29 September, 2006

We are on our Way

Sara, two of her classmates, and I are off for the next days up north! I just love this area of Germany. The weather forcast says we are in for some spectacularly beautiful weather. What a blessing that would be.

28 September, 2006

Amazing Coincidences

Nomad Son is going to do a two week apprenticeship in the Paediatric Ward at the university hospital as of Monday. Time is running out and a lot of the formalities have yet to be cleared. So, I offered to drop by the secretary’s office and hand in some of the required forms for him.

(If nothing else Germans love to come up with complicated processes tacked with endless formalities and stipulations. Yet, having said that, I don’t know many countries where a 16 year old would be allowed to do a two week apprenticeship in the pre-natal and children’s surgery.)

The secretary was a very charming woman and asked, as most do, where I come from and how long I’ve been living in Germany, and whether I go home (to Canada) very often. I told her that since my mother lives in the Caribbean, we have the great pleasure of visiting her often there and, unfortunately, do not get to go to Canada to visit my siblings very often.

I stood up to leave and happened to look at her bookcase and discover the desktop calendar I made seven years ago sitting on one of the shelves! It turns out that she likes the calendar so much for the pictures, that she never threw it away and just reuses it from year to year. We had such a laugh over that.

I was dumbfounded at the coincidence of mentioning how my mother lives in the Caribbean and then the next moment seeing the September photo of mine.

27 September, 2006

Blog Explosion

I use Bloglines to subscribe to various blogs. The list of blogs that I subscribe to has exponentially expanded in the last months. What to do? Stay tuned, for a description about how I reclaimed a measure of my pre-blogging-world sanity.

25 September, 2006

Bad Back Day

Yes, thank you, the bad back is doing a bit better. Crawled out of bed with a conviction to make my way, somehow, to work. Feeling better, but in that relative sort of way, meaning not at all good, but still better than the abysmal state I was in yesterday. Got up, drank a cup of tea, sat for about fifteen minutes on a chair and realised I didn’t think I could get out of the chair on my own. So, convictions aside, I decided to call in sick and I am so glad I did.

Each and every slow trip between the living room chair, to read a book and drink a cup of tea, and my bed, to continue reading and take three-minute catnaps, is making my back better. Though this time, in a feeling-pretty-good way and not just better.

My dear friend, C., brought me over some bee poison and beeswax lotion yesterday. The stuff is just incredible: heats up your skin all through the night! I’ve never seen anything like it. Sure wish I had known of the stuff when I was a dancer ions ago.

24 September, 2006

To My Nephew

Just found out that my nephew in Montreal has applied to a cooking program. To he who makes a marvellous salmon crusted in sweet potato dish… this gem of a blog (here)! This lady is hot...

A Definite Must

I just watched some of the film material of the “dropping knowledge” event, which took place in Berlin on Sept. 9th, of this year. Take a look… (more).

A Plus about Laptops

I am in bed with a bad back. Weird weather, rushing about, sweating about, drafts, stress, stress. It is amazing how clearly and unexpectedly your body can say, “Stop!”

Even though I've just discovered that it is possible to write in bed, as long as I have a laptop, I think that I will give it a rest for a while.

Reading some excellent, highly recommendable books in the meantime:

Stumbling Towards Enlightenment, Geri Larkin
Trawler, Remond O’Hanlon
Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, Rick Riordan

If books have the ability to heal, these certainly will have me up on my feet again in no time.

20 September, 2006

Feeling Pretty and Witty and Gay

I’ve been such a valiant cyclist this week: I’ve taken the “scenic route” five times already and it is only Wednesday! This mightn’t indicate a revolution in my fitness plan, but it does make me feel damm good.

I wanted to write about certain episodes that have occurred while travelling along the path of the nature reserve, but I thought I’d wait until I picked up the new photos I took. Unfortunately, they forgot to copy the film onto a CD as I’d asked; they only developed them on photos paper. Some of the photos are quite lovely, so, if I find a spare hour this weekend, I’ll scan some and put them in the blog.

