mardi 21 septembre 2010


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Occasionally, I get a glimpse into a part of myself that I thought was lost forever. Coming back from the supermarket when evening had started to fall, I felt a damp chill in the air and could see my breathe. Some yellow leaves were starting to fall and there were conkers on the ground. It reminded me of the week the fair came to my home town in Britain. I'll never forget going there as a small child, wrapped up warm with coat, gloves and scarf, tightly gripping my father's hand. The air smelled of toffee apples and candy floss and at regular intervals, there would be screams from those brave enough to get on the rollercoaster which always had more exotic names as the years went by like the Kamikaze. Secretly, I yearned to win one of those fluffy rabbits by successfully playing "hook a duck" or better still, a goldfish in a plastic bag. Most of the rides were too frightening so I was only able to go on the Dodgums, which as anyone who's seen Annie Hall will know, are great for releasing your aggression. Once though I did find the courage to ride the Ghost train, even if after the sight of a man in a skeleton costume, I spent most of the trip with my hands over my eyes. I can only imagine how ridiculous I'd find the whole spectacle now, like the man in Amélie who says "Oooooh" in her ear.

Autumn should be a season of comfort, of hot chocolate with whipped cream, thick soups topped with cheese and croutons and warm apple pie. At the moment though I'm finding it very difficult to focus. Letters remain unwritten, emails unanswered, the bad weather last week meant that I haven't taken photos for quite a while. I'm currently torn over making an enormous decision abnout my future, whether to stay in Berlin after 2012 or return to the UK to find a steady job. You might wonder why I have to decide now but it involves doing some diplomas in the next few months before I can apply to do my training in autumn next year. I'm one of those hopelessly indecisive people who barely even knows what they want to do in two weeks, let alone two hours. Can I really live full-time in the UK again after so long away? In a way, it seems as if I have failed to fulfil the goal I'd set myself of creating a life abroad, as if everything I've worked for up to now doesn't mean anything if I go back. Would I really be any good teaching languages in a secondary school? Most of all there's the question of whether I can really bring myself to leave Berlin. Over the years, a place becomes part of you unconsciously and I'm aware that what I have here is really unique. It still surprises me to travel down towards the Brandenburg gate, seeing the lamps of the Tiergraten shining like fireflies in the night or simply to see the silhouettes of the trees against the buildings. How could such a grey city capture my heart? I could leave beautiful places like Annecy and Lyon without feeling a thing so surely, it should be a piece of cake walking away here.

I can't expect anyone else to make my decision for me or realistically think that I'll soon have grown tired of Berlin to be able to say goodbye without heartbreak, even if I know that being a freelancer here forever would be difficult. But sometimes I wish that thing didn't have to be so complicated, that I could simply "be" instead of always planning, worrying, reflecting as the world spins around me. I long to be back at the fair again, standing still among the noise and lights.

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At the Swedish shop near Bundesplatz

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Still warm...

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Helmut Newton's grave

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Coffee and cake at the wonderful
Inka Eis café in Schöneberg

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The last of the summer

I'm sorry for the downbeat post but to make up for it, some photographs from Schöneberg before autumn arrived. I finally made it to the cemetary in Schöneberg where Helmut Newton is buried. Close to his is the grave of Marlene Dietrich which was being cared for by a young man. Mistakenly believing I was a photographer, he aproached me to ask if I would take his photo standing next to it and I discovered he had come all the way from Rome just for Marlene, visiting the place where she was born and the film studios before ending up here. I found the idea so charming.

You can find another post I've just written on a wonderful blog begun by my friend Magda, called Berlin is not for sale.

Finally, a recipe from a copy Elle à table that Pia kindly sent me a few weeks ago. I honestly haven't stopped using it since and one of my favourite recipes is for a Torta Caprese.

