Thoughts about Brexit

It’s mid afternoon on a glorious hot day on our camp site in the Provence. A mild version of the Mistral has just got up to refresh body and soul and everyone seems to be at peace. The ones wandering around with long faces are the Brits. Not the French. Not the Dutch. Not the Belgians. And not the Germans.

 

It ‘s difficult to understand how the collective British decision to cut themselves off from the EU could have happened when you ‘re sitting here, singing in the camp choir or good-humouredly cheering on your national football team along with other English Francophiles. For which ever way you look at it, the decision of the British voters has been to turn their backs on their fellow Europeans.

 

One of the greatest tasks of the EU is to maintain peace in Europe. One of the ways this has been achieved is by the contribution of the more affluent and stable states to the financial stability of poorer economies. The idea of profiting from this stability without actually contributing to it, leaving the burden to other European member countries, is like using the Tube without having payed for a ticket. (As a taxpayer in one of these “other” European countries, I do resent this attitude a little bit.)

 

Most of the English campers I have spoken to here are still in a state of shock, asking themselves how so many English voters, many of whom include  family members and close friends, could have plunged the country into a fully unpredictable future. Or, even worse in my opinion, not accepted their responsibility to cast a vote at all.

 

But the once red-haired man I met in the shower block dumb-founded me completely. “I voted to leave”, he said. I dared to remark that he might just have made a bad decision. “Well!” he retorted.”We’ve been pushed and told so many lies by the press and our politicians”. Now savour this remark, if you are taking the trouble to read this. Here we have a man of about sixty something admitting that he has just voted to leave the EU knowing full well that he has been manipulated and even lied to. How many other voters have done the same?  How many Brits are so screwed up that they have WILLINGLY listened to lies and WILLINGLY been led astray by what they know is emotional bullshit?

 

I believe a petition to have a second referendum is under way and am both astonished and concerned. What sort of a solution is that supposed to be? Since when do decent Europeans reject a democratic decision just like that?  Are we to continue to chop and change the rules until we have conjured up the “right” solution? No. The British people, their press and the representatives of the political parties have all had their say and a fair chance and now we’re back to the question of responsibility. Modern man has to learn to appreciate what his forefathers were proud to have achieved: democracy. Which is not only a privilege but also a responsibility. And definitely not something to be rubbed out and improved when you discover someone has blundered.

 

A decision has been made. This is no time for anger and there is no time for lengthy preamble. The British people need to recover from their shock and calm down after  the obvious jubilation of people who have no idea where this new path will lead to. And the EU, with its far from perfect, far too bulky systems and its disappointing, somewhat pathetic image, must stop scratching its head in disbelief and start reforming from within.

 

I hope my despondency and worries about England’s future are unwarranted. In most unpredictable situations, SOME good does usually surface. And hey! here, at least, the sun is still shining and  our cloudless sky is almost the colour of the lavender that is beginning to flower.

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Thoughts on the European Crisis

It’s been quite some time since I posted in my blog. Time in which I have spent much time with my wonderful, growing family, travelling and with the refugees that arrived in our German village about three months ago. And time during which I have thought  a great deal about the world in which we live and the world that is developing right in front of us.

Our future world. Yours and mine. Because if one thing is certain, it is that whatever our leaders decide to do about the refugee crisis and the crumbling structure of the House of Europe, the result will affect every single person reading this blog. So it ought to matter. And we should be reacting.

I was born into a Great Britain that wavered when it came to the question of being part of an economic European unity. By the time I was thinking politically for myself, the Liberals were campaigning for British entry into the Common Market, so I became a Young Liberal. Since then, the House of Europe has been my dream and when the European Union was formed in 1993, my dream for Europe had more or less come true. I was thrilled about its growth. At first. But the larger and more complex the House of Europe became, the more my dream seemed threatened.

Today the fundament of this House of Europe is beginning to crumble. The core idea. The sentiment and the leitmotif behind the European plot. The European identity. This started to become blatantly evident during the Greek crisis when the union was clearly split down its geographical middle, but what is emerging under the refugee crisis is shocking. The trend towards nationalism within the Union, shown best in the form of kilometres of barbed wire along national borders, is even scary. And once again, as in the Greek crisis, our Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is being misunderstood Europe-wide.

