Well finally braved going live.
Well I'm glad you asked. It's a Taoist idea from Lao Tzu.
There are many bad definitions. Here is one that makes sense to me at least.
From Alan Watts:
Wu means "not". Wei has a complex of meanings: "action", "striving", "straining", or "doing". But the best translation of all is "forcing". So, "not forcing" is wu wei. In other words, Tao accomplishes all things without forcing them.
This principle is likened, poetically, to the difference between a pine tree and a willow in a snowstorm. The pine is rigid tree and the snow and ice will pile up on its branches until they crack. The willow is a springy tree. When the weight of the snow becomes too much for the branches, they droop, the snow falls off them and then they bounce up again. That is wu wei.
So I sit here in Greece still waiting for something to turn up and make it clear what to do next. No point to make rash decisions and end up moving back to the UK, and then have to move again when the work finally materialises. Or am I fooling myself finally this time?
Just about recovered from the drama.
I don't make a habit of inspecting my 14 year old's face. I'm too tired in the morning to face the "do you need to put make-up on to go to school" argument any more. There was a period when she was going round with a sticking plaster on her nose, which I took to hide a spot and didn't want to embarass her.
But eventually I was awake enough to see that it was not a spot but a nose piercing and hit the roof. There was the usual screaming and shouting on my part and the usual teenager's claims that it was her nose. It seemed she had done it two weeks ago so why hadn't I noticed, even when I sat opposite her when we went out to dinner. Hard to explain. Probably that was why I was so angry.
During the rage, the argument went off the rails in the direction of trust, and why hadn't she asked me. How could I believe her about anything she was doing now? Perhaps she was doing drugs and only sounding reasonable in discussions with me. Perhaps she wouldn't tell me if she was pregnant and go off and have a back street abortion? Perhaps she had too much money for her own good.
Once this can of worms was open, the row had a life of its own. Groundings, no pocket money, no internet (biggest punishment). Refusal to discuss anything at all on my part.
Bee was seriously worried. How could she be damned for one mistake? Didn't I know what sort of a person she was?
The trouble with teenagers is they want to make their own decisions and have their own bodies, but they want to come home at night. She doesn't realise trust is so easy to lose.
Another reason it hurt me was that she felt she couldn't discuss it. She knew I hate them. My objection is that most older people think piercings indicate people who are not serious. It goes along with tattoos. S already has more ear piercings than I like and both B and I think it looks bad.
But if I'd known she really wanted one, we could have discussed it at least. Am I really so powerful that she feels she can't argue with me? We are currently hooked on the Gilmore girls, an American soap on Dutch TV, where the interfering grandma/mother relationship is compensated by the "we are best friends" mother/daughter relationship. Since the mum is a working single mum and the daughter eventually goes to Yale (or is it Harvard?) it's rather upmarket for a soap. Clearly as a mum I am not in the same league.
In the end it blew over. I forget about the grounding (i'm useless at discipline in my own home) and the internet (needed for homework anyway). I think she has promised to leave out the ring (or whatever it is) when it has healed. Though she will put something in when she goes out without me, I'm sure.
Yet more dust!
Before I could even finish the last post, but after I had washed the car, another deluge.
On Sunday we woke to find the air full of dust, as well as layers on the balcony and the car body. By the afternoon it was noticeably darker and a halo round the sun. It was harder to breathe and quite unpleasant.
Thank God it only lasted one day and Monday morning was bright and clear. Apparently the news confirmed it was dust from the Sahara. I gave up and washed the car again, as it really was hard to see through the side windows, and getting dangerous
Now we can expect more dust tomorrow.
Why is it that cats find it so easy to walk across your keyboard and find the right combination of keys to crash your computer?
At least this time, it was only changing the resolution (or something) on the screen so that the display area shrank to occupy the centre of the screen leaving a black border all round.
Nevertheless it took me a good hour or so ferreting in the so-called Knowledge Bases of Microsoft and Sony to find the magic Function +K which restored it. How come the cat can do it without even hitting those keys. I'm sure it didn't use a combination like that.
We all know what happens when you hit a random set of keys by mistake. Then you attempt all sorts of things to fix it, unchecking boxes that were checked, altering options that probably are unrelated but you don't know what else to try.
In the end, you unintentionally reconfigure your computer in the same way that a cat untangles a ball of wool. With the same unusable end, and the same patient unravelling as the only solution.
How about a new category under troubleshooting: cat's paw typing - easy to find the "knowledge" and solutions are equally random.
Just got some new earphones with a microphone to use with my voice over internet phone software (Skype). It arrived via Amazon and Sloph taking two weeks, but now it's here.
it came with a voucher for extra time calling ordinary phones which is not free but quite cheap. The voucher disappeared somewhere after I unpacked it, but all combing the house and balcony, I found it in the bin, luckily before the cleaning lady arrives tomorrow.