The three things that I remember from this week are:

Passing a group of elderly women doing their morning exercises in a field near the woods. Instead of using flex bands to reach and pull, they used pieces of thin garbage bags cut to the proper length. Not only is the plastic material resilient and easily replaceable, if damaged, they can also be used as an improvised rain cap if need be.

A woman whose unleashed Rottweiler is running far ahead of her, yells at it, while I cycle directly towards the beast, “Brutus, be nice. Be nice!” Now, can you tell me what sort of BS is “be nice” for a command? What is “nice” in the mind of a Rottweiler? Don’t chomp down to the bone? Be playful, not vicious? In the end, I just stopped pedalling and glided by the dog, without making any eye contact. I’ve heard eye contact amongst dogs, signals aggression. Even when my eyes are saying, “I am petrified of you!”

There was a mighty autumn wind on Tuesday afternoon that created a rustling, rasping, sizzling song from the beech trees bordering the riverside.

Communicating with a Non-Communicator

In the next few months we, the co-authors of the Red Tent blog, have decided to write about parenting. I thought that I might first write about learning to communicate with children whose nature does not appear to be communicative. Ok, I’m talking about my Nomad Son.

When Nomad Son was young, in kindergarten, the standard answer to any question about his wellbeing, the going-ons of the day, the birthday party he just attended, was, “Fine”. Now, sixteen years later the answer to nearly all my questions is still the same. At times, I find this really difficult to accept… (more).

15 September, 2006

Who "I was"

A few weeks ago a friend of mine (visiting from Melbourne) and I had one of those wonderful long and lovely conversations friends sometimes have. We met after having not seen each other in a long time, and we immediately cut through the small talk. We were instantly, spontaneously, deeply, intensely right in the middle of a Real Conversation.

My friend is German, lives and works in Melbourne, is married to an Ecuadorian, and her two boys speak two languages at home and another with their friends. Her situation is almost as complicated as mine is, when it comes to language.

At one point she asked me what “I am”: Canadian, German, Stateless. Even though we did talk back and forth about citizenship, nationality, identity and belonging, I didn’t feel content with my answers because, having been born in one country, raised as a child in another(s), and having lived my adult life in yet another, who “I am” in terms of citizenship or nationality has little meaning.

Then, last week I listened to Jackie Kay read her poem “Old Tongue” (audio and text here). All of a sudden I realised who “I was” before I came to live in Germany twenty-odd years ago. If I had been asked me then, I would have answered, English-speaking. Even though English was the second language I learnt, it was my mother tongue, my inner language, from the ages of 6-26. And, like Jackie Kay, since leaving my English-speaking world…

Words disappeared in the dead of night, new words marched in…

And like her, I constantly ask where the words go and feel their loss…

Oh where did all my words go –
my old words, my lost words?
Did you ever feel sad when you lost a word,
did you ever try and call it back
like calling in the sea.
If I could have found my words wandering,
I swear I would have taken them in,
swallowed them whole, knocked them back.

(Jackie Kay)

The last few days I have been reflecting upon what it means to no longer be an English-speaking person. Yes, I still can speak English, but, other than tell the children in English to pick up the mess in their rooms, I don’t speak it. For over twenty years, I have not heard English regularly, not witnessed the changes in how people speak English, nor have I been able to sustain my English proficiency. My “old tongue” is slowly disappearing into the far recesses of my brain.

In some ways, I find this frightening. It is also quite sad, when looked at in isolation. That is, without the compensation and experience, the comfort and richness of speaking other languages.

14 September, 2006

Big Wart Diplomacy

When Germans wish to point out how well their daughter/son-in-law/colleague/neighbour speaks a foreign language, they inevitably mention that that person speaks English/French/Hindi/Persian “fluently and accent-free”. As if speaking a foreign language accent-free is the highest measure you can strive for.

In their books, it just is not enough to speak a foreign language fluently. Some, I believe, would say it’s futile to speak a foreign language, even if you do so fluently, if you have a strong accent and speak it grammatically incorrect: as is the case with my German. The fact that I work, live, love, give birth, form lifelong friendships, explain complex technical processes, and pay my taxes in German doesn’t seem to matter to some people. The fact that German is a terribly difficult language to learn is not considered. The fact that it is, on a contemporary global scale, a rather insignificant language (i.e., in comparison to Hindi, Mandarin or Spanish) is never mentioned. So, after twenty-odd years, I still walk around with this big wart of an accent, which everyone notices and comments on.