There are very few true idealists left among European politicians, but Frau Merkel is one. One of her strengths is her firm belief in Europe and her determination to fortify the fundaments of the House of Europe by concentrating on what we have in common and not what makes us different from our European partners. Her aim is to consolidate our common traditional values and economic advantages. She leaves the back-biting and opportunistic strategy-making to politicians with less dignity and quietly gets on with the job of renovating the Europe she believes in. Her motto would seem to be: don’t give up until you have exhausted every possibility and for as long as there is positive development, however minor that may be.

As one of the millions of voluntary helpers that are striving, in my case in a very small capacity, to help Germany to cope with the immense problem of integrating over a million refugees, I stand behind the Chancellor. Her humane decision regarding the refugees is the only one that she can take if she wants to look at her face in the mirror ever again. We can come out of this crisis wiser and stronger if only the peoples of Europe will forget their immediate national interests and work together in this crisis for a united Europe from which we will all continue to benefit in the long term. The social and financial input necessary is an not only an investment in our economy. It is above all an investment in peace. And peace is, unfortunately, an asset that we evidently no longer know how to appreciate.

 

 

 

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Today I DO believe in God (or the day I met Miriam)

Do you believe in God? I sometimes do and sometimes don’t, which is not an attitude that is likely to please anybody’s church and does not sound like Faith. But every now and then I am blessed with an experience that leaves me, temporarily at least, in no doubt that some power up there has a plan for me.

Yesterday was such a day. It didn’t rain yesterday. Unlike the day before, when it poured down for most of the day and I spent many hours wondering how the 202 refugees in the local camp at the village sports hall would be spending their day. Would they be lounging about on their thin mattresses, waiting for the rain to stop so they could take a peek outside? Would they be feverishly tipping messages on their phones, moving from corner to corner in an attempt to get a better reception? Or would they be queueing up at the few toilets and showers and trying to quieten crying babies and busy young children?

The refugees arrived in buses three days ago. They came much later than expected, which meant that registration and elementary medical checks went on late into the night. All day the Red Cross and local volunteers had been laying out matresses and bedding in blocks of four on the floor ; sixty beer tent tables with benches had been set up at one end of the hall and a huge number of banana boxes filled with used clothing had been carefully sorted and labelled by locals from a nearby village. The food was dished out by volunteers organised by our Catholic parish.

I would normally have volunteered myself to help with the food. Or indeed for any other way I could help. But we were returning from a trip to France that day and I had missed the briefing. So having persuaded myself that there would be enough kerfuffle at the camp on the first day, I stayed at home and first ventured into the camp yesterday with the intention of asking whether board games were needed.

Our village sports hall is annexed to the local school. When I arrived, the playground was dotted by small groups of black-skinned and brown-skinned and pale-skinned ladies and gents, boys and girls, teenagers and babies, many of them dressed as if the clothes they were wearing belonged to somebody else. Some of them were indeed busy with mobile phones, others sat on low walls looking worn, a few were smoking. Hardly anybody was talking, I remembered later.

It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to access the sports hall. The entrances were guarded by security people and those who were there on a voluntary basis wore stick-on name tags, which allowed them to pass. Fortunately I bumped into the deputy chairman of our council, who told me the name of the chief organiser of the Red Cross, in charge of the logistics. However, before I managed to talk my way past the second door, a volunteer couple who were just leaving the building asked if I could speak French. They asked if I could take care of a rather shy Syrian lady wheeling a pushchair, who spoke no English and no German and was clearly feeling very down.

I was then escorted a few yards away into the playground and introduced to a pleasant-looking fair-skinned woman with typically blonde streaked hair. Clad in dark red jogging trousers and a thin grey cardigan with a long home-knitted scarf, Miriam had tried to coax her hair into a plait, which kept coming undone since she had no scrunchy. (Miriam is not her real name, but I have decided not to reveal her true name). After a little polite chat, I suggested we take a little walk into the village to show her around and Miriam, who seemed to be relieved to be able to express herself at last in this foreign country, became extremely talkative and with no prompts needed, slowly began to tell her Story piece by piece.

From the very beginning I liked Miriam. It was the straight-forward look that came from her light blue-green eyes and her natural restraint which I found so pleasant. In the pushchair was 6 year-old Suleyman, a chubby dark-skinned boy with Downs syndrome. Mano, as the family called him, barely talks, but he was fascinated by my lipstick and continued to move his finger round his lips, gabbling away, to show his approval. Gesticulating wildly, he often grunted noises of interest as we walked. When he grabbed my finger or my hand, which he did whenever I gave him the chance, his grip was strong and he was reluctant to let go!

