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.

A hundred tulips, please.

You can’t have enough tulips, believe you me, you simply can’t. Even when your favourite vase refuses to take them all, just put the rest in some other vase, in some other room. My favourite vase, for instance, looks best with about 24 tulips. The only alternative to tulips, by the way, are peonies. Once, I stuffed that vase with so many peonies, I almost went bankrupt, peonies in Switzerland are absurdly expensive, in Zurich at that, the Swiss town considered quite expensive even by the Swiss themselves, admittedly, by Swiss from places less posh than Zurich, let’s say, Uri or Wallis, you know, the cantons with more cows than people, anyway, it was the best bouquet ever, I had added more and more peonies, every time I left the house, I came back with more peonies, they were sold in packs of three for 19,90 Swiss francs, just until the vase would burst, leaving almost no place for water, anyway, bankrupt or not, more is definitely more, as far as flowers are concerned, and then you just have to wait for the best, the moment when they slowly fade away, their withered allure is so very Marguerite Gautier, coughing her beautiful spirit into some lace lined damask before she disappears, leaving nothing behind but blood stains on her handkerchief.

Let‘s drink and be merry.

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!

Peter Pan syndrome.

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Today, I was confronted with my life’s awful truth. I have not grown up. Not at all. My mind is not yet of that certain age I am. Not at all. I still relate to Le petit Nicolas when I am re- and re-reading Goscinny’s stories, much more than I relate to these heroes of my own age, say Julien Sorel, Prince Bolkonsky or Tom Ripley, all these grown up people with their grown up problems, I still don’t tidy up my room, and for some ironic reasons I now have many more rooms to tidy up, even a kitchen and a bathroom, and I still get lectured by my mother about that mess I make each time she visits, I still eat way too many cookies while watching TV, always the whole box, and then I feel sick and want somebody to bring me some herbal tea, my mother or at least Antoine, the valet de chambre I’ve had as an imaginary servant ever since I was twelve or so, I was reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories at the time, and I was so impressed with his valet, to have someone to draw your bath and serve you tea in bed and tidy up your wardrobe, because, really, one cannot expect me to arrange the sock department of my drawer all by myself, can one? I still hate to go to school, meaning to work, I am still counting the days until the holidays and I still wonder what I shall play with my friends after school and that test in arithmetic, meaning which bar to go to and which drink to have after that meeting with the account management. There’s only one thing that offers some hope that I might finally grow up one day. Lately, I started buying vases and flowers. Now, that’s a very grown up and responsible thing to do, isn’t it?

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Tristesse exquise.

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Sundays. They offer sometimes an overdose of tranquility and calm. Coco Chanel died on a Sunday, on the one day in the week she couldn’t work. What are we to do on a Sunday? To read and rest, to stroll through parks, museums and art galleries, I guess, or in case of rain, through our apartment. I did just that and stopped at my bedroom Regency table, with some letters on it, letters I haven’t answered yet. I could do that now. I smiled at Casimir, my crystal turtle by Daum, while putting on my Hermès Étrivière Double Tour bracelet, and as it’s pointless to style up when you’re alone in the privacy of your home, I took it off again, took a sniff of the white rose in my vase by René Lalique, and sighed. Le travail, c’est la vie, a French girl once said to me. She was right.