Sunday 28 April 2013

And There's More!

Spring, I mean. In my previous post I mentioned that we wanted to go to the gardening exhibition in the park. Well, it was cold, rainy and windy all day yesterday, so instead of going to the park, my Mum made a rhubarb cake (the first one of the season with rhubarb from the allotment), I grabbed the cake and my Mum took a bottle of champagne from the cellar, and we walked over to my sister's place, where we had a most pleasant "girls' afternoon".

Today, the weather is slightly better, although still rather cold at only 7 Celsius or so. At least it is not raining, and so we have decided to go to the park and the exhibition this afternoon.

Before I leave, there is just enough time to show you some pictures I took during the last week, to mark spring's further progress:
The familiar old view from my kitchen window, as seen on the 18th of April.
Look at the buds on the branches of the cherry tree next to my window on the left - they are as good as ready now!

And while I was still admiring the view, this beautiful butterfly (we call them Admiral) landed on my window sill and stopped for a few minutes. He must have still been from last summer; it is too early in the year yet for the next generation to be out, I think. [Note: thank you, Mum, for telling me that it is not an admiral, but a peacock. My mistake, sorry!]

Only five days later, and look how the blossoms on the cherry tree have developed:

(This is another one for you, Kay - thinking of the post you did a while ago about friendship and cherry blossoms!)

Lucky, my downstairs neighbours' cat, enjoying the sun on "his" chair on the patio.

He really is used to me talking to him now, and seemed totally unfazed when I zoomed in on him with the camera. (Before anyone wonders: No, I did not ask his permission before I published his picture here. If he'll sue me, I hope to be able to appease him with several tins of cat food and 100 brush strokes.)

Friday 26 April 2013

Spring! Spring!! Spring!!!

Many of us have endured an unusually long winter this year, spring being "behind" its expected arrival by about three or four weeks. But eventually, it has arrived, and what better way to celebrate it by using the best part of a Saturday for a walk in the park!
Maybe by now you are tired of seeing pictures of the same old park over and over again, but it never looks really the same; there is always something new or different to the previous time I went there.

My Mum and I enjoyed feeling the sun on our bare arms, sipping pumpkin secco on the patio outside the café and looking at the flowers - they were still somewhat hesitant by then, but almost exploding with colour and shape now, two weeks after these pictures were taken.

It was the first time I was able to wear the outfit I showed you here without risking a cold. In fact, we were in the sun for hours for the first time this season, wich lead to a slight headache for my Mum in the evening.

As you can see, most of the trees were still largely bare:

When there is a combination of my two favourite colours, blue and yellow, I simply can't resist.

This one is for you, Kay - I took it in the "Valley of Birdsong"!

Walking to the southernmost part of the park showed us that there is some work in progress. The "bald" patch in the 2nd picture below didn't look like this last time we came here, and it certainly will be laid out and planted in baroque patterns again, to keep the original symmetry.

Our path then lead us into the inner courtyard of the palace; the same one you've seen several times before on my blog, for instance in this post. This time, I am showing you some different detail:

If it does not rain tomorrow, my Mum and I will be back to the park. For the next five days, it will be hosting an exhibition for all things "garden" - from the useless to the immensely practical, from the eyesore to the beautiful. Last year, I showed you some of the exhibition here, and learned the word "gabion walls" from GB's comment (thanks, Graham, I've been impressing all sorts of people since then, knowing the proper term when they did not!). 

I hope the weather will be in favour of us going there again this year!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Guest Post By My Mum: My Onkel Otto

The first quarter of the year will soon be over - isn't that unbelievable? Also unbelievable is the fact that my Mum has not yet posted on here in 2013. Let me make up for that today by publishing another guest post by my Mum (her previous one is here, in case you missed it or wish to re-read).

My Onkel Otto

The other night, I had a dream about my Onkel (uncle) Otto, though I hadn't thought of him in a long time. That made up my mind to write this hommage to him:

When I was a little girl, my family lived all together in a small town house. Today, you would call it a "multi-generation-house": Grandfather, grandmother, uncle (my father's brother), my parents, my brother (5 years older than I) and myself. I enjoyed this very much as a child, because there was always an adult who had time for me and my "problems".

My Uncle Otto was very special: He was crippled, but only physically. As a baby, born in 1915 during World War I, he had caught a bone-disease which was incurable in those days.
His mind was extraordinary, his intelligence great. He spoke several languages and worked at an office as an accountant. Then along came Hitler and the Nazis, and it was like a miracle that he was not deported, even though his father (my grandfather, the painter) lost his job because he was against Hitler, not a member of the party, and didn't make a secret of his opinion. Another uncle on my mother's side (who was quite involved with the regime) apparently managed to protect Onkel Otto, so that he survived those horrible years.

