My everyday friend

The current period will most certainly not enter into my autobiography as the happiest one. But at least I have her around, my everyday friend.

Very often, when I am somewhere out of my apartment, I find myself thinking that I might have left the keys at home. But the panic can never fully unfurl because I instantly remember: she has got the keys to my home and I could call her. When I can’t reach her, she always calls back within minutes.

She has the spare keys and when I have been away, I often find flowers and beautifully written notes on my blue table upon return. Even the banal messages are carefully calligraphed, delighting the heart of the detail lover that I am.

I also notice her presence by the way she switches off a light that I forgot or deliberately left on. By the mess she unwittingly produces. By the packages that for once make it to my house because she runs to the delivery man that is already on his way to his car again because I was not home this time either.

Or when I come home to the sweet sound of my key just turning once instead of thrice because she is already there and has put the tea kettle on.

At times, she stops at the local bakery and arranges the raspberry tartes and cheesecakes beautifully on my tableware, decorated with a balloon or a lilac twig that she picked up somewhere.

Every single time I return from a trip by plane, she picks me up at the airport. Sometimes with balloons, a newly bought rubber tentacle, sometimes after waiting for an hour and making friends with a barista in the meantime.

Before she posts something on her blog, she asks me to pre-read it. And censor it.

When we talk, we regularly come up with new material for her comedy. Actually, maybe our lives might be just a big joke. (“This date may be monitored by my friend on the table next to you for evaluation and training purposes.”)

We both do not have a TV because we spent the nights in my living room discussing almost every matter at length. We can talk about our mutual acquaintances from ages ago when we both lived in Stockholm. She understands all things Swedish. And sometimes, she just sits on the green couch and I sit on the white couch and we both stare into our computers, cursing the slow internet connection. While feeling perfectly comfortable with each other.

When my friends and relatives come to visit, meeting her is usually one of the items of the agenda. Consequently, when I attend family gatherings, sometimes people ask me how she is doing. It makes me wonder if I must clarify that we are not a couple, something many, also non-relatives, have started to assume. We regularly confound shop assistants that cannot classify our relationship.

Before spending a significant amount of time with her, I used to wear pants, you would see me in jeans. She only wears dresses. Completely subconsciously, this has rubbed off on me. I have not worn pants since November. (Because dresses are so much more convenient.)

I have a guest bed that I never put back in the basement. Because sometimes, late at night, she decides to head home and then opens my balcony door to check the temperature. Like my cat, she sticks out her head, and like my cat, if it is cold, she’ll back into the warm room, informing me she’d rather sleep over than facing the night’s cold.

She shops groceries for me when I give her text-message-orders. She almost never makes me travel to her place and walk up the 350 stairs to her maisonette. Upon request, she draws personalized birthday cards for my loved ones. She uses my apartment as her office on some days and thus motivates me to tackle my paperwork. On Sundays, we sync our schedules for the week. When I go to choir or church, she asks me to report on what is happening. Her mother sends postcards with recipes for me. She loves my cat. She carries my heavy stuff now that I am not allowed to. And on my bad days when I feel fragile and scatter minded, she calls after me from the apartment’s doorstep into the stairwell: “Don’t forget you have to change trains at Barmbek!”

001

Home Improvement: Einsatz in vier Wochen

004 Today is the day! After four weeks on the other side of the globe, immensely enjoying herself without me (scandalous!), Ingrid is coming home to Hamburg. Just some weeks before she left for her vacation, she had moved into her new, first own, apartment and we had since been talking about home improvement. Just remember our grown up trip to the home improvement store before Christmas.

Getting ready for Einsatz in vier Wochen.

Getting ready for Einsatz in vier Wochen.

The chauffeur zick-zacking through Hamburg.

The chauffeur zick-zacking through Hamburg.

