Six degrees

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it rains…

 

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.

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The quest for gluten, part III: Richard the baker

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 am willing to be his guinea pig.

Richard talked about starting his own TV show 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, etc, and on the proper ways to prepare the different things that we should eat, like grains, meats, fruits, etc. I personally would be interested in watching 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. 🙂

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Loaves from the Berkshire Mountain Bakery

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Richard Bourdon making ginger cookies

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Sourdough starter pancake topped with chocolate sprinkles

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Glutenous sourdough Kamut bread toasted with gouda cheese and chocolate sprinkles
 

 

 

One year on, deep thoughts

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 iving 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.

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The view from the press box

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Anna and Marcel
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That’s some special astroturf I am standing on.
Have a good night all!

 

 

 

The quest for gluten, part II: Our brilliant B&B

Hi all, hope you’re all well!

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 quest for gluten, part I

The other weekend, Alex and I drove to the Berkshires in search of gluten. Not just any gluten, mind you. Gluten that has gone through the natural process of fermentation, made by the baker Richard Bourdon, proprietor of the Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

We were flipping through Netflix the other week, undecided on what to watch, when Alex came across the series “Cooked.” It was on the list of recommended things to see, and probably landed there because I previously watched Chef’s Table, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and a bunch of other food-related shows. So, bored on a weekend evening, we watched “Cooked.”

In it, Michael Pollan discussed the process of bread and fermentation and talked about gluten. Not that I agree with all of the show’s pronouncements about gluten, mind you, but one thing did stick out in my mind. Baking bread the old fashioned way, i.e. with natural fermentation as opposed to with ready-made industrial yeast, breaks down the proteins (gluten) so that they are easier to digest. Not only that, consuming the natural yeast and bacteria in the bread that result from fermentation builds up the flora in your intestines, which in turn helps you better process food in general.

I immediately googled and wikied to see how much of that is true, and actually found a bonafide study in which celiacs (who have to avoid all forms of gluten, even in minuscule amounts) who ingested a small amount of naturally fermented sourdough bread exhibited no negative reactions. That is big! Celiacs usually can’t even consider touching cross-contaminated foods with a whiff of gluten in or on it. To have them actually be able to eat two whole grams of normal bread and not be ill? That’s incredible. And, it was hypothesized that it might actually be healing for their gut to consume fermented foods and breads, so that was a double whammy.

In Cooked’s “Air” episode, Polan introduced us to Richard the baker, a big proponent of healthy eating, who worked tirelessly for years on perfecting the natural sourdough bread. So I watched the episode again. They showed him working in his bakery in the Berkshires. Everything was in slow motion, the kneading and shaping and putting the bread in the oven. And in between watching the close ups and the wide angled shots, came one of those special moments in my life. I don’t know if I it was a calling, or an instinct, or perhaps sheer desperation, but I was determined to go and see this guru of gluten. Just like I couldn’t help gravitating to gamelan many moons ago, I was simply drawn to bread of the Berkshires. This could be the answer to my problems. If there was one glutenous bread that I could eat, it would be his.

Now why would I want to eat gluten at all, you might wonder? These days, being gluten free, especially for those located in the greater New York metropolitan area, is a breeze. I can eat pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, bagels, pancakes, tacos, Chinese food, Japanese food, what have you, in countless restaurants. Many places have their own dedicated gluten free menus. Compare that to 2001 in Munich, when maintaining a gluten free diet was a total pain in the be-hind, to say the least. When eating out, I could count on having salad, french fries, Thai curries, sautéd veggies, sauceless meats and fish, and rice. That was to the extent of it. As for breads, there was either a small selection of Dr. Schär products – nothing like the smorgasbord of goodies that I have access to now – or really dense, hard organic bread that sat in my stomach like concrete. It’s a wonder that I hadn’t whittled away to nothing then.

Now for those who don’t know, I stopped eating gluten 15 years ago, before it became a trendy thing to be gluten free, before the word gluten became a common household word.

