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It all started with me buying some bananas despite the fact that I don’t like bananas. There are many things I don’t like but when I get bored of available food choices I turn to these products pushed at the very back of my mental grocery shelves; either because too much time has passed since the last time I had them and I have forgotten what exactly it was I did not like about them, or because I imagine that in the meantime I have miraculously started liking them. So I do buy that food but the moment I pay for it at the checkout and leave the shop I know I won’t enjoy it. Thus, on my way home I try to come up with a way to best use what I have just bought and what I don’t actually like. It is barely surprising that my life choices undergo the same pattern. Doing one and the same thing over and over again, forgetting what it resulted to the first time (or the second and the third) and even hoping it to result to something else. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. It did to me so I Googled it and it turned out this was the definition Einstein gave to insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, I myself, call this eternal optimism. I will let you meditate on that and will go back to the bananas. Luckily for my sanity and optimism, the getting-the-same-results banana spell was broken. I found a way to like them.

I typed bananas and oats (as this is something I am addicted to lately) and Google, my best friend these days, suggested me I make an oatmeal banana bread. Here is what I took out of the oven an hour later.

I went through five or six recipes and picked one which in the course of cooking quite predictably underwent a complete change. I used more oats than flour and added raisins and considerable amount of hazelnuts. All that was left from the bananas was a thick puree that later gave a sweet taste to the bread and together with the cinnamon even sweeter smell in the air. The final product was just as I had hoped it to be – soft bread texture and crunchy hazelnuts. Sitting there in the warm kitchen, savouring this moment with all my senses, I couldn’t help but feel the absence of another human being. But the reason for that was hard to admit, even to myself. Was it because I was overtaken by the selfish urge to show off this succulent piece of heaven or by a generosity wave to simply share this moment of heaven. Both of them seemed equally scary and sad. I had to find out, so five minutes later I was five floors below my flat, standing in front of my neighbour’s door with a plate in my hand. I realised I was saved this time. I simply had the need to share my happiness – to surprise someone, offering them a piece of this gourmet pleasure. I got back home happy, leaving my neighbour equally so.

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Not long ago, when I was a student, I would do anything, including cooking, not to study. I know what you are thinking, ‘Been there, done that’.  Well, on this sunny Sunday I had nothing to do (only because it was the seventh day, i.e. the day for rest, and I gave myself a well-deserved day off CV sending) and yet there I was browsing the web for recipes and later browsing the kitchen cupboards for ingredients. I got inspired by the content of the cupboards so the recipe I had found earlier was subsequently used only as a guidance, as the skeleton of my gastronomic creation. I scribbled the necessary ingredients on a piece of paper or rather, being a freak paper-recycler, on an envelope I had recently received  from Luxembourg informing me that weeks ago had I applied for a job at their institution (as if I didn’t remember) and letting me know it would take couple of more weeks (as if I hadn’t figured it out myself) before they decided if I would be even considered for the position. This otherwise trivial story would make a good example. Good example N°1 of how excruciatingly redundant and never-ending this job-hunting process is. Even taking a break from it leaves you with the feeling of something hanging in the air, determined to suffocate you.  Good example N°2 of modern day recycling practices and paper re-usage – on one side there are those who instead of emailing would post a letter and on the other side are those who would re-use it, thinking they are being environmentally friendly. What is actually happening is instead of taking a step ahead we, me, the little insignificant citizen, are only repairing the damage already inflicted; despite our actions we are taken a step back where it all had started, only to neutralize somebody’s negative impact. Well, I am sure you are begging me to take a step back and return to that recipe of mine, hoping this post would finally make a sense.

Oatmeal cookies recipe

Confused by the American measurement of cups, I tried to find the ingredients’ equivalent in weight. More confused by my kitchen scale or rather by my incapability of reading it, I decided to go back to the cups or even to the more professional approach – working from instinct, by the art of imagination – as all the big chefs are known for. And imagination, I have unlimited amounts of.

