Life is (mostly) a Tour de Force

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a perfect sunny day, life seems to be perfect

Life is a race to the end  and it  is run in stages. Some are easy stages, we later recognise as happy times, and some are torturous stages, the hill sections, when we learn about ourselves  and others.

 

We know actually right from the start that the finishing line is waiting for us. But it is rather nebulous and as long as the sun shines we could not care less. The finishing line is so far out that it doesn’t matter where it is. We are happy to complete the stages. Even the numbers of stages are unknown to us.

Some of us come around a bend in our lives and before we know it, the finishing line is there right in front of us and we have no time to contemplate our  fate. It is all over. It happened to me one cold winter day when I fell off my pushbike and  lost consciousness. I might just as well have  been dead.

I  belong to the ones who went through many stages. We believe, despite knowing otherwise, nothing will happen to us and the universe will make an exception for us.  “Pustekuchen”, we say in German when our expectations aren’t being met. All our assumptions are then blown away. The assumptions were just hot air.

A couple of weeks ago, I went   to see my friendly family doctor with a minor complaint. After a few tests, he looked at me sternly and told me  straight to my face:”You have a tumour.” When  he saw my stunned face he added: ” You know,  a tumour!?!”

Oh, I heard him loud and clear. What he was saying to me, was that he had discovered  something in my body that marked my point of destination – my finishing line had come into view. It is not clear whether I’m on my last stage or the second last one. It depends on so many variables. If I pace myself properly, I might be able to add another stage to my life. If not, the next bend could bring the end.

Of course, my adult children are in denial and tell me,  I’ll be one hundred one day. The stage I’m now in, there is still a flat section before the final climb,  and I am still enjoying the race. The sun is still shining.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Black Swan is sorting out the eggs it is sitting on.

 

 

I have been a marathon runner and ran many road races over several distances and I have learnt to cope with pain. I don’t now how the pain will be in the end,  but I hope for the best. So far, I am still pain-free (which makes my situation surreal)  but I do expect the medical profession to add to my discomfort. It is all part of the cards I have been dealt for the final stage (or stages).

I will still be blogging,  and from time to time I will report on what is happening to me.

The motto of my blog is:

“It is about life, as I experienced it, how I see it and how I imagine it…”

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is this an exit or an entrance to something new, as the mountain beckons in the distance to be climbed?

 

 

Sculptures by the Sea Pt.2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another sweeping view of Bondi Beach. On the left of the picture, one can see people walking, ant-like, by the rocky shore.

There was more to see than the results of the various artists: plants that are clinging to the meagre rocks, the changes that Bondi went through since the European people arrived, and the present day activities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bondi Beach has changed over the years since the new settlers arrived.

In the beginning, Bondi Beach was just that, a sandy, long beach with sand dunes in the background. Then people discovered the beach and the surf and used it first without any amenities. During the twenties and thirties, it slowly  changed into what it is today.

While walking along the crowded path we saw a sign that amused us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What are they up to. we were wondering. Working below the waves. Later we found more signs that gave us an answer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was even an artist in residence. She was busy creating a mosaic on the rocks that lay there for aeons.

dscn2459

There weren’t only bare rocks but there were also  signs that life was hanging on on those bare rocks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A flowering plant found a home at the base of an old, rusty pipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A little corner full of flowers

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A plant with giant leaves had found a new home

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A single flower starting out a new existence

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This bush was once alive and looked more like some of  the sculptures nearby: a symbol of the passing of time 

We had seen enough that day.  We were tired  and were heading home on a nearly empty train.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

Sculptures by the Sea Pt. 1

Last Tuesday we went to Sydney to see the free open air Exhibition “Sculptures by the Sea”

We had planned this visit, for that day, because the weather forecasts promised us sunshine and summer-like temperatures.

A few das earlier a mighty surf had damaged some of the exhibits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The famous, iconic Bondi Beach, Sydney

We started off at the Bondi Beach. And soon enough we saw the first of many sculptures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ha someone left his bag on the rocks? In the background, you can spot the Bondi Beach pavilion.

It is an arduous walk along the rocks from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach. Young people use it for their fitness workout. Old people like us,  hope to survive.

dscn2434

Almost like the “Great Wall of China”. My wife could not help photographing me.

This exhibition is a yearly event and this year it was held for the 20th time. The artist come from all over the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The faces of people who wonder in awe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whatever it is, I liked it! Perhaps aliens left it there to spy on us Earthlings.

While this exhibition was going on for the last twenty years mother nature was busy for aeons and formed its own spectacular creations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The elements have shaped massive rock face.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How many millions of years did nature work on this piece of rock?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cloud formations on Jupiter? No, rocks near Bondi Beach.