Suleyman is the youngest of Miriam’s children. Since Miriam’s husband, a doctor, worked for the regime in Syria, he would never have been allowed to leave the country and would have put his own life as well as that of his family in danger had he tried to escape. So Miriam had made this journey as a single parent, sacrificing her marriage for the sake of the safety of her children, in particular for Suleyman. Her 16 year-old son and her 15 year-old daughter were busy making friends with other teenagers at the camp. The teenagers had not attended school for over a year, Miriam told me. It was too dangerous, with bombs dropping continuously.

The camp made a welcome change from the gruelling two week treck across Europe that had sapped a lot of their physical strength. Most of their dangerous trip had involved hours and hours of walking, crossing the border from Syria into Turkey and after crossing the Greek border, wandering from Balkan state to Balkan state. The children and Miriam and fortunately some of the stronger males they had met en route had carried Suleyman, a rather heavy boy, between them. As a result, Miriam was suffering not only from fatigue and sore feet, but also from severe backache.  They were often left behind by the group they happened to be travelling with, Miriam told me and described how, more than once, she sat down exhausted at the wayside and urged her teenage chldren to carry on without her. One night she and her children were alone on a freezing cold mountainside.

But the physical fatigue was only one part of the terrible ordeal. There was also the indignation at having to bribe their way at the borders, the threats of physical violence to the children if she was not prepared to do so, the “confiscation” of her smartphone, the danger of capsizing in the tiny boat that ferried them to Greece and the sudden, 24-hour long disappearance of Suleyman, who was whipped away (to safety) by an Iraqi when they were chased by soldiers on the way to Turkey.

This morning I discovered that the reason why Miriam had not washed her cardigan with her other laundry at camp was because she had nothing to change into. While the other women were selecting a change of clothes from the Red Cross, she had been tending Suleyman, who had incurred a concussion at some point. After acquiring a pair of pyjamas for herself and sufficient clothing for the six-year old, she had given up and moved back to her mattress, despondent and still exhausted. The clothes had since been taken back to headquarters. I hope I managed to persuade the official team to give her a second chance to pick something she can wear.

I get the feeling that what Miriam needs more than anything else at this stage is a friend and I have tried to be that friend for a few days. When we meet at camp, she kisses me on both cheeks and calls me habib, my dear. Was it chance that brought us together? I believe we were meant to meet.

The refugees in Sulzberg will be moved on to another village on Sunday at the latest. They don’t know where and neither do we. But then Miriam will need to find another short-term friend. Miriam and the thousands of other refugees who all need as much compassion as we in Europe can give.

 

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Thoughts on Europe

I grew up thinking that a politically united Europe would provide the optimal background for the life that stretched before me. The comfortable feeling of being a true European has stayed with me. Until recently.

By  the time I was forming my own political ideas, my parents had become fervid Liberals – real Liberals, not the Lib dems of today. As such they were keen for Britain to join the Common Market. At the age of plus/minus 16  I flirted briefly with the idea of Communism, as you do.  (I innocently but seriously considered Communism to be the most Christian form of government you were ever likely to achieve.) But I never lost that yearning to be a part of a political Europe (and the Communist thing dropped off me before I went off to do a year’s au-pairing in France at the age of 18).

So it is that I as a hardcore European am shocked, hurt and frightened by what is happening in the Greece crisis today. Not particularly about the facts, which are disturbing enough, but by the attitudes. By the sharpening of the political fronts, by the malicious tones, the slurs and insults, and by the lies. The lies?

I live in Germany. Our chancellor and her financial advisors, economically successful as they have been in dealing with the credit crunch of 2008, clearly set the tone in Brussels. We enjoy complete  freedom of the press here as far as I an aware and the press tell us that Alexis Tsipras has been lying to his own electorate and still is. Is this the true story? The whole story would have to be a series of truths. Angela Merkel’s truth, Jean-Claude Juncker’s truth, Alexis Tsipras’ truth. Half-truths and perceived truths. And what about the Greek claims that we are also being lied to? And what’s the difference, in the end, between propaganda and “truth”?

So in the quest for something that might resemble “the truth”, you google around and try to put the pieces together for yourself. And stumble upon articles written in Europe and also across the Atlantic that make the hair on your arms stand up in revolt. Articles that completely reverse the claims that you have spent a lifetime believing. Calumnying and defamatory articles with brutal attacks on those who are, im my opinion, doing very good jobs trying to sort out the European mess we have manoeuvered into.

Even worse have been the comments I have met on the social media. Verbal Facebook attacks. Shares and retweets of the most disparaging and offensive messages and posts. Have our peoples been whiplashed into blank hatred? Are we at war? Are we?

