Most Fridays, my friend and I meet for what we have come to call “setting the world to rights.” We are both women of a certain age — as a matter of fact we were born on the same year. Though not on the same date. Our spouses as well , as you would expect, are also of a certain age. Coincidentally and amazingly, they were also born on the same year. We have been friends since I came to Bonn six years ago.
Friday is a good time to unwind and laughter is very loud and frequent on these sessions. We start with English and halfway through switch to German. Fueled with good coffee, our minds skip and dance from topic to topic. Cakes — each week one of us is responsible for this “coffee-pusher” — bring our bodies’ and minds’ low energy, only natural at the end of a working week, to an acceptable level. Perhaps sometimes dangerously high, as we come up with the craziest and wildest of ideas.
My friend is partial to the cakes from a French patisserie on Poppelsdorf. All sorts of interesting tarts and tortes: strawberry, blueberry, or mixed fruit tarts with creamy fillings and crisp buttery crusts are the handiwork of a talented all woman-run confiserie. My favourite of these is a very tart (pardon the pun) lime-lemon tart, which comes filled with a puckeringly sour-sweet citrus custard, topped with a slice of lime and, for added colour, a slice of strawberry complete with green leaf. My own preference when it is my turn is however for plain English-type cakes, some of which I may bake myself. I like cakes whose natural goodness is not bolstered with an abundance of whipped cream, but perhaps with a hint of rum or madeira. An old-fashioned loaf of fruitcake (the dried fruits having guzzled a fair amount of liqueur) or a cake made of ground nuts and afterwards drizzled with a lemon glaze or a traditional German yeast cake with a filling of marzipan or cherries or some other fruit in season. (Btw, these occasions are one of my departures from my gluten-free regime. The other is celebratory cakes. I am all for a temporary liberation from a strict routine. Everything in moderation is a good motto to have.)
Occasionally, my friend brings out a treasure trove of Middle Eastern delights – baklava, ma’amoul, diverse and whimsical confections created around ground pistachios and almonds, accented with the scents of roses and orange blossoms. These heady exotic pastries are regarded as too sweet by others, such as her family, but not by the two of us. These seem straight out of the fabled courts of the Arabian nights, and go exceedingly well — too exceedingly so — with coffee. Or herb tea – in the winter our favourite is a blend called Kaminfeuer (chimney fire) – rosehips and hibiscus with cinnamon. Mercifully these exotica are rare, or we would be sure to take on the generously luscious proportions of sultan’s concubines. (Now there’s a thought!)
As with the diversity of our tasty offerings, our discussions touch upon all manner of topics. They range from global warming to the invasion of alien plant and animal species, the amount of agrochemicals in our food crops, to the aberrant timing of the weather. She regards me as “English,” having lived in England for close to a decade and a half, and since I have taken on some quaint British mannerisms, such as my spelling, for instance. Thus the topic of weather – that classic British standby — is a sure prelude to interesting conversation.
Whatever one of us has been reading about, or has attended a lecture or conference in, feeds these weekly exchanges. Our interests have certain common tangential points: in particular, we are both deeply interested in nature, the earth, and its biodiversity. But whereas I focus on plants and gardening, my friend focuses on wildlife, most particularly on European birds. She always carries mini binoculars with high magnification, and like me, has also taken to carrying her camera everywhere.
With our spouses’ retirement on the horizon, last week’s session centred on what we would do henceforth. The idea of travelling all over without any definite plan came up. How wonderful it would be to have a mobile home and to go anywhere we please at random. We could stop wherever there was an agreeable site with some points of interest, such as a literary or musical tradition or a traditional craft. Perhaps an ongoing fair or festival. If there was an inviting local inn, we could stay there. If not, there was always the mobile home to repair to. If there was some kind of promising local cuisine, then certainly we could try out the local fare. If not (and the possibility of this is quite remote, as we are both rather adventurous in the culinary department), and there was a market of locally grown or caught ingredients, then we could always cook our own. It sounded like an ideal way of life. Perhaps for a year or two, living on the road.
But what will you do about your garden? my friend asked.
Now that was something I hadn’t thought of. A window box of a few herbs and annual flowers? I could place it securely on the roof of the mobile home.
This was the point at which our imaginations began to run wild.
I could perhaps convert the entire roof into a succulent meadow – with sedums and drought-tolerant grasses. That would provide insulation against heat and cold as well. And why not a solar panel or two? And a couple of black-painted water containers linked to the solar panels for hot water?
” There won’t be enough room for your plants,” said my friend. “How about an Anhänger (a trailer)?”
Oh, that sounds fab! One-meter-square gardening!
“You could go vertical – at the very bottom, mushrooms, then at the middle, salads, and at the very top, tomatoes.”
Perfect! The mushrooms need the dark; salads don’t need too much light; and the tomatoes will have all the light they need.
“You will need some chickens,” added my friend. “For sustainability.”
Of course, chicken manure is known to be extremely rich. “Okay then, a wire cage surrounding all, with enough room for the chickens to go all the way around and up and down.
“Just like a hamster run with ramps,” said my friend. “You’ll have to cage them up or they’ll eat all the produce.”
Oh yes, this was beginning to sound really interesting.
“You can also paint the outside, just like a gypsy caravan.”My imagination balked at this. A bit too flower-childrenish, too 70s, I thought.
“And get sponsorship, and write a blog about your journey…” my friend went on. “And tiny sheep….”
And bonsai fruit trees, I thought. A most interesting plan indeed.
Thus did last Friday’s session on setting the world to rights go. We didn’t go too deeply into the world’s affairs, such as how to solve the Palestinian question, for instance. Or into evidences of global warming and why the azaleas in her garden are blooming again now, when they are normally spring bloomers. We just enjoyed having their lovely, unseasonal blooms. Not asking too much about how or why. Just revelling in the azalea’s rose-like form.
I am enormously thankful for these rare blessings. To have such a friend – wise about life and people, witty, fiercely intelligent, funny, widely read and travelled, with such a diverse range of interests. I am also grateful that despite our different backgrounds – she’s German, I’m Filipino – we share similar perspectives on many topics. And at the same time, we can freely shed different or conflicting lights on other topics, without any animosity. Most of all, I am thankful to have these convivial Friday sessions where we put forth our considered solutions, practical or not, to the world’s ills and set them to rights. Just the normal preoccupation of two crazy women of a certain age with wild and crazy ideas. This past Friday we focused, instead of the greater world out there, on the micro – our own little, private worlds.
I think hers and my idea of a mobile, sustainable, vertical farm sounds perfectly doable. Any suggestions for refinement and technical considerations are most welcome. Do send them in!
I attach a sketch from one of my favourite books — Sara Midda’s South of France. I can definitely see myself travelling along such landscapes. But with tomatoes and herbs in a mobile farm, it may be a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle. But it doesn’t matter, does it? And it could all be tremendously fun!