mardi 19 octobre 2010

City of light

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In the days when I lived in Lyon, I found there were large chunks of time to myself which were mainly filled by walking through the city, visitng the market on the Boulevard de la Croix Rousse just above where I lived and in the Part Dieu library in which I dreamed of climbing dangerous mountains in the Alps and in between, immersed myself in learning German with the Assimil method. Having little money made me appreciate the simple pleasures like stopping off at my favourite bakeries near Masséna métro stop, one of which was called Le Fil de l'ange as I recall (literally The angel's thread) for the most amazing croissants. There were the free lunchtime concerts at the Opéra and evening performances there with cheap tickets for amazing productions of works by Monteverdi, Janeczek and Richard Strauss. Every week, I'd post a new advert on Lyon web offering private English lessons to which I had quite a few positive responses. One of them was a mother of a little boy called N. whose father was Canadian. The boy didn't much enjoy practising English with his Dad so they thought it would be better to have a teacher twice a week. We met outside the Town Hall of Caluire in the suburbs of Lyon on the 1st September, the rentrée. I can still picture N. coming towards us, chatting to his schoolmates, with a large rucksack on his back. He was small, brown haired and wore glasses. My duties would be to pick him up from school twice a week, walk the short distance home with him, prepare his goûter or snack and speak English for an hour. After that we could walk around the grounds of the apartment complex where there was even a tennis court on which we would be able to play in summer. It became part of my natural routine cycling up the steep hills to the Croix Rousse and beyond on my bike I had bought the winter before. Other cyclists made fun of me because of the large BMX helmet I insisted on wearing but I was (and still am) a terrible cyclist and lived in mortal fear of accidents.

The apartment in Caluire was large and full of light. I used to gaze intensely at the bookshelves packed with paperback novels like Le Zèbre which later became one of my favourite films. I would pour N. and myself a large glass of thick guava juice before we settled down to English. He was sweet but from the very beginning, it was a battle of wills because he hated the lessons and would gaze longingly out of the window at the beautiful evening he was missing. Quite frankly, who could blame him? We tried sessions on a grassy bank outside but the cries and games of his friends proved even more of a distraction. Things came to a head one chilly afternoon when he repeatedly turned the television on to watch skiing. Whenever I turned it off, he insisted that his mother would want him to watch because she used to be a monitrice de ski, an excuse I refused to accept and a huge argument developed. Looking back, I can see I was too inexperienced to make the lessons fun for him and didn't do a good job but perhaps his parents were simply too ambitious for him to become perfectly bilingual at such a young age. After a few months, I handed in my notice to take another class instead. Just before that though, I can remember N. and his father taking me back to Lyon by car since my an enormous shard of glass had pucntured my bike tyre and it was cold. The streets were ablaze with lights and full of crowds of warmly dressed people. This was the first week of December, a special time for the Lyonnais as they place a candle in every window to celebrate the Immaculate Conception. Regardless of your beliefs, there was something amazing about seeing flickering lights all through the city as well as the spectacular illuminations of the monuments in different colours. People jostled each other clasping cups of mulled wine and crêpes filled with Nutella to ward off the cold.

I was reminded of all this with the Berlin festival of lights which started last Thursday. It's not quite as romantic as Lyon but still a special feeling as you travel round the city, seeing the floodlights at Alex in the distance as you try to warm your fingers in between taking photos and finish the evening in a café where the only free seat is tucked away in the corner to drink hot chocolate. On the way home, you pass by partygoers whose evening has only just begun; they'll be there in the early hours, bleary eyed under the pale rays of the moon but I didn't feel I was missing out in the warmth of the train back to Pankow.

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Bright lights at the Brandenburg Gate

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On Potsdamer Platz

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Some of the beautiful but heartstoppingly expensive furniture on my way to Gendarmenmarkt

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At Fassbender und Rausch chocolate shop

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Personally, I prefer the chocolate Brandenburg gate to the real one!

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On Gendarmenmarkt

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The cold evenings are closing in and today the sun has deserted Berlin, with nothing but a mass of soggy leaves on the pavement and lingering regrets for all those wasted moments last summer. I've already been stocking up my bookshelves, ready for those days when it's best to keep the curtains closed and stay in pyjamas drinking tea. There's Orhan Pamuk's Snow (obvious for winter, I know), Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Claudie Gallay's Les Déferlentes for Venice and the Adriatic in 10 days and Vargas Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. What's on your list and do you have any tips?