Torta Caprese (from Elle à table)

200g ground almonds
150g butter
200g dark chocolate
50g superfine sugar
50g icing sugar, plus some extra to dust over later
5 eggs

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Grease a springform tin and line it with baking parchment.
2. In bowl, mix together the almonds with the icing sugar. Chop the chocolate finely with a knife and melt it together with the butter in a small saucepan over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat but leave the saucepan resting over the other one.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the superfine sugar with a handheld mixer for 5 minutes, gradually increasing the speed so that you get as much air into the mixture as possible.
4. Using a spatula, carefully blend in the almonds and icing sugar with a circular motion. Stop mixing as soon as the batter is smooth and thick. Add the chocolate and butter, blending well so that everything is perfectly mixed in.
5. Pour into the cake tin and bake in the oven at 200°C for 5 minutes before turning the oven down to 160°C and baking the cake for a further 25-30 minutes. The torta should be damp and not dry in the centre so don't overbake.
6. Leave the cake to cool before turning it out onto a plate and leave at least 2.3 hours before serving. Apparently, the torta is even better the next day, although mine didn't last that long.

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15 commentaires:

  1. Ah, decisions, decisions... I can imagine that you have problems choosing! Not easy indeed!

    Those shots are lovely. Yes fall has arrived...



  2. Oh, Vanessa. I am also a hopelessly indecisive person. When I read of your wish that things weren't always so complicated I knew what you meant. The planning, worrying, reflecting...yes, me too. Perhaps it makes us more interesting people. Your torta looks wonderful!

  3. Hmmm...I wonder what you'll do. I prescribe many more hours of coffee and cake along with continued reflection :)

  4. Having been in this kind of situation before (and it's not over yet, probably never will), I can understand your desire to escape from the decision making process. And the way you think of going back to England as a failure is what I would feel about going back to France. The only thing I can tell you is: do what makes you feel the less miserable. Which sacrifice can you bear to make? And which desire/need is the strongest?
    We sure are cheerful girls today, aren't we? ;)

    By the way, the links in your post don't work. You need to get rid of one of the "http://" in them ;).

  5. I've just been through a similar (in style if not content) dilemma - I think I might have emailed you about feeling torn. You should take the time you need and not feel at all bad about "downbeat" posts and not staying on top of emails etc, I'm sure everyone appreciates your honesty. I tried to remember that there was no such thing as "a mistake" or "the right path" (hard for me, god forbid I close down my options, whatvere that means) and that not making a decision was actually a kind of decision, albeit a passive aggressive one and I'm sorta kinda decided now ;P

  6. Yeah! Glad you found a good receipe in the magazine. To be honest, I had to buy the magazine and send it right away, so I don't even remember if it was any good... Elle a Table usually does the job though.
    As for the rest.. Yes, I understand how leaving Berlin can be a complicated decision. I don't like Paris that much and I can't bring myself to leave! We have never met but it's hard for me to picture you outside of Berlin, maybe because you talk so well about it and make me feel like I've already visited...
    Good luck with your life decision, and of course I don't mean ironically... Is it a matter of age? It seems everyone around me is stuggling with the same questions...

  7. @Rosa - Argh, yes, it really agonising but I'm hoping for the comfort of your tomato tart to start the weekend :-)
    @Denise - Good to know I'm not alone in my indecisiveness. Sometimes I think of a quote from Jean Cocteau about a chameleon placed on a piece of plaid who died of exhaustion. I'd like to think it makes me more interesting although it must drive other people crazy!
    @Tracy - Coffee and pie is the only thing that really helps in these kinds of situations so I'm sure I'll need a few more sessions before making my decision.
    @Agnès - I'm sure you understand that it's not that I don't like the UK but I somehow feel most attached to it when I don't live there. Berlin represents freedom and openness and the UK seems so small in comparison. You're right about considering what causes me the least amount of pain and when we ask a question like that, we often already know the answer in our hearts. I can imagine working in the UK and missing Berlin every day. Thanks for pointing out the broken links - they're now fixed!
    @Sasa - I thought of you while writing this post because you know what it's like to be a freelance teacher with so many expenses to pay, zero insurance and the constant need of getting by in the summer. So I get the impression you're staying in Austria? I agree there's no right path, it's what's best for you as long as you can make some kind of living. Perhaps I'm simply the kind of person who can't be tied down but I hve these crises about security. We always want what we haven't got.
    @Pia - I found so many good recipes in that magazine and am going to buy it again. It's funny how hard it is for us to tear ourselves away. I hate the climate in Berlin - boiling in the summer, freezing in the winter, it's grey but somehow you're right, I can't imagine living anywhere else. The age thing is accurate. I think the point is when you're in your 20s, you can mess around, make mistakes and in 10 years' time, you're still young but when you think of starting a new career at 45 or 50, who knows if anyone will take you when you've been out of your won country so long.

