So I’ve been looking at my old blog entries, from way back in 2005, when I took time off from my job and went to Indonesia for 3 months. It was a beautiful time, a time of change, a time for me to connect to my roots, and of new beginnings. Before leaving, I gave up my apartment in Friedenheimer Strasse, the first apartment I ever lived in in Munich, the one Michi and I shared together.
My sabbatical time started off in Jakarta, in my parents’ large house, where I watched my father spend a lot of time lounging in his Eames chair in front of the TV. Par for the course for Jakarta, my parents and I went shopping, ate out and spent time in many a shopping mall.
I then spent a couple of weeks with Ming in Malaysia. He took me around KL, showed me his local haunts and introduced me to his friends. It was a special post-OC time, and the last intensive time I spent with him.
Dom came to visit. First stop Jakarta, where we checked out the über cool night life together. It was a first for me cause I hardly ever went out at night in Jakarta. We also went on to Manado and Bali. She went diving for the first time.
It was also the first time Alex and I went on vacation together. We met up in Bali, and he went back to Manado with me and got his PADI certificate in Bunaken. He also came to Jakarta and met my father for one short day. The two of them, who in many ways have so much in common – as engineers, passionate sailors, and photographers – chatted. It was the first and last time they got together. During a moment of mental clarity, my dad unfurled the blueprints of a catamaran we knew he would never be able to build and talked about his plans with Alex. It was bittersweet. He never did build that boat, and the two of them never sailed together.
The summer of 2005 was also the last extended period that I spent with papa, who died of his fifth (or so) stroke 8 months later. It was a blessing in disguise. It would have been horrible for him to have become catatonic, a sliver of his former self, had he survived it. Yesterday was the 13th year anniversary of his passing. I miss him everyday.
Back in 2005, I wrote in my blog a few times a week, just to update my friends in Munich on what was going on with me. The entries were of varying lengths, but most were pretty short. And that was enough. Just a chronicle of what was happening, much like Instagram works today, for me anyways. Sometimes I had some interesting insights. Other times it was just a list of what transpired. On Thursday we did this, on Friday this happened, and so on and so on.
I should just continue in this manner, to have a regular practice of writing that is removed from my paid commercial work. So yeah this is just the start of it. It doesn’t all have to be deep, insightful thoughts. Just a record of the day-to-day.
So, in this spirit, I wanted to mention, and keep to memory that Allison’s mom passed away this week, after a long battle with cancer. She died sometime around midnight between February 11th and 12th. So, among the many things Allison and I have shared, it’s the anniversary of our parents’ passing. May Michelle Turkish rest in peace.
So last Thursday, Bill McCrain, a former Marine, paid us a visit. Not wanting to be late, he showed up 25 minutes early to our appointment. A fascinating character whom I would love to get to know better, he entered the U.S. Marines at age 17 and was selected to serve as a Marine Guard to President Eisenhower in the 1950s. Mid-October 1957, he had a chance to meet Queen Elizabeth, as he stood among those she inspected on her first official visit to the United States. Post-duty, he was given an administrative job at a moving company, after which he started his own. 60 years later, notebook and pen in hand, he showed up at our front door, took stock of our things, shared a few life stories, and went on his way.
Which is a long way of saying, we’re moving back to Munich! : ) We’re moving back to Munich. : ( We’re moving back to Munich. In two months. You can’t see it from where you’re sitting, but a whole slew of emotions flitted across my face just now.
I learned from a psychologist a long time ago, and it was repeated to me again by Bill, that besides death and divorce, moving is one of the most stressful events of one’s life. So who better to accompany the start of such an emotional journey than a trustworthy, steadfast 80+ year old man with a whole lifetime of experience behind him?
Sigh. The whole thing – the end of our ensconcement in the US – is bittersweet. First, dare I mention the word drumpf? Because that part of being here is definitely bitter. Simmering in the current political landscape is “like breathing toxic fumes,” said our new friend Phil. Indeed. Phil is a published poet, and his work-in-progress is about weapons. “I need to get the anger out,” he said. The sweet part is removing oneself from this toxicity – we can ‘escape’ from the US, as his wife Lynn phrased. “I’m jealous, because you get to get away from it,” she said. Being far away from the madness that is Das Weißes Haus will certainly be a blessing.
However, with this move, our Yankee adventures will also come to an end. Alex’s life dream – one he has chased after for almost two decades – to live and work near NY again, has been fulfilled. ‘What now?’ is not an insignificant question. If you hit the target that you’ve been aiming at, it might do you well to simply find another one. That’s my answer, at least. To move forward, you need to keep on on having dreams. Til the end.
For me, the time here has been priceless. A dream that I didn’t know I had came true too. This became my chance to rekindle old relationships, to reintegrate the friends and family that were cast aside when I left Orange County, to find closure. Our stay here is where all the pieces of my life – which have, up till now, been compartmentalized – have fallen into place. Indonesia, Japan, Austria, Germany, and the US – they now make sense. I reunited with the extended Southern California clan, old friends from Tokyo, college buddies from UCI. Friends and family have come here to visit, and in so doing, have shared in and helped shape our US experience.
Alex and I are grateful for this opportunity. We’ve seen and done so much that it’s sometimes overwhelming. How long will it take to digest all that we’ve experienced? I wonder.
My ASIJ friends and I have gone through this once before. And in all honesty, some of us are still processing our time in Tokyo. When we moved away, we all learned to cope and get on with our lives, but I’m not sure whether or not we gave ourselves the time, space and energy to heal. Forces seemingly beyond our control – graduation, college – meant that we had to give up some of the closest bonds we ever formed. At that time, there was neither Whatsapp nor Facebook. We sent letters by post or called each other once in a while (at exorbitant prices), meaning that at some point, communication ceased. I never realized, until February of this year – when we all gathered here for a much needed reunion – how much I had missed all of them.
