For whom the bell tolls

If I happen to be out of busy activities at a certain hour in the afternoon, un-busy enough to be able to listen to the sounds coming from outside, I always interrupt whatever I’m in, the moment I hear it – the grand bell of the church in the town I live in.

In former times people used church bells to tell them when it’s time to go to mass, time for lunch or simply to know what time it is.
Nowadays people don’t pay too much attention to bells anymore. Well, at least in my country, that is, and I’m no exception, I’m afraid. I did become quite fond of the way bells toll in England when I discovered that they are operated by hand. Depending on the number of bells there are about ten bell ringers who perform this task. When you go see the bell tower on an open day you expect the draught coming at you from every direction, pigeon sightings and a breathtaking view. I got all that, except for the view, which was hidden under a heavy fog that day. That was to be expected. In England.

When you climb a bell tower you don’t expect a nicely furnished room with fitted carpet half way up to the top. And so the room of the bell ringers appeared to me as a small island of luxury amidst dust and draught. Pictures of the bell ringers and quotations of wise men on walls panelled with japanned wood. The center of the room gave me the impression of stepping into the ingredients for a holy ceremony, laid out to be performed on Sunday. A circle formed with velvety cushions on the floor for the bell ringers and thick ropes for each bell led from the ceiling and back again like strings of a chandelier. The ropes were wrapped in ribbons in blue, red and white, which created a nice pattern. Playing various cascading tunes they treat the bells like an instrument which I find rather charming.

In my country disdainful electricity does the job, after one person unceremiously pressed the button that sets the timer going, and they don’t play musical scales. Some of our bells do have atmosphere, though. If you happen to be in Vienna on New Years Eve you know what I’m talking about. The big bell of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, known under the name of “Die Pummerin”, number five of the world’s biggest bells, is only rung on special occasions, for instance at important religious festivities or to indicate the death of a pope. And to mark the turn of a new year, of course.
When you hear its deep sound it evokes an atmosphere that reminds you that we are all mere mortals on the face of the Earth.

The grand bell in my town has a similarly spectacular sound. Deep and substantial, with a long pause between chimes.
It makes you think of times when women in long robes made of rough cloth were walking the streets and night watchmen used to take care of open fire street lamps. You think of a time when you dared to raise your voice in case you weren’t happy with the minister’s Sunday service and it would suffice for him to summon the wrath of God upon your head for the cardinal sin of doubting the Holy church, preferably exactly the moment the grand bell started doing her duty.

Thank God those times are past us now and that we are free to allow ourselves even a bit… bolder ideas.

Whenever I hear it, I can’t help thinking of a somewhat slightly mortal concept. For me the dark chime resonates comparable to the way you find a man’s voice sexy.
I’ll leave it to your imagination what a soothing deep male voice does to me, though… 😉

Yes, girls do have one-track-minds, too, as if you didn’t know… Sometimes, at least.

Go on, sue me! 😉
Ella, x

Practising to die

A few years back I cut the cord to my home and left to find my place in the world. First stop was England where I spent a year as German language assistant. I had moved a few times before, but that was a completely different level.

When you move on such a major scale you inevitably have to get rid of a lot of things.
I gave up my flat, got ripped off when I had to part with my car and stored the rest of my stuff somewhere. Only when I boarded the plane into my new life did I become aware of what I had left behind. Family, people I had known from school and people who had known me since I was born, some of which I might lose to the sweet hereafter before I came back someday. Not to mention the children I had watched grow up in the neighbourhood, the houses being built and the ones being torn down.I had never been away from home for more than two weeks in a row during the holidays and now I went to stay for eight months without coming back once.

And suddenly I started seeing similarities to a totally different kind of departure. When you look over your belongings and decide on who to ask to look after your plants or who might be happy with this or that piece of clothing or furniture, you suddenly realise that it’s a bit like preparing for your own death.
They say that you somehow feel when it’s time to pass on to the next world and therefore some people give away their jewellery or declare their last will and testimony or make peace with people they haven’t spoken to in a long time.
For me it was a little bit like that once I had started seeing it as practising to die, except that I didn’t die, of course. For when you go at the end of your days you do the same. You get your interests in order, you pass on your money and possessions to your kin, until nothing is left of you like on the day you came into this world. And so you leave it. Bare and simple.

