31 October 2015

Younger than he thought

The night falls. With it a softness -- the last indulgent lukewarm air -- permeates what's underneath the skin -- no skin. The light (vintage gold) exhales, makes me want to hold my breath. In darkness the water in canals seems motionless, unfeeling. Unlike the streetlights -- those dance. 
The morning started with a mist, thin, unsure. I woke up first -- it was still dark out. The street glistened, was absolutely silent. A car floated past the strong beam of a streetlight, a science-fiction scene. I closed the balcony door, picked up a DVD from the floor by the TV -- The Sopranos, season 3, disc 4 -- poured water in the kettle, switched it on, click.
I write down a list of groceries -- aubergines, basil, cherry tomatoes, wine -- then mindlessly place a cup of hot coffee on it. Instantaneously 'aubergines' grow fuzzy. I draw an exclamation mark next to 'wine'.
The day was rising, a pale, unhurried dawn, it reveals, catches clouds wandering off at the top of the sky. It should be a glorious day. Leaves are falling, gliding downwards of their own accord, like theater curtains at the end of a brilliant show. Goodbye to all that; encore, encore!
-- Happy birthday! Coffee?
Someone calls. 
-- Much too, much too close to forty. I gotta go pick a fight, Anthony says and laughs.
-- Thirty-six isn't close to forty, I say and extend a cup.
-- I'm thirty-seven -- am I not? 
-- Two thousand fifteen minus nineteen seventy-nine...
-- That's right -- thirty-six.
He goes on to say it's a great gift, to be younger than he thought. A homemade birthday lunch is a bonus.

In darkness the water in canals seems motionless, unfeeling. Like the streetlights, we'll dance too.
Pasta with Roasted Aubergines and Tomatoes
Adapted from Nigel Slater
Serves 2

This is a pasta dish unmasked by any sauce, and is what it is: a sum of its three key ingredients -- aubergine, tomatoes, garlic. The sweet juices from the roasted vegetables and a generous quantity of olive oil will take care that the lips glisten here. Crush the tomatoes with a fork as they roast to syphon their bright juices into the oil. As pasta, I used conchiglie (shells) to catch an odd bite here and there, and to lock in some of that mushroom flavour that appears when roasted aubergine meets caramelized garlic. Originally, it's penne.

1 large aubergine
250 g cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
8 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
250 g dried conchiglie (shells)
A scarce handful of basil leaves

Set the oven to 200C.

Wipe the aubergine and slice it into thin rounds. Place the slices in a single layer in a large roasting tin. Peel and crush the garlic and scatter over the aubergines. Throw in the tomatoes, whole, and trickle the olive oil. Season well, then bake for 25-30 minutes.

Dump the pasta in a deep pan of salted boiling water. Cook for 9 minutes until al dente. Drain in a colander.

Add the drained pasta to the aubergines and toss gently together. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Tear the basil leaves and add to the lot. 

30 September 2015

Tomorrow and until

September. The air is well-supplied, redolent at dusk of ripe, ruby-fleshed figs -- and often after rain, of matured brie and cider. But the flats of rain have stopped, and for a few days now. A godsend. I ran out of shoes that weren't soaked.
The dusted-up, off-white trams are a contrast to young men's and women's tanned arms and faces, the remnants of a sea tan, the hue of unrefined cane sugar. I wonder if they can still feel the swell of sea waves, cool and constant, around their ankles, and how their lips must have tasted of salt after a swim.

Day by day the light changes. There is a new intense quality to it that completes the summer's expiration. It's done, gone, but I reject, still, the idea of a coat. I'm being stubborn, might pay for it with a cold later. 
"How do you find my new lipstick?", I ask Anthony as I make myself up in front of the bathroom mirror. I talk loudly -- he's in another room and the TV is on.
"I like it. Looks natural."  
I lean forward to consider my lips closer in the mirror, turn my head right, left, then wipe a little from the corners. 
It's almost dusk outside, a crisp evening, the atmospheric version of a cotton shirt freshly starched. We have dinner in town. It's our wedding anniversary -- three years. The restaurant is filled with joyous clatter of plates and cutlery, and recurring pops of corks. I feel curious, order the only Hungarian on the wine list, red. Could we have it by the glass, I wonder. Yes, that can be arranged. The full bottle appears on the table. No obligation to finish it, but it is a very good wine, sophisticated and masculine, and eventually we do. The fried fresh parsley, crisp, earthy, that comes with the venison, our main, is an expected surprise, it steals the show. It's a long dinner, there is comfort in eating in silence.
The wine has made my head spin. We skip the dessert and after cheese order coffee. It comes with bonbons made with particularly peaty Scotch, another surprise for the palette. On the calendar it's already another day and my alarm clock will go off at five in the morning. But why hurry a celebration? 