It’s not the first time that realization came late. It took until last year for me to understand what my first-ever boyfriend was all about. And we met when I was 15! A newbie from the Bronx, he was street smart, sensitive and beautiful, a far cry from the scholastic types I surrounded myself with at the time. The fact that he hailed from the Bronx made him that much more enigmatic. He smoked, and not just cigarettes. He introduced me to Keith Haring and Virgin Records, and spoke like no one I had ever met. Tragically, a couple of his friends back home died of drug overdose – the very reason he was shipped off to LA to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle. A real-life Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a few years before that became a hit series. Three decades later, as I drove through the Bronx and walked the streets of Queens and Manhattan, I finally got him. Wow.
Does that mean that this American chapter will only close for us sometime in…2038? Alex and I strolling along the shores of an Italian coast chatting about gelato and the like, when I get an epiphany and all of the events of the past three years will make sense – as in, “Oohh!!! So that’s what that was all about!”?
Or, dare I hope that I’ve gained some wisdom and that the philosophical purpose of this extended sojourn will become clear to me a bit sooner rather than later? That remains to be seen…
In the meantime, below some impressions from the past couple of weeks. From a colleague’s wedding on the Jersey Shore, to a mini-reunion at a lakefront cabin in the Adirondacks, to the Caramoor Jazz Festival, and strolling around Pier 45 with the hubby – some beautiful East-Coast memories.
It’s Saturday afternoon. We went for a walk through the New Jersey Meadowlands taking meaningful photos that artistically illustrate the juxtaposition between industrial installments and their impact on the beautiful nature that surround them. After being outdoors and walking around for three hours, we went home, used our old bananas to make an organic bread loaf, which we had for our afternoon tea, which was served on grandma-patterned Arzberg porcelain. I am now reading Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City while Alex is crocheting a new winter cap made with the Alpaca wool that I bought for him in Paris.
That might have been our German selves.
Nö…. It’s Saturday afternoon, and we’re in Jersey. It’s 4:57 pm and my phone is registering 115 steps for the day. I am still unshowered and the apartment is in a bit of a state. We were sitting in our pyjamas eating potato chips and Häagen Dazs on the couch while binge watching The Good Place on demand. Our lunch, btw, was heated up leftover burger patty from last Sunday (for Alex) and ready-made Asian salad with rice noodles from Trader Joe’s (for me). We moved rooms once – from the couch to the office and back – because Episode 6 for some reason would cost $ and it’s free if we watch it online.
Do I feel guilty? Fork no!
It’s quite a rare thing to have a lazy day. When we’re back in Munich, our weekends will be packed – whether with our house project or social obligations and other events – that we’re going to look back on this day and think, wow, remember when…?
We will leave the house at some point. To head out to the nearest mall so that I can buy make up, which by-the-by I rarely wear in Munich but do use more of here, and we can eat masala dosa for dinner in the fluorescent-lit food court. Because: 1. Jersey City is home to many South Asians who love dosas; and 2. it saves me the effort of making dinner, which I started to dread doing, because I’ve done a looot of cooking since I started working from home.
Last night we did manage to do something somewhat high-brow. We attended a concert at the Lincoln Center! As a classical music neophyte, I had never heard of César Franck, and this was a beautiful introduction. It happens to be Must-See-New-York Week, so we sat in some of the best seats in the house for a bargain. Brilliant.
Right, I must now leave my cocoon and get ready. Just wanted to check in real quick and say hello.
Last weekend, btw, I had – to borrow someone’s word – a most “epic” weekend. Our little group from ASIJ had a mini reunion and hung out the entire weekend. Soooo many memories came tumbling out. I haven’t laughed so much and so loud in a looong time.
A report on that later.
Wishing you all a lovely and lazy rest of the weekend!
Updated January 21, 2018: This is a #latepost of a blog entry from the summer of 2017. Thought I would share anyways. 🙂
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Am sitting in our hotel room in the Mayakoba resort, Mexico. Raindrops are gently drizzling on the mangrove trees and water canals, making soothing pitter patter sounds. They are the remnants of a tropical storm that was rambunctious enough to have been given a name – Franklin – that has since passed as it continues westwards. Franklin dropped a lot of water over Cancun and Playa del Carmen – over a foot within 24 hours – and is gaining strength and status, as it travels over land and turns into a hurricane sometime within the next hours.
But here, in our neck of the woods, calm has returned. The birds, hundreds of which are scattered hidden in the forest in front of our room, are starting to sing and chirp again. Fish are swimming past. I even spotted a turtle sticking his neck out to catch some air.
Alex is at the gym, working off the steak fajitas we had for lunch. I opted for a low energy activity and decided to soak in the view and the birdsong.
It has been months since I posted on this blog. Actually, it’s been more than half a year to be more precise. I have the same feeling now as I do when someone I haven’t met in a long time asks, “So, how have you been?”
I am well. Currently have a slight cold which is thankfully going away, and relaxed almost to the point of boredom, but not quite. It’s actually a big accomplishment, to be this….chilled. Because up until Alex and I arrived in our temporary contemporary abode a couple of nights ago, life has been pretty hectic.
In one of the last posts, in December or January, I mentioned that when I committed to doing freelancing, it’s as if the world rose up to meet it. And the good thing is that this hasn’t changed much since. In fact, there is more and more work coming my way, and I’ve had to think hard about turning (or not turning) down clients and projects because I feared that I would be stretching myself too thin or deliver sub-par work. Delivering bad work is worse than having no clients at all.
