If loneliness had a shape, it would be a cup of tea cooling on a white table. It is important that the table be empty, except, perhaps, for an open jar of honey and a naked spoon, just as it is important that the tea be cooling. The things themselves, hot tea and a honey pot are comforting things, but they are starkly separated on the table like sentinels. Nearly touching, but not. The cup will be blue and the honey pot smeared with stickiness along its sides. The type of tea won’t matter, but it should be sliced ginger and mint, so that the weak wisp of steam rising from the cup carries a faint, hopeless whisper of exoticism. The spoon will rest on the table like a compass point, as if to offer an answer. But the cup and the honey lie passive, waiting for an active agent – it must be the drinker of the tea – to dip the spoon in the honey, to drop a knob, sweet and the color of corn silk, into the tea. Are they any less lonely then, the cup and the pot? Or is it like this: the honey dissolves into the hot tea like a shipwrecked man in an ocean and the ocean is a little changed, but impassive and its own thing, alone. » Continue reading this post…
Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category
“Have you ever noticed the farting sound the doors to the metro make as they’re closing?” Jamie says to me as we step into the train heading south from the antique markets at Porte de Clignancourt. I hadn’t – but now it’s all I hear. Soft little train tufts.
We finally felt comfortable in Paris. It had taken a while. First, there were the overwhelming tourists. And because of the overwhelming tourists, there were far too many underwhelming restaurants. Our first few days in Paris, I’d found myself disappointed. Untoasted slices of bread with dry paté for seven euros? Heavily salted, monochromatic beef bourgingnon for nine? A cappuccino for five fifty? Kidding, right? We’d discovered a few gems – miniature croque madames carefully wrapped in brown paper, tight little cups of espresso over whose thin white lips we watched fashion’s finest stroll by, fluorescent macaroons with silky fillings – but our edible despondency was apparent.
Until the day before, when we’d walked across all of Paris, through the Latin Quarter and along the wide banks of the Seine, up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and then up, over, and around the winding streets of Montmartre.
We sat on a small, grassy knoll just beneath Sacre-Coeur, Jamie sleeping off his jetlag. I watched lovers walk by, watched the women in stilettos, the baby buggies, the tourists with their tripods, the woman in the pink hat singing opera. A flock of pigeons landed beside us in a cooing frenzy and just as quickly fluttered off, the shock of air from their wings ruffling my hair. Parts of the Pompidou glinted through the haze like slipping silver fish. The light like rose water and creamsicles.
Paris, unfurling from the top of Sacre-Coeur. Domes and spires and hedges of tetris-packed buildings rolling out like a concrete sea. » Continue reading this post…
My great uncle had always been old. From the time I was young, he’d been the same Hansvetter – I remember him in a newsboy cap, a cigarette in his hand, his feet covered in slippers. He loved to watch the planes take off from Stuttgart airport. He lived nearby and kept his TV programmed to a bluescreen listing of departures and arrivals so he’d know which planes were heading where as he watched them fly into the sky. When I’d visit, he’d ask when I was leaving, what plane I’d be on and tell me he’d track me as I took off.
A few distinct memories recur when I think of my great uncle. Every time we came by he’d ask, in a slow, loud Schwäbisch drawl if we understood what he was saying. It can’t be reproduced in print, but it’s something like that joke about Americans speaking loud, slow English in foreign countries as if it turns their words into something other than loud, slow English. For Hansvetter, it was a question of whether we could understand his dialect. And no matter how many times we said, yes, this crazy south German dialect (incomprehensible to even many northern Germans) makes complete sense to us, he’d always shake his head astounded and say, “Well, you just speak such good German.”
Well, yes, we’ve been speaking it our whole lives.
I drove to the South this weekend for Hansvetter’s funeral. On my way there, I thought of how our language and our dialect works to shape our selves. Such a large part of why I’m in Germany is to understand myself as well in this language as I do in English. Yes, Hansvetter, I grew up speaking German, but in a way, you’re right – it’s a foreign language to me still. » Continue reading this post…
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve bathed my laptop in liquids one too many times and I have killed it. Killed it dead. Marley was dead: to begin with, as my dear, dear Dickens said. And it’s getting to be that season anyway, though the weather is unseasonably warm here in Berlin. I took a long bike ride today, partly because the weather was so nice – and partly because I had to go to O2 to see if they could get the internet to work on this wonderful computer my dear friend Elisabeth has lent me – they can’t.
So, my laptop, my love is dead. My internet does not exist. I am shut off and out of the world. And here’s a secret. When, after two hours, the nice man at O2 told me the internet wasn’t going to work, I cursed the heavens silently, first, and then I felt – relief. Although I don’t know if that is exactly the right word. There should be a word that means something in between resignation and freedom. So don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think I’m upset to be shut off and out the world. I can feel my brain blossoming.
Of course, the only thing to do the night I broke my laptop was to leave the apartment. To find my way to a champagne party whose address I wasn’t quite sure of since the internet had failed before I could plot my meticulous way across the city. To leave the scene of horror, half-sopped liquid still puddled on the floor, and go to meet people and drink champagne with berries and talk it out and then go dance it out. I know nothing more cathartic than hip hop and sweat. But the next day, my first day, waking up to a laptop pried open and drying on a chair, battery expunged (I learned that much from the first time I dropped a drink in the keyboard…), I didn’t know what to do. » Continue reading this post…
It’s not so bad, really, to live without an appendix. It was nice, sometimes, to take walks with my appendix, to run errands with my appendix, even to have lunch with my appendix. But it wasn’t really until my appendix was gone, that I realized what it was to miss my appendix. I took walks, I ran errands, I ate lunch, and yet, I felt a hole, an appendix-shaped hole, right where my appendix used to be. It’s been a few months now, since my appendix was taken from me, and I feel a little solace, looking at the three small scars on my belly where at least something was given to me in exchange. I’ve grown to like those little scars, to like them almost more than I liked my appendix, since when I had it with me, I didn’t pay much attention to my appendix at all.