Still, when she left, she had no table or duvet and of course that is part of a bohemian lifestyle but it also gave me and two of her friends the possibility to have our very own “Einsatz in vier Wochen”. In Germany, there is a very popular tv show called “Einsatz in vier Wänden” (Mission within four walls) where a voluptuous lady comes to your home and remodels it. We did not only have four walls, we even had four weeks and while our budget is not quite the same as the TV show’s, we still had great fun. Last Sunday, I forced asked Claudius and Niklas help me with that project. We zick-zack-drove through Hamburg (“Pick me up first, I live closer to Ingrid’s” “No, come by my house first, I am much closer to her house”), parked in forbidden spaces, and then I made the boys carry up the table Claudius had built five floors. I followed them with flowers and – of course – helium balloons as well as homemade food for the freezer. And a duvet. It is cold in Germany, you know. 005 007 009 If that’s no sign of we missed you, then I don’t know. Welcome home, Ingrid! 017

Spice up your life

029

Whenever I cook for Ingrid and we sit down at the Blue Table and I expectantly look into her face as she takes the first bit, she always says, “Hm, it’s nice but as usual it is completely under-spiced”. Then she goes to retrieve all those different spices I have in my kitchen cabinet. My relationship with spices is Ingrid’s most common criticism about me. Now that she has abandoned me for a month I decided it was a good time to educate myself on spices.

Hamburg actually has a Spice Museum and maybe the randomness of that made me wanted to go there. Our new friend, the professional cook, accompanied me. Spicy’s Spice Museum (the name sounds a little less ridiculous in German) is located in the old storage city because obviously that is where spices were traded. You walk up one of those old buildings and pass oriental carpet shops and opposite the museum is a store that sells all kinds of exotic spices.

023

As a historian, I was most interested to understand when spices came to Germany. I still wonder what food must have tasted like before salt, pepper and thyme. (Even though Ingrid would probably say my food tastes historically pre-spice.) It took quite some reading – the museum still uses very conventional display techniques – but I learned that Hamburg started trading spices in 1794 and is today one of the four biggest trade ports for spices. Germans actually did have peppar before the French Revolution, too, with the South Germans trading spice in the 1600s already. I do hope they sent some up here, too.

"Esteemed housewife!", this instruction starts.

“Esteemed housewife!”, this instruction starts.

My companion and I thought about what our favorite spice is and I decided mine is saffron. Because that is in Persian rice and in Swedish buns. And because it is a luxury. Saffron has always been so expensive that in the middle ages, traders sold fake saffron to Germans. Apparently things got so bad that the town of Nuremburg appointed saffron viewers to prevent spice fraud.

041

I also learned that the pharao Ramses was buried with peppercorns in his nose which is perfectly visible on his x-rays and that pepper was extremely valueable even until well into the 1900s. Rich spice traders were therefore called “Pfeffersäcke” (pepper bags). And if you have a tooth ache and only have cloves in your house instead of Ibuprofen, you can put a clove into your cheeck pouch. It will make your tooth go numb and relieve your pain. If your breath smells bad, you need to chew on cardamom. I still wonder what it means that cardamom buns are so popular in Sweden.

Speaking about that,I learned that the Swedish word for cinnamon, kanel, refers to a special kind of cinnamon that even the Dutch and German call Canehl. As a spice-ignorant person I might also have been the last to understand that cinnamon is made from trees. Now I know!

043

My very own advent calendars

015

 

Obviously you know all about advent calendars by now. On December 1st, I regretfully noted that I did not have my own. I must admit I did not make any for anyone either unlike in the past years where I had time to make advent calendars for more than one person. Maybe this should be a new stress index: the ACSI, advent calendar stress index. If you do not have time to make any calendars for your friends and family, your ACSI is at 50 and with each calendar you make your ACSI score lowers. No one will ever get to 0, I suppose, but I am sure some people get down to 25!

Ingrid is at least at 49 – she presented me with this completely self-made advent calendar on the evening of December 1st. So lovely! It holds 25 doors with drawings that have to do with us (and my cat). Twenty-five because she accidentally drew number 22 twice. Or as I like to put it because I am worth an extra door.

I also got a beautiful calendar with precious little pictures all the way from the U.S. from my former host sister Kate. So I have two calendars to open each morning – such bliss!

