Thursday, 18 September 2014

Was this really just two weeks ago?

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A Friday evening on the hill overlooking our city: it was warm, someone had brought two tiny puppies.  It was a good week, that first week of September. Later that evening I would go over to my friend and watch the Loki supermix because I'm a Serious Adult. Earlier that day I had had breakfast (twice) and seen a photography exhibition I really liked. I was so happy that I didn't even feel gloomy about my impending return to London. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

the good kind of transit

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We had taken several trains around Italy, but in the weeks leading up to the trip I had been looking forward to this particular train journey the most - indeed it was the only ticket I had bought in advance, before I had even booked a flight to Italy: the train from Venice to Carinthia in Southern Austria, where I was planning to meet my brothers for a couple of days by the lakes and mountains. There are few things that are lovelier than sitting on a quiet train - with a compartment to oneself! - and watching the mountains come closer and closer. Slowly, the landscape changed, from flat land to stark stony mountains, until it eventually turned into hills and mountains covered in deep forests. We drove through tunnel after tunnel, and every time I looked up, the landscape was more familiar. Everything was sweet and delightful: the small piece of peach cake that I had bought that morning in Bologna from a friendly baker, now crumbling; the guitar solo in the song I was listening to, ‚Impossible Germany‘ by Wilco; the books I was reading: ‚The Baron in the Trees‘ by Italo Calvino, which I had started reading on the train to Ravenna, and which I now finished on the train to Austria, having thoroughly enjoyed every single page; and ‚My Salinger Year‘ by Joanna Rakoff, which I had bought in Bologna. This was the perfect book to read on a trip that would include my attendance at a conference where I would represent my institution, a task that seemed daunting and made me feel both very young and very much in control. A book about a young woman trying to figure out what work, and life, is all about? Yes please. (It also felt like a Nora Ephron film turned into an autobiography, which is a definite plus.)

Sunday, 10 August 2014

moving

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This is what my walk to work (or rather: to the tube station - this is definitely not Knightsbridge) looks like. Used to look like. There are boxes in the hallway and bags in my room. In true London style, our landlady has sold the flat and it's time to say goodbye to the park outside my window. To observing the kids in hoodies who took shelter under the trees. To hearing the skaters on the ramps and the children in the playground. I liked waking up to the trees. 

Summer. I've been: working (good), reading Karl Ove Knausgård (also good), watching Gilmore Girls (very good, Jess forever), drinking copious amounts of Rooibos (no caffeine!), getting into oil cleansing (yes), listening to this New Order song a lot (my life ain't no holiday). Oh and I finally got a Netflix account. So many 90s romcoms! 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

a summer evening

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It was hot in Paris. We stayed in a tiny flat near the Sorbonne. I wandered around by myself a little, but there's something about Paris that is so similar to Vienna that I'm incapable of doing any sightseeing, or really, anything productive. One evening I ended up in a little side street for half an hour. I just sat on some steps and listened to the swallows. Swallows remind me of summer; I remember lying in bed on long, warm summer days in Vienna, listening to the swish swish of the curtains, the swallows crying out to each other, the distant street sounds.
It was nice. I always feel like continental European cities are made for walking around, looking at things, being at home in the streets. It's one of the things I miss most.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Snapshots from Copenhagen

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Back from Paris and Copenhagen and my feelings about this development are accurately summed up by this image. I do love continental Europe. Copenhagen was a dream. We stayed in an amazing flat (thanks, airnbnb!) where we assembled a number of simple pasta dishes and salads, watched cheesy films, and both read the Iliad. In the evenings we walked past the lakes to the nearest supermarket and watched the runners race past us. During the day we walked everywhere else and drank approximately 700 juices and smoothies and (in Peter's case) ginger shots that would make your eyes water. The bookshops were pretty spectacular.
Conclusio: Copenhagen is as fantastic as everyone says it is, but it also felt strangely familiar. All those apartment buildings, all those bikes, the well-designed supermarkets, the tasty bread and water. As I sat on a packed bus back to my flat in London - on a bus because the tube wasn't running to my stop and I had to take a 45 minute detour - it already felt like a dream. Exit plan: continental Europe.

Monday, 14 July 2014

reading and holidaying

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Pictures of a perfect June weekend in Vienna, packed with sun, football, Edmund de Waal's perfect installation in the Theseus temple, and so many loved ones.

Since my return to London I have been reading like I used to read as a teenager, reading to distract myself: The Paris Review (interviews with Alan Hollinghurst and Jeffrey Eugenides; short stories by Clarice Lispector; poetry); Eleanor Catton (The Rehearsal and The Luminaries); Asko Sahlberg's The Brothers ; Lukas Bärfuss' Koala; The Iliad; The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes.
I have started to read differently. Of the books listed above, Catton was the first New Zealand author (other than Katherine Mansfield, whom I always think of as British) I'd read; Sahlberg possibly the first Finnish author; Bärfuss the first Swiss author in years and years (and what a fantastic book it is - here's hoping it'll be translated into English); and The Rime of the Modern Mariner is only my second graphic novel, and, like the first, was given to me as a gift.
All new to me because in my heart of hearts I'm always secretly looking for the next Middlemarch. There are few things that I like more than a truly absorbing 600-page Victorian novel - no surprise then that I loved, loved, loved The Luminaries! I've been stuck in my ways for a long, long time. I've absorbed much of the English-language canon; I've read more in English than I have in German. Ironically, my job has made me much more aware of how difficult it is for German-language authors to get translated into English; how closed off and conservative the book market can be; how much we're missing out on. I am now determined to change my own reading patterns, to improve my foreign language skills, to seek out literature in translation.
And to seek out literature in languages that I can actually read (sort of), but never really practice. On this note: I'm off to Paris and Copenhagen for my first non-Austrian, non-UK holiday in over a year. Send any tips and recommendations my way (book-related or café-related or something else entirely). I'm mostly looking forward to tall apartment buildings, cafés that specialise in porridge, and long walks.

Monday, 7 July 2014

here for a year

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This is me in 2014: in Edinburgh a few days ago, in Vienna a couple of weeks ago, and in Sheffield for the Doc Fest. I have been reading novels and short stories and essays hungrily. I have started taking pictures with my grandfather's old camera again. I have made plans and jokes and I have spent my lunch hour with friends and I have watched football by myself in the pub. I have been in London for a year. I have been in London for a year and nothing sums up this year better than this: I have watched football by myself in the pub.

I always felt that watching football (or any other sport - preferably stuff involving snow) encourages and enables my favourite form of togetherness, a kind of lazy quietude where no one says anything clever, where no one says anything at all even, where you reach a level of comfort where you can just float away into a sea of banality. It takes years, perhaps a lifetime, to reach that point. Definitely not something that you get when you watch football by yourself in a pub.

A year in which I have learned to love those I love even more. Because every time I see them (too rarely), I'm struck anew by how much I like them. Or, as my brother said when he dropped me off at the airport, 'Maybe I'll come visit you in London after all. Every time I see you I remember how much I like you and how much I like spending time with you.' Same, little brother. Same.