jeudi 9 septembre 2010

I heart Pankow and the Proust questionnaire

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Since moving back to Pankow a whole month ago, it's as if the last two and a half years in a shared flat never existed. Those old familiar streets, deciding in the evening whether to walk to the Bürgerpark or the Schlosspark, the Rosenrot café where the owner called me the familiar "du" and told me I speak good German before bringing me a tall glass of Latte Macchiato and a generous slice of blueberry cake, late night trips to the Kaufland supermarket and hearing the church bells ringing on Sunday mornings. In many ways I think I was meant to live on my own; no loud TV programmes blasting out or ear piercing phone calls in Brazilian Portuguese while I'm trying to read, the delicious anarchic freedom of leaving the dirty dishes in the sink until the next morning and no danger of anyone else eating my food. Of all the rooms in the flat, perhaps I love the kitchen the most which won't surprise you! The heavy door is still propped against my bedroom wall, waiting to be fitted by my landlord, there are worktops and cupboards on the left, along with the oven and stove and on the right side a round wooden table with two Ikea chairs left by J. where I eat all my meals sometimes over a book or otherwise simply soaking in the evening. I'm already imagining baking all the Christmas biscuits here in a few months! The dark grey floor tiles are cold underneath my bare feet in the kitchen and bathroom while the gleaming floorboards creak a little at every step in the hallway.

The windows are small and thin so the apartment is cold in winter and hot in the summer but I don't care. As the evenings draw in, I make myself tea or cocoa, wrap a blanket over myself and curl up on the plush red sofa where I often fall asleep with the book still in my hands. Most friends who visit me here are astonished to find that I live in a beautiful building which reminded one of them of Charlottenburg in the 1920s. Pankow isn't a cool area but I love the way my flat is tucked away up among the chimneys; there's the moaning of the wind overhead and on days of heavy rain, the drumroll of the drops beating against the gutter. Often, I don't feel like going out, cocooned up here with my books, films and photos around me. Around a week after I moved in, M. asked me what I dreamed about that first night but I couldn't remember. Hopefully it was something good because apperantly it comes true. Here's to my life in the East!

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One of the first evenings here as the sun was going down.

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On the way to the Bürgerpark

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The rose garden of the Bürgerpark where I sat breathing in the smell of the flowers and reading my book in the late evening with the last rays of the sun on my face.

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Dramatic skies seen from the kitchen

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The town hall and main street of Pankow


My friend Magda (check out her wonderful blog Ce que tu lis or the equally wonderful new collaborated effort which I hope to contribute to in the next week, Berlin is not for sale) asked me to reply to the Proust questionnaire. Given my love of Proust and the fact that I cannot refuse her anything, I was happy to agree. This is not a questionnaire written by Proust himself but one that was distributed in his youth by his friends. I can't pretend my answers will be as poetic or well written as his but here goes...

Questions translated in Vanity Fair

What is your most marked characteristic?

A contradiction between discipline (obsessive punctuality, need for routine) and chaos (total lack of organisation and any sense of order in my posessions).

What is the quality you most like in a man?

It's a tie between intelligence and humour.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?


What do you value in your friends?

Patience ( I can be frustrating!), loyalty, empathy, supportiveness.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

The inability to ever be satisfied and look for the best in others.

What is your favourite occupation?


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be honest, I'm not sure I really believe in that. Happiness scares me a little because I'm aware of precious and fragile it is, that it ultimately can't last forever. To feel understood would be something nice though.

What would be your greatest misfortune?

Never to have plucked up the courage to learn another language which has made it possible for me to have the life I have now.

In which country would you like to live in?

I often dream of Italy with its cyprus trees, colourful facades and magical light for winter and in summer, Scandinavia, perhaps the island of Faro off the Swedish mainland where Bergman had a house. Somewhere I could walk by the sea. Although having said that, there's also the magic of New York, a city I feel drawn to despite never having been there.

Your favourite colour?

Red or black.

The flower that I love.

Peonies or poppies.

Who are your favourite writers?

Sigh, I have so many. Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Scott Fitzgerald, P.G Wodehouse, Kazuo Ishiguro, Georges Perec, Boris Vian, Raymond Queneau, Bruce Chatwin, Truman Capote, Thomas Bernhard, Christopher Isherwood, Raymond Chandler, Marguerite Duras, Giorgio Bassani, Evelyn Waugh, Geoffrey Willans (Molesworth), A.A Milne, Julian Green, Gerard de Nerval, Patrick Modiano, Stendhal, Jane Austen, Mrs Gaskell, Jacques Rivière. I should stop now!

