I only care about white asparagus season because it means rhubarb season.
Yesterday, Tuesday, up hours before dawn without much sleep anyway, on my bike in freezing fog, through Kreuzberg, Hallesches Tor, up Wilhelmstraße by Brandenburger Tor, crossing the Spree, Luisenstraße, Invalidenstraße, skirting Berlin Hauptbahnhof, through the construction along Heidestraße, onto Friedrich-Kraus-Ufer and into the Ausländerbehörde.
Marie, my lawyer the last some years arrives shortly after I do. We sit in the E1 waiting room on wooden benches racked with anxious others waiting for their number to chime. Half an hour after my appointment time we’re still waiting. Marie goes in search, moving through the building in ways I alone never could. This is why I have a lawyer, or from her perspective, why she is assisting me.
It’s slightly over two years since I began the grind towards permanent residency in Germany, or an Aufenthaltstitel with unbefristet Niederlassungserlaubnis as it’s called. Two years of acquiring documents, more documents, back and forths, hitting walls and dead ends, being navigated through the system by late-night emails and phone calls from Marie, seeing the system tighten and close up the grey areas, the older ways of living in Berlin increasingly proscribed and delineated. Months of silence as my application was lost, the Behörde in chaos, Berlin city elections, new regulations, having to repeat collecting all those documents to fill in the gaps for those six months, the date of my current residency permit expiry drawing near then passing, more letters from Marie to them, more weeks and days and hours of collecting and changing and updating documents, filling in those gaps.
And finally a stack of paper about 2cm high fulfilling the requirements to be accepted as a permanent resident. There were lot of nights not sleeping these last weeks, and drinking the edge off this. Marie more than once telling me it was going to be ok; me preparing for the worst, pragmatic about outcomes for those who fall into those grey areas. Every time I’ve walked through the Ausländerbehörde, sat in those waiting rooms, I’ve seen that same anxious pragmatism on the faces of people, alone, in pairs, small groups, families. I’ve done it alone every time but this, and there’s no way the outcome would have been positive without Marie.
After all that preparation and waiting, the outcome is entirely dependant on the person sitting opposite. I’ve had a gruff old dragon lady of the ‘hard but fair’ school, a young woman of the Willkommenskultur type years before that word became common parlance in Germany. I’ve also had a young woman whose face could not conceal the disgust and physical discomfort at me, who explicitly turned that bigotry into an interpretation of the regulations to try and deny my residency renewal. This time, Marie said, “He’s new, he seems really positive.”
I barely see him. He’s young, friendly, we three sit in his office while I complete a German language test to prove I’m at least B2, all looking kind of bemused at each other, at the questions he’s reading to me and my answers. “Describe the room you’re sitting in.” “Well, there’s a big window, you can see the Spree out it, and Wedding on the other side, there’s some tables, a calendar on the wall … umm … some shelves, a computer, buncha chairs—” “Yeah, I think that’s enough, eh?”
More waiting. Marie runs off again. She’s carrying a pile of folders, I’m not the only one she’s cutting a path for here today. Then back into his office, collecting all those documents I’d handed over, collecting my passport. Marie hustles me down the hall, “Show me,” she says. “Nie wieder, Frances, nie wieder. You’ll never again have to come here.” And there beside that headshot I took on Monday, underneath my name, it says, “Gültig bis: unbefristet” and “Art des Titels: Niederlassungserlaubnis”.
It’s not a place for celebration. It’s a place for anxiety, fear, disillusionment, heartbreak. More than once I’ve gone through the process and been spat out with a Fiktionsbescheinigung, a temporary piece of paper because my application wasn’t complete to their satisfaction, a function of the idea or romance of living in Berlin as an artist and the increasing liminality of that within the bureaucratic system here. On the wall in the waiting room was a poster of a young, smiling woman wearing a hijab. Underneath it said, “Ich bin Berliner”. I’m not sure that was a comfort to the women in the room wearing hijab or coming from Middle Eastern countries—or born in Germany with the vagaries of citizenship here. Whatever celebration and relief I have, it’s tempered by knowing for others yesterday didn’t work out as they needed.
