Simple Pleasures

FrenchVillageCafeHaving a lemon tree I can’t help but think about France, and there are a few American things (I have to use my imagination) that can put me at a sidewalk café, mid-afternoon, for a pause and some people-watching. One of them is citron pressé.

Some say citron pressé is just a fancy French name for lemonade, but, I disagree. Citron pressé is made to order, by the glass rather than the pitcher. Order this drink at any café in France, and the waiter will bring you a tall glass filled with ice and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. Alongside your glass you’ll receive a carafe of cold water, and one, maybe two, sugars. You adjust the water and sugar to taste.

The first time I had citron pressé I was visiting my friend Karen.  It was August 1992 and she was living in Geneva. We had crossed the French border to Annecy. We had spent the afternoon walking around the old city and it was time for a pause. It was humid and I ordered a citron pressé and I was immediately intrigued because I happen to like a tart taste.

Because it is so tart, you have to sip it, which makes the taste, and the pause, last that much longer. Try the recipe below and see if you don’t agree.

Ingredients:
Ice
4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pitcher of chilled water
Granulated sugar

Preparation:
Put a small amount of ice into 2 glasses
Pour 2 oz lemon juice into each glass
Add water and stir in sugar to taste

Makes 2 servings.

Enjoy the airy keyboards, can you hear the sun shining?

Mine, all Mine

landscape_nrm_1424300634-532820099Today is my blog’s sixth birthday. I started this blog as a way to document my travels but it evolved into something else. It also happens to be a gray day. With global warming, summers have become so constant and long and tedious, that I love these days. They remind me of Berlin and my life there. It’s not just the light – which, particularly with the winter dimness, had a soft beauty all its own. It’s that part of a European city morning – like when I would walk in the mornings, the city would be, in many ways, all mine.

Sure, there were people on the streets. In the cafés, there were the workers – both those who just came off the night shift and those starting their day.

For those on their way home, they would sit with their heavy meal and a glass of beer, surrounded by coworkers, laughing, joking and doing a dawn version of Happy Hour.

For those on the way to work, they were leaning against the bar with a coffee, possibly reading the paper, getting ready to start the grind.

On the streets there were the students, piling onto the buses and into the Ubahn stations. I enjoyed them the most, walking in threes or fours, taking up the whole of the sidewalk as they call out to the friends ahead and behind. Teasing each other on their way to school.

As for me, I would walk along, looking at trees and buildings that – no matter how many times I had seen them would surprise me with their enormous beauty. Because the thing I never expected and of which I’d be instantly reminded is that, no matter how beautiful nature is in pictures, she’s even more beautiful in person.

And so, I would go to my corner bakery and sit and have my zwiebel brotchen and cappuccino. It was an event and I treated it as such. After all, shops – even supermarkets – didn’t open until 8 am, so this was something to celebrate!

It would give me the opportunity to remember once again (as if I need reminding) why I love European cities so much.

Obey the Rules…miss the fun

When I lived in Europe, a part of me felt right at home, although I hated snow; the lack of the suns rays affected my mood. Although the German mentality was harsh for my sensibilities,  I found them similar to the French… a friend for life. That’s my m.o. None of that here today, gone tomorrow BFF nonsense for me. Had I been able to escape the long winter it would have been ideal.  What I found most favorable is that I discovered literary places in no time. And I developed friendships with other artists that came from various countries.No BFF nonsense

I never felt that way in New York city; it seemed to be much more of a culture clash than a foreign country. I left with only one friend, a single woman who was a  sensitive and talented writer my age. Her parents were from Ireland.

scarlettI thought New York was an infinite space… it left me with the feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within myself as well. Each time I took a walk, I felt as if I were leaving myself behind.Kate

 

The reason for my ease in a foreign country is that I grew up with foreign  parents, and having “culture” in the suburbs was then an abnomally. Being raised and educated in the U.S., I was not in my parents world either. Thus I felt like an outsider, living between two cultures. I experience that now; a misfit; a city girl living in the desert , where I’m too old to be young, but too young to be old.

 

JBDanceNot associating with many of the “traditional American values,” I thought them to be silly, but as it turned out the Europeans found them amusing. Here’s a list:

Driving everywhere

Cheerleaders

Drinking coffee on the go

Large food portions

Alma Mater obsession

The Prom

Believing that the U.S.A. is a super-power

Fake appearance (nails, implants, white teeth)

Walmart (One-Stop Shopping)

Violence in the Media

Strangers Smiling

Loudness

Television crazed

I am incredibly grateful to have lived my life elsewhere, as a multicultural experience. And to be able to share it with others. Have you ever lived in or visited a foreign country long enough to hear the quirks that others believe? Tell me about it. MP

 

 

Olé

There was a time in my life if I couldn’t afford to buy Stuart Weitzman, Sergio Rossi, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade or Via Spiga shoes, I wouldn’t buy anything at all. At that time Nine West came into being and was practical for my budget, but I have never been a practical shopper and prefer quality over quantity.  It’s easy to spend money when you have it, but I made it an art to live like I had it when I didn’t. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t give in and kept my principles—you can skimp somewhere else but never on your feet.holding-a-fan