Mum's first school day, Easter 1950
My Mum as a toddler, ca. 1946-47
I was born in 1944, so I cannot remember anything of this, only through my parents telling me.
I adored Onkel Otto: When I was ill, he always had something for me to make it better; when I was hurt, he had the necessary dressing materials, and always good advice for me. He taught me chess and playing cards, helped with my maths and any other school task I needed help with. He knew everything about animals and botanics. He introduced me to literature; he was member of a book club and lent me always the best novels of world literature. He listened to the shortwave radio amateurs, sent and received post cards from all over the world, and I followed and found it very interesting. He had a big fat old smelly tomcat with only one ear, named Peter, and they loved each other very much. When I married and left home, I think it was a bit sad for him.

A proud teenager in the late 1950s with her first pair of jeans - usually, girls wore skirts; jeans were considered rebellious!
When we came visiting my parents (my grandparents had passed away in the mean time), I always went upstairs to Onkel Otto first thing. My daughters loved him as well. I don't know if they remember much of him; he died in 1971 and they were very little then.

You have always been there for me, and I thank you forever, my dear Onkel Otto!

- - - End of guest post - - -

When my Mum sent me her draft for this guest post, I had tears in my eyes after reading. 

Yes, I do remember Onkel Otto. I was only three years old when he died, but I have a vague memory of a very kind and quiet presence; I connect it with the scent of (pipe?) tobacco and old books, and the taste of rock sugar, which he probably used in his tea and gave us, his great-nieces, a piece to suck on when we came visiting. There was an ancient typewriter in his room, which he - if I remember correctly - showed my sister (who was four when he died) how to "use" (it probably was more playing than really using it, since she had not yet mastered the art of reading).
Onkel Otto.
Otto as a student. The cap was the typical mark of a university student back then.
Otto and Peter, his beloved tomcat.

I was too little to get to know him well, but I wonder how different his life would have been nowadays. As a bachelor, he most likely would not have lived with his ageing parents, his brother and his brother's family. Maybe there would have been a cure for his crippling disease, which left him with a hunchback and - as far as I know - unable to cope with much strenuous physical activity. 

He could have been a blogger! It seems like something he would have done. "Onkel Otto's Blog" has a nice ring to it, I think.

Monday 15 April 2013

Just Very Quickly... update on what spring looks like here at the moment:

The view from my kitchen window has changed since last time, hasn't it!

We went directly from padded winter coats to t-shirts, from lined boots to sandals: 23 Celsius yesterday, and I am sure it was more in the direct sunlight when there was no wind. [That's the pair of trousers I got for my birthday. You knew I couldn't resist showing you the complete outfit, didn't you!]

Look at the branch of my cherry tree - I can almost watch the buds growing, and in maybe another two weeks or so, there will be a fluffy white cloud of cherry blossoms in front of my window.

There probably won't be any night frost any more (until next winter, that is), so I have dared on Saturday to put out the potted forgetmenot that I was given for my birthday.

Yes, spring is finally here, and winter's hold on us broken for good!

Sunday 14 April 2013

Read in 2013 - 11: In the Arctic Seas

This must be, if I remember correctly, the oldest (or at least one of the oldest) books I have read so far. Sir Francis Leopold McClintock compiled it during 1857-1859, and it was published in 1859 shortly after his return to England from the Arctic Seas.
The full title of the book is rather impressive: "The Voyage of the 'Fox' in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions."

This picture shows, of course, not the cover of the free kindle edition I have read, but the original title leaf of the first edition. 

Let me briefly take you back to the 1980s, when a teenager in south Germany became fascinated with the fate of the lost Franklin expedition, induced by Owen Beattie's book "Frozen In Time", which I borrowed from the school library where my Mum worked. If back then we would have had the internet as we know it now, I am certain my teenage self would have delved into profound research about the topic. As things were back then, other interests and aspects of daily life soon took over, but the story always survived at the back of my mind. About 20 years later - I already lived in this flat, therefore it must have been after 2003 -, there was an article in my weekly newspaper, "Die ZEIT", reminding me of Beattie's book, and I had my Mum get it for me from the library once more. I was again as fascinated as I had been the first time around, but those were pre-blogging years for me, and therefore no written review exists.

When last year in March I was on my kindle downloading spree, I found McClintock's book and happily added it to my ever-growing collection. And now I finally got round to reading it, completing it last night, cosily tucked in my warm bed with duvet and woolly blanket on top.

McClintock was born in 1819 and 38 years old when he was asked by Franklin's widow, Lady Jane Franklin, to head the last search party for her late husband, his men and the scientific records they had undoubtedly accumulated during their ill-fated voyage in the 1840s. By then, nobody hoped to find any survivors of the expedition, but understandably, Lady Franklin wanted certainty, and the authorities were not willing to fund yet another (mostly) unsuccessful search for the two ships and their crews.
The widow rallied round all her friends (today, we would say that she was a most active networker), and by combining their private funds and what they were able to collect from public subscription, managed to buy and equip the "Fox", a schooner with a crew of 25, with everything they deemed necessary for a two-year-voyage to and in the Arctic Seas.