So underneath the lounging and the tacos, fajitas, green juices and tamales, is that bit of unrest, a nagging feeling that I should actually be working. I’ve read and heard that this is not unusual. Most people who run their own business or become their own employers have a hard time switching off, because they work in their homes, among others. That’s true for me for sure. Even though I have a separate office, it is still located in my place of residence, and when I need a break I sneak in housework, or I sneak in work at night when I should be relaxing with the hubby.
Add that to the fact that I work while traveling. I want to spend time with my family, who are scattered here and there, but I can’t just drop everything and leave, so I just take my work with me. Meaning that I hold calls with the US while I’m in Munich or Skype with Erlangen when I’m in Jakarta. And I edit and write and type in hotel rooms, my mother’s living room, my bedroom in Jakarta, my sisters’ houses, wherever I may be.
And now, as I’m hanging around one of the nicest resorts I’ve ever stayed in, I think about work. Because, hey, my laptop is here. And a wifi, and all my files. And that is a big no no. Because that is not why we – just the two of us – traveled all this way. So against my neurotic instinct, and for my personal sanity, I won’t.
Last night, Alex and I sat in a restaurant located right on the canal and watched as half a dozen birds struggled in the rain to hang on to branches that swayed heavily up and down with the wind. The restaurant was part of another hotel within the resort, which we explored after dinner. It felt like we were somewhere in Southeast Asia, with tropical flora and beautifully landscaped walkways. The clever lighting made spaces that seemed somewhat gloomy during the day totally tantalizing at night. It was like taking a trip to another world.
We’re not actually resort type people. Our views were that they are large and impersonal, run by big corporations who are only in it to rob you blind. But now, being here, away from any hustle and bustle, away from cars, roads and pollution, away from city traffic and noise, I, at least, am beginning to have a change of heart. The quiet and the comfort, the manicured landscapes and buildings set thoughtfully among the natural mangrove forest and man-made canals, which incidentally have attracted hundreds of new birds and animals to this area, have been a blessing.
And today, despite being forced to stay indoors because of Franklin, and despite a bit of cabin fever, we’re still enjoying ourselves. Isn’t that nice? Not least because all that time has forced me back to my do some personal writing, which is needed.
So, what else has gone on the last months? Chad, Paula, Eli and Nela moved to DC in February. In May, Christine and Johannes, and then Bärbel, visited us. Annette, Dom and Chad were also all in the city for a short time. Our neighbors Julien, Carolina and their children went back to France at the end of July.
In the meantime, this summer, Alex and I spent a lot of time away. Alex’s schedule was Hoboken – Croatia – Munich – Hoboken – California – Hoboken. Mine was Hoboken – Munich – Jakarta – Munich – Hoboken. This year, we both traveled a lot, just not with each other. On Saturday, as we were walking to our gate at the Newark airport, I realized that it was only the second time this year that we were flying together.
Which brings us back to México. Here, in our large, corporate-backed resort, I am most enjoying rekindling my somewhat dormant school-level Spanish, eating fantastic food and hanging out en la playa. Looking out into the Caribbean sea instead of a sea of buildings, well if that isn’t a luxury, what is? I am loving the tropical climate and fruits; they have papayas, pineapples and mangoes, not to mention jicamas, guavas and jackfruit.
It’s important just for these days to simply not work and to tank up energy instead. It will help me tackle the next months – which will for sure be pretty stressful all in all, what with a couple of new projects, one new customer, and my existing clients – with efficiency, professionalism and a bit of grace.
And now, it’s time for la cena. Fish or beef? Chicken or octopus? All of the above? Hmm… am looking forward to it at any rate.
Hope you’re all having a beautiful summer.
Below some pics from Playa del Carmen.
The hotel lobby, modeled after a cenote
light floods our room during the day
lovely nonalcoholic cocktail
moon over mayakoba, part 1
miss this breakfast buffet
all the way to Mexíco, only to eat Thai
first time touching the sand, very excited
typical touristy lunch
moon over mayakoba, part 2
moon over mayakoba, part 3
at the Ek Balam Mayan ruins
painting outside of the restaurant
the lovely mayakoba lagoon, filled with fish, crocodiles, iguanas, turtles, birds and million dollar homes
deco in our room
lovely tuna avocado salad
another view from the room
lounging by the pool
alex actually swam
Playa del Carmen
the lobby’s reflection pool at night
our favorite pastime there – lounge on the beach and look at the ocean
If you take my presumption that I will live just long enough to see 92 candles on my cake as true, then January 12, 2018 was the first day of the second half of my life.
Which is, wow.
While the first half of my life’s journey was marked by vitality, growth and development, full of optimistic naïveté, punctuated by the occasional relocation across the globe, I foresee the second half as being somewhat more serene, but in no way less interesting. From what I’ve heard, and from what I’ve experienced, time seemingly speeds up as the years pass, and while that happens, I will have to literally slow down, physically at least. What a juxtaposition. I imagine periods of short-term travel amidst work, interspersed with bouts of simply being. I will dedicate time to friends and family, to hiking in the Alps, taking photos to add to my ever-growing library of landscape images, expanding my gamelan repertoire to Javanese, and writing that novel I had always been talking about.
I suppose I will also have time to process the fact that as my faculties decay, I too edge closer to that which comes to us all – namely the other certain thing that doesn’t involve taxes. And realizing that is the job of the middle-aged. We take stock of the exploits of our youth and make peace with what is so we that can enjoy our sunset years.
Understandably, many face aging with trepidation. I do see major advantages to getting older. The more experience I have, the more sure I am of my place in life, the more realistic I am about how I am seen by others, and the less I care about it, which is the most important part. I am also clearer about the impact I have (or not) in the world. I treat the things that really matter and those that are of no consequence accordingly. That feels like progress to me.
