Simone Signoret, Yves Montand and I.

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Paris is known for its lovers. There were plenty over the centuries as you can probably guess, dozens and hundreds, more or less famous ones, some even made it on the screen, Ninotchka and Count Léon d’Algout, for example. My favourite couple, however, is a real life one that made it into the movies nonetheless: Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, these glorious French actors. They made fabulous films, they drank and smoked, she won an Oscar, he betrayed her with Marilyn Monroe, and most importantly, they had an apartment on 15, Place Dauphine, on the loveliest square in all of Paris, it’s kind of secluded, but you always sense where you are: right in the middle of Paris. Each time I’m there, I pay them a visit, come rain or shine, I stroll by the Seine or cross the Tuileries, depends on where I come from, Rive Gauche or Rive Droite, I cross the Pont Neuf, my favourite bridge in the world, as the square lies on an island in the Seine, the Île de la Cité, just like Notre Dame, and there I am, happy as a child, lingering for quite some time, it’s a perfect spot for a coffee, too. The old chestnut trees were replaced some years ago, at first it looked a bit sad, these little ones couldn’t measure up to the old ones who might still have seen Simone and Yves leaving the house for cigarettes or an invitation to dinner some place fancy, but they’ve grown a bit, and the last time I visited Place Dauphine, I started looking forward to growing old with them.

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Some square metres of urban splendour.

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Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt covers me with confusion. It’s well known for its architectural ensemble, but it is strangely small a spot – and in Berlin, almost everything is big. When I last visited Gendarmenmarkt, it reminded me of a little town’s square, maybe a pompous little town’s one, but still, a place rather situated in the provinces than in the very middle of Berlin. It didn’t feel urban at all. Maybe it was the missing traffic, I love traffic in a town, it delivers pace and movement and life, maybe it was because of all those people walking so very slowly and if they weren’t walking, they were having coffee and cake, taking an afternoon off, calmly, stress free, no one was in a hurry, everybody was at ease, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being at ease and having coffee and walking slowly, but I love being the only who’s at ease, who’s having lots of time on his hands while enjoying a cup of coffee some place nice while everybody else is coping with time frames, traffic and stress, the hustle and bustle of a metropolis like Paris, New York, London or, well, Berlin. Anyway, this little place called Gendarmenmarkt offers two domes, a French and a German, and a concert hall in the middle, the latter being constructed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. All of it speaks of old Prussian splendour. Classicism of the purest sort. It offers everything one could possibly wish for. Except pace.

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To Bertie.

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Today, I subscribed to Netflix because I finally had to watch The Crown. It was a wise decision, Prince Philip’s naked butt was totally worth it. In every single angle. I must say, I really envy Her Majesty. But apart from that gorgeous display of the finest human flesh, I learned a lot. Apparently, they had rats in Buckingham Palace’s kitchen, how very disturbing. But that’s only details. Actually, it was heartbreaking. When George VI had half his lung removed in an operation at Buckingham Palace, I immediately felt like quitting, he, however, kept on smoking till the very end of his life. I wonder what Her Majesty must have thought, first watching her father’s right lung being thrown into a medicinal bowl, and only minutes later witnessing, decades later, these rats loiter with intent in the palace’s kitchen whilst her recovering father’s breakfast is being prepared? Noblesse oblige, I guess. Nonetheless, at least from today’s point of view, so extremely health conscious as we all have become, banning smokers everywhere, George VI is portrayed with such warmth, love and respect, I actually was really moved by his passing just now – and had to have a cigarette in his honour. Here’s to you, Bertie. I hope you rest in heavenly peace.

My life as a Peanut.

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When you look at this picture, you might spot some iconic design work I decorated my home with: one of Marcel Breuer’s little Bauhaus tables from the late 1920s, the lampstand of Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s iconic work from 1924, also called the Bauhaus lamp, the Thonet chair right in the middle which happened to be Le Corbusier’s favourite chair, apart from his own designs, I guess, but still, he knew what he was talking about, and, well, far more ubiquitous, I’m afraid, but still perfect, that MacBook Air from Apple, but all of that is not what this post is about – it’s about the Snoopy mug. That mug is my favourite mug (and don’t get me started on my “Berlin” mug from KPM, so refined, so well designed, all that fine porcelain, but pardon my French, you just can’t sip from it), and however cheap it was, I cherish it because it shows my childhood companion whom I’ve loved since, well, ever. It doesn’t get more iconic, does it? I had Snoopy everwhere in my room, on everything. I wouldn’t eat or drink from anything that had no Peanuts character on it. My Snoopy mugs have always been most dear to me, I had several, the tiniest cup with Woodstock and some his friends flying around it, you might have called it an espresso cup, but in those days nobody north of Trieste had espressos at home, for some time I had my cornflakes in a plastic Snoopy dog bowl, in bright blue, my favourite colour, too, from which I remember a line, that beagle was quite pragmatic a philosopher: “I hate when it snows on my French toast”, I loved that bowl and it sure increased my Kellogg’s sugar intake by a great deal, but then a friend of my mother’s put an end to it. Not because of the carbs and the sugar, no, everybody was quite fine with sugar those days, but no one should eat from a dog bowl, so she said. My mother listened to her and from that day on, only the family cats were to eat from it, what can I say, they had cast pearls before swine!