I just have to open up my mouth and say a few words and the person I am talking to will ask, “Where do you come from?” And I mean in every situation: sitting petrified in the dental hygienist’s chair, ordering a croissant at the local bakery, exchanging defective ware in a department store. I don’t think I can count the number of times over the last twenty-odd years total strangers have asked me this question. It still takes me aback. The first thing I think is, “Why do they want to know?” The second thought, “What should I answer?”

For those of you who know me, the answer is not self-apparent: place of birth (Venezuela), citizenship (Canada), home of my heart (Grenada), place I’ve lived the longest (Germany)… yes, a complicated answer.

Our friend, Hammed, who was born in Iran, raised in Germany and possesses German citizenship, also gets asked this question a lot. Not because he speaks German with an accent, he’s one of those perfect fellows who speaks fluently and accent-free, but because of his skin colour. He told me once that he occasionally answers, “None of your business” or “None of your f**king business”. And though, part of me is shocked and part of me admires this attitude, I could neverever say something like this.

Instead, I approach the situation as a citizen diplomat; believing it important to answer the question as if this person is the first whoever asked me the question. I have gotten into the habit of answering, “Canada (the easiest answer). Where do you come from?” Maybe if I answer politely and patiently, they might move a micrometer more in the direction of accepting the fact that there is enough space for all of us (foreigners) to live on their planet.

12 September, 2006

Stolen Moments

There is a word for northern German weather, in Plattdeutsch (low German, old German dialect), and it is Schietwetter, or shitweather. It is one word, not shit weather, just plain shitweather. And shitweather is cold, grey, rainy, stormy, miserable, shitty, awful, grey, did I say grey, weather. There is a joke here, which I have also heard told of Chicago, that we only have two seasons in Northern Germany, winter (shitweather) and July.

Which makes the people living on the Baltic Sea behave differently to those, let’s say, living on Caribbean islands, when it comes our reaction to good weather. If sunny warm weather happens any time unexpectedly (i.e. other than in July) those of us up north close up the office, cancel all appointments and head off to the beach, or into the woods, or, at the very least, call up a few friends and lounge around in the garden with a bottomless pot of coffee and a giggly sense of having grasped a stolen moment.

It is one of those sunny days today. Not only did I take the long scenic route on my bicycle to work this morning, but I did so on the way home as well. What is usually a quiet solitary ramble through nature turned into a fiasco of grandmas on bicycles (baskets loaded with ripe pears and apples from their allotment gardens) over-taking everyone in sight, lovers picnicking along the riverside, teenagers taking their dogs for long walks, mothers with small children playing ball in a field, other fair-weather cyclists crowding the narrow pathway. It was an absolute delight! Praise the gods for such wonders!

08 September, 2006

Pelican Pie III

Oh, the delight of listening to the marvellous podcast Rimo Latino (here), one of the few podcasts that we listen to over and over again. Neil Hohmann produces this excellent podcast every two weeks or so. He must be off on vacation, well deserved, but we are getting a bit desperate for new Latino nutrients. Patience. Patience.

Nomad Son is off for the night camping with friends somewhere on the Baltic Sea. Darling daughter is off watching her friend perform in the opera, Saul. She should be back any moment now.

So WoW-hubby and I pass the hours away in quiet occupation. Good music. Good wine. Good feeling that our small world is Just Right. Small mercies of the gentle kind.

Don’t ask where the pelican comes from. I believe this is the third collage it has appeared in. Mainly it crops up because of memories of sailing the coast of Venezuela and seeing the pelican formations flying just over the surface of the water on some mysterious mission. They have a certain dignity, as well as being absurdly pompous: like a parade of old generals in times of peace.

07 September, 2006

Ingenious Adaptability

We were walking through the centre of the city yesterday, when this wonderful attempt at ingenious adaptability in its purest most playful form met our eyes.

