Monday, March 29, 2010


It's this time of the year that makes me restless.
The reason for this, I think, is the fact that I first read "The Lord Of The Rings" in early spring, and that is the ultimate travel book, right?
So my own favorite travel time is spring, too, and a couple of years ago, we went to London.

We went to London by bus, and we took 22 9th graders along, for where would be the fun in traveling alone, right?
So this is what a teacher couple looks after a night on a bus with 22 teenagers, in Calais, waiting to board the ferry.

In good spirits, but slightly disheveled. There was no coffee, either.
Or yes, there was, but it was really bad, and it did not have the desired effect.

When we started out from home, I still looked like this.

A wee bit more awake and relaxed, right? That was at 3 am in the morning.

But we made it to London safely, and checked into our hotel north of Hyde Park, in a very nice neighborhood too,  with a Starbucks not too far away and an Indian breakfast place right next door.
I don't recall the name of the narrow street, but our place was only a few steps away from Bayswater, and we could see the green rim of the park when we stepped into the driveway.
That hotel was a hovel, really.
The first thing the kids noted when they took up residence, as it were,  were the roach traps under their beds. And the dead roaches. And the dead rat on the window sill. And the empty booze bottles in the flower pots in the tiny yard. They were housed in the basement, and their breakfast served in paper cartons.
We, being teachers, lived a lot better. Our room was clean, airy, on the second floor, and we got a full English breakfast, served in the lounge. The children thought that was unfair. I thought it was great.

This is a thing I like a lot:
Going out in a new town early in the morning.
You step outside, and there is a different kind of sound, of smell, of feel around you,  and in big cities, a hum as if the soul of the place is singing to itself.
Humming to itself in praise of its own history and in welcome of another day, and this is especially strong when the sun shines and the world looks good.
As it did when we were in London, in May.
One of our students discovered the Starbucks close to the hotel, so this is what we would do:
get a tall Latte with a double shot of espresso and a poppyseed-lemon glaze muffin, get on the bus again and let it take us to some wondrous destination somewhere in the metropolis.
The first morning, we went here:

Brick Lane, because I had read the book and wanted to see the place.
The kids, because there were bangles.

We lost these two (Cathrin and Derya) to the bangles, and the Hubby and I sweated bitter tears until they showed up again in the evening, at the hotel, after a day on the town and a visit to the Hard Rock Café.
After that, we were a lot less afraid of letting the kids go out on their own. They knew how to find their way back, and it did a world of good for their self-esteem.

We went for a ride on the London Eye.
You can't go to London these days and not do it. Honestly, the prospect had me scared shitless, but the kids would not hear of it. They MADE me go, and I'm eternally grateful.
Did you know that thing never stops and you have to get on and off while it moves under your feet, and that there is a gap between it and the outside through which you can look down into the river? True!!!

But my reward for overcoming my fear of heights was this view of the city.
It gave me the feeling that I could see all the way to Scotland and to the Channel, and despite the kids in the gondola there was a kind of silence there, too, that had nothing to do with the noise around me.
This impression I saved very well, and used it later in my novel when I wanted to describe a scene there.

Driving back to the hotel later, we went across the bridge and the kids started screaming.
On the curb, a stretch-limousine with tinted windows was parked, and out of it climbed a person that made all the girls yell for our bus to stop and please could they get out, because that was "USHER!!!!!"
To this day, I have NO idea who that is or why he was the reason for such a rage, but it was funny, and memorable, and the bus nearly tipped into the Thames.

I told them that even "Usher" had the right to spend a moment looking out at the scenery and no, the bus would not stop for them to descend on the poor guy like bats out of hell.
The same way I would NOT make the bus stop and get out, even though the girls would have loved it, every time we went by the Dorchester, which was daily, to sneak in and try to catch Neil Diamond, who was residing there at that time.
There were groups of fans hanging out outside that hotel, we could see that, but I would not be one of them.
Disdainfully, I said that. They did not understand. No matter.

This pic was taken from the riverside in Greenwich, right outside the Cutty Sark Museum.

