Tomorrow I have to see my lovely immunologist to discuss plan B or plan C or whatever comes next.

Italy was gorgeous as ever. As my friend P says, it's the cooking that makes a place. To which I add, it's the music, and sharp suits.

24 July 2016

Ten days ago, I persuaded myself that I was in excellent health and on we cycled through the apple orchards and vineyards to the weekly market in Merano.
A large affair selling everything from the kitchen sink to exquisitely sweet cherries, apricots, Tyrolean speck and fresh borlotti beans.

I knew I was in deep denial after about 15 minutes and decided to sit down below the statue of Andreas Hofer for the next hour or so, while the others bought ridiculously cheap trekking boots, more apricots, jars of nuts packed in honey and fresh Schüttelbrot.

Via dei portici, Merano

I am trying to remember what we did next. Lunch was involved and more cycling.

bridge over Passirio

church Lagundo Paese

 I recall that I sang at the top of my voice.

Una festa sui prati
Una bella compagnia
Panini, vino un sacco di risate
E luminosi sguardi di ragazze innamorate
Ma che bella giornata
Siamo tutti buoni amici
Ma chi lo sa perché domani questo può finire
Vorrei sapere perché domani ci dobbiamo odiare.

(A picnic
in wonderful company,
bread wine, lots of laughter
The smiling faces of people falling in love
What a beautiful day
We are all good friends
But who knows, tomorrow this may all end
Tomorrow we may all hate each other)
Adriano Celentano

A couple of days later, another apple orchard, after driving north for six hours, slowly uphill and crossing the steep Passo del Rombo where we stuck our sandal clad feet into the snow at 2,500 m and ran from the icy winds back into the car, laughing.

Passo del Rombo

Now we are four generations sitting under my grandmother's apple trees, my father the central presence like a rock, observing and directing, we, his underlings, pass around coffee, cakes, toddlers, gossip. Earlier I had discovered a black leather box, forgotten in one of my father's massive sideboards and now we sift through  photographs of my paternal grandparents some of them over 100 years old. My father cannot understand our delight and decides that I take the lot with me as my share of the his estate. He loves to talk about his estate and how he will distribute it, forgetting that he already did this years ago (for tax reasons) but my brother is convinced there may be hidden treasures apart from my grandmother's china and cutlery, the large hall clock and his shiny car. 

On our drive home, the last leg of our tour, later that night, my body starts sending me urgent shrill messages of feeling unwell but I blame the car's air conditioning. The next morning, I am determined to ignore them but they sit there like a growing pile of dirty laundry. Stubbornly, I go to work and pretend for a while longer to be in control before finally crawling home after picking up yet another sick cert and a prescription for antibiotics (pharyngitis so I am told). And still, I push ahead like one of these battery powered toy clowns: laundry, kitchen floor, emergency translations, excel sheets for the boss, while my throat is on fire and my body breaks out in sweats and shivers.
Three days I play this game. Until finally I stretch out on the sitting room sofa, the doors wide open to the garden, green jungle dripping after a night of heavy rain, listening to the comforting noises from the fridge in the kitchen telling me that it is time to let go of any striving.

21 July 2016

Val Senales, Alto Adige, Italy

We humans need to be close to, and opposed to, and sometimes subservient to, and always respectful of the physical realities of the planet we live on. We need to receive its pure silences and attend to its winds, to wade through its rivers and sweat under its sun, to plough through its sands and sleep on its bumps. Not all the time but often enough for us to remember that we are animals. Clever animals, yet ultimately dependent, like any animal, on the forces of Nature. Whole areas of one's humanity could become atrophied if one remained always within a world where motor-roads are more important than trees and speed is more important than silence.

Dervla Murphy

15 July 2016


n. a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence, which force you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out all unwelcome and invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface, and propping yourself up like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

13 July 2016

We are all having a wonderful time, on the whole, in general, all things considered, by and large, for the most part etc.
The weather is all over the place. Thunderstorms are very dramatic on the southern slopes of the Italian alps, complete with hailstones, high winds and whoah, the lightning bolts across the valley! We sit on the top floor balcony watching the clouds racing across the peaks, weaving through the valley like white snakes.

Health wise I am constantly lowering my expectations. Right now,  I am dragging them on the floor behind me. Two days ago, I crawled and staggered across this gorgeous but hot hot hot town into the soothing arms and efficient hands of a wonderful osteopath who straightened and massaged my sore back into a brief semblance of sweet flexibility. But even she was somewhat baffled by the purple bruises along my spinal column. I try to cycle and walk a bit every day, along the stylish promenades where emperors and princesses used to take the waters and twirl their parasols, but mostly I seek out the soothing comfort of a deck chair or the stylish grey sofa in front of the large window with a view, while the gang is out and about, tasting wine, climbing peaks, swimming, listening to live music, visiting exotic botanic gardens and fabulous castles, bringing back ripe peaches, apricots (of course), fat black cherries, spicy sausages, the local flat bread baked with coriander and fennel seed, endless varieties of alpine cheeses and Italian dolce. I am spoiled for choice.

