samedi 29 janvier 2011

Things I like

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Inspired by Hila's wonderful entry on Miss Moss' beautiful site, here's a list of some of the things I like right now.

1. Fountain pens

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Unless I have to, I don't like to write with any other kind of pen. The ink must be also medium blue and I have a preference for moleskine notebooks. I love the feel of the pen between your fingers, the elegance of the letters you can form with it.

2. Black tea with milk

I like a tall glass of café latte but can only start the day a very British way with black tea and milk, served in one of my Penguin mugs. Even if I don't have long to get ready, it's good to take a few minutes and watch the day beginning over the rooftops while sipping it.

3. Petit Larousse du chocolat

My friend Justine in Paris was given this for Christmas a few years ago and it absolutely mesmerised me when I flicked through it. The chocolate mousse with whisky caught my eye in particular but I haven't yet got around to ordering myself a copy.

4. Evening dresses

Except for gym clothes and pyjamas, I don't own a single pair of trousers or jeans. Women look great in trousers (think Katharine Hepburn) but I find skirts and dresses much easier to wear. Slipping into an elegant evening dress makes you feel special and I love the contrast of red most of all against black hair and pale skin. Audrey looks so perfect coming down the stairs in Funny Face.

5. Short hair

Except for when I was a child, I have always had shorter hair, usually in a bob. Memories of my mother having to pull out knots perhaps traumatised me but it's great having it off your face or tucked behind your ear, easy to style and always timeless as Jean Seberg and Anna Karina prove. If I was brave enough, I'd go for a Louise Brooks bob.

6. Film noir

Perhaps it's just linked to my passion for detective novels which always shocks people because they don't consider them intellectual enough for me or maybe it's because deep down, I admire femme fatales like Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake or Jane Greer who always manage to seduce the hopelessly naive men. I also like the spareness of Jean Pierre Melville crime films, the minimalist precision of the actor's movements and restricted colour palette. Friday nights are usually spent watching a film noir over a large plate of pasta or a slice of fresh pizza.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past

Alain Delon in Le Cercle Rouge

Jean Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos

7. Hitchcock blondes

Even though I'm more than happy being a brunette, there something special about the seductive coolness of Hitchcock's leading ladies, especially when they're blonde. Think Grace Kelly in Rear Window or To Catch A Thief, Tippi Hedren in Marnie or The Birds, Kim Novak in Vertigo and perhaps my favourite, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

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Kim Novak and Jams Stewart in Vertigo

Eva Marie Saint

8. Twin Peaks

The only series that has ever had me completely hooked from beginning to end. I realise there are other good shows on TV but find it difficult to find the motivation to watch them season after season. I came to Twin Peaks late in life since my parents considered it too frightening when I was a child. A Canadian friend once came to stay with me in Berlin for a week or two, bringing with him the second series. Night after night, we sat in the kitchen, gorging ourselves on doughnuts and cherry pie in between cups of coffee as I kept on asking "Can we just watch one more?"

Later when his wife asked about his trip to Berlin, he replied, "We watched a lot of Twin Peaks!"

A unique combination of funny, scary, crazy and charming. I love Agent Cooper saying "Damn fine coffee" or talking to Diane, Benjamin Horne eating a baguette with brie, the Red Room or Audrey tying a knot in a cherry stem in her mouth.

9. I Capture the Castle

First I discovered the wonderful film a few years ago and last year the even more wonderful book by Dodie Smith which I'm re-reading now. It makes me feel nostalgic for England, for the North Sea and wish that I had grown up too in a castle.

10. Scott Fitzgerald

I have so many favourite books and authors - Proust, Jane Austen, Paul Auster, Thomas Bernhard but in English, I most love reading books or stories by Scott Fitzgerald. His way of writing reminds me of sunlight gimmering on the water but it still seems natual and not pretentious. At night, I often like to dip into some of his letters to Zelda or other friends and also one of his short stories.

11. New York in the 60s

If I could choose a period from the past in which to live, I'd be torn between existentialist Paris after the war and NYC in the 60s. The city exudes a special glamour and so much was happening there. The idea of coming home just as the sky was turning pale with the dawn while Brooklyn Bridge still twinkled or seeing the beautifully dressed people in Manhatton. Natalie Wood has such a special glow in this photo I think. I'd also love to see the double feature at the cinema below.

12. Henri Cartier Bresson

It seems like a terrible cliché to have him in the list because he's one of the most famous and popular photographers in the world but his was the first exhibitions of photography I ever went to, way back on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Writing about them seems inadequate because a picture is worth a thousand words but I'll just say that I love to linger over every image.

13. Hot baths and candles

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To my mind, nothing beats the comfort of a hot bath in winter. I love the luxury of music and candles as I get in the water slowly until my skin is used to the heat.

14. Films by Francois Truffaut

Next month in London, I'll go to see Day for Night and hopefully Deux Dans La Vague, a documentary about him and Jean Luc Godard. I remember first watching The 400 Blows with tears running down my face unexpectedly at the end or seeing Jeanne Moreau smiling just before she jumps into the Seine, Fanny Ardant and Jean Louis Trintignent snapping their fingers simultaneously when they recognise "Tutti quanti" and Antoine Doinel trying to wrap a parcel in Stolen Kisses.

Truffaut with Claude Jade and Jean-Pierre Léaud

Fanny Ardant in Finally Sunday

Day for Night (La Nuit Américaine)

15. Train journeys

Ideally, I'd like to take the train instead of flying but it's longer and more expensive. I read best when I'm travelling by train, my mind somehow clicks with the movement as new or familiar landscapes go by. Everything is interesting, even if you're only looking out of the window. Tomorrow I'm planning on getting up quite early to take the train to a new place just outside of Berlin. There's a book already packed in my bag and a feeling of anticipation. Have a great weekend!

