Friday, 15 May 2020

The Exiles' Return...

Following a good talk with our daughter and son-in-law, on whose hospitality we have been joyfully floating for almost three months (!!), we reached the decision to fly back to Amsterdam when flights resume direct from Norway to our home city.
So we've booked for June the First, to be met at Schiphol by our son Daniel; and will arrive hopefully on a sunny afternoon.
The world remains surreal ... friends and neighbours in Amsterdam send me photos and videos of a city that looks calm and tranquil. But one knows that death lurks unseen ... that is not being melodramatic, just how it is.
My older friends (the over 70s) remain inside and I guess that's what we'll need to do in the beginning. Hard to realize, though, that apparently covid-19 will remain with us many months, and probably forever. So many activities have to be readjusted ... So I'll just have to explore all the opportunities presented by lockdown: and delight in my back garden (lucky to have one). And discover new recipes...
There's going to be a great deal of acquiring information via the internet.

Well, we have prepared our nose-masks (!) and plenty of hand-sanitizer, and take home a wealth of stunning photos and sufficient memorable conversations to last us many months.
One of my favourite lines was coined by Christiaan, when we were enacting the early years of Hedy Lamarr, during her marriage to an Austrian industrialist. The famous line, to be spoken with German accent, and thereafter quoted frequently by some of the Van der Eijk family, was:
Hedwig, vy haf you not ironed my lederhosen? Followed by: Hedwig: Vair is mein sauerkraut vor supper?
This produced great hilarity. Hedy was one of the Women Inventors in a book I'd given Rachel at Christmas. Next favourite was Rachel Carson. Described as, "Perhaps the finest nature writer of the Twentieth Century (1907-1964)"; our Rachel liked the fact that this great lady bore the same name as her. But was also fascinated by her work. Very discriminating granddaughter!
And now, back to knitting a pixie-hood for Rachel, following her precise instructions, colour pink...

Below: although taken a few years ago, this is still how we are: travelling on!!

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Letter for Ingrid

This is what I wrote in the Guest Book in Ingrid's hytte.

May 1 to May 10, 2020.
And the sun shone every day. We arrived on May Day (public holiday in Norway) in retreat from the covid-19 pandemic, now overtaking the world. We were lucky to be staying with our family in Stavenger when European borders began to close.
Midway through our family stay, so as not to overburden them with our presence for too long, we booked Ingrid's hytte for 10 days at the beginning of May.
We had not anticipated that it would be the most perfect place to “retreat” to, while much of the world trembled in fear and perturbation!
No radio, no TV, no internet, no phone…
Sweet quiet, have I found thee here
And Solitude, thy sister dear ? (I misquote from Andrew Marvell, The Garden).

Spring unleafs, green graces the hillsides, the lambkins struggle into life, and start to suck enthusiastically, tails wiggling ecstatically.
We go for walks, over the bumpy ground, or steepish slopes, or beside the shimmering lakes. Only the sound of the birds and the soughing wind.
Each day is different. Inside me, deep silence grows.

David and I recall our long years together, rejoice in all that we have shared, remember and discover things about each other, check our boundaries, laugh at our trespassing, give thanks that we found each other when we did (that was our dear son Daniel’s doing).
I sing, David works on his book dealing with pandiagonal magic squares (now on Chapter Nine),  I cook and bake bread, knit garments for the dolls of my granddaughter Rachel (what else, as my friend Jenny remarks, should a Granny do?!)… and we gaze out at the greening trees, lift up our eyes to the hills and watch the clouds’ soft passage across the sky…

Peace reigns. We heard a cuckoo call. We saw some tiny violets, deep purple.
This is a forever place.
We wish there were more people like Ingrid.
We would love to be here again.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Last days in Eigesund

Blog: last days in Eigesund

All hurrying and hastening, scurrying and whimpering, swept into another place, into a hidden cupboard! No longer needed or heeded. (I’m having fun playing with words here, but what has happened in fact is that a great quietness has filled me and the dancing words inside my head have settled down ...)