I rode along the Spree, into Wedding, stopping at Leopoldplatz for the small market, bought some excellent German bread, cheese, and some Hirschsalami, feeling weirdly like I belonged, stopping at Uferhallen to visit Dasniya for Tuesday morning Shibari. Which led to Tuesday afternoon eating of those supplies, along with glasses of gin. It was the morning after a wanker stole a truck and drove it into the Weihnachtsmarkt at Breitscheidplatz in West Berlin, killing 12 and injuring close to fifty.
Without Marie, my Tuesday and today would be very different. Without my friends here in Berlin and spread across Europe, likewise. Marie Ellersiek is the most excellent lawyer and I owe her so many bottles of wine. Dasniya Sommer and Katrin Sellerbeck supported and helped me in so many ways, and lamb curry will be cooked. There are many others, and thank you to you all.
Icke bin Berlina.
Off we go with mediæval art in Valenciennes. And the very first thing is an a winged altarpiece by Pieter Coecke Van Aels of L’Adoration des mages, and guess who’s there? Nah, don’t, just look at that beautiful left wing.
A sad theme throughout the smaller salles was heavily varnished works like this facing outwards to uncovered windows. There were diffusing blinds, but only drawn three-quarters of the way down. Works like this I had to assemble from multiple images, or in this case, photograph from the side, above, or combination of unflattering angles and fix the mess in Photoshop. There’s only so much fixing of specular highlights and distortion software can do, so call these approximate.
And directly to Hieronymous Bosch. Never easy to call a favourite (because of all the mawkish adoration—kinda like the Mona Lisa, except the Mona Lisa is actually crap), but fuck me if he wasn’t on some strong acid. It’s some Salvador Dalí-shaming levels of freak.
Opposite that, and this gives an idea of how small the museum is, how quick it moves through epochs—we’re covering about a century in these three works—one of those Le banquier et sa femme pieces which I love cos it’s actually The Banker and her Employee. I’m all for historical revisionism right here. There were plenty of successful female merchants and guildswomen in the middle ages and renaissance, and reframing the possessive if nothing else helps regard works with slightly lesser unconscious contemporary bias. And I like she being all boss, “Count my money while I read important shit.”
Into the main hall. It’s called the salle Rubens for a reason.
Let’s divert and do some context: the outer wing salles are about 35 metres long, 12 metres wide, 8-10 metres high to the roofline, topped with steep glass atrium. The whole place was reopened in September after a two-year renovation, concurrent with quite a few restorations. There’s 400 paintings and 160 sculptures on display, of which I stupidly committed to blogging ninety-nine. But we’re talking size here. Both of those 12×8 metre end walls are filled to leaking with a single Rubens each.
I had a moment of vertiginous comprehension right then of art in Europe. In Australia seeing a Rubens is the province of special Once-In-A-Lifetime touring exhibitions in the National Galleries—Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra—and of shelling out $30 or more for the privilege, probably a camera ban too, extremely unlikely to be these massive, monolithic almost 100 square metre pieces. In Europe, I wander into the equivalent of Albury–Wodonga, pay 4.50€ and have a hall where each of the works has the surface area of a room and they’re all fucking Rubens or Maerten de Vos or Caravaggistis or you know, like digging up your backyard and finding a Roman burial chamber.
The first and smallest is a de Vos, another L’Adoration des mages and it’s a charmer. And cos photography doesn’t tell you anything about how big or small a work is, in this case the figures are about lifesize. You’re probably thinking, “But Frances, it’s all religious shit right there. WTF?” (Coz I see your eyes glaze over when I talk about this shit, just like they do when I go all Nürburgring 24h on you.) And you’d be right. But you’re wrong. Ignore Mary and the Holy Family for a second and look at the crowd scene. Look at the clothing, the headdresses, the people. Look at the camels. Look at the elephants!
Next to that, another de Vos, La Sainte Parenté, which I love for its wall-to-wall women.
