‘Deliciously Ella’

                Ella Woodward with her famous vegan coconut Thai curry with chickpeas

Last week I missed Uki’s birthday. To make up for it, I baked her a cake, a vegan one. It was also sugar-free and wheat-free, made from dinkel flour and it was shockingly good.

There’s a new food blogger I follow. Her name is Ella Woodward. Her blog is ‘Deliciously Ella’. I’ve unearthed all of these marvelous vegan recipes there. I was vegan-vegetarian between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. Then last week, mysteriously, after my fortieth yoga class, I came home and suddenly decided to try a vegetarian diet all over again.

I started researching vegetarian cooking. I started making mass amounts of vegan recipes: coconut Thai curry with chickpeas, courgette noodles with avocado pesto, experimenting with dairy-free coconut yogurt, chocolate mousses and chia seed puddings. Aside from the cooking frenzy, I continued my hunt for more literary agents and spent my remaining time finishing this Paul Auster novel, ‘Invisible’.

Shona is back from Dubai. She asked me to meet her at our favorite hotel bar. The one we go to before hot yoga. The hotel I like because they always have spare copies of ‘The Financial Times’ in the lobby. I didn’t really know what to wear that day; the weather was fickle. I showed up in a pair of black shorts, black tights and an eggplant-colored pull-over. I put on my beige trench coat just in case it rained. Shona asked me to meet her at four so we might have plenty of time to catch-up before our five-thirty class. When I arrived, she was with a man, medium build, in jeans and a suit coat with a blue scarf tied artfully about his neck. When I extended my hand and said ‘Ich bin Isabell’, I had the feeling I was being set-up. There was something about the mischievous way he smiled at me that threw me slightly off balance. There he stood, looking at me as if he wanted to rope me in. Or rather looking at Shona and me as if we were twins, intimately linked. Which made no sense. Not initially. 

Ten minutes after sitting down, things started to come together…

Apparently things had gone wrong, terribly wrong for Shona during her two week romance with the ‘Dubai-Guy’. Boarding the flight back to Hamburg, she met someone else, a man she had known several years back. ‘Johannes’ had, coincidentally, just been in Dubai to take his teenage son swimming in the Persian Gulf. Shortly before my arrival, Shona had been talking to him about how much she wants a second child. Their children are roughly the same age. Each of them are divorced.

Shona, at nearly forty, she (not unlike me) fears she is running out of time. Our biological clocks are like time bombs threatening to go off in the distance. Johannes is fifty-one. She says she likes him. He’s intelligent, and a successful businessman. In other words, he is resourceful. He is very healthy. He doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks. There are no major debilitating diseases in his family. (She asked.)  He works out and special orders this very pure green tea from some mountainous region of China which sells for eight hundred euro per kilo. He has a house on the seaside which she says is beautiful and an apartment in the city. He wants to have a second child, before he is too old to actually enjoy a second child. The two of them were negotiating the specifics of a potential ‘arrangement’ before I arrived at their table.

How shall we do this? I can come to your house once a week for the next month…

Or, he said, sliding his empty wine glass across the table, I can just give it to you in something like this.

Shona told him she preferred to try the wine glass method first.

She excitedly detailed all of this to me as we hurriedly made our way to the yoga studio. Each time we go to yoga class and she spots a pregnant woman, she insists we move our mats to stand on opposite sides of her, whispering she hopes whatever this woman has will rub off on us. I tell her catching a pregnancy, like one might catch a common cold, is biologically impossible. She laughs.

Back to Johannes. She’s waxing on and on about him. Uh-huh, I nod. Then, seeing her fixed determination, I secretly wonder if he has any like-minded friends he might introduce me to.

Breathless, Shona continues.

He said I would have full custody rights of the child. He’s even willing to map it out with his lawyer beforehand.

I told him I want to move to Mozambique and launch my own organic herb farm.

He says he could always fly in for visits to see the child…

At this point, I feel utterly overwhelmed. The details of this plan are growing increasingly sketchy but the writer in me can’t help being intrigued. So I encourage the slightly zany turn of an already madcap conversation. Then I suddenly understand the very pointed question Johannes directed at me moments into our tea.

Do you have children, he inquired and with a smile.

No.

Would you like one?

I would love one, I said, and then felt too trustful and hence uneasy, shocked by my forthright answer to a near stranger.

Back to Shona.

