“To dream of Caramel, and think of Cinnamon…”

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Well, if you’re anything like me, and have your memories organised by the city you lived in, the homes you moved, the people you filed your memories in, so on and so forth;  then you’ll know that every year in your memory is forgrounded by the playlists you hummed incessantlty , the  movies you watched (often more than once, and then proceeded to read everything that’s ever been written about them), and little things you obsessed over – the particular kitchenware, a lamp, a bag! Shoes!! (2011 was the year of my first Chanel, and the The Waterboys sang to me about Trumpets !! )

Since there’s generally such a paucity of things written about summing up a year, I thought it’s only fair, new blog and all, that I add my scrumptious two-penny’s worth of input! With none other than Suzanne Vega setting the tone for this post with her lovely Caramel ” It won’t do
To dream of caramel,To think of cinnamon, And long for you.”♫ ;I’ve cooked my books and tallied up my worth-it moments and on this rainy evening, with a nice Assam-blended spicy-chai by the pot full, I begin writing to you!   I thought I’d share a few things that made life special for me!  Nothing life-changing, or  brilliant, just everyday things in an ordinary life! The magic of it probably lies in the details…. and for someo imaklkges ne who’s as easily pleased with life, as me, it probably all boils down to a few good songs, a book or two, a little travel and a few stupendous films. I spend entirely too much time on all these pursuits and have decided to pick one from each genre to share with you.  Hopefully, I’m still off the beaten track, for frankly, my absurdity is really all that I can offer you :P

Let me flag this off with introducing you to a small, fairly unknown band and a song that I fell in love with!  Bloom by The Paper Kites – probably sounds a bit too adolescent for 30-something comfort, but it’s true! It changed the landscape of my heart and made me fall in love with the fact that I have a big hunk o’ love in my life ! :D It’s easy to forget giving that it’s due when you have it, you know, and every now and then, something comes along to unlock that part in your heart, where you end up spending the hour dancing with your family whilst you wait for the washing to be done!!  The Paper Kites have (for me), the right amount of Indie/Folk, (right there between Jose Gonzalez and Jack Johnson), just the right time of day for making a video, and just the right name for their bass guitarist, Sam Rasmussen – very 30-something-worthy reasons to love a band!! ♫ Can I be close to you …… ?♫ I think it’ll be the sound I remember a lot of 2013 to!

Watched what came as a highly recommended film –  Café De Flore. And what a movie it was !!  A tragic love story about people separated by time and circumstance, and the unending lure of a soul mate!  Do we subconsciously continue to be connected to people we lose in love ? The film oscillates between the the corresponding lives of Jacqueline, a young mother and her Downs Syndrome son in 1960s Paris, and Antoine, a recently divorced, up-and-coming DJ in a 30-year-later Montreal. Weaving the two tragic strains together is tenderness and euphoric, obsessive love. And if any of you are Woody Allen fans, you’ll find yourself haunted, just as you are after his films, with a central musical theme! Sophie Hunger’s  voice stays with you a long time…and then there’s Sigur Ros! And Dr. Rockit (I can-not cook without this sountrack in my kitchen -(my favourite place, high on fairy lights and my dearest artwork) and on more energetic days, this is enough to transport me right onto a  dance floor! TMI, I know :)) Well, find the entire soundtrack here!  A brilliant story of letting go, of change and embracing what it brings! As my sn often quotes to me from the Matrix, “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you just how deep this rabbit hole goes.” Very Cafe De Flore! :)

By Daniel Simm
By Daniel Simm

Read Starter for Ten : I’m unceremoniously cutting and pasting from Rotten Tomatoes here for I cannot sum up better : “A working-class English boy who has been fortunate enough to be accepted into a posh private university struggles to realize his lifelong dream while simultaneously winning the heart of the girl he loves in a romantic, bittersweet comedy .The time is the mid-’80s, and the University Challenge phenomenon is sweeping through England. Despite his underprivileged background, Essex boy Brian Jackson,  knows that he has what it takes to make it to the finals on one of the most popular programs in all of England. Upon being accepted into Bristol, the ambitious young student soon tries out for the school’s University Challenge team, and set the gears of his ultimate fantasy into motion. Effectively estranged from his single-parent mother (Catherine Tate) just for being accepted into the school, Brian soon gets set to cross yet another class line when he becomes smitten with his beautiful University Challenge teammate and attempts to woo her into his arms her with his formidable advanced general knowledge skills.”

I loved Brian saying : “I admit it. I’d made some mistakes. Okay, some big mistakes. Loads of them. But you can’t hide in your room forever feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not practical. At some point, you’ve got to get back out there, face up to things, and confront your demons. Ever since I can remember, I’d wanted to be clever. Some people are born clever, same way some people are born beautiful. I’m not one of those people. I’m going to have to work at it, put in the effort, and if I mess it up, I’ll learn from it. Besides, sometimes it’s not about knowing the right answer. Sometimes it’s about asking the right questions.” Very “Everyman” ! Watch the trailer , but read the book, they probably used 50 pages of it for the film, and it’s a good five times better- way more wryly humourous! :P You will have to spend a day with yourself, laughing it off!

