dimanche 11 avril 2010

When your foreign eyes trace the heights of the city

I can't remember where but once I read that whenever Lord Byron travelled to hotels in foreign countries, he used to write the word "English" next to his name because he felt a sense of attachment and cultural identity that he never had when he was actually in England. It's something I can relate to. Ever since I was a teenager, I thought of nothing else but moving to another country, immersing myself in another culture, becoming a different person yet sometimes I wonder whether that will ever be possible. At times there's part of me that feels I shouldn't be living this somewhat bohemian existance without a steady, well paid job and a house with a garden. These are moments of crisis when I should have achieved more, when I'm unsure of the direction my life is taking. Before my trip to London, I wondered whether it's a place I would click with if I moved there, somewhere I could achieve all of those things. Life could be simpler if only I liked living in my own country.

Yet every time I go there, it's a little like standing too close to a wonderful painting, where I can see the beautiful details without ever getting a good overview. There was the day of my arrival when the streets were still deserted from the Easter holiday. A shop sign creaked in the wind and a child watched helplessly as her gold and purple Easter crown blew into the middle of the road. Later that evening, I walked around some of the local parks, admiring the colours of the flowers, following in the footsteps of Virigina Woolf.

Covent Garden

A stunning wedding cake in one of the shops around Covent Garden which made me think of Ry's incredible creations.

There was the visit to the Royal Academy, fighting through the crowds to get a glimpse of Van Gogh's letters then stopping by at Minamoto Kitchoan for exquisite mochi and pastries with green tea wrapped up in perfect tiny parcels.

Some of the shop windows at Fortnum and Maison - just imagine how easy cake making would be with a mixer this size!

Now that's what I call a large capuccino.

Walking past the British Museum, I thought with regret about the wonderful secondhand bookshop which no longer exists where a woman once asked one of the sellers if he thought a particular book would be heavy whereupon he placed it on some scales before she explained she was actually referring to the subject! Luckily, there's still the London Review bookshop where I picked up Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett, Black Snow by Bulgakov and a biography of Keats by Andrew Motion which inspired one of my favourite films, Bright Star.

The great court at the British museum

Chocolate rum truffle cake

No visit to London would be complete without a trip to the London Review Bookshop

Outside Tate Modern

Taking a break
There was the sweet smell of the narcissi in the golden light of the most perfect day which seemed more like summer than spring and later walking back through Covent Garden, a guitar was playing.

The narcissi in the evening sun

On the southbank

In Green Park

A lemon drizzle muffin

Some snappy men's fashions

There were also trips to the cinema to see Lourdes, a film I never expected to like but which made me see that there isn't just one way to live, that everything is meaningful, The Father of my Children with its heartbreaking honesty and the sensual melodrama of I am Love which made me long to visit Milan in the snow and taste the flavours of Italy.

One last treat - cake and hot chocolate at Patisserie Valérie

Yesterday there was the regret of having to leave on the most beautiful day. Standing in the garden in the morning sun with the glistening dew at my feet, I wished the world could stop spinning for just a few minutes to let me reflect. But then just before landing, there was the exhileration of seeing Berlin once more from the air and picking out the tiny landmarks. The city smelled of tarmac washed clean by the rain and damp earth. Those buds which remained so stubbornly closed have opened in my absence making way for fresh delicate leaves. I realised it's not the place that will make things happen but only myself. I'm glad it feels good to be back.

24 commentaires:

  1. Gorgeous shots. Thanks for sharing!

    That truffle cake looks irresistible!

    Cheers and have a lovely week,


  2. Well Vanessa, you have to make choices.
    My daughter chose to live in Paris for 6 years in the 90's. She caught the travel bug many years before that.
    She finally moved back to the US and eventually started her own business. (But she still travels a lot and I frequently go with her. She loves adventures.)It's been really hard, especially on her social life as she is not married, which she regrets. It's funny how others dream of a life like hers, but she is missing, as you say, the life of a house, garden, family, children. (The life I chose.)

    Anyway.... re your posting: I used to stay in London for several days on my way to visit her in Paris. So I got to know the city well. Don't you adore the hats in London??? Just like I adore the scarves in Paris. (Among other things.)

    Choices. Very difficult.

  3. Bonjour Vanessa,

    Beautiful pictures, as usual... :-)

    La vie est faite de chapitres. Dans 5 ans, vous aurez peut-etre, justement, cette "autre" vie que vous decrivez (maison, jardin) et je doute que vous regrettiez alors d'avoir aussi connu dans votre existence le chapitre actuel. Un chapitre de vie complete l'autre.

    En vous lisant au fil des billets, j'ai souvent l'impression de voir ma vie il y a 10 ans, lorsque j'habitais en Allemagne alors que tous mes amis avaient la maison, la famille, le jardin, ou en tout cas le travail stable avec salaire fixe (le reve)... Le temps a passe, ma vie est devenue plus stable, plus "raisonnable" (comme on dit) aussi en raison des enfants qui font qu'on s'impose un autre style, un autre rythme, des possibilites et aussi des impossibilites.

