Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Eating Berlin Part 3 – Full Belly, Full Heart

Rain in Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.

At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.

But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.

At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 2 – Owning It

Burgers from Schiller Burger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My mom always told me that Hasenheide was a dangerous place. And it can be. Like many parks in Berlin, there’s an active, obvious drug trade that’s only a little annoying by day, but a little frightening at night. (It’s kind of like taking candy from strangers, isn’t it?) So for a long time, I didn’t go there. It didn’t help, of course, that when I moved to Berlin, the nearest entrance to the Hasenheide was along a rather desolate stretch of street that made the park seem doubly foreboding. I lived in Berlin for two whole years before stepping foot inside the park, I tell Jordi, as we walk through it, and as someone offers to sell us pot.

Today is a rather grim day, the sun hiding behind rain-heavy clouds, though we’re just nearing lunch time, and even in winter Berlin, the sun hasn’t set yet. The sloping hills of Hasenheide and its hidden green inlets are visible between the stark trunks of stripped trees. We’ve cut through the park because it’s the fastest way to get from Soluna Brot und Öl in Kreuzberg, the last stop on our Berlin food tour, to Schiller Burger in Neukölln, the next. We’re finding the park surprisingly big, but also beautiful in its slick bleak wetness.

I’m thinking about how places become yours in cities, as we walk through a park that’s bordered two of my past neighborhoods without ever becoming mine. You discover some places by accident, others are recommended by friends. Some places you really like, you never return to. Others you didn’t feel much for at first, you find yourself in again and again.

Schiller Burger was a staple of my life in Neukölln, especially on lazy weekends, when David and I would interrupt a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon only to walk up the hill from Rathaus Neukölln past Spätis and junk shops and old German dive bars with lace curtains on the windows like someone’s dark, faded living room. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 1 – Rise & Shine

Eating Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Perhaps we were overly ambitious. Jordi and I met on the Bernauer Straße platform at 7:00 a.m., groggy, sleep-wrecked, and hungry. So hungry, I, at least, was on the verge of hangry. I should have known better than to skip breakfast before embarking on a journey from Schöneberg at the southern end of the ring to Prenzlauer Berg in the north, even if our plan was to spend the day running around the city eating.

But we went ahead and shot a few scenes in the bluish early-morning light. We had some time before Bonanza, the first stop on our tour, opened at 8:00 a.m. By the time we walked the length of Bernauer Straße, past the Mauerpark flea market and clusters of iron poles marking where the Wall once stood, we were both so excited for coffee.

Bonanza was suspiciously dark. At first, we chalked it up to Berlin’s lackadaisical approach to opening hours. Upon closer inspection, we realized that it didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Feeling the tired pull a lack of caffeine can have on a serious addict, and by this time both pretty hangry, we called it quits, took the train up to Osloer Straße and had breakfast in Jordi’s apartment: croissants from the little bakery downstairs, thick slices of soft, mild cheese and coffee boiled on the stovetop moka. At 10:00 a.m., we took the train back down to Bernauer Straße and started over again. As if 7:00 a.m. had never happened.

Subway stairs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There was a lot going on behind-the-scenes in the making of this little film. Mainly because, have you ever tried talking to a camera all day? It is hard.

You’re so preoccupied with trying to sound smart, funny, and natural all at the same time, that you end up sounding like a parody of yourself – which is, of course neither smart nor funny nor natural. » Continue reading this post…

Around the World in… As Many Days as it Takes

Jordi on the streets of Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

An Interview with Jordi Garcia Rodriguez, founder of No Solo Travel Chronicles

I’ve met so many interesting people in Berlin whose projects I admire and whose creativity inspires me. My friend Jordi is one of them. We met a little over two years ago, probably at the Späti, right when David and I first started dating. That summer, every weekend began at the Späti. It’s nothing special – a convenience store, a bodega selling drinks and candy and tobacco. There’s a Späti on every other corner in Berlin. But this one captured our attention, perhaps because it was centrally located on Maybachufer, close to bars where we could dance. Perhaps because there was a small wooden table outside where we could sit or a bathroom inside to use. For whatever reason, those summer weekends always started at the Späti with cold bottles of Tyskie and the dusky smell of hand-rolled cigarettes.

We were a diverse and international crew. Usually there were at least three languages bouncing back and forth across the table, and everybody’s interests were varied. But that kept things exciting.

Jordi’s project was to travel around the world on his motorcycle. He’d just made it official: No Solo Travel Chronicles, a type of personalized, interactive journalism. You could ask him to find something from another country for you or document an experience you’d love to have but couldn’t for whatever reason. Along the way, he’d film his travels and write about the people he met and experiences he had, creating an interconnected global network.

The summer ended, as all things do, and Jordi left for Turkey, the first stop on his around-the-world journey. Even the next summer, we didn’t go back to the Späti again, as if its whole magic had been used up in those months.

When Jordi came back to Berlin to earn some more money before starting the next leg of his journey, we met in different places and started talking about collaborating on joint projects. » Continue reading this post…

The Best Laid Plans

Poached eggs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Thank you today, for being February. Thank you, burdensome bane of January for being past. Where did the time go slash why was that such a long month? And why is it that when I really want to make some resolutions and see them through to eternal happiness and a realm of well-manicured calm, the universe decides that those were foolish plans? The to-do list seems hopeless, the meetings unmanageable, the zombie-apocalypse dreams are really getting old.

