On the Hill

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Mat. 5:5, The Message)

They’re wrong. Money can buy happiness. What it can’t buy is contentment, and hence the above-mentioned saying. Grab a paper and a pen, jot down things that surround you or what you own. Then get rid of those that money can buy from the list. It turns out that it’s not happiness that I’ve been lacking all this time. It’s not happiness.

On Glow

To him her grief is an unspoken glow. It’s a different kind of sadness, unlike any other girls’ cheap flavorless tears. When she’s out of his sight, he torments his soul with questions. She’s a show, he finds her as a blue ocean splendor, contented grass waving at city trains, a spark in a sailor’s eyes. He wishes to measure the depth of her grief and lifts her up from there. Days are numbered, and he aches. He seeks for lines, treasures steps, ticks like a clock.

To her he’s a restless soul. Shabby charm, nervous knuckles, clear eyes. She’s drawn to him of that she knows. There’s something in him that she needs to rescue, a parachute to a fierce sudden fall. The air is sweet, the grounds grow leaves. When they talk, his shadow leans on her light-maroon dress.

Oh Liguria

All the photos are from a disposable camera I spontaneously bought from DM after I saw one of her photos on Instagram, a day before the trip to Liguria. The first city we visited was Genova, the hometown of Christopher Columbus. We decided to stay there for a night before heading to our main destination, the marvelous Cinque Terre. The first three photos were taken in Genova. I was impressed (and perplexed) by the narrow alleys (carruggi) lined by tall houses in the historical center, which is where our awesome hostel is also located. It’s much more confusing than the ones in Venice. I was glad that I brought my Nokia walking navigation that can be used offline while in roaming zone for it saved so much time to use it rather than checking on the paper map every 5 meters. I’ve had the best spaghetti ever in Genova, one with pesto and the other one with special mushroom sauce here.

 

 

The next day we took a regional train to Vernazza, one of the cities of Cinque Terre (cinque means 5). We chose Vernazza as the homebase because many people say it’s the most beautiful among the five. It took us less than a five-minute walk from Vernazza train station to our B&B. It’s a very compact town, with the most pristine-looking harbor. After exploring the town and encountering a lot of reconstruction sites due to the flood in 2011, we walked uphill to the cemetery/sanctuary overlooking the breathtaking view of the harbor. It’s so overwhelming to think that the locals have to go through all the “climb” in the process of burying their loved ones.

A friend took the photo above at the harbor of Vernazza. We had lunch and dinner at the very same restaurant that day for the other restaurants were closed. We hit the bed early that night then woke up to a fresh start the next day, ready to explore the other four, starting from the most eastern city in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore.

 

After several hours of exploring then topped by a decent lunch of pasta and fresh seafood in Riomaggiore, we took a 5-minute train to the next city: Manarola. Its train station has the most gorgeous view among the five. You can sit at ease on one of the benches watching the ocean and sunset while waiting for your train to come. Believing in the general assumption that one has to go hiking in Cinque Terre, we opted for the easiest hiking track according to the list (other than the closed Via dell’amore), which is from Manarola to Volastra, comprising a lush area of vineyard as well as the Chiesa Madonna della Salute (12th Century). The photo below was taken during the hike.

It was almost dark as we got back to Manarola. From there we took another short train ride to the next city: Corniglia. Corniglia is the only town in Cinque Terre that doesn’t have direct access to the shore. Unlike the other four cities, it’s quite far from Corniglia train station to the town while the view hasn’t much to boast so we were very lucky to catch the minibus right before it left. In the town, we stopped by a cafe to have some tea and snacks. It’s the smallest yet the oldest city among the five, and the buildings are more in order compared to the other towns. Too bad we only had like 30 minutes before the last minibus leaves for the train station. We couldn’t walk to the station for the streets (other than the town) have no lights at all. After another less than 10 minute train ride, we arrived in Monterosso. Beyond expectation, Monterosso looks stunning at night we literally dropped our jaws. It’s the most tourist-welcoming town among the five. You just can’t have enough of the view along the promenade so we returned again early in the morning to spend an entire afternoon before leaving for Milan to catch the flight back to Berlin.