Like an adult

The definition of who is an adult and at what age adulthood starts is certainly highly subjective. At least I do not believe 18-year-olds to be adults (geez, no). Still, there are these ideas one has about how adults live and what adults do. Obviously adults work (check) and live in their own apartments (check). For me, adults are also people who own their own Christmas tree. I have had two Christmas trees before which were quite small and this year, I made it to a medium-sized tree! There is definitely some growing up going on here – I am growing with my tree maybe?

Discussing wall colors. Like an adult.

Discussing wall colors. Like an adult.

Going through the Baumarkt. Like adults.

Going through the Baumarkt. Like adults.

Driving in the car. Like an adult.

Driving in the car. Like an adult.

What else do adults do? On their free day, adults work off all their responsible-adult-to-do-list. Sleeping in is sleeping until 9.30 (I remember the times when my regular schedule was sleeping till 11, but nowadays I get too anxious to waste precious time I could use for household chores), and then one has a proper breakfast with one’s Ingrid. After that it got even more adulty when we took out the trash, got into the car (the car! Only adults have cars in the city.) and drove to the – major adult alert – building supplies store. On my initiative! I used to hate and by all means avoid those stores. What is happening to me…Anyway, Ingrid and I went there and I supported Ingrid in choosing and buying the stuff she needs for her first own apartment. Ingrid has the ability to make me feel even more adult because I have bought paint/nails/laundry boxes once in my life which is at least one more time than her. Finally, I forced her to go to the garden section with me and the incredibly nice shop assistant (if you even need good service go to toom in Wandsbek) who at the latest by the time Ingrid said grumpily, “I don’t care which Christmas tree she takes, I don’t even want a tree, I am the man in this relationship” thought we were a couple.

Carrying up the Christmas tree with back pains. Like an adult.

Carrying up the Christmas tree with back pains. Like an adult.

When we came home with the tree, we ate proper lunch with vegetables like adults and then we lay down on each our sofa taking a after-lunch-nap like adults. Ingrid then went to work and I started cleaning everything and exchanged the light bulb in the range hood – only adults would care about that. And I put up the Christmas tree. I think today I aged 10 years!

P.S.: Nevertheless, I am super behind with everything, have not even looked at the pile of paperwork and bills. Bad adult.

I swear I know Swedish

At the Swedish Christmas market, I learned how to calculate really fast. When people paid 3,75 Euro with a 100-euro-bill.

At the Swedish Christmas market, I learned how to calculate really fast. When people paid 3,75 Euro with a 100-euro-bill.

Five years ago, I remember taking a look at the TISUS sample test. I only read through the first page and thought: Well, this is hopeless, I would never ever pass this. I cannot even talk two minutes about bostadsbrist let alone 20. When I moved to Stockholm first and ended up feeling so much more comfortable in English, I decided: Well, maybe you can only learn and master one language at a fluent, high level. When I was placed into the lower level group at Stockholm University’s Swedish courses after the placement test, I thought: Well, maybe I am actually bad at this. 

But today I got the results of the TISUS test I took a couple of weeks ago and I am thrilled to report that I passed! I officially know Swedish. (On a university level.) What a relief. This is living proof that you can learn anything that your brain finds relevant (let’s not go into the reasons why my brain finds a language spoken by almost no one relevant). It even instills hope in me for my Farsi language acquisition. One fine day. Maybe.

Today was an eventful day at work including a long meeting with our new Swedish client. It is a big shame I can’t talk about it, I wish I could tell you, but I guess you just have to ask me in person. In the evening, I strolled around town waiting for my friend Marita to arrive at the central station so that we could cultivate our transit friendship. Marita was – jetset alert – flying from Italy via Hamburg to Stockholm (a few days later though) and of course I want to meet her at the central station for a fika. Even if we only had 30 minutes, it was a pleasure. You can almost pretend to live in the same city and happen to be bump into each other at the station.

Oh, look, I "happened" to find one of my best friends in the station's bakery!

Oh, look, I “happened” to find one of my best friends in the station’s bakery!