16. Keeping fit

I've added the sixteenth point after the aerobics trainer was (rightly) disappointed not to find anything about fitness here. Funnily, it's an important part of my life but I rarely mention it, probably for fear of giving others a bad conscience! I know that this last part will put some people off because the word sport reminds you of gymnastics at school, being picked last for the netball team and hockey matches in the mud. I hated that too but when I started hiking in the French Alps and cycling in Lyon, I realised how nice it is to move, get things out of my system. It also means you can feel less guilty about eating cake regularly. I've tried different forms of exercise since then with different levels of success; jogging was quite fun but I was hopelessly slow and found I needed something with more variety and most of all prefer group fitness classes so try to do them 4 times a week. I also aim to stretch a little each morning in the hope of becoming more flexible (or maybe less stiff), although the chances of looking like Darcey (above) are pretty slim. One day I think I'd like to try a beginners' ballet class or tap dancing though.

And what are some of your favourite things?

dimanche 23 janvier 2011

It might be lonelier without the loneliness

In the corner of a bar in Kreuzberg, a woman with white blonde hair sits back in her chair, the faintest of smiles on her lips as her friend takes a picture. In spite of the dim lights, she is wearing tinted glasses in thick plastic white frames to match her pullover. The waiter has just set a large glass of some exotic cocktail on the table whose blue colour contrasts perfectly with the surroundings and the roughness of the bare walls. Next to her, a young gay couple whisper sweet nothings to each other, oblivious of her presence. Did they strike up a conversation that evening? The ashtray is still empty and the drinks haven't yet been touched so perhaps the night is young. This could be New York in the 70s with its party scene and wild nights but instead it's the O-Bar or Oranienbar where gender boundries blur and new encounters are made. In another city, Bea might look out of place but here, nobody even bats an eyelid. I like to imagine her as a faded disco queen who once hung out with Warhol at studio 54. The Berlin of the 90s is a refuge, a city finding its identity after being isolated for so long and both she and the photographer, Nan Goldin feel at home.

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An evening out at Hackesche Höfe cinema to see Tamara Drewe and then drinks

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A photograph is all that remains of a moment, something to remind us how we were feeling that day or how the light was. Nan Goldin says she started taking pictures so that she never had to lose anybody again but today the pictures only remind her of what she's lost after many of her friends died of AIDS or drug overdoses. I remember going downstairs and coming in on part of a conversation between my mother and my aunt in the USA where my mother had to tell her that my grandmother had died. I wasn't supposed to find out that way and ran to the living room where we kept the boxes of slides. In the slideviewer, I looked at a recent one taken of my grandmother and wondered how a person can be so alive and then gone, that it seemed cruel that all that remained of someone's face was set in a small plastic frame or printed on a piece of paper.

Yet I still love taking photos because it makes me notice the little things or go out and explore, because I can always get better and ultimately, it's the only thing I have to remember the reflection on the water or the shade of red of a person's coat.

January has never been my favourite month, Christmas makes it easier to accept the cold wind and darkness at 4pm but I'm missing the lights and fun of the holidays. Perhaps the best thing is just to accept that sometimes I get the blues or the "mean reds" as Holly Golightly would say. I'd like to find my own equivalent of Tiffany's, a place that always made you feel safe. I guess the closest I can come to that is with the books and films that fill my apartment. My brother gave me Edmund De Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes for Christmas, a book I'd been curious to read for a long time. It first caught my eye while flicking through a copy of the New York Review Of Books somebody had left in the teachers' room. At first I thought it was simply about one of the real life models for Proust's Charles Swann, a collector called Charles Ephrussi but actually, it's much more that that, a memoir of the objects the author inherited called netsuke and their journey back through his family history via Paris, Vienna, Tunbridge Wells and Japan. It's a truly magical book filled with images from the Belle Epoque, the craze for Japonisme, Manet sending a painting of a single asparagus, the facades of the Ringstraße in Vienna with the Emporer driving past in his carriage and a black gloved hand waving to the children, the terror of the Nazis breaking down the door and a journey to Japan in ruins. It's a truly wonderful book, one which I'll be sad to finish. When I feel too tired for the netsuke, I pick up Sam Wasson's Fifth Avenue, 5am about Audrey Hepburn and the making of Breakfast At Tiffany's. It's the kind of book you could wolf down in one sitting but I try to take my time, imagining that period when New York was dazzling and full of glamour, dreaming of little black dresses and cocktails with Truman Capote.

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In Eberswalder Straße last week

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The caption reads: who's going to pay for that?

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Another cure for the blues is spending time in my kitchen, enjoying the first rays of sun and the pink and orange splendour of the sunsets. I feel a need for pizza on Friday with a film noir and a pudding on Sunday afternoon. When I was little, my father used to make his own marmelade and large pot bubbled away on the stove before sifting away the skin and pips and hearing the whizz of the blender. Once he even forgot to put the lid on , covering everything with orange peel but never mind. Anything with marmelade makes me feel nostalgic and when I saw this pudding recipe with it in Nigella Lawson's new book Kitchen, I knew I had to make it soon. It's amazingly easy and everywhere smells of oranges and butter which is comforting on a day when thick grey clouds haven't let through a single ray of sunshine. I'm going to curl up on the sofa to watch I Capture the Castle and hope you have a good Sunday.

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My Paddington, another Christmas present

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New cookbooks for 2011

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Nigella Lawsons Marmelade Pudding Cake - you can find the recipe here.

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