These are some of the thoughts currently brewing on my back burners. In the meantime, the front world-facing ones have been busy, handling day-to-day matters. Keeping the apartment in order, working on work projects, doing year-end accounting, making offers and building a house – topics to which I will come back sometime. In the meantime…
Happy New Year! Hope 2018 will bring you an abundance of laughter, good food and sunny days.
Alex and I had a brilliant start to 2018, ringing in the New Year with champagne toasts as we glided over the Atlantic Ocean celebrating in the ballroom of the Queen Mary 2 with his lovely parents.
A cruise is something I had never personally wanted to do, and I was pleasantly surprised at how agreeable it was. It was like entering a room you’ve passed by a million times but never looked at. And when you finally leave all soft and fattened up, you realize that you could easily lull your days away in a luxe oceanic cocoon. A cruise ship is a magical floating city where time melts into the sea-view deckchairs that are as irresistible as a siren’s call. As you stroll by in your striped mariniére top and capri pants carrying a plate of pralines from the afternoon’s tea buffet, they call. Have a seat, lie down, put your feet up. And that is the point of it all, isn’t it? To relax and let go of the compulsion to produce. However, should lounging not become you, you can attend a lecture, watch a movie, sing along at scareoke, read one of 8000 books from the library, stare at the stars in the planetarium, or gamble your pension away at the casino. Boredom is not part of the cruise vocabulary.
Cruising is – apparently – addictive. Crusiecritic.com is full of comments from helpful enthusiasts who ceremoniously display the number of days they have been at sea on their signatures. On board, we met passengers who crossed over from Southhampton to New York, made their way down to the Caribbean and back up to Brooklyn, and were on their way back to England. For a total of 26 days! In fact if I am not wrong, the QM2 has just left Southhampton a couple of days ago, embarking on an impressive 120-day World Cruise, carrying with it 2500 passengers, 1200 staff, five swimming pools, three desalination plants, one power plant and tons of provisions, among others.
The consequences of taking part on a world cruise would be dire, for our party at least. My father-in-law put on 1.5 kg during our 12-day sojourn; and I myself added kilo. And once gained, it is proving impossible to get rid of. I suppose it doesn’t help that one of the first things I did upon being back online was to google “gluten-free croissants nyc”. And of course, it produced a relevant hit. And between disembarkation day and yesterday, when we finally paid Noglu a visit, I have been feeding myself gluten-free cheesecake, apple tart, bagels and chocolate, among others.
Back to the Queen Mary 2. As can be expected, a lot of her passengers were elderly. I surmise that 65% were 60+. One of the evenings, it was announced that somebody had celebrated his 100th birthday on the ship. I didn’t get a glimpse of what he looked like, but would have liked to. At any rate, on board, canes, walkers and wheelchairs abound. The true meaning of the leisurely pace became clear to me on the ship. But fast or slow, the passengers had style. All 12 evenings required some form of decent dress, four of which were formal. For Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and two other evenings, the women were decked out in floor-length gowns, high heels and jewelry while the men donned tuxedos, cufflinks and bowties. The whole ship was elevated by this simple act of putting on beautifully tailored clothes. We stood taller and for the most part behaved more lady- and gentleman-like.
But not all of the passengers were old. There were toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Which brings me back to the back burners. I realize that I now belong to the part of society that has its strongest (physically, at least) days behind it. And it’s okay. I can accept that. I will start up yoga again to gently counteract the effects of gravity and normal bodily change. I plan to hike more and do more walks during the week. That will already help keep me healthy. When we were in Barbados, the country with the second-highest number of centenarians, I was reminded again of the secret to aging well. Good diet, good food, a close knit community, and day-to-day movement. The more you move, the better you age, in general. So that is what I am aiming for.
It seems fitting that I kicked off the second half of my life with a sneak peak of how things could look for me later. It seems that if you’re lucky, with age comes wisdom, free time, a bit of disposable income, and if you so chose, many leisurely days growing your girth on a luxury liner. And you know, that’s alright with me.
January has been a good month. Correction. A great month! And it’s not over yet.
Let’s see… I’m working diligently on two projects from Germany – vastly different in style and content, one consumer-oriented creative copywriting, one editing corporate content, and so far, so good. AND, after a hiatus, my US culturally-related project has also resumed – yeay!!! I’m excited. That should start sometime in February, once the other two time-consuming projects have wound down.
On the photo front, getting accepted as a member at the Soho Photo Gallery was such a happy thing. We are joining a wonderful community of photographers – most of whom are long-time photographers, yet amateurs, i.e. they have or had other day jobs – whose work we admire. We’ve attended two meetings so far, a business one, with the nitty gritty of running such a cooperative and gallery, and one where we looked at others’ work and discussed an event that’s planned for the end of the year.
On the family and friends front, it’s been lovely. We kicked off the year with a nice New Year’s Eve celebration at Paula and Chad’s, immediately followed by a family New Year’s Day brunch at ours. Our friends Alex and Max came to town , and we met them at the Whitney. Interesting exhibitions – the Portraits section was my favorite. We were then invited to join one Max’s old friends, Claudia, at her place, for dinner.
Claudia is an artist who does cool, humorous cartoon-like drawings which remind of manga. Her use of simple strokes is very Japanese, I thought. When I mentioned that to her, she said that she was fascinated by Japanese culture and would love to go to Tokyo. To which I thought immediately – ACC grant application? So I sent her the link. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known what that was, so in that sense, it was meant to be.
Now Claudia’s daughter Louna was also there. She is studying at the Peabody at John Hopkins Institute. We got to talking and found out that she was at the New Music Gathering last year and actually saw Gamelan Dharma Swara play. Come again? The one and only time I was at the Peabody, a student who was there and saw us play would one day host Alex and I at her apartment? Wow.
