Last Friday night we had some cheese and wine for dinner, which doesn’t happen often anymore. The combination brought nostalgia to my palate, and suddenly I missed something. I didn’t know if I missed Paris, or the last-minute run down the street to get a baguette tradi at the closest boulangerie, some choice of stinky, delicious French cheese and a bottle of Ventoux (a failproof meal). All of a sudden I missed complaining about Parisians. Above all, I missed the savoir vivre à la française.
About an hour later, I was astounded. Speechless, petrified, hypnotized. It started close to the Stade de France, followed by the street where I did my masters. Memories of two years commuting to that very street flashed in my mind. I would pass daily by Le Petit Cambodge, where I once refused to pay 11 EUR for a tiny portion of vegetarian noodles. “I won’t be coming back here!” I said, half-bluffing, as I had been there many times already and had no true intention of stopping at that moment. Little did I know.
Then the Bataclan. Happy, naïve memories of a Sia concert there in 2009.
Rue de Charonne was around the corner from my last Parisian home. My parents rented an apartment there not long ago.
It hit me hard. I unconsciously took it personally, egotistically, and I have been a pile of sad anxiety since. I have gone through the pictures and names of all victims at least 3 times, the back of my mind whispering at the sight of each of their ambitious young eyes: “it could have been you”. I felt a maddening pain at the thought of their oblivion when those pictures were taken. It could have been someone I love.
My perspective has changed, perhaps permanently, but only time will tell. These are desolate times. In Paris; in Mariana, Minas Gerais; in Beirut; in so many other places. Drowning in fear and anxiety, I couldn’t help but to cry incessantly on Tuesday morning. I didn’t want to put on my best face, go to work, socialize, pretend nothing had happened this past week. Pretend that I wasn’t scared. Yann-Yves tried to reassure me by holding me in his arms, repeating “it will be ok, Germany isn’t involved” as he caressed my hair with his loving hands. The irony was almost tangible.
Today, I stumbled upon Odeonsplatz as it stood dressed in French colors, and the sight of it, at last, has made me profoundly hopeful. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced in its historical context. A square where Hitler would so often preach words of hatred, was now standing in bright solidarity for a country once occupied. We have come such a long way.
The week after coming back from Shanghai was littered with the question “So how was China?”, immediately followed on my part by: “It was… Interesting”. If the person I was interacting with showed any interest whatsoever past my reply, I’d give them my honest report, which went more or less as follows.
I was incredibly excited to go to Shanghai. Coming from a developing country myself, it had been a while since I’d visited a land that faced some problems common with my own. I was going to China with an open mind, ready to embrace the weird smells, the occasional pork broth as my vegetarianism got lost in translation, and an overall exciting cultural shock. In any case, I thought I was ready.
To give you some context, I went to Shanghai for Yann-Yves’ oldest sister’s wedding. I had never been to a Jewish, French/American wedding with a hint of Moroccan traditions taking place in China, so you can guess just how much I looked forward to it. And boy, did it deliver. It was the most glamorous wedding ceremony I have ever been to, with the most incredible attention to detail. From the food (can you imagine how hard it must be to get kosher food in China?), to the decoration of the venues, the mingling of the invitees and the happiness of the bride and groom, it was perfect from beginning to end for anyone who had the honor of attending.
The wedding festivities lasted a weekend, though, meaning that we still had a good 10 days to explore Shanghai and a bit of its surroundings (+2 in Hong Kong, which doesn’t really count as China, although it does, but it really doesn’t).
I’ll go ahead and say that, looking back, my first Chinese experience was honestly not the best. At first I was ok with the ongoing clearing-throat-then-spitting sound uttered by men and women alike, and even with the constant smell of fermented food, or the scooter drivers who would honk at me for walking on the sidewalk. “It’s all good”, I’d repeat to myself, “that’s how it’s done here, and that’s fine, it just takes some getting used to”. Around the 6th consecutive day of stomach pains and an unusual amount of time spent in the toilet, I’d given up.
Don’t get me wrong. All the time I was there, I was necessarily comparing China to Brazil – which I know for the most part isn’t comparable, but still. Throughout these two weeks, I met a number of other people who were in China for the first time, for the wedding, and each of them had a different impression of Shanghai and the Chinese. For myself, I kept thinking: I wonder what these people would think going to Brazil for the first time. Different culture, different challenges, yet I couldn’t help but admit that China is a thousand lightyears ahead of Brazil in so many ways, and there I was, frustrated with it.