And opposite, Rubens’ Le martyre de Saint Etienne. The brushwork, movement, light, photos don’t really convey this, especially with its size. And for size: his Le Triomphe de l’Eucharistie, one of those end wall pieces. We’re talking not quite double life-size here. And check out the babes at the bottom. Totally, “That’s my Fetish!” right there.
Out of the salle and into the small ones. Jean-Baptiste Vanmour is a very interesting guy, as his name indicates. Portrait d’un dignitaire noir is the size of a large book, buckets of glaze and subdued tones and requisite naked window lighting glare. It’s a full-length piece, his clothing is sumptuous. This is about the best I could do, and even then the colour balance is iffy.
And then a goat. Any museum without goats, I am not interested. This one had at least three.
I’m whipping through some rooms here, until we get to Jan Cossiers’ La diseuse de bonne aventure, which I realised in the Louvre is a bit of a northern European theme (pretty sure I’ve seen this subject in Gemäldegalerie). The rich young fop who has his purse cut on one side while getting his palm read on the other. I’m not sure if the message is, “Gypsies. amirite?” or “LOL Fop!” slash “Doin’ it for teh lulz.” Anyway, Baroque memes.
Approximately next to that, drunk family and bagpipes. Thank you very much, Jacob Jordaens and your Les Jeunes piaillent comme chantent les vieux, quite a bit for the pleased woman on the right and her glass. You know you’d get your drunk on with her.
In the same chamber—I think, one of the smaller quartet ones anyway—is the brilliant Architecture animée de personnages by Jacobus Ferdinandus Saeys. He was seriously into painting architecture, but it’s personnages here, the women in their mad clothing, hats and parasols, and the principally the prancing guy filling up the empty lower left quarter, tripping gaily with two dogs and a red parrot matching his boots and scarf, dressed in black and yellow stripes, a feather in his turban … in all my museuming I’ve seen none finer. None. Finer.
So I’m just going to stop this first part here, and let you wander through the remaining pieces.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes continues in the Rotonda & salon Carpeaux.
9am on the train from Gesundbrunnen to Hennigsdorf. Eight hours later arriving back, much dustier, dirtier, kissed by hours riding in the sun, David and I, and bearing a 1970’s DDR blue and white coffee set, scored for an incredible twelve euros in Birkenwerder—which I would have never succumbed to if I’d known the scruffy trails we’d plough along later.
We were following the 66-Seen-Wanderweg, which circles Berlin in a 416km loop through lakes, rivers, canals, forests, quite a few small towns, and from which we deviated repeatedly and wildly, ending up in Oranienburg, almost in Sachsenhausen. Some time later we plopped down beside the water at Liepnizsee, ate excellent aged cheddar cheese, aromatic German Essener Art Brot, even more aromatic Wollschweinwurst, nuts and carrots and tart as buggery apples, and drank cups of tea from afore-purchased cups on their matching saucers.
Later again, we doodled around Hellsee and took a proper pause for making photos at the marsh, before barging off into sandy up and down forests until spat out near Rüdnitz. A dizzying 63km in six and an half hours between train stations on beautiful winding, undulating forest roads and equally beautiful forest trails of all types. So now we’ve committed to doing the whole 17 stages.
Ebba, Tova & Gabriel host a conversation with the Berlin-based choreographers Dasniya Sommer and Frances d’Ath, that visited Nyxxx & KokoroTwo & Rökridånfor a working residency the 28th of April-4th of May in 2015. When the conversation starts, we have just participated in a shibari yoga class guided by Dasniya. From this point of reference, we go on to discuss among many other things exoskeletons, religious metaphors and the invention of rope as a parallel to the invention of the wheel.
— NYXXX: Avsnitt #9 — Ropes & Roles
A pile of new books; more photos & a podcast from Stockholm; the delightful ‘Straayans Virginia & Francesca of VNS-FUCKING-MATRIX in Berlin; off to Brussels next week for Hans’ premiere … (the terrible, terrible thing that is Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 Positions (I wanna call it 69 Shades of [something offensive]); the almost as-terrible Xeno-Feminism Manifesto Launch (hashtag-haley-joel-osmet-i-see-white-feminists-dot-gif); close brackets) … head==explode!