By Daniel Simm

 I went to Venice, Murano and Burano recently, of course fell in love with everything, lived through every cliche- and succumbed to them all!!  One of the loveliest outcomes of it was that I learned how to make some fantastic Italian food – simple, home-grown goodness. I met a chef who wouldn’t accept that I can’t cook, took me to his kitchen, and showed me… simple? Si, Grazie!!  Here are some of my favourites! Piadine Romagnole and Gamberoni Peperonchino ! Very splop-able, very good! For a hilarious read on cheffy, at-home cooking, read this. Genevieve Fox says it better than I could’ve ever hoped to ; the great tragedy of Haute Homemade! Food Origami….no Ikebana, you get the point! :)

Italian food, pizza, pasta
By Daniel Simm & Kanchan Char

I’ve had two weeks with my children on my own and seen them in such a different light – they’ve suddenly gone from something that I viewed as being a shared possession, OURS, to being their own little people!  They are intelligent children – and I say that solely on their ability to gauge that their survival is directly proportional to their behaviour! I also realised, with a degree of trepidation, that at nearly 7 and 5.5, these memories of a winter holiday with me as their only go-to parent, are going to probably stay forever! We’ve had unstoppable re-runs of The Nutter-Cracker in our living room after they’ve been to see Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker earlier this month! We’ve had fairy cakes and chocolate logs (homemade, may I add with great pride -hard on the eyes, but little drops of heaven on your tastebuds!), babychinos & hot-choc with marshmallows, all too often for a dieters comfort; whilst reading Peter Pan and Puss In Boots, rather regressively!! We’ve joyously concluded that the sole purpose of winter is to embrace all things ‘warming’, heating notwithstanding!!

children, sisters, ballet, mini boden, frugi, joules
By Kanchan Char & Daniel Simm

So, as the rain has drummed on in it’s relentless pitter-patter, and though we’ve stayed up all night through a raging storm,( Gothic enough for me to believe that we indeed inhabit Northanger Abbey), and as I’ve scuffled around, ill-prepared, trying to light scented candles during a power cut; I maintain that it’s  been a wonderful journey! And ending especially nicely with daddy’s return to take over and give mommy a well deserved break 😛 ! We’ve also been busy making a large, very OTT,  Welcome Home Banner! : D A girl’s got to keep her sanity…

I hope that you have had a lovely time as well and have found beautiful moments that will bookmark time for you! Would love to hear what yours were and love even more, if you could leave me reccos to your fave sound, watch and read!! XXX

 

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Originality and Reinvention are really joined at the hip!

Andy Warhol Coke Bottles Art Deco 20's art

I recently came across a woman on one of my fortnightly visits into town, and we got chatting at one of these cafes that scream “Chrome and Glass”, and serve your drinks in hand-crafted, asymmetrical mugs! She swore to me that she would not be caught dead in one of those, independant,  All-English-Oldly-Worldly styled Tea shops that were mushrooming everywhere, serving Cream Teas and “Home-Made”, like that was the Chef’s Special for the day! (Everyone talks to everyone in Norfolk! Just to clear the air about why I have so many random conversations with people I don’t personally know! We are neighbourly in this part of the world! :P) Did I mention that the diatribe was in response to me mentioning that given a chance, I’d patronise an independant coffee shop, not a chain – just in the interests of local economies, because we’re just those sort of people who care about those sort of things, not to mention my sister had an independant small business and got eaten alive by the big, corporatised chains….but, no agenda at all, really, just a coffee in an a nice coffee shop !! The lady liked to keep it progressive, no nostalgia, no emotional ornamentation! In her 40’s she swore by PSP’s, Hobbs and duo-zoned dishwashers! Traditional English Tea Rooms? Pffft, such Kitsch!!

Art deco streamlined moderne kitchen interiors, Bauhaus inspired
Art deco streamlined moderne kitchen interiors, Bauhaus inspired

Pardon me if this post seems very stream-of-consciousness!

Started me thinking that You are Never Too Removed from the Good Old Days ; not even if you swear by your iPhone, have your earbuds ergonomically nestled in your ears, or  sport a quadri-tiled image in Photoshopped contrasting saturation as your social networking avatar! Certainly haven’t escaped if you secretly covet a bob or drool over Little Black Dresses!! You have been touched by the past – by Bauhaus, Warhol and Chanel! For all of us who sat on modular furniture in the 80’s and early 90’s and thought that ours was the age of light-framed modernism, it really originated in the ’20’s with Marcel Breuer ! Consider his B33 chair, hardly a design any of us have skipped in it’s lesser known reproductions , think clinics, government offices, and all the poor teachers who couldn’t ever put their legs up for fear of buckling over!!  And that’s speaking from experience!! What made this iconic is its cantilevered seat, designed to specifically not be a showpiece (imagine this in an age that worshipped chintz and wadding), but to emphasise what metal could do, well used. It wasn’t ornamented or filigreed, but chromed to emphasize that it was metal, rather than wood. What a far cry from fake wood-grain panels on 1970’s station wagons! Whoever fell for that?!