For all the sounds, smells and habits that may make some Westeners uncomfortable, I tip my hat to China for its safety. I spent my first day there taking a stroll around the French Concession, my camera in hand. Don’t, I repeat, do not walk around Rio with your camera in hand, unless you fancy having it taken away in a most likely violent encounter. Rio is also not that clean. People are nice, but not always. It’s a beautiful, loud, colorful, violent city.
In some moments, I’d catch myself thinking of our own Jewish/American/French/Moroccan/Brazilian wedding taking place in the indefinite future. I’d be momentarily paralyzed with fear that our guests would go to Rio, and leave feeling as frustrated with the Brazilian as I was with the Chinese. We’ve got a few things going for us, such as the landscape and food safety. But all in all, Brazil is not all that clean. Brazilians are not all the rage when it comes to politeness. But we try our best. So do the Chinese. In the end, oh well, I guess you can’t win them all.
NOTE: This text is a stream of thoughts, and does not reflect my full two-week experience. There were more positive surprises and encounters not mentioned, as well as some of bad ones. You get the idea.
Last week I approached my boss, Christine, and said that we needed to talk. “It’s nothing serious. I mean, it is, but nothing to do with work. I mean, a bit to do with work, but it’s not about work“.
What I was getting to was that I needed to take the day off on September 14th, because of Rosh Hashanah. “I have decided to convert into Juddaism – and I am starting now“. She had always known that Yann-Yves is Jewish, and I had always known that one day I’d take this step. The time had come. “It’s a huge challenge” I said, which she replied with a smile: “Challenges seem to be your thing“.
I believe it was little over a month ago when I took the initiative for us to start observing Shabbat. At first, Yann-Yves was hesitant. Too many memories of boring teenage days with no phone, no TV, no public transportation and so many other “no”s. But he did miss the tradition. He missed the preparation of a thought-out homemade meal, which was to be enjoyed at a table full of family and friends as they welcomed Sabbath into their home. He also missed the following day – which despite the many restrictions, would in fact pave the way for lots of reading and reflection. I had no memories of that from my own teenagehood, and yet I craved it too.
But observing Shabbat wasn’t enough.
I am not cut out for pretending to be something I am not. Attending services at the orthodox synagogue would make me deeply uncomfortable. Separating from Yann-Yves and heading to the female section (a year ago, I didn’t even know men sat separately from women), would put me in automatic pretend mode: I’d pretend I could follow the prayers – raising when women would rise, moving and bowing when they’d move and bow – while ultimately trying my best to avoid the inquisitive stares that seemed to affirm: “You don’t belong here”.
Maybe they weren’t staring at me after all. Maybe it was a figment of my anxious imagination. But even in this fantasy, I couldn’t help but admitting: I don’t belong here… or not yet.
Before we met the rabbi, I was extremely nervous. “What if he asks about my religion? I wasn’t even baptized. But technically my family is catholic. Should I said that, or would that be worse??“. All I wanted was to convince him that I could belong.
As it turns out, he never asked that of me. I was welcome as I was – Brazilian, tattooed, in a religious limbo and without a drop of Jewish blood in my body -, and would surely continue to feel welcome as I fulfilled my desire to become a Jew by choice.
An hour went by without the rabbi even mentioning my conversion (though that was the reason why we’d scheduled an appointment with him), until Yann-Yves finally blurted out: “So how does the conversion work?”
“Oh yes, I remember you mentioned that in your email“, answered the rabbi. “I require three things: attendance in all Jewish Holidays, as well as Shabbat at least twice a month; you must be able to read Hebrew in order to follow the services; and finally, you must attend and participate in courses about Jewish history and culture.” After a brief pause, he continued: “People think it is easy to convert in the Reform community, but although it is a very individual process, it should take anywhere between a year, to two or longer“. I always knew this would be the biggest challenge I’d ever taken, but I was glad I could still be myself in the process.
Then the subject of conversion wasn’t mentioned again. The rabbi proceeded to invite us to the services as guests, affirming we could take our time to decide whether we’d like to become members of the Reform community.
To be continued
It is so precious to come across anything that makes you reflect. When something makes you think and feel like shit, it’s even more powerful.
My former colleague and friend Christian stopped by the office yesterday to pick up his stuff. We left at the same time and chatted on the way to the metro. As modern conversations go, we casually talked about TV shows and, inevitably, Netflix. He said I had to watch The True Cost – a documentary about the fashion industry and, gasp, “garment factories” (or a nicer term for sweatshops”).
