Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The obscure charm of flea markets

A shopping bag ruggedly pushes me aside, while I’m trying hard to focus on the table in front of me, looking for treasures to be taken to a new home. Voices next to me rise in volume, as the haggling goes on, ending either with a sunny goodbye, or a snidely wave of the hand.
Every time I decide to get out of bed painfully early on a weekend (as if that alone isn’t terrifying enough) and go to a flea market, the situation is clear: I will not make it through this organized turmoil without raising my eyebrows, or even using the F- word once. Silently. Of course.
Then again, I could say the same thing about going to a grocery store on a Saturday morning.
In the thick of the fry, a flea market visit can become a little overwhelming. At least when the weather is nice, the amount of people itself can lead to one or two stressing conditions. There is an invisible course I seem to run down while scanning the booths with one, and possible obstacles with the other eye. Someone’s burning cigarette too close to my dress, a buggy, or stepping on a small child‘s foot, could rapidly lead to unpleasant discussions. So can a pile-up at a stand that promises polished, fancy goods.
I’ve heard of people claiming, that a visit to the flea market is a fun and nostalgic experience. My theory on that is, that it’s either an urban myth; or those sales are in Brooklyn New York, Paris, or Copenhagen. Stylish people selling cool stuff while drinking lattes and debating the retro-chic.
A beautiful vision.

Flea market find: Leather magazine rack

MY realty though, has been often much darker and primitive.
Like cavemen, some people would argue about items as if an alien invasion was just around the corner. And only a cracked vase could ensure one‘s survival. Several booths appeared as if the regular shop was simply placed outdoors instead of selling at it’s usual address. (When the tags are all on the blouses, they likely don’t sell grandma’s wardrobe) And at a low point, I even bought a shockingly hideous sweater from a tough dealer, because I was simply too afraid to say no!
The school girl had intense eyes, you know.
When my car started smelling on the way home, I quickly realized that the shirt would end up in the trash can.  I wonder if her mom knows that the girl is a pothead.
On a different occasion, I bought a pair of leather shoes that were likely designed by a feet-hating shoe maker. I wore them one time for one whole hour. And a framed drawing of fruit has never found it’s way onto a wall in my home. The dealer was so kind and sweet that I must have overlooked the disturbing compilation of muddy colors. My guess is, that this picture will move around with us for years, like a bad penny, buried in attics and basements.
Please don’t get me wrong. It is not my intention, to scare anyone off from exploring the world of treasure hunting. In fact, I love it! I just need to remind myself of that once in a while. Just recently, I made some wonderful experiences, including human friendliness and truly nice bargains. All I’m saying is: Anything can happen when fashion, Tiffany lamps and low prices are involved.
I’ve seen things happening from either side of the booth. One summer, I would sell some of my stuff with the brightest smile. Although it wasn’t enthusiasm that made me grin, but the sheer fact that the summer morning felt like early winter as the temperatures refused to climb. Sometimes I went a little nervous, when a prospective customer wanted to ‘go show the ring to his girlfriend’, who was nowhere near. Or a lady with interest in a dress thought it was a great idea to try it on- Over her coat of course.
The experience was not bad though. And I felt that folks actually liked buying my things, pleased that I made fair offers. I was proud of myself and this win-win situation, and it could have been perfect. If only I had been just as successful as a buyer.

Sometimes, I come across some nice vinyl-treasures

Once I was just settling on a way too high price for a pair of earrings that I could not resist, when the lady behind the booth suddenly frowned as she watched my face lighting up in happiness. She said that she might have gone too low and reluctantly took the money. A few weeks later, one of the earrings fell apart. This is very important: Don’t get too overexcited over the treasure you’ve just found! It could cost you more money. On the other hand, I also thought to have learned my lesson, when I once bought a beautiful pearl necklace from an elderly lady. As I paid for it, I still didn’t move a muscle in my face. Keeping it straight. Like a pro. The lady then said with watery eyes, that it was a heirloom, smiling gently. My poker face melted like a Popsicle in Arizona.

