Invisible Idiots De-worming Death in October

There was a certain period when our children were little, when I would be waiting impatiently for Peter to come home so I could run to a meeting, and as I ran out the door I told Peter, “There is an invisible idiot on the second shelf in the kitchen.” This provided Peter with the information he would need about where to find a pacifier when it was time to put the boys to bed, but without reminding them of the pacifier, so they wouldn’t ask for it before bedtime, because we had reached the point where pacifiers were only used for going to sleep.

The code name “invisible idiot” for a pacifier came from an article I had read about advances in machine translations. The article described an example of running the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” through a machine translation, which came out as “invisible idiot”. At the time, I thought it was an impressive achievement, even if not entirely accurate, which also assured me that I would not be made redundant as a human translator any time soon.

That was over twenty years ago, and advances in machine translations are even more impressive since then, but in the six weeks I have been living in Calafou now, as I have been using machine translations quite extensively, I find myself frequently reminded of the invisible idiot. Often I look at the translation of message exchanges, and I imagine that at some level this statement probably makes sense to a machine, and it may create an interesting meaning of its own, but it is probably not exactly what a human meant.

Since I avoid using Google services wherever possible, I have been using primarily the open source alternatives DeepL for Spanish to German translations and Apertium for Catalan to English. Since Apertium can switch between Catalan and Spanish, this is also useful for mixed-language exchanges. If all else fails, an odd Romanian site with a nineties-style interface can usually decipher the most confusing messages. On my phone I couldn’t get the mobile version of DeepL from F-Droid to work, so I ended up with a commercial application, which frequently annoys me when I’m trying to paste a text and accidentally click on an ad. When it is right, this app is very, very good, so it annoys me to have to admit that a commercial app can be that good, but when it is wrong, it is very, very far off, which can result in unpleasant surprises. When it translated a comment last night as a seriously questionable sexual innuendo, I decided to wait for the electricity to come back on and check it on one of the desktop apps, because that is certainly not the way people communicate here. Of course that also raises the question of what is going on in the background that would lead a machine to read a sexual innuendo into a simple remark. If machine translations improve through machine learning, what exactly has this machine been learning?

As I am also working hard on learning Spanish (I have currently reached the communication skills level of a two-year-old), sometimes the mistakes in the machine translations provide me with useful clues about how Spanish works. The most frequent confusion arises from an inability to distinguish between he, she and it, which tells me that it must be the same word in Spanish, when a person’s gender keeps unexpectedly switching from one sentence to the next. I have also learned that machine translations can be confused by proper names. When I see messages with mysterious references to fleas, frames, sweets, etc., it is usually a sign that I need to check the original message for people’s names that I recognize in between the other words. Since it is also often confusing for humans that one of the dogs here is named Muerte, I can’t fault the machine translations for not recognizing this word as someone’s name, but it is still amusing to be informed that “Death will be de-wormed the end of October.” I should probably be more appreciative that the machine translation was able to help me with the word for “de-wormed”, which was the only one in that sentence I didn’t understand. In light of my extensive involvement in the past years with discourses relating to death, however, I still feel that this is simply a wonderful statement: Death will be de-wormed the end of October.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, and apart from the recurrent problems with proper names and third person singular pronouns, machine translations generally seem to work better for email messages. When confusion arises there, it usually seems to involve references to spaces, practices or groups that are specific to Calafou. As I learn more and more about how things work here, these riddles become easier and easier to solve. I see this as confirming the expectation that people tend to write more formally (or at least in complete sentences using conventional grammar) in email, and I find myself wondering how this might relate to the widespread opinion that email is falling out of favor, especially with young people. I have seen that opinion expressed so often, and I still have reservations about it, but now I’m curious about a possible connection.

Also unsurprisingly, probably, the machine translations seem to find short messages posted to the Calafou Riot channels more challenging. For me, still struggling to keep up and figure out what is going on, sometimes this can be frustrating, but sometimes it is simply hilarious. One thing I have learned, as I am gradually able to identify who the various nicks belong to, is that it is sometimes more useful to simply imagine the person’s voice in my head in order to understand what they are saying. I don’t need machine translations in order to understand voices that have meanwhile become more familiar. And I find myself drawn deeper and deeper into questions about how communication really works.

When someone reached down to pet Ginevra recently, addressing her as “guapa”, my mind “translated” that to the familiar situation of someone reaching down to pet her in Austria and calling her “Du Hübsche” (roughly: “You pretty thing, you”). The same gesture, the same gentle tone told me what “guapa” means better than any dictionary or machine translation ever could. I’m learning that there is a level where humor can still be understood, even when you don’t get the joke because you don’t understand the words. And it is not (only) words that convey kindness, generosity and understanding.

As I was wrestling with machine translations of the Calafou wiki in an attempt to rewrite confusing (not only to me) instructions, somewhere on the periphery of my attention I noticed a friend in Linz posting about special local baked goods at the farmers’ market in Linz, which ended with a picture and the satisfied statement, “Owa an Bauankropfm hob i nu kriagt” (roughly: “But I still got a farmer’s doughnut”, i.e. after everything else was gone). Since it made me smile, the statement caught my attention, so on a whim I decided to see what a machine translation might be able to do with it. Not much. DeepL was at least able to identify the language as German, but the translation “Owa to Bauankropfm lifted i nu kriagt” is hardly useful, since the only two translated words are incorrect.

Somehow I found this exercise strangely comforting. As a human, I was able to recognize that this is simply a phonetic representation of the way people normally speak to one another in Linz. It is an entirely prosaic and unimportant, yet thoroughly familiar expression of satisfaction, and the familiarity of it has an emotional effect. It occurred to me then that this is essentially the same kind of thing I am reading on the Riot channels, which machine translations are unable to explain to me in any even minimally coherent way. It’s not the literal meaning of the words, but the feeling they convey that matters. Realizing this makes it easier to read/listen to the sense rather than the meaning of the words. It makes expressions I don’t understand somehow feel more familiar, because the people who use them – in their own language, in their own personal modes of expression – are becoming familiar to me.

Language has been my life for as long as I can remember. Words, spoken words, written words, playing with words, finding new words, different words, so many words – words in all their many forms and myriad meanings have always fascinated and preoccupied me. It is an unexpected gift in this late phase of my life that I now have a new opportunity to learn to find meaning behind, beyond, between the words.

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An Austrian Princess in an Anarchist Colony

As someone remarked one day, it is quite impressive how all the animals in Calafou have strong, unique personalities and are members of the community on their own, apart from the humans associated with them. The information for visitors on the Calafou website is certainly to be taken seriously, when visitors are strongly urged not to bring animals with them.

So how are Ginevra and Hester coping as new arrivals in the collective?