  8. think about the things you will lose if you leave Berlin and the things you will get if you come back to the UK, put them in an imaginary scale and see which one wins...

    the cake looks divine...cheers!

  9. J'aime beaucoup ta première photo...
    Je comprends tes réticences à quitter Berlin et aussi à prendre des décisions à si long terme !
    Pas de bon ni de mauvais choix de toute façon... au fil du temps les aspirations changent, et même si tu rentres en Angleterre, tu garderas ce regard particulier sur les choses, j'en suis sûre ! (mais bon quitter Berlin... pas facile, c'est sûr ;))

  10. Vanessa,

    All the best to you in anything you choose to do. As one who has moved around quite a bit, I can empathize with your plight.

    Lovely post and gorgeous photography.

    Be well, my friend!

  11. Vanessa! I missed your posts and wonderful adventures--along with your amazing scenic photos!!! I hope you are doing well and that everything is in the right tracks!

  12. Life is all change and progression, Vanessa. It's healthy to be looking at this from all angles. I call it intelligent, not indecisive. It's YOUR life, after all.

    My daughter LOVED living in Paris, but came back to NYC, took a chance and opened her own business. It's tough, but she's still in business. She travels a lot to Europe on business which satisfies her need to see the world.
    I just made a big life decision too. Have been putting it off for nearly a year but I finally am determined to do it.

    I know you will make the best choice for yourself!

  13. @Pity - That's a good piece of advice which I'll definitely try!
    @Rose - Tu as bien raison, Berlin n'est pas une ville facile à quitter mais je ne perdrai non plus cette perspective d'avoir vécu à l'étranger si longtemps. On veut toujours tout avoir; la liberté, une bonne salaire et vivre dans une ville très chouette où rien n'est cher.
    @Lazaro - Your comment really comforted me so thanks a lot. I guess it's important not just to think of what you give up but also what you gain. Part of me thinks I have a self-imposed need for exile but then the lack of security worries me sometimes but I don't know if my life would be happier with it.
    @Rylan - Hey there, I've missed you too and it's nice to see you blogging again.
    @Barbara - I feel better about my indecisiveness now and defintely know it's not a decision I can make in a hurry. I also thought about your daughter while writing this post. Life as a teacher would mean long holidays to explore new places. I'm so curious about what your decision will be and hope we can find out soon. All I can say is go for it!

  14. Hello Vanessa ! J'ai encore loupé plein de choses moi...
    Quel dilemme en effet ! Je me reconnais tellement dans ce que tu décris. Pas facile de faire des choix, surtout lorsqu'ils engendrent un changement de vie. Enfin, il faut se dire qu'il n'y a pas de mauvais choix et que la décision que tu prendras sera de toute façon la bonne. Cela ne doit surtout pas t'empêcher de passer un bel automne :-)

  15. I asked a friend to bring me back the very same issue of Elle à Table, always awesome! And I intend to grab some more issues when I come back for Christmas. As for your geographic question marks, I've been there, just as you have before. I guess the decision to come back is probably even harder to make than the others. But I know all your blogging and non-blogging friends will follow you throughout the process for support :)