Which brings me to six degrees of separation – the theory that says that there are only a maximum of six steps separating anyone and the rest of the world. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and the older I get and the more people I meet, the more convinced I am that it’s true. Often, you don’t even need six steps. I was thinking about the people I went to elementary school in LA with, and it led me down the rabbit hole of Los Angelians and West-Coasters and the like. I am apparently only two degrees away from the fashion designer James Perse, which is random because until Googling that day, I didn’t even know who that was. But when I passed by one of his stores near the Soho Photo Gallery the other day, it was like, “Ah!”
And a bit more bizzarely, through another El Rodeo connection, I am only three degrees away from the late Armand Hammer, four from Al Gore, five from the Clintons, which led to the Obamas, and in equal measure, to Trump himself. Which is, sigh. Not that I was really looking for it, but I found one (of I’m sure many) ways that I am connected to the current and future President of the United States. Not that it’s that special – we are all connected one way or another. I just never thought to connect the dots for myself. Being in New York, I’m actually surprised that I’m actually that distant to the Donald. I’m pretty sure if I went down the East-Coast rabbit hole – starting with Jennifer from Repeat Roses – there would be a more direct connection. If I went down the McKinsey route, it would be even quicker. But I digress. I would actually prefer to know that a closer connection to Obama exists than to Trump. If I went through my Indonesian friends and family, it will prove to be true, I’m sure.
Networks are everything, and getting in touch with the right people makes such a difference in the course of things. Being in the East Coast has reinforced this understanding, because especially here, when you’re competing with millions of other people, without a network, you don’t get very far. The worst thing you can do to try to get a job, for example, is to apply to one cold, online. It’s a gigantic waste of time, no one will look at your entry. Which is not so in Munich. You actually get real responses to the applications you send out in Munich, which is nice.
Anyways, back to the gamelan performance at the Peabody. It occured to me that I took a lot of photos then, partly for myself, partly to document for Dharma Swara. What if Louna was in one of them? I thought to do it but never really looked, until today. And whadda ya know? There she was, sitting on the floor in front of the instruments, just a few feet from where my mom and sister were sitting. Hard to believe. Life gives you these little surprises once in a while.
What else was nice about the start of the year? Catching up with Rickardo – the second time within a month, no less. He lives in London now and was sent here for work, but our connection stems from his time in Munich. My Munich network is one of the most enduring – I suppose because I formed it in my twenties. It has blessed me with many friends from all over the world who now also live all over the world. Anyways, we met at a vegetarian restaurant called Nix. I had spicy scrambled eggs and a gluten- and dairy-fee almond milk porridge with brown rice, blueberry jam, and bananas. Rickardo had many, many dishes. : ) The food was gooood, will have to go back there again.
That day proceeded with an enchanting Indonesian shadow puppet performance called Wayang Bocor, to which my New York and Connecticut cousins also came. I bought tickets online, but they also went because they wanted to meet up with an old friend of theirs from Indonesia, who was a friend of the creator, Eko. Three degrees separating me and the creator of the show I was watching. Who knew?
At any rate, January continued with hiking and sailing, Perth Amboy, Ocean Grove and Asbury Park – one of my favorite places in Jersey, and Harriman State Park – one of my favorite places in New York. In between were gamelan meetings and delicious meals. And somewhere in between that, was my birthday. We dined at a restaurant on Washington Street with Chad and Paula, which was lovely.
I was listening to an On Point podcast about Hygge – the Danish word for the cozy and comfortable time you spend with your loved ones. Where you gather somewhere together, with candles lit, drinking tea, hanging out, eating, chatting, making music, playing games. Just being. Am not sure how that fits with the New York lifestyle, but Germans (and Indonesians) are good about getting hygge with it. The most concentrated German hyggely time starts at the beginning of Advent and continues on to the Epiphany, or the Three Kings Day. All of those Christmas lights and candles certainly help, I suppose. With Alex’s family, this usually continues to the end of the January because so many of us have birthdays in the month and there are at least one or two family feasts thrown in there. Indonesians, on the other hand, are in a perpetual hygge mode, it seems.
After over a year of being here, it’s starting to become hyggely – our home, our friends, my family, our experiences. I find that it takes a while for me to achieve a certain level of comfort with anyone. But it’s slowly getting there.
At the very least, with all of our sailing, gamelan, and photography activities, we are building up relationships. I am getting jobs and projects. We’re taking new classes, meeting new people and making new friends, and reconnecting with old ones. In that sense, we are working to make sure that it’s really just six degrees, and most likely, even less, between us and the rest of the world. Which is nice to know.
On that note, I will end this post. Hope you’re all well.
Below some photos from the past couple of weeks.
New Year’s Day with the family
New Year’s Day with the East Coast family
the view from the Soho photo
Great gf seafood pasta from the Italian near Soho photo, after-meeting meal
With Alex and Max at the Whitney Terrace. It was freezing outside
love this swing
everyone doing their thing
around the corner from the gallery – love this mural
So it was pouring cats and dogs yesterday, as Alex and I ran around the City taking care of photography-related matters. We went to the Soho Photo Gallery to see the opening of the December artists and stopped by Adorama to stock up on proofing paper, while the heavens came down on us.
Afterwards, we went to So Gong Dong in Hoboken where comfort food – bubbling hot soft tofu soup for me and a ramen for Alex – awaited. A nice end to a productive evening.
When it rains, it pours. Here it’s often the case, which means not leaving your umbrella at home if it looks like it might rain, no matter how inconvenient schlepping it around might be.