Evening: I sit beside the window, outside the sky grows silvery pale, the birds tweet intermittently, the wind has dropped. This afternoon on our walk we heard a cuckoo, loud and clear, a brash call. Six times repeated, then no more. Later I saw, tiny beside the pathway, three violets, glowing in rich colour. Haven’t seen any for years. I stopped and gazed, and remembered Luther, who (recalling my A-level History and Bainton’s Here I stand, biography of friend Martin) apparently wept over a violet frozen in the snow. Top marks for Luther, I told David. We went on to discuss the 95 theses on the church door of Wittenberg, the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation, and the Council of Trent. This was all quite strenuous, but enjoyable.

It would be too boring to recount our meals, but I have to say, they are excellent. Almost Vegan, varied and colourful, a pleasure to behold and to consume!! Happily, we both enjoy cooking, and something I love to do is bake bread: there is a timeless quality that hovers over the activity of kneading dough. I always knead for at least ten minutes, singing or reciting poetry. This unquestionably contributes to the final result. I have been baking the loaves here in a hot-air oven but tomorrow plan to heat top and bottom and see if this will produce a more crispy result...

Now it is almost ten p.m. Still light enough to read. David and I have been wondering about travelling up to the far north of Norway (memories of Nooit meer slapen, Hermans’s novel of which I translated part, many years ago...) to the land where it stays bright till midnight. It’s very appealing and we’ll probably never get the chance again... Something to be discussed on our return to Stavanger.

I heard that schools in Norway may be re-opened next week. The lockdown is easing here. After these days away we’ve half lost touch with the pandemic news. But all too soon we’ll need to consider our next move.

For now, I rejoice in the airy laciness of the trees, the viridian of the young leaves (soon to darken) and the air so clean and fresh, every time we go outside I want to gulp great draughts of it ... before returning to the city.

Monday, 11 May 2020

May 4 to 7, 2020, Norway

Monday 4 to Thursday 7 May

Compounding days

The silence grows. After the weekend visitors went home, we had this world to ourselves once more. Silent walks along the scrunching gravel paths or across a strip of mossy ground. Lots of lambs to talk to. Some even pause to listen…
We meet Ingrid, the owner of our hytte. She is Dutch by birth, but has lived in different lands: Belgium, England, Scotland and now Norway. Her home is in Stavanger. She’s a geo-physicist and a member of the Green party (we have lots in common!). Long talks about how to reorganize society, restructure the economy and educate the politicians… At this point I wish I were younger and had a body somewhat more supple… But can’t complain. My own fault for not doing my exercises more faithfully.
Which leads me on to my contemplation on faith and trust.
On one of these days David went for a climb on his own. Before he set off I felt scared (what if something happened to him… no means of communicating…)
But I was busy reading the story of Daniel (not my son, but the one who chatted with lions) and soon became so engrossed in it that all my fears left me. Before I had time to start worrying, David was back (two hours later…).
So what happened to Daniel in that lions’ den? Was he still a vegetarian, and just didn’t appeal to meat-needy lions? It’s a wonderful book. And it’s about trust and faith. Which I definitely need to cultivate, instead of clamouring: What if…? Like now, with this covid-19. The big question: what if I, or David, or anyone I love, becomes infected? No knowing, no telling.
The silence grows. The peace spreads. The clamorous words that dance inside my head are almost quieted.
On 15 April I wrote this (for the record!) :

One of the poem-songs we translated as undergraduates, sixty years ago,
was from the Harley Lyrics (thin green hardbacked book), a collection of Middle English verse.
Lenten is cume with luve to toune
With blosmen ant with briddes rune
That al this blysse bringeth…
Today, in a grey northern spring, those words return to me,
and I wonder if spring will ever again
bring all this bliss to the dwellings of men.
I should be in my house in Amsterdam; instead
most marvellously, I am here in troll country
with my dear family, and fairly safe.
While war is waging in our world.

After finishing Daniel, I read Jonah. Tweak these books just a little, and out comes the 21st century, with the despots, tyrants, schemers and manipulators.

