Help! I am an insufferably smug gardener

Okay, I admit it. Ever since I planted some radish seeds and bought a pot of dahlias, I’ve become quite insufferable.

I’d been looking for a new hobby, you see. My small, north-facing balcony was looking sad and bare so I decided to take up gardening. But before you could say “from seed to sprout” my hobby had become an obsession and I was finding myself boasting about my zucchinis at social events.

My plant-purchasing habit has since spiralled out of control and my balcony can no longer accommodate my botanic buys. The obvious solution might be to stop acquiring vegetation but instead, I have directed my attention to house plants.

Look at my beautiful plants!!! Aren't they just wonderful?

Look at my beautiful plants!!! Aren’t they just wonderful?

I recently signed up to the Berlin section of Freecycle, an online portal where users offer to give away items they no longer want. You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that someone in Friedrichshan was giving away a Crassula ovata, known more commonly as the “money tree.” He also mentioned that he intended to shed two spider plants (or Chlorophytum comosum, to nerdier naturalists).

The kind stranger lived on the sixth-floor of an uninviting block of flats close to Alexanderplatz. Upon disembarking the lift, I encountered several entrances boarded up with concrete. It occurred to me that the promise of a free money tree may have lured me into a murderous, Communist-style Venus Fly trap. But soon enough a young man appeared and led me to his doorstep, where the three potted plants were ready for collection.

This money tree is NOT a desk plant.

This money tree is NOT a desk plant.

The money tree turned out to be several times larger than I had expected. It became clear to me that this was not going to be the desk plant I had envisioned.

My benefactor was slight and shy and appeared quite keen to keep our encounter brief. He expressed some sympathy with me for having to ferry the portly plants across the city and advised me to re-pot the money tree.

As well as receiving quite a lot of attention on the tram, I was a little concerned about the fact that I was on the way to a work social event and would not have time to stop by at home to drop off my tree.

Needless to say, arriving at a bar wielding an enormous plant proved an ideal opportunity once again to regale my colleagues with my latest botanic news.

It would seem wrong to sign off without mentioning that my oregano is doing well, that my cress is developing nicely and that both made a flavourful appearance in my omelet this morning.

My radishes are ravishing! And my cress is far from crass.

My radishes are ravishing! And my cress is far from crass.

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Why I want to get naked at Teufelsee

A little while ago, LSB and I were cycling through a forest. The sun was glistening through the leaves. The air was sweet. All you could hear was the crunch of tyres on the path.

Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at a lake. A sign told us we had arrived at “Teufelsee.” Naked men and women were lounging on the grass reading magazines, while others stood knee-deep in the water, patting their arms with water before diving in. Up a little hill, a young and bare-skinned couple was embracing. Unmoving and perfectly entwined, they reminded me of a Renaissance painting.

“This is wonderful,” I said to LSB as we walked by some middle-aged men and women chatting together; their breasts and penises exposed as naturally as my hands or feet.

“It’s nice,” he said, and pointed to a group of ducklings, which were creating tiny ripples as they paddled behind their mother.

Image source: Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Freikörperkultur – or free body culture – thrived in Communist East Germany, where people knew a thing or two about being denied personal freedom. The movement spread to West Germany and now even in a united and free Germany, nudist areas are relatively common.

A few months ago, I was writing a news story about nudist bathing spots in Munich. “It’s not right,” my young, male editor said.  “What’s not right?” I asked.

“Imposing yourself on others,” he said. “I don’t want to see some…” He paused.

“…Fat people.” I think he had wanted to say “ugly” too but stopped himself.

If words have a smell, these reeked of privilege and prudishness.

That, coupled with the recent click-whorish delight he had displayed while creating a photo gallery of women posing for a sexy Alpine-themed calendar under the caption “Farm girls calendar shows pick of the crop” made me see red.

“People don’t exist for your viewing pleasure,” I said.

He scoffed. “I don’t want to be confronted with some .. naked person when I’m walking down the street,” he said.

Poor man, I thought. Imagine his horror when he realises not every woman looks like the Alpine farm girls. Or that men get old and have saggy flesh and that someday, he will too.

I read the following quote recently, which sums up perfectly what I want to say:

“It is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on in any 7-11 store. So you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts, in America. ”

It is okay to post naked pictures of women on the internet, as long as it generates clicks and income for your website. It is not okay to meet one in real life. Particularly if she doesn’t conform to your ideals.

And here is the saddest part.

Even though I have promised myself I will, I have reservations about going nudist bathing at Teufelsee. I dread the idea of meeting someone I know, or alarming somebody with my less-than-perfect body.

Because in spite  – or maybe because of – of all the education I have had; the material comfort and political freedom I enjoy,   somewhere along the way, I failed to learn that my body has to please nobody but myself.

The Quiet Revolution

Susan Cain’s “Quiet“came out in 2012 and her TED talk about introversion has been viewed more than 8 million times.

So having just finished reading the book, I’m a little late to the party. But it’s one of the few I’m happy to be at!

Susan Cain’s argument is that introverts live in a world designed for extroverts. She says western society fails to value the traits associated with quieter, more reflective types.

And it’s true. We value speaking over listening, flamboyance over reservation and risk taking more than caution.

Cain believes that our schools and workplaces are designed for the loud and commanding and that such individuals often flourish at the expense of the more sensitive and careful-minded.

Of course, as a self-diagnosed introvert, reading “Quiet” brought with it a great sense of validation. As I raced through the book, I re-purposed all of my perceived failings (lack of assertiveness, fear of public speaking, dislike of group conversations) into virtues (talent for listening, social intelligence, capable of intimacy).

Susan Cain doesn’t dislike extroverts. In fact, she is married to one (which may or may not have inspired her to write “Quiet”.)

Instead, her “Quiet revolution” is about reclaiming the traits which have become sidelined in a society obsessed with the limelight and where what she calls the Culture of Character, which emphasised values and morality, has been replaced by the Culture of Personality, which values the ability to entertain.  And even if she herself doesn’t, her message speaks volumes.