A slightly unannounced workshop (compared to the other two, I mean), three days of making performance with NYXXX at Rökridån, co-organised by Kokoro 2. Eleven people, some artists, one engineer (always one engineer), a social-anthropologist, part-way underground in the meat-packing district. We stay almost on the edge of Stockholm, one stop before the end of the line, Bagarmossen. The forest begins nearer than that last stop. Roads and cars encircle but do not enter. Wide, curved paths, trees, eruptions of glacier-smoothed granite. Most other places this would be the dead-end. Here, it’s like the ideal of high-modernist urban planning architecture—the antithesis of Le Corbusier—made real. It’s a little disturbing at first.
Rökridån is half-way from Bagarmossen to the centre of Stockholm, probably an half-hour walk, 15 minute brisk spin on a bike. We take the train, walk the last bit. Only four hours a day, though with warm-up before and drifting over the finish time, this stretches to five, six. And then we rehearse. I haven’t hung myself up since teaching at ImPulsTanz last year.
This is writing for remembering. Since working regularly with Florian, Dasniya’s teaching, performances, general ideas and interests have changed.
In-between stuff. Friday, we rehearse in Bagarmossen, then end the afternoon in Östasiatiskamuseet. Also walking around the harbours. Wednesday night we see a performance at MDT. It causes me to doubt that people with acceptable bodies (identities, desires) can have any understanding of those without, or even care. Sunday I go to the Historiska museet. A bus driver plays Swedish folk music. Later that night, we use it in a performance.
I eat a lot of liquorice. Sweet, salty, chewy, rubbery, stuff that melts and stuff that erodes. The sky is the kind that comes from across oceans, open, tattered clouds, the air sharp and polished. It’s often windy. Inside, or in the sun, it’s warm; if the sun was higher, it would approach harshness. As soon as the sun is gone, it chills like stone in shade. If the public transport doesn’t work, they pay for people to take taxis. I didn’t eat reindeer. Or fish.
Thursday night is Valborgsmässoafton, Walpugis Night. No burning of witches north of the Baltic, only celebrating the arrival of spring with bonfires. Stockholm seems to have a lot of immigrants. It felt a little like Sydney or Melbourne. I liked it more for that (I know it’s not straightforward or rosy).
Both Tova and Christian have a lot of books. Walls of books. Cheese comes in at least 1kg blocks. Smaller is possible but not encouraged. Coffee also. I wonder if in winter they are snowed in, and need such large amounts to get through. Granite is everywhere. The city and trees are a thin scraping on the surface, you could probably clean the whole place back to rock with a brush, vacuum cleaner, and an afternoon. It’s insanely beautiful.
The word for ‘child’ is the same as in Scots: barn, bairn. I try and not find similarities with Scotland and Northern England. When people greet you, even in shops or at work, they say, “Hey!” It’s so ridiculously friendly. If a ‘k’ is followed by an ‘ä’, it’s pronounced ‘sh’. I ask Tova who inflicted this upon them. She laughs and tells me about ‘sj’. ‘Hen’ is in the Svenska Akademiens ordlista as a gender-neutral personal pronoun. People we meet use it easily.
Monday we arrive, are met at the central bus station, cross the road to the train station, find ourselves on the T17, south-south-east to Bagarmossen. A long meal together, roast aubergine with walnuts. Tuesday we are early heading to Rökridån. Dasniya sent photos of our performance, we both took many photos throughout the week (as did everyone). I’ll defer a description in lieu of those later. NYXXX are LARPers. I found that out late in the week. When she told me it was like the secret that makes coherent everything which preceded. First day: a warmup, some exercises/tasks/trials with ropes. Second day: a warmup, Dasniya showed some of her work from rehearsals, talking about how performance is made. The difference between performance for each other, playing publicly, and performance as a branch of theatre are discussed. Third day: an assemblage of objects, ideas, wishes, things to try; an agreement of who does what with whom; experiments with rope that become installations. I said, “Wow, that’s really fucking good” to myself quite a bit.
