Ten Things about the Eleventh Year

It’s the end of a sort-it-all-out-weekend.  After a perhaps life-changing ‘accelerated productivity’ training session with the lovely People Who Do last week, I have finally decluttered.  I created a filing system for two years worth of paper piles, booked some flights to Berlin, done my first detox of 2012 and got a new carpet.  Everything is tidy and now I can write.  It seems like I have finally arrived in the new year.

The other day, we were contemplating how long one should say ‘happy new year’ when bumping into people one hasn’t seen since 2011.  We came to the conclusion that the end of January was the cutoff point, so I guess I’m still within deadline to write my list.  I do hate the first month of the year, truly, madly, deeply.  That time when you question what you’re doing with your life, why you are still broke and whether you should just give it all up and live on an island.  Or in Berlin.  At least there is a label for this kind of depression: January Blues.  Harmless in the grand scheme of things. And it turns out I’m not alone.

2011 has been a good year.  Busy, sometimes too busy, but exciting.  It was so eventful that I didn’t manage to recover over the long Christmas break.  Even though I was back home for over two weeks, mainly eating and sleeping, I came back to London tired.  Not doing anything is exhausting.  Perhaps it’s the fresh Berlin air.  Being thrown right back into the big smoke is always hard, but there is some kind of weird energising action going on.  I feel a bit like the Duracell bunny.

Here are 10 things I did, learned and experienced in 2011:

  1. I started this blog.  Because sometime in July, I had a sudden urge to get all this stuff out.
  2. Then I got a little bit addicted to Twitter and reduced my thought output to 140 characters.
  3. In about September, I lost the ability to concentrate on reading books and the desire to write anything at all.
  4. Maybe that’s because I was taking so many photos to feed my addiction to Instagram, which I still love.  Everyone is always so nice to each other.  You see many corners of the world through the eyes of some really talented people, and you start seeing the world in little squares with rounded corners.
  5. I travelled the world a bit for real.  Some for work, some for pleasure.  When I travel, work is pleasure.  I went to Texas, Singapore, the South of France, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Israel & Palestine, Munich and of course home to Berlin. Wherever I go, I try to picture whether I could live in a place.  San Francisco is one of these places.
  6. Because of all this moving around, I became unsettled and restless.  There was never enough time to work through these experiences in my mind, to digest and to just settle back into life at home.  My boyfriend has been very patient with me.
  7. Towards the end of the year, I found a way to cope and relieve stress, even the positive kind.  I learned Transcendental Meditation and have been meditating 20 minutes each morning and night, for the last three months.  I’ve gone places I’ve never been to, with my mind.
  8. And with my organs.  I started a series of detoxes, flushing out gallstones from the liver.  Seriously, they exist.  And now, most of them are out.  It’s amazing, kind of like an MOT for the body.  You can read all about it in here.
  9. I’ve discovered my personality type according to Myers-Briggs, a psychometric questionnaire based on Carl Jung’s theories.  I’m an ENFP (Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling & Perceiving) person, which probably explains all of the above, especially point 8.
  10. I became an auntie.  My little nephew is my favourite thing about 2011.  And 2012. And beyond.

Now I’ll go and finish that novel I’ve been dragging around with me all year.  Just reading. One page at a time.

P.S. Oh, and a happy new year! 2012 and Chinese Year of the Dragon, which is just starting now.

Parisian Shoes.

I am on a plane again.  To Houston this time.   I spent the last few days in Atlanta, San Francisco, and in the air, no time to write, only to work, and to see a bit of those cities, places I’d never been.  So I did this post on the way to Atlanta – flights being the only time I seem to get ’round to writing these days.  Apart from the sudden ear popping drop just now, there is no turbulence.  I am about to watch Senna, there’ll be enough racing hearts in that. Catching up on recent releases is the only thing I like about flying.  It’s a bit of a guilty to pleasure to watch rom-coms in the air.  Neutral territory.