12 July 2016

When it comes to apricots, I am turning into an expert. I could go on one of these weird shows and tell with my eyes closed whether I am biting into a Bergeron, Lambertin, Orange de Provence, Hunza, Turkish honey or, currently, a Marille.
Marillen are the queens of apricots, fat, egg sized, deep orange with a blushing red cheek, they taste like nothing else, a touch of peach maybe, and, oh, the sensation when you bite into it, that slight pop when your teeth hit the skin.

Other than that, it's all our usual chaos, forgotten boots and blistered feet, sore backs and too much laughter, tears to follow, rainstorms, heat, thunder in the sky and the hot water boiler on the blink. A family of Cochin chickens, two mamas and four babies, walking and chirping around the garden, a dog patiently waiting for someone to play with, vineyards, apple orchards, glaciers and snow above us.

In no particular order.

03 July 2016

the prize question

I copied and pasted this from an existing constitution. Which one?

common values
  • human dignity
  • freedom
  • democracy
  • equality
  • the rule of law
  • respect for human rights
  • minority rights
  • pluralism
  • non-discrimination
  • tolerance
  • justice
  • solidarity
  • equality of the sexes
  • promotion of peace, its values and the well-being of its people
  • maintenance of freedom, security and justice without internal borders, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted
  • sustainable development based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy
  • social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child
  • economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity
  • respect for linguistic and cultural diversity
  • to contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth
  • solidarity and mutual respect among people
  • free and fair trade
  • eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child
  • strict observance and development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter

02 July 2016

Again, I am my very own disappointment. There is nothing positive I can report about the way I shuffled through the day, picking up angry bits of distraction here and there, furiously jealous of everybody else being so fucking laid-back and healthy.
Don't tell me that.
I should.
You get used to it. That's the worst thing about it.

30 June 2016

So this was June. Monsoon June when it rained every day. And yet, the ants have won. They are out and about on their mating flights right now, flaunting their silver wings for the day. I shooed off a gang of them earlier today but ever so gently. One day we will lift the patio stones and discover an entire universe for miles and miles below them, all the way to the center of the earth.

Well, it seems June was also the month when my health soared and then packed it in again, slowly first but quite deftly now. I am back on old familiar grounds again, bed, sofa, deck chair etc. 

Today, the physiotherapist figured out a way to treat my sore back without me drowning in waves of vertigo and nausea and suddenly, the biggest achievement of my life - as compared to climbing mountains or editing a groundbreaking paper on molecular genetics - is to be able to move my facet joints again without too much pain. While the lovely physio explained about lumbar facet joint arthrosis (which I am quietly ruling out with all my willpower) she arranged my undressed back into a swooning curve and took some pictures of the strange bruises all along my spine.  They are only superficial, she assured me, but we'll have someone take a look - just in case.

The garden is a sea of lilies in yellow and pink and white, the fruit trees are packed - there is no other word for it - we are eating tender purple kohlrabi and I am half way through the blueberries, one fat handful a time.

And now, July. All year, I have been thinking of the promise of beautiful July and the wonderful times we shall have. I may walk in the Italian alps, if only for a short distance - from the car to the deckchair at least.

28 June 2016

Thirty four years ago, I had to get married. I wrote about the reasons here.
Briefly, my status as an illegal immigrant was about to be discovered and in order to avoid being deported, drastic measures had to be adopted. It cost us 40 pounds sterling we didn't have at the time.
Also, I was pregnant but while that was not the reason it helps us to figure out how many years ago we did this. If S turns 34 later this years it means we got married 34 years ago.
Mind you, there are moments when I have to think a bit before I get our daughter's age. But mostly because I often forget my own age. Simple maths was never my strength.
However, if S was born one week before my 25th birthday but not before I got married, what age was R then? What did he wear on the day and why did he almost got us thrown out of Marylebone Registry Office? And so on. Life is full of riddles.
When we had done the dirty deed and returned to Dublin, my new mother-in-law, once she recovered from the shock of this heathen foreign woman stealing the only son, organised a secret wedding dinner with all the trimmings, cake and buffet and speeches and all. At some stage and after a considerable amount of bubbly drinks, she attempted to read out the marriage certificate, one of those large rectangular forms that won't fit in the copy machines, at the top of her voice. But when she came to the long list of my father's first names (Friedrich Nikolaus Maximilian Johannes Heinrich) she gave up. Thence, ballad singing and dancing on the tables incl.
My parents did not attend, they were too affronted to even acknowledge the existence of Ireland as a whole but that was to be expected.
Today was a quiet day, R cut the hedge and picked raspberries and loganberries and strawberries, while I picked up another sick cert and had a grueling session with the physiotherapist, vertigo, vomiting, the lot. Much later, we remembered and had a bit of a laugh. Gosh, time flies when you are having fun.