When it rains, it pours, also aptly describes my life this past couple of weeks. I’ve been waiting a while for a non-profit who extended an offer to get back to me. Then I realized that that could, and would, take its time, so I made the decision to continue pursuing one of my most important long-term goals – building a stable client base in Germany. So I started preparing strategy, made a to-do-list, did online research, etc. And, what do you know, just like that, people started getting in touch with me. No need to bore you with details, but in the space of a week, I conversed with three different contacts – one client, two potential, and have been busy preparing, reading and researching and writing various things for them. Brilliant! It’s as if the world heard me and said, alright, let’s do it.
I also recently became Secretary of Gamelan Dharma Swara, which means e-mails, minutes, meetings, notes, and taking active part in a number of discussions involving repertoire, finance, calendar, among others.
On top of that, I am also trying to be part of New York’s largest cooperative photography group – the Soho Photo Gallery – hence the gallery visit yesterday. I have another conversation with the president, Paul, this Thursday to show him some of my work. He will give an indication of whether or not they think my work will fit in with the group’s. This means going through hundreds of my most recent photos and culling, editing, and killing some of those darlings, so it’s quite a process.
So yeah, not bored. A bit overwhelmed, and satisfied in general that there is a bit of purposeful activity. It’s nice to know that all those hours spent taking photos might actually lead to something more substantial. And that all those hours writing articles about obscure things like automation and drives and supply chain management will lead to income.
What else? We went to India last month, an event which either deserves its own post or I should just leave alone, I haven’t yet decided. It was intense, and there are soo many stories from our two weeks there. Suffice it to say for now that it was a highly memorable trip, and that I am happy that we went.
So at the risk of this being too short and functional of an update, I will end and post, because as Sabine once said, a short posting is better than no posting.
Hope you’re all well.
Ps. Below one of the photos I’m considering for the portfolio. Luckily, there was no rain there.
To continue and conclude “The quest for gluten” series is to talk about Richard the Baker.
Our trip to Berkshires was more like a pilgrimage. To the holy baking site where maybe all my problems would go away. But, it’s neither a hospital nor a rehabilitation center, and it’s definitely not a temple. The Berkshire Mountain Bakery is just a normal bakery. A bit more rustic than city ones perhaps, nestled in the tony countryside, in a community of generally liberal-minded intellectuals, artists and foodies.
So bellies full from the lovely breakfast, and after getting a bit sidetracked by the Saturday farmer’s market at Great Barrington, Alex and I walked finally into the bakery. There were a couple of people in front of us, which gave us time to look around and pick out the things that we wanted to buy. I spotted some gluten free loafs, as well as frozen apple pie; Alex also saw a few things that interested him. When it was our turn, Alex simply asked the lady behind the counter about how long to let sourdough bread proof before baking, which was one of the reasons for us being there in the first place. The lady said she didn’t know, and said that Richard could answer. She disappeared to the back, then came back, and beckoned us to go back there with her.
And then, just like that, there we were, standing in the place where the bread was made, in the inner sanctum of the bakery. And there stood Richard, his silver mane waving about, shirt and apron covered with dusts of flour, saying hello, sounding (naturally) just like he did on Netflix. It’s as if we stepped through our LED screen and into his world.
So that was bizarre. At first, I felt like we were intruding, and felt a bit awkward. But Richard was very accommodating and kind. I suppose he is used to having customers stop by wanting to meet him. He listened to Alex’s story, about how we saw him on Netflix and how we began making our own bread and about my gluten intolerance. And we asked him if he thinks I would be okay eating normal sourdough bread. And then began what ultimately became a two-hour discussion on life, the meaning of food and eating and cooking, and mankind’s relationship to food and the earth. It was fascinating. His interest and passion for food and his philosophy about what we are eating, his beliefs about what is good and not good for us, how not to eat bread and the best way to eat meat, about sprouting seeds or fermenting, it was very educational. I could have listened to him for hours, which actually, I did.
When we discussed whether or not I should be able to eat sourdough bread, in contrast to Michael Pollan who explicitly stated that he believes gluten intolerants should be able to consume such things, Richard himself wasn’t so sure. He gave us a bit of his starter and asked me to cook and eat it like pancake and see how that affects me. The gluten in the batter, which by now had turned into liquid, should have been processed enough as to render it harmless. But again he wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to make any guarantees, so I said that I was willing to be his guinea pig.
Richard talked about starting his own TV show to share all of his ideas. To start a series wherein he would encourage America, and indeed the world, to bake their own breads and feed themselves properly. To discuss his theories on eating and enzymes and health, and on the proper ways to prepare the different things that we should eat, like grains, meats, fruits, etc. I’d be totally into something like that, and I do hope that he will follow through on his ideas.
After some time, we excused ourselves, giddy and grateful for having spent so much time together with the master baker. We went back onto the shop floor and bought loaves of bread for Alex and me, as well as frozen gluten free apple pie, to go.
Later that night, Richard actually followed up and texted us to say that I should add baking soda to the batter to make it less sour. So when we got home, I made glutenous pancakes of sourdough starter with baking soda, and ate them. They tasted pretty good. It helps when you add chocolate. Sourdough and chocolate is a killer combination, btw. And I didn’t die or feel too awful. The scratchy throat that I used to have for years and years did come back, and sometimes my stomach felt discomfort.
Alex also made me bread with einkorn, an ancient form of wheat that contains less gluten, and I actually ate slices of it, as well as some pieces of Richard’s kamut bread, with some side effects, but none too damaging. The simple fact that I ate some pancakes and bread made with glutenous flour was big. But the fact that I did have symptoms, and when I perspired, it wasn’t the healthiest of aromas, that did worry me a little bit. So I think, though it could have been worse, it’s still not really without consequences, consuming gluten. Which is a bit of a pity. I was also a bit too bold and kept adding to it. I toasted the bread with cheese, which I almost never eat. And at one point, it felt all a bit too much. The problem was, because I was eating both dairy and gluten, I couldn’t figure out which of the two was causing problems.