First of all, as I keep reminding myself, my feline companions did not volunteer for this mission. It was my decision to take them with me, although it was not a decision I made lightly, especially since they are no longer relatively adaptable kittens, but stately matrons of eight years of age. Cats are notoriously territorial and more attached (according to the wisdom of the Internet) to their familiar environment than to their human companions. However, since their familiar environment was scheduled for major revision with Patrick’s plan of “de-museumizing” the flat, along the introduction of Patrick’s dog V as a permanent resident, rather than just an annoying long-term visitor (from the cats’ point of view; I loved having V with us), I figured they would be better off with me, since they are certainly quite fixed on me and regularly evoke brokenhearted pity among their caretakers whenever I’m gone.

Preparing Ginevra and Hester to relocate from Austria to Spain turned out to be one of the most challenging (and expensive) aspects of the plan, but we were fortunate enough to have wonderfully supportive and encouraging vets (a mother-daughter team of vets) in Linz. The first time Dominik and I took them in the car for the first preparation visit with the vets, it was already clear that this would not be a simple undertaking. Normally quiet little Hester panics whenever she thinks she is trapped, expressed as a siren-like wail that sounds like “I’M TRAAAAAPPPPPED!! I’M TRAAAAAAAPPPPED!!” While it is a useful signal if I happen to close a cupboard door while she is still inside, ten solid minutes of this siren wail all the way from Urfahr to Froschberg did not bode well for a 20-hour drive to Spain.

Internet cats to the rescue: there is certainly a plethora of helpful tips for long-distance travel with cats on the Internet, as I found as soon as I started searching. A few of them are actually even useful. My next step was to buy a large transport box and set it up with the flaps open in my bedroom, where the cats happily adopted it as a satisfactory place to nap and play.

Ginevra and Hester happily accepted the new bed before they knew what it was for.

The next step was to buy harnesses and leashes for them to practice going outside in the garden. Ginevra was initially skeptical, but soon became curious and interested in exploring the garden more extensively. Hester wanted none of it. The first time we tried the harness, she managed to wiggle out of it within seconds of recognizing what was restraining her. More Internet research suggested a full-body vest with Velcro fasteners for fluffy escape artists, so I took another trip to the pet supply shop, where I found a pink one for small dogs. Hester was not enthusiastic, but it was effective. When I took her down to the garden, though, she was so appalled by all that open space that she tried to hide under the mat of the transport box, which I didn’t even realize was detachable until then.

This is the pattern that has now been maintained for a month. On the drive from Linz to Calafou (which took us 24 hours and 15 minutes) I attached their leashes whenever we stopped for a break, so that they could safely leave the transport box to explore the car, eat a bit or drink some water and use the litter box (on the floor under the transport box). Ginevra was keen to explore everything, so I had to watch her closely to make sure she didn’t get tangled up with her leash, but Hester sometimes just flopped down in front of the opening and refused to leave her meanwhile familiar box. When we arrived in Calafou, Hester wasn’t interested in leaving the box, while Ginevra was ready to run straight off into the forest. Since it was already dark when we arrived, though, I quickly closed off all escape routes and only let her explore the interior to begin with.

We have been in Calafou for two weeks now, and some of the things I worried about most turned out to be complete non-issues. The cats have no problem at all with wood shavings in their litter box (the same used for the dry toilets for humans) rather than the specially processed (and expensive) litter box sand they had in Linz, so that is one more expense I can cross off my list. They are quite enthusiastic about the most readily available Spanish brands of cat food, so I obviously didn’t need to bring a whole box of their usual cat food. Hester has settled in well surprisingly quickly. She is happy with the three rooms I have more or less finished. Although she keeps looking for shelves she can jump on, she is also happy to stretch out and roll around on the rugs and chase her toys up and down the hallway. She is also quite happy with the fourth room, which needs more intensive sorting and cleaning work, because for now it is filled with boxes and rags and nice corners for hiding in. More recently she has even become brave enough to take a few steps outside the front door in the evenings, although even the slightest noise sends her running to hide again. Since our new home has become her safe space, she seems altogether quite content, my timid, quiet Hester.

The doors are a bit flimsy here for sustained balancing.

And Ginevra? Ginevra is certainly quite keen on exploring the new surroundings, so I have to keep a close eye on her when the door is open. As she keeps trying all the doors on our floor, I have to keep reminding her where we live and that she can’t just walk into other people’s and animals’ homes as she pleases. A few days ago, she found the courage to cross the bridge from the second floor balcony, where we live, to the larger courtyard on the other side and was clearly exhilarated to see how far she could go. Running off straight into the forest is still not an option, however.

Occasionally we also have unexpected visitors, especially since I initially made the mistake of putting the cat food in the front room across from the door, so it looked like an invitation to other companion species who happened to be passing by. There is a large elderly dog in the community, who has been quite ill and recently had an operation, so that he has to wear a plastic cone around his head. When this large, dark, shaggy creature wandered into our hallway the other day, Hester was so shocked she even forgot to hide. I found her frozen on top of a box looking like an Internet meme with a “WTF!?!” look on her face. In general, however, the dogs are not a problem, but the other three cats in the community pose something of a quandary. While Hester immediately hides from other cats, if they come in or linger around the door, Ginevra tries to assert her authority and appears thoroughly flummoxed when it doesn’t work.

When another dominant female cat came in through the window to share Hester and Ginevra’s breakfast, Ginevra hissed at her, but when Maula just hissed back, Ginevra had no idea what to do with that. It occurred to me then that she has never been challenged before. Even V recognized that Ginevra ran the place the first time Patrick brought him, and even though Ginevra always had a very low opinion of V, she seemed to take it for granted that he went to such lengths to try to please her – from abject groveling to his best “good dog” pose (at least the humans seem to like it) to bringing her highly inappropriate gifts or trying (and failing) to imitate her behavior. In Calafou, however, she finds herself in the alienating situation of being an Austrian princess in an anarchist colony. The dogs ignore her, the humans are friendly enough, but don’t immediately stop whatever they are doing to admire her, and the other cats simply refuse to recognize her status, which she has never had to assert before.

This puts something of a damper on her urge to explore. First she bravely skips across the bridge to claim the courtyard and then these other cats show up and claim it as a common area. For a princess like Ginevra, this is a wholly alien concept, but clearly no one takes her affrontedness seriously.

So much to explore!

What is a princess to do?

As if the inter-species politics of Calafou were not already enough of a predicament, Ginevra now has her recurring problem with ear mites again. This has always been her weak spot and the cause of frequent house calls from our vet in Linz. The most prominent indication that she has a problem with ear mites again has always been that she starts hissing at Hester, as though Hester were a dangerous intruder. When Hester just sits there patiently, looking a bit sad and hurt, it is obviously a one-sided problem, but it calls for separation.

When I woke up the other morning to the noise of Ginevra hissing and growling at Hester under my bed, the next thing I realized is that it is not that simple to separate the cats within four rooms connected by windows with no glass in them and all with doors that don’t close properly. I decided to regard that as an opportunity to learn more about how the rooms work, and Ginevra apparently decided to take the same approach.

