We have not made a reservation. Two other restaurants will not have us, because they are full, so Prado is just a place that I read about that someone else really liked and it’s nearby and we’re not famished just yet. They don’t have a table available, but do we mind waiting? We can order a drink at the bar. And since we are not famished just yet, and there are lots of plants inside the lofty space and because we like plants, we say, okay, and order the kombucha that’s on tap. We’ve taken perhaps one, perhaps two sips of the slightly sour and tingly drink before our table is ready. And maybe it’s because service in Germany is so far removed from this level of consideration, but I fall a little bit in love with the kindness of the waitstaff, their friendliness and clear knowledge about the menu and what to order, their patience and solicitude, the way they make us feel like we are at home, like there is no right or wrong way to be or eat.
So it is a wonderful thing when the food is remarkable. We order cockles – because – cockles! They’re minuscule and translucent and poised within a sweet, creamy broth tempered by the mineral dampness of spinach. We soak up every last bit of sauce with the bread, honey-brown and crusty, served with both a whipped, garlicky lard and a smoky goat’s milk butter. It is a good tartar, because it comes from a good and confident cut of beef. There are beautiful ceps with swaths of creamy pimiento and sprinkles of crunchy buckwheat and a lovely fish. And then there is the mushroom ice cream, which we have to order – because – mushroom ice cream! And oh, it is earthy and cold and just sweet enough, and there is the rustic chew of pearl barley and a swirl of balm-like caramel. » Continue reading this post…
Yes, yes, yes, February feels like a distant dream of long-ago coats and scarves, fur-lined gloves and wind so cold it creaks inside the wet, warm inside of your cheeks. But for the most part, none of the films I saw at this year’s Berlinale will be out for another twelve months anyway, so this post is mostly just as relevant as it might have been when it was maybe a little more relevant.
What was it about this year’s Berlinale that made us drop like flies? Every single one of us was sick by the end. I left my last film and went straight to bed for two days, waking in a feverish twilight and wanting the covers, a bowl of popcorn dusted with Old Bay, and the Game of Thrones opening sequence jauntily humming from my laptop speakers. Ugh, art films! it made me want to say and mouth a silent scream. Ugh, to the obscenity-strewn pointlessness of Mid-90s. Ugh, to the questionable metaphors of Flatland. Ugh, to the black-and-white smugness of Elisa y Marcela, which was so bad I had to leave the theater.
Some of our posse were more pleased with their choices, but I felt like I’d mostly picked a bunch of duds. Though there were films I really did enjoy, even now, looking back on it a month later, there wasn’t anything that left a sear in my heart like last year’s Tinta Bruta or Call Me By Your Name from the year before that.
What can I recommend of the twenty films I saw? VICE was excellent, incisive, timely – and terrifying. Systemsprenger, about kids who fall through the system’s cracks, was haunting and heart-wrenching and so well-acted. And Waiting for the Carnival was a beautiful documentary that did an excellent job of withholding judgment on a story that could so easily have been a lecture on the evils of industrialization. » Continue reading this post…
Every country that suffers from a dearth of winter daylight and an overabundance of ice has a favorite hot and alcoholic drink to get its residents through to warmer months. The Swedish have Glogg, the English mulled wine, and I’m sure somebody else has something (who gets the hot toddy?). In Germany, no December is complete without a few too many mugs of Glühwein clutched in a gloved hand and tightly held against the jostle of the Christmas market crowd.
On that note, no December in Berlin is complete without multiple visits to each of the different markets, effused with the scent of candied almonds and grilled bratwursts spitting fat. Each has its own character – Gendarmenmarkt is always overly packed, but you’ve got that post-Christmas-shopping vibe inspiring you to purchase just another bag of Baumkuchen bites. The market at Schloss Charlottenburg is expansive and twisting, filled with people selling suckling pig and potato pancakes, custom jewelry and chocolate-covered fruit. There, the Glühwein bar is a giant wooden windmill, one of those classic German Christmas decorations where the heat of candles sends the manger scene spinning.
Rixdorf feels like a neighborhood market where your friends are selling arts and crafts, while the market at Alexanderplatz is full of bored-looking vendors pouring just another glass of swill to the tourists who’ll be charmed by anything. This year, I even made it to the market in Braunschweig, where the Glühwein is served with a shot of Mumme, a thick malt extract that tempers the sugar.