All these mugs and dishes are gone, all of them broken. I miss them all. But apart from this very new mug with Snoopy on it that I found by chance in Lucerne, I still have a particular pair of shoes, once owned by my friend Miriam, shoes I was so very jealous of, the whole cast from the Peanuts is on their soles. She outgrew them fast and gave them to me, and since I’ve never outgrown my love for Charles M. Schulz’s iconic work, they still have a special place in my apartment.

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Life saving chicken soup.

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My mother believes in chicken soup to cure anything. Anything that makes you cough and feel like la dame aux camélias at least, even if your name is neither Marguerite nor Violetta and you have never worn a single camellia in your entire life. Not even in your lapels on Coco Chanel’s birthday. Anyway, in my case, tragically a less romantic one, my mother came to kill the germs that caused my pneumonia – which quite boringly I did not get by kissing a guy while becoming acquainted with enough of his germs to catch such a disease, as Dionne Warwick keeps suggesting, and even more boringly so it’s just a severe case of pneumonia and not tubercolosis, so I still won’t make it to the Magic Mountain (prosaically known as Davos-Dorf) and be able to feel like one of Thomas Mann’s tragically coughing heroes.

But I’ve been digressing, let’s get to the point: my mother came with pigeons that appeared to have led a happy life from her weekly market instead of chickens as she deeply disapproved of the chickens the supermarket had in stock and remembered that the Buddenbrooks always had “Täubchen” when they needed some strengthening, you see my family and I refer a great deal to Thomas Mann’s literary outcomes, one could say on a daily basis, anyway, along with the pigeons she brought multicoloured organic vegetables, green, orange and red for colour and vitamins, in other words red peppers, carrots and leek, she also brought chillies, the ones that set your tongue and throat on fire, bayleaves, olive oil, the slightly bitter one as only bitter olive oil is to be trusted, the rest might be useful to fry French fries in, alright, at McDonald’s or what ever they call these places nowadays, you see, my mother wildly disapproves of junk food, but you might have guessed that by now, anyway, she also brought organic pepper, black and white, to be crushed in absurd quantities into the soup, and vast amounts of French garlic, it’s very important that it is from France, please forget all about the one from China.

I ate it all up. It was very yummy. And indeed, I feel a little better. Just my tongue’s still on fire.

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Switzerland is a Grand-Duchy.

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The best thing about Switzerland is the food. And the best thing about the food is a Luxemburgerli from Sprüngli’s. You might think it’s a macaron but it’s not, believe you me. I’ve had macarons, plenty, even those hysterically cherished ones from Ladurée, and I had them from Ladurée in Paris, on rue Bonaparte, so don’t tell me the taste was probably just affected by transportation, say a long-distance flight to Sydney, Cape Cod or Kyoto or where ever you picture me misjudging Ladurée’s famous delights, no, even those iconic French macarons are nothing in comparison. Nothing compares to a Luxemburgerli. Nothing. Actually, it makes macarons obsolete. Sad excuses for a sweet. You better take the next flight to Zurich and make it to Paradeplatz as quickly as you possibly can. Oh dear, how am I supposed to live without them? I have no idea. In fact, it’s the only Swiss achievement I’ve been missing since I left Zurich for Berlin. I really don’t know what to eat in bed on a cold Saturday afternoon anymore.

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Parisian coffees.

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Coffees. The plural is chosen quite deliberately, as I always had more than just one. Coffees in the rain. And coffees in the cold. Next to Frenchmen, next to Americans and next to Japanese, next to beautiful people from all over the world, and next to depressed, but very stylish Parisians. Coffees in high-toned places, and coffees in places off the tracks. Coffees that were being served with the warmest of smiles, and coffees that were being served with ostentatious disgust. This particular disgust was actually quite amusing as it was on display at a café in the Marais, on the corner of Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, and if you are a waiter who happens to dislike gays, you should not go to work in their natural habitat. Amusing also, as gays tend to mistake me for a straight guy. But that’s another story. I had coffees that were just great. And coffees that tasted like way too strong Nescafé. I had them accompanied by a cigarette, and later on by some Aspirin. I did mention how cold and rainy it was, didn’t I? I had coffees to go from Starbucks, quite sans allure, and coffees in the presence of Simone de Beauvoir au Flore, that is if her spirit still haunts the place, I think she won’t approve of that Louis Vuitton store, squeezing his bags full-mouthed in that little space between the Flore and the Deux Magots, although, who am I to complain, I paid my bill using a Louis Vuitton wallet, but at least I didn’t buy it there, in the very middle of St.Germain-des-Prés, but on the right bank, that’s where you are supposed to buy such things. But back to my coffee sermon: I had coffees to wake me up, to rest from excessive strolling, to get invigorated, to watch the passers-by, to contemplate, to digest, to enjoy the scenery. Parisian coffees are not coffees, they are life.

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