mardi 22 septembre 2009

On reading and Kaiserschmarrn

For me books have always been like friends. Paul Morand once said that we carry different versions of the same books with us throughout our lives and react to different things as we change and get older. I love to re-open old favourites and look at passges underlined in pencil which obviously meant a lot to me and which had been forgotten. Have I really changed so much? Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like without this endless stream of printed pages I'm so dependent on but that seems unimaginable. In a way though, I had to love reading because of the mini library I grew up in which probably also explains why dust doesn't bother me! My mother fed me words, not just cakes. As a child, I wrote stories; once the headmistress of the school read one out and it felt so strange hearing my own words that I was no longer sure it was even my story anymore. At the end, she asked the author to stand up. It took me about five minutes to get over my embaressment and then I was crushed not to get a prize like the other kids who'd painted pictures. Perhaps it explains why I've never been brave enough to write a novel or a story, even though it gives me so much pleasure to write.

Back then, I even had the courage to talk to authors at book readings my parents took me along to. It didn't bother me that I didn't know anything about their work and I felt special being the only kid there. The first books I can remember were the Orlando ones about a marmelade cat and his family which included a naughty black kitten called Tinkle who had a pet spider in his pocket. Then there was The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the story of a tiger who called round at a little girl's house and was so hungry and thirsty that he emptied the cupboards and drank all the water out of the taps so later she couldn't take her bath and the whole family had to eat at a café. The major obsesssion though were the Narnia books which made me travel to a world so different from my own. They made me laugh but also cry and never before had anything been so important as getting through the next volume. When the TV version was on, I felt disappointed that it wasn't at all how I'd imagined everything; it just seemed dull and obvious. I guess I knew even then that sometimes the wonderful journey books take us on can only be experienced for ourselves and that no image, however beautiful can replace the first impressions words make on us.

One day though, I stopped reading; I can't tell you exactly when or why. Perhaps it was an overdose or a teenage rebelllion against how my parents wanted me to be, I honestly don't know but I didn't miss it at all. Later on though, books became my way or rebelling against being an outsider at school. I was considered strange because I was the hopelessly shy girl with braces and no sense of style who couldn't relate to others. Reading made me different, it gave me something over them I could use and I sat alone in a corner of the classroom at breaktimes with Fitzgerald, Camus or Beauvoir who none of them had ever heard of. With books, you can be somebody different and you never feel alone. I sobbed at the lost youth of Le Grand Meaulnes, my heart was pounding at the love story of L'écume des jours and I longed to be as cheeky and clever as Zazie. Most of all, drifting from line to line, the sense of time faded away. It's still wonderful to do that in the U-Bahn, just immersed in my book, even if I tend to miss my stop. Since then, the addiction to words has never left me and I love to think of all the unexplored literary places I have yet to visit. I still feel amazed that such a small, simple object like a book can give me so much and personally, there's nothing which would terrify me more than the thought of being without something to read. On my return to Munich, I finally started my first Carson McCullers book and wondered why it took me so long. It's like something that's been waiting for me to open; the loneliness , the connections with others, the humanity and her amazing descriptions. I find myself unable to get it out of my mind and want to savour every minute of it slowly but also read it all in one go non-stop. It's been a while since a book really made me feel like that but below are some others I adore.

Some authors I can't live without:

Marcel Proust

This is probably on most people's reading list and I'm honestly not trying to show off by listing him! I first became interested when I bought Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life and then Malcolm Bowie's beautiful Proust Among the Stars made me see how modern, touching and eccentric he can be. I love the way each volume of the Recherche has its own colours and style and I find it hard to think of anyone who made me see the pain and beauty of life and love so much. I adore (and am frustrated too) how the long, long sentences slow you down and how he weaves the text together, moving back and forth and reminding us of everything we've lost. I feel guilty for abandoning him at volume five but know I'll come back to him and his curious circle of characters who stay with you long after you've closed the book.

Thomas Bernhard

J. and I were sitting one winter in a bookshop in Arles, looking at a Libération book on twentieth century culture. "You must know him", he told me, (I had never heard of him) "He thought all Germans were Nazis but he's also one of best writers in German." I couldn't imagine the kind of books he had written but a little later he brought me one back from Germany called Alte Meister and I had never read anything like it before. Long sentences again like with Proust but which repeated themselves like in music, going round and round. He was so critical but so funny and the situations he observed were almost tragi-comic - the public toilets in Vienna, the Habsburg's lack of artistic taste, guided tours in museums. It's impossible to translate him properly into English (it works better in French because of the special tense used for reported speech) but I love the exaggeration of his descriptions and the uniqueness of his style.

