lundi 23 août 2010

Das dreißigste Jahr

Today is my birthday, and not just any birthday, also my 30th. People tell you different things; some say that everything becomes easier since you’re less concerned with the need to be cool, you’re still young but have more experience and confidence than before. To others, it represents the end of being young; I remember a while ago overhearing some students commenting on the play we had just watched and complaining that the leading actress was simply far too old as she must have been at least thirty! It feels a little strange having these two digits suddenly attached to my name, something I never imagined would happen. There’s a distant memory of our holiday in Brittany as child, walking along the beach and watching the sea wash away our footprints but now it’s such a long time ago.

As ridiculous as it sounds though, when I turned twenty, there was only the sinking impression of being older, of having lost the true youth of Le Grand Meaulnes while everyone around me was saying what a great age it was to be. I remember reading and empathising with the famous lines by Paul Nizan, “I was twenty; let no-one tell me it’s the best time of my life”. I’ll start with a true cliché then, that if I had the choice, I wouldn’t swap my life now for the one I had ten years ago. Even if others have achieved more and I still don’t even have a drivers’ licence, I seem to have come a long way, the places that I’ve lived in, the people I’ve met and most all, I finally have my own place at last. It’s difficult for me to describe the emotion and exhilarating sense of freedom of simply being able to close the door behind me when I return in the evenings or waking up slowly over a cup of tea in the kitchen, looking out over the rooftops. There’s the pleasure of cooking for myself every evening, sitting down with a good book or on Fridays, making pizza and watching a film noir. I love being high up at the top of the building, being able to watch the people from the front window as they come back from shopping or on Sundays stroll leisurely hand in hand. Coming into the building, there’s the smell of dust and deep wood warmed by the rays of the midday sun. Good things are going to come out of living there I feel.
Others are mourning the upcoming end of summer, wondering with each sunny day whether it will be the last good weekend but personally, I can’t wait to see the leaves begin to turn red and gold and feel the first chill in the air as evening falls. September has always been my favourite month, abundant with apples and plums. The light has a special quality and you long to make the most of the fading beauty before winter sets in.

To finish with, a recipe I’ve been wanting to post for a long time. Growing up, it was my birthday cake for the first few years. We used to own a caravan and were normally on holiday whenever it was my birthday which meant we either needed to buy a cake from a shop or make our own which was tricky as we didn’t have an oven. My mother found a solution though by sandwiching a pack of digestive biscuits with chocolate flavoured cream overnight so they turned soft like a cake. It might sound unappealing, something only the British would go in for and I’d never pretend it’s my most sophisticated recipe but somehow it has a special place in my heart and after remaking it earlier this summer, I was pleased to find it still made a nice dessert.

Apple Strudel and coffee

In Oranienburger Straße

A view from the kitchen

In Mitte last Friday

The non-baking birthday cake

1 pack of digestive biscuits/Graham crackers
500ml double/heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons drinking chocolate (or use whatever flavour you prefer)
1. Whip the cream in a large bowl until it begins to thicken. Add as much drinking chocolate as you like (I prefer my cream not too sweet so went for 3 tablespoons but it’s up to you) until you have the desired sweetness then continue whipping the cream until very thick but not too stiff.
2. On a long, oval shaped plate, spread a layer of cream over the area where you wish you have the cake so the biscuits stand upright. Taking two biscuits at a time, sandwich them together with the cream, then stand them next to each other in a row on the plate. Keep going until you’ve used all the biscuits or come to end of the plate. Spread the remaining cream over the tops and sides of the biscuits so they’re completely covered. Chill in the fridge overnight, then cut pieces diagonally and serve immediately.

mercredi 18 août 2010

London calling

Sitting in the lounge waiting for my flight back to be called,

First of all, sorry for being away for so long. It was never my intention; as the Internet is so slow at my parents’ place, I planned to write a last post from Charlottenburg before my big move to East Berlin but there wasn’t time and I’m now without Internet at home, though doing my best to get a connection. Here I am then in an Internet café which isn’t the most inspiring location: I’ve missed you all so much and find it hard to keep up with the blogosphere which explains the lack of comments. Sadly, I can’t promise things will be any better for the next few weeks, although I will make an effort to post regularly. In the meantime though I’ll start with a post on London last month but before that I’d just like to say thanks so much for following me and for the wonderful comments as always.

