Some time ago, in 2015 to be precise, when photos on Instagram were all square, I mistook myself for a food stylist and arranged everything I ate and drank in a fancy manner—a manner Marella Agnelli played a big part in, or the book on her I had just bought the same year at a Zurich book shop. I arranged müesli, tea or some cake from Sprüngli’s on some fine china, placed it on dear Marella, took enough shots to choose a best one from, and posted it on Instagram—not very successfully though, the New York Times food section never called, 23 likes just don’t turn you into an influencer, I guess. Anyway, I would have forgotten all about it, if these very pictures hadn’t attracted somebody’s attention again just now, today, after all these years, after all these billions and billions of photos we see on Instagram—it must be a sign. And so I give you the 2015 Marella Agnelli Food Shoot.
It’s hot, the air’s humid, you’re desperately looking for some shade because you don’t care for sunstrokes, and even if the sun weren’t about to addle your brain, your book’s white pages reflect the sunlight so damn straight into your eyes you might well end up blind, so you carry one of the benches, thank God, teak’s so light a wood, into some shrubbery, followed by your tea table, yes, tea, I know it’s hot, but the hotter it gets, the less any cold drinks are advised, least of all iced ones, believe you me, your circulation goes berserk and you’ll overheat like a motor in an Abu Dhabi traffic jam, if you had any relatives that served in the colonies, you’d know, and by the way, tea is from India not from Norway, the Indians should know what they are doing, shouldn’t they, but I digress, anyway, once in the shade, I started to enjoy myself, finally I was able to read without sunglasses; Evil under the sun, Agatha Christie’s lush novel, that I started some days ago while it was raining, finally was an approbiate choice. I wonder who’s done it…
It’s strange that all of my favourite teas are named after some men of nobility, English and Russian aristocrats like Earl Grey and Prince Vladimir, both obviously with a penchant for citrus fruits, agrumes, as the French call them, in fact, bergamot is quite elegant an aroma, especially when compared to the bitter-sweet smoke than infuses your air when brewing a lapsang souchong, no Mediterranean orchards come to mind, you’re rather transported to some opium den in 1920s Shanghai, quite depraved a situation, you wanted nothing but tea and refreshment and suddenly you’re an outcast looking for oblivion, although I’m suddenly remembering a rather smokey blend by Twinings named Prince of Wales, but as there were also opium dens that mirrored the finest to be found in China, with luxurious trappings and female attendants—why not to HRH The Prince of Wales? And then there’s that Frenchman Mirabeau, a count involved in numerous scandals before and after 1789, he rooted for both king and revolution, nobody ever knew whose side he was ever really on—knowing this, it’s amazing he died of natural causes. Liquorice and lychee in Mariage Frères’ Mirabeau blend reflect quite accordingly his ambiguity: a down to earth character as long as the earth is done in chinoiserie.
Rest and have lots of fluids, they say. Well, I had lots of’em. Fluids galore. I am soaked. Up to today, day three of my flu, I have had so many lemon flavoured doses of effervescent vitamin C from my Lalique tumblers, even Linus Pauling would have disapproved. Luckily, I had also just stocked up on tea, Mangalam, my very favourite plantation in Assam. I am about to empty those provisions in record time, tea gets cold so very quickly in a cup, especially when you fall asleep just after pouring it, you have to pour it all away, litres of the finest tea down the sewer, it’s a shame, it’s of no use to brew an entire pot, really, but when you don’t, rest assured, you will regret that, too, as you won’t fall asleep then, suddenly you’re wide awake and thirsty, and you’ll want more tea with episode 5 of Downton Abbey or whatever series your brain is trying to follow, you’ll need a fresh cup, too, maybe even a fresh pot, you’re already going through all your china as it is, out goes Royal Copenhagen, in comes Meissen, anyway, you get up again from your sickbed, you schlepp your aching bones into the kitchen to brew some more tea, this Mangalam plantation must really be a vast territory, and then empty an entire pot in 7 minutes 46 seconds. Those viruses are drunkards!
One day in Hamburg, I couldn’t wait for lunchbreak, couldn’t wait to leave my desk at DDB Hamburg, that is Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency famous for their work for Volkswagen’s beetle in the 1960s, Lemon, they shouted, Think Small, they advised, and by this they made it to eternity, advertising as it should be, whereas I, well, I hope it wasn’t too bad what I did on this day in 2012, anyway, I digress, I couldn’t wait to leave my desk, a desk with a fabulous view on Hamburg’s Speicherstadt and the Elbphilharmonie that was still being constructed, splendid architecture by Herzog & de Meuron consuming 866 million euros, but I digress again, anyway, I couldn’t wait to get the cup I had fallen in love with the other day, after hours of course, leaving me to wait for it a most inappropriately long amount of time, like Prince Bolkonsky had to wait for Natasha, a day or a year, where’s the difference, my Meissen coffee cup was even more alluring than Tolstoy’s Natasha, it had a green dragon on it, green being a favourite colour of mine, spitting little orange flames, embodying riches, chinoiserie at its best, as ornate as a cup could ever be, and most importantly, it was on sale at John Montag on Ballindamm, a store that had to shut down some time later after it had burned down, anyway, being on sale meant that it was still way too expensive but it made me think I was about to get a bargain, and so I did, in this lunchbreak in 2012, my concentration at work was way better in the afternoon, I can assure you, there’s nothing better than saving money during luchbreak.