I did that because for some time, many things were wrong with me. I was constantly tired, regardless of how long I’d slept. I could eat like a horse and not gain weight (which some might consider a blessing, I know), but I was always hungry nonetheless. I was sneezing all the time – you would never see me without a Kleenex. The skin on my nose and around my eyebrows was peeling regularly, (something I’d seen on my dad, who probably also had the same problem, me now thinks). I had bone pain in the weirdest of spots – in the middle of my arm or on the back of my leg. My mind wasn’t sharp and  I was floating in a somewhat foggy world. And worst of all, I had a hard time partaking in the simple joys of life, for reasons unclear to me.

Skin peelings aside, most of those things were not visible to the rest of the world, they were just my little burdens to bear. Falling asleep at my desk at work after lunch, though, that’s for everyone, bosses included, to see, and the day it first happened became my tipping point. I found that I just could not keep my eyes open after eating, no matter how hard I tried. I snuck off to the ladies, sat on the toilet, put my hands on my lap, put my head on my hands and napped for 5 to 15 minutes, I’m not sure. I came back to my desk with weird press marks on my forehead, feeling a little out of sorts.  At first I thought I was just having an off day, but when this started occurring regularly, I thought, “I gotta sort this out.” My colleague, bless her, never once said a word.

So I went to a doctor, who referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, who then determined that I was allergic to just about everything, including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, birch, cat and dog dander, grasses, pollen, mildew, mites, eggs, cheese, milk, yoghurt, wheat, barley, oats, and rye. He just said, reduce exposure to those things and avoid those foods as much as you can and you will feel better. That diagnosis was both comforting and disturbing, because it came with no specific advice on how to handle avoiding all listed food matter, so to figure out how to deal with that, I had to do my own research.

And that’s when I found out, for the first time, that there was a link between wheat, barley, oats, and rye: gluten. And that some people who can’t eat gluten have something called celiac disease, which is a big, big thing. People with undiagnosed celiac disease often had other problems, like extra allergies, brain fog and fatigue, bone pain and the like. And, hallelujah!, those symptoms often disappeared when you stick to a strict gluten free diet. That was also the first time I had heard of such a diet.

Now let’s go back to the word “strict.” Gluten is hidden in many many things, not just obvious things like bread and pasta. It’s in sushi crab meat and soy sauce and most kinds of factory-made sauces, it’s in ready-made rubs and dried stock, breaded food, chocolate bars, so the general advice was, before commencing a gluten free diet, make sure you really really have a problem, and are not simply allergic to barley, oat, rye and wheat. Allergies can be desensitized, but embracing a gluten free diet means a serious commitment to a whole new lifestyle that involved a lot of sacrifice, especially in 2001 Germany. No more cakes at office parties, no grabbing a quick slice of pizza, no pretzels, no fried fish on Fridays, no cookies, no ice cream cones.

So, not really sure which side of the fence I wanted to fall on, I reluctantly schlepped my tired self to another doctor – a gastroenterologist – who, upon hearing my story, conducted a biopsy and blood test, through which it was shown that although my intestines looked fine and that my vili were thankfully still intact, I had high levels of IgG antibodies, which, according to him and to Wikipedia, “is also associated with coeliac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”

There it was, scientific proof, in black and white, that something specific was causing all of my problems. The results of the test made me happy and angry, got me crying, and then depressed, because really, what the hell was I supposed to eat if I couldn’t eat bread and drink beer, in Bavaria, Germany – The home of beer and bread?!? And what about all of the other things that made up the mainstay of the Bavarian diet, such as apples and pears and the like, that were on my list? It was a fact that was hard to swallow (pardon the pun) and frustrating and maddening all at once.

But, that was a very long time ago, and thank goodness, the initial shock and confusion has melted away. Being on a gluten-free (and later, also dairy-free) diet freed me of many of my ailments, and I am a way healthier and happier person because of it.

Which brings us back to the question, if it ain’t broke, why eat gluten? Because. I miss croissants – for me one of the most important baked goods for which there is no adequate substitute. And fluffy brioche, and crunchy baguettes. I’d love to eat Bánh mì, miso ramen, tempura, Peking duck, egg rolls, puff pastries, burritos, Marillenknödel, Black Forest Cake, Chinese pao, and a thousand other things, again.