Are you sure you don’t want to try for a real relationship first? Then I remember she tried that in Dubai with the ‘Dubai-Guy’. Despite liking one another and wanting the same things, i.e., a ‘serious’ relationship, children, after several weeks texting and talking on the phone, after a couple of weeks in Dubai together, it was obvious, they would not be compatible in the long-term. Not enough common feeling, not enough electricity, not the meeting of the minds (and too hearts) she had hoped for. There wasn’t that indescribable quality of sizzling mental and physical attraction, and deep playful affection (so important) and mutual understanding that magnetizes two people and spurs them to want to be together in the long-term.

You know the feeling, have you ever had it, the sense that you can just read someone? And you just want to keep reading them because it feels good and somehow unexpectedly you feel you just sort of want them in your life, no matter how irrational that prospect may be? It’s instinct. Far beyond reason. But you know if you fail to follow that instinct you simply won’t be happy.

You’re changed by them. But in the best of ways. You look at things differently now and you like the way you feel about them and the thoughts you have about them and you don’t want to go back to the way things were before them. And you never thought that would be possible

Is it chemical?

Spiritual?

A combination of both?

Whatever Shona and the ‘Dubai-Guy’ had was temporary. Cajoling her over cups of bitter green tea, I say, well, you never know how it will work out with the next one…

Before I know it, we’re both sprawled out on the floor of the yoga studio, sweaty and exhausted.

Savasana.

An Evening of Will

I live with a physicist and an economist. Sonke (there are two umlauts over the “o” but my keyboard will not make them) and Manuel. They’re seated at the table in the dark-lit kitchen, drinking glasses of red wine. They’ve just offered me a glass which I’ve declined. My flatmates. I never see them. They’re like two silent big blond cats who creep about. Even when they’re here (which they rarely are), it seems they’re not here. Each of them are tall and red-featured. They could pass for brothers. Sonke has a child, a little boy, and he is always with his child. Manuel works very long, very unusual hours. I spend my time in my cove of the apartment writing.

Next month I will live alone. This flatmate circumstance was only meant to be temporary. I agreed to it out of convenience. I wanted to get to Hamburg right away despite the fact that my apartment would not be immediately available. I expected to be here until 1 August. Instead I will move 1 July. This pleases, I suppose but I am in no great mood to pack. However, it simply must be done.

Today I went to yoga, endured my 36th class. It was blissful at times, torturous at times. Akin to life, I suppose. After yoga class I sat and devoured, I will state it again, devoured, the first third of this Paul Auster novel, ‘Invisible’. So good. So good, it is hard to put down.

Tonight I walked down the street to the store to pick up olive oil and fresh lemon for a salad made with radicchio, avocado and quinoa. As I walked through a dusky courtyard, took a short-cut, I saw a blind man struggling with his white walking stick. He could not find the door to his apartment. I stopped and silently waited, watched and attempted to will him with my mind to find his way. (Does a will, a will of consciousness, qualify as a sort of prayer?) After several moments, I couldn’t bare it anymore. I walked up and despite my shaky German, inquired if he needed help. I took my hand and put it over his hand and guided the key to his lock and then watched him walk to the door of his flat.

Vielen Danke, he said.

Kein Problem.

Guten Abend.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative ‘Genius’

Writer, Elizabeth Gilbert

Poet, Ruth Stone

I had no plans to post today. I did not expect to blog again until the weekend. But then something unexpected happened…Between perusing ‘The Financial Times’ and sifting through the pages of German ‘People’ magazine, I thought about a TED talk I’d seen by Elizabeth Gilbert some years ago. For those of you who don’t already know, Gilbert is the author of the famed memoir, ‘Eat Pray Love’, adapted into the 2010 film of the same name, starring Julia Roberts. Gilbert’s TED talk is wonderful. So wonderful, I decided to share it here. It took me five years but after this latest viewing, I had an epiphany. Here’s to hoping you have one too.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, ‘An Untamed State’

I’m posting an excerpt from a review of the Roxane Gay novel, ‘An Untamed State‘. Here is the opening from the 9 May 2015 article published in ‘The New York Times’.

‘Contemporary tellings tend to mask the real horrors of the original Brothers Grimm stories and their ilk. We remember the princess and the happy ending. We’d rather forget that a passing stranger raped Sleeping Beauty as she lay unconscious, or that Snow White’s jealous stepmother not only called for her death but wanted to eat her liver and lungs. Roxane Gay’s striking debut novel, “An Untamed State,” is a fairy tale in this vein, its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost…’

For the complete article, see the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/11/books/review/an-untamed-state-by-roxane-gay.html?_r=1

I’ll be updating this blog by the weekend.

‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’

The director outside of his pajamas with Rula Jebreal, VOGUE.com.

It’s close to 3 PM and I realize I’ve had nothing but a cup of coffee all day. What have I been doing? Reading the opening chapters of novels: Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’, Paul Auster’s ‘Invisible’, Zadie Smith’s ‘NW’. I bought all three last week, an incredible indulgence. Soon I will make myself a salad with grilled salmon. But before I do so, I’m posting an interview with painter-director Julian Schnabel, along with the trailer for his 2007 film ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’, based on the memoir of the same name by French journalist, Jean-Dominique Bauby. I love the fact that Schnabel wears his pajamas during interviews. Strange indeed…Yoga this evening, more writing, some editing. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I Also Really Like…

 Julia Restoin RoitfeldGorgeous. One of those women who have a great blog and a great life. Illustration above by artist, Marco Perego. Julia’s blog, a tribute to her daughter, Romy, is entitled: ‘Romy and the Bunnies’. In the clip featured below, Restoin Roitfeld interviews the daughter of the woman whose original best-selling 1940s children’s book, ‘Pat the Bunny’, inspired the name of her blog.

Saturday mid-morning and still so tiredYoga today? A defeated possibly-maybe.

Natalie Wood in William Inge’s ‘Splendor in the Grass’

Natalie Wood, circa 1966

Natalie Wood has a beauty and radiance that carry her through a role of violent passions and depressions with unsullied purity and strength. There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film.

The 1961 film ‘Splendor in the Grass’ starring Natalie Wood, marked Warren Beatty’s Hollywood debut and was directed by the brilliant Elia Kazan (‘On the Waterfront’, ‘East of Eden’). I saw the movie at eleven and it broke my heart. It was one of those films my grandmother, my mother and my aunts had all seen and loved. The afternoon I watched it, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes.

Warren Beatty is startlingly good in the picture and Wood is pure luminosity. It is a simple love story set in the puritanical Kansas of the 1920s. The theme of the film is sexual repression, how an inability to fulfill the heart’s desires lead to the disruption of a great first love.

‘Splendor in the Grass’ was based on a series of characters the playwright William Inge (‘Bus Stop’, starring Marilyn Monroe and ‘Picnic’) grew up with. The writer told the story to famed director, Elia Kazan while the two were collaborating on another Inge play, ‘The Dark at the Top of the Stairs’. Kazan suggested Inge write the story down. Inge wrote the piece first as a novel, and then as a play in which the former teenaged lovers meet in middle age.

After the play version, Inge cut to the heart of the drama, and wrote Deanie (Wood) and Bud’s (Beatty) teenage affair as a screenplay. The film was a huge success, solidifying Beatty as a major screen idol and confirming what Hollywood had known all along: Wood, the striking former child star had evolved into a major actress.

The clips posted below should be viewed in order: 

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/376803/Splendor-In-The-Grass-Movie-Clip-Two-Kinds-Of-Girls.html

1) ‘Two Kinds of Girls’

2) ‘What the Poet Means’

And then finally, ‘Acting Lesson from Natalie Wood’, the video featured above.

 

 

Musings

‘Mamita’, by Inez van Oord and Mirjam Bleeker

This morning I got up, had a shower, coated myself in coconut oil, meditated, wrote in my journal about a dream had the previous evening, and looked at images of art collector, Dasha Zhukova. After watching another BBC documentary narrated by Bettany Hughes, I decided to hunt around for free online classes I might take on antiquity. Disappointingly, I only found one. It is currently being taught by a professor at Wesleyan and is completely full. Once that option proved futile, I decided to look for classes on Russian literature. I did searches for courses on Dostoevsky and Chekov but didn’t find anything. The Russian literary link was one I hoped might further fuel the development of one of the characters in my novel, Anton Sautin who struggles with a Raskolnikov-esque dilemma. Every year or so I entertain going back to school to study something. This in an effort to bring balance to my life and interests. Today I discovered an array of startlingly beautiful book covers. I’m posting one here. If possible, I will post a series of them over the next week. Today, I’ll end with a quote I discovered this morning in one of my Buddhist readings.