In other news, I’ve been learning how to poach eggs.

Learning How to Poach Eggs is part of a larger project called Self-Improvement, with subcategories like Keeping Your Plants Alive, Understanding Social Media and Your Place in It, and Buying Chairs for the Apartment You’ve Been Living in for 1 Year. Please see the optimistic post from two weeks ago about New Year’s resolutions for all my hopelessly quaint ideas on How to be a Better Me. (January Seminar: Soothing Your Inner Cynic.)

In any case, here’s what makes poaching eggs so hard. Every egg, like a precious snowflake, is different. New eggs poach better than old eggs (though old eggs peel better than new), but apart from that – who knows what trouble lurks beneath those smooth, impassive shells. Some eggs, no matter how gently I’d slip them into my carefully vortexed and vinegared water, would explode on contact and feather out in sad, fannish strands. I’d poach an almost perfect egg – and then, when I’d try to replicate it, not to mention improve upon it, I’d end up with sticky yolk running over gummy, wet albumen. It can be heartbreaking, learning how to poach an egg.

Eggs in the shell (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So no, I still don’t have a fool-proof method for poaching eggs. I’m still synthesizing Jamie and Julia and whatever other Food Network star has something to say on the topic. » Continue reading this post…

Always

At Epcot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The hardest things to write are the ones that matter most. For three weeks, I haven’t written anything, not a poem, a post or even a journal entry. And it’s not because there hasn’t been anything to write about, but because the one thing I really wanted to write was impossible for me to process. My grandmother, my namesake, champion, and friend, passed away on December 18th, peacefully and surrounded by family.

But even a good death isn’t easy for the ones you leave behind. What a bizarre contrast, to feel the love and joy of Christmas, and yet mourn an irreplaceable loss. A heavy heart can still smile, but its weight throws you off-kilter, turning a laugh just as quickly into a sob.

She was a woman larger than life, filling a room with her presence, her conversation. Even her clothes were loud – bright purples and blues and reds, preferably accented with sequins or feathers or fur. And for the grandchildren, she was like a magnet. She demanded hugs, kisses, snuggles – and we gave them freely, instinctively.

A ready hug (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

She spoiled all of us. I remember as a child, when she came to town, she’d cook an entire pack of bacon just for me, and she made it just right – soft and wriggly so you could taste all the flavor of fat. And she’d make me an egg-in-toast. I’d stand by the stove, eyes barely high enough to peek over the counter, as she cut a round out of the buttered bread. I loved the sizzle of egg as it hit the hot skillet smack in the center of the hole. To me, it was culinary magic. They were special meals, the only time besides holidays when breakfast was a big deal.

With as much vivid clarity, I remember her singing me to sleep. » Continue reading this post…

The Turkey (a Thanksgiving Poem)

Turkey ready to roast (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Slowly roasting in the oven
are the chestnuts for the stuffing
and the bread whose top is crusting,
while the pies that line the counter –
lemon, mince and plum and apple –
share a gleaming spot of sunlight
with a heaping of delightful
green beans, relish, candied yams;
stacked high ladles, pots, and pans
fill the sink to overflowing,
as the cooks keep stirring dishes
and dear uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife.

Aunt Belinda in the kitchen
is in charge of all the mixing,
the potatoes and the gravy,
the green salad, peas, and pastry.
What’s leftover goes to Mother
with her pantry prowess bared.
She’s been up since seven thirty
basting thick the frozen turkey
while her darling husband relishes
the TV’s golden glow
and the giant bird is soaking
in the juices all its own.
Aunt Belinda shouting orders
fills the kitchen with her roar
while involuntary winces
lurk in mother’s charming smile.
Still dear Uncle Albert minces
with the cold, hard slicing
of the knife, knife, knife. » Continue reading this post…

Clap Along If You Know

Blooming tulips (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Homemade bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I know I’m hopping on this train way late (like, way way late), but I’ve been thinking a lot about that Pharell Williams song “Happy” lately. And as my boyfriend can tell you, thinking a lot about means listening a lot to. And since the walls of our apartment are thin, our neighbors could probably tell you that too.

What I love about this song (besides its catchy hook and the way it makes you want to bounce around your bedroom in socks) is its simplicity. “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Clap along if you know what happiness is to you. Clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do.”

Of course that’s what I want to do! Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet too often, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’m stressed or tired, overwhelmed or just fine. I’m good. What a platitude.

The bedecked breakfast table (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I watched a weird documentary once that said consciously looking for positivity makes you a more positive person. Your mood is regulated by the way you view the world and things like that. Smiling when you’re angry makes you less angry. (Try it sometime. It works. Disgusting.) So to be happier people, we don’t need to wait for our life circumstances to change, we just need to identify the moments that make us happy and let them soak in.

So what is happiness to me?

Today, it was the loaf of bread I pulled out of the oven, the very first loaf of bread I’ve ever baked.

It was having breakfast with David in the morning. The ritual of setting out plates and coffee mugs, toasting bread, shaving slices of cheese, opening jars of honey and jam. » Continue reading this post…

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