May Day 2020, in Norway

May Day, 2020

Set off around 10:30, driving along the road to Egersund, in the Norwegian province of Rogaland.
It is a national holiday, and apparently an excuse for all the owners of motorbikes in Norway to ride them triumphantly along the winding coastal roads of Rogaland … who knows where they were off to … People bunched along the roadside, the children waving small Norwegian flags. And the sun shone.
We — that is, David and I plus daughter and her family (seven of us packed into the car, together with baggage and food supplies for the coming week) — also wound slowly along, at first following the rocky coast, then into foothills filled with huge irregular-shaped boulders. Unquestionably troll country.
We have booked a log cabin, in Norwegian a hytte, advertised as “remote from civilization”! It is. No wifi, no internet, no telephone connection, no TV. Wonderful.
Outside the sound of a rushing brook and the birdsong we have grown accustomed to in Stavanger. And on our first walk we hear the insistent (intrusive?) call of a cuckoo.
On the drive up to our cabin we saw many newly-born lambs, huppeling (lovely Dutch word) after their mothers, tails wiggling in delight and they sucked milk from her, then gambolled off. They cannot walk (yet), they skip and bounce. Newborn lambs one of the most joyous sights I know; many memories and associations…
We sat in the sunshine on the ?deck, ?balcony ?terrace, blessed by the warmth, enjoying our simple picnic lunch. The children played hide-and-seek in the surrounding woods, which offered countless excellent hiding places. Then the three adults (except me !) went for an enthusiastic uphill walk, while I unpacked the various containers of food we’ve brought, intended to last us for ten days. I think we’ve gauged it about right: we’ll see.
After tea, the family departed, leaving us to the silence of the trees. More unpacking of clothes and stuff, and warming of our bedroom with excellent electric fire. We tried to light the log stove in the living room, but alas the paper and kindling were damp and only a sad white smoke was achieved!!
Better tomorrow, when we will have dried things out. It seems no one has been in the house this year. Because of the covid-19 pandemic, many owners have not been allowed to rent their houses. But this  weekend is the first when the Norwegian government has relaxed some of the rules about “social distancing” and how many people may gather together. Each European country is following its own path, there are differing theories about this virus and how it behaves. It does make fascinating reading, although I could wish the main issue were not how to avoid death…
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark, said another of those wise English Elizabethans. Francis Bacon? Was he an Elizabethan, or earlier? Ah, now I notice the usefulness of rapid internet connection. Since we don’t have it up here in the hytte, we can’t find quick online answers; no memory chalet for us (thinking of Tony Judt’s exquisite final writing).
But, after all, the idea in coming here was to retreat. To listen to the wind in the trees, the bleating of the lambs, the fresh liquid birdsong, and the various sounds of water. And the still, small voice that I have learned to recognize, though all too often blotted out by the many cries and crashes that fill my every day.

The first evening was cold in the hytte. We went to bed as it was dusking outside (this is Norway of the long summer nights).
Just remembered the menu: made one of my sustaining and substantial vegetable soups. Delicious. And drew up a a list of days’ menus for the rest of the time we’re here, planning and balancing according to our supplies. Should all work out just fine.
No owls to be heard… A half moon in the clear night sky.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Definitely not the cruellest month...

Stavanger, Thursday 30 April

Not a cruel month, as T.S. Eliot pronounced in melancholic mood. Here in southern Norway it bred starry-petalled wood anemones out of the leaf-thick ground, and shining golden lesser-celandine. At first the anemones were white, rolling across the sloping woodland floor like scattered stars. After a few weeks there followed the delicate mauve variety (my grandson called them "lavender"). Day by day the dry twigs grew fatter, then softly uncurled, willow and hazel, and then the blossom unbudded: wild plum, blackthorn, pear and wild cherry. I have lots of photos recording this wonder. Never before have I had the time (or place) to observe Spring's soft unfolding, day by day, like this.
So, although for many this April is, alas, the cruellest month (yes, I read the daily obituaries published on my laptop) I spend a lot of time pondering on the intangible. Death and resurrection. Indeed, a mystery. I suspect I will never find the words to express my hope and my certainty. The tongue cannot speak nor the ear hear nor the eye see nor the heart imagine. Metaphysical meditations...

