blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pforzheim, then and now

We're off to Germany again and while Chris is working with some company customers, we'll be staying in a town we haven't been in before. Pforzheim is known for its jewelry and watch-making industry, for which it was nicknamed Goldstadt. Once, further back in time, it was a centre for the lumber trade which transported timber from the Black Forest via the Würm, Nagold, Enz rivers and thence down the Neckar and the Rhine to the Netherlands for shipbuilding, and the construction of Amsterdam "on poles in a swamp," as the Wikipedia puts it. 

 Here follows some more information from the Wikipedia, a horrific story:
In the 2nd world war, Pforzheim suffered many raids in 1944 and 1945, because of its production of precision instruments for military use. The largest raid occurred on the evening of February 23, 1945, bombs falling for 22 minutes. This attack on "Yellowfin", the RAF's code name for Pforzheim, included 379 aircraft. The post-war British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 83 per cent of the town's built-up area was destroyed, "probably the greatest proportion in one raid during the war". In the town centre, almost 90% of the buildings were reduced to rubble. 17,600 citizens were officially counted as dead and thousands were injured. People died from the immediate impact of explosions, from burns due to burning incendiary materials that seeped through basement windows into the cellars of houses where they hid, from lack of oxygen and poisonous gases, and from collapsing walls of houses. Some of them drowned in the Enz or Nagold rivers into which they had jumped while trying to escape from the burning incendiary materials in the streets, but even the rivers were burning as the phosphorus floated on the water. 
After the attack, about 30,000 people had to be fed by makeshift public kitchens because their housing had been destroyed. Many Pforzheim citizens were buried in common graves at Pforzheim's main cemetery because they could not be identified. There are many graves of complete families. Rather than rebuild the centre of Pforzheim on the old street plan, the main thoroughfares were widened after the war. The rubble from the destruction was heaped into a large, high mound on the outskirts of the town and covered with soil and vegetation, officially named the "Wallberg".
We are going to stay in the centre of the town next week, at a hotel beside the River Enz. The photos indicate an attractive town with grassy walks and flowery public squares. A wine festival will be taking place there.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The others

I started writing this on Flight 889 from London, having just watched a French Quebec film called La Donation, translated as The Legacy (2009). It's about a woman who inherits a family doctor's practice in the wilds of Quebec, north of Rouyn-Noranda. (The village of Normétal, the setting of the film, really exists.) As she gets to know her patients, she becomes ever more dedicated to them. It was a touching but uncompromising story about what it costs to be compassionate.

Other people have been my concern too, these past two weeks, but I'm no doctor. Back in Ottawa, people are bound to start asking, "Did you have a good trip?" and I'll find it hard to reply. I met my mother, sister, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, one of my nieces and her baby, spoke to my aunt and my cousin, heard about my nephews. The snag with these occasional trips to visit family and friends is that nearly everyone has painful thoughts to share, because that helps to alleviate the pain. I don't mind being a confidante, but this time there seems to have been more pain than usual. My mother complains of forgetfulness and confusion, poor eyesight and weak knees, in short, of old age. Then from the others come tales of bad luck in hospital, the onset of ailments or abnormalities that need urgent treatment, intimations of mortality, mental illness, nervous complaints. Some don't seem to know, yet, that they'll need help, or they're waiting for a diagnosis. Mustn't go into specifics on a public blog, but I listened to more than one description of upsetting situations at home, at work, of people who make impossible demands, of vulnerable ones whose stability is under threat.
Reminder of a teasing comment
 made by my sister!

I suppose it's the same with most families.

It doesn't take long to become overwhelmed; at the same time I also become aware of the strengths of the people I love, their courage, determination, generosity and sheer stamina. All I can do is listen, and hope that their inner resources won't run out and that they won't have to suffer too many further blows.

Did I have a "nice holiday"? In spite of the worries, I believe I did, although it wasn't a holiday, exactly. There were many moments that made me "feel warm," as my Chinese daughter-in-law would have put it. I was hugged or gave hugs on every day of my stay. Apart from the inevitable rainy days in Cardiff, the weather kept very pleasant and I saw some lovely views of the British countryside. At Mum's house, I watched and heard a thrilling Prom concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, conductor-pianist Leif Andsnes and the BBC chorus. I revisited places that reminded me of delights and adventures in the past and set foot in some new places that will give me happy memories in the future. Apart from the night flight that was cancelled at the start of my trip, my journeys all went smoothly and my outings were not only fun but also interesting. I was introduced to some people I hadn't met before, whose friendliness reassures me that my family is supported not only by me.

All the same, I find it hard to sleep, and have come away thinking I ought to be on the phone night and day.
Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf.
But I never quite agree with that miserable poet. Misery is often self-inflicted. In my view, the truth is that it's love that's handed on.

While I was away I was reading a book I bought at the airport bookshop, by Canada's former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson. It was a series of chapters, on the themes of belonging and citizenship (the 2014 Massey Lectures series). She extols the Ojibway notion of the circle of belonging:
...[T]hat circle allows everyone to see each other, touch each other, and lose fear of each other. The Other is no longer separate, no longer above or beneath, no longer unknown, but a part of the greater circle. In a circle we do not have to ask "Who is my neighbour?" because our neighbour is right beside us and across from us, and each of us just has to let go of a hand in order to let them in. In a circle we have to listen to each other's stories * [...] And we cannot deny to others the right to belong. It is the most profound acknowedgement of our belonging to the human race.
(* My emphasis.)