On a deeper level, I just want things to be normal. Watching that episode of Cooked, and reading that article about celiacs eating glutenous bread and how that might heal their gut, reignited my dormant hope that my whacky system can be in balance again. I firmly believe that things that are out of balance can be adjusted back. I’ve stuck to the avoidance diet, done EPD therapy at least three times, meditated, practiced yoga, had acupuncture, what have you, and with each little effort, things have improved. Through the years, I’ve found out that I am not a celiac, but simply gluten sensitive / intolerant; and a couple of dining mishaps have shown me that I can actually tolerate a considerable amount of gluten without major pain. Dairy seems to actually be the more problematic food, and even so, I can still handle small amounts of cheese, sour cream, ice cream and the like. The number of things I am allergic to has diminished, and I can now eat apple, cherries, peaches etc, especially when cooked, or in small amounts when raw. I am inching towards the center, slowly but surely.

So this is how it came to be that on the last weekend of  June, 2016, a couple of weeks after that fateful Netflix night, that Alex and I were headed up the Palisades Interstate Parkway towards the Berkshires, soaking up the sun in our convertible, with the simple plan of getting some good old-fashioned glutenous bread. For me so I can heal, ironically enough, and for Alex so he can enjoy and learn from a master baker. I wasn’t the only one having an epiphany while watching the show apparently – Alex was inspired to make his own bread.

And what transpired, well, it was unexpected. And pretty sweet.

In the next post, you will meet our lovely B&B hostess and host Lynda and Andrei, a fluffy rooster named Pretty, three baby raccoons, and Richard the baker.

In the meantime, below some pics from day one of our wonderful wheaty (and also wheat-free) weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My days in numbers

It’ll almost be 9 months since Alex and I have moved to New Jersey. Kaum zu glauben!

It’s really hard to summarize all that I’ve seen, and all that’s happened. So, I thought I would go clinical and just use numbers. So here some random stats from our days in New Jersey, broken down by category:

Travel and movement

  • No. of days in the US: 269
  • No. of days with hikes and/or long walks: 67
  • No. of states visited: 8 (Arizona, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Utah)
  • No. of steps walked: 1,784,737
  • Average steps per day: 6635

Friends and family

  • No. of days spent with either sisters and/or mom:  39 (the most in any year since 2005)
  • No. of aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins seen: 20(the most in any year since I can’t remember)
  • No. of visitors from overseas: 4
  • No. of times I met Naomi: 2 (that last time we saw each other more than once a year was in 1991)

Arts Indonesia

  • No. of new people met through Gamelan Dharma Swara: 27
  • No. of new pieces learned: 6
  • No. of performances I took part in: 6
  • No. of performances I watched: 2
  • No. of cities performed in: 3

Productivity

  • No. of courses taken: 4
  • No. of times observing a UN panel discussion: 1
  • No. of new babies visited: 1
  • No. of Instagram posts: 75
  • No. of WordPress Postcard posts: 14, including this one
  • No. of new websites created: 1
  • No. of jobs looked at: hundreds
  • No. of job applications sent: 10
  • No. of hours spent volunteering: 3.75

Well, that’s all for now. Soon, a post – with a bit more sentiment – about the German, socialist side of Pinky.

Nighty night!

 

My LA story

First…a moment. To take a deep breath, gather strength and remember that despite some fanatics’ best efforts, the world isn’t falling apart and that bombings, nuclear testings and bizarre presidential candidates are anomalies in this world. I pray for all the souls – for those whose lives were tragically lost, and for those among us who are still lost in their search for meaning.

So….

I recently spent a great two weeks in Los Angeles. When I say great, I really mean it. I was never excited about LA before. I mentioned in a previous post that when I was growing up there I was dependent on others to drive me around, and that made me feel trapped. So that had a lot to do with it.

It has been three decades since I last officially lived in the City of Angels, and it only makes sense that an enormous amount has changed, of course. Many more people have moved in, neighborhoods have developed for the better and are more aesthetic, more interesting, and, what is really compelling – more bikeable and walkable. And now, there are even subways (gasp, public transport!) to connect some of these boroughs.

