Happy New Year, my most beloved companions!
I’m not going to bore you with my new year resolutions: honestly, I keep seeing them blazing fresh and new across platforms: people tweeting them, Instagramming them, sending me long newsletter intros about them, and you know I will always be like, “Cool, that’s not going to last” because I am a cynic. I like to here about resolutions one or two months later, when your goal to say eat a different salad every day or finally start that kitchen garden has got some steam under it, so I can see results, not just wishful thinking. I also think that any time is a good time to start a resolution: January 1st or April 15th, who cares, just do that new thing and enjoy yourself in doing it.
I just re-read that paragraph and I also want to tell you that I’m not the Resolution Police, don’t worry, I frequently do things other people think are boring, so go ahead and post those resolutions in the first week of January and who cares what I think.
In Berlin, it is warm and rainy. Not warm-warm, you understand, just warmer than it was the day we went for a long walk in Lichtenfeld (or -berg, one of those is close to us, one of those is a 40 minute drive away, we did the drive one). It was December 26th, what the Brits call Boxing Day (because it was the day the landed gentry gave presents to their servants IN BOXES so of course they had to name it after themselves) and what the Germans call second Christmas.
(Christmas in Germany starts on December 24th, where you decorate a tree and open your presents, then December 25th where you eat a big goose type lunch or dinner and then December 26th where you go and visit friends. There’s a church visit on the 24th as well, and I think most people eat fish or some sort of fasting food on that day. Santa Claus here is the Weihnnachtmann (literally: Christmas Man) who leaves presents, St Nicholas himself has his own day on December 5th when he leaves small sweets and toys for children. This year, I was struck for the first time how creepy the whole Santa legend is: he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows whether you’ve been bad or good etc. I started singing you better not shout, you better not cry in a creaky horror movie voice, but no, seriously, a strange man knows you and the ages and interests of your children, comes into your house at night and leaves little presents to show he’s been there. Down the chimney, no less. There’s a murder mystery waiting to happen.) (Of course, a quick Google of creepy Santa or something will probably show that Hollywood got there before I did, but still, creepy!)
This Boxing Day was minus eight degrees. Now Delhi gets plenty cold, I wore ski pants indoors for all of December 2020 and January 2021, going swish-swish-swish around the house and elsewhere. (They’re warm and flattering! Decathlon in Delhi has nice ski wear including the puffy down jacket that you can wear with just a t-shirt inside when the temperature’s low but not so low. Cheap too.) However, -8 was something else. Pretty soon my feet turned into blocks of ice I could barely move despite my thick soles and warm socks because the ground was so icy it travelled through them. I am inordinately fond of these boots, I bought them with some birthday money my parents gave me, and even more pleased because I set out with a budget of 200 euros for good boots and found a pair I loved for 35, so I tossed in fancy cashmere merino socks as a side treat. (Later, I bought fleece insoles to line them and now not even icy grounds give me pause from clumping all over them.)
It started raining soon after that, so my enduring memories of Berlin this winter are wet ones. Because it’s rainy, the temperature’s gone up—weird because in Delhi when it rains in the winter it suddenly gets colder—and when we went ice skating on the 30th, a first for me, the rink was already dripping. Ice skating is a lot harder than it looks, but I dismissed this truism with a wave of my hand. After all, hadn’t I been a champion at roller skating when I was four or five? I never once fell down, and I didn’t ice skating either, but probably because I skated very close to the inner guard rail, beloved by all beginner skaters, because you can just hold on to it for dear life and move your feet very slowly. You soon learn to move your feet sideways, like a crab, to get any momentum at all, but the ice is a lot slipperier than I expected, I mean, I don’t know what I expected, it was all very new, but people went swish-swish around me, and I held K’s hand and let go of the guard rail and actually managed some speed by the end, which was fun, like one of those dreams where you’re not exactly flying but you’re running so gracefully and so hard, you’re floating above the ground. People skated with great speed through the puddles on the ice, so it was a good thing we wore our ski pants, everyone else was soaked. It gently rained through all of this so my hat was sodden and whatever was exposed of my hair stuck to my face, but you get so warm doing this that it doesn’t matter.
