12 July 2009

I look forward

Last summer when I still worked in Moscow, I had a Scottish colleague named Alistair. During our breaks for lunch, we exchanged bits and pieces of everyday wisdom with each other. Or rather, Alistair taught me those, while I gave him eggplants, zucchinis, and gooseberries from the market. When the weather was merciless outside –tearful and windy – we, looking out of the office window, entertained ourselves with what seemed an Eng -Rus dialect (a hybrid of English and Russian). Offski homeski meant ‘time to go home’, offski gymski - ‘off to gym’, offski pubski…you get the idea. Language-wise, we didn’t restrain ourselves from mixing in more exotic words. When referring to an unpleasant person passing us, Alistair would use a Chinese phrase – he worked in Honk Kong before arriving in Moscow – that loosely translated as ‘crazy woman’. He might have used the same phrase even if the unpleasant somebody was male, but I don’t remember that now. What I memorized, however, was his Zen-like advice to me, in pure English: ‘To have a happy life, you should look forward to your dinner’.

Now, I look forward to dinner on a daily basis. And to breakfast. And to lunch. This whole business should sum up to a very happy life in my world, I reckon; however, the blues are visiting me these days. A gentleman named Lukas Bragg, my good friend and, generally, quite an insightful person, supposed it may be a post-birthday syndrome (PBS). I think it’s because he is jealous that I enjoyed
zee pizzas without him. But anyway…My mother likes to say that only idiots smile non-stop and that it is fine to sob as well. By way of deduction, I think I am not an idiot, which already makes me happier. Not to forget this breakfast-lunch-and-dinner thing.

When the sky over Amsterdam is crying out its bowels and the wind is howling like a homeless dog, I find it somewhat difficult to persuade the blues to please get out of my room. Instead, I take heart and an umbrella, and trek to a bakery – offski bakerski, as Alistair the Scotsman would say -- to get chausson aux pommes, or pirozhok s yablokom, as I used to know it in Russia.

I should tell you now that since I was a kid I have always had a certain fondness for the words pirozhok, ‘turnover’, and bulochnik, ‘baker’. (I like to believe Russian bulochnik derives from French boulanger.) Not that there was a professional bulochnik in my family as I was growing up, or that I ate pirozhki (‘turnovers’) for breakfast, lunch or dinner, which, come to think of it, would not hurt a bit. Alas, neither was the case. It’s just that I always heard a chanting melody in those words, an underlying message that said, ‘Rain or no, a moustached, chubby bulochnik makes his pirozhki every day at the darkest hour before the dawn to put a smile on people’s faces later in the day, to reassure children and adults alike that no matter what, there he is, the bulochnik, to guard a centuries-old tradition of layering the fragrant, yeasty dough with rich and silky butter; rolling and folding it; doing his own magic with it every day; and, by extension, soothing people's souls’. And while such bulochnik and his pirozhki are there, I imagined, the world is safe, and fed.

Here in Amsterdam, pirozhki s yablokom (literally, ‘turnovers with apple’) are unknown, yet their fancier French counterparts chausson aux pommes took residence in a few of the local bakeries, and I consider it good manners that I pay my visits to them regularly. These chausson aux pommes and I, we developed strong camaraderie between each other. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more smile-inducing than slightly salty, buttery and flaky pocket of puff pastry that looks like a lacy-edged, glossy purse, filled with now-sweet, now-tart, perfumed-with-cinnamon applesauce/compote that, once the shattery pastry is bitten into, drips on my chin and clothes, distracting me from my worries. The wind still howled outside, and the blues were somewhere there, waiting to catch up with me. But I didn’t half mind. Actually, I did not mind at all. I looked forward to my next pirozhok s yablokom, my chausson aux pommes.

Lastly, it seems I will have to be going to take a short break from posting on my blog. There are too many things going on at the moment: I’m writing my premaster thesis that is due by Aug 3, which means that I have only two weeks left (aaaaa!) before I have to submit the whole thing. Plus, I’m doing my summer internship in editorial of the Time Out Amsterdam magazine(yay!!) which also requires my devotion and, to be honest, claims my energy as much as the thesis.

I hope you understand, My Dear Reader.

I look forward to seeing you soon again. And this, truly, makes me happy!

Enjoy your summer, friends!

*If in Amsterdam, you can find almost perfect chaussons aux pommes -- my only wish they were a touch tarter -- at Vlaamsch Broodhuis, Haarlemmerstraat 108 and other locations (http://www.vlaamschbroodhuys.nl/). Just so you know, chaussons aux pommes are appelkoeken in Dutch.


Tiina said...

I think the Finnish word for pie "piirakka" comes from Russian pirozhki.
Good luck with your thesis and your internship! I think, we, your readers, want to hear all about both when you return to blogging! :)


Marieke said...

Eat it or take a photo, eat it or take a photo? hmmm... One quick bite before I take a photo!

Marieke said...

Just a little add on if you don't mind: A good translation for chausson in Dutch would be 'slof' or 'slofje'. Appelslofje. Slof is another word for pantoffel (slippers you wear indoors to keep your feet warm).

Love your stories Anya!

anya said...

Tiina -- thanks! I'll tell you all, the gory details including! :)

Marieke -- to me, 'appelslofje' sounds much better than 'appelkoek', the latter is what you'll see at the Vlaamsch Broodhuis. And yes, one greedy bite, a look inside, and a thought, 'It is a crime not to take a photo'. :) Thank you for your feedback!