LA County is made up of 88 cities, each with its own identity. There is, for example, Silicon Beach (Venice) with its Abbot Kinney street, lined with great design stores, original restaurants and cool cafés, and with corresponding real estate prices which near that of Manhattan. Santa Monica has the promenade, pier and beaches, Beverly Hills has palm trees, mansions and Rodeo Drive, East LA can claim artists and a more creative vibe, Alhambra offers excellent Chinese and other Asian foods, then there’s Pasadena, Manhattan Beach, and I could go on and on…

One of my favorite parts of all is Downtown LA. It has developed into this sexy thing. With Grand Central Market, cafés, restaurants, and architectural highlights such as the Broad, the Disney Concert Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, among others.

Downtown LA now reminds me of Berlin a few years ago, when all you could see were construction cranes. Residences and retail and entertainment centers have sprung up, and construction is far from done… A side note: the architecture company of which my brother-in-law Paul is COO, is currently building what will be the tallest building West of the Mississippi, the Wilshire Grand. They had the Concrete and Structural Topping Out Ceremony on Tuesday, March 8th, while I was in town. Everyone from management to designers to the construction crew got to sign the last steel beam before it was permanently imbedded in the structure. How cool.

When we were growing up in SoCal in the 80s, you wouldn’t dream of walking around downtown. You wouldn’t even drive through some of the areas, it was that dodgy. Hard to believe I would be raving about it one day.

When I was in Munich, I watched ‘City of Angels’, the remake of Wim Wender’s ‘Wings of Desire,’ about once a year. I appreciated its depiction of LA because it illustrated the city in a way few other films did: picturesque, with neighborhoods and sceneries I rarely saw. (The character Meg Ryan played even biked to get around.) I also liked it because of the way the music became such an integral, yet unintrusive part of the movie that you didn’t really notice it. The LA I saw the last weeks has come closer to that of the movie. And that’s really lovely.

The essential elements that differentiate LA from NY, and which then affects all other things, are weather, space and food. Warmer weather, a drier climate, and a lot of sunshine create such amazing flora. On my walks with the dogs, I saw everything from pine trees to cactuses to banana trees – with real bananas hanging on them! All the different plants and trees growing out of the same soil, amazing.

Also, even as it gets more crowded – with millions streaming in from all parts of the world to try their luck – Los Angeles still has more space than metropolises on the East Coast. The city is coping by expanding upwards, which in itself is an interesting thing to see. But, in general, if you already own a house in LA, it means you can have two to four bedrooms as well as front and back gardens. There is more breathing space, which is also what makes driving in LA unavoidable despite public transport.

Even though I really like our very bright and pretty spacious Hoboken apartment, I realized quite quickly how limited space is and how very little green one sees around here here. Out the windows are electricity poles, concrete, steel and brick. Though the different buildings are a big part of what gives our little enclave charm, it also makes it somewhat closed in and claustrophobic.

Back to SoCal. Have I mentioned the FOOD? Boy, do I have to mention the food! I had a discussion once with other members of DS who came from California about just how much better food is over there. Maybe because so much of it grows locally, or at the very least nearby. We’re talking about all cuisines – Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, organic, vegan, vegan organic, Mexican, Vegan Organic Mexican (a lá Gracias Madre) ‘American’ food, fusion food. Whatever it is, what you get down there is more authentic, more affordable, and for the most part, also more delicious than what you can normally get in New York or New Jersey. As I write this, my stomach is growling because, well, it’s lunch time, and I really, really miss the food. Indonesian fried chicken, cendol and deep-fried fish cake from Simpang Asia, phó from the Vietnamese or pao from the Brazilian are just some that come to mind. It’s worth spending time in SoCal to just eat your way from one establishment to the next.

Now what else went on on the West Coast? Ah yes. Disneyline. My name for the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth. Cuz that’s what it was all about. Let’s see, there was: 1. a line to get to the parking lot, 2. a line to get on the bus, 3. a line to get your bag checked, 4. a line to buy the tickets, and 5. a line to get into the park.  Once inside, we enjoyed 6. the lines to go to the bathrooms, 7. the lines to get snacks, and of course, 8. the lines to get onto the rides, which lasted anywhere from 25 to 75 minutes. (The rides themselves would be over by within a few minutes.) Then, in the evening, there was, 9. a wait to get a table at a restaurant, 10. the line to buy mugs from the store, and 11. the line to get back onto to the bus to get back to the car. And this on a normal Tuesday.