Friday. May Day.
Saturday, Yoga and Shibari. On more familiar ground here. The performance workshop went into new things for Dasniya (and myself). Some things worked, others not completely. Working or not-working for me are somewhat questions of engineering; it’s the ground they operate on that’s either fertile or arid (pushing a shaky mixed metaphor there). I think the performance workshop, especially with LARPing was really this, several things coming together that fit so neatly and I’m kinda watching myself watching it thinking, “Faaark! This can go so far into Weirdsville…” and wanting that in all its rawness, messiness, bits of failure and bits of sublime on the stage at MDT cos it’s so much more relevant, so much more real.
Dasniya’s yoga approaches Isabelle’s warmup from different directions. I’m doing all the same all over the place. Same. Different. Slightly different. Kinda the same. We rehearse before and after. Firstly after is a Podcast dinner. NYXXX, a Tascam, a table of food (yes, large block of cheese). The talking goes from performance to stomach bacteria to cosplaying … I thought there was an interesting formality in how this was prepared, which contrasted with the informality when let to run on its own accord. After that, full stomach, more rehearsing.
Sunday. I go to the museum. The bus driver and his music. Later, after the Self-suspension workshop, Tova helps me find the music, poems of Gustav Fröding arranged by Torgny Björk. People start laughing immediately when we play it. Different people in the weekend workshops to the week one. Many the same. Different energy in Rökridån also. I try suspending myself in two different hip harnesses. I’m unsure lately if I want to hang at all. I do find some possibilities, but there’s a physical reluctance towards pain that comes from dealing with chronic injuries, as if the surface of my skin is too sensitive.
Performance. Rubber dog mask for me. Cat for Dasniya, Pig for Tova. A green bicycle. A white calico skirt, beaded green vest, also a black ballet tutu, gold glitter heels, a table and chair, a ladder. From the inside performing with masks, it can feel nothing, or stupid, or whatever, but from the outside with these not-quite human not-quite animal masks, it’s dead strange. It’s like they become blank signifier volumes. It’s not anthropomorphic either; more like becoming animal. The practicalities of dealing with much-reduced vision and hearing, the inner experience of wearing this cave-like helmet causes a different mundane physicality and movement. They’re also good for shy performers.
It takes an hour to pack the ropes,
A rope jam takes place. Stockholm people are well-handy with shibari. All quite astounding, really. Dasniya and I have a beer in the local pub. It closes early, by pub standards. The sky still has a faint tint of the sun riding the horizon at 11pm.
Monday, pack, train, lunch with Tova, we don’t manage a ferry ride and wander. Bus to airport, liquorice and chocolate. Plane makes land somewhere around the border of Germany and Poland. We see Uferhallen on the descent. Florian is at the arrivals gate with a sign, “Shibari Express” and chewy sweet stuff.
mmm, yes, root vegetables! The first time I saw Schwarzwurzeln, I thought, “Why are twigs being sold in the vegetable section? And what are they?” After much asking of, ”You know those things that look like someone dug up the roots of a tree, what are they?” someone said, “Oh them! They’re Schwarzwurzeln!” Which I promptly looked up and discovered as a bunch of things no english speaker I know of has ever heard of. “Yeah, but what do they taste like?” “Oh, white asparagus for poor Belgians,” said one Belgian.
My first several attempts (all successful!) of cooking these delicacies resulted in not insignificant amounts of oozing of latex (yes, really) that stains everything black unless doused in lemon juice. This time, I discovered boiling them for 15 minutes first, and then the skin pops off like peeling a lychee. The difference is the former results in crisp eating, like stir-fried asparagus, and the latter verges on the despotic northern-european tradition of boiling until joyless.