I’m alone in Berlin now. It’s strange how, when there were people in the apartment, all I wanted was to be alone and quiet and now, when I’m alone and it’s quiet, all I want is someone else.
This morning, I sent my mother off to the airport at six, and fell back into a cautious sleep. When I woke up, the apartment was already a different place. It was more silent, heavier; I was afraid of the sound of my voice. I’d never paid attention to my mother’s breath, but now that it wasn’t there, I knew what it was to miss her.
I am not comparing my mother to my appendix. How grotesque. I’m only saying that we often spend more time clacking after what we don’t have rather than listening for the presence of the things that are with us. Our lives are in a flux of having and not having and almost always, what we have we will at some point lose. » Continue reading this post…
I figured I’d go out with a bang. Something simple and celebratory that said, “Good food is a good life” and “I’m really tired from work” at the same time. It was time to dig through the pantry for cans unopened, vegetables unused, ideas unexplored. I found harissa. I thought: cinnamon, sweet potato, collards.
I played Adele very loud at the inconvenience of my neighbors. I sang along even louder. I thought, I have yoga-d, I have showered, and now I am cooking in the warm light of my kitchen. This is as ready as I’ll ever be to meet the hereafter. Assuming the hereafter is upon us in the next twenty minutes.
I remembered that when I was doing yoga, the rooster crowing at five in the afternoon was a sign. A frantic and unheeded sign. But now, with the sweet potatoes softening in a bed of onion, garlic, cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, I remembered also that the rooster starts to crow at three in the morning and crows, like sick clockwork, seven times in a row every nineteen minutes apart, until late in the afternoon. And by the end of the day his crows are like death throes, implausibly persisting croaks. And before, I had felt the rain to be ominous, wet foretaste of horror.
Now, it brought a cool evening breeze through the window and a calming patter. I remembered that I like rain.
I snapped open a bottle of Weihenstephaner, my right now favorite wheat beer. The apocalypse postponed itself, I think to give me time to really taste crisp wheat and honey, blue sky, the remembrance of bananas. I remembered that I don’t like bananas.
Two tortillas grilled on the gas stove’s open flame. Collards just simmering into a spicy tomato-laced harissa sauce. Crumbled feta. Everything wrapped in the tortilla. » Continue reading this post…
The dough speaks into your hands. It begs for touch, begs to be pressed and squeezed until the rocking of your hands is just the rhythm of breathing. It bends into your fingers, almost sighs as it twists into shape. Like a pliable lover, the dough responds to the guided pressure of a palm or the fingertips’ gentlest roll. The hands feel when the dough is done; the soft and elastic transition from disparate pieces to one yielding whole. The moment is indescribable, intuitive. And when the dough is done, you gently cover it and let it rest, somewhere safe and warm.
Last night, I rolled out dough for pasta. I heard my roommate say my name. “Are you ok?” she asked and pulled me back into the room. I felt my face loosen from its consternated knit and the rhythmic pounding of my hands slow to slackness. My knuckles rested casually on the dough, the touch a reminder of presence, and I laughed.
“I was somewhere else,” I said, and she laughed too. She went back to her phone conversation, and I began to roll out the dough again, but it was colder – stiffer, as if the break had ruined some fluid climax. As if it wanted forgiveness from my hands.
I’ve been kneading bread, pizza, pasta – and as my hands work into dough, I understand it’s just a metaphor for that other word, that I am needing, too – gentleness, patience, touch.
A friend of mine said, “My gift to the world is smiling.” And I realized, we don’t project nearly enough love into the world, especially in New York, where the train you need to take is always imminent, the line too long and slow, time too divided. Maybe that’s why I’m kneading. It’s nothing but time and some muscle, like love displaced into food, though for me, food is always love. » Continue reading this post…
It’s been a minute. I’ve missed you. I never told you about Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years and all the magnificent food I cooked and holiday observations I made. I didn’t write about the Greek Meatballs or the Fancy Vegas Dinner, the Skirmish with Lamb Marrow, or the Million Clove Dinner Party. I took a few pictures, but not enough. I let my errands run me. But now I find myself wedged into a MegaBus seat with no WiFi, my copy of Fear and Loathing (plus commentary) finished, fifteen minute nap done (and besides, I told myself I wouldn’t nap this time), and I think it’s time to write a little. It’s part of my New Years Resolution, I guess – to write more. That, and to actually remove the makeup from my face before I go to bed, keep my toenails painted, and use my Crockpot more often. And to be generally nicer.
I’m on my way back to New York from a weekend visiting one of my oldest friends (by which I mean, we have been friends since the age of four) in State College, PA. It’s a snowy drive, and the big windows are streaked with salt spray, which makes the view grim. I feel especially sorry for the people who have been riding this WiFi-less bus since Pittsburgh.
Although it looks, at least, like everyone else’s seat reclines.
We’re pulling into a travel station, and I’m tempted to get a hot dog. Nothing as extravagant, of course, as the hot dogs my friend said she used to get at Hoss’, where they’d carve her name into the unlucky wiener. These are weird moods of mine.
It could be being back in Pennsylvania, where, growing up, a special meal out was at Applebee’s and something super fancy got celebrated at the Olive Garden. » Continue reading this post…