Since Wednesday was a Catalan public holiday, another sympathetic member of the community warned me that an emergency visit to a vet would be prohibitively expensive, but he managed to find a pharmacy in another village, where he was able to get the right kind of drops for me to give Ginevra. Under the circumstances, however, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Ginevra really had ear mites again, or whether she might just be bullying Hester out of frustration at the whole situation. With the help of several other members of the collective, a visit to the veterinary clinic in the next slightly larger village was organized this morning.

On a side note, that was not entirely simple either. Although much communication within the community takes place in passing or during working together, much is also discussed through online channels, which gives me a chance to try to catch up on some of the details. I found one website that provides a reasonable machine translation from Spanish to German and another for Catalan to English. Most of the time, however, I have to paste each message into both sites and put the pieces together myself. It is usually when my attention is thus engaged that various companion species randomly wander in and out.

The vet in the next village turned out to be an enchanting young woman who was eager to practice speaking English, but she also confirmed that Ginevra does have ear mites and I need to keep putting these drops in her ears for ten days.

In Linz I didn’t have to do that myself, because the vet came to our house to do it for me. In Calafou that is not an option. So in the DIY spirit of the collective, I have spent the afternoon watching videos on the Internet about how to “make a kitty burrito” to put drops in a cat’s ears. I could do without the typical USian cuteness of those videos, but I think I’ve got the idea now. We will have to try it this evening.

We really didn’t need the ear mite problem now, but I am determined to help Ginevra get rid of this irritation so that she can focus on her main task in our new life here.

This Austrian princess has to learn how to be a communard now – or at least an anarchist princess.

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Being in Calafou

My arms and feet are covered in bruises, scrapes, and an insane number of mosquito bites, but I am so happy I don’t even care. And I can’t even remember the last time I felt this free and unconstrained.

As I had imagined, this is one of Ginevra’s new favorite spots
I haven’t finished yet, but I have at least started rearranging the front room.

Just over a week ago I arrived in Calafou to stay, but sometimes it feels as though I have always been here, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. I spent the first days sorting, cleaning, shifting, sorting, cleaning, turning this space, where Patrick has been living for the past two years, into my space. And I feel continually surprised that it is actually working. This is my space now, and it feels like me – not my whole history, but just me now.

Very pleased with my cozy workroom now

When I had done as much as I could do by myself, my astonishingly energetic neighbor came in to give me a hand. We got stuck for a while trying to find a way to make the initially unstable shelves stand up straight and stable on the crooked floor, but in the end we were almost competing to see who could come up with the most “creative” solution. The shelves are standing quite reliably in my cozy new workroom now, providing space for computer books above and sewing supplies below.

Along the way my neighbor showed me where to deposit various things I don’t need and find other things I might need instead. Wandering through the various spaces of the colony with him, it struck me that Calafou really is a paradise for people like me, who can’t bear to throw things away that look like they “might be useful” at some point. This place is filled with things that “might be useful”. That feels inspiring, motivating, and it keeps my imagination working at full speed. It occurred to me the other day that I could make a little shelf for the back of the door, where the cats could sit and keep an eye on everything through the window when the door is closed. And then I realized that if I come up with a feasible plan for this shelf, I know where to find pieces of wood to build it and where to find tools to mount it. Suddenly anything is possible! My first project, though, has been to make nice curtains for that large window in the door, and between Calafou and the little ferreteria in the village up the hill, I managed to obtain everything I needed to make new curtains in my lovely workroom.

New curtains that let in more light

In the meantime, I have also been added to the relevant communication channels for the community, so with the help of DeepL I can now be informed about where more hands are needed. Some people seem to find my enthusiasm for cleaning rather amusing, but I have been having a wonderful time helping to prepare the guest house for a large group arriving soon from Toulouse.

The biggest hurdle, of course, is my inability to speak Spanish. I find I understand more and more every day, and it fascinates me to just sit and listen to conversations, even though I can only just barely follow them and miss a lot of details, and to observe the different personalities of the people speaking. Even people who barely speak English kindly make an effort to communicate with me, and everyone is very encouraging whenever I try to string a few words together that might possibly be intelligible at some level. I’m working on it, but learning to speak Spanish will obviously be a long and ongoing process.

As a result of this, however, I also can’t talk about myself, and I am surprised at how much of a relief that feels like. Without a story, without all the baggage of my whole history, I am just Aileen, just getting on with things and trying to participate in the community with actions rather than words. This feels like a new experience, an unexpected experience, but one that I am deeply grateful for.

Every day is filled with new discoveries of how things work, where to put things, where to find things, along with getting to know new people in a completely new way.

Just being in Calafou is good.

Ginevra’s other favorite spot, which is why we will eventually need a shelf on the back of the door.
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Leaving Things Behind

Now that I have returned to Linz from Calafou, where the collective agreed to let me stay and even gave me a very generous warm welcome, it’s time to pack, because I will be returning to Calafou to stay in just over a week.

It is in many ways a great relief to know I don’t have to pack up everything, only the things I really want or need, because I can leave Patrick to deal with the rest. Yet as I go through the flat considering what to take, everything I touch is charged with memories, and sometimes it feels hard to let go.

When I was a child, one of the things I loved about visiting the Shanahans was that their house was full of such Nice Things. They had elegant wine glasses, real china, linen tablecloths, pretty glass objects, beautiful original paintings. That was quite different from the sturdy plastic tableware we had, because it was more practical in a household with small children – in addition to being modern and popular in the sixties – or posters stuck on the wall with tape and tacks. I dreamed that one day, when I was grown up, I would have Nice Things too. Even in my most austere ascetic phase (because that was the form my teenage rebellion took), Nice Things always remained my greatest “temptation”. Having Nice Things still feels like an achievement to me to this day, but there are so many things in this household now that I seriously will not need in Calafou. But will they mean anything to Patrick when he starts “de-museumizing” the flat? The set of delicate English tea cups that Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson gave us as a wedding present have always only been used on special occasions. Will they remain special? The set of wine glasses that my mother-in-law etched for us: there are only three left now, so I put them carefully away in the back of the cupboard. Will there be any left the next time I come back to Linz? The four plates I use every day now look a bit old and some of them are a bit chipped, but once upon a time they were elegant and modern, and it gave me great satisfaction when I was able to buy them with my first salary in Innsbruck. Will they mean anything to anyone else, or will they just look like old plates left over from the eighties?

I need to get a kettle for the gas cooker in Calafou, so there is no point in taking the electric kettle I have in Linz. As I pushed it aside, though, I remembered when Amy went out and bought it for me when she was visiting in Linz. Peter and I had changed the plug on our electric kettle from England ourselves, and Amy was appalled by how hazardous it looked, so she went out specifically to buy me a shiny new, non-hazardous kettle. But these are only my memories attached to the electric kettle. Without my memories it is simply a very sturdy, perfectly ordinary electric kettle.

A kettle covered with memories.