I felt so bad that I babbled something about cherishing and honoring it, like a rather unstable person, jumping from unfeelingness to exuberance. I even thought about giving her some extra money, but I just bought another item; not bothering to negotiate.
At the end of the day, it’s an adventure, every time you enter the games. And it can be fun to spend the afternoon looking around, watching the colorful swarming. Then relish the moment of triumph when a beautiful item changes owners. Just like they've traded for centuries.
A sale in New York City may be cool, but the small town’s flea markets on our continents are not less interesting. Most of the time. Many of my favorite vintage bargains crossed my way on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when I wandered through the small pedestrian areas in little villages. Thinking: “I’m just going to take a look around. No pressure. No smelly shirts.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A vintage coffee time

What is the first thing that comes into your mind, when you spot a vintage coffee- or tea set somewhere? One of these squiggly, elegant ones that seem to be condemned to live a dusty life in a display cabinet, being only revitalized at grandma’s birthdays. It might be exactly that: We think of a special occasion, or a long gone time when folks enjoyed a hot drink in a picturesque scenery. Our modern day coffee break though, is often as idyllic as drinking champagne while waiting at a bus station.
Time is so limited, that having coffee in a bulky mug, while fumbling with the smartphone, not aware of the actual process of swallowing, has become the norm. And if we’re honest, it also seems like a lot of work to arrange a lavish table setting in the morning while a giant ticking clock is hovering over our heads. Making sure, we are managing to look presentable and greeting the day in time. As for a sip in the afternoon, there seems to be something odd in fishing out all the required pieces of china, for just a quick boost of energy in form of a simple coffee. Some may also add that it’s way cooler, to hold a cup of latte, during a shopping trip in the city, than balancing the fragile chinaware at a table. Yet, this is exactly what I have learned to enjoy frequently. The atmosphere of a peaceful moment, away from the hustle and bustle. Only concentrating on one, maybe two things at a time. In fact, looking at a well-set table comforts me, knowing, that my world seems in order as the scent of fresh brewed coffee reaches my nose.
Aside from the classic cucumber sandwiches or scones, one might as well enjoy anything that reaches from pastries to other delicacies one usually would enjoy with a cup of java.
Sure, it would look a little disturbing to co-workers, if there was a scene of someone packing out their china, placing it gently at the desk, next to the computer.
And how would the head of department be surprised, if he found the nurses sipping coffee like in a Jane Austin adaption in a hospital staff room! Yes, there is a time and place for everything. And there is free time, there are weekends, there are reasons to do something simply different than usual, no matter how old fashioned it might appear. 
Celebrating tea time with friends is- compared to our coffee-  expected to be held with a little sense of sophistication. So why shouldn’t we enjoy a little refinement in the pleasure of drinking the brotherly liquid. So we can dive into a small world of order and deceleration for a few minutes, before facing the modern life and it’s “I’M HOT’, or ‘NICE BUTT‘- mugs and smartphones again.
Here are a few ideas for a quick and fun coffee table setting. The readers who rather enjoy a cup of tea, may feel just as inspired.
Candles are part of every table setting I ever create. Just one can already- literally- lighten up the dullest place.

When you don’t use cloth napkins, no problem. Fold a paper napkin over a knife and push the material.

Coffee set, that can as well be used as a tea set: Vintage

Sandwiches with homemade spelt bread & strawberry jam. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

A history of makeup

Always fascinated with the style and looks of past decades, I often tried to emulate the girly look of the twenties, or womanly period of the nineteen fifties. Finally, I’ve decided to make a youtube video-series that shines a light on the details of the looks. Day- and evening looks from 1920 to the late 1990s are not that hard to achieve, and can mean an interesting twist in a modern days’ style.
Since it all has once been there already- if it’s the slim, or bold eyebrows, the soft or colourful looks- the past allows us to look at it as a book of styles that we can pick our very own from. Every face shape, figure and type, can be celebrated with just the right influence of all the exciting styles in history. Yet, we have the freedom to mix them with modern aspects, and go on our very individual style adventure.