This year, I made Glühwein at home for the first time – and wondered why I’d never done it before. There’s something so wonderful about a pot of hot beverage perfuming the kitchen with spice while you stand at the counter rolling out dough for Zimtsterne – German Christmas cookies rich with cinnamon and almond and glazed with meringue – then taking your Glühwein to the living room and stretching out on the carpet in front of the little, live tree to write Christmas cards, even though you said you weren’t going to write any this year. » Continue reading this post…
I have never seen the particular appeal of Soviet architecture. In Berlin, the rundown prewar buildings wilt, but the Communist-era bastions endure with grim and solid fortitude. They are the housing projects on the outskirts of the city with a bad reputation for neo-Nazis, they’re the anonymous gray lengths of Frankfurter Allee or the blocky rows of balconies made of prickled concrete that only ever seem to be decorated with dying red geraniums.
In Belgrade, these buildings of a bygone time are almost whimsical. The ones capping corners curve, leaning in at odd angles. They feature functional-looking, yet utterly superfluous girding or iron-work, and even when they’re geometric, there’s something just slightly off about them – they’re too long or too squat, every apartment has a different set of windows, or there’s a sudden shock of glass in a surprising location. Plenty of these buildings are deserted – many don’t look architecturally sound – and there’s something eerie about the alien-looking metals and alloys butted up against gracefully swirling slabs of concrete that house nothing on the inside.
It was mesmerizing to walk around Belgrade’s crumbling streets and stumble upon these concrete treasures wedged between the small, 19th century Neoclassical buildings in the city center and the newer facades going up all over the place. It seems that all of Belgrade is under construction – whole streets are being ripped out, clusters of girders yawn to the sky wherever you look, and the skyline itself is marred by endless rows of cranes. Nowhere is the divide between this new construction and the old Belgrade more visually striking than along the waterfront, where a bird’s eye view shows the surreal discrepancy.
Daniel and I had just finished a fifteen-mile walk down the Danube – from our hotel near the city center through the Bloks of New Belgrade and nearly all the way to Zemun. » Continue reading this post…
Winter is officially here – at least that’s what the size of my jacket says. I can’t say that I’m terribly upset. Fall was luxuriously long – an anomaly in Berlin – and I made good use of the weather to go on walks and eat more ice cream. But it’s been a strange fall as well. I feel a little bit like I’m swimming underwater, like life is drifting by just somewhere over my left ear.
I haven’t been a particularly good friend; I’ve been flaky and unreliable. Work-wise, it’s been hard to focus; as evidenced by the two months that have gone by without a new post. My temper has been short, decisions seem more complex than they really are, and I feel self-conscious in social situations, cringing at every flat joke I make. I feel like I’m behind on everything, and putting out one fire only means the forest behind me is ablaze.
My therapist says: Why are you so afraid of disappointing people? And I think that includes myself.
Last night, talking to my dad on the phone, it struck me that though my overall feeling was one of being overwhelmed, of having too much to do and too little to show for it, the stories I most wanted to tell were of wonderful experiences or bits of good news. Like how I won’t need nose surgery after all, or of how the weekend’s project was to paint the walls in truly gorgeous geometric blues and grays. How mom and I had not long ago been to San Sebastian for a food vacation capped by a swooningly good meal at the three-Michelin-starred Martín Berasategui, or how Daniel and I had just jetted to Belgrade for a long weekend. Even little things – like how this new apartment stays so cozy and warm, how investing in real pots makes the plants look so much happier, how I finally bought myself a new phone to replace the one that’s been cracked to pieces. » Continue reading this post…
I thought about calling this post “I Have No Self Control.” Because as far as cheese is concerned… I don’t. I’ve recently discovered – well, let’s be precise here – I’ve recently come under the very strong suspicion that I’ve developed a light lactose intolerance. It seems pretty straightforward. I eat soft cheese, I feel slightly uncomfortable. I eat ice cream, I die.