This is why I’m stuck. This is why it will do me good to leave and focus solely on what I am doing in the here and now. I think I have been living too long alone with too many memories. They stick to everything that surrounds me. Amy, Peter, my father, my sons’ childhood, my own past in different places … But it is not the Nice Things that matter, and other things can also be nice, handmade things, makeshift things, experimental things. And I hope these other things can help me make room in my heart for new memories.

I am grateful to Patrick for taking over this project, but I’m afraid he has a lot of work ahead of him.

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Changing Spaces, Trading Places

It started as a joke. Patrick and I were sitting on the balcony one evening discussing the options, how he might stay in Austria, how I might cope with the costs for the flat, both of us feeling more and more frustrated and limited. Then at some point I suggesting jokingly, slightly sarcastically: Maybe we should just trade places.

As soon as I said it, though, we both realized it would be the ideal solution. Looking at the number of empty bottles on the table, however, we decided to continue the discussion the next day. Patrick asked me whether I would really do that, if I could seriously imagine living in Calafou, where he has been the past almost two years. The more I thought about it, the more the idea actually appealed to me, and with that we both found more optimism and motivation than either of us had felt for some months.

So this is the plan: Patrick and V will stay in Linz, where Patrick will take over our family flat with the goal of “de-museumizing” it. He will find one or two people to share the space and the costs with him, and he already has a job starting in September.

In the meantime, I will pack up my cats, some clothes and a few odds and ends, and move into Patrick’s flat in Calafou. Of course, it is not only up to us, because the community in Calafou has to agree too, but visiting here for a week, I find everyone very supportive and encouraging. And spending time here again has thoroughly confirmed for me that I really want to do this. Life is not easy here, nothing is comfortable or luxurious, and dealing with a whole community of complex individuals can be tedious and frustrating. All of that is clear to me, and yet this is still the most hopeful place I know. I really have to work on Spanish, obviously, but I find I understand more than I expected. And of course I have to pick up at least a little bit of Catalan along the way, but learning new languages is supposed to be good exercise for senior citizens’ brains.

Patrick has to tell his own story, the way he wants it told, but for my part, this is exactly what I needed without realizing it before. I am as free as anyone can be in this age of late capitalism: my husband is dead, my children are grown, I currently have no other real care responsibilities, and I have a regular, unconditional income with my pension. But I need to do something with that freedom. Since I retired last year, it seems that most of my energy and resources just go into maintaining the flat, but just maintaining, preserving, conserving is not satisfying. Patrick is right that the flat needs to be de-museumized, but I have reached the limits of what I feel capable of doing with it, when everything I touch is loaded with memories. To be able to let go of the past, I won’t even be taking pictures with me to Calafou.

Now I want to make something, build something, contribute something, do something, and there is certainly enough for me to do in Calafou. I want to help with the feminist server here and help develop plans for a possible data center. I spoke with one resident about her plans for educational games to promote the ideals of free software and with another about possibilities for setting up a sewing center. And every time I go into Patrick’s flat, I have so many ideas about what I want to do with it.

Since Patrick and I agreed to try this as an experiment for one year, to begin with, and then see how it goes, this evening I will be meeting with the other residents to request their consent for me to spend a year here as a residency, first of all. Then we’ll see …

So this week I am just visiting, but in three weeks I will be back with my cats to stay – and I could not be happier or more excited.

This will be my new home starting in September

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My Three-Worlds-in-Two-Weeks Tour: Afterthoughts

Part I

Part II

Part III

Two books accompanied me along my journey: Die schönen Kriegerinnen, edited by Cornelia Sollfrank, and Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway. Wonderful conversations I had along the way with inspiring people like Spideralex and participants at /etc confirmed and reinforced the inspiration and motivation I found in these books. Once I was ready to rejoin the world of my everyday life in Linz, I found inspiration and motivation again in this world too.

As part of the Art University series “Relatifs”, organized by Karin Harrasser and Anne von der Heiden, there was a Donna Haraway evening at the Gesellschaft für Kulturpolitik, where I even had an opportunity to personally ask Donna Haraway about her thoughts on spaces where “making kin” can be possible, because that question kept coming up in my mind in the spaces like Calafou and XM24, where I was reading her book.

Photo: Wiltrud Hackl

Although the timing didn’t work for anyone else from servus.at to go with me to /etc, of course servus.at was still here when I returned, feeling even more grateful that we are fortunate enough to still have an initiative like servus.at in Linz. There is so much to be done, so much to be written in support of servus.at, and I feel excited and motivated to be part of that.

The overarching theme that accompanied me throughout my journey and all the way home was storytelling. Storytelling is a vital practice that we need, in order to counter the insistent and ubiquitous narratives of capitalism, commercialism, populism. In order to be able to create alternatives, first we have to be able to imagine them. We have to be able to describe what is wrong, in order to make something right. For that we need storytellers. Along with so many storytellers I respect and admire, both of my sons are storytellers too, for which I am deeply grateful. That means, of course, that their lives will probably never be easy, comfortable or safe, but I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the choices they have made, and I want to find ways to contribute to this effort as well. I think what I found most of all along my three-worlds-in-two weeks tour is that I need to write again. Finding myself with time to write again after retiring, at first I felt as though I had nothing left to write about, but my journey in October certainly changed that.

Tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of Peter’s death. Yes, I am still counting. I have not forgotten Peter or the good life we had together, and I am grateful to all the people who do not feel uncomfortable or concerned because I still enjoy talking about him and sharing memories. I also look forward to joining him eventually – but first there is so much more I need to write.

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My Three-Worlds-in-Two-Weeks Tour: Part III

Part I

Part II

Transition III: Barcelona to Avignon

Why Avignon? I had decided to spend the last day of my trip just being a tourist in Avignon for the simple reason that a convenient train connection stopped there, and as a theologian interested in church history, I was curious.

Of course, what appeared to be a convenient train connection turned out to be yet another high-speed train, and after enjoying the slow, scenic train ride from Vallebona to Barcelona together with Patrick, I was seriously annoyed by the airport-like boarding area permitting access only with a valid ticket and reservation. That meant I couldn’t really enjoy lunch with Patrick, because I had to keep watching the time to make sure I said good-bye to him in time to get through the security clearance in time to board the train, because he couldn’t accompany me to the platform to wave good-bye. Saying good-bye to Patrick is always so hard, and I resented having it made even harder. My irritation was further exacerbated when the train was late and all the passengers were left waiting in line with no information or explanation, while the staff assiduously avoided making eye contact with any of the unhappily waiting passengers. Since the train was bound for Marseilles, though, as I was standing in line I was surprised by what a relief it was to hear people around me speaking French and realize I could actually understand them, even communicate with them to some extent as we relayed information to one another about the delay, despite the appalling inadequacy of my French.

Eventually the train arrived, we were all finally permitted to board, and I found my seat without further complications. At first I was disappointed to find myself sitting on the left side of the train, but that turned out not to matter. Somewhere between Girona and Perpignon, the trains seems to fly across a body of water, so the water is seen from both sides of the train. In the evening, as the sun was just setting, the water was so still it perfectly mirrored the clouds and the setting sun. Looking out the window of the train, I was entranced as the world appeared to magically turn itself upside down.

