Quarantine

“It`s positive.”

The paedetrician`s assistant had been first to see the stripe.

Our poor little chicken: snot-encrusted, phlegm-filled, glassy-eyed.

Her red-hot forehead buried in my chest.

We had all thought it was something else.

I texted LSH. We had to isolate.

I was already shivery and a day later, the second stripe showed up for me too.

LSH left food at the door. Ratatouille and polenta. We video called, like it was 2012 and he was in Edinburgh and I in Berlin.

The chicken`s temperature went down.

LSH started coughing, and we were reunited.

Three out of 3.8 billion people to have been struck by this plague.

Inordinately lucky to have a comfortable apartment to isolate in. Neighbors who offered to shop for us. Technology to entertain us. The freedom to close our eyes and bathe in the early autumn sunlight streaming in the window.

We got off easy. A headache. A persistent cough. A sore throat. And much fatigue.

As the days went by, brightness returned to the chicken`s eyes. She drank gallons and gallons of milk, some in her sleep, some while LSH and I binge-watched Succession.

Over the summer, I photographed a swine lying on her side in the forest, feeding her six piglets. How did she do it, I wondered. All that relentless tugging. The mother-body is a marvel.

Twice I dreamt of Logan Roy. He and his children were an enduring part of our isolation. “Which of them is the worst?” LSH asked each other over dinner. “They´re all so awful. And so real.

Maybe it was because we weren`t taking the bins out, but the apartment filled with flies. I saw a pair of them copulating on my laptop keyboard. At night, we were maddened by their buzzing.

In the outside world, lots happened. Over dinner one night our phones buzzed, telling us The Queen had died.

Atrocities continued to be uncovered in Ukraine. A colleague is there, documenting it all.

Her courage is extraordinary. Like that of many others on the frontlines of this unspeakably awful war.

Insulated from it all, I finally finished Young Mungo. Briliant and bleak and the opposite of life-affirming. Afterwards, I needed an escape and found it in an odd Japanese novel, There´s no such thing as an easy job, about a woman`s mundane yet profound observations as she takes on a series of strange and boring jobs.

The chicken became more vocal every day. HE DE. THE KE. AYDA, she would exclaim each morning, yawning afterwards to reveal her five and a half teeth.

She discovered a new hobby: tearing toilet paper. LSH and I would sacrifice a roll now and then. She was so happy, sitting there, ripping off the sheets one by one. When she was done, she would crawl to us, and present them as an offering.

LSH and I were well enough to embark on a seven-day YouTube quarantine yoga challenge with Tim Senesi. After months of working with Adriene and her German equivalent Madi, he provided some much-needed novelty to our days. On one occasion, his perpetually sleeping dog awoke suddenly and barked, causing me to tumble out of my triangle pose in fright.

In the evenings, we made lists for the next day. Yoga with Tim. Showers. Coffee. Clean out kitchen cupboard. Make humous. Clear out sideboard. Read. Watch Succession. Hoover. Mop. Sleep. Write to friends. Do taxes.

On the eleventh day, the chicken and I tested negative. To celebrate, we ventured to the doctor to pick up a sick note.

The seasons had changed while we were in isolation. It was cold now. Brown and orange leaves swirled beautifully in the wind.

On the way home, we passed an old man on a bicycle.

He looked just like Logan Roy.

Queer Eye Germany: lost in translation?

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be at least somewhat charmed by Queer Eye. After all, what could be more wholesome, and yes – more escapist – than watching five flamboyant individuals on a quest to build a person back up – one moisturizing act of self-care at a time?

But let’s face it: as a concept, it’s über American. The transformation – we’re talking self-image, home décor, relationship resolution – happens within a week. Monday’s gormless wallflower is Friday’s glamorous socialite. Whether you’re still living in your parents’ basement or burdened by unbearable grief, you can count on the Fab Five to sort you out. In a hyper capitalist world, it’s all in a working week.