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. Loved Hyperspace Mountain, Finding Nemo, the Haunted House and Indiana Jones. Not so sure about Star Tours – the wait was long, and the ride short, and the jerking around and the 3D thing made me a little ill.

What was also good was that you were either standing or walking almost the whole day, and that’s healthy. My step count was close to 18,000, and because we were outdoors, I got me some Vitamin D. People watching  was also fascinating to no end. What they had on, who they were with. There were a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears worn – who knew? And, now that Star Wars belong to Disney, also a lot of dudes and dudettes with Star Wars t-shirts. We ran into Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Tiger, AND Storm Troopers in the same park. Where else would you get that chance?

Am gonna side track a little, but will get back to the point. So I’ve gained at least a kilo (2.2 pounds) since I moved here because Whole Foods and other gluten and dairy free food providers have made it easy for me to consume cakes, donuts, pita breads, bagels, pizzas (ie sugars and starches) and the like. Now a kilo is a big deal because my weight has been constant for the last 12 years or so. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about how my future self would look like. Roly-poly Pinky? Disneyland was enlightening in this regard. Compared to the average American walking down Main Street, I was very healthy indeed. I would even be pegged borderline anorexic. Imagine that! But it also served as a warning. If I don’t watch what I eat…

LA and NY/NJ, and I’m assuming SF and Seattle and other coastal towns have their own standards of what is normal compared to the rest of the nation. According to my sister who is well-versed in the fashion industry, the average size for an American woman is 16. 16? Wow. I just need to move, exercise and and reduce my intake of donuts, cakes, and cookies :(, and I should be fine. Yes, these are privileged first world problems, I am well aware.

Back to Disneyland, would I recommend a trek out there? Hmm. Yes, if you’ve never been. But be prepared to deal with the masses. Start early, wear comfortable walking shoes, layer your clothes, and bring lots of water with you!, and wear a backpack for comfort. And use the Fast Track passes as much as you can. If you start really early and end really late, you can probably cover both Disneyland and California Adventure Parks in one go. Also, budget for it. Per person per day in Disneyland alone is easily $175. If you eat in one of the better restaurants, and if you buy t-shirts and the like, that edges things closer to $250 – $300. I look at the families with four children and wonder how they do it. A day at the beach compared to a day at Disney…

Ok. I see that it’s been one looong post, so I will wind down.

After this trip, I decided I have to visit Southern California more often while we’re located here. Because hey, it is one of my homes, and my sister and cousins, aunts, and friends live there. I actually ran out of time to visit people, fancy that! Also, I left in such haste in 1997 and it just feels like I finally made my peace with all of that. There are many many stories from that chapter of my life, which one day I will write about. I’m thinking I need to do a photo project about LA one day…. Speaking of, below some pics from the trip.

Alright y’all. Thanks for reading! Hope all is well with you.

 

 

 

Persona Grata

Die Umsatzsteuer bei grenzüberschreitenden Dienstleistungen.

Yeah…a mouthful, ain’t it?  Roughly translated, it means ‘VAT and international (cross border) services’.  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this as I try to figure out the best way to freelance over here while working with clients in Germany.

It’s not quite as easy as I thought it would be. But I’m starting to get the feeling that maybe it’s also not that complicated.  It’s just that any legal text can be mind-numbing, and that in German is like – wow! I need a drink. And I really don’t drink.

You would think, in today’s Internet age, what with digital nomads, PayPal, Bitcoins and the like, that providing services cross-borders would not be such a hassle. But, you and I would be wrong. You have to make sure that it’s clear who pays what taxes to whom, lest you get in trouble with the IRS and the German Finanzamt – and you know, those are entities you don’t need to mess with.

I do need to understand, for my own sake, what it means for a German company to deal with someone who is based overseas, out of the EU. Because there are tax laws that govern even the most minute of incomes. The actual project I would be getting is not at all large, but it’s worth fighting for it if it means I can keep my client and freelance for more German companies in the future.

The German American Chamber of Commerce Legal Services team will answer some of my tax-related questions, they have said. So I shot off an email with a bunch of them, and am just waiting. I was never so thankful for such an institution. I used to wonder about those things – like, what are they good for, really? Now I know.

