I had a Proustian moment recently when Denise talked about watching the films Reality Bites and Singles on her exquisite blog and I found myself transported back to the early nineties, the times of Friends and Frasier, watching ER and Northern Exposure secretly when I should have been asleep, of wearing Kickers shoes and having permed hair. During the unending summer holidays I would spend afternoons at friends' houses or invite them over to mine and probably spent most time with C. who lived just down the road from the school. She had Asian eyes and very long hair, often worn back in a plait but sometimes loose and crimped. I generally turned up at her house late morning to watch the tennis from Wimbledon and later we walked up to the nearest town to grab a bite from an exotically named place called the Deli. Sometimes though we rented films from the local store and watched them at my house, one of which was Singles. C's mother had warned us against seeing it but I was still keen, especially knowing how much her mother disliked me for being rude whenever I asked for another drink at dinnertime. C. found it stupid, I loved it and ended watching most of it by myself. I dreamed of living in a complex with people like that who you could always hang out with or ask for advice, of being able to dry my laundry in the courtyard and meet guys at rock concerts or at the newstand.
16 years later, I put the DVD into my computer and could remember almost everything, as if time had stood still; Nancy's earrings, the garage door opener, the salad Bridget Fonda makes for herself and her sneezes, Cliff installing the car stereo. I also started thinking about the single life which I've now been living for a year and a half. At the beginning of every new English course, I normally invite my students to ask me questions and dread the almost inevitable "Are you married?" and "Do you have children?". I register their looks or surprise or disappointment and wonder why I let this bother me. Do I look so old that everyone assumes I must have a family? Is there really no other way to live? Do my male colleagues get asked the same things? Being single then is still considered a little desperate or to be pitied as I was reminded one day over lunch with my brother and his wife who pointed out that I shouldn't lose any time settling down since I was almost thirty then argued that I was still too young to know what I wanted when I replied that I didn't want to have a family.
Apart from one long relationship, all my others were short lived so I have often been single. Sometimes I used to worry about being alone, wondering if I should try online dating or imagining how I would meet The One on the journey to work, sitting next to each other at the latest Woody Allen film or reaching for the same volume of French literature in the library. Yet solitude has always been a part of who I am; I grew up almost as an only child since my other half siblings lived elsewhere or had already moved out, I was a loner at school and as I've said before, I need time both with and away from others. A student of mine described how she went from her parents' house straight into her marriage and couldn't imagine spending even one night without her family and looked horrified when I told her about my four days alone in Venice. In the shared flat in Charlottenburg, I dreamed of escaping to my own place amidst all the noise and chaos of my flatmate and her boyfriend but had an image in in my mind of a lonely person spending night after night eating a spaghetti dinner and watching a movie. Wouldn't I miss that interaction and wouldn't living on my own make me more aware of what was missing in my life? Almost a year later, I know neither of those things to be true; I have plenty of friends to spend time with and cook for. Even if I often watch DVDs alone, there's something deeply satisfying about preparing myself good food, not having to care about other people's tastes as I sit in my kitchen savouring the special moment that dinner represents for me. I wouldn't want you to think that my life is perfect; I still have plenty of meltdown moments, wondering which direction to take for the future and getting nervous if everything goes too well. Sometimes I miss cooking for others on a regular basis, of having someone to share things with but I wouldn't want to just be in a relationship in order not to be alone either and know there's nothing sad or pathetic about dinner for one.
My flat, seen from the neighbour's balcony. The kitchen is on the left, the bathroom in the middle and the bedroom on the right.
In Volkspark Friedrichshain
Haus der Statistik, still there awaiting demolition
This sounds a total contradiction but I rarely make one portion meals or desserts, preferring to freeze the leftovers or share with my friends and students. Last week, I finally took the plunge and made Kim Boyce's Olive Oil cake with chocolate chips and fresh rosemary from her book Good to the Grain. All through measuring out the ingredients and mixing, I was sceptical about whether this would be the cake for me. But it truly is as amazing as everyone says and I urge you to try it for yourselves before the hot weather makes it impossible to switch on the oven. I'd even go so far as to say it was one of the best cakes I've ever tasted.
Olive Oil Cake (from Good to the Grain, Luisa posted the recipe here a while back)