So, I’m not going to lie. When I found out Netflix was making a German version of Queer Eye, I was terrified. Scarred by formats such as Das Perfekte Dinner (imagine Come Dine With Me stripped of all humor, irony and editing) I feared the worst. Could literal-minded Germans translate tone? And who could possibly step into the knee-high boots of Jonathan van Ness?

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMQ-ULsJtnY

Reader, I have been surprised. Queer Eye Germany is not at all terrible. In fact, it’s pretty good! Room for improvement? Selbstverständlich. But it would hardly be in the spirit of the show to open with a finished product.

The Fab Five are of course the hardest act to follow. In the American original, the chemistry is undeniably good. For every time Jonathan van Ness caresses someone’s hair and utters the words “Oh my God, you are like so gorgeous,” we get a shot of Tan casting a withering eye over a wardrobe full of outdated garments. As Bobby efficiently puts the builders to work, Karamo tackles his charge’s vast emotional landscape. All while Antoni turns misty-eyed over a plate of Polish potato cakes.

While the German version also casts compelling characters, they don’t mesh quite so well, perhaps because they feel like emulations rather than the real thing. David Jakobs, who describes herself on Instagram as gender non-conforming and has an online clothes shop, faces the impossible task of appearing sincere while trying to live up to Jonathan van Ness’ larger-than-life personality. Leni Bolt, influencer and life coach, scores better on authenticity, perhaps because they have already carved out a niche in the self-love realm and aren’t relying too much on the Karamo template. Aljosha Muttardi, who until recently ran a vegan YouTube channel may need some time to cook up feelings in quite the way that Queer Eye demands, as will bowtie afficionado Jan-Henrik Scheper-Stuke. Doe-eyed designer Ayan Yuruk, on the other hand, benefits from some super emotional storylines that allow his empathy to shine through.

Of course, the true test of Queer Eye isn’t in the hosts but in the people whose lives they promise to transform. Here, the German version has done well. We meet a football-mad single dad with low self-esteem, a hideously overworked mum, a young baker who’s hiding his sexuality, an 18-year-old who has suffered unbearable loss and a 50-something-year-old Star Wars fan scared of ending up alone. I was especially glad to see regional Germany represented, instead of just the urban centers. While the Fab Five communicate in a rather comic Denglisch – “Group Hug” they exclaim, “wir haben fun, oder?” the protagonists are refreshingly true to their roots.

Small touches, like when the fab five munch on Nussecken (nut squares, found in every German bakery) delighted me, as did the Nordic Walking sticks, a piece of sporting equipment stored in many a German home. The shot that best marries the American format with the German landscape is in the final episode, when Leni and Eugen (the Star Wars fan) have a heart-to-heart conversation while out strolling with alpacas. Windmills loom in the background. We are in Heinsberg, near the border with the Netherlands, and the talk is of self-acceptance.

Casting protagonists for a show like Queer Eye is a complex task. Their stories need to pull on your heartstrings, and there should be more than a nod to the Zeitgeist. Queer Eye Germany partially delivers. In episode three, the young baker’s quest to tell his family and football team about his sexuality makes a statement about the lack of openly gay athletes in Germany. Unlike what you’d expect in the American format, his “outing” takes place off-camera and as viewers, we see his parents expressing their acceptance over dinner afterwards. A little understated, but effective.

Not so progressive is the treatment of Ulrike, who has no time for herself after working two jobs, taking care of the kids and doing all the housework. Nominated by her husband, who wants to see his wife let go again, the obvious question of whether he might pull his weight more to offer some relief remains unanswered. Instead, the advice is to schedule time for Nordic walking and date nights. Not tackling the root cause of the problem – that society places unacceptable burdens on mothers – is an oversight.

The bravest episode and the one that made me cry more than once features 18-year-old Marleen, who has lost her mother, father and two brothers to a rare hereditary disease. Left alone in the world and dealing with the medical consequences of a heart transplant, the grace with which she deals with her fate will make you vow never again to complain about your lot. When Ayan helps her paint her father’s old cupboard, they speak intimately about grief, and about the possibilities and impossibilities of living in the moment after suffering loss.