So with the oats and the flour already in the bowl, I started adding sunflower seeds, sultanas and cinnamon. I had an image of a crispy cookie with a crumbly texture and thought the seeds must inevitably produce that sensation. Besides, I could imagine the smell of roasted seeds and their warm, crunchy taste (please, try to ignore the month-watering sensation and the urge to run to the kitchen and make your own cookies and keep reading). I often use sultanas as an extra ingredient to my extremely nutty, homemade cereal mix or as a substitute to sugar in baking. So the decision to use them came rather naturally. Besides reducing the amount of added sugar, they would also help me get these tiny chewy bits in the otherwise crispy cookie. Writing down the word ‘sultana’, my linguist instinct was immediately triggered and the seed of doubt was planted in my already disturbed translator’s mind. I started wondering was it a sultana or a raisin what I had just added and how could one distinguish them. Trying to find a way out of this, I turned to Google, hoping it would come to the rescue but as it often happens, it only added more confusion. A readers’ poll on the Guardian not only did not make this linguistic mystery clearer but it also added the currant to the story. So I trusted my instinct and added the sultanas. As for the cinnamon, I assume that just like with any other spice, there are some rules as what goes with it but I tend to add it to any pastries I make as I love its tempting smell coming from the oven and the cosy, seductive feeling it leaves floating in the air. I realize it is not anymore my cookies I am selling you but a moment of anticipation and pleasure for your senses; an experience wrapped in a single cookie, released with a bite and preserved in this photo.

My crispy oatmeal cookie

If I cannot physically share my cookies with anyone, I can at least share the experience of preparing and savouring them with you.

I don’t mind taking up the role of the housewife now and then and coming up with some unexpected delights, but I hope destiny has other plans for me and I get to find them out very soon.

In the meantime, you can make your own oatmeal cookies by checking the recipe I consulted and by adding anything your imagination and kitchen cupboards offer you.

My very own pile of oatmeal cookies

I always knew Romanians were more religious than us Bulgarians, and yet I would still get surprised by random gestures of religious faith. Crossing the Danube with the ferry (which if you could see, would agree had nothing to do with a ferry but I do not know any other word to name it with), I somehow against my will ended amid a group of retired Romanians. Upon arriving at the Romanian coast, I noticed one of the ladies making three times the sign of a cross in front of her chest – because we had arrived safe, I assumed, and thought there was nothing surprising in that gesture, coming from a lady her age and social status. Once in the town of Călărași, I spent one hour wandering around, trying to find the bus station, which despite my friend’s assurance was not so easy to find; speaking 4+ languages didn’t help me much. Thanks to the kind guy who proudly answered affirmatively to my question ‘Sorry, do you speak English?’, I finally made it to the station, which was just round the corner of where I was desperately standing. Once the bus, or should I say the little van, left the station, I noticed the guy on the seat in front of me making that same cross sign. Three times. Exactly what the lady did. Except that this time it was a guy my age i.e. young, and definitely from a different social milieu than the elder lady, as 10 min ago I was looking, for the sake of sociology and anthropology, of course, at his clothes’ style and his fancy vest. And yes, I did notice his equally fancy girlfriend sitting next to him.

While writing, I noticed in my peripheral vision (despite my driving instructor insisting I have no such thing) that we were going through one of these little, picturesque countryside villages. These same villages that we also have in Bulgaria, except that in Romania they are more colourful and cheerful as if to make up for the colourless conditions of the harsh countryside life. So I lifted my eyes from the tiny notebook I was frantically scribbling in and examined the elderly people sitting on benches in front of their houses, curiously observing the passage of buses and cars, or maybe just waiting for the passage of time. At that moment, Bulgaria and Romania could not be any more similar. However, I soon realized how wrong I was since in Bulgaria you would not be able to find this life-size crucified Jesus in a little niche inside the garden walls of these same houses.