 

The three photos below were taken in Volastra after the one-hour hike from Manarola.

 

 

A story behind the last photo: It was around 4-ish in the afternoon as I passed the yard of Madonna della Salute alone (I forgot where all my friends were). I had a big urge to photograph these wonderful ladies ever since I saw them busy chattering and laughing from a distance. As I approached and asked for permission to photograph them, there was an abrupt awkward silence. Taking the silence as a yes, I quickly bent my hip to get a lower position and my behind accidentally hit a garbage bin. They all laughed at me. I think the one in the middle had the loudest laughter.

On Answers

“Will you still love me if I turn ugly and old?”, the question sprang out of nowhere as they sat in the car waiting for the rain to stop. “I will,” she said. “How about if I turn into an evil person? like really really bad.” “How bad?”, she tried to make things precise. “Really bad, like if I murder one of your family members.” She turned silent. “I’ll still love you.” “How could you still love me? I murdered your sister for God’s sake! That is the worst possibility I could even think of right now.” “I will still love you, but it doesn’t mean that I will not turn you into jail or something.” “When I get out of jail, can we still see each other like before?” “I don’t know. I might need a while I don’t know how long, but I will still love you.” There’s something that sickened him but he didn’t know what. He drove her home that night without a word, hoping that she would come up with a different answer but she didn’t. “Do you want me to walk you to the door?” he touched her hand as they arrived. “No no you don’t have to, you’ll catch a cold, it’s still raining.” She kissed him good night. He smiled. It was the 9 of December. She never heard of him again since then.

On Vessel

“How come I don’t have your nose like he does? I want a pointed and sharp nose like yours.” Even the mother couldn’t give her an answer if she wanted. It was a point in her daughter’s life, in which she would still ask many questions and only little of the answers would ever reach the quality of satisfying. “How come I’ve always had problems with my skin ever since I was small? How come he hasn’t? What were you eating those days?” The mother was bombarded with such questions, interrupting all the noises from the television show she was watching. “Why don’t I have your good looks like he does? Why do I always get the ugly sides? I get only these freckles and nothing more thank you very much.” The mother laughed. Those were serious questions she knew for sure, but that’s the thing with honesty. Sometimes it just makes you laugh. “I don’t know honey, I seriously don’t know. What I know is, you have the kindest heart among us all.” The daughter was silent. She made such gestures as if to end the conversation in a natural way, just like she always did when things become awkward. Approaching her napping dog at the corner, she said to herself half murmuring. I would trade it for all those, I know I would.

On Winter

The night is brighter when snow covers the city. How innocent the lamp posts are, how unattractive the cars these days, we look down and our toes don’t appear. It’s minus degree and we take good care of the steps, we just want to get home and not be left inferior to the cold. That beautiful tree we photographed in the spring has turned into a pole of old skin. The wind is harsh, as if the ocean flows by our side, as if we grow thinner like sails, the soul we tell to stay still. Darkness occupies after 4 pm, it races with the moving clouds, oh our hearts are pounding, makes us think of an ending. And of the sun so much. Of the sun too much. Of the sun. That much.

On Fear

He’s endowed with a knowledge of the inner part of him. The knowledge that speaks of a well-being of pain. That even if the pain inside him will be gone, the space is not yet free to be filled with sheer delight. It is going to be invaded soon by something more powerful than pain. The absence of pain is just a presence of something else. Fear of pain. This fear of pain is even more engrossing than the pain itself. It is intimidating, suffocating, it shrinks his lungs, from which his soul asks for light. Nevertheless, the pain still abides. If ever what’s written above is true, then he wishes it would never be gone.

Nigel Slater, a cook who writes

 

As much as I love reading, the only time I have ever opened a recipe book was when I was at someone else’s bookshelf (indicating that I have none), and yet all those books with apparently good looking photographs of ready-to-serve meals have never really caught my attention. But this time was different. The other day I was at a friend’s place and a curiosity was tickling me to open a recipe book that has been lying around her table for quite a while. The book is by Nigel Slater: Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries II. This friend who owns the book has been kind of obsessed with making all the meals from the book lately that she even made a special blog on which she follows each entry of the diaries, narrates her experience in finding the ingredients and going through the process, and then displays the results in a neat way. If you read through her blog, you would notice that it’s not just for the sake of making meals. There’s something from the persona who wrote the book that drives her to that point of making such big efforts. And that perhaps, is what invites Mr. Curiosity in the first place.