And tomorrow is the big day when three of my friends, Tabea, Christian and Michelle, are coming from North and South to visit me! Not very like me, I am still rather unprepared but I took a day off so I hope to be able to get a Christmas tree. Yes, you heard right…!

 

 

(Headline: My friend Emily, a native English speaker, sometimes accidently writes incorrect English to me. She usually follows up directly with “I swear, I know English!”)

And this is what I came home to, after a day that lasted from 6:50 to 21:15. It is Ingrid's last night as my housewife, eh, housemate which is really sad but it was a very lovely last evening.

And this is what I came home to, after a day that lasted from 6:50 to 21:15. It is Ingrid’s last night as my housewife, eh, housemate which is really sad but it was a very lovely last evening. Please note that I polished my brass candle holders, something that might become my new hobby. The effect is tremendous! Such rewarding work!

Two blondes, a brunette and Schiller

IMG_6908

Yesterday, Ingrid and I were honored by Anna’s first visit to my new apartment. Ingrid came home to find us sitting on my bed reciting Schiller. Isn’t that what you normally do with your 15-year-old friends? Maybe you should! When I asked her what she had been reading on the train, she answered “Kabale und Liebe” (engl.: Intrigue and Love) with a lack of enthusiasm, “it’s for school”. My face lit up and I explained excited that I also had to read it 13 years ago and loved it so much that I wrote my favorite quotes down and pinned them to my book shelf where they remained for ten years. Driven by my heart’s desire to get Anna into Schiller (who, next to Shakespeare, is one of my heroes), I read my favourite parts to her aloud. I was under the impression that she was quite amused, especially by the great Hofmarschall von Kalb, who figures as the jester, and whom my mom and I quote every now and then.

Ingrid came home and being the intellectual lady she is, she did not look too bewildered by the scene but instead asked if she should get my copy from the book shelf so we could read with assigned parts. In the end, we did not but she went to make us pasta with Mediterranean vegetables – vegetarian, healthy and pretty to look at.

After dinner, we entertained ourselves by learning how to pray the rosary (this sounds far weirder than it was. Anna had a bracelet with an integrated rosary and we noticed we don’t really know how to pray the rosary), trying to gain insight into which enneagram types we are and then we got our left-over helium balloons, inhaled the helium and read Schiller to each other again. I suppose you begin to understand why I do not need a TV to pass my evenings?

IMG_6913

 

MARSHAL. You drive me distracted! Whom did you say? Von Bock? Don’t you know that we are mortal enemies? And don’t you know why?

PRESIDENT. The first word that I ever heard of it!

MARSHAL. My dear count! You shall hear—your hair will stand on end! You must remember the famous court ball—it is now just twenty years ago. It was the first time that English country-dances were introduced—you remember how the hot wax trickled from the great chandelier on Count Meerschaum’s blue and silver domino. Surely, you cannot have forgotten that affair!

PRESIDENT. Who could forget so remarkable a circumstance!

MARSHAL. Well, then, in the heat of the dance Princess Amelia lost her garter. The whole ball, as you may imagine, was instantly thrown into confusion. Von Bock and myself—we were then fellow-pages—crept through the whole saloon in search of the garter. At length I discovered it. Von Bock perceives my good-fortune—rushes forward—tears it from my hands, and, just fancy—presents it to the princess, and so cheated me of the honor I had so fortunately earned. What do you think of that?

PRESIDENT. ‘Twas most insolent!

MARSHAL. I thought I should have fainted upon the spot. A trick so malicious was beyond the powers of mortal endurance. At length I recovered myself; and, approaching the princess, said,—”Von Bock, ’tis true, was fortunate enough to present the garter to your highness; but he who first discovered that treasure finds his reward in silence, and is dumb!”

PRESIDENT. Bravo, marshal! Admirably said! Most admirable!

MARSHAL. And is dumb! But till the day of judgment will I remember his conduct—the mean, sneaking sycophant! And as if that were not aggravation enough, he actually, as we were struggling on the ground for the garter, rubbed all the powder from one side of my peruke with his sleeve, and ruined me for the rest of the evening.