Back to the human artists. There was so much to see. Every few minutes we had to pause as our legs are more than four times the age this exhibition is going.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is very spectacular too.  Another of those communication devices with another galaxy?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What is the meaning of this one? I have no idea, but it is made of wood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This ball is made from bamboo sticks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This must be the most beautiful exhibit of them all. There is, without doubt, a spiritual dimension to it. 

Many people walked in either direction. They spoke in many languages. It was Babel all over again. But people were not confused in dealing with each other.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This cone must have a meaning, but it escapes me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This picture gives you an idea of its dimension.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This one was called “Chaos Theory”. Why?  It is not more chaotic than the rest of the man-made world.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“In Awe”, indeed, it survived the onslaught of the wild surf a few days earlier. 

We had arrived dead tired at Tamarama Beach and felt like the rhinoceros in the last picture, flat on our backs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

A deceptive Encounter

 

2016-09-20_13-58-58_626

The entrance to a hospital ward at the former Prince Henry Hospital. Little Bay, NSW

 

 

We were on the way to the funeral of a friend of ours. Someone had asked us to stop by the hospital  were the friend spent the last  weeks of his, in the end painful, life  and pick up some of his possessions that were left behind. We had enough time on our hand and agreed to do it.

After parking the car we went up to the ward to see the matron. While my wife went with  a nurse to a store room I was waiting near the sister’s desk. Nosy as I am, I  looked around the ward.

To my surprise,  I saw in a corner a “wooden tank”, which I knew had the function of an iron lung, such as our daughter used to spend her nights in while she was still alive. As I stepped closer to investigate I became aware of an open door to a room in which two nurses prepared a female patient for the day and were in the process of transferring her into her  wheelchair.

There was something familiar in the way the body of the female patient looked against the bright background of the window at the end of the room. Normally I would not enter a hospital room with an unknown patient in it. But, I was intrigued, to say the least.

The young female patient looked up to me as I stepped closer. She was not surprised and gave me a cheery, “Hi”. I have no idea what she thought as she saw me. But I was surprised and shocked to my bones. She looked like a younger version of our late daughter who had passed away  suddenly more than four years ago. That could not be, that she was alive. We had seen her body and had been to her funeral. We had grieved for a long time and carried her memory in our hearts.

As she did not seem to recognise me I did not call her by her name. I was fascinated by the situation and looked around for any clue that could help me to clarify the terrible dilemma I found myself in. People don’t come back from the death.

Close to the wall was a chair on which was a handbag that had spilt some of its content. I could see an open envelope, as our daughter often carried with her,  with some printed photos. Some of those photos were from a funeral and to my shock, I could see myself, on one of the pictures, at my daughter’s  graveside.

The girl, who was by now sitting in the wheelchair did not seem to make a connection with what she should have known from the picture and with the man who was standing in front of her. She just started to chat with me in the same easy-going manner as my daughter would have done.

I don’t remember much what we talked about, but I remember that I asked her her age. She seemed to be young, more a teenager than a young woman,  and she was able to use her arms and hand in contrast to our late daughter who could not. The nurses were fussing about her hair by now.

“That depends on when I start counting,” she said and continued, “my whole life or when I started to be like this.” She was nodding her head down to her body to indicate her predicament.

“I am like this for thirty-three years. What happened before, I have no memory of and I regard my life started again when I became a paraplegic. That is why I’m saying, I’m thirty-three.” She smiled at me, not the least embarrassed to talk about herself. There was no self-pity in her voice. I felt she was used to talking about herself in a not self-conscious way, the same as our daughter was. The similarities were uncanny. Still, they could not be the same person.

In the mean time my wife, who was looking for me, entered the room.  I took her to the side and told her what I had seen. She wasn’t surprised at all.

“I knew about the girl,” she said, “but did not dare to tell  you about her.”

I knew something was not right. My daughter seemed to be alive after dying four years earlier. But she did not recognise us.

My wife stepped out of the room and was calling me out too…

 

She called me by my name , “Peter, it is seven. It is time to get up!”  

I woke up and  saw her drawing back the curtains to let the spring sun in.

 

img_1238

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are we a humane Society?

There is so much strife in the world today. Sixty-five million people are refugees and looking for a better place where they could bring up their children in safety. The refugees often assume the nations of the European Union are shining examples of a “humane” society.

I wonder where they got that idea from? We, in the West, believe that the Western nations have indeed achieved a high level of human existence. We convinced ourselves, that since the end of the 18th Century, and the birth of the Enlightenment, we had turned the corner to a better world populated by enlightened people. We thought we had become more humane.

The educational reforms following the Enlightenment produced a better-educated populace. Research and inventions pushed us progressively towards a capitalist society in which the majority of people were indeed better off in the material sense. But the seeming progress also brought extreme poverty in its wake. Henry George wrote about the reasons behind this development in his Progress and Poverty.