Looking up again from my notebook, I noticed (I am sure you could not help but notice that I am a person who notices a lot) the three little icons above the head of the young bus driver, who had his left hand on the wheel and his right on his ear, holding an iPhone. I have always considered religion and its symbols outdated signs from the past. That was why I was surprised to see Virgin Mary, holding the baby and looking down at the driver’s iPhone. Once again, I had arrived somewhere with my preconceptions and had projected my own views on society, and in particular my own agnostic visions on Romanian society, as obviously religion there was alive and present. Omnipresent.

This was more than obvious in the little wooden ‘houses’ sheltering Jesus or Mary and the baby and covered with images of saints: something typical in every village the bus passed through all the way to Bucharest.

Later that day my Romanian friend told me that she had no idea what these sanctuaries were. She thought it to be weird. Yet, every time we would pass by a church or see one in the distance, she would make the cross gesture; a rare sight of someone having and showing respect and faith in something, I silently thought.

*             *             *

9 am. Bucharest – Paris Wizz Air flight. The pilot ended the usual message to the passengers with the words ‘Thank you for choosing Wizz Air. Enjoy your flight. Goodbye!’ Is he going somewhere, I could not help but wonder.

While I was waiting impatiently for the magical trolley to bring me the even more magical coffee, the man in the front seat ordered two beers when all I could think of right now was a sip of a strong coffee. And no, the second beer was not for the lady sitting next to him. Yet, one hour later she was the one sleeping on his shoulder while I, the coffee having fulfilled its mission, was energetically rearranging my purse, scribbling frantically in my notebook and flipping curiously through the pages of an old French Glamour magazine with ever so glamorous male actors and models. Paris, here I come!

*             *             *

8pm. Dark night. The Romanian Danube coast. Narrow dusty road, dry bushes, a small barrack and the bac (the Romanian word for ferry) approaching the coast. The bac is a 100m² platform made of rusty metal sheets and pushed by a small, even rustier boat that noisily and wearily, as if with its last breath, stopped at the coast. Looking like giant bugs coming out of their nest, the cars started getting off the bac and getting on the shore; in the space lit by their lights, I could see dust particles flying in the air. I suddenly realized where I was and understood what the girl on that Bucharest – Călărași bus meant. I had asked her in English where I could find a taxi to take me to the bac. ‘The bac? Are you going back?’, she asked perplexed. ‘The bac‘, I repeated with what I believed to be the right Romanian pronunciation and then continued, ‘The bac to Bulgaria, Silistra! I am from Silistra, I am going home’. ‘Now? In this night?!’, she could not hide her surprise. ‘Yes!’, I answered even more surprised, thinking what was wrong with the night; though already dark, it was not even 8pm after all. Then I got on a taxi, put on again my good-for-nothing Romanian pronunciation and asked for the bac. The second thing I asked, in as threatening as I could get my voice, was ‘Where’s the meter?’ I have enough experience with Bulgarian and Romanian taxi drivers not to get in a taxi without showing them who they are dealing with, i.e. small but fearless girl. Not that with all my threatening voice I could have done anything to save myself during the 10km ride on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, then getting off at a dusty barrack selling tickets for the bac and arriving right in front of two grubby-looking men whose only job was to sit, smoke and stare at that must-be-crazy girl coming from nowhere ‘in this night’. This is when I realized how people perceive me and my supposedly reckless actions. It is a good thing I do not see them as such. I like using the word adventurous if I have to think about it. But only if I have to…

Maybe it has been too long since I was a child; maybe I have never been that perceptive a child; maybe growing older we forget what we were as children, we forget the the way we looked at the world. Whatever the reason is, I find this novel, or at least the part of it told by the small boy, unnatural or unreal. Do children really see the world better than we think they do and are we really blind and deaf to their profound awareness and perception? That is the direction in which my thoughts got while reading the book.  And yet, the phrases I chose as worthy of sharing are the boy’s wise words. Their sincerity is touching, their profoundness captivating, the sadness in them is tender and aching. The story is somehow naive and childishly innocent. Yet, it makes you think over and perceive the concepts embedded in it with a slight touch of melancholy and a great deal of a happy-end optimism.  