While i was wondering whether I had ever seen it, I used the ear phones. Bee got an MP3 player for her birthday. Strangely none of her friends had one and she started a craze. Sloph being an early adopter has had an iPod for nearly a year. I am promised one as soon as I get some more work. In the meantime I am gradually moving my music on to my computer. I haven't played much, so a list of unplayed tracks is pretty random, hence the title.
Loaded the voucher and phoned Sloph to try the software out. It worked fine then the internet cut out as it often does. Took a bit to work out what it was. The diappearing voucher was worth all of 2.04 Euros, (up to 120 mins!). However a short call to the UK cost 7 Eurocents so seemed OK. Better if I can get Sloph to use her computer then it's free.
Why do Brits write (and love to read) about moving house to other countries? The stories are always about moving to the countryside, the hazards of buying property abroad, the quaintness of the locals, and how eventually the Brits become accepted by their neighbours, even speaking the language, going along with the local customs, becoming gentleman farmers, surviving house repairs and the seasons.
It seems that the 60s hippies, if they missed the organic life in the country in the 70s needed to move abroad in the 80s and 90s. After Peter Mayle, France was not daring enough and so the genre moved to Spain and Italy.
It’s not clear whether other EU members also write these books: where is the volume by the taciturn Finn moving to garrulous Ireland, or the Scot moving to Bavaria? Will there be a new lease of life after May 1, when the 200 possible combinations become 600. Non-comprehension as the Maltese moves to Lithuania? The Germans and Dutch have already been everywhere anyway.
This blog is not like those. For a start, I have never lived in the countryside in Eastern Europe. No civilised person does, except in the summer in the summer house. A period living in Wales in a house without electricity drainage water or a road got that out of my system. Eventually the house got all of them, plus telephone and central heating, and it was time to leave. The locals were friendly and got accustomed to our strange habits, though we never learnt Welsh. We never grew grapes or lemons, though probably if there had been an EU subsidy, the hill farmers would have had a go. As it was, they uprooted trees and put them back, cleared hedges and put back fences and gates, and even laid roads going nowhere up the mountain, all to order from Brussels.
What happened to the Victorian explorers? Is darkest Africa too dangerous these days? Has nobody written about moving to New York?
This blog is about urban life in Eastern Europe. Not a typical urban life because we never lived in a high rise concrete block, with lift shafts smelling of urine or bomzhes hanging round the front or back door, though some of our friends did. Nor was it the life of a diplomat in a compound, since we were not that important, or the life of the company expat, since my contracts were short term the next always uncertain and so we expanded our life style only slowly to fit the continuity.
The blog is also about what makes a home. If you carry your house on your back like a snail, what do you really need? When she was told that I did not know where we would live, in Great Britain or somewhere completely different, Sloph aged 11 had tantrums. Bee aged 6 began to draw. What emerged looked like a double decker bus with carefully drawn internal components. These became more and more elaborate. The drawing I remember best had a swimming pool on the roof with palm trees which bore a strong resemblance to the Playmobile set for a luxury hotel which she played with. Inside were several bedrooms and a room she explained was the “love café”. It’s where you go when you want some love, she said. At first this seemed a variant on the usual kids’ drawings of houses and cars, but later I realised she had got it exactly right. The essentials were somewhere to sleep and the “love café”, though the swimming pool is also good.
It took two years to finally pull up our roots in the UK, realising that we could no longer cope with a house with a leaking roof and unlettable, with 5 acres of ground becoming a wilderness. So we sold up and have been moving ever since. I finally felt my home had caught up with me when my books came out of storage and were installed in Vilnius.
In Kiev, when I lived on my own, apartments were found for me. The first belonged to a friend of a work colleague, an artist of the Soviet Union, now unappreciated and out of work. The large flat featured a piano and the walls were hung with her ceramics and mosaics, but also had a tiny kitchen with a fridge dating from the 50s which filled most of it. It was located near the Council of Ministers, so I was assured I would be safe. In fact I never had any concerns about safety, and nothing valuable to steal.
Next I spent a couple of months in a flat with bedroom furniture modelled with white shiny plastic and mirrors, missing only the zebra skin rug. Finally I settled down in a smart (by the times) two bedroom apartment in the centre overlooking the Opera house. The living room sofas were hard, but the kitchen was warm and cosy. My Ukrainian friends and I spent many hours in the kitchen discussing life, philosophy and work, like in so many other Ukrainian homes. Smokers would religiously go outside to the corridor or the balcony, depending on the temperature. It is never acceptable to smoke in the workplace or the home.