On Wednesday evenings I join the Skype link to a group from the English Reformed church in Amsterdam (also know as the Begijnhof church), and together we read from the Bible, exchanging ideas, swapping insights. We are, not surprisingly, now reading from the book of Acts, which describes events in Jerusalem immediately after the death of Jesus. The minister (pastor) acts as "guide" and shows us links to other passages in the Bible and invites us all to comment and respond. It's a very democratic (good word!) gathering; I am always learning more. Really, I am so happy to have studied the things I have, so that now I find I can appreciate what 50 years ago was still puzzling to me. This is an encouragement to those who feel they are a little young!
Which reminds me: on one of my walks around the little lake here, I heard young voices singing from a nearby hillock, and turning to look I saw two little girls (reminded me of my granddaughters) standing on a small grassy knoll and imitating windmills with their arms, whilst they sang, over and over again:
We are the world, we are the children...
I waved to them and they waved back. And went on singing.

Here is David (I trimmed his hair last week, quite pleased with the result! He ponders on the eternal nature of numbers, i.e. his book on Magic Squares).
I still haven't re-discovered the method  I was using a year ago, to transfer my pix onto this blog, but I'm confident time will unfold all, ha ha.
Tomorrow all seven of us set off, heavily laden with boxes of food, to deposit David and me in a hytte (Norwegian for log cabin usually built from pinewood) far from civilization. There, with only the company of trees and small glacial lakes, we shall go for healthy walks in the adjoining nature reserve, listening to the birdsong and the wind in the branches of the firs.
No intrusion from the outside world, no whisperings of developments concerning the latest onslaughts of the coronavirus.

This is Vreni and me, a couple of years ago, on Zurich station, where we again met briefly this year in mid February. We haven't changed very much!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Spring in Stavanger, Norway

And now in age, I bud again;
After so many deaths, I live and write.
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing...

(George Herbert, 1633)

Stavanger, 28 April 2020

It is morning. The waters of the lake are smooth. No wind blows.
Birdsong bursts into the still air.
Time to get up. 

We came here on 5 March, a visit to stay with our daughter and family, already arranged in 2019, before any whisper of a pandemic. We came prepared for four weeks and have been here now for eight. As we arrived, European borders continued to close. Being Dutch citizens, we could have returned to Amsterdam, via a circuitous route, but almost all our friends and family urged us to stay in the relative safety of southwest Norway. So we did, and adapted to a different style of living.
The house is large, space enough for the seven of us; the back garden runs down to a lake, Little Stoka, and it became a daily delight for David and me to walk round this lake, watching spring life return to the bare branches. I have a wonderful time taking photos.
Each day, provided it's not pouring with rain, we amble and stride (alternately!) along the path that climbs and dips through the wooded country surrounding our "borrowed" home.
I think of the Portuguese word saudade: the longing, the nostalgic melancholia, for a place, or a face, that one misses, and may never see again. Because, never before have I been so aware of the transience of life. Although no one I know well has died from the effects of covid-19, the daily published lists tell me that thousands have. Lo, in our life we are in the midst of death.
And Easter has come and gone while we were living in lock-down, and there were few to share the shout: "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed", although life was unlocking the leaves and spreading the shining six-petalled faces of white wood anemones and glittering lesser celandine in great swathes between the tangled tree roots. Glorious beneath the uncurling tips of branches and beside the uncurling fronds of ferns.

Well, I have taken many beautiful photos as we wandered along these wooded ways, but of course, not being a great laptop hero (!!) I can't remember how to transfer them to this blog. Which is a pity. I will try just one, and inquire from some of the younger generation around here, who will doubtless be able to help me instantaneously! 
I meditate on time and age, and listen to the wind.