Who are your favourite poets?

Baudelaire, T.S Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Ingeborg Bachmann, Yeats, Heiner Müller, Paul Celan, Paul Eluard, Keats.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Piglet from Winnie the Pooh because he's sweet but a coward and I can identify with that.

Who is your favourite heroine of fiction?

Lulu from Wedekind's play Pandora's box. The story fascinates me how she destroys all those she loves and also herself.

My hero in real life

Directors like Godard and Rivette who still feel inspired to make great films even when they're old.

My heroines in history

Simone de Beauvoir

Who are your favourite composers?

Eric Satie, Chopin, Berg (especially the opera of Lulu!), Berlioz, Verdi, Marin Marais, Janeczek, Stravinsky, Debussy.

Who are your favourite painters?

Canaletto, Vermeer, Rothko, Nicholas de Stael, Paul Klee, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Eugène Boudin.

What are your favourite names?

For myself? I don't want to reveal them because I have several, each for different people and I like that to be my secret - sorry.

What is it that you most dislike?

Feeling a lack of achivement.

Historical figures that I dislike the most

Obvious ones like Hitler and Stalin, any dictators.

The military event that you admire the most

T.E Lawrence's revolt with the Arabs.

The reform that you most admire

Giving women the vote.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Either the eye of a great photographer, like Cartier Bresson or a natural writer's gift of someone like Fitzgerald or Chatwin.

How would you like to die?

Hopefully not soon and in any case, quickly and painlessly.

What is your current state of mind?

Wondering how to warm my fingers in this icy room.

What is your motto?

I don't really have one, except perhaps not to overlook the little things.


I'd feel bad leaving you after such a long, self-indulgent post without giving you a recipe. Summer has all but fizzled out and the crisp autumn days are upon us but let's enjoy the sun and colours for a little longer with a red fruit tiramisù.

Strawberry and raspberry tiramisù

Serves 6

Around 30-40 ladyfinger biscuits
470ml espresso
110g sugar
500g mascarpone
500g strawberries, washed and hulled
200g raspberries
3 cold eggs
4 tsp icing sugar
50 ml marsala wine

1. Make the espresso and mix in the sugar in a shallow dish. Leave to cool.
2. Begin by placing half the strawberries and raspberries in a layer so they cover the bottom of your dish (it doesn't matter if there are some gaps).
4. Dunk each ladyfinger biscuit in the espresso mixture very quickly, around just 1 second each side. They shouldn't be soggy. Place a layer of biscuits on top of the fruit (you should have around half of each left).
5. Separate the eggs.
6. Beat the egg yolks with the marsala or amaretto until thick and frothy. Whisk in the mascarpone until smooth. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks then carefully fold them into the mascarpone mixture with a metal spoon until fully absorbed.
7. Spread a layer of the mascarpone mixture over the biscuits and fruit, then follow with the rest of the biscuits, the rest of the fruit and finish with a layer of cream. Cover with foil and chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours, even better for 24 hours. Sprinkle with cocoa powder just before serving.

19 commentaires:

  1. Great to learn more about you! I am also never satisfied and look for the best in other. I would also love to live in Scandinavia or NY...

    The view from the kitchen is so nice and Pankow seems to be a calm place to live.

    Lovely Tiramisù!



  2. Mmmh, encore un magnifique tiramisu!

    Your answers are really nice. You already have both talents you're talking about!

    I'd be so glad to have an article from you on Berlin is not for sale very soon.

    Your most marked characteristic made me laugh because I recognize it from what you wrote above in the text about your appartment. I think it's a beautiful, very human contradiction and I hope I will someday be able to write characters who have this kind of paradoxical funny needs. Life is larger than art... :)

  3. Oh! you love Erik Satie as well! I don't often find people who share that passion... :)
    Your post just made me want to crawl under a blanket and read - but it's 9am and I need to get to work, unfortunately.

  4. Vanessa,

    It is always such a joy to read your thoughtful insights and see the incredible pictures of places I can only dream of seeing. As for Proust, I must read some of his work soon, as I never have before. What do you recommend as a first read?

    P.S. I love the Woody Allen poster. Well, I am a sucker for any Woody Allen film especially Vickie Christina Barcelona.

  5. Wonderful introspective post. You are such a fascinating personality in my humble opinion. Another set of amazing photographs.

    By the way, NYC great place to visit, you really do not want to live there.

    Love the tiramisu as well.


