It’s been raining nonstop for days. Apparently, we’ve had twice as much rainfall this July as the year before, and the month isn’t even over yet. The weather seems hell-bent on tripling its record, sending down sheets in alternating waves of velvety drizzle and cascading downpour, and I’m becoming adept at discerning nuances in gray. There’s the white-streaked gray that means a short reprieve is coming, and the bluish gray that means it’s coming to an end. A dull, sodden gray means temperamental rain, and dark, voluptuous clouds against pale, rare blue promise brilliant thunderstorms that mean you’d better find a café to hide away in for a while.
I’ve been knocked out with a cold for the last two weeks, and I can’t tell whether it’s all this infernal rain and icky chill or if it’s the mental strain that comes along with returning home from vacation and having to get your real life – and real life deadlines – back on track.
In any case, I haven’t been this sick in a long time, though by now it’s just lingering malaise and a wimpy-sounding cough, and I’m not sure it still justifies the excessive amount of time I’ve spent binge watching TV or the Game of Thrones theory sites rabbit hole I go down after every new episode airs.
For me, the worst symptom of sickness is guilt. It’s bad enough to feel awful, but it’s even worse to feel awful about feeling awful, to feel like I should go to work even when my body needs rest, to feel like rest is a waste of time, to ache as those hours of productivity slip by in sleep or as Netflix’s deliciously evil Next episode airs in… countdown keeps me tied to the couch. It doesn’t matter how vehemently I try to convince myself that recovery requires R&R – it only ever just feels like an excuse. » Continue reading this post…
How much lobster is too much lobster? In Maine, the answer seems to be, there is no such thing. There, it is possible to eat a lobster roll for both lunch and dinner, to ceaselessly crack into the thick red hull of a crustaceous claw and swipe its soft, white meat through melted butter. You can cook your own live lobster, you can order it in chowders and stews, baked into pot pies, have it whole, halved, beheaded, even gnaw on frozen chunks nestled into butter-flavored ice cream – though I don’t know that it’s a combination I can recommend. You can have lobster any way you want it, and you can have it every day. And I did.
I love Maine, love its rolling mountains and crashing cold waves, the glacier-scraped rocks thick with barnacles and crushed shells, the way the low tide leaves vast patches of kelp exposed to the sun until the evening brings the salty water crashing up the shore. In late summer, I love the tenacious wild blueberry bushes full of tiny fruit that never hit the bottom of the bucket until the belly’s full, and the gentle, sweet smell of balsam fir that perfumes the forest and every Bar Harbor gift shop.
Our house in Maine was on a sound, and I’d wake in the mornings to sun streaming in the windows across the water. From the back deck, you could catch brief bright flashes of harbor seals’ heads as they flicked up out of the ocean in play. Once, we canoed out to where we saw them in the water, navigating close enough that we could make out each quivering whisker and their alert eyes, wet and black as midnight pools.
On the Fourth of July, we spent the day in Bar Harbor, staking down a small patch of green at the waterfront for first-row firework seats. » Continue reading this post…
For the first time since I moved to Berlin, I’ve missed my favorite social event of the year: SAND’s new issue launch party. Yes, sure, you might say I was gallivanting around Colombia, eating fried mojarra and drinking fresh-pressed juices, so what did I want with one evening of readings, of dancing, of congratulatory back-clapping? But for those of us who’ve spent six months putting it together, the launch party is our first chance to hold the new issue in our hands – this beautiful physical object we produce in an age where “print is dead.”
It’s been an interesting issue for me in any case, my first as retired editor in chief. It’s an odd feeling, somehow, to have worked my way from copy editor to managing editor to poetry editor to editor in chief and then to suddenly find myself with an honorary senior editorship and the hoary post of keeper of old history. I know the intricacies of the journal inside and out – after six years, you become something of an expert. But it’s more than just having knowledge. I feel like I’ve helped SAND grow from a small and maybe slightly ramshackle passion project to a fixture in the Berlin literary community and beyond. It’s well-organized and structured, the team is so so dedicated and talented, and the journal is ready to blow up. Which is ultimately why I decided to step down as editor in chief.
Like any empty-nester, I had plenty of projects lined up for when the birdie flew. There’s The Wolf & Peter, a food venture the very talented Anna of Anna’s Kitchen and I are launching, where we host supper clubs and workshops and kitchen takeovers. And I’ve been writing a cookbook that is slowly but surely nearing completion. » Continue reading this post…
When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.
Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.
And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…
1. Be surprised. Ideally, you’ll wake up one morning to an innocuous-looking email from Air Serbia informing you that your itinerary has been changed. You will skim it, expecting to see a flight number switched or a terminal swapped out. And instead, you will realize that your flight has been cancelled, and that your new flight leaves a whole day later than the flight you were supposed to take. And even though you will call Air Serbia and mention the unacceptability of the entire situation, you will hear their shoulders shrug on the other end of the shabby connection as they tell you there’s really nothing they can do, and you will say, “Well, I guess I’m going to Belgrade.”
