Germany does ice cream exceedingly well. But only because Italians are in charge of it.
Yesterday, I relocated from parched 40ºC Central Spain to my summer residence in lush green Bavaria. I’ll be here for a month, and my mission is simple: Eat. As much as possible. Of everything.
And so it begins.
My mum just came back from the bakery with this:
I love, love, love poppy seeds. In cake, in strudel, in danishes… JUST GIVE THEM TO ME! Sadly, this sumptuous bakery genre is virtually unknown outside of Central(-ish) Europe. I’ve no idea why.
Q: What do two freelancers do on a Tuesday afternoon? A: What they bloody well like!
So, off to Madrid we went, Maria and I, to peruse the Mitos Del Pop exhibition laid on by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. (Whoever decided on this tongue twister of a name???)
Let’s move onto the food. We opted for Vietnamese :)
It’s a fine sunny Monday here in Toledo – ideal for a spot of bloghopping. And this is not just any old bloghop, oh no, but one that’s meant to be all about the “writing process”.
I did not, you understand, come up with such a lofty concept. I’m merely attempting to catch the bouquet tossed high up into the air by Linda of expateyeonlatvia, who summarised her writing process to me once as “I pour myself a glass of red and start ranting”. I sure wish my rants were half as hilarious as hers *wistful sigh*.
Let’s get to the questions:
What am I working on?
Hmmm… I guess…. life…and my(exasperating)self. I’m a lazy ol’ sod and inclined to let things slide. At every opportunity. I procrastinate, the discomfort grows, until panic sets in, and only then do I spring into action. A couple of days ago, I came across Stephen Covey quote: “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important”. That just about sums it up for me.
It’s a constant tussle between the daily grind, and maintaining the trajectory that propels me towards the things I actually want to do, and these things tend to require quite a bit of tedious planning.
This also applies to writing – the most satisfying posts tend to the the ones I’ve been brooding over for a while.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don’t think my blog fits into one particular genre. Is it an expat blog? A food blog? A language blog? A travel blog? A humour blog? Well, it’s a mixture of all of these, more of a shaggy mongrel than a streamlined thoroughbred.
I’m not actively trying to set myself apart. I’m not selling a “product”. I just want to express myself, share my experiences and link up with people of similar interests. I like discussion, puerile puns and silly banter. I get things wrong sometimes, and I don’t mind people picking me up on it – that’s what the comment box is for.
I’ve come across blogs that didn’t have a comment section. Or bloggers who just don’t respond to comments. What’s that all about?!
Why do I write what I do?
I write every day because that’s how I earn a living. Of course, my work writing caters to my clients’ needs, and even though they give me a lot of freedom, it doesn’t entirely satisfy me on a creative level.
The blog provides a counterbalance, it’s an outlet for my thoughts and observations that have no place in my work writing. In the Food Follies and Global Consumerism sections you will find those posts that are closest to my professional writing, although the language will be more informal and I’ve tackled issues from all sorts of precarious angles, which would be wholly unacceptable to my business clients.
I set up the blog for three reasons: To help me develop my writing in other directions (particularly in the language and humour realms), to bore the pants off my friends and family with what I’m up to (“look, she’s scoffing yet another cake!”), and to connect with like-minded bloggers all over the world.
How does my writing process work?
That depends. Since I started blogging, I don’t go anywhere without my camera. Some people go into anaphylactic shock when they discover they’ve left their phone at home. For me, it’s a missing camera that gets my knickers in a twist. If I see something that’s pretty, delicious or just plain ridiculous, I snap it, wedge it between a few lines of text, and up on the blog it goes.
The process for the non-photo-centred posts is really quite different. Some of these will have been festering in my brain for aeons, until they suddenly reach critical mass. This tends to happen at the most inconvenient of times, i.e. when I really should be doing something else, like my PAID work. By now, I’ve accepted that I have about as much control over the expulsion process as a pregnant woman in labour. It just has to come out, whether I like it or not.
I must add, though, that my (non-photo) posts are never written and published within the same day. I usually take ta least three days, sometimes longer, to get from the first few rickety draft paras to the final version. There can be as many as 30 revisions. When I reach the point where I can’t tell anymore whether I’m making a piece better or worse, I know it’s time to stop fiddling.
Californian writer Annie Lamott wrote once that one of her greatest fears was being run over by a bus outside her house right after having churned out a first draft of a restaurant review or whatever. People would find the document on her computer, stare open-mouthed at what are clearly the incoherent ramblings of a maniac, and be convinced that she had, in fact, killed herself. I can relate to that. It’s an involved process, almost equally as exhausting as it is gratifying. For that reason, I could never conceive of writing a novel, and I have boundless admiration for people who manage to accomplish such a feat.
