Part 2: The First Seven Sacks
"Hey Mary Lou, your potatoes for Eurogeddon have collapsed." Cuddled in his worn-soft armchair, with a cat and a computer magazine, Helmut gazed out at the hedge his wife had grown in plastic sacks. Now it hung shriveling from a hillbilly framework of poles and twine, a shipwreck in the north German drizzle.
"Oh isn't this exciting." Mary Lou skipped around the living room like a hamster on speed.
"Honey, I thought you loved those potatoes. You made such a fuss over them all summer."
"This just means they're ready to harvest. I'm supposed to wait for a sunny day."
"Good luck with that, in Hanover."
* * *
Let's start with a Let's Grow bag and leave the Royal Mail sacks for later ... Kneeling in the bowling alley garden, Mary Lou drew on a pair of gloves. Humming with excitement she opened the velcro pocket, and found -- dirt. Guess you have to pull them out one by one, like puppies. No sign of the seed potatoes. I should find a couple of roots anyway; that hedge was attached to something.
Probing, she fingered a smooth, round pebble. It looked clean, like a doll's potato. She put it in a basket to show Helmut. If I find enough of these tiny ones, I can mix them into an omelet. He'll laugh at me because I'm frugal; but I'm the one who dragged all the flat packs of dirt out here. Helmut and his bad back.
Suddenly she felt a big, hard lump, like somebody's foot. This one would make her bison sit up straight. Firm in her palm, the second potato looked pleasantly freckled, like a cheek. Digging deeper, with both hands, she dumped a load of dirt into her lap.
It smelled wonderful, though, like essence of potato; what a sweet and welcoming smell. As if she'd barged into nature's bakery.
She'd dump the loose dirt into the flowerbeds, or scatter it over the thread-bare lawn. Dirt that had served one turn could still enrich the flowers and trees. It's all one big cycle anyway: garden and gardener, gains and loss. And when I die I fall back into the earth. Helmut should have them burn my body. That would be cleaner, cheaper too ... Hours trotted by while she dug and sorted. A pair of bumblebees hovered over her shoulder, as if inspecting her work.
Isn't this grand? She arranged her treasures by size in rows, to dry in the sun. Now I'm part of this garden too, part of this year that is spinning away towards Eurogeddon.
She harvested 106 potatoes, most of them smaller than a hen's egg. Not one slugged or rotten though: a decent start to a victory garden. She felt prouder than a geriatric peacock fanning its straggly tail. After rubbing the loose dirt off the potatoes, she tucked them into two baskets, layer by layer, nestled in soft rags.
You have to protect them from the light, or they sprout and turn poisonous. They belong in cold storage, in the basement. That's einkellern in German,"in-cellaring." Potatoes will help us through the Eurozone's breakup; I just need to plant four times as many ... Geeze, that's a lot of dirt.
* * *
Old Herr Pinzer watched her from his garden like a sentry, while she lugged four pots of tomato plants down a ladder from the row house roof. Each of them, tall as Mary Lou, bulged with dozens of green tomatoes. When she set down the last of the pots he chided, grinning:
"I told you it's too windy up there."
"Well it was an experiment, Herr Pinzer." She telescoped the ladder with a bang. "They got more sun, but kept tipping over no matter how I tied them together. I worried they'd land on somebody's head."
"You'll find nice tomatoes in the supermarket."
"That's what my husband says. And most of them come from Spain, a country that seems to be circling the drain. Soon people will be eating their own tomatoes."
Gnarled as a garden dwarf, her neighbor scowled; he'd gone hungry after World War 2. "I used to have two apple trees back here," he said wistfully, nodding at the pair of forsythias he'd trimmed into perfect spheres.
"And I used to pick the apples off the branches that hung into my yard. You know that's been allowed here since the Sachsenspiegel laws of the Middle Ages."
"Is that so?" Jealously he eyed twin apples still dangling from an espaliered tree, and for a moment she thought he'd snatch them. "Frau Steinegger, are these the only ones you got this year?"
"No, I got six in all, Herr Pinzer, and they've been delicious."
"Not enough to live on, though."
"I know. This is just the start. Now please excuse me while I try to find a bit of space for these tomatoes."
As she struggled to prop up her unruly flock then, the treacherous sky again grew dark. Soon it slobbered her with cold and nasty rain, like a late November storm.
And it isn't even October ... A gardener in Hanover is often damp. I won't let that stop me, though; I embrace the cold and muck, like Goethe said.
