Trippa alla fiorentina, one of my all-time culinary joys, I was first introduced to it in 1981 when my mother tried a recipe from a fancy cookery book, a collection of a former newspaper’s Italy correspondant’s favourite Italian dishes, some sort of culinary memoirs, and therefore the only cookery book my mother would feel inspired by, it was an immediate success with me, I declared it my last meal before being hanged, I then was told Germany didn’t have the death penalty any longer, but what these trippa actually were, I was not told. Years later, however, I found out, when we had moved up north, to a place where ‘trippa’ were only fed to dogs, oh sweet Baden-Wuerttemberg, how I still miss you, you are so much closer to France and Italy, you know what and how to eat (and how to make cars, but that’s just coincidence, I guess), but by then, I had grown worldly enough not to care, a veal’s a veal, whatever part, unless you’re vegetarian of course, or worse, vegan – in that case: vade retro, satanas! Many other a year later, I traveled to Florence, enjoyed the glorious architecture, and finally tried that former Italy correspondant’s recipe “vor Ort”, on my “Lokaltermin”, my on-site inspection, so to say. The place was really nice, the food, however, was not. It tasted just the way it was not supposed to: like dog food.
The hottest thing about Switzerland? Its paprika. Trust me, it’s really hot. So much hotter than I ever expected when I first bought it in Zurich, at my grocer’s next door. You see, when you buy paprika in Germany, you get something mildly spicy, very mildly spicy, especially when you buy it at your nearby supermarket, why that is I can tell you: Germans don’t like spices. Here’s my proof: Once, I had an intern, very smart girl from a very good family that thought the tiny dose of pepper in a dish at a canteen known for their reasonably priced but absolutely unseasoned food, was something of a “Zumutung”, an actual imposition, no irony here, none at all, and she’s not the exception, she’s the rule. But these people love to tell you the English can’t cook, well, try an Indian restaurant in London and one in Hamburg then, ha! Anyway, enough German bashing, I better make my point: the Swiss love spices. At Sprüngli’s, a place rather known for traditional patisserie than exotic recipes, you get a lentil salad that has more Arabian spices in it (and in a higher dosage) than there are Arabs in their country, now try to get such a salad at an equally high toned delicatessen place like Lindner in Hamburg, ha! A sad approach to seasoning. But I’m bashing again, sorry. Anyway, the paprika from Coop in Zurich, really cheap, from their Qualité & Prix range, it doesn’t get any cheaper, that’s real paprika, really hot, wonderfully aromatic, I imported vast amounts, and with some potatoes, onions, sweet peppers, and chorizo, you get a spicy dish, even when you prepare it in Germany.
They’re everywhere, the KaDeWe in Berlin is filled with these little Santa Claus martians, some kind of old school futuristic kitsch, post-midcentury monsters making it to the homes of metrosexual hipsters, giving me the creeps in any of their various colourings, I want to get away, make it to the fifth floor, to get my favourite cake from Lenôtre, but I’m mesmerized, their shiny empty faces seem to captivate us, we’re spellbound by some vapid features, purposeless design, free of any expression, faces void of character and emotion, insignificance galore, like the people from these TV shows in “Fahrenheit 451”, pointless triviality starting at €39,90, so that everybody can have one, but why would anyone want one? Why? And why do I want one? Why?
Cinnamon, the one from Ceylon, is my favourite seasoning in winter, it needs cold temperatures to develop its charm, and apples from our garden, sour and ever so organic apples. So, quite appropriately, on this second advent, all four candles already lit, we’re a very impatient family, the entire house, left and right wing included, smelled of my mother’s cinnamon-apple-pies, flanked by some roses from the hall, like an edible version of Estée Lauder’s Youth-Dew, and while we were having them, with tea of course, it started snowing, and then it started snowing heavily, and then I started worrying if I would make it to the station to get my train to Berlin. I did make it in time, thanks to the only taxi company that hadn’t given up, a 15 km/h one-man show, I was deeply impressed by his dauntless snow-fighting efforts, if Napoleon had been surrounded by such hardy striving, the Russians would speak French today, my train, however, did not. I arrived four hours late. Apparently, Napoleon’s soldiers were all reborn as Deutsche Bahn engineers.
While you wait for your bee brooch from the Croisière collection to be wrapped up, you wonder why you resisted that glass of champagne you were offered and had water instead. Water? Who has water? What were you thinking? They might have served you a glass of Dom Pérignon here, you’re at Chanel’s, for heaven’s sake. In order to let go and regain your peace of mind, you let your eyes take a turn and then you start wondering again: who would buy that fluffy coat for 10,840.00 Deutsche Mark? I know, it’s 2017 and so it’s only €5,420.00, but they cannot fool me. You see, I still haven’t accepted the euro as a currency. In Deutsche Mark, everything sounds like so much more money, everything is literally twice as expensive, whereas the euro-halving provides the illusion of saving money, bargains on a daily basis, the price tags are playing a dirty trick on us, I fall for it all the time, to be quite exact, I’ve fallen for it since January, 2002. Obviously, my mind doesn’t adapt easily, you might respond, in an alarming way even, very alarming, but truth be told, otherwise I would never have bought that bee brooch.
I wonder if there is a reason or a deeper sense to all this missing light in winter, to the cold outside, to all these horrid crowds running you over on their search for Christmas presents or the nearest Starbucks. There’s only one I can come up with: We are to stay at home and read Balzac. And when we have cover-to-covered his Human Comedy, we are to continue and praise Hemingway’s short sentenced short stories, Waugh’s love for grotesque sceneries (best followed by Muriel Spark’s love for grotesque characters), Thomas Bernhard’s hilarious bitterness, Louis Begley’s distant observations, Stefan Zweig’s lost worlds and Rilke’s elegiacomania, Philip Roth’s cold-hearted dissections of anyone he ever came up with, Jane Austen’s ironic approach to mankind itself, W. Somerset Maugham’s lust for human frailties, Colette’s view on women and their lovers, Gabriele d’Annunzio’s view on decadence, every now and then we are to enjoy a poem by Emily Dickinson, like a sorbet between fish and meat, and, most importantly, we are to read the directions for Diptyque candles. Unless you care for soot, that is.
The Thirty Years’ War ended here, in Münster. With a peace treaty signed on a sunny day in 1648. France, The Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Sweden and the dozens of little states now known as Germany had finally come to their senses. Many centuries later, in early December, 2017, my best friend Katja’s and my worst hangover ended here, too. After a long walk through town, we decided never to eat, drink or smoke again. Coincidence? I think not. Despite being a very prosperous town, there are fine jewellers at every corner, pearls and diamonds, Meissen and Prada, Rolex and Gucci, Eames and Louis XV, you get it all, Münster is such a modest town, calm and serene, wise and virtuous. If you want to end anything, feuds or vices, any kind of addictions or sins, just do it here where it comes naturally. But the very moment, boredom sets in, you better leave in a hurry.