    Impossible de tout faire, d'etre partout en meme temps, mais dans la duree, bien des choses et des vies sont possibles, sur plusieurs chapitres.

    Et puis, si on aime l'etranger et les langues etrangeres, rester constamment dans son pays freine un peu l'elan vital. On n'y peut rien, c'est ainsi, on finit par vivre entre deux mondes, entre deux rives (vous comprendrez l'allusion). C'est aussi sans doute une richesse.

    A bientot,

  4. PS : Le magazine litteraire propose ce mois-ci un dossier sur Proust. Je crois avoir lu que vous aimez beaucoup Proust. Un des articles (tres interessant) montre le travail d'ecriture, les carnets, les ratures, etc.

    PS2 : Fascinantes les lettres de Van Gogh, non ? J'en ai vu plusieurs ici a New York. J'avais ete impressionnee par la facon donc Van Gogh decrivait a son frere le tableau qu'il envisageait de peindre.
    A bientot,

  5. Ah Vanessa, I so relate! I often wonder if I've made the right choices - I've lived in more than 12 places since I was 20, I have a sort of itinerant job without security or insurance and I own literally nothing but clothes and I'll turn 30 at the end of the year. On paper it sounds rather glamorous I think but every life has its difficulties and joys I suppose.
    I'm thinking of going home now though - I'm pretty sure if I do, after a year I'll start wondering again but I have to give it a go.

  6. The whole point of the dancing is the dance...
    It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing..


  7. I don't think it's a choice, you are who you are, I am who I am: we're essentially and before everything else Foreigners, like so many others! That's our nationality, don't you think...

  8. I agree with Julie. We are foreigners, citizens of the world, that's our nationality, and at the same time we do our best to adjust to other cultures, to fit in. It's quite fascinating, actually.

  9. You live in the moment...your photos suggest this beautifully.

  10. what wonderful post..I love seeing all your pics..thanks for letting me travel with you...


  11. @Rosa - That cake was the best one I ate during my trip and I'm dying to make my own.
    @Barbara - Thanks for sharing the story about your daughter. You're right it all comes down to the choices we make and it's defintely not easy. Basically, we often want the elements missing from our lives and I'm not really sure that a 9 to 5 job and house would really make me happier with the responsibilty that it brings. Deep down, I know I'm lucky to be able to lead the life that I do and have the experience of other countries and languages.
    @Le franc buveur - Ciao et j'espère que ca va aussi. Je rendrai visite à ton blog pour te lire et améliorer mon italien pourri. A bientôt.
    @Laurence - Merci de vos commentaires si lucides et intéressants. Je crois que vous avez bien raison que la liberté et spontanéité de ma actuelle me manqueraient si j'avais plus de stabilité. C'est ce que je dis pendant ces moments de doute et j'essaie de profiter de ces occasions si riche que m'offrent ma vie à Berlin. Et puis vous le dites, on ne peut pas tout faire.
    Ce qui me rendait un peu nostalgique, c'est le relecture du Grand Meaulnes en Angleterre, un livre qui avait tant marqué ma jeunesse car la maison de mes parents est devenue pour moi une sorte de domaine avec le jardin où je jouais autrefois et les bouquins poussiéreux tant aimés. J'ai besoin de cela parfois. C'est un sentiment bizarre de se sentir étrangère dans son propre pays et cette vie entre deux rives (une si jolie expression) me fait partie de moi aussi.
    Merci pour les infos sur le magazine littéraire. C'est vrai que la Recherche de Proust m'accompagne depuis des années et ne cesse pas de me fasciner.
    Quant aux lettres de Van Gogh, elles sont si belles et émouvantes et malgré la foule énorme dans l'expo, j'étais bien contente d'avoir pu les voir de près avec les descriptions et des dessins extraordinaires. Il y a 6 ans, j'ai visité Arles et St. Rémy de Provence; quelle joie d'entrer un peu dans ses tableaux un peu.
    Sasa - Ah, it's reassuring to hear that! I'm also going to be 30 this year and somehow it's a turning point in life, even if I know it's still young. I'm not sure that life in London would be easier for me though and I've never clicked with anywhere else like with Berlin. It's just that sometimes you long for a little stability. Good luck with your decision and I hope it all works out. I don't know whether I'll ever return to live in the UK, there's still so much I need to find out for myself and experience first.
    @Natural selection - Thanks so much for the clip - I didn't know it and could totally identify iwth the message. It's true, all of these goals we're supposed to aim for and then there's just disappointment when we get there but a feeling on inadequacy if we don't, instead of just enjoyig things for what they are.
    @Julie - I know you're right, it's just at certain moments I wonder where this journey will take me. Ultimately though, we have to accept what we are and I know I can't fight this need to live elsewhere, to lose myself in other languages and the cultures I didn't grow up with. At the end of La père de mes enfants, the film I saw in London, there's the Doris Day song about what will be, will be and that the future doesn't just belong to us. That helps me too.
    @Laurence - That's a nice phrase, citizens of the world and one that I can relate to. Like you, there are so many things from the places I've lived in which are part of me now and which I couldn't do without.
    @Tracy - For me, it's the only way to live, going through life with my eyes open, trying to take in everything while it lasts and not to forget all those little moments which are so special. The camera makes it easier to do that and i like going through pictures, reminding myself of these things which will soon exist only in memories and pictures.