When I arrived some five hours later in Avignon, I was again annoyed to find myself at the TGV train station outside the center, rather than at the main train station, which was within walking distance of my hotel. (Note to self: seriously, avoid high-speed trains in the future.) The hotel itself turned out to be absurdly elegant (and normally about four times more expensive than the rate I was paying), which I found a bit difficult to take seriously after Calafou. I confess, however, I did thoroughly enjoy being able to take a nice, long hot shower without leaving my hotel room.

The Disconcerting World of Avignon

Avignon is obviously accustomed to and prepared for tourists. Although it is famous for its medieval architecture, it was something of a relief to see that Disneyfication has not obviously taken hold of it. And with “Sur le Pont D’Avignon” already playing incessantly in my mind, I was grateful not to hear it played anywhere outside my own head. So what does one do as a tourist for only one day in Avignon?

Following the luxurious breakfast buffet in the hotel (along with the still necessary cough syrup, aspirin and ginger tea), I took a walk right through the middle of town to the famous center. Then of course I bought a combination ticket for the Palais des Papes and the famous bridge, not realizing how overwhelming the Palais des Papes would be. The education staff there has done a fantastic job of preparing accessible information for visitors in an engaging way – and I have worked with enough museum and gallery educators to recognize how much effort and expertise goes into visitor information like that, so I hope the people responsible for it received the moral and financial appreciation they certainly deserve (even though I know that almost never happens). Upon presentation of the admission ticket, each visitor was given an electronic pad on a lanyard along with clear and simple instructions in the appropriate language. All along the tour there were informative, attractively designed panels in multiple languages and benches where visitors could sit down to read these panels. Sensors in each room triggered relevant information on the pad, and in certain spots all along the way, a marked sensor in the room filled the depiction of the room on the pad with myriad ghosts of grim-looking old men in ornate robes to explain the purpose of each room and show how it presumably looked in use. I was impressed by how well the copious information was organized, but between the printed information and the digital information, I had to keep taking a step back to get a sense of where I was, a sense of the atmosphere of the rooms with all their long history. Eventually, however, I began to realize that it wasn’t just the abundance of information or the long walk that felt exhausting. The palace as a whole felt hopelessly oppressive – and yet there was something missing.

Although I consider myself a critical feminist theologian, since I was raised traditionally as a Catholic, the idea of the papacy as an office of spiritual leadership is deeply ingrained. In the Palais des Papes, the Papal Palace in Avignon, however, there was no trace of that. In all that copious information, there was no mention of the significance of the pope for the Catholic Church. Power, wealth, political intrigues, treasures, luxury, worldly preeminence, chapels built for exquisite adornment, not for praying in. And as the pad repeatedly displayed, this was wholly, completely and solely a man’s world. Only one woman was ever mentioned and also depicted in a painting toward the end of the tour: Joanna, countess of Provence, who sold the city of Avignon to Pope Clement VI for 80,000 florins in 1348 to raise money for troops to defend her claim to Naples. In the painting depicting this transaction, Joanna is no Khaleesi with dragons or loyal companions, but is accompanied only by a malevolent-looking imp holding the train of her gown, surrounded by grim-looking men in ornate robes. The painting is a vivid portrayal of the humiliation of a strong woman forced to concede her power to greedy men. The triumph of patriarchy. I found it nauseating.

From Wikipedia: Jean-Marc Rosier from http://www.rosier.pro [CC BY-SA 3.0]

After hours and hours of wandering through the Palais des Papes, when I sat down somewhere outside for a cigarette, it was a relief to see how shabby and ramshackle the narrow little streets around the palace looked: the reverse side of power.

Perhaps my impressions of Avignon might have been different, if I had been feeling better, if I hadn’t still been struggling with low energy and the suspicion that I had been wandering around with a fever all week, or perhaps I might have felt even more angry and rebellious if Avignon had turned out to be a pretty place. As it was, I found the Medieval architecture neither pretty nor romantic, but simply oppressive.

Following the long tour through the Palais des Papes, I wasn’t ready for another walking tour yet, and although there were outdoor cafes everywhere, none of them tempted me to sit down and eat something, so I decided to take the little city tour train that one finds in almost every city now. Unlike most city tour trains, however, this one wasn’t bright yellow. It was gray and looked a bit dilapidated, cobbled together from leftover bits and pieces that no one had bothered to paint. That was fine with me, and I was happy enough to just sit there for an hour on the little train tootling along around the city center. Apart from the main shopping street with the usual international chain stores, there seemed to be only souvenir shops, and I eventually found the endless sacks of lavender and herbs of the Provence so depressing that I finally gave up on the idea of finding presents to take home with me. After the train, I made my way to the famous bridge, where I exchanged my combination ticket for a conventional audio guide. For an audio guide, it worked reasonably well, although I somehow had the impression that its creators had resigned themselves to the expectation that tourists are not really interested in the history of the bridge, but just want to walk out on it to take pictures of one another dancing, so they can post them to Facebook and Instagram. I didn’t feel like dancing.

In the evening there was no room left in the hotel restaurant, so I ended up going to a nearby restaurant for dinner, following a recommendation from one of the young men at the reception. Even in October it was still (just) warm enough to sit outside to enjoy an excellent (albeit rather expensive) meal in a beautiful courtyard. In Vienna it would probably be regarded as “hipster”, but I didn’t really care. Even that seemed to fit with my impressions of Avignon.

I’m not sorry I stopped in Avignon. On the contrary, I think the juxtaposition made me even more appreciative of the first two worlds I visited. Turning history into a tourist attraction will not help us make a good life for everyone in the long term.

Transition IV: From Avignon to Linz by way of Frankfurt

Well supplied with water bottles, snacks, and a bag of disgusting eucalyptus cough drops, following an early breakfast, cough syrup and aspirin at the hotel, I was ready for the thirteen-hour journey home to Linz, including changing trains only once in Frankfurt. From Avignon to Frankfurt, I was happy to be able to just sit quietly and comfortably looking out at the beautiful scenery of Provence on a lovely autumn day. The main train station in Frankfurt is no more interesting than the airport, although a bit smaller and not as glaringly bright, and the journey from Frankfurt to Linz is no more interesting by train than it is by plane. Either way, Frankfurt remains “almost, but not quite home” – journey over in any case, and the last 100 kilometers are always the longest. In the end, I was happy to be home again, where my cats were there to greet me as I can in the door. Over the next few days, the cats also urged me to accept that I was still sick and just stay wrapped in a blanket quietly on the couch or in bed, watching silly films and sleeping, so that they could take long naps on top of me. After the effort of pretending I was ok for a whole week, I was happy to accommodate them. Actually, that was probably just what I needed to make the transition back into my everyday life.