The two films I have already watched reminded of a couple of things in real life.  And that even American romantic comedies have some verity in them.  Lessons that are useful to remember and good to share.  Even if it means you’ll know what I watched up here…

Firstly, Bridesmaids.  Simple entertainment, easy laughs – granted.  But it touched upon something I believe is the essence of true friendship.  Something all three main characters get wrong for a long time.  Until marriage ultimately resolves everything.  That would be news to me – and NOT the truth I gained from Bridesmaids.  Anyway, here is the lowdown.  The bride-to-be, Lillian, is dazzled by her new rich friend Helen and forgets all about her old friend Annie.  Meanwhile, Annie’s own relationship mess and jealousy of Helen clouds her happiness for her best friend getting married.  And Helen, well, she’s just a bitch.  Until we find out that she is just lonely and that money can’t buy her happiness. Really.  No news there either.  But back to those truths.

1.  No matter how old or how new a friendship is, the most important thing is putting yourself in your friend’s shoes and to accept that everyone’s got different feet.  Some shoes are huge and harder to fill, some are tighter than others.  But it’s all about trying.  Real understanding comes easy if you have same-sized feet or are otherwise sole-mates.  But sometimes, we need to make the effort of trying all her shoes to see what they’d look like on us to show true empathy.

The second movie was the new Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris.  The truth this film clouded was, well, that living in Paris is not like American movies make it out to be.             Fact:  just like marriage or money, moving to Paris won’t make your life perfect, it just gives you a new angle on it.

Americans love Paris, or the notion of its past and its image as a romantic city.  Perpetuated in every single Hollywood film you see, even in Woody Allen’s.  He should stick to New York, hands off London and Paris.  Then again, my image of New York, before I got there, was probably shaped by Woody Allen films.  Shot in candy colours that don’t even require you to put those rose-tinted glasses on, Midnight in Paris is pretty to look at but full of clichés. Moving into Monet waterlilies territory. Mind you, the Impressionists revolutionised painting and the definition of art, the cliché came later.  Woody Allen starts off with the cliché: Owen Wilson plays a Hollywood scriptwriter who spends time in Paris to write a novel.  Each midnight, he time travels to 1920s Paris, encounters Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Buñuel and Dalí, gets writing tips from Gertrude Stein and decides to stay.  I have already forgotten what happens at the end.  I’ll write about my film-end-amnesia another time.  But if there is one good message in there it’s this:

2.  Live in the present and enjoy the moment.  We never quite appreciate the time we live in, and while the Belle Époque of the 1890s is the Golden Age for some, it’s the bohemian Paris of the 1920s for others.  But really, it should be the 2010s wherever you are.  This also applies to the future.  Too much planning and wishing isn’t healthy.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t love living in Paris after I left Berlin all those years ago.  I was not living in the moment much, again planning the next move. And I couldn’t afford buying Parisian shoes.  But the main source of my unhappiness was that Parisian women live on very different feet and don’t ever let you try on their shoes.

So I just saw Senna.  This brilliant documentary about the life and death of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna told a true story with a very real message: if you live life in the fast lane, you take a risk.  Risking stuff is fun and makes you enjoy the present.  But Senna started off on the wrong foot: he was always living for that next victory.  For me, the most touching and sad moment in the film was him saying that one day he will be fulfilled, when he has finally achieved everything one could as a race driver.  That then, happiness would come.

Singapore Swing

West meets East in Singapore’s China Town. 

So I just spent a week in Singapore.  I knew what many know about the place: chewing gum is illegal, the streets are clean, there is a huge expat community.  And it’s the home of the Singapore Sling.  All that was true, but I found out more.  Now I know one thing for certain: Singapore is a strange place.

Filling out the landing card on the plane I was shocked to read – in very bold letters – that there is a death penalty for drug trafficking.  My colleague made a pact with herself that she would never travel to countries that give death sentences, and if she had to, she would offset it by donating to Amnesty, a bit like those carbon footprint miles you buy when you book a flight these days.  Even though I wasn’t trafficking any drugs, I was scared that I had done something wrong.  Anything.  It felt like driving with police behind you.  Or going to school in East Berlin in 1987, keeping stumm about the conversations at last night’s kitchen table.  Speaking of East Berlin, there were flags everywhere in Singapore.  The republic had just celebrated its birthday, as the GDR did every 7th of October.