I belong to the generation of Europeans who still have access to personal accounts of WW2 through our parents. My father never really talked about the war. My mother did sometimes. Her memories were heart-wrenching and featured the agony of being seperated from her mother, the shame of bed-wetting, the never-ending fear experienced quivering under bedclothes in icy, blacked-out bedrooms and sleepless nights of sobbing. Even today, my mother is terrified of electric storms, when particularly aggressive claps of thunder bring back the horror of air raids. My mother spoke about her war experiences, but she never uttered a word about the German people. Except to sympathise with “those poor, poor families” that were being wrenched apart when the Iron Curtain arrived in Berlin.

War. I am so thankful that I have no personal experience of it. Not all EU citizens of my age can claim this. But it is true that since their inclusion into the European family at various times, the member states of the EU have lived in peace. What an achievement! What joy! What a reason to be thankful and celebrate! Despite all the criticism and the despondency, we all have a whopping great reason to be happy and friendly to one another. It’s true and regrettable that a few billion Euros have gone down the drain and certainly the economic reality is not something that every statesman can be proud of. But our European politicians are not gods. And still they have been successful in protecting us against the folly of war amongst ourselves. So far.

My husband has an answer for conflict in the family. His magic word is “Deeskalation” – de-escalation. It mainly works at home. I believe that if we all – politicians and the press included –  try to take the heat out of the discussions currently taking place and replace harshness and polarisation with gentle criticism and tolerance, then we might manage to overcome the hatred that is poisoning European debate and preventing the creation of valid solutions.

Europeans, wherever you are and however you might be able to contribute to a social and political climate in which we all feel comfortable! Be a little kinder to one another!

 

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Staying young as you’re getting old

I like to listen to my favourite CDs while I’m ironing. At full blast. Not only does this relieve the tedium of ironing, it also allows me the luxury of indulging in music at a volume that would not normally be acceptable, since my husband sensibly finds other things to do when I am posted at the ironing board.

This morning, my choice of music was an album given to me by a good friend. Mercedes Sosa, the great Argentine lady of folk music and protest songs, invites other great singers to join her in a kaleidoscope of musical styles. The result is stunning. Her strong, slightly raucous voice combines well with that of sentimental elderly gentlemen vocalists as well as that of vibrant young women. Spanish and Portuguese lyrics keep returning to the topic of love, but there is also a critical description of the life of a street kid, a rocky number dedicated to the Chilean singer Violeta Parra and a protest song or two. Tangos and sambas share tracks with raps and blues.
Unbenannt

The album was released in 2009, the same year that Mercedes died at the age of 74. What a lady! Moving with the times, learning to rap with René Perez and sharing a stage with the inimitable Shakira. Moving on. Keeping up. Actually beginning to crumble with failing health but inwardly soaring to new heights. Admirable.imagesA popular German saying may be translated as: you grow according to your tasks. In Mercedes’ case, according to the tasks she had set herself. Now I have always admired my mother for skyping with us and keeping up to date with the family news via Facebook. Last year she acquired a laptop since her very old computer was causing problems. Having been asked how she was coping, she retorted that Windows 8 was a bit of a nuisance. A definite euphemism! Windows 8 is a challenge for all of us, isn’t it? But at the age of 83, my social network compatible mother is setting herself new tasks and coping with them. Adapting. Growing. Laudable!

So after the year in which I have given up several committments, I have made a quiet vow to myself. I don’t want to stagnate, particularly since I am going to become a grandmother later this month. I don’t intend to make a resolution, like learning to play bridge or the harmonika or learn sign language, but when a challenge arises, I intend to take it on, in order to grow. Will I stay young as I am getting older? Let’s see what happens!

 

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Maspalomas – a morning walk

Seven fifteen on the promenade at the point where Maspalomas turns into Playa del Inglés. The sun was still hazy as I joyfully sprinted down the hotel steps and propelled myself round the corner to join the promenade which would take me in about six kilometres to the end of the path on the other side of San Augustin.

At this point I found myself quite unexpectedly alone on the promenade. Presumably most of the joggers and sprinters that had whizzed past me two days before begin their morning exercise at bang on 7. 30. The elderly German couple that had proceeded me down the steps in worn casual, but definitely not sportive attire were ambling down the many steps to the beach behind me in let’s-get-a-whiff-of-the-sea-before-breakfast mode.