This week I was in a department store buying cosmetics—and passed the shoe dept.  You’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing.  Hold on, I’m getting there. I breezed by and saw a pair of Nine West strappy high heel black suede sandals that were a knock-out.  I consider the brand cheap; I’m not talking merely price but because they are made from hard, stiff synthetic materials. I have a high arch and good feet that rarely tire, but I like to stand and walk for great lengths of time, and I can, because I buy high quality shoes.  I’m of the mind-set that a good pair of shoes you won’t feel and worth a financial sacrifice over physical pain.  I didn’t stop to try the heels on, but there was something about them that took hold. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

In a mist, later it came to me.  In Berlin, having signed up for a two month dance class in  beginner’s flamenco at the Centro be Baile with a red-headed Austrian teacher named Karin, who acted as a welcome committee for all the beginner dancers, she introduced students to teachers and to one another. Friendly, I thought; I liked her and admired her black strappy shoes.  Turns out she married a Spaniard and thus began to dance and began her love of all things Español.  On the battered wooden dance floor, I stood in the third row beside a shy German computer programmer and a two Dutch librarians who yearned to tap their inner fire. Behind us in the fourth row of dancers were a lithe Turkish office girl and Lola, a Yugoslavian transvestite a head taller than the other girls with shiny black hair and short flouncy skirts who already stoked the flames.

austrianI went through the eight weeks—long enough to master a few steps and I mimicked the teacher with as much emotion as I could muster. At one point Karin commanded, (Austrians like Germans are fond of commands) that I hold my laughter, “like you just took a bite out of a lemon.” I held my head up, stiffened my spine and continued to attack the floor.

Have you ever taken a class and a fellow student turned out to be a sketch for a character study?  Share your comments—I’d love to hear your stories.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FDXPYE0nVw

Auf Wiedersehen

I’m always thrown for a loop when someone I admire has passed away. It makes me think of how short our lives are. Today I heard about film critic, Roger Ebert and recall the many times I watched him flag his hands in the air and took heed to his either thumbs up or thumbs down that became his moniker.  He echoed my sentiments when he said—Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs — but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience.

His statement brings to mind the many hours I spent at the Coronet in San Francisco, the Rialto in South Pasadena, the Los Feliz (that has since been converted into a boring tri-plex) that was in walking distance to my home; and the Aero Theatre on Montana that was a short hop to my stay in Santa Monica.  These old theaters were my sanctuary, a place where my dreams were made.

Last night another blow— and another light extinguished—Oscar-winning screenwriter and award-winning novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died.  Ruth

Her death made me think of my time in Berlin, in 1990, when I walked into a used English book and video rental store and picked up a copy of In Search of Love and Beauty written by her in 1983.  It was published a decade later in the U.S. I was reading European classics at the time, avidly, so much in fact that I was intellectually living in a different world that was around me. Until I discovered her… she brought me down to earth.

I had seen her films and knew of her work as a screenwriter and member of Merchant Ivory Productions but had not read her novels until then.

The characterization of Leo Kellermann as a charmer and manipulator made him shallow and devoid of personality and it was a hilarious read. It was so convincing that he could weave people around his little finger which was an important theme in the book. 

Jewish by birth, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born and raised in Germany and escaped to England before marrying an Indian architect and settling in Delhi, so her choice of themes were hardly surprising.

The best of her books were set in India and her novels centered on the petty snobberies, self-delusion and close family ties of post-colonial Indian society, to which she later added the ambivalent experiences of seekers – Westerners who journey to India in search of mystical enlightenment. Her books reflected her own affection for, and impatience with, her adopted country. As a foreigner myself, and living in Germany where she originated, I could identify with her feelings. 

In any event, both their passing is a significant loss to the film community.

Dating in the dark

atapartyDating in the Dark

When I moved to Europe I had romantic ideas of love waiting to be discovered amidst the land of poets, classical musicians and thinkers of Germany.  On a wild streak, I had an Italian love-affair. Every afternoon I romped and indulged.  It was either with a Ferrero Rocher; a whole hazelnut, coated in chocolate, surrounded by a hazelnut filling, and encased in a nut shell or a Raffaelo, a half almond, surrounded by meringue and milk cream, encased in coconut wafer and coated with coconut flakes.  They became my obsession. Both seduced me with a delicate taste which appeals and pleases my taste buds. But it wasn’t a mere passing fancy; a love them and leave them; I’m too serious for that. I knew I had to go a step further. I bought a jar of Nutella and experimented to come up with my own creation.

Today being Valentines’ day I will share this hazelnut goody with a hint of cocoa that is embarrassingly easy to make.  When I started making it — I felt that it was just the sort of indulgence that cold weather demands, but I have since decided that something this good; and this simple to conjure into being, needs to be in all our lives…year round.

I’ve enjoyed it as a dessert, occasionally for breakfast but my favorite time to partake is late afternoon for a Kaffeeklatch, with a cup of Illy espresso.

Nutella Marble Pound Cake   nutellapoundcake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
4 Large Eggs At Room Temperature
2 Teaspoons Pure Vanilla
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Sticks Butter (1/2 Pound) Softened
1 Cup Sugar
13 oz jar Nutella Spread

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 9 X 5 inch pan.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add this to the egg/butter mixture in three batches, beating just until mixed.
Remove one-third of the mixture to a separate bowl and stir in the Nutella.
Pour half the remaining pound cake mixture into the prepared pan, and add the Nutella mixture on top, gently smoothing it, and top with the remaining pound cake batter.
Bake the cake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Cool for 15 minutes then remove from the pan, and allow it to cool at room temperature before serving.  And don’t worry: It may look a tad pale when whole, but when sliced; its dark depths are revealed.

Mangia Bene.