When you move with that in mind you find out on how little you can basically live and that you won’t cease to exist because there is no wardrobe full of clothes, no car, no shelves full of CDs and books and no collection of shoes in colours matching various outfits.

You get your interests in order:
you cancel all memberships, you let your banker and your insurance company know your’re leaving, you cancel water and electricity, you repaint the walls in your flat.

And then you sweep the floor, take a last look around the rooms and the view. You turn off the lights,

and then…

you go.

*exhale*

Stir-fried fennel

Acquired taste.

I’m heavily indebted to the gods of culinary bliss and to my parents for my modest upbringing for the fact that I grew up on a nutritious, but simple diet.
Meat in various shapes and sizes, combined with the fruit and vegetables from our large back garden were the anchors of our menu. We had carrots, beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, herbs like thyme, parsley, mint, and rosemary to choose from. Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, plums and apples never failed to satisfy my sweet tooth.

On rare occasions we were introduced to more exotic fellows of the vegetable department. At that time, mid seventies, supermarkets weren’t yet overboarding with delicatessen like they are now. So one Christmas Eve my mum landed an absolute winner with me and the rest of the family when she roasted half centimetre thick slices of Bologna sausage the size of my dad’s palms without removing the skin. The effect was that the sausage curled up and formed a small bowl. My mum filled it with rice and served it with Brussel sprouts – something I had never heard of before. I was instantly taken by the look of those miniature cabbages and found them as delicious as their big cousins.

On a different occasion I was rather put off by the slimy consistency of white asparagus and having it in my mouth I had to hold back a slight urge to choke. It took the time to grow out of my childhood and teenage years until I gave it another try and came to like it.
I am very thankful that my mother refrained from ever introducing us to another vegetable when I was little. She knew that I didn’t like the smell and taste of licorice and had she ever tried fennel with its taste reminiscent of those black strings on me back then – boy would she have regretted it!

So I had the good fortune one day to be able to become adventurous enough to put my nose into a basket full of fennel that I found in a supermarket about two years ago. And suddenly: kaboom! The smell of anise it gave off was as intoxicating as perfume and its leaves snuggled up to each other in elegant layers like rolls of an exquisite fabric. It looked like an object done by a contemporary artist. I didn’t even know how to handle it in my kitchen at that time, but the research that followed our acquaintance was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Please feel free to try my very own recipe (see below) and find out for yourself if you like fennel or not.
You have to wait a while to get ready for some things in life and sometimes it’s just enough to re-evaluate them after some time. Try it and you might be in for a nice surprise…

Stir-fried fennel

1-2 fennel bulbs per person. Bin the stalks, but keep the tiny green ends which look like dill, –> put it into soup –> very tasty.

1-2 apples or yellow plums (tried both, liked the result)

honey
1/8 glass of red wine
1/8 l cream
A few coriander seeds
salt, pepper (ground freshly, you won’t regret it)
basil
nutmeg

Wash the fennel and cut away the stalks. Cut into middle sized pieces. Dice the apples (don’t peel them) or plums. Roast the fruit with some honey and the coriander seeds. Add the fennel and keep roasting. Deglaze with red wine and reduce. Season with salt, pepper, basil and nutmeg. Last but not least top with cream and simmer until fennel softens.

Goes very well with chicken or as a main dish.

In that case add sliced ham.

O christmas tree

The memory of my childhood Christmases is best preserved in the wooden box that contained my family’s collection of christmas tree decoration. It had been a generous gift sent over from Canadian relatives. This fact alone made it very special for us. It was of a very pure design – no fancy shutting mechanism, just two hinges on one side of the lid. The wood appeared plain and simple like it could have been taken from the hut that gave shelter to the exhausted young couple in the night of the child that was to carry the world on its shoulders.