It’s a difficult line to walk but the Fab Five strike the right tone as the narrative flits between light and dark. After all, as Ayan remarks: “wir sind der Regenbogen, wir bringen Farbe und Glitzer!” (we’re the rainbow, we bring color and glitter!).

Five episodes in, this former skeptic says of Queer Eye Germany, let it rain, no let it pour.

Brigidfest

Living in Berlin, where the sky at this time of year is unyieldingly grey and the branches determinedly bare, Spring still feels achingly far away.

Yet in Ireland, the first day of February – St Brigid’s Day – has, for centuries, marked the arrival of Spring.

Against a backdrop of perpetual grey, it’s a particular joy to be taking part in tomorow’s Brigidfest, a celebration of Irish female creativity hosted by the Irish embassy in Berlin.

The event showcases the work of seven female Irish writers: Elaine Feeney, Wendy Erskine, Hilary Fannin, Olivia Fitzsimmons, Roisin Kiberd, Audrey McGee and Louise Nealon.

And I, lucky duck, get to read the specially commissioned German translations of some of their work.

Eine Freude.

The good news for you, reader, is that you too, can join the celebration. For free, from anywhere in the world. Online, widely accessible events: the tiny silver lining in this grey pandemic.

Sign up and read more about it here, and perhaps, see you tomorrow at 19.00 CET.

Happy New Year! Guten Rutsch!

I write from the couch. Outside, the fireworks are already going off. Every few minutes, the room lights up in pink and green and purple. We keep meaning to get curtains, but it is never important enough. Sometimes I suspect we don’t want them that much.

The new year begins in less than an hour. The news alerts coming in talk of an “anxious world” ringing in 2022.

LSH and I have opened a box of Butlers chocolates, gifted to us at Christmas. I choose a white chocolate flake, followed by a pink himalayan salted caramel.

Someone got to name them all.

Earlier, we watched coverage from the Brandenburg Gate. Two moderators in the rain, pumping up an imaginary crowd. Live crosses to appropriately small gatherings in people’s living rooms. The revellers too tipsy, sometimes, to unmute their microphones.

We changed the channel. Now Mr Bean is on. Our little one is hiccoughing as she rocks on LSH’s knee.

He is wearing a nice, patterned shirt, on my request. It has been so long since we dressed up. I root out a fancy dress, which I have worn hoisted up most of the night, feeding our baby.

She is eleven weeks old now. When she smiles her gummy smile at me, everything inside me melts. Gah, she says now. Uw Goo.

This time last year, she was only a dream.

LSH has gone to get us some drinks, placing her in her little bunny-shaped nest before he went. I’m shaking the toys that dangle above her with my toes.

There is so much one could say about 2021 but I don’t have the time to find the words. Where even to start? I have nothing to add about the political. And the personal would be too raw, at twenty minutes to midnight.

An older friend of mine said time takes on a whole new dimension when you have children.

It’s true. Everything is at once more precious and more fragile.

I think back to New Year’s Eve 1999. My father in his study, eyes on his clunky computer as the clock struck midmight. Waiting to see if the millennium bug would materialise. The scariest things are rarely those we see coming.

This time two years ago was the last time I was in Ireland. If you’d told me then that the world would soon be hit by a plague that would kill millions and shut down life as we know it, I’d have passed you a glass of water, and offered to order you a taxi home.

Four paragraphs later, the drinks are here, and LSH has scooped up our little one again.

Through the wall, I listen to him singing Scarlet Ribbons as he changes her nappy.

Mr Bean is throwing a sponge at a headmaster. I have not been paying enough attention to understand the context. Outside, the bangs are becoming more frequent.

LSH is back now, and has set our Schatz down beside me on the couch. She’s in her sleeping bag. I mute the television and all I hear is the fireworks, and her breathing. Ten minutes to go now.

Happy New Year! Guten Rutsch!