A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha_04_The Story of Two (i)

The Story of Two (i)

Düsseldorf, Tuesday, 12.10.1999, 10:02 pm

I have already been thinking of making some sweets out of the 202 chestnuts we picked up from the park last Sunday, but it was Eric, my French ‘son’, who gave me the last push last night. He was telling me how expensive these glazed chestnuts were and how they would melt in one’s mouth…

It is a big challenge to make glazed chestnuts, according to Eric. The reason why these whole chestnuts are so expensive is that chestnuts break very easily. But it is not to show myself I could do it that made me want to try out the recipe which I had found in an old cookbook. It was more that I would like Eric and, above all, Otmar (my now ex) to savour this specialty made from self-picked chestnuts.

I spent half an hour snipping the tip off the chestnuts and five hours peeling them. I even skipped lunch. I simply swallowed one of those big apples brought by Andreas before I dashed off to teach Toshie at four.

A handful of chestnuts had landed in Eric’s oven but it was still a long and complicated process peeling the rest of them. The problem is that they have to be peeled hot. After two hours trial and error, I found out the most efficient way. When I finished, my finger tips looked as if they had big blisters but I did a neat job.

The process I devised ran like this:

Two saucepans of water boiling on the hotplates.
Put chestnut A into the first saucepan, after a while chestnut B.
After one or two minutes, when A is hot and the shell no longer hard, take it out.
Put chestnut C into the same saucepan where B was and move B to position A.
Take off the shell of A and put into the second saucepan.

Now B is ready. Take it out.
Put chestnut D into the first saucepan, move C to the ‘front’.
Take off the shell of B and put into the second saucepan.
Meanwhile A is ready for peeling. Take it out of the second saucepan.
Peel A.

Now C is ready. Take it out.
Put chestnut E into the first saucepan, move D to the ‘front’.
Take off the shell of C and put into the second saucepan.
Meanwhile B is ready for peeling. Take it out of the second saucepan.
Peel B.

Now D is ready. Take it out.
Put chestnut F into the first saucepan, move E to the ‘front’.
Take off the shell of D and put into the second saucepan.
Meanwhile C is reading for peeling. Take it out of the second saucepan.
Peel C.

I have always thought that chestnuts were more or less smooth as their shells. I never knew they kind of look like walnuts when they are without their peel. And so many different shapes in their half roundness, so many crevices.

I had to think of what Eric said about the non-existence of uniqueness in people and things. I wish I could show him all the peeled chestnuts.

2017.12.12 A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha_04_The Story of Two
(To be cont’d)


A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha_02_ Holes

2017.12.03 Holes


If it had not been for this apple pie which Otmar baked, I would have forgotten that these holes existed in my mind.

Such a thick top he put on the apple pie that it was possible for the fork to poke in deep holes…

And such deep holes I once looked at with big eyes when I was small. Deep holes on tea biscuits. I used to look for holes which would go through. I think I never found any…

Tea biscuits. Special tea biscuits which we bought from a factory where an aunt of ours was working. Mother used to take us there. It was a rare treat for us because we could take the ferry to cross the Harbour– in those days there was no Cross-Harbour Tunnel. It was always a day trip.

The tea biscuits were special because they were the left-overs from the packaging department. They were broken tea biscuits. It was shortly after the War, and, believe it or not, in those days, one could buy broken biscuits. In any case, they were the only kind we could afford then.

I remember half tea biscuits which we would kind of hate; I remember bigger than half biscuits which we would consider acceptable; I remember considering biscuits with just one corner broken to be priceless. Above all, I remember with fond memory finding those almost-impossible-to-find biscuits with only one tiny tip of a corner missing!

And I would be running my fingers over my ‘perfect’ tea biscuit, feeling its deep holes…

Düsseldorf, 1999.12.15
Re-published, in response to Storyhucker Stuart M. Perkins
Hong Kong, 2017.12.03

A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha

2017.12.04 A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha_F

Dear Friend,

You are among the 99 invited to share this present for my eldest daughter, Natasha.

“A Little Christmas Carol for Natasha” has been compiled for her birthday. At the same time this booklet has also served as a bridge over most murky waters for three long weeks.

In the wee hours of 24.12.1999, I came out of my good friend Ursula’s place after spending the whole day there, making the original hard copies. She provided me with her ‘intel inside’ computer, her scanner, her laser printer, her photocopier and her care.

Some texts are new but most texts have been taken from my collection. Excerpts from old e-mails have been left un-edited to preserve authenticity.

The photos were taken on a golden November day, 1.11.1999, to capture some splendour of the place I had taken to be my home for life. They were taken at a time when I thought we were giving up this home for another dream. They were some twenty colour pictures, starting with the chestnuts collected at the Hof-garden, and ending with the high-heels which I had bought in preparation of my future role of some kind of a first lady… These photos were scanned and then photocopied to give the final black and white version in front of your eyes. Some of these new prints manage to assert a new identity; some regrettably turned out to be rather miserable reproductions of the originals.

The scanned-in objects present a different story. Scanning in the items was an adventure. The objects had to be arranged and re-arranged so that they could be scanned from the right angle. The egg and the egg cup image was almost a marvel. The milk bottle took some thinking— a white piece of paper had to be inserted in the end to ensure that the printed words could be read. The most difficult object was the Stars and Stripes: this final somewhat wavy banner image took over an hour to achieve. Efforts to be proud of. Finding an appropriate background for all these objects was also trying. In the end I settled on a white pullover Natasha and I chose together some ten years ago.

Something else ‘Natasha’ about the booklet is the “Yum Yum Chestnuts” insert. Credit should be given to Natasha.

A word of thanks should be given to my new friend, May, from LA. If time could be measured in terms of e-communication, we would certainly be century-old pals already.

On September 16, 1999 I e-mailed her:
“I have many stories of this sort to write out. Maybe I should.”
To which she answered:
“I think you should, I know I would love to read about them.”
To which I replied:
“I shall do that then, if only for just one reader.”

FM:) Düsseldorf, January 7, 2000
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