Funny all the things you need to simply offer your services to people who want and need and are willing to pay for them. I wonder if this is what ladies of the night often think to themselves…? Anyways, in fact, it’s kind of amazing, all the things you need just to become a legitimate entity. After 5 months, I am finally a fully functioning individual in the US, a persona grata, because in my possession are:

  1. A US residence visa
  2. A social security number
  3. A NJ driver’s license
  4. A US work permit
  5. A US bank account
  6. And an American credit card account – which is what you need to spend, spend! and build credit here in the States

Without all of the above, you are no one. It really gives me new found admiration for all those crossing borders illegally to eek out an existence. It’s hard enough to up and leave a place, but when you land somewhere where you are immediately outside of the system – that’s just rough.

With all of the above, someone like me can finally work, whether it be at a coffee shop or a Fortune 500 company, as a full-time employee or a freelancer, working the day or the night shift, whatever is good for the soul, and man, that feels really, undeniably good.

Right, speaking of, I happily have projects to attend to, so I will log out for now.

I have to remember to mention the cool content project, and the UN visit, in one of the next postings.

Night all, till next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking news!!!

THIS JUST IN: Frau Ibu Ms. Pingkan Marya Lucas is now officially authorized to work in the US of A!!! 😀

I am sooo psyched, had to do a post right away!

The timing could not have been better. I have been sooo restless, it’s crazy. I mean, taking care of a home is a proper job. But I am soo not great at it. Granted, there are days, when I spend hours vacuuming every last corner of our apartment, I feel like a hero – because hey, that could compete with the best Swiss hotels. But those days are rare. Usually, I just think, I could be doing something else with my time. I think you just gotta know your place in the world.

I haven’t been complacent. I’ve created quite a number of new projects for myself the past weeks. The ICP class gave me the impetus to work on ideas that’ve been swirling in my mind for some time. Gamelan photos, some portraits maybe? I have gone through some 20,000 images to prepare for my new personal website. I also signed up to volunteer at the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City, more on that below.

In addition to all of that, some people have been sending things my way. A friend wants me to look at her book – though I think the scope of work is probably too big for what I can currently handle, unfortunately; an old client from Germany has checked in to see whether or not I am ready to do work for them again (the answer to that would now be YES!), and, Chad pulled me into a really cool new content project here, about which I will write another time, because it deserves a bit of airtime.

But first, let’s talk about puff pastry. : ) Puff Pastry…is the name of a very pretty and very fluffy auburn and white cat who gave me cute little licks at the Liberty Humane Society Thursday evening, during volunteer orientation. If the barks and odors from the canine cages gave me a scare, the relative serenity of the kitty corner made me think, ‘yeah, I can do this’. The kitty corner is actually an entire floor…and Puff Daddy, is what I personally prefer to call him, had his turn to roam loose in the big room. Don’t know if they let the prettiest friendliest cat out on purpose, but if they did, it worked, because he made me want to come back.

What else happened this week? I went hiking partway up Bear Mountain… It was a beautiful, if somewhat chilly day, and I believe I was the one of the first people up that morning. Bear Mountain (pics below) can feel like Disneyland on the weekend, especially during high season, so it was such a lovely thing to see it so quiet and serene.

There were distinct signs of spring. Ice melting, literally right before my eyes. As I was taking photos of ice formations, they cracked, broke and melted, turning into water.  Branches had green tips. Lots of chirping heard. But the weather has been so temperamental, it’s hard to know what’s really happening. Temperatures swung from -12 C to close to +12 in less than a week. I mean, the magnolia trees in Central Park had buds in December, birds were all flying in the wrong direction in January. And this week, it seems everything was screaming, ‘yeah baby, bring it on!’ But will it come?

After gamelan practice, Alex and I had a walk around Williamsburg tonight. We had some great Thai food, Alex took some pictures, and we explored. It was so beautiful and warm, people running around in t-shirts and light jackets, it’s really hard to believe that spring is not coming. So let’s all cross our fingers.

Anyhoo…It’s getting quite late, so I’m going to turn in. Just had to share the news about the permit. : )

Wishing you all a good morning, good day, good night, and a Happy Sunday! Write more soon…

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