Scott Fitzgerald

I was so obsessed with foreign languages and reading books in them that I neglected ones in English for some time but these days, I can't seem to get enough of books in English. If I could write like anyone, I would choose Fitzgerald. I love the gorgeous sensuality of his language and the things or people he describes, whether it's Gatsby's parties or a beach in the South of France. I love the way things are doomed against a beautiful, glittering sky and the fragility of it all. Every time I re-read Gatsby, I feel the sadness of the broken American dream more and more.

Simone de Beauvoir

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is one of the most important books I've ever read, even though I love the other volumes of autobiography too. I read it as a spotty, scruffy teenager and it instantly spoke to me with her honesty, the way she wrote about the confusion and pain of growing up, the fact that she didn't believe in anything religious. I almost felt I knew her. From that moment, I wanted to be an intellectual, to shape my life like her and study philosophy. I didn't exactly achive the first thing but managed the last! Even today, I can still remember the pain I felt, reading about Zaza (I don't want to say anymore for those who haven't yet read it).

Marguerite Duras

Moderato Cantabile was the first French book I read from beginning to end and the short, simple phrases made me feel confused but also fascinated. Not much seemed to happen but somehow every bit of dialogue and expression was important. After that I read the earlier more descriptive books like Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique and La Vie Tranquille which were so different but still mesmerizing and La Douleur was something I read and re-read constantly as student with its beautful, poignant descriptions. I haven't read any of her books for some time now but have never stopped dreaming of going to Normandy to discover the places where Marguerite once was.

Ingeborg Bachmann

The book of poems lies constantly beside my bed and I try to read at least a couple before going to sleep. They're often so painful and dark but her words make me feel at least someone understands me, even at the saddest times. Perhaps the most beautiful things written in German.

There are, of course so many other books and writers left unmentioned; Jane Austen, Alice in Wonderland, Molesworth, Modiano, Kundera, Heiner Müller, Calvino.

To finish this long post, a recipe which brings back memories of my first ever trip to Germany and Bavaria when the day was wet and rainy. We sat in a café close to Austria with some Amercian friends, waiting endlessly for the sun. J. recommended Kaiserschmarrn to me, a name that always amuses me because it literally means Emperor nonsense, although it's a kind of eggy pancake. It was filling and comforting and has been a firm favourite of mine ever since. It's traditionally served with raisons soaked in rum (but I prefer mine without) and also plum jam. I've always had mine with Apflemus though which is why I chose it this time too but any jam would work well.

Kaiserschmarrn (for 2 people as a main meal or 4 as a dessert)

300ml milk
125g plain flour
20g sugar
a pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
a little butter for frying
icing sugar and jam or compote to serve

1. Put the sugar and salt in a bowl and mix in the egg yolks using a balloon whish until frothy and light orange.
2. Add the milk a little at a time, blending well, then gradually stir in the flour until you have a smooth mixture.
3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold them in carefully and blend well.
4. Melt a little butter in a large frying pan then when the pan is hot, pour in the mixture. When it's brown underneath, turn it and continue cooking until you have everything is golden brown. Then use two forks to cut it into pieces. Remove from the heat and turn out onto a plate, Dust with icing sugar and serve with the jam or compote of your choice.

14 commentaires:

  1. I love to go through my old books too...

    That Keiserschwarm looks delicious! A speciality I love!



  2. I NEVER heard of that desert... it looks scrumptious. And your post makes me want to start making my own list too! (I love lists...)

  3. Sais-tu qu'il y a un "Kaiserschmarren Café" en ce moment à l'Oktoberfest?

  4. Rosa - Another dessert passion we have in common ;-)
    Pia - You definitely have to try it - it's too yummy. I'd love to read your list - go for it!
    Flo Bretzel - Ah bon, j'ai raté ça? Quel dommage!

  5. C'est un très beau billet qui donne des idées et l'espoir de belles découvertes (car je n'ai jamais lu Thomas Bernhard ni Fitzgerald, ce dernier reste un vague projet de lecture). Les mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée ont aussi été une lecture très importante pour moi, avant d'entrer au lycée, Simone était une sorte de modèle (dans ma ville actuelle il y a un café où elle s'installait car elle a enseigné ici la philosophie). Et Duras aussi, bien sûr, particulièrement Moderato Cantabile, souvenir de ma première année d'étude. Et l'année suivante, Proust, drôle, profond, stupéfiant. Moi aussi, ça me donne envie de réfléchir à mes indispensables !