Another malady of your early years being spent in the 80’s, is you thinking this is the ultra-modern home that spelled sophistication. And we claimed it as our own! To have and hold. The ’80’s ruled Black, Red and White!

Bauhaus inspired interiors of the 80's. Red black and White

Thinking back, we were only harking back to the 1930’s when this colour palette was considered bang en trend; being heatedly discussed at some of the biggest design establishments in the world!

Bauhaus movement posters, black red and white, art deco, streamlined moderne Well, I think I’m on safe ground assuming that Apple touches all our little urban lives,  either concretely or aspirationally! After Steve Jobs’ death, when the world and it’s wife spoke about the Apple phenomenon for months, I remember hearing designers talk about how the vision of the company was integrated – rather chip-on-motherboard’edly on honesty, integrity of materials, with design innovations rooted in problem solving! Couldn’t help be reminded of Mies van der Rohe and his own aesthetic approach a 100 years before that. I hardly stand here insinuating that one of the greatest innovators of our time was really a copycat; but that often, the Visionary and his vision cannot be wholly extricated from it’s inspiration! Jobs was indeed, massively influenced by the Bauhaus school of thought!

Going back to when I first recognized my own interest in design, it seems to point to when I was reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead . I was 17 and reading it to my father, who loved that and Atlas shrugged, but was too ill to read it himself.  I had a good reading voice, he said! What stayed with me amidst all her capitalistic manifesto, was the protagonist Howard Roark deriding the Parthenon to his Dean at the Stanton Institute of Technology.   “The famous flutings on the famous columns – what are they there for? To hide the joints in wood – when columns were made of wood, only these aren’t, they’re marble. The triglyphs, what are they? Wood. Wooden beams, the way they had to be laid when people began to build wooden shacks. Your Greeks took marble and they made copies of their wooden structures out of it, because others had done it that way. Then your masters of the Renaissance came along and made copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Why?”

Is originality in itself a myth? Probably – since everything we are is a result of the intertextuality of our lives! A constant amalgam of nature and nurture and every single sense perception since our existence. Strange that we still continue to quest for individuality and most so as we come of age, and contraintuitively move in herds that wear the same names, hear the same sounds, pierce the same parts!

I think that paragraph, in part, gave me sanction to go out and embrace the fact that I was different, and live the small part of me that needed peer affiliation with dignity! Our lives, our aspirations are just the rebottled versions of the past; old is not gold but really where we full-circle to in one area or the other, whether consciously or not! For if I am destined to finally become my mother, and since high-rise hair and velvet bootcuts have made a comeback on the catwalk, there really must be some stock in Warhol’s everyone/everything having it’s 15 minutes of fame! :)      

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Disclaimer : This article  about the brush of two worlds,  is intended to be good-natured and entertaining at best! * Names have been changed to protect little children and their ponies in the heartland of the British countryside! This is also me doffing my felt-trimmed Trilby to the kind and genuinely polite people of this country! X

Let’s imagine that five people anywhere in the world, (who know a little about Britain, but have never visited) were asked to describe what they thought of it – they’re likely to say that the English Drink Tea. Eat Tea .Play Cricket. Have a Queen and see an awful amount of Rain! Everyone of course, also belongs to The Department of Tweed!  Well, the American of the five would sooner chew their ear off than forget mentioning Bad Teeth!! I’ll say nothing more about that other than people who live in glass houses learn not to throw stones at others!

I was on an East Midlands train recently, and it being my first return to a place I call home, I was too filled with nostalgia and imminent reunions to pack a decent, self respecting breakfast for a journey commencing 6 AM. Little did I know that my travel companion would be the most Henry Hatsworth‘ian characted ever, replete with a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches and desperately missing the Calabash pipe to complete the picture; and his 4 year-old-daughter, Constance* , who just had to have been the inspiration behind the Oreo cookie adverts! After the initial surprise of knowing that we’re actually going to be spending three hours together, rather cheek by jowl at that, I settled down to breathing again and getting my breakfast out! Carefully selected at the Costas’s

By Daniel Simm
By Daniel Simm

Café point, it was a Kellogg’s  bar, an orange, and a shamefully large serving of latte!! No one get’s aboard this train, taking orders for meals! East Midlands trains offer you no bells, though Constance had a whistle, and the jolly ability to pipe out ‘When the saints go marching in’ sporadically from 6-9.30 am!  ‘We’ then proceeded to feed Constance a croissant, a crumpet, butter and her favourite cheese, on a co-ordinated melamine service with matching napkins! That should get the picture right, down to a T!!

