Late September and early October was a time to remember. Clear skies, cool temperatures. I spent most of the time on my bike, exploring some of the nicer bits of Düsseldorf. Unterbach Lake, a large artificial lake and recreation areas located in the southwest suburb of Unterbach. Schloss Benrath, and 18th-century hunting castle with extensive grounds, and the Südpark/Volksgarten complex, one of the greatest parks in the world.
Here are a few of the raw pictures without much post-processing. Enjoy!
Yesterday I biked down to the Urdenbach Marshes south of Düsseldorf. It's a large nature reserve which used to be on the path of the Rhein until the river made a curve. City planners are now diverting brooks in the nature reserve to allow it to revert to marshland. It's now home to plenty of waterfowl, and the authorities are even planning to introduce water buffalo, although the locals aren't all that thrilled and may stop the plan. Unlike marshes in most parts of the world, this one isn't full of things that want to kill you. The sweet, intoxicating odor of decay and burgeoning life is everywhere. Before I move on to the pictures, one bleg: can anyone identify the light-purple labiate flowers? They're everywhere near the raised path. I looked everywhere, but could only find flowers which look a lot like these, but not quite the same. Frustrating.
It's the golden age of podcasts, everybody, and I've just discovered a fine one: Criminal. Each episode is 20 minutes long and has something to do with some sort of crime. The first episode profiled a man convicted of killing his wife who may be freed by proof an owl actually killed her. From this podcast we learn that 'owlstrike' is a word, and that owls usually attack humans on the right rear side of the head, and that owls are strong and silent and can really fuck you up if they want. There's also a story about the late 1990s inkjet currency-counterfeit trend, and a profile of one of Wyoming's three female coroners, who talks about a man who kept himself alive during a cold winter by drinking antifreeze.
The German connection comes in Episode 5, 'Dropping like Flies'. The carnivorous venus flytrap plant grows naturally only in a 90-square-mile of North Carolina:
Problem is, the market for flytraps is booming. Poachers can get between 10 and 25 cents per plant, and local flytrap nurseries make a healthy profit selling them on. The plants aren't yet listed as endangered, so the penalties are relatively low.
'Criminal' goes on the hunt for who is buying all these plants, and quickly arrives at the door of Carnivora. Carnivora is a U.S.-based company that sells a product based on extracts from the Venus Flytrap plant which it claims boosts the immune system. They're not allowed to claim that it cures cancer under U.S. law, but that is the main selling point in countries where they can make this claim. The man who came up with the formula was a German 'country doctor' named Helmut Keller. This 1985 article (g) from Der Spiegel records the frenzy surrounding the then-new preparation, as desperate cancer patients begged Keller to treat them.
Now, as the podcast reports, Keller's been dead for four years ('still here, but on the Other Side', claims the company's new director), the company is under new management, and is not being accused of breaking any American laws, since it only calls Carnivora a dietary supplement, not a cancer cure. Also, the current owner of the company claims it doesn't buy any flytraps from North Carolina, but instead gets them from laboratories in Holland and China. But if Carnivora isn't behind the huge recent increases in demand for flytrap plants, who or what is? As you might expect in the area of carnivorous-plant-poaching and alternative medicine, there are a lot of gray areas. A fascinating listen.
Over the weekend there was a heatwave, so I decided to decamp to the cellar of my apartment building, where it's always a nice cool 20°. I sat in a folding fishing chair, played this quartet from Morton Feldman through my earphones, and worked. I noticed a line of water droplets on the bottom of a pipe about 2 meters in front of me. Every minute or so one of the droplets would fall to the floor. Plook. Plook.
And then it hit me: somebody should put on a concert of Morton Feldman in a cave. The gradual, natural processes of deposition and accretion, the geologic time scale, the chill, slightly unnerving sense of calm -- what could be a better arena?
Feldman is popular in Germany, not least because he spent an 18-month DAAD fellowship in Berlin in the early 1970s. There are many talented German performers of Feldman's music, and of course Germany has some pretty nice caves.
Finally, Typepad lets you post multiple photos at once (more easily), so let's give it a whirl.
This being the Rheinland, there are a lot of former quarries and gravel pits around, many of which are turned into artificial lakes. Lake Unterbach (g) is in the western part of town, just a 20 minute bike ride from where I live. Perfect for a leisurely bike ride. The hazelnuts, willows, and hackberries (Traubenkirsche) are in bloom. At least I think that's what the brilliant white trees on the island are, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
A while ago I visited Zürich and bought this book, Vom Essen und Trinken im alten Zürich ('On Eating and Drinking in Old Zürich'). I saw it at a flea market and just liked the quality -- thick, glossy paper, lots of interesting and well-integrated illustrations, solid and durable binding. A fine example of the bookmaker's art. (You know, real bookmakers).
We also learn that medieval and early-modern Germans avoided eating malodorous cheese, giving it the nickname Schreck-den-Gast (scare the guest). During times of scarcity, the Zürich authorities would create exhaustive, precise rationing lists, most of which survive (Remember, they're Swiss). According to one such list, pregnant women were to receive extra rations, including extra portions of marmot (groundhog) meat.
One of the many fascinating things about Hermann Löns, the German naturalist and folk poet (Heimatdichter) is that for a time he studied malacology, which is the study of molluscs. There's a Latinate German word for this as well (Malakologie), but screw that, the more German way of describing this line of study is Weichtierkundler. This is another example of the German animal names which the Internets have discovered:
In this case, Weich = soft, Tier = animal, Kundler = expert (literally, 'knower'). Put them together, and you have a knower of soft animals. Appropriate, since Löns was a bit of a womanizer. Which, in German, is either Frauenheld (woman-hero) or Schürzenjäger (skirt-hunter).