I need a lot of coffee in the morning. A lot. So I appreciate a big cup that matches my needs. It’s so much more convenient, you don’t have to get up from your couch or your bed or your chair and schlepp your sleeping and aching muscles to the coffee machine, mine is a Braun, plain and simple, designed by Dieter Rams, I have no nerve to deal with Italian laboratories in the morning, I need my peace and quiet, no high-toned gusto with all that steam and noise from shiny technical wonders. However, I do fancy a big fancy cup. KPM, Prussia’s finest porcelain manufacturer (no, it’s not Meissen, Meissen is in Saxony, not in Prussia), came to the rescue with their Kurland “Bürotasse” (Kurland is a design from the 1700s, originally in vivid colours and lots of handpainted flowers, now in basic white), the name’s actually absurd, because I need that much coffee before going “ins Büro”, meaning to my office, not after, what am I to do with such a monstrous cup at the office? At the office, I have nothing but espressos, those from the fancy top notch Italian devices, with all that steam and noise, from really tiny cups, but hey, the guys in marketing never have any clue anyway, have they?
Think pink. That’s what we learned from Funny Face’s Quality magazine’s editor-in-chief Maggie Prescott – Hollywood’s version of Diana Vreeland. Think pink. That’s what I learned from my mother. My life is quite unthinkable without her Pink Camilla china service, designed by Spode in the late 1700s. I grew up with it, took parts of it to my very first apartment, bought additional pieces myself, smashed dozens of cups and plates, some teapots, too, replaced it all, well, not all, only the pieces I smashed after making my own living, after turning 27, so to speak, I still have tea from a broken bouillon cup, its handle broke years and years ago, my doing of course, never anybody else’s, why that is I don’t know, I’m not that clumsy, believe you me, anyway, I had my cornflakes in it right before school and vichyssoise, game and charlotte russe on Christmas eve, lamb was served on it at Easter and strawberry extravaganzas on my birthday, it witnessed tears and laughter, the entertaining of dear friends and social obligation dinners, small talk and passed on top secret information, all over breakfast, lunch and dinner, over coffee, tea, wine and champagne, in summer and winter, in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the garden, in a nutshell, this china is part of my life, and however much I love my own Royal Copenhagen, Pink Camilla will always represent my home, my parents, my background. God bless her.
So, here’s a potpourri of pictures I took over my years on Instagram.
So, I moved to Berlin. As a consequence, I found myself living with misplaced pieces of furniture and boxes, boxes, and boxes. Big boxes, small boxes, boxes containing other boxes, heavy boxes, really heavy boxes, and light boxes, boxes filled with books, lots of books, all of them to be alphabetised, I warn you, there are more authors with M than you might think, which you only realise when you’ve just successfully decorated the space between N and O, Neruda and O’Casey, and then you’re handed a box with more Mann, you had forgotten all about Thomas Mann’s letters, all of them, three big volumes, and hey, there is Golo Mann and Heinrich Mann and Klaus Mann, too, what did this family ever do besides writing, and if this wasn’t enough, all kinds of wrapped stuff was hindering my way to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the front door, to the bedroom, to the washing machine, to the balcony and off the balcony, I was going mad. Really. It took a lot of soothing Niederegger Marzipan and Lenôtre cakes from KaDeWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store, to survive it. You see, little did I know that unpacking these boxes would cause even more chaos. What to do with all this stuff you strangely acquired over the years? Where to put it? And why do you have to dust things you’ve just unpacked? And why is there always more of it? More things, more dust. But somehow I managed. My kitchen cabinets were very welcoming. But mostly because my 75-year old mother helped me. She’s a great organiser. She would have made it big in the military, she would have been made general in a week or so. Now, she’s gone home, advising her gardeners on how to garden her garden. And I am living in an apartment that almost looks like one. Thanks, Mummy!
Some people have an inner child that they allow to, well, come out every once in a while and play, just to make sure they stay human, these guys are to be congratulated, for their wisdom, humanity and charm, I, however, whose inner child has never been locked up, whose emotional intelligence might be the one of Methuselah but whose behaviour is rather Calvinistic, and I’m referring to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes here, not to that repressed guy from Geneva, what am I to do? You cannot let out what’s already out, can you? So I had to come up with an alternative: I let my inner interior designer out, and I pamper him well. I frolic through stores, buy bowls, vases and pitchers from Royal Copenhagen or Lalique, overpriced flowers from fancy stores, those way cheaper tulips from your grocer won’t do sometimes, fruit and cookies and other stuff that just has to be remotely decorative to give me a thrill and there I go, a new arrangement on my Regency table, I’m happy as a child, sorry, as an interior designer and ready to cope with life, business and deadlines.
Last Christmas, I didn’t give my heart to anybody, but I managed to stuff myself to death at Hermès in Zurich. I can’t remember what I purchased that day, another carré or just my Eau d’Orange Verte deodorant, so much more fun to get your deodorant at Hermès than at a department store, however fancy, but I do know what I had to eat: lots and lots of chocolates, Hermès branded chocolates that is, the iconic carriage and the equally iconic H on the yummiest chocolates ever, I forgot to ask where they came from, so I cannot tell you whether they were Swiss made from Sprüngli or Teuscher or whether they were from France, but whoever made them: good job! Well done! I ate an inappropriate amount of them at the counter and finally had to move to allow some other customers to pay for their stuff and so I ever so bluntly took some more for the road. I managed to take a picture of the remaining two at home. Best Christmas ever. No one broke my heart and I gained some weight!