C’est ça être un ami, non ? Savoir deviner quand l’autre vous dit le contraire de ce qu’il pense au fond de lui.

Faut pas s’attacher aux autres, c’est trop risquer.

Mon père disait qu’il ne faut pas jamais comparer les gens, chaque personne est différente, l’important est de trouver la différence qui vous convient le mieux. Cléa était ma différence.

Si j’avais reculé, c’est parceque je ne voulais surtout pas lui voler son ombre. Je ne voulais rien savoir d’elle qu’elle n’ait voulu me dire avec ses mains.

A quoi ça sert de vouloir se lier à quelqu’un, si on ne prend pas le risque de lui faire confiance ?

Parfois, après le déjeuner, Cléa s’endormait la tête posée sur mon épaule. C’était je crois le meilleure moment de ma journée, l’instant où elle s’abandonnait. C’est bouleversant quelqu’un qui s’abandonne.

او، قلب بزرگ مثل غمش دارد.

به کی بگویی؟ به یاسین؟ او که ختی صدای سنگ را نمی شنود، چی رسد به صدای لرزان و ناتوان تو! دنیا یاسین، دنیای دیگری شده است، دنیای بی صدا. کر نبود، کر شد. او خود نمی فهمد. او در تعجب است که چرا دیگر از هیچ چیز صدا بر نمی خیزد. آخر تا چند روز پیش این چنین نبود. تصورش را کن! مثل یاسین کودکی هستی که تا چند روز پیش حرف می شنیدی و نمی دانستی کر بودن یعنی چی. و یک روز، دیگر صدایی نمی شنوی. نمی پنداری که این تو هستی که منی شنوی، گمان می کنی که دیگران  بی صدا شده اند. صدا از انسان رفته، صدا از سنگ رفته. صدا از دنیا رفته. پس چرا انسان ها بیخود و بیهوده دهن می جنبانند؟

The Unbearable Lightness of Being  – Milan Kundera, Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

It has stricken me how Kundera looks down on his characters. Seeing them with the lightness of a witness, of a mere observer. As if he is only a spectator of the game their fate plays; not the creator, not the one responsible for their fall. With a hint of a sneer in his tone and a sleek smirk flickering at the corners of his month, he is enjoying his experiment of putting together people so different from one another, so distant. 

But what is love? The feeling of wanting to die beside her was clearly exaggerated: he had seen her only once before in his life! Was it simply the hysteria of a man who, aware deep down of his inaptitude for love, felt the self-deluding need to simulate it?

He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives  nor perfect it in our lives to come.

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning.

They not only offered the possibility of an imaginary escape from a life she found unsatisfying; they also had a meaning for her as physical objects: she loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It had the same significance for her as an elegant cane for the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others.

Anyone whose good is “something higher” must expect some day to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.

She longed to do something that would prevent her from turning back to Tomas. She longed to destroy brutally the past seven years of her life. It was vertigo. A ready, insuperable longing to fall. We might also call vertigo the intoxication of the weak. Aware of his weakness, a man decides to give in rather than stand up to it. He is drunk with weakness, wishes to fall down in the middle of the main square in front of everybody, wishes to be down, lower than down. (I got this paragraph not only because that is the same way I feel when I am weak; I want to get lower and experience it as fully as possible. But that is not the main reason I posted it. As a moderate feminist and as a beginner translator, the pronoun “he” and the word “man”  emerged so violently from the text that I couldn’t continue reading. Every time I go over these two particular sentences, I picture a man and it deprives me of picturing a human being, a possible woman or man… Isn’t it there a way to avoid that predisposition, this already established way to look at the text? Moreover, is it only me who sees it that way and finds the linguistic and gender conflict in it? )

Being a woman is a fate Sabina did not choose. What we have not chosen we cannot consider either our merit or our failure. Sabina believed that she had to assume the correct attitude to her unchosen fate. To rebel against being born a woman seemed as foolish to her as to take pride in it.