 

As I started to leaf through the pages of this kitchen diaries, it took only the first few sentences to get me hooked. It’s truly different from any other “recipe books” I’ve ever laid my fingers upon. This one has its charm on me, not only the photographs of four different seasons in between each parts, but the sentences that this Nigel Slater writes. He mentions in the book that he’s not a chef, but he prefers to be called a cook who writes. The sentences are crafted, they have a personal depth, and as always, there’s an old blanket of melancholic beauty covering the whole process of making a meal without being corny, just like an honest skillfully-written personal journal. Below was how he described his thoughts as he was sitting in a restaurant by the harbour staring through the window while waiting for his meal to be served:

 

I have always loved the colour grey. Peaceful, elegant, understated; the colour of stone, steel and soft, nurturing rain. The view from the window across the harbour has every shade, from driftwood to charcoal: the lagoon, the restaurant’s weathered cedar cladding, the moored boats, the trees on the opposite shore, all in delicated shades of calming grey.

 

And the best part of what I’ve read so far (not so much I guess) is how he gives me a revealing perspective on white rice. Yes, that particular seeds of grain that I’ve been consuming for like, forever. I’m aware that his idea of white rice will occupy my mind each time I think of or eat white rice from now on, which I clearly have no objection to.

 

Sometimes, I rather like noise. The testosterone-fuelled roar of a football match heard from my back garden; the tired and blissfully happy sounds of a crowd singing along at a festival; the swoosh of a barista’s steam wand. But most times I prefer peace and quiet. The sound of snow falling in a forest is more my style – something I have yet to hear this year.

There is quiet food, too. The tastes of peace and quiet, of gentleness and calm. The solitary observance of a bowl of white rice; the peacefulness of a dish of pearl barley; running your fingers through couscous. The thing these have in common is that they are grains or something of that ilk. What is it about these ingredients that makes them so calming? Could it just be that they bring us gastronomically down to earth, show us how pure and simple good eating can be? This is food pretty much stripped of its trappings. It is, after all, the food that many people survive upon.

The peacefulness of grains, their earth tones and the fact that they don’t snap or crunch between the teeth, is what makes them food to eat when we are looking for solace and calm. The fact they are not from dead animal probably has something to do with it, too.

and the way he ends most of the sentences, it gives me the sensation of riding on a soaring imagination:

A bowl of porridge is a quiet breakfast (no snap, crackle or pop) that sets me up for the day. I feel a sense of calm and wellbeing after a breakfast of porridge. I should add that mine now comes in a wooden bowl. I regard my porridge bowls as some of the most beautiful items in my kitchen. They are made by Guy Kerry at his croft in the Black Isle, with ash wood from a tree blown down in a storm.

I’m also aware of my own crush for people who write skillfully, who ignite beautiful sensation and vivid images through written texts, whose obsession might be driven by the longing for something they’ll never have in life but consequently drives them to keep creating stuffs. I might read his whole book one day, and indeed one doesn’t necessarily have to want to be a pilot to want to read about a pilot’s life, right? But perhaps, I’ll probably have my own perspective on food-making be changed drastically. I, a non-cook who reads. I mean, based on the mere beauty of it all, how could I resist?

ps: oh do watch Toast, a film based on his autobiography with the same name.

Medan the Nostalgic City

“You know, as I was little I used to wait for your grandfather to get his big mug and tell us (me and my older sister your aunt) to go fetch him a mug of black coffee from a coffee shop next door every single day. We were very happy to do that because he always let us keep the change.”