  6. Rose - c'est super, tous nos goûts communs et ça m'intéresserait vraiment d'en savoir plus sur des livres dont tu ne peux pas te passer (ou du moins quelques-uns car il y en a probablement trop!). Aussi j'avais complètement oublié que Simone était à Rouen - j'aimerais tant suivre ses traces dans des villes différentes, ainsi que celles de Duras. Je peux me perdre pendant des heures dans la Recherche - c'est un monde si riche et différent et Proust est peut-être l'auteur qui a compté le plus pour moi, mais c'est difficile à dire. Quant à Fitzgerald, Gatsby est peut-être le plus facile pour commencer mais Tender is the night plus ambitieux et émouvant.

  7. J'aime ces billets aux écumes du temps ;-). Moi aussi j'adore les livres, les toucher, m'y plonger coeur et âme pour vivre un autre monde. Comme tu dis, ils ont un pouvoir incroyable. Un peu droguée jusqu'à l'adolescence (je me fixais sur des auteurs et je devais lire toutes leurs oeuvres), je m'y suis détachée. Sûrement à cause des études, puis du travail...Maintenant je suis dans les livres de cuisine :-). En tout cas, moi aussi Camus, Beauvoir, Duras (mais aussi Yourcenar)... m'ont marqué. Comme toi j'aime relire des passages, ces quelques mots qui arrivent à tout exprimer.
    Je n'ai jamais goûté à ton dessert mais il me fait bien envie.
    P.S. Tu écris très bien d'ailleurs :-)

  8. Je connais bien ça, le besoin de tout lire d'une personne on aime tant. Je n'ai pas encore lu Yourcenar, donc, une visite chez la librairie aux Galeries Lafayette s'impose! C'est toujours un grand plaisir aussi de feuilleter dans les livres de cuisine qui me font rêver. Et merci beaucoup pour le compliment - je suis très touchée et pense souvent à écrire un roman ou des contes mais il me faudrait tant de talent, de discipline et de courage! Un jour peut-être..

  9. Merci beaucoup pour les suggestions Vanessa. Les blogs sont un vrai piege, un peu comme les librairies, ma Pile de Livre a Lire s'allonge de jour en jour. Un questionnaire avait tourne comme ca sur les blogs il y a quelques annees, qui m'avait donne beaucoup d'envies, et permis de jeter un coup d'oeil dans les listes des autres. C'est sans fin. Et tant mieux. bonne fin de semaine.

  10. tu devrais lire Milena Angus qui est une écrivain sarde que j'ai découvert depuis peu et dont j'adore le style !
    et si tu aimes le chocolat tu peux venir faire un tour chez moi tu es la bievenue !Pierre

  11. Gracienne - Mais oui, tu as complètement raison avec la tentation des livres - j'en ai toujours envie mais c'est ce qui est de plus frustrant mais aussi de plus beau - on ne pourrait jamais tout lire! Bon WE à toi aussi!
    Pierre - Merci beaucoup de ta visite et aussi pour le conseil; je ne connais pas cette écrivain mais ça me fait toujours plaisir de trouver de beaux livres par d'autres personnes. Et puis ton blog est merveilleux avec toutes tes recette alléchantes et de belles photos.

  12. J'imagine Proust tellement ému de lire ce que tu écris sur lui...
    J'adore la Recherche, sa lecture fut chérie, parfois abandonnée puis reprise avec encore plus d'ad-miration/oration.
    De Duras, j'adore Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia et comme Rose, Moderato cantabile.
    Aux Papous dans la tête; il y a quinze jours je crois, il y avait un diagnostic littéraire avec un extrait de Gatsby et personne n'a trouvé, les gens ont pensé Vian ou même Kafka, c'était très amusant...
    Je regrette de n'avoir pas goûté les Kaiserschmarnn de Vienne que Mingou m'avait pourtant beaucoup vantés!

  13. Patoumi - je suis vraiment touchée par tes mots - merci beaucoup! J'avais vu une très chouette exposition sur Proust et son temps au musée Carnavalet il y a quelques années, j'adore découvrir ses traces à Paris et ses mots m'accompagnent un peu partout.
    Je ne connais pas encore les petits chevaux mais c'est bien sur ma liste et je vais aussi essayer de trouver cette émission.
    Ah oui, les Kaiserschmarrn de Vienne sont certainement superbs mais tu peux sûrement le faire toi-même; sinon il faut soit le manger chez Mingou ;-), soit retourner bientôt à Vienne!