To finish with, a recipe i tried for the first time yesterday and immediately feel in love with, as did everyone else who tried it; Julia's Blueberry and Almond Cake as adapted by Patoumi.

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Blueberry and almond cake

4 eggs
200g sugar
120g almond paste
190g flour
60g butter in strips
500g blueberries

1. Beat the sugar and eggs together until pale and frothy.
2. Grate the almond paste into the eggs, followed by the flour and blend well.
3. Pour the batter into a greased and lined springform tin.
4. Scatter the fruit on the surface, pushing them in slightly, place on the thin strips of butter and sprinkle a little sugar on top.
5. Bake in the oven at 200°C for 45 minutes.

20 commentaires:

  1. Wow, so beautiful! I love the way the city is lit up.

    That cake must taste divine.

    Cheers and happy Wednesday,


  2. I like this idea of a festival of lights. I am saving Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence for cold wet days. October has be rather kind so far. I have been out as much as possible. Your recipes are always tempting.

  3. I love the night photos. I'm also happy to borrow some of your reading selections for the colder days ahead. Beautiful cake. I just made another batch of blueberry scones, but can see myself making this before the weeks end.

  4. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures of the festival of lights; Berlin, even prettier.
    The cake recipe sounds delicious. I love the Marzipan in it.

  5. I have spent time tutoring young people and is hard work. I can totally relate to this story. Perhaps the parents were a bit ambitious.

    Lyon is one of those cities on my list I need to visit. Great food city.

    Your photos get better and better. The color is so vibrant they seem to leap off the page.

    Well done...

  6. Flâner est aussi ma grande activité en ce moment ;) j'ai découvert un chouette salon de thé, tout petit et très sympa. Quand tu viendras la prochaine fois... Question lecture, je me suis lancée dans un roman d'Henry Bauchau (très beau, très serein).

  7. @Rosa - I love to see the changing colours of the buildings as night falls.
    @P.K - I've often looked at The Museum of Innocence and wanted to buy it. After Snow, I think I'll do that. Glad the weather where you are is still good.
    @Tracy - You've reminded me to make scones soon, next week at the latest. Blueberry recipes are addictive I find and I can't resist buying them even if winter is just around the corner.
    @Kirsten - It's true that Berlin looks even prettier. For me it's always even more special at night. Cakes with marzipan are a favourite of mine and I have a feeling this won't be the last cake I use it in.
    @Lazaro - Oh, it's really nice of you to say that. I don't have much experience taking pictures at night and some locations were tricky because of the low lighting. I threw so many blurry photos away but it's good to try new things.
    @Rose - J'ai très envie de retourner à Rouen bientôt et le salon de thé est une raison de plus! Flâner avec toi est vraiment chouette. Merci pour le conseil de lecture, je vais chercher ce livre chez Galeries Lafayette.

  8. Vanessa--

    I will return to read more entries, but I loved this...we have very similar tastes. What I wanted to say is that it's been a long time since I've been in Berlin & these are super photographs. Made me nostalgic (uh oh).

    Also one of my very closest friends is from Lyon & I'm determined to go over with her family -- they asked- lol -- when they visit. I hope for next summer.

    ciao & thanks so much for your comment. I did not know about Oscar's cello-coat. Will look for it.


  9. oh wow, this is like a beautifully subjective travel guide.

  10. It sounds as if Berlin is almost as grey as here - though today is actually beautiful, I swear there must be about 20 sunshine hours a year - all the mountains keep the fog trapped in the valley...All the better for hanging out in my pyjamas though - it's a long weekend and I'm going to be logging a lot of hours.
    I just started teaching at a big lighting company and the furniture shots remind me a bit of their showroom - beautiful but unattainable ;P

  11. @Susan - How nice that you already know Berlin and thanks for the lovely comment. I always get nostalgic too looking at places I haven't been to for ages. hope you make it back to Lyon; I haven't returned there since I moved away 4 years ago already. Annecy too.
    @Hila - Thanks for your visit. I really love your blog so feel flattered by your comment.
    @Sasa - Berlin is famously grey in winter, as well as cold. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I can find the sun again in Venice next week. Ah, that furniture but I'd need a duplex to show it all off.