Moving to Lithuania and needing a home for three was not so easy. After looking at a range of slums and palaces with not much in between we found a two storey flat in the Old Town with bedrooms in the attic. They were small but there was one each, in which we each made our own den and spent most of our time in it, ignoring the living room. In the first few weeks the children refused to go out anywhere except to the nearby Irish pub, where we had dinner more often than I care to think about. Gradually we expanded this to the Indian restaurant a few metres away from the pub.
In the film Chocolat, living with a home on a boat is contrasted with moving from town to town, recreating a home every time. Viane is fated to move from town to town in response to the North wind, never belonging. Sometimes I feel that I have fated my children to the same sort of life. We counted 12 different “schools” for Sloph including nurseries and childminders before she came to Lithuania and that was only living in 4 places. In Vilnius we had four different homes in 5 years.
But Anouk compromises by making a den under the stairs to hide in when things get difficult, and talking to Pantouffle the rabbit who is invisible. Bee has a Teddy who fulfils the same role. His history (actually he was purchased by her aunt in the Duty Free shop in Moscow) has become “abandoned by his parents in Moscow airport” and she comforted him that although his parents had disappeared and left him in the airport, she would never leave him. In return he tells her all her worries. To find out how she feels, sometimes we ask Teddy the question and she provides his answer.
On our first trip away from home in Vilnius to Tallinn , neither girl would venture out. Bee made a den in the corner of the hotel room with a sheet and a chair.
Is this blog about belonging? When do you belong? Do you create your own environment? Is it intentional to settle down or does it just happen?
I washed my car the weekend before last. I admit I don’t do it often enough, so I am used to it being dirty.
But I was not happy when overnight it became covered with sand-like dust which appeared to have rained down over night, leaving brown rain splashes all over it. Nor was it just my car, but everyone else’s and my balcony and my plants were covered with sand as well. And this happens often in Athens, though once your car is dirty like mine usually is, it ceases to matter much.
What is this rain and where does it come from? Jennifer says that this time of year it is pollen, which sounds feasible but she says pollen is white and fluffy. What hit my car and balcony is definitely yellow and sand.
Last year Athens was a building site and dust was always blowing and settling everywhere. This year things are quiet on the building front in general, so that is not the explanation.
As a joke I have been referring to it as Sahara dust, but I have just remembered that I have The Secret Life of Dust so I can rush off and check. This book is subtitled: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the big consequences of little things.
Arriving to do our weekly shop at Alpha Vita we found both car parks full. Oh no said Bee, supermarket angst! Let’s come back later. Does anyone else suffer from supermarket angst but our family? When it strikes, no matter that you have no food in the house and visitors are coming, you feel overwhelmed and nauseous and have to get the hell out. Of course everyone has it when they are doing the Christmas shop for food, and I had it a lot when I was pregnant, but I was surprised that my children still get it. Toddlers and husbands seem to get it all the time but perhaps that is an allergy to shopping, but women are maybe tougher.
It definitely comes on when the supermarkets are crowded and in those “stack ‘em up, pile ‘em high shops. I think it has something to do with the narrow width between the aisles and the height of the shelves closing me in. But maybe it’s also linked to the air conditioning. Perhaps it’s a form of claustrophobia, or should it be agoraphobia?
Our supermarket is a reasonable size and not normally crowded, so I was surprised to hear Branwen mention angst. We reviewed other supermarkets where it occurred. Definitely in the massive Maxima in the Acropolis shopping mall in Vilnius: just too big and crowded and we could never find anything. Never in the normal-sized Maxima near where we lived. Sometimes in crowded department stores on Oxford St or other capital cities. Come to think of it, it tends to come on when clothes shopping when you can find a lot of things that look nice and you have no money.
To waste some time we went down the road for our regular trip to Marks and Spencer to sneer at the clothes. Word that M&S is a failed retailer selling frumpy clothes that only desperate grannies would buy, has not yet reached Greece, as every municipality has a “boutique” M&S. These sell a range of clothes which seem to be specially “Greeked” up with sequins and other flashy bits, (possibly the recycled Christmas party range) but are in normal sizes for Greek girls who seem to snap them up regardless. Part of the game is to feel the product and guess what it is made of. Barbed wire was one suggestion. A part cashmere offering turned out to have 5%.