“Many things happen in life. There are joyous days and times of suffering. Sometimes unpleasant things occur. But that’s what makes life so interesting. The dramas we encounter are part and parcel of being human. If we experienced no change or drama in our lives, if nothing unexpected ever happened, we would merely be like automatons, our lives unbearably monotonous and dull…develop a strong self so that you can enact the drama of your life with confidence and poise in the face of whatever vicissitudes you may encounter.”

As regards my novel and (eventual) film project, I have a couple of people I sent proposals to who simply never responded. I’m taking that as a positive sign. When a person doesn’t give an outright ‘no’ perhaps it means ‘maybe’.

Letting Him Down Easy

This morning I’m up early after an evening spent at Frank and Uki’s for a Buddhist meeting. There was a wonderful fragrant zucchini-garlic salad served afterward which I did not partake in. Yesterday, after meeting with Shona for a green drink and a walk around the Bine Alster where she gave me a running update on her love life, I went to a restaurant along the River Elbe and had a fantastic seafood soup and pomme frites. Then, stuffed, I jetted over to Frank and Uki’s for the meeting.

Shona. We have tea together at a hotel around the corner from the yoga studio after our weekly Sunday hot yoga. She loves a great story, is funny and pretty and has an innocent charm. She’s always on her mobile texting people, an activity I abhor for myself. She loves What’s Up and all the other social media. Whereas my blog is about the only thing I can handle.

Perhaps I’m speaking of simple generational differences. People who love ‘selfies’ and sharing their lunch over Instagram. Something I find self-obsessed and a bit too trendy. Despite my blog, I actually like a bit of privacy. I frankly don’t understand women who pose pregnant in their underwear on Twitter. What happened to the days when stars ran from the paparazzi? I miss them. Now everyone wants people to look at them naked. One shameless girl after the next will show up for the opening of an envelope. Everyone wants to be a celebrity. 

Enough of of my rant, back to Shona.

She’s got a couple of guys who are in love with her. We talk about the complicated pursuit of our love lives. She’s off to Dubai with a guy just met, a handsome real estate guy from Hamburg who now lives in Dubai. I love the drama of her rather frenetic looming affairs. But am quite happy in this moment to be without a major love drama.

There’s a recent trend in my life. I keep getting getting hit on by men who are far too young for me. I like men who are older. Five, maybe ten years my senior. They feel comfortable and stable. I like men who are earthy, have a life already set up, I can just walk into. They sort of make a space for me. Like I’m the missing piece to a puzzle that finally completes the picture. Twenty-two year old lives are not mere incomplete puzzles, their whole lives are a collection of scattered puzzle pieces.

Nothing about twenty-two spells stability. It may spell fun (for awhile). It also seems to have the capacity to spell chaos and I’m not interested in chaos. I like my main dramas on the page in writing. I like to create the madness myself. I don’t want or need them in my love life. I’m driven and willful, dramatic and passionate enough on my own. Anyone who would push themselves to do hot yoga for three hours would have to be.

There’s another recent trend I should note: complete strangers who approach me in cafes. I’m slightly restless, like to write in public, can only handle being stuck in the house before my laptop for so long. So I often retreat to cafes. But lately I don’t get much writing done because someone inevitably approaches me to talk. It generally goes like this. I’m sitting with my notebook or laptop. I catch someone looking at me. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. They get the courage. They walk up. They generally begin with:

Are you a writer?

Yes, I generally reply.

What are you working on?

A book.

By this time I cringe slightly as I know what the next question will be. The one I have the most difficulty answering.

What’s it about?

It is here I grow befuddled. I am not great at explaining things.

What I’ve come to realize after the tenth or twelfth time this has happened is my answer really doesn’t matter. They don’t really want to know about the book. They want to know about me. They want to know where I live. They want to know why I chose Hamburg. They want to know a bunch of other stuff which is basically none of their business and they will stand around asking questions as long as I am naive and nuts enough to answer them.

Which I admit, I am on occasion.

I was told Hamburg people are not so friendly. My experience is turning out to be the opposite.

Today I have a cold. I walked home in the rain after another intense session of yoga. The rain felt good, indulgent, cool and moody and reminded me of the US Pacific Northwest where I grew up. But after my wet night walk, I woke up with a sore throat which threatens to be with me the remainder of the day.

I’m making a new list of literary agents to approach. I’m preparing to be graceful and polite to the next twenty-two year old. I’m already preparing to let him down easy.