  12. Hello, I stopped by from Lazaro's...Such a lovely site you have, and these photos are glorious.
    I have worked with children in various capacities throughout my life, mostly those with severe social issues. But I do understand that teaching children something they do not really want to learn is extremely difficult, do not despair as I am positive that you have left this child a gift.
    Your blueberry/almond cake looks wonderful and very comforting for Fall weather :)

  13. La sécurité avant tout ... Vive les casques ! ;o)))
    Merveilleux, ton post sous le signe des lumières ...
    Je ne savais pas que Berlin avait sa propre fête des Lumières ... EN tout cas, tes photos sont belles et bien choisies !
    Ton histoire avec ton petit élève m'a fait me rappeler ces gamins que je gardais lorsque j'avais une quinzaine d'année ... J'entrais dans ce très bel appartement ... collais les trois enfants devant la télé puisque de toute façon, ils ne savaient faire que cela, regarder des âneries à la télé ... et me plongeais dans le "Faites votre pâtisserie" de Gaston Lenôtre, que la maman des enfants laissait toujours traîner sur le guéridon du salon, un ouvrage très novateur à l'époque qui m'a laissée stupéfaite : On pouvait donc fabriquer croissants et pains au chocolat ... belle brioches bien levée ou gros gâteaux sophistiqués ... Ce fut le début d'une passion !
    PS : J'en oubliais ton gâteau ... terriblement tentant ! ;o)

  14. (You and my daughter share the same fears of cycling...for some reason, she never learned to be a competent and fearless bike-rider like her brothers..but she is fearless in every other way.)

    Tutoring is tough at that can't FORCE them to learn. I doubt very much it had anything to do with your inexperience.

    Inspired photos as usual, Vanessa!

  15. German architecture doesn't look nearly as formidable with a light show. Really gorgeous snaps. I was just looking at a great shot of the gates of Prospect Park in Brooklyn... something about giant horses flying above your head in a great photo.. well, makes my heart beat a little faster.

  16. A Festival of Lights, what A GREAT IDEA! I really love the concept as well as the results featured on your pictures.

    I like how candidly you shared your memories of working with that little boy. I am ashamed to say that when I was little, I was not very easy to handle when I didn't want to take my tutoring classes (piano, Chinese).
    I made some tutors cry... The shame!
    If I saw them again, I'd apologize with all my heart.

  17. Je suis contente que le gâteau t'ait plu! Et qu'il apparaisse dans ce billet lumineux.

  18. Loved this post again and those moving memories of Lyon.
    Guess what'on my reading list! I received Blonde from the library two days ago... I'm putting everything else on standby until I'm done with it. Otherwise, I just bought Nicole Krauss' last novel, Great House, after seeing her at the International Festival of Authors here yesterday. Looking forward to that too...

  19. i love the contrasts Berlin has, the coolness and the modernity, yous shots made me jealous! and the cake made me hungry! cheers!

  20. So sorry for not replying earlier to your wonderful comments but I had a visitor and am now suffering with a bad cold. Still, reading your messages makes me feel better already:
    @Magic of spice - Thanks for taking time to stop by. I'll be sure tio pay you a visit in the near future. Hopefully, N. doesn't have bad memories of the time together and I'd be grateful for anything extra.
    @Hélène - Moi je porte toujours un casque, même si les gens me trouvent ridicule. C'est trop bien cette histoire avec la pâtisserie et tu me donnes aussi envie de découvrir ce livre aussi. Comme cela, je penserais toujours à toi et fabricant des trucs merveilleux ;-)
    @Barbara - I learned at a fairly late stage how to ride a bike and then stoppped so it seemed rather terrifying to begin in a big city all of a sudden where cyclists aren't exactly everyone's favourite. Still, good to know I'm not alone!
    @Deana - You're right that the light softens things. Thanks for the tip about the photo in Brooklyn; I really love that gate.
    @Mary-Laure - I'm always impressed by how many languages you know and Chinese lessons too! I think we all had a time when we were mean to those trying to help us, when we just wanted to play with our friends so I can't hold it against the little boy.
    @Patoumi - Mon gâteau n'est pas aussi joli que le tien mais c'est vraiment une de mes recettes préférées!
    @Julie - Oh so you finally got hold of Blonde. Can't wait to hear about that I'll have to check out Nicole Krauss too.
    @Pity - I'm such an admirer of your photos that I can't believe you're jealous of me. Still, thanks a lot all the same.