It was one of the windiest days ever, and after enjoying some serious sky-sightseeing, I ended up being hit by a brutal sandstorm, the sand probably coming from one of the numerous construction sites. I breathed in some of it, and I can assure you, it didn’t taste all too good. Hours later, some sand would still trickle from my hair, until I took a shower and clogged the drain for good. But it was all worth it, never had I seen a more dramatic sky over Berlin.
The old GDR, and I’m giving my age away by saying so, has so many beautiful spots to visit. East Germany is full of historic places yet to be discovered and I’m way behind. I haven’t really used these last 29 years since the Wiedervereinigung all too wisely for a German who considers himself into art, history and architecture, I must say. Please don’t tell anybody. Anyway, Halle on Saale in Saxony-Anhalt, much more known for being Georg Friedrich Händel’s place of birth than its history as a salt-harvesting city since at least the Bronze Age, has a lot to offer. I visited only for a day, but hell, it was worth it. It’s only one hour by train from Berlin, and close enough to Thuringia to have some great Thüringer Klöße on the menu, the best dumplings you’ve ever had, so I’ll be back soon, I guess…
Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.
I have never spent as much time in the garden as this year, a year, where temperatures started rising above 30 degrees Celsius in early spring, a year, where we had breakfast under the walnut tree before it had any leaves on it. Over my morning coffee, I witnessed every single step of a walnut’s circle of life, right now, I’d say the tree is seven months pregnant, the walnuts in their green peel are getting bigger every day. This year, I had rhododendrons in full bloom to my left when dipping a croissant in my morning coffee, and not the kitchen cupboard. I’ve been admiring the blossoms every single day from dusk till dawn, now I’m trying to ignore their decay when watering them, there are just to many to pick them off, it’s kind of a Sisyphean task, I constantly feel compelled to nonetheless as I’ve never been forced to water the rhododendrons on a daily basis before either, which is even more Sisyphean a task, I must admit. But a gardener’s work is never done, so we’re all kind of Sisyphean people, aren’t we? Yesterday, I restarted my eternal fight against snails by dispersing crushed eggshells, organic as hell a remedy, as they are the remains of our breakfast eggs, the shells are supposed to keep those little bastards from devouring our hostas. Over these last weeks, I’ve grown so accustomed to care for my plants every need, they now have breakfast before me, I started to carry my coffee mug with me when hosing them off with the spray gun in the morning, faking some morning dew. Or I tell them it’s raining. You see, plants believe anything you tell them, Sally Brown is my authority on this one, and many other things too, by the way—you do know Sally Brown, don’t you? She’s Charlie Brown’s sister, but if you don’t know him, I really cannot help you. But do try crushed eggshells.
Of course our garden’s not really a secret one, it belongs to a house with an address, as a matter of fact, the postman knows about us and our house, he delivers our mail on a daily basis, sometimes though, when heavy rain weighs down the overhanging branches of our huge magnolia, a magnolia inhabited by a sweeping wisteria at that, the poor guy has to make it through this our jungle, but as soon as he complains, it’s understandable, he’s very tall, 6.5, I guess, we’re all smaller, I’m the tallest with 6.2, anyway, as soon as he complains the branches get cut, but however successful he has made out our house in this green, flourishing opulence, he’ll never make out some of the roses, or the bust my mother put some place years ago and that I rediscovered only yesterday, or the bamboo wind chime, a wind chime that’s mostly mute as the climbing ivy’s leaves not only hide the apple tree’s apples but also block the orchestration of its pieces, until cut free again that is, but then again, if he did know about all that, it wouldn’t be a secret garden, now would it?
At the beginning of James Ivory’s wonderful film Howards End, a perfect adaptation of E. M. Forster’s novel, Vanessa Redgrave walks through a beautiful cottage garden, it’s hers, no doubt, she’s so very much at ease, she’s contemplating everything with such devotion as if she wanted to soak it all in, as if these flowers, trees, and the mere grass she’s walking on were as essential as the oxygen in the very air she’s breathing in, she’s completely in her element, utterly invigorated—this scene is of no particular importance to the film, at first glance she might appear just as another elderly Victorian lady from another English period drama, her role is just a supporting one anyway, but to me, this scene is everything, to me, it’s the best scene of the entire film, however more significant the rest of the content is, it’s just so true a moment, there’s nothing better than to take a walk through your garden, paying a visit to all these plants you’ve known for years and years, watch them grow and bloom, branches, boughs, and trunks, leaves and blossoms, they all have your complete attention, every single one of them, and this attention is what takes away your every problem, some kind of gentlemen’s agreement, you care for us, we care for you—pacta sunt servanda, and on goes the hose.
In any city, summer is strenuous, public transportation resembles sauna with a dress code, the air gets saturated with pollution and the wrong kind of perfume, you feel like signing any petition that wants to ban these repugnant heavy oriental colognes for men, unless you’re on a diet, then any repulsion is convenient, anything that keeps you from eating, you might want to sign anyway, think of the others that want to enjoy their ice cream cones, all kind of tourists ask for directions, nice and off-putting ones, and while they’re heading for a drink, enviously you sent the nice ones to a nice place, you have to face another meeting in a tie. Escape, I say! To Zurich! That’s the only town where heat is enjoyable, it’s got everything you need, lots of shady places, a lake to jump into, and a fresh breeze from the Alps. Besides—I have no scientific explanation though—nowhere will you find a bluer sky. That photo you see above, it’s not photoshopped, really, it isn’t! I cross my heart! It’s just that blue. Absurdly blue, actually. So blue, it makes me just blue to write about it.