 In the 1920s, everything 'girly' was considered trendy and stylish. A doll face was desired. So much, that natural shapes of lips and eyes, were sometimes drastically overdrawn. The rouge was set round and cute, just like a doll would have looked. Yet, there was a natural approach to style as well. And often, the ladies didn't use color on a daily basis, as it was still something seen rater in the theater, than the mom-and-pop-shop.

What about the 1930s for example?! A heart-shaped face was desired. The colors already more daring than in the decades before. Lean eye brows and a clear lip structure were signature features of the look.

In the 1940s, the ladies proudly wore their 'victory red' lips, combines with with soft eye makeup and pin curled hair.

The 1950s meant new beginnings in various aspects of life. New products and- with them- trends were introduced. The skirts went wider, the hair a little shorter and the eyeliner bolder.

The sixties meant a dramatic change of style, for especially younger generations. The eye makeup got intense, with long lashes and clear contrasts. They were painted softer, often frosty- and the beehives were enthroned on heads in various highs.  

Who says the 1970s were all flared pants and chunky shoes! Here too, the glamour found it's way through all age classes. The makeup became more sparkly and a tan was more than often required, to be up to date.

The 1980s were sure the climax of glamour and exuberant, colorful styling. Yet, it wasn't all bad hairdos and overwhelming makeup. A close look into history, reveals an often down-toned and extraordinary beautiful look.

Brown, grey, nougat and coffee-tones, dominated the color palette of the 1990s. Aside from the popular grunge look, people enjoyed the "girly style", the "techno look" (which originated in the electronic music scene) as well as a often clean natural styling.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How I fell in love with chai

Spiced tea & Recipe

Since it has become sort of a ritual, that I enjoy a cup of masala chai while working at the computer, I thought it would be only appropriate to open my blog with a recipe for this tea.
Spicy, yet mild, it tastes, smells and feels like a warm blanket, that unfolds with every sip.
People who have been to India may already know this pearl among spiced drinks, as it is one of the most popular in India and beyond South Asia. But as I have not been to the continent yet, I was completely unaware of the tea’s existence.

A few months ago, I watched the Indian movie “The Lunchbox” by Ritesh Batra, wondering what that interesting looking drink was, that the protagonist played by Nimrat Kaur, prepared so enchantingly calm and beautifully on the stove. Thinking it must be a smaller, Indian version of a cafĂ© latte, I searched the internet using key words like: “famous Indian drinks”, and “traditional drinks”. I came across pictures showing the masala chai, and immediately felt a bit ignorant, thinking that- as an open minded person, interested in all cultures- I should have known this tea earlier.

Aside from drinking it, the preparation of masala chai, is a sensual experience in itself. I started with a simple, traditional recipe, using cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and a few other spices. The more ingredients I added to the black tea, the more the scents filled my kitchen as if I had brought a colourful piece of India right into my home. Unlike many fragrances that quickly give me a headache, the smell of masala chai was delightful and calming.
For a few weeks, I experimented with different ingredients and amounts of spices, until I found my personal favourite.

Knowing that it’s flavor and texture appeals to me like no coffee drink known to me ever, I wanted to find out more about the health benefits that are often linked to spices, herbs, and ultimately traditional teas in general. Little was I surprised to come across online sources, that praised chai, to be the drink of choice for those who want to give their immune system a boost, as well as their energy, and bonus:
Could use some natural assistance in weight loss.

It is no surprise to me, that many coffee bars on other continents have picked up this delicious trend, and western folks enjoy their chai more and more often as well.

 “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.“ - Henry James

Options of spices / ingredients for your tea: Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg, saffron, chili, coriander, rose, black cardamom, nutmeg, turmeric and cloves.

Boil water in a pot and add black lose leaf tea. Add the spices you like and lower the heat. Add the milk (or almond / soy milk) and boil for a few seconds. Then give the mixture through a strainer into a tea glass, or cup.