(Note the chandelier hanging from the arm of the digging arm, the finished cobblestones on the left of the road)

The road machinery was parked out in front of a wonderful coffee shop, third world, fair trade franchise shop, just around the corner from where we live. The owners of the shop decided to use the machinery for the purpose of hanging up their merchandise, so that the few brave people who venture though the construction site, might be tempted to buy the shop’s whares.

(Nomad-son-who-has-returned took a photo of himself swinging in this hammock)

The construction has been going on for weeks now. They are plastering the road with small cobblestones and not asphalt. (I kid you not). Since there are only a few cobble stone layers to be had, the machinery does tend to sit and wait while the cobblestones are laid at snails pace.

Side Note

Come autumn, the city council does a review of its budget and if they find that some of the annual funds have, for whatever reason, not been properly distributed, then they’re quickly spend on road repairs. For, if, horrors of horrors, any of the money the regional or national government has appointed to the city should not be spent by the end of the year, then their new budget will be minus this sum.

So, the city is clogged with road construction sites. Nothing, nyet, is moving. It’s a good thing I ride a bicycle everywhere.

05 September, 2006

The Gods Willing

It looks as though, the gods willing, Julien and Sara will go off during their school’s autumn holidays to Montreal to visit Le Gang. It is the first time they will fly alone. It is also the first time in about five or six years that they will see their aunt and uncle and all their cousins. It’s going to be a hoot. It is strange, but there really is something call bloodlines. If nothing else we all share a wonderful sense, a family sense, of humour.

Sara called me at work this afternoon to ask whether there was any chance the new microwave oven we ordered and was due to be delivered today, would arrive in time for them to use for lunch. I told her no, she should use the old one for the last time and take a trip down memory lane because, as of tomorrow, the old one will be history. Without a millisecond of hesitation, she said she didn’t know if she could hold back the tears while watching the lentil soup rotate around in the old oven.

It has been so long since they’ve seen my extended family, that they really do not remember them, but I know the kinship will come up quickly, especially when old family jokes are told.

01 September, 2006

So Elusive

Oh fortune, my elusive friend, you do whisper promises, which are easy to believe, yet then, remarkably, you disappear…

Spontaneous Visit

My favourite sister-in-law (amongst six) just dropped by for a few hours with her husband and two young daughters. They live about forty or so kilometres away from Luebeck. Not far really, but throughout this summer, with the extended heat wave, they preferred to spend their free time at the beach and not in the hot city where there was no air-conditioning* and the buses and traffic outside our living room windows made normal conversation practically impossible. Imagine that!

It was lovely to see them all again. But, boy, it is hard to imagine that our two children were so active and LOUD as their children are now. But, of course they were.

Isn’t it funny that we really do forgot how horribly, horribly strenuous young children can be? It was one of the things that I really found exasperating about my mother, when I went to visit years ago when my children were babies or young delightful beings, she persistently remarked about the fact that we (her) children never misbehaved or were strenuous. The underlying accusation being, she didn’t understand why we were raising her grandchildren to be otherwise. Which was a complete bunch of nonsense. We were monsters as young children. We were horrible miserable monsters as teenagers. Only as we became adults, did our nicer attributes begin to shine.

Now, I know that there are a trillion moments in-between the Matildas Moments (ala Hillaire Belloc) of young childhood, which makes raising young children a fascinating, exhilarating experience. But, let me tell you, parents of young children, the Golden Years are still to come.

Once the children do not poop in their pants, or scream at a glass-cracking frequency when their ice-cream cone accidentally falls on the sidewalk, or they can read books on their own, or they derive great pleasure in trying something new on a restaurant menu, your time has come. You can just relax, sit back, enjoy, adoringly, exultingly watch your children navigate their way along in life. The act of parenting shifts from swimming against the currents, to floating along with it. It is a pure delight.

Then of course, and thank heavens, puberty strikes, and you are back again to living on the razor edge. What more could you ask of life?

* There is no air-conditioning anywhere; even in businesses or shops, let alone private residences. Northern Germany did not become a tropical paradise until about five years ago. A sad statement on global warming, isn’t it?