That’s one of the childhood memories of my mother in the city where she was born and grew up, Medan. That’s it, I thought. I have to go to Medan, even if it’s based on that single piece of story alone. I guess I’ve always believed in myself as a story-teller, and I’ve always been intrigued by stories. Stories carry me away, listening to them I can’t help creating a stage in my mind where I reconstruct everything I hear. Anyways, I’m kind of obsessed with the ideas related to places and cities lately. I need to see that old coffee shop, the street lined with old colonial style offices on Jl. Hindu, the colonial style of architecture of the main post office my mom told me once, the famous Tiong Sim noodle restaurant that she explained to me with excitement coming out of a buried passion I hardly see in her before, the puzzled feeling I always have towards all passionate foodies, not that my mom is one except when it’s about Medan.

The first impression that struck me as I first arrived in this third biggest city in Indonesia is that its cleanliness. I mean, you can hardly spot any garbage piling up on its pavements. Or maybe it’s only the main streets I didn’t dare to be decisive about it, for as I brought up the subject to my cousin who spends all his life there to get some sort of affirmation, I noticed that he had never even thought of that.

Medan is a rich city. However it’s too bad that the locals don’t seem to be fully aware of it, or even if they do most of them have a hard time to really present the richness of the heritage, monuments, and historical values to the outsiders. This is the city that is far than boring (I’m not talking about the lunatic betor or becak motor that will, believe me it will, drive you crazy with the slowness, heedless turnabouts, and ridiculous size/width). Medan skillfully presents a mixing scene of old and new, of pristine and modern. On one side of the street you may find the typical character of big cities tattooed with numerous amount of billboards wherever your eyes look upon, but there’s also this positive stubborn air of collaboration among the Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Malay, Western, and Islam seen through its urban architecture shaping the diverse cultural heritage of this city. In almost every street corner, there’s always a scene that captures my eyes. A Hindu temple with a shabby-hipster-looking Indian sleeping at its entrance (they might not be homeless for then I knew from my cousin that when those people have money they spend the money on liquor, get drunk and sleep on the streets but when they run out of dough, they stay home), some Colonial ruins right in the city center, the grand style of architecture of Lonsum (London Sumatera) originating from the colonial time, the black-white pavements and wide streets that strongly remind me of Bandung, the Maimun Palace adopting the blend of Malay, Islam, Spanish, Indian and Italian styles of interior, the impressive Tjong A Fie Mansion that most Medaners have never been to, the ancient to modern Buddhist/Chinese temples, the historic Hindu street (Jl. Hindu which happens to be where my mom’s childhood home was located), and last but never the least, the fabulous multinational food scenes that would leave Bandung’s to be worth no mentioning at all.

The Medaners, yes, they’re a bunch of community that try to convince you that the traffic in Medan is worse than in Jakarta and if you bother to argue and convince them of the opposite (like I did), you’ll end up desiring to have the worst traffic, which is nothing but pointless if you really think of it. The Medaners, I believe, always have a hard time wiping the smug look off their faces every time you give kudos to their chili paste, pork, and whatsoever being served on the dining table alive or dead. And if the Germans drink beer like water, the Medaners eat durians like monkeys or some of us eat peanuts. And when you tell them how expensive and distasteful the durians in Jakarta are, they will gasp in fake disbelief “no waaaaayyy” as if it’s the most disgraceful thing on earth and when you don’t see it, their pitiful look will reach out to the back of your head “oh look at these poor Jakartans let’s feed them with durians while they’re here.” I guess I didn’t go there for the food for I’m more of a light eater and I’m not a die-hard fan of durians either, and besides, I believe that the weight of my body determines the chance of happiness I get. But still, I was deeply impressed by the overly-packed Soto Medan restaurant that my cousin took us to for breakfast, of Tip Top which happens to be the oldest surviving restaurant in Medan whose wood-oven is exactly as old as my father. I was fascinated by the fortune that Ucok the durian “Donald Trump” might make from feeding hundreds of people coming to his duriandom every day, I was enjoying the night scene on Jl. Semarang which is mushroomed with food stalls, and I took notice of how the Apek’s coffee shop still keeps its interior as well as exterior ever since 1922 perhaps out of idleness or an anchored fondness for nostalgia (I’m not sure which). And how a group of Chinese-Indonesian middle-aged businessmen were enjoying the coffee in their tight bike outfits while parking their fancy bikes outside the coffee shop unlocked. And the combination of all those, I believe, is what makes Medan rich, in my own terms.

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more photos.