I thought of another dictatorship when I saw this flagged monument opposite the presidential palace…

Singapore is a police state.  At least that was my first impression.  And first impressions are rarely wrong.  Three soldiers walking past me at the airport with their MGs a little too close to my legs for comfort.  Hit by the sudden humid heat, I got on a taxi to the hotel.  On the way, I noticed that there really weren’t any pugs around.  No dogs at all for that matter. I wanted to play the helmet game, but there were no cyclists either.  The traffic was moving calmly.  There was none of the honking I knew from other Asian cities.  This place was a paradise for architects I thought, and for skateboarders.  I didn’t see any skateboarders, but I did see a skatepark. Seemingly the only place in the city that had graffiti on it.  The taxi driver told me that places like this were created so young people didn’t become delinquent.  I had been wondering how the youth tend to rebel here.  I doubt I got the full picture.  On the last day, I did see some skaters, but they were all wearing helmets.

Vegetation is lush and it feels like the rain forest is being kept at bay with great effort.  As if the island state would overgrow within days if left to its own devices.  Even insects are kept in check.  There is some kind of repellent being burnt consistently to make sure the creepy crawlies don’t even dare descent on the city.  I did wonder whether this affects its human inhabitants’ health.  Perhaps these chemicals affect fertility and can be blamed for the low birthrate amongst Singaporeans, who don’t seem to procreate enough for their government’s liking?

We visited China Town and Little India, places were normal people seem to live, away from sky-scraping hotels, infinity pools, casinos, haute couture malls and the financial firmament.  It is striking how mixed these areas are, as is the rest of the city state.  The Singaporean government has a public housing policy, setting racial quotas for every block of flats to prevent the development of minority districts. There are new wikileaks cables explaining that the ethnic balance of 75% Chinese, 14% Malay 9% Indian and 2% other is being maintained, and that, to counteract the particularly low birthrate amongst ethnically Chinese, a disproportionately large share of immigration is drawn from mainland China.  Witnessing an anthropology class at a secondary school, we learned that Singaporeans are not all too happy with the new wave of immigrants and the fact that the newbies don’t speak any Singlish.  Like everywhere else then.  One such Chinese-born taxi driver, with a pointy, grey beard and three long hairs growing from a mole on his cheek, put it quite plumply: “the car is a good place.  A safe place to say what you like.”

Singaporeans don’t like to talk politics, but they do love to talk food.  I had a lot of it.  With all the different cultural influences, the sea and the perfect climate, the food is indeed exceptional.  Apparently, Singaporeans eat all the time.  But they don’t show it.  They also work all the time, which can be done whilst eating.  The city is clean and things work smoothly.  Children listen to their parents and everyone listens to the authorities.  The people are friendly and helpful towards foreigners.  Malls offer wares of a globalized world, taxis are yellow, Starbucks is all around and tall buildings of glass and steel are sprawling, claiming the ocean and obstructing the view to the open sea.  There is a Beach Road in town where the coast used to be.

In another taxi, this time on the way back to the airport, I take this picture.

It reminds me of home, and I look forward to going back to London.  But I’m not looking forward to London weather.

Of Pugs and Planes

I spent the night on an aeroplane.  I hate planes, mainly because I’m afraid of flying. The older I get, the worse it becomes.  In fact, I started writing this to distract myself and forget that there were another nine hours and six minutes to go before landing in Singapore.  But I made it now.  Turbulence started pretty much as soon as we were in the air and never stopped.  I narrowly avoided heart attack, when just after take-off, the plane actually dropped down again, nose-diving whilst turning on its side.  My blood was pumping through my racing heart and I looked around to see the reactions of other passengers, but nobody seemed to notice that we were in serious danger.  The flight attendant, whose face strangely resembled that of Anders Breivik, seemed especially unconcerned, even relaxed, as he went about his business.  I guess they are trained to act normal at all times.  Flight attendants that is, not mass murderers.