I’ve often thought about those first impressions I had about British culture , the one borne out of the many hours of idle browsing through back editions of Country Life and Horse & Hound at my father’s  furniture store as I waited to be picked up or dropped; or till he was convinced that I really needed an absurd amount of money to buy shoes!! Traditional British life~one with ample shades of Green&Brown; as a British friend of mine jovially put it, the all- encompassing spectrum of compost! A life where one wears tweed and lives on an estate, hunts foxes and  stables ponies ~all to the chugging sounds of trains and brewing Earl Grey! Interestingly, ample catalogues trawl through the psyche of Middle England selling their wares, wholly based on these aspirations!

I’ve always thought that stereotypes were cultural nuggets (caricatured and often exploited) but pregnant with a teensy-bit of truth. How far that caricature’s stretched determines whether it was discriminatory or good-homouredly celebratory.

I stood centimetres away from pleading apologetically for getting my breakfast wrong, and whilst there, apologizing for pretty much all of my plebian ways! Made worse by his impossibly careful charm, his green cords and Barbour jacket, realising that here’s someone who’ll pretty much never be wholly alright with anyone eating anything but Whole Foods near him! His was the world of third-generation shooters of partridges on his acreage (always in the right season, of course!)  And the world of posh, floppy hair and clothes chosen with intelligence, put on with care and then forgotten with grace! I also know that he and I would’nt have ev-ah ordinarily swapped numbers or Facebook requests or expressly set up a date for cocktails and smoothies with the families!  But figured also from his demeanour, that despite the worst mockery of British Politelness that the best of us can muster, at the core, it all seemed to stem from an absolute need to be non-confrontational!  That even the worst attributes of the British typecast – the aloofness, the distance, the cool, were all sprung from the same seed.

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By Daniel Simm

After our initial dis-ease at the proximity and difference of our worlds, we got speaking, seeing that none of us seemed armed with anything more than our mobile phones to get us through the journey.

I began to take mental notes about how vine-ripened tomatoes were in fact superior in taste and longevity, that Reblochon and Saint Marcellin were the only cheese worth investing in, and that being the President of The Village Green Preservation Society was indeed a challenging, and often stressful position! Damning also, is that our ecologically damaged soil now resulted in British apples having a lower level of pectin, which was a jam-makers nightmare and had left the Women’s Institute in our part of the world distraught! We agreed that we can only look forward to a better season next year!!

Well, he’d often wondered about what ‘real’ Asians were like, did all of us learn Math since we were 2? Pretty much.  Did we have curry everyday? Well mostly, though hummous and Tagines and other Masterchef’ian devilry were soon becoming fairly bog standard in many an Asian home , I though, would be far more likely to attempt a sad spag-bol in the face of  even the most rudimentary curry! I am abysmally bad with food – any food!!  Do all of us marry the whole family when we do? We indeed do! :)

I realised that all that our little ‘Looking Glass’ showed us  ,was only in part true, after all, most of us hadn’t experienced the first thing about Slumdog Millionaire, apart from the traffic! And power cuts! :) And I’m sure he did more than eat perfect food- perfectly , and well-dressed’ly shoot birds for sport! There are many pleasures to be had debunking cliches!

We spoke about Norfolk, where we both live (you could get no deeper into the pure British heartland) , and how they don’t really relish foreign inclusions here, and that goes for the rest of Britain too! Though I did initially watch out for a Taekwondo-swiped pack of Sharwoods poppadoms lying smashed at my door (a strong visual of racial intolerance, IMO) ; being the only brown family in a 10-mile radius, we’ve only been met with acceptance and extreme politeness! We laughed. We were the first we’d met from each other’s worlds and I caught Constance looking at me oddly a few times. I asked about her pony Rosa-Belle, and told her my daughters loved riding too, and that if they all met, they’d have a lovely time brushing down Rosa-Belle!  I seemed to have warmed her Colonial heart with that, and felt my brownie points were large enough to have been visible from the moon!

I came away with the fondest memories of my brush with a true-blue Englishman, generalisations, propah-manners and all that! They are a dying breed in the face of the homogenisation of our world! And a bit sad that the original holders of Tweed and the world it represented- the hunting-shooting-fishing men of the earth and teachers who look like comfortable versions of Mr. Chips ; were being reduced to rails of identikit, cloned clothing marketed by celebrities. The next time I see the poker faced teenager down the road, in sartorial British Harris tweed and a flat cap, to whom ‘Heritage’ means nothing more than a big, old home decorated with chintz;  I know we can thank the 11th Dr. Who for it’s ubiquitous, Noughties revival ! :)

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