Here’s the medically-sound way in which I diagnosed myself: I started feeling sluggish and crampy after my morning coffee and figured I’d try cutting out the milk. I started drinking my coffee black, and wonder of wonders, the cramping went away and the coffee did what it was supposed to do, i.e., wake me up. About a year after the miracle of the black coffee, I started noticing gastro-intestinal distress after eating things like ice cream and pizza or those Double Eye galãos I like to treat myself to on a Saturday morning errand run.
Clearly, after removing the daily shock of morning milk from my diet, my stomach had decided that even smaller doses of lactose were intolerable to digest, and began putting up a fight against feta and cheese toasts and whipped cream on pie. That’s how lactose intolerance works, right?
But it wasn’t until Josh and I went to Italy, where all we ate was deliciously soft mozzarella and gelato and pasta with shaved parmesan and pastries with cream that I bought some Lactase (in Italian, from an Italian-only pharmacist, so I’m not really quite-quite sure what I bought), and was surprised by how much it helped. Lactose, it seemed obvious now, really was the culprit. Lactase aside, gelato still made me die.
What I hadn’t yet done on my self-diagnostic journey, however, was to cut out lactose completely to see if the distress disappeared. » Continue reading this post…
I don’t see my family as often as I’d like. One brother lives in Berlin with me, but the other is in Orlando; one set of parents is in Baltimore, the other in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There’s always Christmas, that whirlwind holiday in which we flit up and down the highway between homes, squeezing in visits with old friends and last-minute trips to the store for stocking stuffers. But in part because we all live so spread out, and because there’s so much else happening around the holidays, we make an effort to see each other throughout the year, to vacation together – a cruise through the balmy, blue Caribbean, a week sampling all the baklava in Greece, or renting a house on a sound in Maine.
Growing up, my nuclear family lived far from our extended families. Back then, my mom’s family was concentrated in Florida, my dad’s in southern Germany. We were in rural Pennsylvania. But we were always traveling to see family, spending Christmases in Orlando or summers on the Swabian Jura – or taking everyone, aunts and uncles and cousins to Tuscany to spend a week in one of those big, rambling terra cotta villas (German family) or to the smoky, barbecue-filled backwoods of North Carolina (American family). For me, family has always been something you travel for and with.
Just recently, I spent a long weekend in Prague with my mom, stepdad, brothers, and grandpa. My favorite part of our trip – besides long evenings spent playing cards with the lights turned low and the electric fans whirring to combat the heat – was the meal we ate at Field, a Michelin-starred restaurant close to the old Jewish quarter. We ordered the wine pairing and sat beneath the ominous mounted farm-equipment for three hours, just talking and eating and toasting. » Continue reading this post…
There’s this picture of me that I love. I’m seventeen years old and holding a battered copy of Les Misérables in my hand. It’s battered because I’ve been throwing it around the backseat of a van, kneading its pages with sweaty, road-trip-snack-stained fingers when I read, and also because at some point, I’ve dropped it into the toilet. I’m fresh out of the shower, my hair is stringy and wet, parted severely down the middle. I’m wearing brown stretch flares, a Twister graphic tee, and a maroon zip-up hoodie so worn-out it’s lost its shape. Leaned up against a cabin doorframe, I look every bit an ill-dressed, awkward teenager, unsure of how to move inside her own body. But the expression on my face, half-turned away from the camera, is dreamy. I’m somewhere else, but perfectly at peace. My eyes look to the horizon. All around me are massive mountains, glacier-scarred rock whorled with strange shapes that seem to come alive when you stare long enough. It’s like looking at a Magic Eye print. Below, green-tinged water surges over rocks, in a canyon it carved out over ages. I am in Norway, and the look on my face is the one I always seem to wear when I’m here.
Norway is my soul’s happy place. There’s something about the briskness of the chill air carrying that tinge of salt, the soft, mossy ground, the mountains of bald stone bursting above the dark green tree line, the fjords that turn Colgate-colored when they churn and glint like raw malachite where they are impassive and deep. This landscape was made long before me. It will be here long after I am gone. I am insignificant beside it, and that is a comfort to me.
Two years ago, when we hiked the Preikestolen, Elli and I kept saying we’d have to come back for Trolltunga, which is how, not long ago, we found ourselves living in a small white house right on the Sørfjorden, where we woke to the sounds of waves lapping up against the dock and almost-midnight-sun streaming in through the curtains. » Continue reading this post…