In Vilnius we used to play the game of spot the “deficitny” product. At least we didn’t call it that. That was the name for products in the former USSR when they were in short supply (either because they were never made at all) or came in and never made the shops because they were all sold to the salespeople’s friends and relations either out the back door or under the counter. At first in Vilnius, there wasn’t much in the shops and no supermarkets worth the name. As far as westerners were concerned, everything was “deficitny”. People would exchange stories about where it was possible to buy things, but when you got there they were never exactly right. Brown sugar turned out to be the brown crystals for putting in your coffee, not real cane sugar from the West Indies for making gingerbread. And of course you could not get anything remotely ethnic , at least encompassing Indian, Chinese, Mexican or Thai, though some had Georgian, Armenian or Ukrainian goodies. When we went home to the UK we went to the local supermarket, looked at all the new stuff and filled a suitcase with Indian and Chinese sauces and packets.
But after a year or so, Minima, Medea and Maxima developed into real supermarkets and the deficitny list got shorter and shorter. We stopped needing to bring things from home. All the usual things arrived in the shops, at first with Lithuanian instructions for use stuck over the instructions in other languages. Young girls harassed you in the aisles to make sure you understood what a product was for and how to use it. Finally products arrived with suitable languages and I got used to choosing between Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian. Here in Greece it is usually a choice between Greek and Italian so my Italian is improving.
When we left Lithuania the list was down to brown sugar and Greek yoghurt, so it was lucky we came to Greece where both are available. Do we miss anything from Lithuania in Greece? Cottage cheese and sour cream. And a hundred types of pickled herring. But not cepelinai.
A lot of it about at the moment what with the Pope, Terri Schiavo and the (presumably) mad Tamil hacking people’s limbs off with a sword in a German church who appeared briefly on the news on Sunday evening and was never heard of again.
So what do I think about dying? I don’t have much experience as I am not yet of an age when all my friends are dying. To date I have only been affected by the deaths of my parents. I was unable to brave the funeral of a friend in my thirties who died very early of breast cancer, or grieve with a local family whose child stepped off the pavement in the path of a lorry. I felt I had no words to say, either to express grief or to give comfort. My grandfather died when I was ten, but this was after a long illness resulting from a stroke, and I remember only the strangeness of the funeral and the changes in our family afterwards.
However more recently, I have thought a lot about death, but reading Taoist and Buddhist literature rather than Christian theology.
In recent years, the pope to me had become synonymous with conservatism and being anti-women, anti-contraceptive etc. It was refreshing to see his early years as pope again and to remember that great surge of hope that a Polish Pope brought, not only to the break with Catholic tradition, but also the symbolism in the fight against communism. How difficult it is to remember quite how immovable communism seemed until 1989 and how quickly it collapsed.
Nostalgic also to see how the Pope reminded me of my father in looks. We always joked about this as a family, even to the way their English had the same heavy accent. It made us proud to be partly Polish (irony of irony as it turned out).
The American circus which surrounded this court case and death was depressing, as was the fact that American politics and Congress got involved. The issues round her life and death are thought-provoking but rarely got discussed in a sensitive way in the press.
My parents’ deaths
Death was probably discussed quite a lot towards the end of their lives. Even earlier, my mother had often joked that if she ever had an incurable disease she would take an “Arthur Koestler” cup of cocoa. It seems that Koestler and his wife jointly committed suicide in 1983, presumably by something in their cocoa, when he was suffering from leukaemia and Parkinson's disease. I remember my mother’s “threat” being made rather earlier than this, before she was ill, so I don’t know whether Koestler himself had threatened this. My father never had a view on this but it seems unlikely they planned a suicide pact, as they argued over everything, which seemed to keep them alive. In fact we predicted that they would die within days of each other as there would be no one to argue with. We got that wrong.
We were never really sure what religion my father was (probably Uniate, an Eastern Catholic church common where he was born). He claimed he was more of a humanist seeing God in nature, but for the last rites he was happy with the Anglican church like my mother.
My father died first at over eighty (his age was not really clear because of his two sets of papers). He had a mild heart attack in his fifties, made a good recovery and retired early, so his old age was relatively comfortable until he reached 75 or so. By then heart disease had weakened him and gradually his organs were failing, leaving him very miserable and bedridden, wishing to die, but unable to. His death was a relief to all, and we were thankful that he had lived so long given his imprisonment by the Germans in the war.
My mother was diagnosed as having breast cancer in her sixties but she survived surgery and chemotherapy and recovered to live a full life for several years. She was determined my father would go first so that he was not left ill on his own, but looking after him wore her out. She managed a further five years before the secondary cancer and the beginnings of glaucoma brought her to a hospice and a calm death. It seemed that she could not bear to go blind like her mother had done. I remember that in the hospice, she was fitted with a drip-feed painkiller on her arm, which she removed because she felt that she could not think clearly enough with it, and preferred to manage the pain herself. When she felt she had had enough, she called us sisters from our various homes to her bedside, gave us all her blessing and then died the next day.