So I decided to just stop. After just a week or two of experimenting, I went back to my gluten-free diet. I didn’t want to push my luck, and I was afraid of reversing all the good that I’ve done over the last 15 years. I am used to a gluten and dairy-free diet, and I prefer not to have an itchy throat the whole time.
But the story doesn’t end there. When I’m feeling healthy, I will eat slices of sourdough bread to see what happens. Because I still think consuming the bacteria from sourdough fermentation is good for you. I will also try making gluten-free sourdough bread myself one day. And in less than 10 days, we will be going back to the Berkshires, and I will make sure to stop by and buy some gluten free bread and pies from Richard, and tell him how eating gluten has affected me thus far. Maybe he has new insights that he can share with me.
So, that was the meeting with the guru of gluten. Eventful, unexpected, delicious.
Below some pics from our visit. If any of you are in the area, make sure to pay Richard a visit. The bread is good, and good for you. 🙂
A year ago, on September 28, 2015, Lufthansa’s flight LH 412 from Munich to Newark landed on Jersey soil, carrying, among others, two would-be expats to their new homes.
Moving here has been quite educational. And a bit confusing. It is something new and something old at the same time. The US was my home before I moved to Europe. I grew up and spent 13 very formative years attending elementary, middle school, high school and university here. However, the East Coast is definitely not the West Coast, the mentality is different, the weather is different. And, as much as I have internalized many American values, I have also internalized a lot of German values. When I am here, I feel extremely German. But just from looking at and talking to me, no one would know that at all.
Several months ago, Alex and I had the pleasure of having his niece Anna, and her boyfriend Marcel, over for a visit. As good Germans, A & M had a clear plan of what they wanted to for each of their 12 days, all the way to the minutes before their departure back to Deutschland.
One of the top things on their list, besides seeing a Yankees game live, was to tour the MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. For $17 a person, you can book tickets online and get an inside look at all that the stadium has to offer. We had two tour guides, a tall and authoritative yet not unfriendly lady, and her younger counterpart. She started by asking us about what we knew about the Stadium, its history, about the teams and who owns them. The Giants are apparently owned by the Tisch and Mara families, and are stated to be worth $1.3 billion. The stadium’s other team is the Jets. Hosting two teams concurrently makes the MetLife Stadium the No. 1 grossing stadium in the world.
And then, the walking tour began. We saw the trophy room and the press room, and learned some facts about why the press room wasn’t centered to the 50 yard line – moneyed patrons and the private suites they occupy – then we actually looked at the different suites, from close to nosebleed height, to the levels below, to the Commissioner’s Club whose common lounge area resembled a staid old boys’ club in the middle of Manhattan, and where gourmet delicacies would be served up by star chefs, and all the way down to the Coaches’ Club, where preparations for an impressive Bat-mitzvah party for fraternal twin girls A&I were underway. When we got onto the field, we were strictly advised not to test the special astroturf by tackling one another, and to stand behind the dotted yellow media lines at all times. We could, however, take all the pictures we wanted.
On the field, stadium technicians were testing the audio visual systems, and a video ran over and over, showing us clips of A & I, their friends, and one Giants and one Jets player respectively, wishing them congratulations on entering adulthood. A privilege that cost the family a pretty fortune, I’m sure.
It became clear why the stadium is so successful. Companies, entrepreneurs, self-made gazillionaires and old wealth – all are congregated onto this one island, and even spilled over to neighboring New Jersey, and by one-upping themselves with expensive suites and memorable milestone celebrations, they provide financial support to the players and coaches and the Mara and Tisch families. As for the normal fan, I’m sure in aggregate their tickets do amount to something, but…
During Superbowl 2014, we were told, the suites, many of whom were in the hands of one owner during the entire season, were all reauctioned from scratch, the top ones garnering slightly over $1 million for that ONE game.
It was an interesting tour, no less, and I learned much more than I expected to. But the German in me just can’t condone this kind of crazy capitalism. Because the questions nag: How much does the security staff, or the girl behind the food stand, earn? Can they support themselves and their families on their hourly salaries? And why is it, when suites are sold for $1 million a game, the surrounding freeways are full of potholes and beggars stand on every street corner?
However, simply condemning something I don’t agree with is not the answer. So I am left with trying really hard to make heads of tails of it, until I do understand.
So this is my theory. America is still a relatively young country. And with any young living thing, it has young dreams. Like I can be who I want to be, if I work hard enough. That is, the American dream, no? And, akin to that, whatever I can fantasize in my head, I can and should make real. Like any teenager, America is also quite focused on itself, as it navigates what it means to be part of the big wide world and the global society. So it imagines riches, comforts and affluence that are beyond most persons’ reach and thinks that providing that, reaching those fantastical dreams for oneself is what it’s all about. When I get there, I would have achieved the ultimate, and that would be the point of my life.
What many forget (and not just here but also in other parts of the world) is that that indescribable wealth often comes at someone else’s cost. Someone who perhaps wasn’t born in the right neighborhood, for example, meaning that they had sub-par teachers and less than optimal conditions to learn and thrive and be all that they can be. They have single parents who are barely earning minimum wage, are living on welfare, or worse yet, homeless. Maybe they have learning disabilities, or have five brothers and sisters and are all living in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s hardly fair to blame them when they end up doing menial work.