It's not the best pic in the world, but it was taken by me, and it shows the o2 Arena, where Neil was going to perform a few weeks later. So there.
I recall that was an incredibly serene and beautiful day. We had seen the lovely village, some had gone to the Observatory (not me; I had to find and pick up some lost souls again), and there was some time to dawdle away.
So I got some coffee at Starbucks, and a lemon/poppyseed muffin, again, and sat there in the sun and watched the teenagers on their skateboards and the dome of the o2 shimmering in the distance, and I thought:
Life is good. Life can be as sweet at lemon glaze, and all you need to do is let it melt on your tongue to enjoy it.
That is all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An apology

After my royal mess up last night I think I owe a brief but sincere apology to @NettieWriter.
First of all, it was her birthday yesterday and she asked me, as a favor, and as a great honor, to take part in a chain mail, and I broke it.
And then, I went and broke it because I was too damn stupid to properly post links into my blog.... well, I posted the links, but the browser would not open, and then I tried again and it failed again, and then I was tired because it was late at night, and then I just deleted the whole bloody thing.... and so Nettie does not get to know which of those six stories I was supposed to tell was the lie.
I'm really sorry, Nettie.
But the stark truth is: I'm just too stupid for this kind of computer thing. Hey, I've learned how to upload pictures and then even post them in the right part of a blog by now, that should count for something, ok?

But I will tell you the lie now.
I said that I had a hot affair with my younger sister's teacher when I was 21.
That was a lie.
I had a hot affair with my sister's teacher when I was 22.

So there.
She was 16 at that time, and the teacher 32. Unmarried. So all was well. Sort of.
He was hot. I was not his student. We kept it a secret. It lasted a week.

Will this do, Nettie? Please?

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Growing Up

Really, I don't want to write about my childhood.
Or rather, I want to, but I want to try and remember the good parts.
My childhood rests on my shoulders like a huge load, a burden I've been carrying around with me for all of my fifty-three years, but a short exchange with Frauke yesterday brought back some memories that keep bothering me now.
It was not much more than her mentioning that she had begun to learn Arabic at some time because she was interested and rather liked the "basic tenets" of Islam, and that triggered, with me, the old queasy feeling of growing up with a Muslim father in a Western country.
Now, in hindsight, I understand my father a lot better, and also his struggle to introduce me and my sister to his culture and faith, and the obstacles he must have encountered in my mother's family and his surroundings. How lonely he must have been, having no support at all! And he had come here for the love of my mother, leaving his home country and his family behind, only to meet this uncompromising resistance.
Sadly, my father never was a very patient or gentle man, but rather blessed with a terrible temper and no great understanding on how to treat children.
The one thing he never forgave me was that I was not a boy. His firstborn, and a girl.

He tried to raise me as a Muslim and Arab girl in Germany in the 60s.
SO not an option.
Imagine that wooden house in the forest on the dirt road, the staid German neighbors, my civil servant grandparents and uncles, my headstrong mother (she had gone to Arabia, remember, to marry this stranger!), and one child to fight over, and you have a potent brew.
When I entered high school at 11, I was the only child with foreign roots at a school with nearly 1000 students, and the only one for whom tuition had to be paid.... and the only one who did not have the German nationality. I don't think there is need to elaborate.
The same went for holidays.
Muslim holidays were ignored, but it was expected that my father would celebrate the Christian feasts.
He must have been a truly torn man. He wanted the Western education, and yet he wanted it not. He wanted a perfect Muslim daughter, but with all the trappings of a modern, educated woman. H would tell me how he saw me in a strapless white ballgown, with satin gloves and jewels, a debutante, but he would not let me attend dancing lessons because that would have been immodest. According to his wishes, I would either be a doctor or a lawyer, but I was not allowed outside the house in the early evening to attend a typing course (which would have been useful!), and of course I would "return" to Saudi Arabia to practice that profession.
Where I would always ever be only a doctor for women or children, or a lawyer.... for what?
And we have not even spoken yet about the fact that I wanted to be neither.... ever.
Or that I did not speak any Arabic, despite his efforts to teach me... in grueling, torturous lessons on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, together with instructions in "faith".
Now if I want to make sure my own kids really learn something and like it, too, I try to teach them the fun of it, first. I try to make them WANT to learn in, and not be afraid of it, or even loathe it
And here we return to Frauke and her interest in Islam. I LOATHE it. With all my heart.
To this day, and now I'm middle-aged and a lot more tolerant, there is this one thing that I loathe and want nothing to do with it at all.
Only now, with my father being 88 and a lot less rigid, we can talk about his life and what he wanted for his family, and for me, and he is able to accept my view of things, and I can see his.
The sadness of it, a life time wasted.
The misplaced love, wasted.
And the loneliness of one man, lost in a strange world because of his love, redeemed at the end of his life.