Sitting in the lounge waiting for my flight back to be called, surrounded by duty free shops, gleaming Audis you can win and with the odour of fast food restaurants, the rest of the trip seems far away already. I imagine my arrival at Tegel airport with no-one to meet me, picking up my suitcase packed with books and hauling it onto the bus with the raindrops streaking down the windows. But then I get my books out and eat the lunch so carefully prepared the night before. The taste of my family home, the things I grew up with that I can’t get in Berlin and most of all the thought that I wouldn’t be so sad to leave if everything hadn’t been so great.

The days in London the week before were perhaps the happiest I’ve spent there. Returning to the same hotel in Bloomsbury opposite the tennis courts in an area which has become so familiar. I can run my finger along the map and visualise the places at every corner. The grocer selling large bowls of grapes, nectarines, apricots or cherries for just a pound, the photography bookshop I long to go into but which is always closed, the orange launderette, the second hand bookshops where I can stay for hours, picking up P.G Wodehouse novels and the Renoir cinema where I saw Clare Denis’ amazing White Material. There were the snippets of conversations overheard; two women discussing the difficulty of finding a good black skirt, a woman cryptically explaining to her companion that even if they took part, they might not win and if they won, it would not have anything to do with her. I rediscovered the red velvet seats of Covent Garden and the refined elegance of the people watching the ballet, visited the Globe to watch Shakespeare with its thatched roof, wooden benches and incredible atmosphere. There were the New Wave photographs by Raymond, still from Godard and Truffaut films or Ophuls’ Lola Montes which made me wish I could be like Anna Karina, Jeanne Moreau or Jean Seberg. We ate sandwiches in the courtyard of the Royal Academy with giant sculptures of hares around us, saw the exotic plants of the African garden outside the British Museum, watched Rohmer’s My Night With Maud with its crisp black and white photography and the snowfall over Clerment Ferrand in a completely silent cinema at the British Film Institute.

Perhaps the most moving experience of all was my visit to the Keats’ house in Hampstead. Even though little of the original furniture remains, it’s still an incredibly special place and alive with his presence. I found it touching to imagine such a small house being divided into two sections and could still picture Keats and Fanny Burne tapping messages to each other through their bedroom walls or see him sitting on the sofa staring out into the garden as he composed his poems. Sitting on a bench outside to collect my thoughts, an young Asian was reading a biography of Joseph Severn, a painter and friend of Keats who accompanied him on his final voyage to Italy and some children were playing in the mulberry bush which was apparently there at Keats’ time. Hampstead is a wonderful place, so close to London but peaceful and calm. Small boutiques line the little cobbled streets, you can enjoy an ice cream in a shop which offers flavours like sour cherry or dulche de leche or look across the roofs of central London from the top of the Heath close to where others were swimming. The days in London seemed so short. Collapsing exhausted into the train taking me back to Derbyshire with Perec’s wonderful La Vie mode d’emploi, I thought how others would occupy the hotel room tonight, that the city would go on living without me
. Can't wait to return there in winter.

Model tutus

A model of the set for Berg's Lulu

Time for champagne

At Covent Garden

The bust of Keats in Hampstead church

In Hampstead cemetary

Apple at Starbucks

In Hampstead

Keats' house

In the garden

On Hampstead Heath

Sour cherry ice cream

Dulce de Leche

A fraisier
Hare sculptures outside the Royal Academy

At Skoob books
Ah, those Penguin mugs

The African garden outside the British museum

Street life at Covent Garden

The National Theatre

At the National Film Theatre restaurant