Hating planes is something I have in common with pugs.  Not whippets or chichiwawas, only pugs.  Last week at the gin and tonic BBQ, there was a pug who went berserk, barking at a plane high above.  The whippet ignored the scene and continued to beg for sausages.  When we were enjoying a sunny Sunday brunch over crêpes (and waffles, we went all out) yesterday, another pug came along and started barking at the sky as a plane crossed.  The chichiwawa at the table next door wasn’t perturbed in the slightest.

I never really liked pugs.  Until now.  The plane incidents proved that they are actually quite distinguished beings with sensible thoughts.  They know  that those mechanic birds are up to no good.  One of them must have been in my place before, and subsequently told his whole race about the trauma.  According to my boyfriend, who tends to translate their thoughts to me in a heightened puppy voice, they apparently stutter slightly, are geeky and a little confused by nature.  They could take on Woody Allen with their humour. Who would have known?  He speaks ‘Universal Nature Language’ with most animals, apart from spiders.  I once saw him in conversation with a swarm of birds on a beach in New Zealand.  Animals love him.  They don’t love me (I don’t speak UNL) but I guess they like me all right, because he tells them I’m ok.

The turbulence was getting so bad that I couldn’t quite focus on Win Win, the film I had chosen to watch (see here for Ash’s brilliant article on watching movies in the air), because the lightning in the clouds on my left was getting so strong that the stewardess came round and told everyone to shut their blinds.  I was busy wondering how the crash would be presented in the news.  With a half-empty plane, we were probably not going to break any records in the Guinness Book of plane catastrophes.  The turbulence did get better, but still managed to rock me to sleep for the last ten minutes of the film.  I still have no clue whether Kyle gets to stay with Paul Giamatti’s family to become a pro wrestler, or whether he decides to go back to Ohio and and help his drug addict mum to get her life back on track.  I woke up just in time for the credits, to the soothing sound of The National performing a lovely song I didn’t know before: Think You Can Wait.

Back to dogs.  I wanted to illustrate this post with a photo, but didn’t encounter another pug.  Even if one ever made his way down to Singapore, I doubt this would be a safe place for pugs.  They’d probably get arrested for making a poo on Singapore’s clean streets.

Summer House

I’ve just come back from a holiday in Berlin. Going home is never a real holiday, but it’s got to be done. And I love it. The downside is coming back. You just don’t feel as relaxed, tanned and full of new experiences as your friends and colleagues who return from Africa, Spain, Portugal or Italy. I feel like I’m ready to leave again. But then again, so is Cameron, probably.

When we were in Berlin, the news of riots happening in London started to trickle through on Twitter and on the news. I read as much as I could, followed Guardian Live Blogs and the BBC, and got increasingly worried about my adopted home, Hackney. On Monday it got really close to where we live, to Clarence Road, now infamous for many a burning car, street fights between Police and Rioters and Shiva’s shop. By Tuesday morning, the whole of England was “burning” and I felt apprehensive about going back. I don’t think the Mayor or the Prime Minister felt apprehensive, they just couldn’t be bothered. Until the complaints became too loud to ignore and they gave in. Too little, too late.

So Cameron spent some time relaxing in Montevarchi, a small town in Tuscany, while the riots back home really kicked off. When you’re away on holiday, everything seems so distant, doesn’t it. Like the real world doesn’t exist. I can really empathise, apart from the fact that this guy is paid to run a country.

We took a break from Berlin and escaped to the countryside for a week, holiday in a holiday (think Matryoshka dolls), to an area called Uckermark. My third home and the place of school holidays and countless weekends, from early childhood on. Back then, we couldn’t leave the country so we chose the country-side. The Uckermark is known as the ‘Tuscany of the East’ and is as good as the Italian version, apart from the Cappuccino. Cameron didn’t even like his coffee in Italy, if his refusal to tip the waitress is anything to go by. Don’t even dare to come to Clapton to have a good coffee. Not that he would, with all this ‘criminality, pure and simple‘ going on here.