The rise of capitalism brought us two terrible world wars and we still live in the aftermath of those wars. That there is something wrong with Capitalism was recognised by a group of people who were members of the so-called “Frankfurt School“. Capitalism is not interested in a humane society. Its interests lay in making a profit in the shortest of time possible. Never mind the victims of this system. Exploitation does not lend itself to “humane” behaviour. The two world wars and the ideologies espoused by some societies surely put an end to the notion of a humane society.

Seventy-one years after the end of World War II we can see the inhumane behaviour of our fellow men in action all over the world. In the Middle East, every group attacks any other group with a ferocity that reminds us of the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, people all over the world are still dreaming of a better, peaceful  world in which they  can expect humane behaviour. But we are still waiting for such a humane society.

Can we ever hope to achieve a humane society, where love and kindness rules?

The reality of the present is always against such a hope. The reality of the present demands struggle. And as we struggle we alienate others and therefore create the conditions for future struggles.

We struggle because of our pessimistic view of our future. This view is the result of our fears. Our imagination regarding the future has two sides: a positive one, hope and a negative one, fear. Fear is a more instinctive emotion. Hope is an act of faith and not so easily achieved.

The people with a negative view of the future will build barriers, physical or psychological. For some people, it pays to nourish and spread fear and keep the masses bound to the grindstone of debt and consumption.

A humane society would be a simpler one than the one we have now, that is for sure. Perhaps we would have to throw out the smartphones first. We are addicted to the modern world of gadgets and apps. We are hooked on technology and are not a humane society. While we look at the flickering screen of our smartphone we don’t even notice the person next to us.  A recent power blackout in South Australia, due to a massive storm, started a political discussion along party lines because someone has to be blamed.

We lock up people in detention centres when they flee to our shores because life in their own societies became intolerable,  partly  because of our actions and interferences.

All this shows that our “humane” behaviour is just a thin veneer covering our inhumane capacity for greed and domination of others.

No, we are not a humane society. Not yet by any means.

Back from the Future

In my last blog, Back to the Future, I expressed my wish to catch up with the future  in the city of my birth, Berlin.

 

DSCN1131

The borough of Spandau where the past and the present co-exist without the fear of the future

 

IMG_1102

My four-year-old great-grandson Lucas standing at the same spot I would have been at the same age

 

I’m back and what I saw was a glimmer, not of hope but the fear  of the future. The people of Europe are afraid. Never did they have it so good. But the fear is spreading  slowly.  In the middle of it all came the shock result of the Brexit plebiscite in the United Kingdom. Now it turns out not to be so united after all. The people of the UK are tearing themselves apart.

Everywhere in Europe are noisy groups clamouring for the re-establishing of old, national borders. The lessons of the past have been forgotten. Borders are, mostly, artificial lines in the landscape. And we know if someone puts a line in the sand then someone else is going to cross it.

In a blog, two years ago, I wrote about the fear that runs our lives. Now we discover the fear has been becoming a groundswell that  has produced  political parties in some countries and a presidential candidate in the USA.

 

We have reached a point where we can’t dissipate the fear anymore. We will have to deal with it. Building borders and the old “laager” mentality won’t help. But what will help, you are asking? Whole populations are divided in offensive defiance  or helpful humanity.

I think, that we, in the West, are so fearful has its reasons in our behaviour over centuries of exploitation of the resources of other countries, being human or otherwise.

Now the chickens come home to roost. History is catching up with us and the future is not looking so bright anymore. Instinctively, we know we have done wrong in the past and now history is trying to balance things out.

The more politicians paint us a grim picture of the future the more it will come about because it will enrage the people who are named in the predictions.

On the surface, Berlin seems calm as they are still dealing with the aftermath of the second World War. How come, you ask? They are still finding unexploded bombs which have to be dealt with. Sometimes, thousands of people have to be evacuated as those brave men from the bomb-disposal squad have to do their dangerous work. Berliners take it in their stride. What some of them  are not  taking in their stride is their  perception of a dark future.

I hope that my short life expectancy does not preclude me from further travel to Europe, or indeed Australia, as I still have so much catching=up to do with the past.

IMG_1117

The world-time clock at Berlin Alexanderplatz which shows the present, 1045hours in Berlin, and the future, 1845hours already in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy  by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977  before anybody thought of the film.

 

The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back  from Australia to West-Berlin.

Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.

 

 

I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still  the only written evidence  of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.

 

Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.

 

Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.

 

In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are  moving in great numbers  to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale  to it.  It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.

 

For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up  with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is  really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.

 

Last time, four years ago, were there,  we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.

 

Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?

 

Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me.  What I know now  made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear  one,  I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.

 

When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia  seems to be a memory only.  This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago.  There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.

 

Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs,  could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the  far-off future, yet  I’m living in that future now.

 

People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears  were not even dreamt of  then.

 

Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change  are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.

 

What would  the people, living then,  have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century?  Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.

 

What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin.  The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.