Dearest Reusable Glass Bottles In Every Colour,
One thing I like about Berlin is how everyone I’ve met so far is really okay with how little I’d like to spend. In fact, there’s almost a challenge to it: how far can we get on how little money? Best is, of course, taking a bottle of wine (or beer, if that’s your poison) and sitting in the park, but on these glum rainy days that have marked my last week here (yes, it is true! I return to Delhi on the 2nd!) I’ve met people at what I’ve now learned are a Berlin institution: the eckkneipe, which means “corner bar” because they—duh—are at the corner of a street. Drinks are large and cheap and un-fancy (the wine list includes a choice of “red or white”), the patrons are as German speaking as you are likely to meet in this city, and smoking inside is encouraged by a barmaid, always a barmaid, who takes your order and then slides an ashtray towards you like a serving suggestion.
Anyway, I like that dive bars with really random music selection (obscure rock and pop from the 80s and 90s) are my hangouts of choice, by default. It means I spend approximately the same amount of money I do in Delhi (not counting the ridonk rent) and go out 100 times as much.
I don’t talk about money much, no? I mean, there’s not much to saaaay. I was struggling until a timely inheritance let me buy a house and then I was no longer struggling. For a while, I was super embarrassed about talking about the fact that I owned this flat, and also that I owned it because of some timely family money that came to me before anyone had to die. I was embarrassed because it took away from this image of myself that I like: I struggle. I am an artist. I made good. I’m almost always cash poor, but having a house is like having security forever, so where’s the struggle in that?
Most of my friends in Delhi make more money than I do. Way more money. Like, think nothing of spending a fortune on one night out money. Go into a shop and don’t look at just the discount rack money. Don’t worry about spending 500 rupees more on a home delivery meal money, when you could search Zomato for cheaper prices money. And so this always leads to a slightly awkward conversation when we go out, which is where they suggest a place and I do some gentle juggling with my budget to see what I can afford, and then going out anyway, because no one wants to go to a dive bar (of which there are very few that meet everyone’s standards) they want to dress up and wear nice shoes, and then I order one drink and nurse it all night, and then when the bill comes you want to say, “Let me just pay for what I had” but by then you are buoyed along by the group so you wind up splitting it anyhow and it’s never enough, you spent so much money and yet you are not satiated. The nice thing about the pandemic (aaaaah) was meeting at people’s homes, where they provided the food and the drink, the nice thing about Berlin is that whenever you go to someone’s home, you take along your own drink by default. I used to be so snotty about BYOB parties in your thirties, like what sort of host makes you bring alcohol but that’s only because in Delhi, buying booze is in the realm of the Organized, if I want to get a nice bottle of wine along, I have to either a) call my bootlegger in advance or b) make a stop at a wine store and then juggle the prices there (no one wants to drink Sula any more, not even me.) I am very very lazy, if a shop isn’t “on the way” it’s hard for me to plan ahead to stop.
Money is the last thing that people won’t mention in polite society. Everything else seems to be fair game: your therapy, your health, your marriage, but when it comes to hard numbers, no one really wants to discuss it. I earn bits and bobs from freelancing, not very much at all from books (though that might change soon, fingers crossed) and have depended on K’s income to keep us steady this past year. The year before that I hustled enough to support both of us, so it goes up and down. The rent from the house will give us some money to pay off the rent on this side, although not all of it. (Which reminds me: if you or someone you know want a centrally located fully furnished, all mod-cons included flat in Delhi (plus like an amazing terrace garden which will grow all your veggies), let me know! We’re reasonable on rent, and would just like to give it to someone nice who has also struggled with Delhi’s awful landlords, since I remember trying to rent in my single years all too clearly.) It’s something people won’t tell you: when you see someone making a living as a “full time writer” very often they have other means of income.
But it’s nice to be in a city that is full of people struggling so you’re never embarrassed to admit you can’t afford something even at the great age of 39.
My last weeks of Berlin have been mainly home-bound. We finally found a flat, none of the ones I mentioned in my last newsletter, by the way. This is one that rejected us and then quickly called when their first choice fell through. I don’t mind being second choice, it’s a nice house in a great location with an organic supermarket just underneath and a regular supermarket across the road so guess who will go shopping in the winter without having to wear five thousand layers of clothes? Also it has a really nice fully fitted kitchen (except fridge) which is even larger than our Delhi one and a glassed in balcony which they call a “winter garden” here where I’ll be putting my desk for maximum light and street viewing between sentences, like Carrie Bradshaw. (Rejoice too, oh Friends From Delhi Who Will Visit, not only do we have a regular sized guest room but also: A LIFT.)
Not looking forward to the cold though—just two weeks of rain and my outlook on life is as gloomy as the gloomiest person in Charles Dickens (Mrs Gummidge) (great time to link to my David Copperfield newsletter too). My friend from Bombay who lives here tells me that as a brown person we absorb less sun, which is a BRAND NEW FACTOID for me, kind of embarrassing since I thought I knew everything about melanin, so he highly recommended getting on some Vitamin D supplements and investing in one of those SAD lamps, which makes sense because I have been especially low energy these grey days.
Anyhow, I am off now to get an RT PCR test—Berlin has spoiled me by laying on free tests at every corner and I have to pay 50 euros for this, necessary for flying to India—-so I will send this off and talk to you all soooon when I am reunited with spicy food, cats and extreme humidity. Looking forward!
Wait, I almost forgot LINKS:
Please stop Lena Dunham from getting pets. (Funny, not sad.)
Great essay on being a chef in India.
Talking about India to the world.
An insane story set in the publishing world—my favourite kind of insane story.
The shadowy business of international education especially for students from India.
Living with a robot dog.
Have a great week!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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