  12. @Sweetlife - It makes me happy knowing my posts let you experience new things, just as your pictures make me dream.

  13. "Life could be simpler if only I liked living in my own country. "
    Story of my life!!! I sort of made my peace with my country, but calling it that, calling it "my country" always gives me this strange feeling, like it's not entirely true..

  14. You'll always cherish these "bohemian" days. Because it's the time when you really figure out who you are and what you want.

  15. Je trouve que ton choix de vivre bohème est très exaltant, en tout cas ; et j'aime l'idée formulée par Laurence des plusieurs vies que l'on peut expérimenter au fil du temps ; j'en profite pour te remercier de m'avoir fait découvrir Gatsby (oui, je l'ai enfin lu, et c'était le bon moment !), je le retrouve un peu dans ce que tu dis, lui qui s'est bâti un personnage idéal (ce qui ne l'empêche pas de "mal finir", certes !)

  16. c'est vrai qu'il nous avait manqué ce soleil! Tout est plus beau sous sa lumière. Quelles photos!!
    Merci pour ce superbe post Vanessa,
    Grosses biz madame et à bientôt

  17. Ce billet est émouvant et touchant! Il y a un temps pour chaque chose et l'on doit apprendre à conjuguer avec le moment présent, mais aussi avec la nostalgie qui nous envahit parfois! Je me sens un peu comme toi; maintenant que j'ai une vie un peu plus rangée je m'ennuie du temps (qui n'est pas très loin pourtant) ou je pouvais le vendredi matin décider d'aller à New-York en fin d'après-midi pour aller voir une exposition au MOMA... L'important est de se réaliser et d'apprécier le moment présent! Je te souhaite une très belle journée et je suis désolée de n'avoir pu venir te rendre visite dernièrement. Tes magnifiques photographies nous donnent l'occasion de faire une très belle ballade à travers tes yeux! Merci du partage.

  18. @Pia - I can totally get what you mean about making peace with the country you're from. When I first moved away, I couldn't wait to get away but now I can appreciate certan things when I go back there which are missing here. And yes, the term "my country" sounds fake to my ears and I agree with Julie and Laurence that we're foreigners wherever we go.
    @Des - Yes, I think so too and i'm aware how much some people envy my lifestyle. Whatever happens, I know it's an important experience for me.
    @Rose - Je ne regrette pas le choix d'être partie vivre ailleurs car sans cela je n'aurais jamais appris d'autres langues ou faire la connaissance des gens vraiment chouettes comme toi. Mais parfois l'envie me prendre d'imaginer ta belle maison avec des livres et des chats où je peux me réfugier. Je suis ravie que la lecture de Gatsby t'ait plu car c'est vraiment un de mes livres préférés et c'est la tragédie d'un homme qui rêve de cette vie si brillante mais enfin aussi fragile.
    @Sarah - Merci de ta visite ma belle et de ton si gentil commentaire. Oui, on a vraiment besoin de soleil et à chaque fois c'est si réjouissant de voir toutes ces couleurs et la lumière dorée.
    @Isabelle - J'apprécie toujours tes visites chez moi et je sais que tu es pas mal occupée avec tant de choses - ne t'inquiète pas! Je me dis que je n'aurais peut-être pas toujours tant de liberté dans ma vie et qu'il faut essayer d'en profiter aussi longtemps qu'on le peut. A Berlin, tout est possible c'est vraiment une ville qui m'inspire et rend contente. Comme toi, j'essaie de vivre dans le présent et de savourer tous ces beaux moments. Bonne journée aussi Isabelle et prend soin de toi.

  19. Welcome back/home :o) I agree w/you that it's not the place but yourself who can make a place "your home". Beautiful pictures. Love the truffle cake picture. Looks so decadent and rich. I'll be making a 6 hour stop in London Heathrow airport soon. Anything food-related or otherwise I should check out over there? Thanks!

    Btw, I found your blog through Isabelle's "Eat My Cake Now" blog :o)

  20. Hi Hanaa, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving me a comment. Well, foodwise, I have a serious weakness for cheddar cheese, Cadbury's dairy milk and salt and vinegar crisps (not everyone's cup of tea, I know). Plus a nice cup of black tea eith milk which for some reason never tastes the same in Berlin, even when I use the same teabags. I'm not from London so am no expert on the very best places but if you have time to go into the centre, I love walking along the Thames on the southbank a little. There are so many nice little cafés to stop off at.

  21. I would loveee to dive, head first, into that massive cappuccino. :) And love the gorgeous shots you've got all over your site.

  22. Thanks so much for the lovely comment - things like that really make my day :-)

  23. Sometimes I feel a bit tense pondering the unknown direction of my life, but then I relax and feel happy that everything isn't neatly mapped out for me. The unknown is so much more interesting than the neatly mapped. I see you've posted more fabulous photographs of tempting sweets. I'm going to gain 10 pounds reading your blog : )