26 June 2016

Waking, I turn my face to the open window. Blue sky. Someone is opening a car door, encouraging a small child to come on out. Sunday sounds.
My back hurts like fire and hell and I am expecting the end of the world any minute. I decide to go back to work tomorrow, to sort out the most urgent stuff and then call R with my whiniest voice to pick me up. But. If I cannot handle a full day at work (a full day is 5 hrs) I also will need to go back to my GP and I am already rehearsing my apologies for taking up more of her time (- which of course is borderline pathetic). I won't use my whiniest voice, no. I will make myself sound jocular and confident and I will shrug my shoulders slightly, indicating that shit has happened again and that it means nothing, really.
In my darkest self pity moments I am contemplating the next scenarios incl. herniated discs and permanent nerve damage and the worst case, namely that all my remaining teeth are quietly rotting away underneath and behind their shiny white exterior and that any moment, they will all crumble and explode with endless excruciating pain, simultaneously of course.

21 years ago, we crashed the car on the motorway driving west into the sun during a sudden and unexpected snow shower. Nothing too dramatic, slow moving rush-hour traffic, crawling along. We were on our way home from my grandmother's funeral. She had died just short of her 103rd birthday. The funeral was a brief affair and we left early to get home before dark but also because S was getting bored and cranky. 
The car - cheap, small, second hand, French - was a complete write-off, and after the police had been and gone, when the tow-truck had dropped it and us at a garage (closed for the night), we stuffed what we could carry into our bags and slunk away like thieves. Running along the dual carriageway towards the nearest railway station, mother father daughter holding hands and laughing hysterically. Always the lucky ones, we were. Fearless, we were. Oh yes!

Three weeks later, I woke up one morning in pain with a paralyzed right leg. 
Six weeks after the surgery I was running along Brittas Bay as if my life was always worth having. As if everything would always turn out well in the end.

I cannot remember when it stopped, my confidence, my ignorant belief that all will turn out well.  Maybe because it was too easy and I am fed up with easy.

24 June 2016

In the mid 1980s, we left our toddler with R's parents (and dog) in Dublin and drove our little red car to Northern Ireland. It was my first visit to what was then clearly a conflict zone. I remember sitting in a hotel bar just after we had crossed the border and exchanged our punts to pounds, looking out across the rainy sea waiting for soup and sandwiches, strong tea and R naming the mountain ranges in view. It all looked so benign and beautifully Irish.

We spent the first night with friends of friends in Belfast, an elderly Quaker couple, retired school teachers. It was a silent evening, both our hosts busily knitting. In the morning, they issued a detailed map to the city, where not to park, where not to go, what not to say etc.

In the end, we fled Belfast and its armed soldiers on every street corner, lots of body checks and bag searches, and drove on towards the beauty spots, Giant's Causeway at sunset, Dunluce Castle on a bright sunny morning all to ourselves, magnificient views across to Rathlin island, eating fish and chips on the windy beach of Portrush, even a guided tour of Bushmill's.

Somewhere in Co. Tyrone, we stayed with a brave farming couple involved in community work with both sides (courageous and very, very dangerous), in the evening, they walked us along the areas of the village that were safe for them to be in, the places they had been searched, the small army post they had been held prisoner for the odd night and we went to the one pub they could safely visit and tried to remain cheerful.

But what I most vividly remember is the first day, driving through the beautiful Glens of Antrim and looking at the neat and tidy bungalows and cottages, thinking that behind those nice lace curtains someone may be looking at us with our Republic of Ireland car registration, thinking, I hate you, you are vermin.

One morning, we were stopped and searched three times and in the end, we just drove away and across the border again, back in time for tea, watching granddad in the garden and trying to calm down an overexcited child, who suddenly and miraculously was potty trained.

This morning, I think I need to rewire bits of my brain. I have to start including the potential for divisive scenarios on European soil again. Divisive scenario sounds innocent enough but terrible wars have been started here before. Before the EU.