The real advantage of having divorced parents, apart from the enlarged family remarriage brings with it, is that each of them have their own summer house you can visit. In Berlin, mere mortals can afford to buy a house in the country as well as renting a flat in the city, not just Etonites like Cameron. There aren’t many Etonites in Berlin.

Having lived in the big smoke of London for so many years, rarely getting out of town, I appreciate coming to the country a lot more. Being woken up by the cockerel, making salad from garden ingredients, going for a swim before breakfast (I came 11th in the annual village swimming contest, 1800m across the lake. There even was coffee and cake to greet us at the other end) and reading in the sunshine, to the sound of silence. Ah, the good life. Granted, I doubt I could do it full-time, I’d miss the buzz, the people, things to do, the speed of things. I had no internet for a week and it was great, but when I was back online, the web was filled with riot stuff. I wonder whether they have the internet in Montevarchi.

Clapton Coffee

This morning, I woke up with a massive hangover. I never get hangovers. Ok, hardly ever.  I blame it on the full moon. Granted, the six or seven double gin and tonics at a friend’s birthday BBQ last night might have had something to do with it. Luckily, we only have to fall out of our front door and have the wonderful Chatsworth Road Sunday market right there.  I really craved a fry-up, but Chatsworth Kitchen was closed.  So we settled for the shady side of the road and went to Crêperie du Monde, for the first time ever.  We’ve managed to walk past it ever since it opened a few months ago, simply because the sunshine on the other side lured us into L’Epicerie 56, where the coffee cups are bigger but their content is not as good.  This one was less French (I don’t like French coffee: I’ve lived in Paris for eight months and have never once had a good coffee) but more Australian or New Zealand-tasty. 

With the delicious soya cappuccino (they use the tasty kind), I had a buckwheat crêpe filled with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, hollandaise sauce and white asparagus.  Well, it was yummy, and lined my stomach for the next alcoholic birthday picnic.

Good coffee is a clear measuring rod for the gentrification of an area, and it’s well underway here. The fourth in a 10 meter radius is the lovely Venetia’s, whose baristas adorn the foam like a NZ flat white.  It was the first of the Chatsworth Road lot, brewing since 2007, two years after Climpson & Sons opened up on Broadway Market and started the “east-end espresso revolution”, providing caffeine for the fast-growing creative establishment of Hackney.  With the coffee shops came the crowds who liked to stay, bought property, made stuff more expensive and people like us move to Clapton.  By this calculation, Chatsworth Road will be as popular as Broadway Market in a couple of years.  If I can’t afford it, I won’t move to Stratford or Walthamstow though, I’ll go much further East: back to Berlin. 

Passing Clouds and Crossing Paths

London is a city in transit.  People come and go all the time, old friends, new friends, lost friends.  Most of my London friends aren’t from here and want to get out sooner or later, to varying degrees. It’s mostly down to money, or the lack of it, or love, or love lost, when we decide to stay or go anywhere.  With London, there is another contributing factor: THE WEATHER.

On days like this, I love London. Sitting by the open window, sun streaming in, the sound of live jazz from the local pub swinging up to me.  It feels like being in Berlin.  Finally: after six rainy, autumnal days, we finally got it back: THE SUMMER.

Berliners don’t move around much.  We find adaptation to new surroundings hard and we compare.  We have everything we need: lakes around, tons of cafés, cheap rent, childhood friends.  Life is slow, but relaxed.  And we get summers.  Proper summers, winters on the flipside, but real seasons.  Reliably hot or reliably cold, most of the time.  We don’t need to complain about the weather, or talk about it much, it’s just there.  It gives us time to discuss other issues, like emotional stuff.

