Private Soap Opera

In 1998, I was looking for a Christmas gift for my father, when, sometimes that happens, I ran out of ideas and, coincidentally and quite by chance, Hermès had just launched their Rocabar men’s cologne, a very elegant fragrance that seemed perfect for my father. All problems solved. I bought the entire range. My father was delighted and smelled fine for weeks and months.

Today, however, when looking for a new piece of soap at my parents’ place, I found one of these gifts still untouched: the matching soap, stuffed in a drawer, next to various cosmetic items like tooth brushes, dental floss, lotion tonique aux plantes, toothpaste (white, extra white, and diamond white), shampoo (dandruff, extra volume, extra body, and some arctic prunes elixir), and other little helpers that we can’t live without, it has been waiting for the last 21 years to be finally taken out of the box and into the shower. I guess, some things just seem to need the right moment…

A tribute to Martina I. Kischke (and my mum)

Picture it: Frankfurt, the early 1980s. On a day like any other, my mother and I passed the Frankfurter Rundschau building, the Frankfurter Rundschau was in these times for Germany what, say, the Washington Post was for the United States, in other words a very important newspaper and former employer of my mother (the blonde on the right), when we ran into Martina (the brunette on the left), a good friend and ex-colleague of my mother’s who was in charge of the newspaper’s women‘s section, the “Frauenredaktion”, in the changing political climate of the 1960s and ’70s, she was commenting on women’s lib issues and the legalisation of abortion as well as reporting from the Paris fashion shows. In 1966, when the cold war was still a major issue, she fell in love with a Russian when reporting from Kazakhstan. A Russian that turned out to be a spy. The very moment, she met her “Romeo” in Alma Ata to marry him, she was arrested for espionage, microfilm had been hidden by her fiancé in her cigarette pack. For 138 horrid days she was imprisoned, first in Alma Ata, then in Moscow’s notorious prison, the Lubyanka. But she survived. On December, 23rd, 1966, she was finally freed because her boss, Karl Gerold, founder and editor-in-chief of the Frankfurter Rundschau, had moved heaven and earth to have her exchanged, exchanged for a real spy, Alfred Frenzel, a German politician that had been working for Russia. Anyway, on this less important day in the early 1980s, my mother, just like Mrs Dalloway in eternal repetition, had bought the flowers herself but was missing a vase, I guess either me or one of the cats had broken the ball-shaped vase my mother had in mind for her tulips and so she asked Martina where to get a one. “Lorey.”, Martina replied, “They have Lalique.” Lalique, okay, sure, why not replace a vase for ten bucks with Lalique crystal? For years, this has been a running gag. Martina had kind of a Jacqueline Kennedy-ish approach to life: always the best. You rarely saw her without an Hermès scarf. I found all of that very intriguing, and as my mother still has no high-toned crystal at home, I have to blame Martina for all the money I’ve spent on Lalique vases.

The deer diet.

“My dear Bambi, I am utterly sorry my uncle shot your mother, but to hell with sympathy, it was totally worth it. I’ll help you find you a good therapist to cope with your situation.”, thus I could start a letter to this deer’s kid. I’m aware of the fact that I blame my dear Uncle Karl for killing it rather than myself for eating it, but have you ever had game from your family’s forests? It’s the best! It’s so yummy! I am also aware that I won’t ever come into these woods, my dear uncle has sons of his own to bequest his property to, so I have to enjoy the place in a different way, by having “Deer Bourguignon” for example, and even if you and Bambi might judge me, call me a cartoon’s murderer’s accomplice or worse, Julia Child would have been most delighted and proud.

The heat is on.

It’s never been that hot. Never. For the first time ever, we did not find a single place in our garden that would offer some shade for our tea time. We were stranded. Heatstroked. Sunstroked. Roasted. Burnt. All dried out. All in all, we were desperate—until my father discovered a tiny spot under the ivy covered apple tree. Shade! We went nuts and decided to skip tea and prepone happy hour. A bar was improvised. Ice cubes were fetched. Lemonade was made. Shy beginnings, you know. Then gin was poured. Laughter got louder. People started singing. My mother got kissed by my father. It was heaven! And so I come up with one new maxim: summer can be heaven, if shade and drinks can be delivered. Mark my words!

An ode to my kitchen.

My favourite room has always been the kitchen, it’s not only the place where you always meet a member of your family and one or two of the cats, always starved to death, of course, but most importantly it’s the place where all the good things are, except for the wine, the wine’s in the wine cellar, but still, there’s the coffee machine and the espresso machine, there’s the toaster and the bread, the marmalade, the cookies, the chocolate, the honey, the apples and bananas, strawberries and artichokes, organic and terrific, the olives, black and green, the pasta, the spices, cinnamon and chillies, basil, rosemary, and paprika, there’s the tea canisters you’ve imported from Paris, all those fancy Mariage Frères and Kusmi boxes, then there’s the fridge, of course, filled with salami and cheese, buffalo mozzarella and Crottin de Chavignol, yoghurt and lemonade, the milk for the coffee and the tea, milk in first, by the way, always, there’s your china, the Spode and the Royal Copenhagen, the inherited cutlery with some dead guy’s initials on them, the oven, the oven that I shamefully haven’t mentioned before, the oven to make some yummy cake in, or a soufflé, or whatever, the hissing sound of lit gas alone is heavenly, it tells you stories of great menus in the offing, or the roistering one when the water for your tea comes to a boil, the minutes you wait for the brew, five minutes to do nothing at all, just counting down the seconds while looking out of the window and listen to some blackbird’s ramblings on… oh, that place we call the kitchen, it would be the same by any other name, of course, but why not call it heaven?

