mercredi 27 octobre 2010

He came to stay

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A couple of years ago, I had a visitor and one that I wasn't so keen to have stay with me. We had first met a a couple of months before at the language school where I used to work in Mitte. I recall it was late afternoon one Friday when most teachers had just finished class and the common room was filled with the sounds of bits of overlapping conversations. Suddenly my eyes met with those of another colleague J. (not the one I used to live with) I had never seen before. I didn't find him especially good looking but we struck up a conversation easily and before I knew it, we had agreed to go along to a reading of Thomas Bernhard's Der Stimmenimitator (the voice imitator) at the Berliner Ensemble by Hermann Beil. Another friend of mine joined us in the large wooden panelled studio. Afterwards, we spent a few hours in a rather gloomy bar called Van Gogh drinking red wine while J. tried desperately to steer the conversation to German but only got responses in English which I found amusing. It made me sad that he was leaving so soon for Freiburg in the south to begin a course in Linguistics after we had only just met. We said our farewells over a hot chocolate in Schöneberg when the ground was scattered with the lightest of snowflakes.

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Keeping in touch isn't always a strong point of mine but he wrote me a long letter on pink notepaper in tiny, scrawling black handwriting, talking extensively about his passion for Henry James, onion soup and theatre and enclosed some short stories he had written. There was apparently also a novel but it was too much of an uncontrollable stream of consciousness to be interesting. He spoke a strange kind of German, learned mainly at the Goethe Institute and used words like meinetwegen (because of me) which don't feature widely in modern conversation! At the end, he asked if he could stay with me for a couple of nights. Reading those words produced a reluctant feeling for reasons which I can't explain; I just knew it would be a bad idea but there was a kind of obligation to say yes and I replied that it would be OK. He arrived one Wednesday afternoon wearing a felt hat, a black satin shirt bought for 2 euros in a charity shop and jeans and spent a long time going over the collection of books and DVDs on my shelves before asking if he could have my copy of Auslöschung by Thomas Bernhard. He offered to buy me dinner in an Asian restaurant round the corner but in the end, I had to help him out with the bill because it turned out to be more expensive than expected. However, he promised to make me his famous onion soup that weekend. Back then, I lived in a room flat in Charlottenburg shared with my Brazilian flatmate. There was only one bed so I had borrowed an air mattress and a sleeping bag for him. Shortly after the lights went out though, he began complaining that the room was too hot, that the floor was too hard and after that, tried repeatedly to persuade me to share the bed. I refused and spent a sleepless night listening to him explaining why we should go to Munich together before getting up at 5am to teach at the airport.

Sharing a room didn't work out. To my flatmate's exasperation, he flooded the bathroom with water after taking a shower and didn't seem to notice. Moreover, everywhere reeked of an overpowering mixture of strong body odour mixed with Jazz by Yves Saint Laurent. I let him use my computer only to find he had deleted some programmes and when I told him off, he declared that only 60% of the storage space was free and that you wouldn't be satisfied with that result on a test. I felt trapped in my own space, observed and taken advantage of and I told him to leave. He was supposed to meet a Dutch friend in Mitte so I left him to close the door behind him and went out for dinner. According to my flatmate, he tried to persuade her to lend him her keys so he could stay another night and in a last act of exasperation, declared loudly that he was taking his onions with him! I can never cook with them without it bringing a smile to my face. The last I ever heard from him was a letter apologising for trying to force himself upon me but accompanied by a sharp criticism at me for not coming out of my shell more. Inside the envelope was a copy of Washington Square by Henry James which I could never bring myself to read and was put off his other books for a long time before realising how brilliant they are. J. didn't turn out to be 100% bad after all.

This past weekend though, I discovered how nice it can be to have a visitor. The afternoons before spent reorganising the flat, filling the fridge with things you hope they'll like, the excitement of taking the bus to the airport to wait impatiently at the gate where you peer round through the doors through the security zone hoping to catch a glimpse of them. I haven't spent so much time with my brother in years, just a few hours snatched at Christmas on a round of endless visits. For three days, I tried to see my city through fresh eyes, to give into the temptation of doing touristy things. There were trips around all the main sites in the 100 bus which I took all those years ago myself, a stroll along Ku'damm and back to the haunting Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial church, evenings of wine, cocktails, hot chocolate and plum cake, dinner at Datscha and brunch at Einstein café where I regretted being too full to try the famous apple strudel. Late nights watching Chinatown and wishing I could have lived in L.A in those elegant times. It was all over too fast of course and the apartment seemed strangely empty returning alone on Sunday evening.

Tomorrow, I'll fly to Venice for a few days to rediscover the city that charmed me so much last year. I long for the sun, the fresh sea air and good food. Can't wait to share my experience with you soon!