The only decorative element was a floral ornament on the lid of the box. It was painted in dark green and a deep rich blue, which the great painters of the past only allowed themselves for display of garments reserved to show the dignity of kings and queens.
When you opened it, your nose was filled with a whiff of candles lit at Christmases past, together with hints of tree resin, biscuits and a very slight note of storage mould, all of which had crept into the wood leaving its imprint there to dance in your nose like an intoxicating perfume.
And then there were small compartments containing baubles and figurines in red, purple, gold, silver, green and blue. We had angels, birds, jingle bells (with tiny clappers made of pearls), some of them topped with white glitter for snow. There were silvery fir cones and a silver comet with an emerald-green star in the middle trailing behind a tail as long as a child’s arm. Our tree would always be crowned by a golden topper with stones the colour of rubies. The candles were held in place by delicate clippers, tinsel and curly white angel hair was spread on the ends of the branches.

When I was little, on Christmas Eve my siblings could be seen swishing around behind the glass windowed door to our living room and I was strictly forbidden to enter, until the door opened and there it was: the christmas tree in all its glory with lit up candles and sparklers, overflowing with meringues, jellies, bonbons and shiny pieces of decoration from the box. It was simply magical.

Later on when I knew that not Baby Jesus brought the presents, the magic somewhat ebbed away. But until today I don’t need to do my own christmas tree to bring it back in my mind. I only need to think of the box and open it and let the scent wash over me.

Peace on Earth and may your days be merry and bright.

Ella

Abandoned places

I’ve caught a bug. Some time ago (two or three years) I was looking for something on the BBC website and came across a link to a website that met my long cultivated fascination for deranged houses. Whenever I see an architecturally interesting, worn-down facade I can’t help but imagine its glory of days gone by. I see behind flaking paint and hinges that come off and picture the place after a facelift. I’ve always prefered flats to live in that had character instead of state-of-the-art, but soulless buildings. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t do to live in a house without heating or proper bathroom installations, but I absolutely adore rooms that aren’t short of details hinting at past time architecture, like old windows with brazen metal fittings or stairs with aged wooden banister.

When I stumbled upon that website I was more than happy to discover that there are more people who share my secret passion. Actually it seems to have become some kind of sport to enter an abandoned building in small groups, take pictures to share with others, leaving everything as it is except for your own footprints. Not to mention the thrill it gives you when trespassing on someone else’s property.
For me it means imagining the life the building once had seen under its roof, like the way you see a person’s life imprinted in his or her face. It triggers your imagination and makes you want to know if you were right with what you assumed.

I have never been brave enough to step into such a building myself, but I admire everyone who has. On behalf of all those audacious men and women I’d like to name Henk van Rensbergen, whose talent you can enjoy watching the pictures in this blog entry. Thank you for boldly going where I have only been to in my dreams.

Photos courtesy of Henk van Rensbergen.
(Click on any photo for link or go to www.henkvanrensbergen.com)

 

Beehive on my grave

Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.
When I’m dead and gone,
That’s what I want from you.
The streets of heaven are gold and sunny,
But I’ll stick with my plot and a pot of honey.
Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.

(“The honey song” by Sue Monk Kidd, in her book/film “The secret life of bees”)

Isn’t that a wonderful image? To bathe forever in a golden trickle of sweetness. Resting from a burdened life in the knowledge that the soothing reward will be poured over you long after you’re gone. It’s like receiving a honorary Oscar postmortem.

On close inspection it may seem pointless, because you can’t enjoy it any more. You’re gone, you see. You’re six feet under, pushing daisies. You’ve kicked the bucket.

I once heard about a woman who wanted to be placed in the casket with a pastry fork in her folded hands. In the memorial service in honour of her death the minister explained her wish to the amazed congregation. He said that when she would leave her mortal coil she wanted people to see her strong belief that “the best is yet to come”.

The best is yet to come.

That’s the way I’d like to interpret The Honey Song. The way she wrote it, it sounds like turning down heaven in favour of being with the honey.
I’m more with the lady and her pastry fork. The honey pot is fine, but it represents more the essence of life than death to me. I’ve had loads of honey pot moments so far and I’m planning on keeping them coming as much as I can while I’m still around.

“Place a beehive on my grave and let the honey soak through.”

Bring it on!

The red balloon

Fair readers, I bid you good morrow!

