Archive for the ‘daily life’ Category

Red matches and campari, with a dash of Leonard Cohen, and the second cup of coffee of today. The kind of hangover that comes with a personalized nametag and high heels. Why am I so frustrated by the apostrophe in “Australian’s spend $60 a week on lottery tickets”? I can forgive grocers and newsagents, but not online insurance companies. Email sent.

Coffee today is furry and thick, a bit like my head.  Can someone please turn the sun down it’s a little bright, ah, that’s better.

I’m fascinated by my new jar of fig jam. There are large green foetus-like objects floating in it.

My new favourite word is Schokokuchen. Don’t expect translation, I want some effort on your part. You can eat it.

Bananas and two pears and an unknown melon. Do you like pickles or do you call them gherkins? I also like die Knoblauchknolle, the garlic bulb.

Have you googled today? One day a few months ago, they replaced the google icon with a game of Pacman that you can actually play, causing me untold delight. Ten minutes of my life well spent, rather than saved.

It sounds rude to ask if you’ve googled today. The kind of thing one shouldn’t inquire about in polite company; a sex act or antisocial drug habit. But have you?

One word for drinking before going out is vorglüen – literally, priming an engine. It’s one of those funny verbs that split in two as soon as you use them. The German language is littered with the remains of split infinitives, the empty husks of Latin cases, and the graves of thousands of ancient exceptions to all the rules.


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The falling snow makes slush and dirty puddles
While icy winds lash feet and legs and eyes
Its temperature my feeble mind befuddles
In windswept lanes with ever darkening skies.
One day it’s T-shirts, suddenly it’s coats
And gloves and jackets needed in the morning
Such energy the Man Up There devotes
To switching seasons quickly without warning!
Eight months of winter deep will freeze your mind
Until the sun brings birds, and spring, and thaw
Cast off black thoughts and put those months behind
This city now is golden evermore.
Yet summer’s heaven cannot stop my heart
From secretly awaiting Winter’s start.

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I have so much time these days. Weekdays start with a leisurely rise and stretch, surveying my kingdom before deciding what to do that day. Should I pop down to the markets? Do some writing? A little German revision, perhaps? Not since my heady student days have I had such time to contemplate the deep and ineffable nature of the universe, and my own navel.

On certain very adventurous days I make Grand Plans. These may include epic campaigns to open a bank account with Deutsche Bank, visiting a real-estate agent, or writing all my newly acquired German nouns in pictorial form on the back of tiny pieces of paper which I shuffle around my desk and organise excitedly into categories. (‘Masculines to the left! Feminines to the right! And Neuters, stay out of my way!’). Yesterday I may or may not have made little models of coloured clay people (coloured clay that is, the people themselves were of mixed race) so I could practise various verb conjugations and greetings.

The saving grace of these little episodes is that they are Improving Me As A Person. I can take comfort in the fact that these are not useless activities – shut up, you in the back! – they are rounding me out, improving my language ability, my General Urban Infrastructure, my soft skills. I’m still not sure what hard skills are but I don’t think I have any. And the crowning achievement of my developments is this: I am cooking.

Potted History of My Cooking Skills

1995: I learn to cook two-minute noodles.

1997: I learn to add things to the two-minute noodles, such as onions, beef strips, and seasoning.

1998: I perfect the art of bacon and eggs. This is to remain my staple dish throughout the next ten years.

2001: The Toast Era. I am living with a guy called Hugh in Penrith. Every day after classes, we share a secret glance. Then we buy a loaf of bread and go home. We spend the next half hour making toast with butter and vegemite, comparing notes on how to spread the vegemite, and challenging each other on the precise layering of butter. We invariably finish the loaf that day. This continues for four months.

2004: I decide that it is time to expand my horizons and ask my mother to teach me how to cook spaghetti bolognese. With the added bonus that I can make large amounts and store them in the freezer, bacon and eggs is temporarily displaced as my cuisine of choice.

2007-2009: The Vietnam Period. Owing to the ubiquitous, wonderful and cheap street food, in the whole time living in Hanoi, I cook three times. Bacon and eggs once and spaghetti bolognese twice.