Tomorrow I'll have a simple dinner alone: paella rice cooked together with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms, and two, three, possibly more ripest figs, the last of the season, for dessert. I'll eat them out on the balcony while watching the skyline catch fire at sunset, and until the rain returns. September.

31 August 2015

A sentimental thing

It feels like I'm being watched.

I woke in darkness, too early, dissected the night in half with the sudden motion of my tired eyelids. Have I heard something? The windows and balcony door are open -- the likelihood is high. For a moment I lay there motionless in the heat. A stifled breeze makes the trees rustle beneath the windows like a stream. The bed spring gives out a nervous creak as I turn. I let a few minutes pass before I get up and go to the kitchen for a glass of water.

The fume extractor is still on, a constant industrious drone. I must have left it on after preparing dinner: spicy potatoes, pan-fried with onions, madras curry powder, and cumin and coriander seeds (a deviation, barely, from this recipe). On the table there remained a couple crumpled napkins, half a watermelon, its vermillion flesh ripe enough to resemble candy floss,  and cups with coffee remnants in them. I cover the watermelon with cling film and put it in the fridge. A sweet, exceptionally juicy late-August watermelon is for me a sentimental thing. A delight for the mouth but the particular sadness for the heart: another summer is gone.

I finish the glass of water and get out onto the balcony for fresh air. It's humid, smells of swamp, grassy and strong. In the distance lightning bolts flash and spread across the night sky like vericose veins. I look up, the stars are hidden. I lean against the balcony railing, my eyes travelling from window to window, all unlit, impenetrable, in the building across. It's still around me, I'm no longer sure if I heard anything at all. 

I go back to bed only to wake up again shortly, again from the feeling of being watched. I look out of the bedroom window -- and it's the full moon's metallic uncomfortable stare, has been all along.

31 July 2015

Between espressos and apricots

I think I'm dreaming. I'm alone in my bed, sunk in sleep between the indented pillows and twisted sheets, but I feel a soft touch on my bare wrist. It's like a tickle and a brushstroke of a breeze combined; one moment it's here, the other it goes. Through the window the sunlight amplifies, my eyelids fail to screen it, I wake up. It must be close to midday: the sun is brighter than itself. I squint at it and in my eyes it looks like a ripe apricot in mid-July, rich orange and intense. The light has gotten iridescent, too.
The summer in the city is at its most lustrous these days, it sparkles like champagne, especially after a bout of unruly rain blown around by wind. The storms have somewhat blemished the scyscape recently, but it's only temporary, of course it is. On my birthday it was very hot, it seemed the air had entirely evaporated. I drank champagne that day, brut, it tasted like freshly baked puff pastry and vanilla cream. It felt enthusiastic on my tongue.

I slept through breakfast, but that's ok. I'll have breakfast for lunch. I'm thinking to roast some apricots with a little honey and lemon juice. It won't take long, about twenty minutes in a moderate oven. I'll only have to rinse and halve them, and then wait for the gentle heat to metamorphose them into soft edible suns. 
The warm fruit, relaxed, mellow, half honey, half almond in taste, will be a fine match -- and contrast -- to a bowl of fromage blanc, tangy and satisfying. My favourite part is when the juice from the apricots, perfumed and sharp, seeps into the fromage blanc and the two make the tip of my tongue curl upward and lips go smack smack. But first I want to get out for an espresso. I need it to shoot down my limbs, to diffuse like ink in my bloodstream.
The rest of the day finds its way between espressos and apricots, an unworried midsummer afternoon.
The touch on my wrist in the late morning -- it was my own breath.

31 May 2015

Thousands of miles, away

A round ceramic plate with sashimi is placed before me, and for the next week, month, until I might forget I'll feel the firm fresh flesh of the sea on my restless tongue, and how it melts. The plate is smooth, like marble, and grey, like smoke, and on it the slices of raw tuna, salmon and sea bream look like colour extracts -- ruby, muted pink and cream -- from a Japanese art print. There is a little square dish with soy sauce on the side, and a puff of shredded daikon, but these remain unstirred, undisturbed.