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My Three-Worlds-in-Two-Weeks Tour: Part II

Part I

Part III

Transition II: Ferry from Civitavecchia to Barcelona

Remembering the long and confusing train journey from Linz to Barcelona in 2014, with many changes and long waiting periods in between, I was most intrigued by the possibility of a more direct connection between Italy and Spain offered by ferries. Although I had reservations about the thought of traversing the mass grave of the Mediterranean Sea in a luxurious ship, I have always loved traveling by ferry and I still miss living close to the sea, so I eventually decided to make use of the further Interrail discount on a ferry ticket and take that option.

Again and again, planning a trip and actually taking a trip can be so different. Connections that look comfortable and convenient turn out to be high-speed trains, which often involve special boarding areas, security checks, additional costs, numerous tunnels, which all make them barely an improvement over flying (memo to self: avoid high-speed trains on future Interrail trips). Then there is the sometimes disconcerting disconnect between online information and real-life circumstances. The lovely little port town of Civitavecchia, for instance, has a wonderful website full of useful and practical information about how to get from the train station to the ferry terminal. The town itself, however, seems to be entirely unaware of its online presence: no signs, no bus, no kiosk, no maps, no information whatsoever. A young couple helped me get my suitcase down the steps at the entrance to the station (only slightly superfluous after I had managed to get it up the steps on the other side by myself, but it was kindly meant), so at least there was someone I could ask about how to get to the port, and they pointed me in the right direction. Still no signs, no bus, no information, no shuttle – just flocks of young teenagers floating around in their pretty bubbles on a warm evening among artfully illuminated ancient buildings. After running around in increasingly desperate circles near the water for some time, I finally managed to hail a grown-up-looking figure not wearing a military uniform, hoping to be able to ask a human for assistance. This human turned out to be a cute guy, who was very charming and friendly and perfectly willing to discuss his ability to speak English at greater length with me, but when he pointed out some blue lights as the dock where the Grimaldi Lines ferry is usually to be found, I was so dismayed by the distance between those blue lights and me that I just grabbed my suitcase and started running again. I think part of the problem may have ultimately been that I was unable to perceive the ferry as such. I had the vague impression of a large building being in my way, preventing me from getting to the ferry, when it was, in fact, my destination. By the time I finally figured that out and got into the terminal just in time to board, I was soaked in sweat from madly running around the docks for over an hour in my overly warm traveling clothes.

Despite its size, the ferry was not a cruise ship, but just a ferry: a large vessel for transporting large vehicles with a few amenities for the drivers of those vehicles. My single cabin with an outside window was a nice retreat, even though the view from the window was almost completely blocked by a large, high-tech lifeboat, and I was happily ready to spend the next twenty hours there. The only problem was that I woke up freezing in the middle of the night, and although I found extra pillows, there were no extra blankets, nothing to help me feel even a little bit warm so that I could sleep. That definitely put a damper on my ferry trip that I had been so looking forward to, but I was still happy to be on the ferry and not busily changing trains somewhere in the south of France.

Nevertheless, the twenty hours passed surprisingly quickly, and the ferry pulled into the harbor of Barcelona just before eight in the evening. Since Patrick has not had a telephone for almost four years, I had sent him a reminder a few days earlier that he needed to be there to pick me up, because I otherwise had no backup plan. And as I came off the ferry, he was standing right there in front of me, before I could even start to look for him. His dog V was with him, of course, and V was so delighted to see me again that I forgot all about feeling cold and just felt loved.

The World of Calafou

Life in Calafou is not easy, in many ways it is actually quite hard, yet to me, Calafou is perhaps the most hopeful place I know. A “post-industrial, post-capitalist colony” set up among the ruins of a factory colony from the nineteenth century, it has an almost post-apocalyptic appearance, but the people who live there have made a space to live and work together from the refuse and rubble, finding new ways to live and work together that are sustainable, autonomous and viable. The intention “is to develop a network based on a network of cooperatives, individual projects and housing in a collectivised area. This seeks to facilitate the sharing of ideas, goods and resources to foster synergies in a natural way. A place for social innovation, technology and policy based on self-responsibility and cooperation. A project where the productive economies are in the service of people allowing their needs for access to resources and tools are not obstacles to the realization of their creative potential.” (Calafou website)

The factory colony around a textile factory built in the nineteenth century was a capitalist invention designed for maximum exploitation: since the factory was in a remote location away from other towns, far removed from urban centers, the people who worked there lived in the workers’ quarters there and spent what little money they earned at the factory shop. There was even a church in the colony, so that people went to the factory to work, but then the factory took over their entire lives. What is left now are ruins, rubble, refuse, and one of the most heavily polluted rivers in Europe. This is what the people who live there now work with to build a new way of living, based not on exploitation, but on self-responsibility and cooperation, a different way of “being-with”. To me, this is what makes Calafou such a hopeful place. I am not optimistic about the future. I believe we are faced now with capitalism beginning to implode, making it all the more urgent for us to be able to imagine alternatives. What can we build from the ruins and the rubble? How can we find new ways of doing it together? Calafou gives me hope that we can.

This is one of Patrick’s favorite spots.

I cannot imagine a better place for Patrick to have ended up in. Although my Spanish is extremely limited and I don’t understand Catalan at all, I can still read body language, and I loved hearing the way people say his name there. He lives among good people. He still has a lot of work to do on his little flat in the former workers’ quarters, but it feels just right. Lionie is happily enthroned on top of the bookshelves, and everywhere there are reassuringly familiar objects: dishes from Oma, my old pots and pans from Innsbruck, pictures, books, the tables he made originally for his van. Patrick again has a home now. And he is learning so much! That doesn’t mean his travels have ended. He is making plans for further journeys, and he still gets by as a street musician during tourist season all around southern France, Spain and Portugal. When he sets off now, though, he is not just setting off into the unknown with no plan or destination. Now he has a place to return to.

After feeling so cold for twenty hours on the ferry and driving from the port back to Calafou in a horrendous storm that washed out the street into the colony, I was feeling ill and quite miserable the first day, so I sadly missed watching Patrick take his turn at bar duty the first evening. After that, though, I decided that my visit was too short to waste it lying around in bed feeling miserable. Since I was self-employed for twenty-four years, I have more than enough experience doing the “I don’t have time to be sick now” thing, so that’s what I did. With some rather dubious cough syrup that someone found, lots of aspirin and copious amounts of ginger and lemon tea (I detest the taste of ginger, but I was that determined), I managed to largely suppress being ill, so that I didn’t have to miss out on wonderful evening-long conversations with Patrick and his inspiring neighbors (accompanied, of course, by plenty of wine and cigarettes) or forays into the surrounding area with Patrick and V. It was a bit strenuous, but absolutely worth the effort.