Now, I am sitting in my living room with the smell of roasting aubergine and capsicum wafting in the air. I have just added halloumi to the mix. Two years ago I couldn’t even spell halloumi (truth be told I still can’t), now I am debating whether to add cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes. Ruccola will be artfully arranged on the side, with a little beetroot salad. Yesterday I bought couscous and home-made gnocci. Last week I had mushrooms and eggplant. I have decided I need more implements, like a lemon zester and rolling pin, maybe a spork as well. I am starting to understand the phrase ‘food porn’ and quietly downloading episodes of Jamie Oliver‘s shows and The Iron Chef.

This is all thanks to the miracle of unemployment, which sadly will end tomorrow. (Or at least slow down; nobody in Berlin has a full time job). In a couple of months it’ll be cheese on toast and TV dinners. But once in a while, I will look back on this golden age of culinary delights, and dream of what could have been.

Bugger, the halloumi’s burning.

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My socks today are green. I was going to choose blue but instinct prevented me much like it will prevent me from using commas in this post. The German word for letter is die Brief which I like although der Kugelshreiber remains my favourite word. My spellcheck has identified Kugelshreiber as an anomaly although ‘die’ and ‘brief’ are untouched. It’s not that smart after all. An urban legend during the early noughties claimed that the nouns ‘Keating’ and ‘Howard’ brought up auto-suggestions of ‘cheating’ and ‘coward’ respectively. I never tried it.

A friend of mine is also taking an intensive German class at a different school. There are Russians and Italians and Spanish and Yemenis and other nationalities in the class. One Friday evening she saw four of the Russians talking about meeting up the next day. The group included a girl and a new man who had only joined the class a couple of weeks previously. On Monday the teacher arrived in tears. He told them that the girl was dead. She had been murdered by the newly-arrived Russian man. On Saturday he met her in a bar and later killed her and put the body in a car and drove to a park where he left it. He went to the police and told them what he had done. He said he couldn’t remember which park he left the car at. It took them three weeks to find her body.  Everybody was interviewed by the police and the remaining Russians left. A week later the class was merged with another class.

I met a real-estate agent last week. She was an Irish woman with blazing red hair and a smoker’s growl who has lived here since before the wall came down. We pored over old maps and traced the bizarre meanderings of the iron curtain. She told me how it was Irish investors who first discovered how cheap Berlin real estate was around the turn of the century.

She said it is very difficult to evict a tenant here. Even after they stop paying rent it’s hard to get them out of the property and can take a lot of time. When looking for a Berlin apartment I was told to find a place with some kind of outdoor space which faces west or south-west so that it gets the afternoon sun. Nothing higher than the third floor if the building has no lift.

Outside from the street screams drifted through the window. A boy had fallen on the steps of the U-Bahn and was having a seizure. He seemed to be mentally disabled. The screaming lasted twenty minutes and the real estate’s secretary ran out to offer some water and see if she could help. Later she told me that the boy was autistic and had been walking with a large group of similarly handicapped children. His carers told her that this was a calculated tactic to make them buy him more coke and chips. So it goes.

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Schonleinstrasse, Kreutzberg: It’s such a gorgeous day, every man and his dog is out in the sunshine. I went for a random wander and found a canal lined with wistful weeping willows. I followed the canal and stumbled into a huge Turkish market just off Kottbusser Damm. Assault and battery on the ears. Suddenly out of nowhere I was stuck in a pramjam. Hundreds (well, tens) of Turkish women wielding wheely trolleys covered in plaid did battle with highly determined single mums and their prams. I was caught in the middle. I tried to go around the outside but a grandmother with a moustache cut me off by running over my foot with her shopping.

I fully intended to buy nothing and just walk through the chaos. Flip-screen transition to me at home surrounded by shopping bags:

One gozleme with spinach and cheese. ‘Apetit auf gozleme?’ read the sign. One punnet of strawberries, mediocre quality, stupidly purchased from the first stall I saw, schoolboy error on my part. Half a kilo of green grapes. A tub of small sticky honey drenched Turkish sweets. Six yellow bananas – the salesman brazenly short-changed me a euro, and when I asked for it, handed it over without the slightest hint of shame. A block of Franzosische (French) fetta. Three firm avocados. A bag of ruccola – even though I’ve bought it, I’m not entirely sure what it is, and look on it with some suspicion. A bag of black kalamatta olives and a large green papaya. A small block of superbly aged English chedder sold to me by a grizzled man who is now trapped here by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland. Whole thing cost me fouteen euros.

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