* * *
The 24 sprawly tomato plants boasted fruits from grape-size to small orange, all of them green as deli pickles. The biggest she picked to ripen in the kitchen, and stowed another dozen in a paper bag. Their gases are supposed to help them to mature.
If only politicians reacted the same. In fact, if you could hook up your pols to the energy grid somehow, they'd power the planet till the end of time.
* * *
Helmut slathered his boiled potatoes with butter and salt, and gobbled them down. "Slow down, honey," she pleaded. "I didn't find these at the discount market, you know."
"They're good, Mary Lou; but they're just potatoes."
"Helmut, I recognize every one." She poked at a freckled skin on her plate. "In fact I think that growing them has changed my relationship to food."
"That's nice ... What are you talking about?"
"People used to give thanks before every meal. Making food grow is loads of work, and you're at the mercy of weather and chance."
He set down his fork, and then picked it up. "They didn't have supermarkets then, with thousands of items in the aisles."
"Most of them useless, and too expensive. God, these potatoes taste so good ..."
"I like variety," he said stoutly, forking himself another plump, white sausage. For once she'd prepared the sausages correctly, letting them heat in boiled water off the burner, till they "swam." "I couldn't eat potatoes every night."
"And what if you didn't have a choice? What if that's all we had? Some Greek families can only survive because farmers drive loads of potatoes into town. All of the middlemen are going bust."
"Someone always suffers in life."
"Well, I have a dream: I want to eat."
"Please, you don't have to worry anymore." Putting down his fork he patted her hand. "Mario Draghi, our central banker, has promised to buy enough bonds from Spain and Italy to keep the Eurozone from collapsing."
"That's great." Impatiently she pushed away her plate. "The Eurozone has seventeen countries, Helmut."
"I saw him on the news," he said stubbornly, "while you were cooking. I think he he means it."
"And where is he going to get the money?"
"Print it, I guess; or borrow it."
"When nobody in Europe -- except for the Germans -- has got any money left to lend! Oh I don't even get to vote in this country; I'm just a 'foreign co-burgher' here. And that's why I want to take more of the pretty things out of the garden, and put fruit trees in. And a walnut tree -- if I can find one. Little ones make a lot of nuts these days. I read about them in the internet."
"Just what I need: more nuts in this house." Helmut grinned angelically, and she reached out and tugged his woolly beard.
"When you are the one who's never full, no matter how much, how often I feed you. Here I am, almost 60 -- becoming a subsistence farmer."
"Oh you don't have to; we'll be getting pensions soon. You should trust our politicians."
"I'm not an obedient German, like you; I'm from New YAWK; don't you remember? Sometimes I don't even trust myself."
"Mary Lou, you belong in a Woody Allen movie. Now why don't you up eat the rest of that nice goat cheese I bought. It's bionic, you know."
"I think you mean 'bio.'"
"It tastes good."
"You think everything tastes good."
"I'm just a happy guy."
* * *
Greece was bust as a broken bench, she decided. Nobody wanted to admit it. The IMF didn't want to help anymore, and neither did a majority of Germans. So who was going to pay for the Greek pensions? Those people couldn't pay for their own mistakes. Now they were rioting in the streets and smearing Athens with vile graffiti.
And what about Spain? The province of Catalonia -- with an economy the size of Austria -- wanted to secede. Could there be another civil war?
Then how were the Germans ever going to rescue Greece, and Spain and Italy? Not to mention Ireland, Cyprus and Slovenia, and maybe even France. Everybody wanted fresh cash infusions, and nobody wanted harsh conditions attached. Maybe this was Eurogeddon already? How would she know if it arrived?
What if we can't get any money out of the cash machines anymore? How much tinned food can we store in the basement? What can we barter for?
All of these questions, once abstract, seemed to be gaining weight each day. At least she was losing weight by worrying ... What did Voltaire say?
"Let us cultivate our garden."
* * *
"At least I know I can grow a share of our food," she vowed, once again examining the vast array of green tomatoes. The leaves she'd left around them had started to shrivel. She'd have to gather the fruits in soon, before October's frost.
"What are you mumbling?" Helmut in his armchair tucked a reindeer skin around his shoulders.
"Nothing, honey." She paced the living room cluttered with books. "I'm just wondering how many green tomatoes you can stand."
"They're supposed to be tasty, fried," he said dreamily. "Just don't stint on the olive oil."