From Rioja with love.

My grandmother used to travel and bake a lot after retiring, she had all this time on her hands and filled it with some culinary creativity, and as she was fond of red wine and Spain, she ended up baking but one cake only, her masterpiece, her Rioja cake, commonly and less specifically known as her red wine cake, as in the 1970s, Rioja was quite uncommon a beverage in Germany and she didn’t feel the urge to explain her extravagances to just anybody she had over for tea and sympathy, she was a teacher, the most loved one of her village, her funeral was crowded with former students, she must have been a hell of a teacher, anyway, I, being more into France than into Spain, have always replaced Rioja with some Bordeaux when I made that cake, but now, just to cherish her memory, I opened a bottle of Rioja, the batter takes a quarter of a litre, as well as vast amounts of cocoa, chopped dark chocolate, this one is from Venezuela, quite fitting an origin, it’s a Spanish speaking country after all, anyway, the cake‘s obviously soaked with flavonoids from all that red wine and cocoa, kind of an anti-ageing approach to baking. I think, I’ll have another slice just now.

Family dinner.

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For family dinners, I’m always in charge of dessert. Today, it’s going to be raspberries with cream. It’s easily prepared, I open the fridge for the cream and the freezer for the raspberries, and I’m done. And then, all while sipping Chardonnay, I witness the rest of the meal being prepared, artichokes are being cooked, a vinaigrette is being composed, lots of French mustard and Italian olive oil form a beautiful entente cordiale, parsley from the garden is being “haché-menu”-ed, ever so fresh chanterelles are being cut, not from the garden but from the grocer, the table is being set, by whom actually, my father, I suppose, gee, that Chardonnay is really drinkable, and all of a sudden, I’m the last one missing at the table, I better join them, hey, they’re are having red wine, okay, fine with me, bon appétit.

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Living on Memory Lane.

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There are a few pics I keep posting and re-posting on Instagram: a certain photo of Coco Chanel, taken in the 1930s at La Pausa by Roger Schall, Mademoiselle wearing trousers and a ravishing custom-fit little nothing of a cashmere sweater, very près du corps, some paintings, Vermeer, Franz Kline and a certain Picasso, with Marie-Thérèse Walter on it, you surely know it, it’s very popular, my Royal Copenhagen china, and then there’s a photo of my mother, taken by my father in 1977, in the little front garden of our townhouse in Luxembourg, at a place I dearly loved, we spent nothing but happy times there, my mother’s wearing Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche on it, you can see the prêt-à-porter after-effects of his iconic Russian haute couture collection from 1976, on the other side of the street is the house of my friends Laurence and Françoise, you can’t see it, but I know it’s there, just opposite, on the right you would see an apartment building, a big brutal concrete cube, with another cube inside as an entrance hall, this one in posh marble, that’s where Anne and Bob lived, Bob had his room painted in dark blue, with white furniture as a contrast, I loved that, and we had the same shirt, checked, in different sizes though as he was way younger than I, two or three years, when you’re nine years old that matters a lot, my best friend Daniel lived on the same street, too, but a bit off, more to the side of avenue du X septembre, we lived closer to avenue Guillaume. Our house doesn’t exist anymore, after we moved out it was torn down, together with most of our direct neighbours’ houses, to make room for some résidence, some of those apartment buildings named after Napoleon or whoever they thought appropriate, so sad, it was so lovely, the balcony on the first floor was all covered with wine, the grapes were edible but tiny and very sour, loved them anyway, the wallpaper in the hall and all up the staircase to the second floor was black, with huge white roses, not totally white, some of the petals were pale pink, the leaves and stalks were celadon green, a very Marie-Antoinette-ish colour combination, the tiles on the floor were beautiful, a typical Belle Époque pattern, the house was built in the 1910s, the banisters were somewhat gothic, some dark wood, can’t quite recall it, at least not exactly, nobody ever took a photo of the stairs, not of these details, but I somehow captured them in my mind, I must haven taken thousands of mental pictures, it’s all there in my mind, all of it, although I couldn’t quite make a sketch of it. As you might have guessed by now, this photo does not only show my beautifully dressed mother, it represents the happiest years of my childhood, it triggers all kind of happy memories, and I will post it over and over again when I feel like it. I hope you won’t mind.

Life, from my mother’s point of view.

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This photo of my grandmother with my mother on her lap was taken in Berlin in 1942 or 1943, during the war, right in the middle of it, so the date tells us, but not the expression on the faces we see. My grandmother looks serene and happy, elegant, filled with love for her firstborn child, and I find my mother’s all-time sovereign expression already there, ready to master anything, wartimes and everything there was to master after that, kindergarten, school yard and first boyfriends, first in postwar Germany, then in the Russian sector, situations you didn’t choose, that you were just born into, forcing you to leave everything behind (a beautiful villa by the river) when fleeing from the GDR, much later she faced marriage and divorce, her job and my puberty, fate and luck, summers and winters, sickness and health, rain and shine, Christmas and wakes, new countries, new opportunities, and new problems, new houses and new gardens, filled with old friends and new decor, and whatever was lying ahead on this day in 1942 or 1943, she was already sure of herself to master it, overcome it, celebrate it, decorate it. She still has this adorable expression on her face: let it come, all of it, I’m happy to deal with it. I’m glad to have this photo as an inspiration in my new apartment, and by that at the place where it was taken: in Berlin. 75 years later.

 

Think pink. Think Camilla.

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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.

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