The story continues with Part III

 

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My Three-Worlds-in-Two-Weeks Tour: Part I

Part II

Part III

Afterthoughts

 

Now that I’m over sixty, I get a discount on Interrail passes. Since I’ve never been particularly good at math, I probably ended up spending that discount multiple times over during my travels in October, but I don’t regret the costs at all. During two weeks in October I had the privilege of visiting three different worlds, and even though I was sick and broke by the time I returned home to Linz, being able to visit these worlds was absolutely worth it.

Transition I: Linz to Bologna

Originally, I had hoped to be traveling with a large group, but October proved to be difficult for too many other people, so I ended up traveling alone – alone with my memories. Memories of Innsbruck, arriving in Innsbruck and leaving Innsbruck, memories of Südtirol, Alto Adagio, the German-speaking region of Northern Italy, memories of traveling around Italy with Peter …
When I arrived at the station in Bologna, my friend Helen was waiting to meet me and take me to the flat we were to share with three other friends for the week. I’ve been living alone with my cats for nearly seven years now. Sharing a flat with four entertaining flatmates as though we were young college girls again was so much fun.

The World of /etc @ XM24

The Eclectic Tech Carnival (/etc) has always been my world. It brings together everything that I love, that matters most to me. It is a celebration of the ideals of Free Software, a respectful, non-commercial Internet, activism and creativity and endless tinkering for the good of a broken world, and it is a feminist space, a space to explore, learn and just breathe and feel accepted. After co-organizing the /etc 2007 in Linz, I had the pleasure of writing a longer essay about the history and background of the /etc for the online journal Transversal, “Things Can Break”, because it means so much to me.
We had not held an /etc for several years, and it seemed that perhaps our time had ended, but as more and more women expressed a need for another /etc, a small group of us met earlier this year in Brussels to explore the possibilities, and when the possibility of holding an /etc at the social center XM24 in Bologna in October emerged, it seemed a perfect opportunity for me, offering everything I wanted to do with my new retirement.
Since the process of becoming retired turned out to be a bit more complicated than I had expected, I was not able to be as much involved in the preparations as I had hoped, but the women from XM24 were so dedicated and energetic and other women involved in past /etc’s were able to be so supportive that everything came together wonderfully. It was exactly what I had been wishing for, what I needed most, and I am still deeply grateful to everyone involved in making this happen.

No /etc is complete without Donna’s legendary Hardware Crash Course

Although we have always adhered to certain core principles, every /etc is different, because every organizing group is different, every location is different. The conditions, possibilities and opportunities are always different, and this combination of difference and recurrent themes and principles is always fascinating. Of course that was also true of /etc @ XM24. Following from our more intense online contact with the women of XM24, it was a bit surprising (for me, at least) that XM24 turned out to be such a palpably male-dominated space. I found myself wondering sometimes whether the Left has really learned nothing since the 1960s, whether even the most idealistic, progressive cis-hetero men will ever learn to critically reflect on the many ways they occupy too much space. Until they do, those of us who are not cis-hetero males are still stuck with the problem of trying to claim, define, defend, occupy spaces for ourselves in different ways. In the 1980s and 90s it still seemed to make sense to create women-only spaces, even though I have meanwhile learned to understand, as an old (white, cis-hetero female) feminist, that we inadvertently created other mechanisms of exclusion, which were not intended and which we now have to learn to rectify. For ten years now, the Eclectic Tech Carnival has been grappling with the problem of naming who is invited into our space and who is not, and at /etc @ XM24 it became evident that we have still not quite solved that problem yet. In Brussels we came up with the self-description “We are a collective body of feminists with a particular history, chewing on the roots of patriarchy”, and I felt certain that must be sufficient, but apparently not. One of the men who joined us was clearly in the right place, a beautiful wounded soul certainly in need of the kind of “safer space” we have been working to create, and he was very sensitive to contexts and situations, understanding when he was welcome to join the conversation and when it was time for him to go and find something to clean or help prepare food. He understands the need for these kinds of spaces and he even understands how to help make them. Another man, who had come with his partner, also proved to be supportive and unobtrusive, and despite my initial skepticism, I was happy to see that it was working with him. A third man took part in one of the first workshops marked as “mixed” (“non-mixed” = women and LGBTQ only) and gave us an outstanding demonstration of why we have always sought to exclude cis-hetero men with their typical behaviors. Although I’m not sure he was even intentionally in the room (I thought he might have been a local who was asked to help with a connection problem and just stayed out of curiosity), almost as soon as the presentation about VPN began, he started interrupting, playing the old, boring game of pretending to ask questions in order to show off his own technical knowledge and undermine the speaker’s authority. In conversations later, it turned out that many of us were immediately irritated, but hesitated to tell him to shut up, because the speaker was doing such a great job of shutting him down herself. Finally one of the younger women sternly asked him to keep his detailed questions for a private conversation with the speaker later, because the rest of us wanted to hear her presentation. I had the impression he seemed a bit startled to realize that nobody in the room was even remotely impressed and managed to keep his mouth shut after that.
The fourth man who, for some incomprehensible reason, felt addressed by our call for participation, turned out to be the epitome of the type of people I personally want to keep out of our space. I’ve seen this type so many times before, they always irritate me, and I’ve tried so many times to describe what these guys are like and why I don’t want them in my space, even though I don’t usually object to them in other spaces. Often they wear skirts or make-up or pigtails, exhibiting external markers of being “not like other men”, but beyond these external markers they exhibit exactly the same behaviors as more traditional men, whether they are the more open-minded “helps with housework” types or clueless machos: they have the same insatiable need for female attention. And because they present themselves as feminists, allies, whatever, they get that attention and end up having a decidedly divisive effect. Just before I left Bologna, I was very unhappy to find myself arguing with a young woman about this fourth man, when we had so many more important things to talk about. She took the position that we have to be nice to allies, welcome them and help them learn. I hated hearing the anger in my own voice as I argued: “But he’s not. He is not listening, not learning, not interested in anything we have to say; he’s just wandering around looking for someone to listen to him, and all his so-called contributions are essentially no more than mansplaining in a wheedling voice!” Men like that are one of my personal pet peeves, because it invariably infuriates me when they so often succeed in monopolizing women’s attention that would be better focused elsewhere. Maybe we need to move away from gender identities and focus more on the learned behaviors. The particular space of the Eclectic Tech Carnival is so valuable and important to me that I simply cannot surrender it to needy men.

Yet despite these unresolved problems, the Eclectic Tech Carnival in Bologna was inspiring, motivating, wonderful and rich. The full program offered everything I could have hoped for: workshops and presentations on security/encryption, Free Software, feminism, programming, managing online identities … I was able to fill in some of the gaps I had been stuck with and find new starting points for further explorations. As one person said in our closing assembly, she appreciated an opportunity to present a topic she is extremely interested in, even though she doesn’t know everything about it. I felt the same way about my workshop on the history of Linux, as I had been feeling overwhelmed and insecure about the details I don’t have a firm grasp on, but it turned out to be enough to move into a fantastic conversation at the end about a “future feminist history of Linux”, a history that I seriously want to help write.

