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

28 February 2015

Perhaps for emphasis

February the twenty-eighth, worn out, small-bodied, and unseeing. A day that in the confines of the apartment makes no effort to excite, that promises nothing. Lit in late-winter light, half milk, half gold, it means well, to pass quickly, to leave no trace. The lungs, unaccustomed, inexperienced, still burn a little from last night's smoking, and a faint taste of sodium chloride from the salt-encrusted margaritas continues to tingle the lips. 

"I don't always win, but I never get knocked down", said a male voice behind my back. I reluctantly peeled my eyes off the tropic green of Mekhong River Thai Bar signage and turned around to see a short man, barrel-chested, baby-faced. He was talking to me, asked me if I smoke. I said sorry, I don't -- and started to unlock my bike off the bridge railing. He went on to tell me these two guys, dipshits, just robbed him, took all his money, not much, and cigarettes. 

 "They approached me from behind, hit me on the head. If I saw them coming, it just wouldn't go down.

"I like to fight, collect scars and bruises.

"This one" -- he pointed to the knuckles on his right hand and lifted it to his lips -- "this one is my favorite." He elongated the first syllable, almost sang it out, feeeey-vorite, perhaps for emphasis. 

He suggested we maybe have a beer, nodding towards the Mekhong River. It's open till 4 a.m, he said. "Everything else is closing down as I speak." 

I said thank you, but I'd had enough for the night already. I smiled and rode off as fast as I could, the bike lights still in my coat pocket.

February the twenty-eighth. Smoke grey before the night sky and all thoughts are on dinner. And what dinner!

Soba Noodles with Peanut-Citrus Sauce
Adapted from Orangette
Yield: 2-3 servings

This is my new go-to dish. A delicious, filling, slurpy, no-brainer meal, with enough kick, crunch and smoothness to please everybody's tastes. And by everybody I really mean every one who likes peanut butter and noodles, and now please tell me who does not?

For the sauce:
½ cup natural crunchy peanut butter
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp soy sauce
¼  tsp pressed garlic
½ tsp sriracha or similar hot sauce, or more to taste
½ tsp sambal oelek or similar chili garlic paste, or more to taste
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp water

For the noodles:
250 g soba noodles
3 red radishes, very thinly sliced
2 small carrots, very thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro (coriander) or chives, for serving

Make the sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk with a fork to blend well. It will look clumpy at first, but keep whisking. It will come together into a smooth, fragrant sauce. Taste, and tweak to your liking. Set aside.

Next, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and place a colander in the sink. When the water boils, add the soba noodles, and cook at a gentle simmer until they are al dente, about four minutes. Don't overcook. 

Drain the noodles into the colander in the sink. Immediately wash them in cold water. Turn on the faucet and, with your hands, take small handfuls of soba and separate them between your fingers, taking care each noodle is rinsed. This helps to remove any starchy residues and keeps the noodles from clumping.

Shake any excess water from the noodles, and pour them into the bowl of sauce. Manually or with forks, gently toss until the noodles are evenly coated. Add the carrots, radishes, and celery, and serve, topped with fresh cilantro (coriander) or chives.

31 January 2015

Hypnotized by it

A rich and modest square of François Pralus Cuba is starting to melt under the impatient tongue. I had to get out and pedal thirty minutes each way to get a bar. The day is tormented by rain and snow, they alternate first, then merge, land angrily on the skin. But I don't mind, have grown used to this. 

I gather speed -- I'll lose it in a minute to the next gust of wind. I only passed four or five blocks and I already feel my shirt slowly starting to dissolve in sweat on my back. I cross a traffic-laden road, the green light disappears quickly in the thick spew of hail. I wear mittens, but the skin on my hands feels raw, it burns. 

Neat, elegant stacks of chocolate bars, thin as ballerina's ribs. The eye stops at each, sends the mind reeling, wanting, in a free fall. I pull a Cuba off the shelf, my favourite. I habitually run my fingers across its wrapper, the paper feels grainier under the wet skin. But I know well what's underneath it: a taste of cigar smoke and rum, not direct, but rather plucked from somebody's lips. Before going back I decide to have a cup of coffee, an espresso. It comes thick as crude oil. The woman across the counter compliments the colour of my lipstick, she would like to know the name of the hue. I say it's dark wine, Merlot. I reach into my coat pocket for change to find a crumpled piece of writing paper, both damp from rain. 

I looked up, it was dark. The night was through, over, down to the last note in my pockets, each spent on wine. I alone must have had a bottle of young red, French, too. It knowingly blazed through the blood and softened the limbs. The phone buzzed and buzzed. I took a piece of paper out of my handbag, still blank but already folded, straightened it and wrote: Remember how you spilled wine over my dress (good it was black) as we stumbled in a dance and we laughed at it and at our ourselves louder than everybody else combined. Then I looked down at it and crumpled it up. The arthritic tree tops span overhead as I was unlocking my bike. I looked up, my head started to spin too, the stomach feeling dangerously close to the throat.

The tongue gives in to the slow dark buttery melt, becomes sedated, hypnotized by it. 

30 November 2014

I look away

"I'm sitting down to write. I'll call you back later, I don't exist for now, only in my head." 

The bedroom window is chilled, a thin line between the post-sleep warmth and a day as grey as smoke. I've been at my desk since morning, in front of the blank page. Sentences circle in front of my mind's eye, but they are like an empty baggage belt. I'm thinking back to my trip to Russia in October. It was 4 a.m. when I landed, one of the few flights to touch down at such hour. I flew through Istanbul, it was a soft day, sunny. No one aboard expected to step into the rain. I found myself wondering if coming down from a high feels like this, dark and cutting. Someone joked it was for us to get a cold faster.

A man in front of me in line to passport control sneezes, then coughs -- I roll my coat collar up, as if this would protect me. Somebody hasn't filled out the migration form correctly, the line stops moving. I pull a pack of mints out from my pocket. The cool on my tongue distracts me from joining in the angry groans and hissing whispers. I'd been up for twenty hours, my stomach growls. Except for the two in-flight meals, I didn't eat much that day. I take another mint, and one more. I look forward to my grandmother's crepes, thin and delicate, as if made of lace. 

Another hold-up, now with the luggage. The waiting's turned my thoughts inconsequential. I'm thinking about why I often now prefer a splash of bourbon or gin to a glass of wine. Maybe because I'm getting older. The gin they offered on the flight tasted of ethanol and burnt my tongue, I couldn't finish it. It must have been over half an hour, but the baggage carousel still moves around unladen. 

I look away from my computer screen to find the daylight darker. My stomach growls again.  I go and toast a slice of sourdough bread. The warm crust, crisp and yielding, a layer of almond butter and honey on top, a winter mouthfeel. I toast a second slice. South Park is on TV. I end up watching a few episodes. "I'm cereal, I'm super duper cereal!"

It wasn't a long trip, only a week and a half, but a third day into my stay I was habitually counting down the time until my flight back. It's a terrible thing, it once more felt like a betrayal. 

The daylight's gone, the windows face the night again. A distant row of road lights line the horizon. I pick up the phone to call my parents.

"How have you been? Kak u vas dela? Skuchayu."