While it is true are all born equal, it is not true that we are all born with equal chances. And it’s important to know the difference. Some definitely have a leg up on others, and continue to do so until they die. The dream that we can all be who we want to be is just that, a dream, for many children and adults alike. Many are thrust into a world where their parents are uneducated and have uneducated friends and neighbors; they are all working hard doing multiple low-paying jobs and living in districts where schools and teachers are overwhelmed with children who actually have a deficit of positive attention, as well as having attention deficit.
Some people honestly believe that if these people can’t make it and have a good life, that it’s their own fault. They’re not doing enough to achieve the dream. But it’s not that simple, is it?
The German in me firmly believes that we all deserve a dignified life, health insurance, free education, extended maternity leave, vacation time, and enough income to feed ourselves and our families in a healthy, satisfying, way. There is enough for everybody, so we should be okay with sharing it. No one deserves to earn 1 million times more than anyone. Or even 1000 times more than anyone else, really. I don’t mind paying more for my public health insurance than someone who couldn’t afford so much, if it meant that others would get better healthcare. So, yeah, call me a socialist.
These are just some random thoughts going through my head as I contemplate the deeper things that have touched me the past year. But, lest you think that I am only focusing on the negative things (that I cannot change), I can assure you there are many positive things about being back here. But, that is the subject for another post.
Meanwhile, below pics from one of the temples of capitalism, the MetLife Stadium.
I had an impromptu and short summer break – flying to Jakarta via Munich and back – which it itself produced a whole set of new stories, some of which I will share with the WWW in the next blog entry.
In the meantime, however, I do need to continue my tale of gluten hunting…
To recap, at the end of June, Alex and I went to the Berkshires, Massachusetts, to search for normal bread that I could eat. Normal here would be defined as “containing gluten”, i.e. containing that protein that turns dough all stretchy, allowing air bubbles to expand and stay trapped within bread and giving it that fluffy, airy texture.
And so…off went Alex and I, in our convertible with its new car smell, up north along the Hudson to the wee and twee town of Egremont, where our B&B – The Inn at Sweet Water Farm – is located. We didn’t really know what to expect, except that the Berkshires is a beloved summer destination of New Yorkers and Bostonians, and that our inn had great reviews on Trip Advisor.
The first thing that greeted us when we arrived were the chickens. Our hosts Lynda and Andrei keep a flock and use their eggs for breakfast. Now that was unexpected. Healthy and robust, the chickens showed off their fluffy plumes like stars at a fashion show. The main man, named “Pretty”, sports feathers around his legs which make it look like he’s wearing hammer-style pantaloons. Brilliant. Pretty has his own harem of equally pretty hens, and they ran around the grass and in the bushes by the buildings being, well, chickens. We immediately took to the place.
We dropped our bags off in our rooms, afterwhich we were offered chilled decaf mint tea, home-brewed beer (for Alex), and a plate of walnuts and cherries as a refreshment. “Would we like some?” asked Lynda. “Uh, yes please!”
Energized by food and drink and in need of some movement, we then took a walk around the neighborhood and explored. We saw very neatly organized farms, rolling hills, open fields, wide vistas, and many trees. I’ve never really seen many American farms before, and they have a surprising and sparse aesthetic to them.
It ended up being quite a walk, and when we finally got back to our B&B, we decided to stay in and not go out. We lounged in the common living room, playing with our phones, reading and chatting. As we sat, rhythmic chopping and sizzling sounds, followed by delicious smells, emanated from the kitchen. And not much later came Lynda, bearing plates and a cutting board laden with lovely gluten-free snacks of dates, ham, pecans, cheese and cherries. We had told her earlier that we planned to grab something to eat, and seeing that we somehow did not manage it, she made an evening snack, just for us, just like that. Wow.
The spoiling of the greedy guests continued the next morning. We were given a menu from which we could choose a breakfast item, which is then made to order. I ordered quinoa with poached egg and herbs, with a side of bacon, and Alex picked the omelette. And, having asked me the day before whether or not I liked rhubarb, Lynda had also prepared a gluten-free rhubarb compote, which was waiting on the side table for me, along with croissants for Alex. And so it went the whole weekend. There were always chilled drinks in the fridge, water in the room and downstairs in the dining room, and extra gluten-free treats for me for breakfast. The next morning, instead of compote, I got Salvadoran breakfast cakes.
So really, just being at the inn, we already loved the Berkshires. It was so nice, I almost forgot what we came there for. What was it again? Ah, yes, gluten…
But, we did go to the bakery and we did meet Richard the baker himself! And what an encounter that was.
However, it’s getting late. I didn’t realize when I started writing that this post would end up being an ode to Lynda and Andrei, but that’s what it is, in the end. Because they deserve a mention. With many businesses focusing solely on profit and efficiency and what have you, it’s important to highlight an experience where it wasn’t just about that. It’s lovely to go somewhere and be truly welcomed and be treated like old friends. No?
I do promise to post about our meeting with Richard in the next entry. I do I do. Quickly – did we buy bread? Yes! Did I eat some? I did indeed. And how did I react to it? Well, that is still an on-going exploration, and I will write about that one next. With some photos of Richard, and the raccoons. I promised to post pictures of the raccoons last time, and I haven’t forgotten.
In the meantime, wishing you all a happy weekend! And a happy long Labor Day Weekend to those in the US : ).
Below, pictures of Pretty, some of his brood, Lynda our hostess, the inn, and food!
The gluten-free Salvadoran breakfast cake. Other guests were gobbling them up too, so I greedily took three
Downstairs in the inn
The alpha hen of the lot, if there is such a thing. She had no fear, and kept coming closer and closer…
Gluten-free rhubarb compote? Yes, please!
In the dining area
Look – it’s Pretty, looking very pretty indeed
Our lovely hostess Lynda preparing breakfast
The recipe for Salvadoran breakfast cakes, from Food52