To be honest, I never wasted much thought on the EU. In my mind it is a costly bureaucratic apparatus somewhere in Brussels doing good and bad things I don't understand. When we have visitors from really far away places, we sometimes bring them for an EU drive, see five countries (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France) in two hours without a single border crossing. Sometimes, our visitors fall asleep in the car, it's that easy and boring - plus jetlag of course.
We then add some history to perk things up. Spreading out a map of the many different sovereign states, contested borders between small and larger empires, principalities, rulers and their many loyal and disloyal followers and underlings, bloody battlegrounds of tribal conquests long before WW1/WW2. This was the old Europe, we tell our visitors, a belligerent, self centered chaos.

My nightmare scenario: if this brexit leads to frexit and polexit, danexit and hunexit . . . you can come up with really funny terms here, we are on our way back to that chaos.

21 June 2016

This morning I had an argument with my father who admonished me for being too emotional as usual and warned me that I was heading for a miserable old age unless I start using my scientific brain. He put down the phone before I could tell him that I was never good at science and that he most likely is mixing me up with someone else.
I should mention that I don't think I was emotional at all. I may have said stupid things like, it has been a dreadfully rainy month and how strange it's almost midsummer, or, did you see the beautiful moon rising last night.
Number one, he replied, rain in June is normal due to the returning westerly winds from the cold Atlantic ocean reaching the warmer continental landmass. Of course, I should have remembered. I mean, everybody is aware of such simple meteorological scenarios. Everybody but me.
Number two, and this with considerably more impatience in his voice, the moon does not rise. The earth turns. And in an instant I am back somewhere around age 12 or 14, standing on a sandy dune watching the sun setting into the sea - or possibly feeling the earth turning under my bare feet - while my father disgusted with our ignorance and overbearing family life in this small Danish beach house in general, gives us the basic run down of the earth's rotation and solar time.
Sometimes I think both my parents would have been brilliant individuals, if only they could have been spared marriage, family life and their three disappointing children.
I didn't tell him why I am emotional. Not a word about the renewed sick cert and the sluggish days watching French crime series, twisting my back from boredom into painful sciatica and the lab tests from hell. I didn't tell him about the way the earth moved for me when once again I attempted - probably due to my lack of a scientific brain - to accept this as it is and at least in theory, decided to take things as the come - even if that involves crawling on all fours.

18 June 2016

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. 

17 June 2016

Last October, the mayoral candidate for Cologne was stabbed by an attacker with racist motives. She survived, only just, and has since been elected mayor of that city. The court case has been going on for a while and it looks like a life sentence or psychiatric hospital if the defendant is deemed criminally insane.
I have followed this in the news on and off, bits of information here and there, all very much as expected. A history of right wing activities, mostly violent, criminal record for this and that, unemployment, broke, no friends, no partner.
We can stop here and come to the usual conclusions.
In a spare moment, we can ask, who is this guy? Why on earth? Etc.
Today, I read that when he was four years old, he was found abandoned in a completely neglected flat, he had been feeding his younger siblings with bits of rice and only when all the food was gone did he knock on the door of the neighbours.

16 June 2016

Is it conceivable that people should never speak an audible language, but should nevertheless talk to themselves inwardly, in the imagination?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I still think he meant "each other" and not "themselves".

14 June 2016

On a day when I return home from work early, pull down the blinds and crawl into bed, on a day when the rules of behaviour are up for grabs, when this illness is hanging in the air like a raised fist, when I waste precious energy lamenting my loss of direction and purpose (as a woman with a properly paid job), when I am dangerously close to slipping into the comfortable maelstrom of self-pity where everything is to blame, I remember a TED talk I watched years ago where Wade Davis  described meeting a Tibetan nun who had spent 55 years in silent retreat on the day the door of her single room was opened once again:

. . . we began a pilgrimage to a curious destination . . . And the destination was a single room in a nunnery, where a woman had gone into lifelong retreat 55 years before. And en route, we took darshan from Rinpoche, and he sat with us and told us about the Four Noble Truths, the essence of the Buddhist path. All life is suffering. That doesn't mean all life is negative. It means things happen. The cause of suffering is ignorance. By that, the Buddha did not mean stupidity; he meant clinging to the illusion that life is static and predictable. The third noble truth said that ignorance can be overcome. And the fourth and most important, of course, was the delineation of a contemplative practice that not only had the possibility of a transformation of the human heart, but had 2,500 years of empirical evidence that such a transformation was a certainty.
. . . And so, when this door opened onto the face of a woman who had not been out of that room in 55 years, you did not see a mad woman. You saw a woman who was more clear than a pool of water in a mountain stream. And of course, this is what the Tibetan monks told us. They said, at one point, you know, we don't really believe you went to the moon, but you did. You may not believe that we achieve enlightenment in one lifetime, but we do.

Reader, I feel better already.