“One of those”, I thought and kept it to myself, trying not to be a horrible human being.
You see, about three years ago I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I identify myself as a reborn vegetarian ever since. But that was then and continues to be easy. I do not miss any kind of meat, and vegetarian food is altogether fairly accessible.
But what the hell am I supposed to do if I can’t consume fast fashion?? I hesitated. I didn’t want to watch that damned documentary. But I had to. I knew it was going to get to me in ways I didn’t want it to. If I chose to watch, I couldn’t unwatch it. I couldn’t ignorance-fy myself. I couldn’t unsee the crying laborers in developing countries – just like my own! – whose colleagues had literally died while making versions of some sweater I have hiding in a corner of my closet.
And, alas, I watched it. It ended about 5 minutes ago, and here I sit writing this text on this Ikea couch, wearing these lovely H&M pjs. Now what? If you haven’t watched The True Cost yet, stop reading and go do so. It’ll make you feel both good about being informed and shitty about everything you bought in the last 5 years or so. It’ll also leave you with an eerie, tingling question in the back of your head – what kind of consumer do I want to be? What kind of consumer can I afford to be? What excuse do I use to continue wearing the fast fashion clothes I already own and hate to love?
Read more about the documentary and watch it here (at your own risk of thinking twice before stepping into Zara from now on).
You blink and almost a year goes by.
You blink, and there you have it – you’ve moved countries, apartments, you’re at your first real job for close to a year, your hair is long, you didn’t lose the weight you’d promised yourself you’d lose, it’s already July – wait, close to August -, and the last time you took 5 minutes to exercise your creativity and took a breather to reflect publicly on the whirlwind you call “life” was last December.
I give myself so, so many reasons on a daily basis why I do not have time to write. Some of the most absurd ones deserve to be listed:
– Most simply, I don’t have time
– In the “advertising-agency-scheme-of-things” I am not a creative. I’m a manager (and a junior at that). I think and act in an organized manner and I count the minutes of my day to keep myself sane while getting stuff done
– I am tired
– I am particularly tired of staring at a screen and typing all day
– I am too busy counting calories, not being proud of it, then stuffing my face
– I am too busy going to gym a few times a week, which is not enough to build my ~dream body~ but also too much to leave me time to write
– And, hear me out, the last one which may after all be the closest to the truth and the saddest of them all: I am not inspired, and that scares the living shit out of me.
The other day Yann-Yves told me he missed the times when I was “more creative”. That hurt. Not because he said it, but because I realized I truly missed it too, and very much so, so very much.
There was a time when I would put together crazy collages on Photoshop. I used to cook more, and took classes on Skillshare. That’s how I “learned” to use Illustrator, well enough to create a landscape of Rio. When we first moved to Munich, Yann-Yves and I used to go to a different museum every Sunday. I also used to write a whole lot more, but that was a longer time ago.
I thought I’d be a writer one day. Maybe I will. For now it’ll suffice to publish fragments of thoughts ever so often, if I’m not too busy making up excuses.
Today I am giving myself a moment.
A few weeks after moving to Munich, I stumbled upon a vegan manifestation at Stachus. It was a fantastic thing – there was a stage with performers, many educational flyers, and much, much, delicious food. That’s when I ran into the vegan döner stand from Royal Kebabhaus.
It looked kind of like a regular kebab, only with made with seitan. I was not hungry whatsoever at that instant, so I just grabbed a flyer and promised myself that I’d go to the actual restaurant soon enough. The moment came last Saturday.
Like in a cartoon, a light bulb when on in my head as I tried to figure out where to have lunch with my omnivore boyfriend. “I KNOW”, I said as I reached for the flyer in the drawer, “here!!!!!!1!” (I swear I said it with such enthusiasm that makes one mistype exclamation marks). “Ok………”, he replied. It was a date.
The restaurant is located next to the Hauptbanhof, on Arnulfstraße 5. We got there at around 2pm, and the place was packed – it has clearly been featured in some vegetarian guide I haven’t read. Luckily, we found a spot inside. It was cozy and the staff was really nice. I was a tad disappointed to see that they don’t serve only vegetarian/vegan döners and dürums, as you can get the “real thing” there as well. But the veggie dürum truly delivered. Aw man, I’m getting hungry just looking back at the pictures.
I got the dürum by itself for 5,50 EUR, but you can get the menu (with a drink) for 6,50 EUR. It’s a really good call if you’re looking for delicious, fast, healthy veggie food – and it is also super central, so there’s no excuse not to make your way over there.