|Ferdinand Hodler: Abend am Genfersee von Chexbreas aus 1894-95 Zurich art museum|
After cycling around Radolfzell for an embarrassingly long amount of time (especially given the size of the place) looking for that exact coffee and cake shop that exists in such a sure and secure place in the minds eye (of course it will be there, I’ll know it when I see it) Starbucks swam subliminally into the forefront of my thoughts. Why? I don’t want to go there... but you know – if it wasn’t "Starbucks" it probably would have been perfect. The real reason why I thought of it was because of a very good friend of mine from Madrid (though herself from Sweden) named Helena. Let me preface this with the fact that Helena and I were both preternaturally bored human beings – once while planning an night out we came to the conclusion that the only interesting thing to do that evening was to try to take over the world. We even made a pictoral mind map.I would compare us at that stage in our lives to chocolate easter bunnies – on the surface we did interesting things and seemed like we were interested in things but inside we needed more. More chocolate in my case, I’m not so sure about Helena’s. Maybe lingonberry jam or something?
|La Reina Sofia: no, that's not scaffolding. That's supposed to be there.|
Anyway, we sought refuge in a Starbucks after our (definitely mine in any case) one and only attempt to look at an Art Gallery in Madrid. Again, this sounds awful – what an uncultured buffoon I turn out to be – but whatever. I had a mental block about it. The buildings were so impressive and large that I couldn’t figure out what was the entrance while trying to casually walk past it. The one time I attempted to go to El Museo Del Prado – after saying that I was going to go for quite some time and making a definite journey out of my apartment to go there – the queues to get into the “free after 6” time period were laughable. So I went and got a caña instead.
|Museo del Prado: intimidatingly looming|
So you can see the sense of achievement Helena and I had when we tentatively walked through the entrance of the comparatively hideous Reina Sofia. The visit turned out to be both disappointing and frustrating. Both of us were restless from caffeine and before us stretched out endless wide white empty corridors on all sides (not forgetting an equally endless up). Everything seemed separated by an enormous gulf as we wandered helplessly in wide circles stumbling upon the odd small pockets of Goya and Picassos which we both looked upon dubiously; skeptically eyeing the paintings from a distance not wanting to show too much enthusiasm. In case it was a trick.
|The corridors in the Reina Sofia: yes they really were that big|
Though I know what to expect from Art Galleries, some small part in the back of my mind always expects a triumphant gallery guide or Tv presenter to present each masterpiece with a reverent flourish and an expectant grin. I mean, anyone could just walk right in here and see it. We weren’t even looking for this painting and yet here it is. No one seemed to be paying any attention anyway. I painstakingly studied that painting for my A Levels – give it at least a passing glance! We stumbled upon Piccasso's Guernica by complete accident. Didn't even realise it was here, assumed it would be in the Guggenheim in Bilbao - for logical reasons. That shouldn't be right. After getting the be-dreaded “gallery fatigue” and the lesser heard “leg fatigue” from navigating many miles of offputting blank corridors we descended in the glass lift over looking white statues in an almost entirely unoccupied green garden (thought the day was pleasant) which was certainly the most memorable part of the visit; we both caught each other guiltily eyeing the Starbucks convieniently placed outside.
|Starbucks: you could be anywhere|
“I don’t really go into it at home”
“No, no me either”
“I’m sick of walking to find the “typical Spanish experience”” Madrileño's do love to walk about
“It just looks so comforting”
“It just looks so comforting”
“They have the same sofas as mine back at home”
“It’s so easy, I know how to act in a Starbucks – we could almost be at home”
That is the clincher really. After spending so much time struggling to communicate, feeling like a bad person who “needs to learn more Spanish” with a bad accent, where buying milk from the friendly, chatty guy just underneath your apartment is an ordeal you grow to dread and feel guiltier about each time when you can only nod and say “si, si... ha ha…err leche por favoure?” because it’s in the fridge behind the counter so you can't just give the correct money and run... So yes, while we both acknowledged the greater evil of Starbucks and to a certain extent globalization we both – Swedish and English – managed to salve our homesickness (a bit) with over priced coffee and mass produced chintz sofas. We peered out the window. We browsed our leaflets. We sat and sipped. They are doing something right, there's no denying it.