And we are not finished: there is a strong drive to continue and to have another Eclectic Tech Carnival in yet another different place. The interest and enthusiasm of the many young women taking part in an /etc for the first time was a powerful affirmation that this still matters and we still have much to share and learn and work on together. In the end I left with my bag full of stickers, folders, copious notes, and my head filled with ideas and inspiration. It was everything I had hoped for.

The story continues with Part II.

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Trying to figure it out

Depending on the choice of milestones, I entered a new phase of life in March, in April, in May or in June. In other words, this has been an ongoing process, and now at the end of July I am still trying to figure it out.

The first milestone was my sixtieth birthday in March, which I wasn’t particularly interested in celebrating, because I was still desperately trying to finish work and I couldn’t possibly afford more than an extra glass of wine at that point. Nevertheless, I quickly realized that being a woman over sixty is actually a lot more fun than any other age I have experienced yet. I feel as though I have joined a secret club with the motto “I have no fucks left to give”. I don’t have to prove anything, I don’t have to please anyone, I don’t have to make any choices that will affect my whole life. I have already made all those choices. I find being a woman over sixty surprisingly liberating, although I am well aware that I clearly speak from a position of privilege. Recognizing that I have a very good life, though, I want everyone else to have a good life too, so my next goal is to find meaningful ways of contributing to making that happen.

Following my sixtieth birthday in March, the social security agency officially recognized me as a pensioner on April 1st and granted my claim to an “old-age” pension of my own (“Alterspension”: it’s actually officially called an “old-age pension”), not just the widow’s pension I have been receiving since Peter’s death. Now I have the card and all. But in April I still wasn’t finished working yet.

I had already turned in the forms to cancel my business license after April 30th, but until then I kept working and managed to finally finish the last of the translations for a book I’ve been working on since last summer (although I still owe them the final revisions), and I translated the Crossing Europe Film Festival Linz for the fifteenth and last time. In 2004, after the last opera production in Wilhering, Crossing Europe became our “family project”. While I took care of translations, Peter took responsibility for system administration, and the boys just did whatever was needed from them. When I checked the first festival catalogue from 2004, I even found the name Christopher Derieg Hütmannsberger on the long list of people thanked for their support, although no one has any idea now what Christopher might have done at the age of 13 to earn being credited in the catalogue. We joined the Crossing Europe family and Crossing Europe joined our family. Even when I had to continue our family project without Peter, I didn’t have to do it alone. With all of that, translating Crossing Europe for the last time as my last ever translation job turned out to be a bit more emotional than I had expected: step (for the last time) by step (for the last time) by step (for the last time) until I wrote the last bill (for the last time) the day my business license came to an end. Finished. For the first time in twenty-four years.

Finished? Yes, but …

First there were bills to pay, taxes and social security for the first quarter of the year (for the last time), things that needed cleaning and sorting that I had had to just ignore throughout April, regular payments to be transferred from my business account to my private account. There was the wonderful “Art Meets Radical Openness” festival, helping celebrate Christopher’s twenty-eighth birthday in Vienna with wonderful readings and concerts he helped organize – the first month of “freedom” flew by so fast I could hardly keep up.

Then June came. After submitting the application for retirement in September 2017, I started making a long mental list of all the things I would enjoy finally being able to do once I finally retired: cleaning up all the computers and installing a different version of Linux on each one, learning about non-commercial alternatives on the Internet, working on websites, deep-cleaning and renovating the flat, sewing, writing, answering emails, writing, reading, reading, reading … None of those things really happened in June, except that I finally signed up for Mastodon (anyone on Mastodon, please find me @aderieg@post.lurk.org) and worked my way through the first 200 pages of my new 1500-page Linux manual (I think I’ve finally grasped efi, but I still need to work on partitioning). What I did achieve, however, is that I finally paid off the last of my debts to the bank left over from trying to keep the Workshop going for three years. “Debt-free” is a very special kind of freedom, for which I am now deeply grateful.

What also happened in June is that I “officially” handed my work as a translator over to Christopher and my colleague Laura Freeburn from the US. I needed to do that, because obviously I am still a feminist theologian at heart, so I needed a ritual with symbolic actions and witnesses. Although it became apparent that I hadn’t done a very good job of “delegating” various tasks, I was happy with the way everything turned out in the end, especially thanks to Susanne Blaimschein, Erwin Franz and Rebekka Hochreiter (better known to my international family simply as Becky). For the “handover” I spent an entire weekend gathering together and sorting through all the books and artifacts documenting my twenty-four years of work as a translator.

The material remains of 24 years of translation work, moved from the shelves to the floor.

These were then all transported to Kunstraum Goethestrasse, where Becky arranged them beautifully on tables (when Christopher saw them, he blinked and announced sarcastically, “No, that isn’t even slightly intimidating!”), in between hanging up postcards from “my” authors and other cards, invitations and announcements I used to have on the doors of my office.

And then on Friday, 22 June, people actually came to celebrate with us! I presented Laura and Christopher each with a mug filled with teas and chocolates and good luck charms – and a USB stick loaded with pdf files, e-books and links, which I had collected over the years in search of quotations in English. I gave Laura a catalogue including the first text I ever translated for Stella Rollig, and then Laura gave me a copy of Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey (Emily Wilson is meanwhile a more recent addition to my personal list of Most Admired Women). Then I wanted to give Christopher a different book with my wishes for him, but when I saw the tears in his eyes I almost forgot what I wanted to say, so now I have no idea whether any kind of intelligible message ended up accompanying the book. We finished with a toast: “To the many words, to the other words, to all the words.”

To the many words, to the other words – to all the words.

My one special wish for that evening was for both of my sons to play a small concert for me, and after they granted that wish, I was finished: after that nobody wanted to talk about anything other than how amazingly talented my sons are. I had the impression that Christopher seemed to be relieved to be back on more familiar territory, on stage, holding his own mic and performing his own work. I was surprised and touched, though, when Patrick started his set by pointing out that while Christopher is taking over my work as a translator, Patrick is taking up a different strand from my life with his wandering. I am still grateful to him for pointing out that while translating was my job for twenty-four years, it was never my whole life.

So where am I now at the end of July? In between sorting books back into the shelves, long conversations with Patrick, occasional long walks with his dog, closing my business account, paying the last of my taxes, Death Cafes in May, June and July, still working in between on the last revisions of the last texts of the last book, watching Patrick set off on his way back to Calafou with three humans, two dogs and a lot of luggage in a small Hungarian car, washing sheets and towels (apart from brief intermezzos I have had a full house with a steady stream of visitors since Crossing Europe), just basic cleaning, responding to Christopher’s requests for help or advice, sorting through fabrics and patterns … I haven’t really even started yet with my to-do list for retirement. What is fundamentally different now, though, is that nothing is urgent. There is nothing I have to do right now or have finished by tomorrow morning at the latest. It will probably still take some time to grasp this new rhythm of life, but that’s okay.

I have time.

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