  6. Judging by your answers, we are very alike in many ways ;).
    I've never liked tiramisù because of the mascaporne/raw eggs mixture (brrr) but a veganized version of your recipe could do the trick... I can already hear the kitchen calling ;).
    Oh and you've got the eye of a photographer and a gift for writing all right!

  7. On sent que tu te sens bien dans ce nouveau cocon, et le petit côté hors du temps des rues de Pankow mérite assurément une longue promenade.

  8. I'm so pleased you are happy in your new apartment, Vanessa! I love living alone too.....independence is a wonderful thing. But there are some good things about sharing when and if you find the right person. :)

    I loved your answers to the Proust questionnaire. I got to know you even better!

  9. This questionaire was fantastic. I feel like I know you better now. And I'm glad that you are enjoying your flat in Pankow. Personal space is so important.

  10. @Rosa - I never get tired looking out over the rooftops and at the wall or at the park on the other side. Pankow isn't cool so I like to think of it as my secret.
    @The Blonde Duck - Ah, so I'm not alone? Actually, I wouldn't mind a game of Poohsticks either!
    @Magda - Oh thanks for the compliments (the cheque's in the post!). I'M working on th article and hope to send it to you soon. Sometimes I find it annoying to be so contradictory but then I tell myself being totally disorganised timewise wouldn't be fun and neither would rigidity about orderliness so maybe it's not so bad. Sometime, I'd like to read or see something you've written :-)
    @Julie - I've been a huge admirer of Satie ever since I first heard the Gymnopédies; I love to turn off all the lights and just listen to his music. Apparently, he used to walk for hours through different parts of Paris for inspiration. Staying in bed with books always sounds like a good idea..
    @Cocina Savant - Oh thanks, I'm so glad to hear that. Regarding Proust, it can seem a bit scary to start the massive In Search of Lost Time. Before I began, I read a really great book callec How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton which explains more about him and his ideas in a fun way. Otherwise, Proust wrote some short stories called Pleasures and Days which are lovely. Another Woody allen fan, huh? I love Vicky, Christina so much along with classics like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Manhattan Murder Mystery. I have a little collection.
    @Lazaro - Wow, I'm not sure I can live up to the label of "fascinating" but thanks. I find it hard to imagine what NYC is really like since the bigest place I've ever been is London which is much smaller, of course. It must get pretty stressful and I can't really picture myself moving there, although a long visit might be nice.
    @Agnès - It's nice to find someone who shares many things and feel understood. I'd like to be as good as photographer as you though as well as have your flair for languages. Pascal Weeks had a nice recipe for tiramisù without raw eggs:
    @Rose - J'aime bien sortir pour me promener dans les parcs et puis je découvre de jolies maisons et ruelles. J'espère qu'on aura l'occasion d'y faire de longues promenades ensemble.
    @Barbara - Yes. lving alone is everything I thought it would be and more, although you're right that it can be nice to share that with someone else. Have a great weekend!
    @Des - Normally, I don't like tags but this was a nice questionnaire and I had fun answering it. I feel that good things are going to come out of this apartment.

  11. Hey, cool new design! And nice pictures as always. Concerning the questionnaire, I find it to be a nice thing to do.. although I've never answered it. I can relate to a lot of your answers though!!

  12. C'est toujours tellement agreable d'emmenager dans un nouvel endroit, de le faire sien jusqu'au moindre detail. Tu decris tres bien ce processus de nidification :)
    Profite bien de ton nouveau paradis.

  13. The berries are a nice addition :) ...Thanks to the questionnaire, I'm now wondering what my motto is...

  14. @Pia - I'm glad you like the new look. I was a bit tired of the old one but as I don't have the necessary IT skills to do something really cool, I felt a bit nervous changing. In my opinion, it's definitely still one of the best questionnaires around.
    @Gracienne - Tu as tellement raison! J'aime rentrer chez moi le soir, faire à manger et puis regarder un film - des trucs simples et très importants. Et puis c'est surtout bien d'avoir une cuisine seulement pour moi...
    @Tracy - It's funny, I'd never thought about a motto before and it's not so easy to come up with something that doesn't sound cheesy.

  15. Great view from your kitchen, sounds like you've made a cozy space for yourself in an exciting city. I made strawberry tiramisu once and it was really good, your recipe looks delicious and your photographs are beautiful.

  16. Your thoughts and stories are very well written, I won't get tired to read them :) Sabrina

  17. The kitchen is a very important room, at least I think so. I'm glad you love yours. You described your new home so well. It seems such a wonderful space.