I wanted to tell you about our apartment, which I already love, so you can picture me here in it, writing to you. It’s in a new building, new for Berlin that is, because this area (East Berlin) got heavily shelled during the war, so not many old buildings remain. Which means our ceilings are low, our floors are linoleum but we have super insulated windows and even with the heating off, we stay warm as toast. This also means it’s so quiet that when Olga da Polga starts off her six am “where’s my breakfast” song, it echoes around the house and shakes us awake like a very irritating alarm clock. (Earplugs as soon as the shops open tomorrow. German supermarkets and pharmacies and so on are all closed on Sundays and public holidays, so since yesterday was January 1st and a Saturday, and Friday was a half day for New Year’s, we’ve been without groceries since Thursday. This is okay, because we had enough staples to feed ourselves, but have now run out.) (The second thing about our house you should know is that it came so unfurnished that there’s no fridge and the one we liked and bought on Amazon still has not given us a delivery date because they ran out of workmen over Christmas and of course no one is working this week. So all our food has gone into my study, a small enclosed balcony which closes so we can leave the window open there. This was all very well and good in our -8 days, but now it’s too warm for anything to last very long, so we’ve turned vegetarian in self-defence, but even the tofu I put in Thai green curry yesterday was tasting a little extra fermented. This also means I’m not doing any writing until the fridge arrives, unless I write here on the dining table.) The house is also so insulated that we can smell the cats’ poop as soon as it leaves their little anuses, great for fast clean up, not so great when you have a friend over and the two of you wrinkle your noses at the same time as it hits you. (Hah, my friends who are reading this are now reconsidering coming to visit, but we—and I mean K, I do nothing—do clean it as soon as we smell it, so twice or thrice a day at this point.)
The kitchen might be my favourite part: it’s so large and while the house came unfurnished to the point of no cupboards or light fixtures, the lady who lived here before had a passion for kitchen cabinets it seems, and suddenly we have so much storage in that room that we could put one different thing in each drawer and still have plenty of space. This building belongs to one of those faceless corporations but our landlady bought it in some savings scheme she had, and for many years it was rented out at rent control prices to one woman who lived here alone and then with her caretaker when she got too old to look after herself. The caretaker finally had her shifted to a home because of dementia and all her belongings went with her except for some elaborate china: tens of saucers, little espresso cups, fancy gold rimmed tea cups, a whole tea set in fact. I never learnt her name, so I’ve named her Ursula, and with this naming I feel a lot closer to her as I use her cups and wipe down the counters she installed. It reminds me in that sense of another old lady whose house we rented, in Goa.
Our bed is also wonderful, we were sleeping for a while on just piles of carpet. Every morning we woke up with sore backs and stiff necks. K found the bed frame on eBay Kleinanzeigen which is a German subset of the regular eBay, just for second hand things. Note: we also found our flat through listings on this same eBay, so it’s a super useful platform. Almost all our house—except for the furniture K’s parents brought up in a trailer—is second hand things off eBay and in some cases, off the road, like our shoe cabinet someone left outside to be carted away, already tagged with graffiti. Outside our building, every day someone leaves a new empty ceramic plant pot to be taken by whoever fancies it, we have picked one up each time we see it, so now we have more pots than plants, but they’re all so pretty, I can imagine them full! Anyway—the bed. We bought a really expensive mattress to go on it, and it was worth it, I’m sleeping better than I have in ages (apart from Olga’s morning shouts), it’s so soft and comforting.
The rest of the house, well… it’s coming along. The living room is mostly done thanks to K’s parents furniture, including a dining table with four chairs and a wide soft sofa and two armchairs. The bathroom needs a cabinet to be complete. K’s study/guest bed still needs the most things, and in our bedroom I still need more shelves for all of my clothes and sundries, but we got three DIY shelves from a hardware store (meant for gardens and toolsheds but they do for clothes right now, and I think I will turn one into a bookshelf for my study when I get a better cupboard.) Hard to believe we’ve been here less than one full month, so much has happened, but there you are.
Time to stop before I run over my word count limit on Gmail, but I had to tell you all my news so the next time I write you’ll be able to picture all of it. Setting is so important for a character.
If you liked what you read, would you consider buying me a coffee? THANK YOU to everyone who bought me coffee/s last year, you made me so happy and thankful.
Some links to start the week (and the year!)
12ft.io removes most paywalls from most websites. Useful if you want to read just one story and are blocked.
I know stories about the Indian immigrant experience and how people say your food smells is so five years ago, but this story is beautiful and tbh, it’s hard to not internalise the “your food smells” thing when you’re abroad even though it smells DELICIOUS.
JK Rowling and the limits of imagination.
Ten ways to confront the climate crisis without losing hope.
Have a great 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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