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At Alexanderplatz

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The site of a former cinema on Ku'damm

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Breakfast or dinner by the East Side Gallery

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The floating hostel on the river

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Oberbaum bridge

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The glowing reflections of a perfect day

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The skyline from my kitchen this morning

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I finally met Sylee last week for lunch at Sasaya in Prenzlauer Berg, a wonderful and astonishingly inexpensive Japanese restaurant. It was so wonderful meeting face to face at last after following her amazing blog for a few months. I hope it will be the first of many.

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Miso soup - a comfort on a cold day

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My sushi lunch

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Japanese style crème brûlée

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You cannot live from art alone

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Around Helmholtzplatz

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At the wonderful Pomeranza shop which I've been dying to get to for ages. I bought some of the Swedish crockery you can see in the windows.

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There was also this linen teatowel which Sylee mentioned a while back.

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Supplies from Goldhahn and Sampson, a must for special and high quality ingredients.

I also made this stunning lemon meringue pie from Fanny's blog. I'm not much of a meringue fan but there's something about the combination of sharp lemon and crumbly pastry with it that I love.

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14 commentaires:

  1. All charm, this one. Can't wait to read about your stay in Venice...And the photos...Have a lovely time.

  2. Wishing you a safe and relaxing trip!

  3. Oooohhh, such people are exasperating! Complainers and annoying visitors are horrible... I hate to feel invaded in my private sphere. I'm glad not all people are so! It looks like you had a great time together.

    Lovely shots and pie!



  4. Ah, much to comment on here, Vanessa (all good) but there is a tornado watch, eek. It's nearly 10.30 your time so perhaps you're asleep to get up early. For Venice. Ah. I was just working on something about la Serenissima. I look forward to your post(s) & also to catching up here & on the blogs you link to. I have been remiss. Pls forgive.

    Have a safe journey.

    (I'm hungry now from the food photographs)

  5. Vanessa, The tale about your visitor was so funny. I loved the bit about the "overpowering mixture of strong body odour mixed with Jazz by Yves Saint Laurent"! I'm sure it wasn't very funny at the time, but it must be now, in retrospect. And too full for famous apple strudel? This is very sad news. I hope you made up for it with your "sharp lemon and crumbly pastry". Enjoy Venezia!

  6. Oh my god NIGHTMARE! Nothing worse than someone who is just totally presumptuous. Envious of your Swedish crockery, hope we can visit that place so I can buy some too ^_^

  7. On peut vraiment dîner près du mur ? sur le trottoir où passent tous les visiteurs ? Préfèrerais ce petit restaurant japonais... Bon voyage à Venise, j'espère que les retrouvailles seront grandioses !

  8. oh dear, I have to admit to meeting men like him :) But I did so enjoy the way you told this story and I love seeing cities through your eyes.

  9. Your house guest was a creep of the first order. I am a wonderful, neat, polite, helpful house guest. Can I come??

  10. I love the humor and tenderness in your story about the visitor... I usually LOVE having house guests (my South American heritage) but they have to be respectful of course and not flood the bathroom.

    I'd love to try the Japanese style crème brûlée; it certainly looks delicious. And lemon meringue pie, that's one of my favorite desserts in the world.

    I've never been to Venice. Sigh. I recommend you read Josef Brodsky's "Watermark", about Venice, if you haven't already. It's a small book, a big treasure.

  11. Ohhh I love this post, maybe one of my favorites! What a great story, how can you still doubt that you are definitely a writer? What a great portrait of an elusive, unique character.

    And those photos... The two with the women having breakfast in front of the East Side Gallery are amazing. They struck me by their graphic qualities, their colors and movement, their symmetry, their life.

  12. @Tracy - Thanks!
    @Kirsten - My trip was wonderful thanks.
    @Rosa - It's true that such people are a pain but looking back I can laugh about it. Luckily, my brother is much easier to deal with ;-)
    @Susan - Oh no, tornadoes, hope you stayed safe. Don't worry about not being up to date, I miss plenty of your posts which is a pity as they're all great.
    @Denise - You're absolutely right that the story makes me laugh now. I regret the apple struden too but I guess I'll have to return to try it soo. As for the cakes in Italy, you're totally right that I indulged.
    @Sasa - Yes, we can definitely go to Pomeranza and many great cafés round there. I'm sure you'll love it.
    @Hila - Why thank you! I seem to attract those kinds of people unfortunately...
    @Barbara - You're welcome anytime!
    @Mary Laure - It's funny that you mention Brodsky because I'm dying to get my hands on a copy of that book. In Venice, I found his house and saw his grave on San Michele. What a genius!
    @Magda - All these compliments! I'm very flattered. I was so amazed by those two women as well. somone was photographing them so maybe it was for a magazine shoot or something. My brother says it's just how he imagined the Germans to be!

  13. Oh la la, j'oublie toujours quelqu'un!
    @Rose - On peut faire les deux si tu veux ;-) Ah oui, les retrouvailles étaient magnifiques et ça me manque déjà un peu.

  14. I love your blog! This entry makes me homesick for Berlin! Thanks for writing and for the beautiful pictures! Keep it up!