This weekend has been full of childhood reunions and emotional stuff.  Yesterday, we went out with my boyfriend’s Cape Town crew, old best friends he hadn’t seen in ten years.  It took him back, but it also made the last ten years disappear.  No matter how long it’s been, there is nothing that changes the connection between old friends, you simply pick up where you left off.  Home friends are friends for life.  Today, we hung out with one of my old friends from Berlin.  He’s here six weeks for work, and today was the first time I’d seen him in nearly a year.  It felt just like yesterday, picking up from the last sentence we spoke.  The trust is there, you can say anything and they’ll understand.  The friends, and their stories of home haven’t changed much over the years, life back home is still the same one you left behind.  You get nostalgic, maybe melancholic, but you know that you can dip in again, anytime.  But you’ll always have your experience, wherever you are.

Last week, when it was raining, a colleague told me she dreamt that I just walked out of the office.  In her dream, I said I was going back to Berlin, to work ‘in the arts’ again.  She said she sometimes gets a little clairvoyant.  Maybe she’s like the weather forecast, right for a little, until things change again.  Living at home might be easy, but it makes us comfortable.  Perhaps too comfortable.  I love my life in London, for now.  It’s never boring.  Things change, you adapt.  You meet many wonderful people, some will be friends for life.  So I’m putting up with the clouds, and their passing.  Paths will always be crossing and diverging again.

Sandmann, I miss you.

Screenshot from Unser Sandmännchen, DDR 1973

Something that often comes up in conversation amongst us ‘foreigners’ in London is our shared lack of understanding of cultural references to British childhood. Doctor – Who? Blue Peter? Not the faintest. Running out of examples already. This is where I have to admit that I’ve never even seen Star Wars. Although it’s American and a pretty global cultural reference.  If you’ve grown up in a western capitalist society that is.  Everyone tells me I must watch it, but the one time I tried, I fell asleep after ten minutes.  I guess if you’ve missed it the first time round, or while you were still young enough to marvel at the special effects and all that sci-fi stuff I never got into, it’s too late.  At this stage, I prefer not to know to not getting the hype once I do. After watching The Tree of Life the other day, someone working at the cinema joked: “It’s meant to be good, but I haven’t seen it yet”, rehearsing what she would say to people coming to buy their ticket for the late show, but disguising the fact that she hated it.

On the weekend, we went to see Flash Gordon at the Folly For a Flyover in Hackney Wick. As you might guess, it was too late for me to truly appreciate a film that was re-made the year I was born, with its clunky sci-fi and superhero theme.  I did love the atmosphere of the open air cinema though, and the Queen soundtrack.  Everyone was voicing their excitement, shouting, singing and laughing at the right places.  Cult films seem to bring people together.  Because you share childhood nostalgia and can talk the whole way through: everyone knows the lines.  Even though this was not my childhood (I don’t remember ever seeing such a sexualised kids film before), I think I got it.

We didn’t have superheroes saving the world for the American flag, but we had a kind of Supermännchen ourselves.  He was called Sandmann and he was on a continuous mission to visit all the other, mainly Socialist corners of the world, but always returned home sweet home.  Unser Sandmännchen on the telly each night was as sci-fi as it got for me. The excitement before each programme was which vehicle he would turn up in today, and he often used futuristic space shuttles or rockets.  He brought socialist ideals right to our homes, just before dream time…

On the subject of cult films, I’ve also never seen The Sound of Music, although apparently that’s where many Brits get their knowledge of Austrian and German culture from. When I first came to London, which, granted, was a long time ago, people often broke out in Do-Re-Mi song as soon as they heard my German accent. I guess it’s time to attend some sing-along and see what that’s all about.

If they remake Flash Gordon, I think it should have Owen Wilson as Flash and Ben Stiller as Prince Barin in it.  The fight scene on the revolving disc would be a joy.  I’d watch it again, not in the cinema, but on telly well after release.

Bicker alarm

As I write this, a couple of mice are having a fight in the kitchen.  They are literally shrieking.  I am not sure what to do, they are too quick to catch and too cute to be killed.  If they aren’t arguing that is.  They are mostly behind the fridge, but sometimes run across the counter at night.  I know because I find their poo.