Sabina proceeded with her melancholy musings. what if she had a man who ordered her about? A man who wanted to master her? How long would she out up with him? Not for five minutes! From which it follows that no man was right for her.

And Sabina – what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being.

People usually escape in their troubles into the future; they draw an imaginary line across the path of time, a line beyond which their current troubles will cease to exist.

How could someone who had so little respect for people be so dependent on what they thought of him?

How defenseless we are in the face of flattery!

Men who pursue a multitude of women fit neatly into two categories. Some seek their own subjective and unchanging dream of a woman in all women. Others are prompted by a desire to possess the endless variety of the objective female world. The obsession with the formal is lyrical: what they seek in women is themselves, their ideal, and since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found, they are disappointed again and again. The disappointment that propels them from woman to woman gives their inconstancy a kind of romantic excuse, so that many sentimental women are touched by their unbridled philandering.

Insofar as it is possible to divide people into categories, the surest criterion is the deep-seated desires that orient them to one or another lifelong activity. Every Frenchman is different. But all actors the world over are similar – in Paris, Prague, or the back of beyond. An actor is someone who in early childhood consents to exhibit himself for the rest of his life to an anonymous public. Without that basic consent, which has nothing to do with talent, which goes deeper than talent, no one cam become an actor. Similarly, a doctor is someone who consents to spend his life involved with human bodies and all that they entail. That basic consent (and not talent or skill) enables them to enter the dissecting room during the first year of medical school and persevere for the requisite number of years.

Les mille maisons du rêve et de la terreur, Roman traduit du persan (Afghanistan) par Sabrina Nouri

Each one of the authors from Afghanistan I have read, or from any other place touched by war, misery and pain, tells the story of a tragedy. The tragedy of a family, of a nation that falls and smashes on the ground of reality dragged and pushed by the burden of their everyday pain and takes the reader down with itself. But Atiq Rahimi’s accounts of that kind of tragedy are different; different because they are told through the words of the characters themselves, through their own thoughts and reflections on the surrounding world. So it is the case with the novel in question. We see the Afghan world through the character’s inner thoughts, through his worries and fears. Rahimi explores the human soul and its distortions caused by the outside tragedy or the inside helplessness. Moreover, what is impressing in his novels is not what he says but the way he says it – his language is delicate and his word play – exquisite.     

Mon regard est prisonnier des motifs du tapis.

Mon regard toublé fuit les motifs du tapis et tombe sur les fleurs du matelas où elle est assise. Il n’a pas le courage de remonter vers son seine.

Mon regard, plein de trouble et d’anxiété, remonte le long de la main posée sur la fleur.

Comme la bougie sur l’appui de la fenêtre, mon corps fond et coule sur le matelas.

La femme s’agenouille et verse du thé. Toujours cette fermeté dans ses gestes. Dans sa voix et son regard aussi.

Le silence reprend sa place. On dirait qu’elle attend que je pose les questions que je tais, et je ne le fais pas. Elle se lève et sur le plateua elle dépose mes questions avec ma peur et mon émotion. Elle les emporte avec le pain et les tasses dans l’obscurité du couloir.

Dieu sait pourquoi grand-père avait dit à mon père : Il faut craindre deux choses chez la femme : ses cheveux et ses larmes. La chevelure d’une femme est une chaine et ses larmes un torrent furieux. C’est pourqoui il est dit qu’il faut absolument couvrir le visage et les cheveux d’une femme !

La nuit continue de se consumer dans la mèche de la bougie.

Enayat n’était pas poète, mais sa vie était un poème.

A la fenêtre, le jour attend patiemment qu’on écarte les rideaux pour se glisser dans la chambre.