As I spent a bit of a sleep deprived morning due to some teens having a loud conversation below my window and because of switching back to wintertime (three cheers for this gift from heaven! -not really). Since I’ve nothing better to do now, how about I present you with a little story I wrote some years back? The whole story is the result of my own imagination. The layout is my own, but I used cliparts from the internet. Sincere apologies if there is someone out there who happened to have created similar characters. If this should come to pass:  Believe me when I say that I had absolutely no idea of it whatsoever.

Alright, do as I’m doing, grab a nice cup of tea – or coffee (each to his own…), sit and enjoy (hopefully). This is just part one, to be continued…

And now, without further ado: here we go…

THE RED BALLOON. By Me.

This was not at all like papa had described the fun fair, the boy thought. His papa had gone into raptures about how great it would be going there together. There would be loads of little houses that you called “booths”, which had only room for about two or three people, and you could watch them doing a whole lot of funny things or you could do a whole lot of funny things yourself there. You’d find booths where you could throw balls at cans and get a teddy bear in exchange, and ones which were filled to the brim with sweets and toys. That’s what Papa had said.

And now he was hanging at his papa’s hand and just saw trees – that is, actually he saw legs – with people attached, but they were so big that they might as well have been trees and they all were surging so close to him that they almost crushed him. He had a hard time keeping up with his papa. He didn’t even see one of the cans you could throw balls at or so. The boy was thirsty, his feet hurt and he was tired. He cried an annoyed protest towards the head of his papa, but his father couldn’t hear him because of the noise of the booths surrounding them.

The little boy found this so frustrating that he needed both hands to give his eyes a thorough rub like when getting up from the after-lunch nap at kindergarten. His papa hadn’t noticed for a moment that his son had let go of his hand and had moved on. The boy had stopped walking and at last the tears started streaming. They ran down his cheeks and splashed on the street like warm rain after a long, hot summer day. He was standing there like a small rock in the breaking waves while the stream of people was washing around him and pulling him forward.

He saw heads bowing down at him from above, he saw frowning faces, heads shaking and eyebrows going up. The crowd waved him in every possible direction and he felt hands brushing over his head. And suddenly he was outside the forest of trees. He gave a few more sobs and stopped in front of a strange open house. Now he had found what they had come for, he thought. This had to be one of the booths papa had told him about. A huge teddy bear was dangling off the ceiling and around it there were a lot more bears, horses, dogs and other stuffed animals. That’s how much he could see. Not more.

The boy stood on tiptoe and pulled himself up on the counter with both hands in order to be able to peek over the rim of the booth. Behind it a small, tubby man with a beard appeared who took an astonished look at the boy over the rim of his glasses. “Well, well, where have you come from all of a sudden? Have you possibly grown out of the ground like a mushroom?” asked the man with a laugh from deep down in his belly. The boy disapprovingly slapped his forehead with his hand. “No”, he answered. “I’m no mushroom, I’m Nick”. “I see. So you are Nick. My name is Samuel” the man said, lent forward and propped himself up on the counter to shake the boy’s hand.

“What can I do for you, Nick?” “Papa said I can have a look at all the booths. What have you got to look at?” “Well, let’s see, what I’ve got” said Samuel, held out his hands, lifted Nick up and sat him down on the counter in front of him.

Samuel had a whole wall full of puppets dangling on strings. “These are marionettes”, Samuel remarked and showed the boy how to make them dance. “And what’s that?” he asked and pointed at a pretty strange-looking thing with quills. “That’s a Gürteltier[1].” he explained and added “this animal comes from a country very far away from here and a friend brought it for me from there.” Nick giggled at the thought of buckling the animal up your trousers like a belt. But at the next moment he decided that it would be much more sensible to make a proper belt out of the animal first before buckling it up. For that surely had to be the purpose of a Gürteltier, he thought. So they spent a whole while absorbed in a game of questions like “What’s this thing?” (Nick) and answers “a snow globe / a globe / an African ceremonial mask…” (Samuel).

At that point Samuel heard an announcement out of the loudspeaker that a man was searching for little Nick and he went to get his mobile phone to call the information desk and say that the runaway had been found.