OK, time to pass the buck. And it goes to the amazing Anna from gohomeandaway. Incidentally, it was expateyeonlatvia’s raucous comment section which brought us together. Anna, a native Muscovite who blogs from the great Russian capital, spent a large part of her formative years and early adulthood in the US.
Anna loves both cultures as much as she finds herself torn between them, which makes it a very compelling blog for all of us who have spent a substantial stretch of our lives outside of our birth/passport countries. I think that this post, which is about the intrinsic sexism that still prevails in Russian society today, illustrates her struggles rather poignantly.
Toledo has an extensive collection of torture instruments (just try googling “Toledo Spanish Inquisition”). I’d admired them before, in a local museum, but now they’ve been given a public airing, presumably to scare the tourists. I took a couple of shots this morning on my way back from the opticians.
Now that we’re in the right position, let’s get down to the sex part. So, the bar on the square outside my house is seriously trying to spice up its menu – see green flyer. You’ll have to squint a bit, but just in case you still can’t see it, it says “On our terrace: Oral Sex”.
“Finds it hard to concentrate”, “has a short attention span”, “is easily distracted” – these were some of the staple phrases that graced my school reports. I guess they weren’t allowed to write “was bored shitless”…
OK. So I’ve a little trouble keeping my mind on things, especially if these things are tedious. Like work. Don’t get me wrong – I actually like my job. Out of all the things I’ve ever done to earn a living, this is by far the best gig. After all, I get to write about FOOD! All day! However, it’s tricky to come up with new angles on stuff you’ve already chewed over a zillion times. So, it can indeed get a tad dull. If it weren’t, I figure, I’d not be paid to do it, but I’d be bashing it out for free. In fact, it would be like blogging, or eating cake.
Anyway, ever since I started freelancing a decade ago, I’ve been on a quest for productivity-boosting strategies. A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested something called the “Pomodoro Method”. Without going into too much detail, it basically involves setting a kitchen timer for 25 minutes, within which you DO NOTHING ELSE BUT STRICTLY FOCUS ON YOUR WORK. Then you can google kittens for a bit. You repeat the cycle as needed, until you get the job done.
So, off we went, my productivity midwife and I, trundling down the East Finchley High Road (I was still living in London then) to procure the essential equipment from the local kitchen supply store.
And there I found him, the last of his bovine kind, wedged between the pepper shakers and the butter dishes, with only a couple of penguins for company. My friend insisted that he needed a name, and suggested Graham. He reminded me of a Graham I used to work with when I still had a proper job, a rotund and docile kind of a chap, so the name stuck.
Graham worked miracles. My productivity soared over the next few months, I was a one-woman-article-writing-machine. Needless to say, Graham moved to Spain with me. He even got to go on the plane, rather than being shipped in a box with the rest of my detritus, such was his status.
Over the past year, sadly, Graham had been ailing. It started gradually. He’d just stop dead in mid-rotation. At first, dinging his midriff with an impatient flick of the finger would re-animate him, and when that no longer worked, I figured out that weary Graham could still perform as long as he was lying down. It seems that middle age is a tough bitch, even for a plastic kitchen gadget.
This touch-and-go state of affairs continued for several months until prostrate Graham started making weird strangulation noises that sounded a bit like a metal chain being pulled through an air vent. Within a couple of weeks, no amount of rolling, cajoling, pummelling or bashing his horns with the tea mug had much of an effect. He’d just utter a faint “tick tock tckzzz…”, before his innards ceased up again.
I had to face the awful truth. Graham had popped his cogs.
OK, time for a confession: Graham had long lost his power as a productivity totem. I’d been breaking the “no distractions” rule left, right and centre, and these days I’m about as productive as a Spanish government office in August. But, dammit(!!!), I can’t actually work AT ALL now without something ticking away right next to me.
So, last week, I ventured, heavy-hearted, into the new Tiger shop that had recently opened up in Toledo. Right by the entrance, I spotted a pink kitchen timer and plonked into my basket. Tiger, a Swedish chain, seems to have copied the infuriating store lay-out invented by its compatriot IKEA, which makes it impossible to get to the till without having to pass through the entire length of the store.
And then, right in the neon-lit back of the shop, I saw it: The Egg. I tossed the whimsical pink ticker aside.
The Egg commanded respect. The Egg would take no nonsense. No more Mr Nice Graham. The Dark Orb would vaporise any illegally googled kittens in one tick-tock. I would heed The Egg.
It was Maria’s birthday party last night, and she laid on some fantastic food for us. There was Spanish omelette, there was cake, but it was the octopus that starred as the pièce de résistance. Quite literally.
I’d had several exasperated messages from Maria that morning about the beast’s recalcitrance to be turned into a meal. It was by far the biggest she’d ever wrestled with, apparently.