|In case you don't know what I mean - which you probably don't.|
Back in Radolfzell, I knew that there wasn't a Starbucks- not that I wanted there to be one - and all the bakeries were shutting and I was not prepared to accept “bar cake” having worked in many bars before – I knew the standard of plastic selophaned sugar with “flavouring of chocolate” I’d be served- I was getting ready to give up. One large, fluorescently lit bakery remained open, however, at this desperately late hour of 5:30pm. From the outside it reminded me of the Salt Beef Bagel shop in Brick Lane actually – so obviously I avoided it initially, not wanting a Salt Beef Bagel or food poisoning. However, it had a suspicious number of old people lingering outside happily chatting and making their way gradually away or into the café. Another suspicious thing about it was that this was Radolfzell, and definitely not East London. Plus, old people always know about these sorts of things, so I decided to trust my oblivious guides and made a U-turn in the road for which I was rewarded with a dirty look and a tut from a man with a baby puller on the back of his bicycle (they are unavoidable here - all the rage).
Two old ladies on a caffeine and sugar high seemingly congratulated me on having a bicycle as I locked up, I gave a nervous smile as they departed cackling hysterically at my foreign person reaction. As the lights hit me I realised the exterior was a deception to ward off bothersome young’uns! Typical old person trickery. Inside was quaint round tables and low level lighting – the only fluorescent light came from their bakery counter which was sparsely stocked. What they did have however and what every table bore the weight of a generous slab of was blueberry pie. Oh sure, they had bread but – I wasn’t here for bread. It was the only cake they did (other than a convincing looking Seable pie which I nearly got before reasling seable meant Onion!) I joined the masses with a cappuccino and I sat on my circular table with my book and I ate a good, simple hearty blueberry pie and I saved half for the next day because it was massive.
|The closest internet approximation of the pie I could find|
I’m living in a town where building work attracts a crowd so blueberry pie success stories are about as good as it gets. Ok, so maybe I started the crowd by squealing my old bike to a halt to peer in surprise at three dungaree clad young (attractive) women swinging pickaxes at rubble wearing yellow hard hats in the middle of a building site beside a church. One of them had pigtails. I thought they may have been recording a German music video, but no, just real life. It was difficult not to stare!
As a quick last minute aside - in Radolfzell there is a market every Wednesday and Saturday that for various reasons I haven’t been able to attend so far. Or failed to notice – I mean I must have cycled through it at least three times so far – and I did wonder why Birgit looked so confused when she asked if I’d seen the Wednesday market last week and I said no. It’s huge – sprawls out over the whole of Radolfzell town center and I would have had to cycle through it regardless of which detour I happened to take on my way to the train station. Maybe I was late, in which case I would have mown down a few pensioners as I whizzed through the center – but I checked, no old people residue. Market day is obviously a huge day for the residents of Radolfzell as they were all there gathering round Heisse Marroni (Roasted Chestnuts) and eating Würst under plastic sheeting next to variously bristled broom ends and woolen slippers. Glühwein was for sale – it’s very cheap here- but I’m sure the market only goes on until 1 o clock – the thought of drinking sickly sweet alcohol before lunch turns my stomach just thinking about it. Although that may be because I over did it 2 years ago on the Mulled Wine because it snowed unseasonably early and I wanted to douse myself in Christmas nostalgia.
Stupidity update: It turns out the market was not a typical Wednesday market, as I found out on the way home from Universität as it was still open and only happens once as a build up to Christmas market time. I spent the whole day feeling extremely foolish as well. At least it didn't go to waste..!