It started to rain before the plate arrived at the table, soft, calm flow of raindrops dissolving in the garden pond outside. In anticipation, amidst the conversation -- but about what? -- my eye wandered off, got fixated on a random ripple, watched it expand and disappear over the heads of the oxygen-hungry quartet of carps. I imagined, if I could walk out through the glass door in the concrete modern frame I'd find myself thousands of miles away, on a bamboo walkway waving through a green garden towards a century-old, at least a century-old, wooden teahouse. I'd bow under the low entrance door, sit on a tatami floor, the rice paper window screen open to the same garden pond. I'd perhaps rest my eye on a hanging scroll depicting a cherry tree in bloom on the wall, and on an origami crane on a lacquered tray, and I will hear out the rustling rain, and each rustling word.

When the food is served, I lean over the plate, awed. 
I, too, could be a figure in a Japanese print.

30 April 2015

It feels like I could

The night enters the day at gunpoint, shoots into the bloodstream like an intravenous injection, no objection, mainlines it with dim windows and street lights, and somewhere with smears of dark lipstick around the wrists.

The jet wash and the bass of engines dissolve on my face as I stand near a highway and watch planes descend into the liquid dark. I look up, veins strained, neck craned -- I could touch this plane if I reach out and stretch my arms, it feels like I could. Adrenaline gushes into the heart, turns it into a bass drum. The thrill becomes the drill. The plane levels with the runway, the air is pinned down to the fresh innocent grass, shredded by the engine turbines.

The ground is cold, the chill slowly snakes around my legs, seeps through under my jeans, into the skin. Another plane is zooming in, and after it, in a greater distance, one more.

My phone buzzes in my coat pockets, an incoming text. Let me treat you to a glass of ice champagne with strawberries and mint. The bitter, sharp smell of jet fuel weighs down the air, I gasp for breath. I pull a pack of chewing gum, peppermint, out of my jeans pocket. I take three pieces, the mouth is instantly awash with xylitol.

In the morning, from the bed unmade still, I'll watch other planes knife through the non-resistant light.

31 March 2015

When I wake up

(March 1st)
In bonds of twisted sheets, the morning's begun with an intent to vanish. It's 10.30 a.m., the alarm must again have gone off unheard, unnoticed. A rare free Sunday, and I filled it to the throat with commitments, like a force-fed goose for foie gras. I need an expeditious take-off to be in town for brunch by noon. A shower, a little concealer, mascara and lipstick, no coffee.

There is a waiting list. At least an hour for a table of three. Fine, we can wait outside. It's a clear day, polished blue skies, but at about one and a half hours, amidst a conversation over meals and clothing, I find myself thinking about my feet, they are numb, it feels like I have no shoes on. 

I have my first bite since yesterday at 2 p.m. It's been about eighteen hours. A stack of pancakes, decent flapjacks, melts under my fork and knife. I also order a bowl of fruit, and coffee, first an espresso, then a filter. 

(March 8th)
The alarm goes off at 3 a.m. My naked arm reaches under the pillow to mute it. It's a wonder I hear it through the thick, sticky sleep. I lie still for a while. Do I even breathe? 

I peel an orange before stepping out through the doorway, its fragrant skin lands in the sink in one twisted ribbon. I'll quickly eat it under the yellow light of the elevator. 

The city is dark, unconscious, the night air soft, pure. The smell of orange lingers on my breath. 

After work I stop by the chocolate store to get more François Pralus. On my way home I pick up roasted chicken and a bottle of Portuguese red. It's International Women's Day, and I feel like a carnivore.

The familiar orange skin is still in the sink.

(March 16th)
It's conventionally early when I wake up, not yet eight. I wish I could sleep in, but my throat's been scoured by sandpaper overnight, or it feels like it was. Raw, swollen, under siege. The bed offers no solace, so I get up and make myself a pot of coffee. Caffeine will kill the pain.

(March 20th)
Bound by sweat-soaked sheets I stay in bed all day. I imagine if somebody ever pierces my ear with a knitting needle it will feel exactly like this: throbbing, high-voltage pain, minus blood gushing out. This is one bitch of a bug.

I order in Chinese. I'm mostly after a chicken soup, but get a dish of chicken and stir-fry vegetables in piquant red-pepper sauce in addition. I can do with more heat, so stir in a spoonful, and then one more, of sambal oelek. 

(March 29th)
An icy beginning for daylight savings. Rain is relentless, wet snow hasn't stayed out of it either. The hair smells of last night, cigarettes, perfume, and tipsy laughter. When I wake up it's already 14.30 p.m. 

I'm taking slow breaths