Ja, so, risotto! For Isabelle and Malcolm on the 24th, which is when Germany does Christmas (no, I don’t know why either.) Risotto with Champagne. Or Sekt. Or Sparkling Wine, whatever you want to call it, just the dry, flinty stuff, like licking granite cliffs in Norway. And smoked salmon. None of that weird packaged sliced stuff, just a good-sized steak of hot-smoked depravity. Sadly it was a Tuesday when I did the buying so Herr Räucherfisch was not at the Markt. The replacement did the job, however.
- Garlic, as much as you like. I threw in about half a corm.
- Onions, or shallots, enough for an easy handful
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
- Butter, a good-sized knob
- Olive oil, as much as you need once everything’s in the pan to keep things moist
- Risotto rice
- Stock, chicken is best (provided it’s not battery chicken), otherwise mushroom or vegetable
- Parmigiano, I used about 300g for three people, more is possible
- Schwarzwurzeln, usually comes in 500g packets or as many as I can hold in my hand
- Smoked salmon, a bit more than the cheese
- Thyme, fresh, otherwise soak in a bit of oil to soften it up
- Saffron threads are good too, but I can never find them
As you can tell I have no idea how much of anything to use, I just make it up as I go along. What is important is the quality of the stuff you’re going to eat until breathing hurts.
To the stoves!
Cut the Schwarzwurzeln into lengths short enough to fit in a pot, boil some water, throw them in and ignore for 10-15 minutes. You’ll be busy so make sure someone know’s what time it is.
Cut the onion. I learnt a fully awesome method that results in molecule-sized cubes: Cut the onion into quarters, then for each separate out the top half layers. Flatten them and cut length-ways (same direction you’ve already been cutting in) then cut the now julienned strips into minusculeness. They utterly melt in the pan. Do the same for the garlic. Grate the zest off the lemon.
Ok, Schwarzwurzeln is finished. Get it off the stove and into some cold water. Start popping the skin then soaking in the juice of that lemon (just squeeze it like you’re a super-villian). Ignore it again.
Pan! Heat! Butter! Onions! Low heat … let them melt and go all unholy! Garlic, but not too hot. If you caramelise that garlic, I will cut you! (Now with the Saffron if you have it.) Olive oil is good about now. Salt & Pepper! Rice! Stir it with the heat going up, things need to get a little calamitous before the Champagne hits the pan. In with the lemon zest, and a quick stir, then in with the champagne, half the bottle, then the rest into the freezer so you can drink while stirring.
Once that’s calmed down, start adding the stock, which by the way is simmering on the back element. Now it’s time to work one’s zen martial arts training. A lot of stirring and no complaining. I cheat a bit, 2-3 ladles of stock then stir it until it’s mostly gone, with periodic wanderings off.
First wandering off: grab the cheese and flake it with your best knife. For entertainment (as with stock-stirring) try with your other hand, being careful not to add fingernails or fingertips. Back to the pot, more stock and stirring, alternating hands and directions for maximum excitement. There’s 40 minutes of this so everything depends on the freezer being cold.
Second wandering off: get the salmon and flake it like the cheese. Eat the skin. Eat the bloody skin! It’s fucking delectable. Back to stirring. Back to fridge and commence drinking. Scrape the Thyme off its stems and soak it if it’s dry. More stirring. Cut the Schwarzwurzeln lengthwise (or thirds if they’re fat stumps) then into 2cm long bits. More stirring. More drinking. Stir, drink, stir, drink. Did you buy two bottles of champagne? Yes? Why, you clever thing. More stirring. More drinking.
Presuming everything else has been done, salads made, table set, drinks at the ready, now comes the last frenzy of terror after many tens of minutes of boredom. Throw in a bit more lemon zest, keep stirring, in with the Schwarzwurzeln (yes, stir), bring the heat up a bit to compensate, in with the salmon (variation: gently stir, gently!) and just before it’s all about to turn to shit, in with the cheese. Stir, then don’t stir!
Plates, bowls, whatever, doesn’t matter. Fill them with this glorious slop, then throw a bit more cheese on top, followed by more salmon, then the thyme. Eat with that third bottle of Sekt you bought. Keep the pot on the table because you will finish it and will find breathing and walking difficult.