Cake. Who could ever live without it? I don’t like to compliment myself but I am said to be a brilliant baker, just to semi-quote one of Jane Austen’s characters from Emma. However, I sometimes have neither the time nor the longing to stir and quirl some dough, peel organic lemons for flavour, go buy organic lemons in the first place, slit vanilla pods open to get some pulp, have the scent of vanilla on my hands all day and make people wonder why I sniff my fingers all the time, and then wait for the cake to finally come out of the oven, and then wait some more to let it cool off so that I can put the icing on it. That’s why I love store-bought cakes. And believe you me, the cheapest ones are the best ones. Anything with lemon, these aren’t expected to be organic of course, but you can’t have it all, or marzipan in it are my very favourites. And they are spongier than my own homemade cakes. I don’t know why though, as I said, I’m said to be a brilliant baker myself.
There’s a photographic error in this photo, the tea box should say Nuit à Versailles, too, not only 277, I mean what kind of information is that anyway, 277, just a stupid number, not even a nice one, but that damn Stelton cork-screw covers that tea’s much more evoking name of a night in Versailles. It’s a very tasty green tea, aromes of peaches, violets, kiwis, orange blossoms, and other yummy stuff that is to transport us to this magical place in France. Actually, just as it happens, I’ve never been to Versailles, however near to Paris, not once, so I’ve no idea whether there are any peach trees and violets in the palace’s gardens or not, kiwis are from New Zealand anyway, so I don’t really trust them, these fancy Dammann brothers. They just tell you n’importe quoi. Versailles, however, has a very culinary sound to me, my parents often visit, but rather the weekly market in the old town of Versailles than the palace itself, my mother always brings home artichokes, organic ones, of course, over the years it has become kind of a family thing to have our artichokes from Versailles, so whenever I see or eat an artichoke, I don’t think of the South of France where they grow but of Versailles, and I’m kind of disappointed that there aren’t any in this blend—but on the other hand, who wants a tea tasting and smelling of artichokes?
Luxembourg is a very important country to me, first of all because I spent my utterly happy childhood there, and then because it’s the place where my friend Katja lives—she’s also very important to me—which makes the place a source of constant joy. Each time she visits, she brings delicacies from beyond the German border, from a country near enough to France, Belgium, and The Netherlands to benefit from their culinary heritage. There’s Rieslingspasteitchen, Moselle wine, the best eaux de vie in the world, Framboise being my favourite, fine confiserie and patisserie from Namur, suppliers to His Royal Highness The Grand Duke, and then, most importantly, there’s coffee from Douwe Egberts, available in any supermarket in the entire Grand Duchy, which makes this country paradise on earth to me. Don’t ask me why, but Dutch coffee is so much better than any of the stuff you get in Germany, however high-toned the store, I just had a cup, au lait, this time, I know what I’m talking about. And Katja, if you read this, please come back soon and bring some more…
I can’t remember a day with temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius, these last weeks. Actually, 34 degrees now seem quite agreable to me, it only starts to get really painfully hot once 38 degrees are reached, when the city is running a high fever so to speak, but when it’s still below body temperature, it’s no big deal, wear thin linen shorts—linen is such a smart invention, who ever came up with it deserves a medal, or two—and never leave the shade. But once you do, because let’s face it, everybody has to leave one’s comfort zone every once in a while, make it worth your while—just walk slowly and go see some great places. Berlin’s Mitte is not only any hipster’s natural habitat but has also some very nice places to offer, a little bit out of this world, an air of serene tranquility you won’t find everywhere, least of all on the Champs Elysées.
Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.
In the summer of 1980, after having visited friends of my parents in New York and San Francisco, my mother and I sent my father back off to Europe and continued our journey to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where we stayed at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, a 19th-century Gothic gingerbread mansion, set in a lush tropical garden, a place once described as the darling of the theatre people, the literary set and newspaper men. And a literary place it was indeed. The moment we sat down on the Hotel’s beautiful porch to have a cold drink, we were directly transported into a novel, all of a sudden we were part of the set of Graham Greene’s The Comedians. None other than Petit Pierre approached us, ever so elegantly, just like in the book, wearing a fine double-breasted suit despite the Caribbean summer heat, his perfectly knotted tie seemed to be mocking the indolent temperatures, a walking cane with a silver knob gave him even more grandezza, as he strutted from table to table, looking for some material for his columns. Of course it was not Petit Pierre, but Aubelin Jolicœur, so my mother explained to me, as I at the age of 12 was not that familiar with Graham Greene’s work, the Haitian journalist and columnist that was the inspiration for Graham Greene’s character who then took a place at our table, started chatting with my mother, even flirting a little bit, totally ignoring me, leaving me to sip my icy lemonades for ever and ever. And so, before he took us to his gallery with Haitian naive paintings, in a black limousine steered by one of his sons, I started to write one of the hotel postcards to my best friend Daniel in Luxembourg. For some reasons, I never sent it off but took it home with me, as a souvenir maybe, just like my mother took one of the ashtrays. Looking at it now, it makes me smile that while somebody taken out of a famous novel was sitting at my very table, I had no other things to tell him about than the beautiful hotel pool and its cool water. But I can somehow get my 12-year-old me – the pool situation was gorgeous indeed. I must return soon, this time with the book…
There’s no film more stylish than Breakfast at Tiffany’s, obviously because of Audrey Hepburn’s glorious looks, she’s always dressed head to toe in Givenchy, but Manhattan in general and her apartment in particular are quite stylish, too, the latter not really furnished, but it had some well-chosen, quite exceptional neighbours—some kept handsome author and a Japanese photographer into intimate portraits—and most importantly, a cat called cat. Cats, to me, are the ultimate accessory. They never bother, except when they’re hungry, they take great care of their fur, they sleep a lot, they go for walks on their own, they’re quite independent, actually, they’re totally aloof which has always been a signature characteristic of interesting people if you ask me, and they never cease to surprise you, sometimes they wake you up at four a.m. and bring a dead mole instead of the usual dead mouse. My favourite attribute, however, is when they visit you during tea time, they lie next to you, ever so nonchalant, and make you forget about your book, and while you sip your tea swooning over them, they have a snack of their own: some blades of grass that make your sandwich look quite dull. I’ve told you, nothing more stylish than a cat.