McClintock was indeed successful; not only did he find plenty of relics (sold to him by Inuit who had found one of the abandoned ships, and also found by him and his men at the places the original expedition had come across) and chartered hundreds of miles of up-to-then unknown coast line, but it was one of his companions who found the only written document left by Franklin's expedition, confirming Franklin's death on the 11th June 1847.

Piecing together all the evidence he had, he drew the conclusion that all men from both ships' crews had perished, and returned to England.

His account was originally not meant to be published, but merely his personal journal, written on board and during his land-travels (using sleds pulled by men and dogs). In the foreword he states that he had written the journal originally for Lady Franklin, and that it was she who insisted in him having it published. It became a bestseller in Victorian times, adding to McClintock's fame (he was knighted upon his return).

The journal is written in an unexcited, almost unemotional style, not excluding either hardships or reasons for hope and joy, but all in a manner that allows the reader to grasp the general atmosphere of a mixture of scientific coolness and spirit of adventure. Without the latter, McClintock would never have accepted the task; without the former, he would not have been successful.

I learned many words from this book, a lot of them relating to Arctic fauna and phenomenons: ptarmigan, dearth, mock moons, paraselenae, haswers, snow bunting, fulmar petrel, rotchies and auks, to name but a few.
Pemmican and sugar beer featured in the book, as well as the beautiful word "vicissitudes", which I recognized from Italian ("vicissitudine"). 
Details such as McClintock's question to himself, "Does Bellot Strait really exist?", reminded me of how unsure travelling in those days was - they really had no way of knowing the true shape and outline of any coast line unless someone had been there before them and drawn up reliable charts. 

Reading a good portion of this book while standing around on snow-covered platforms, waiting for the train to or from work, I appreciated even more the comforts I can avail myself of - central heating, hot showers, adequate clothing and wholesome nutrition.

It does have its lengths, admittedly, but it was a fascinating glimpse into a life and times that could hardly be more different from my own.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

So Sweet A Song

Have I really never written about one of my favourite sounds before? Quickly typing in "blackbird" into the search bar of my blog, I find only two references; one in a book review, and then this post I wrote about birds in general, not blackbird-specific.

Listening to the blackbird's song early in the mornings and just before nightfall is something I have always loved. With "always" I mean for as long as I can consciously remember such detail, which is from about the time I was about six or seven.

There is a sweetness to that song I find heart-tugging; it probably has something to do with it coinciding (although, of course, it is not a coincidence) with the arrival of spring, bringing some warmth and light after months of mostly cold and grey days. And this year, most of us living in this part of the world have had more than their usual share of cold and grey, I suppose! All the more we appreciate even the smallest sign of a slow shift in season. If you look and listen closely enough, the signs aren't that small, things are simply about 3 weeks behind.

I took these pictures one evening last week; as you can see, daylight was already on the retreat, and this blackbird sat on my neighbours' roof top, singing his little heart out. His eyes didn't look like that in real life, that's just my camera's flash refleced in them. Apparently, that did not scare him; he just kept singing, and I listening.

Along with sparrows, tits, magpies, crows and doves, blackbirds must be the most common birds in my area. We also get to see and hear various kinds of finches, woodpeckers, jays and a robin every now and then, plus of course the larks, buzzards and kestrels out on the fields. But none of them sing a song as sweet as the blackbird, so distinguishable, so easy to follow its verses and differences between one individual blackbird and the other.

The lark's song is "summer" for me; about the buzzard's cry I've been going on plenty on my blog already, and I love the trilling of finches up in the tree, but the blackbird's song will always have a special place in my heart.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

I Was Wrong... assuming that the two paintings I showed you here were done by the same man (my great-grandfather) as the one that is my favourite of the many pictures adorning the walls at my parents'.
In fact, as far as I know, the very talented person who painted this beautiful water colour (at least I think that's what it is) was no relative of ours. I can't decipher the name on the bottom right of the picture and will have to ask my parents when I'll go there for lunch in a bit.

But now, the painting:

Not easy to take a photo of a painting behind glass, but I think you can appreciate its beauty in spite of the reflections.

It is fairly large, and a closer look at some detail shows how well done it is:

Isn't it beautiful? With the cheerful colours of the vase and flowers, it brightens up any room (not that my parents' place is dark, quite the contrary!). 

And brightening up is certainly what we can all do with in this never-ending winter!

Addendum: The painter's name was Hartnagel (which is German for "hard nail"). He was indeed not a relative of ours, but lived in the neighbourhood. I am sure there is a story behind how that painting ended up in our possession, we just didn't have enough time for it today during my lunch break (meaning I remembered too late that I wanted to ask about it). Maybe my Mum will enlighten us here :-)