So the first person to catch my attention was the cat-feeder. A local cat-feeder, I assume. There are cats of all shapes, colours and sizes on the promenade in Playa del Inglés and they all look remarkably well fed for strollers. The feeder was also well fed, a quiet, swarthy-skinned, wrinkled fellow hiding behind a full-brimmed hat. Fetching handfuls of food from a plastic bag, he spoke gently to the animals and stroked them as they lapped up the offerings from his outstretched palm. He was at one with the cat world and took no notice of me.

Neither did the tall, angular, athletic-looking woman who passed me from behind, her pony-tail bobbing up and down to the rhythm of her large, even strides. As she passed, she cast hectic, worried looks at her watch. Now this was a serious sprinter, a woman intensely concentrated on her technique and determined not to fall behind her self-allocated running time. She had no eyes for the emerging sun, now rippling in the flat water by the shore. A German? Possibly. Definitely a Nordic type of woman. Several male runners also overtook me, single and in pairs, aged from early twenties to late fifties, dark- or fair-skinned gents announced uniformly by even panting and footsteps that resounded on the tiled path.

At the bottom of a very steep hill that could be negotiated either via a series of flights of steps or a very long, sharp slope a sporty, middle-aged Brit in a red, fitted sports shirt prepared to climb towards me. As we passed each other, he called out “Hello there” in a deep, companiable voice. A few hundred metres further on, a Russian couple I had noticed earlier in the week walked towards me over a wooden bridge with uneven planks in almost matching floral shorts and light-coloured T-shirts, babbling away non-stop. Although they seemed to be strolling quite casually, their strides were long and I knew they were faster than me, even though this morning, the lady was clutching a camera to her left eye, filming everything in sight. It occurred to me that in the unlikely case that she would ever process a holiday film, most of this particular footage would have to be cut out.

The curvy path that starts at the boundary to San Augustin is rather neglected and the holes in the tarmac filled with an  uneven, rough mass. Strange coconut mats have been left along this path outside the stone walls that  protect the villas within. Here I was surprised by the sight of a stout little bespectacled Asian gentleman, wearing a bandana with strange characters, who was puffing his way down a slope towards me. You do not see many Asian tourists on the island, though there are a few Asians who work here. This little man was no youngster but obviously used to having his morning run. By this time there was no beach to be seen; the damp sand had been replaced by dark rocks. The waves seemed to whistle as they crashed into crevices between the stones. Later I met the Asian man  again on our return paths baring a pale, hairless torso and with his shirt in his hand.

The asphalt came to a rather abrupt end at a point where a sign warned of falling rocks. I looked back to admire the clear view of the winding  path I had conquered and tried to make out our hotel in the distance, feeling very smug at having completed my course. The return path is always easier and I knew the sun would be on my back from now on, making things a little easier. A middle-aged Spanish lady with the trim figure of one who is accustomed to sporting activity walked briskly up the hill towards me, the type of woman I admire, well-groomed with short, well-cut hair and a healthy aspect. Behind her, a very different Spanish woman was leaving her house and walking somewhat cautiously down the hill in the same direction as myself. She was dressed very simply and wore plain, flat sandals. The cotton bag hanging limply in her hand suggested she might be going to the baker’s to buy fresh supplies for breakfast.

I overtook her and a couple of German ladies dressed in black sportswear, one running slowly and the other walking fast, keeping pace with one another.  From a nearby hotel, the sweet scent of hot chocolate made me feel quite hungry. Another red-shirted runner approached grimly, a complicated monitor strapped to his left arm.

You have to cross another wooden bridge across a small river at this point. A group of particularly typical Germans of roughly the same age as myself were walking towards me across this bridge. They were not especially ambitious and took the time to peer over a concrete wall, under which dogs were barking noisily. Despite their casual gait, they were dressed in the latest fashion of sportswear, flashing designer labels. It almost made me giggle to realise that my own shorts had been bought in the last millennium and in fact, on reaching my hotel room, I discovered that a series of rather large holes were eating into a seam at the inside of one leg. I discarded them there and then.

The promenade was no longer an abandoned place since the joggers and walkers had been joined by multiple amblers and strollers and saunterers, as well as sitters and chatterers.. In the cafes that were just beginning to open in the Tropica Centre, aproned women were sweeping and wiping and scrubbing. The shore was also spotted with lines of tiny, black exercising silhouettes and the first eager holidaymakers, burdened by more or less heavy bags, were bagging deckchairs on the sand. And I was ready for breakfast.

 

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Lake Constance this weekend

Seen this weekend in Constance

Seen this weekend in Constance

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