Our downstairs neighbours are also fighting, but much more frequently than the mice.  I guess an argument is a two-way thing, so it’s more of a constant bicker (of the threatening-sounding kind) from her.  You don’t hear his voice, ever.  Either it’s because it is so soft that our paper-thin Victorian walls filter it out – or – and more likely, because there are no gaps in her shouting, he simply shuts his ears and ignores her.

A couple of days ago, we went to see a play called Chicken Soup with Barley.  The play was brilliant, and about much bigger political issues, but at its core about the relationship between a feisty, optimistic wife and her lazy, apathetic husband.  I am not sure our neighbour is optimistic or feisty, but her husband matches the fictional counterpart perfectly.  This one, too, kept walking away, telling his wife to leave him alone and close himself off from the world and his family.  Which, of course, made the wife even more frustrated with her good-for-nothing man.  In the end, he gets a stroke, she gets to care for him.

Once, I thought our neighbour had killed her husband, because we didn’t hear a sound for a whole week.  It also smelled funny, not of the usual cigarette smoke caused by him smoking in the hall, day in, day out.  When the sing-song of her verbal abuse returned, we were somewhat relieved.  Things were back to normal and we finally didn’t have to listen to our own voices any more.

Arguments can look funny without audio.  On the way to the theatre, I watched this scene from the bus window:

The still image looks like two men are having a heart-to-heart, they are being friendly and close.  In fact they were as close as two roosters before a cockfight, heat building up before the showdown. Hipster cyclist thought he was King of the Road with his golden helmet crown.  Cabbie was cutting him off, as they do.  But I’ll never find out what was said or happened.  Looking at a scene from the outside, we can never really know what goes on behind closed doors or in people’s minds.

The smell that week might have come from under the fridge, a decomposing mouse.

Texas, Baby

The other day, a few of us went to watch Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. The film divided audiences, especially Peaches Geldof. She kept going to the loo every ten minutes.

Aside from all the imagery familiar from National Geographic documentaries, Jurassic Park, margarine/life insurance adverts or sciency IMAX movies, there was a microscopic close-up sequence of sperm travelling through ovaries, competing to hit the egg.  I have seen this course of events before and it impressed me greatly.  I must have been around ten, the Berlin wall had just come down, and it was one of the first Hollywood films I ever saw in the cinema: Look Who’s Talking. The beginning of something new, quite literally.

There were newborn babies in The Tree of Life, too.  Probably the best thing about the film, come to think of it.  They were really sweet and really little, and shot in close-ups you don’t often see on the big screen.  I also liked the scenes that where shot from the perspective of the children. The gang of boys launching a frog into ‘space’ on a homemade rocket, the guilt following the event, the brotherly love. There was some jumping on beds, zigzagging around the washing line, stilts made of soup cans and a goldfish burial.  Growing up in 1950s Texas seems a bit like being a kid in East Germany in the 1980s.  Minus religion.

Speaking of babies and Texas, where the film is set, I was there recently.  We stopped off in a town called Plano and spent some time in an English tearoom (don’t ask) which was a toy shop at the same time.  You could adopt a life-sized baby doll, certificate, suitability test and proud parents photo included. The shopkeeper placed one in my arms (did I look like I wanted to try?).  It felt weird, as heavy-limbed as a real-life one because it was filled with sand.  She told me that some couples have come to buy a baby-doll for a test run before they had children of their own.  Texas is a strange place.

At tea, there was a big dude with a gold signet ring, as Texan as can be without a cowboy hat (but with boots).  I asked him what his state is best known for.

Apart from Buc-ee’s, a giant highway restaurant, he mentioned the fact that Malick, who is from nearby Waco, filmed his latest movie around the area. Watching The Tree of Life, I recognised the setting of one of my pictures, an office block in Irving, Dallas.

I am expecting some more wackiness from Texas, I’ll be back in September – so watch this space.