2. Leave no stone unturned. Insist on being put up in a nice hotel that’s walking distance from the city and has a complimentary airport shuttle. And when you get to the hotel, open all the tiny bottles on the bathroom counter – the shampoo and conditioner, the body wash and lotion, the shower cap and lavender-scented pillow spray – and claim them as yours, as payment for accrued inconveniences.
3. Be brave. Don’t linger over the soaps. Leave. Sling your backpack over your shoulder and grab a map (yes, a paper map because chances are very good that your phone will be about to die) from the front desk along with verbal directions into the city. Listen and nod and understand the uselessness of this endeavor because you are already well-acquainted with your inability to hold more than two directional instructions in your head at one time.
Step through the revolving doors. You are responsible for you and only you. What is it that brings you joy? To pause on a bridge over the Danube, feeling the tenderness of the setting sun on your skin, the cool breeze of early spring with its promise of softer days? » Continue reading this post…
I realized with some chagrin that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen, as we marched along a long, hot Israeli highway, our feet seeming to sink slightly into the melting asphalt as cars charged past. I held David’s windbreaker like a tarp above my head, hoping this half-hearted tenting would spare my milky Berlin winter skin the raw, red slap of a burn. I tried to remember which suffering Biblical figure it was who had been stuck wandering in the Galilean wilderness, because I now understood the tribulation conjured by the phrase – though then there was surely less traffic and more scrubby date palms to rest beneath.
I was the one who had so desperately wanted to see the Sea of Galilee, to give the stories I’d grown up hearing sustenance. David wanted to go camping. So we decided to camp at the Jordan River Park, just north of the Sea of Galilee. But now it seemed it might have been too ambitious to combine a camping trip and a brush with ancient civilization. Because no matter how far we wandered, big backpack roped up with a tent and stuffed with sleeping bags and food, we never got closer to the lake. It started to feel almost mythical. A mirage we’d never reach.
We’d arrived at Jordan River Park just as the midday sun was swinging its last long punches. The bus had belched us out on a dusty, desolate stretch of highway, no sign of life except for the lone bus station and miles of long road reaching out. No one else got off the bus, and for a moment, I thought the driver might playing a trick on us as he sped off and left us alone on the road. But David’s phone said the park was straight ahead, and so we set off at a good pace, feeling optimistic. » Continue reading this post…
I realized recently with some surprise that I’ve been living in Germany for nearly six years. The time has manifested itself in subtle ways. I’ve gotten accustomed to long meals with infrequent attention from waitstaff, come to enjoy waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the street. I’ve gotten less good at small talk, more good at getting to the point (but clearly, not better at speaking English…). I’ve gotten used to just buying food for one meal at a time, since my fridge is too small to support much more than that. And I’ve gotten very good at packing up my groceries in record speed as the cashier’s speedy swiping slings them precipitously towards the counter’s edge.
My speaking skills certainly haven’t escaped unscathed. I find myself forgetting words, or grabbing for something in German that feels so much more specific. Like the other night, when I was telling a story about the sink my neighbors were throwing out, and I couldn’t just call it a “sink,” because it was more than a “sink” or even a “kitchen sink.” It was the kitchen sink with all its accoutrements and pipes and cabinet system – a Spüle in German. So many words in English. In German, just the one.
I’ve also gotten into the habit of ending my sentences with “or?” – a direct translation of the German “oder?,” which functions like “you know?” or “right?” but is certainly not something we say. And yet, it has ceased to sound odd to me.
German has a reputation for being an ugly, angry-sounding language. And it’s not entirely inaccurate. There was that meme that went around some time ago with words in different languages… butterfly – papillon – mariposa – Schmetterling. But some German words are better than their English counterparts. » Continue reading this post…
How can I describe the way it feels when this movie marathon comes to an end, the way my fingers linger over the last ritual unpacking of the bag, the flinging of ticket stubs and loose papers onto the desk. The slow, deep gulps of water salving a week’s worth of harried dehydration, and how I sink down onto the couch to tally up the week’s report of good, bad, and indifferent.
It’s especially as the Berlinale whirls to its inevitable conclusion that I feel that I myself am in a film. I see with a cinematic eye. Even now, as I hunch over my desk to quickly jot this paragraph down, I see how the camera pans in on my fingers, the gentle, white glow of the laptop screen in the dark, the soft tap-tap-tap of my pointer finger on the keys as I think of what to write next. I bite my lip self-consciously to show the audience that I am thinking. The camera picks up the sound of the children in the adjacent apartment, laughing, and the clink of dinner dishes. The scene is set.
The feeling is especially strong as I walk from place to place, which, in the past week and a half, has meant: from theater to theater. Then, my mind’s-eye-camera zooms out across Berlin’s blocky, boxy rows of apartment buildings, streets lined with naked trees rattling twiggy fingers in the wind. I hear the click of my boots on the concrete, catch the flick of my eyes upwards as I wait for the traffic signal to change. I reach into my bag and pull out my wallet, slipping the fat wad of tickets between my fingers to check where I’m going next and what time I need to be there. When you’re watching up to five films a day, it’s easy to lose track. » Continue reading this post…