“Your papa’s already very worried about you, Nick. He is going to be here soon to come and get you.” said Samuel and Nick, who up to that point had been totally absorbed in the treasures that Samuel’s booth contained, all of a sudden became aware of the fact that he had lost his papa and there it was again – that face, which seemed to combine all the world’s pain in one spot and he started crying again and he demanded to see his papa. Samuel regretted saying something and ruining his good mood. He pulled a musical clock from under the counter and wound it up. A clown started turning on the spot, playing an imaginary tune on his trumpet that only he was able to hear. A minute before the toy would have put Nick in a state of utter thrill, but now the only thing he wanted was to cry and to go home. Samuel took a handkerchief and let Nick blow his nose.

At that moment he saw a discomposed young man approaching them, who was calling for Nick and excitedly waving his arms about.

Nick had also seen him and called for his papa at the top of his voice. An instant later his son fell into his arms. It ended with father and son casting reproaches at each other and a thousand apologies and even more promises of never doing it again.

Only then did the man become aware of the fact that he hadn’t realized the owner of the booth. He shook Samuel’s hand and thanked him effusively, still shaken by emotions and with a guilty look on his face. Samuel was a man with kind-hearted eyes for whom the world was not a foreign place and he smiled at Nick’s father encouragingly.

Nick watched the two men from the ground looking from one to the other and laughed. Then he felt being lifted and found himself sitting on his father’s shoulders. His father had already started moving and Nick turned round to Samuel and waved at him. He waved back and then the laughter suddenly left his face and he called them back. He reached for the ceiling, pulled one of the strings hanging down from a maze of stuffed animals and produced a bright red balloon. Nick grabbed it enthusiastically and the two of them marched off with even more thank-yous and waving. Now Nick had all he had wished for this day. His father lapsed into a slightly hopping walk and Nick squealed with delight. He had to hold on to his father’s head with both hands in order not to fall down and he didn’t get anymore that the balloon had glided from his hand and was making off into the blue sky.


[1] Gürteltier = Armadillo. Literal translation „belt animal“ impossible. Pun from German version not transferrable to English. Sorry.

The well in the desert

Let’s pretend you were eight and had a box of ground coffee or drinking chocolate in front of you, containing a small present hidden somewhere.

How would you go about getting to the precious?

In this day and age, being a member of the fast-paced, no-nonsense place that society has become, I’d simply empty its contents into a bowl and dig for the bloody thing for about thirty seconds, knowing that I’d bin it anyway and upon finding it, I’d do exactly that.

But when I was eight,…

a packet of ground coffee was a treasure box. A spoon turned into a shovel and each time my mum took out some, the excitement grew if this time the shovel would hit solid ground and excavate a tiny plane, a Red Indian in moccasins and complete with arched bow and arrow, or a cowboy with a loaded gun in his hand.
I didn’t give a thing about the drink the dark brown grains would produce and I’m still not very partial to it today, but I loved it for the possibility of a small toy being hidden somewhere, just waiting to be found.

The Little Prince in my favourite book says this:

“What makes the desert beautiful, is that somewhere it hides a well.”

Keep looking for that well in your life and the sand around it will turn into diamonds glistening in the sun.

 

Ella, x

Pastry with veggies and minced meat

Born and conceived during an eight-months stay in England in 2008.

Frozen pastry dough, 300-400 grams of minced meat, mixed vegetables / diced or sliced (e.g. carots, turnips, leek, onions), dry Sherry or red wine, canned tomatoes (diced) + juice, honey, salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, grated Parmesan, beaten egg yolk.

____________________________________________________________________________

Take dough out of the freezer 20 minutes prior to usage and let it defrost slightly.
Spread the dough on a baking tin lined with baking paper and cut it into rectangles. In each rectangle cut another one, leaving a margin of about 2 cm. Pierce every rectangle a few times with a fork.

Roast the minced meat in a frying pan with a bit of oil, add the vegetables and a bit of honey to enhance the flavour of the vegetables. Season with salt, grated pepper and nutmeg and add sherry or red wine. Put the tomatoes+juice into the pan and simmer everything for about 10 minutes.

Before putting everything on the rectangles taste if you want more salt or pepper.
Place 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture on each rectangle (leave the margin empty) and sprinkle with Parmesan. Brush the beaten egg yolk over the margin of each rectangle.

Preheat the oven at 220° and bake for 25 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Serve with lettuce.