Pepper Spray and Swimming with Ducks

A. and I are sometimes a boring little empire of two-dom. As I’ve mentioned before, moving to a new country as a two-some can encourage this disgustingly couple-ly behaviour. Hanging out with your other half is certainly easier than making new friends and it’s also less risky. You pretty much know they’re never going to come out and express a previously hidden admiration for Tony Abbott’s immigration policies. Whereas, new people. Well, it’s never even guaranteed that they’ll be able to speak English to you. Sheesh.

But we also get stuck in patterns of behaviour. I don’t know why it’s happening more in Berlin than in London, but it seem like every Saturday we get up late and get the same food from the same food stall at the same market as last week. And, at first it makes you feel charmingly local and eventually it makes you feel like the only thing you know about Berlin is how to buy spinach and cheese gozleme from the same salt-and-pepper Turkish man on a Saturday morning.

Again, it’s about ease. Coming up with new ideas of what to do is hard. Especially when most things are advertised in a language of which you only have a basic understanding.

Anyway, last weekend, we struck out for something new. I’m a member of a few English-language expat groups on FB and a month or two ago an Australian woman advertised a jams, pickles and chutney course she was teaching from her home. It seemed appealingly quaint and homely, so I insisted that this was something A. was interested in doing with me and we signed up.

For those of you not based in Berlin, last weekend was a scorcher. So, we were a little bit worried about how comfortable it would be to stand over a hot stove stirring stewing fruit for several hours. But it ended up being delightful. The nice thing about the altbau (old building) houses in Berlin is that they are deliciously cool. Indoors turned out to be the best place to be. Alex and I made a little cooking team and we made strawberry, apple and rosewater jam, pickled cucumbers and tomato kasundi chutney. The chutney is especially excellent because no-one in Germany believes in chilis and the food available here is spiced accordingly (we’ve since discovered that there is a little note at the bottom of some Indian restaurant menus that tells you if you would like to experience the food with traditional ‘Indian spices’, all you need to do is tell the waiter. Presumably, some of that tradition includes chili). The chutney, however, contains 8 chilis and extra chili powder, so I’ve been happily burning my mouth out all week. Ah, the strange things you miss when you move overseas.

Of course, me being me, it was not possible to have an excellent day out without me doing something idiotic. We were just winding down for the afternoon, we’d put the chutney on the simmer and had nothing else to do except sit down and relax for a bit. There were no seats in the kitchen, so we moved into the living room to relax. The other cooking team was making onion jam in there and the spiciness of the onions went straight into my eyes, making them itch. Without stopping to think, I put my fingers deep into my eye sockets and gave them both a good old rub. Of course, I had been the one who had cut up all those spicy little chilis for our chutney, and hadn’t bothered to use gloves or give my hands more than a cursory wash in the sink when I was done. My eyes immediately began to burn with the fire of a thousand suns and as much as I tried to open them up, they would quickly fill with tears and obscure everything. I ran into the bathroom and started splashing water on my face, which would help for maybe 2 seconds at a time. Of course, everyone was panicking, but trying to keep calm so that I didn’t panic more, and I was panicking, but trying to stay calm so that everyone else didn’t panic more. They attempted to manoeuvre me over the bathtub with my head back and then run water from the shower head over my eyes, but this only made me panic more because the water was going up my nose and I thought I was going to drown. Also, the water was making my eyes feel nice, but the top of my head was like ice, so I had two different burning sensations going on in different parts of my head.

After 10 minutes or so of this I had resigned myself to never being able to see again and my eyes being eaten away from the inside by tiny little red chili men (similar, in my mind to pacmen). At least, I thought, if I can’t see anymore, I won’t have to go to work on Monday. But, then, A. used is internet smarts to look up the answer on his phone. Milk was the answer, he told us. After what seemed a lifetime (apparently pain screws up your time perception, which explains why my head was screaming, ‘NOTHING WILL EVER BE NORMAL AND GOOD AGAIN. EVERYTHING IS WRONG AND IT WILL NEVER BE FIXED. OH, I HAVE FELT THIS PAIN FOR THE ENTIRETY OF MY EXISTENCE’), A. got me over the bathtub and poured the milk over my eyes. Being a liquid, the milk then went everywhere; my eyebrows, my nose, my neck, my dress, my bra (and milk-soaked clothing is precisely what you want on a 35 degree day). Almost immediately, I could open my eyes again and the burning had stopped. The milk seemed to have moved the chili oil around my face as my eyebrows and nose were now burning, but it was much more bearable than being in my eyes. A. tells me this experience is exactly like being pepper sprayed, so at least now I’ll have a first-hand experience if I ever want to write a story in which someone gets pepper sprayed. Yay, silver linings. The worst thing though is that the woman who was taking the course had mentioned, not half an hour before I rubbed my eyes with chilis, how someone from her course a week or two ago had rubbed her eyes just after chopping chilis and it was terrible. I had shook my head with a rueful smile. ‘Oh, how silly some people can be’, I said, or words/sentiments to that effect. Look, now, how the prideful have fallen.

Sunday was almost as hot, so we decided to go swimming in a lake. Swimming in lakes in Berlin is the German equivalent of going to a beach in Sydney. There are so many different lakes around, each has it’s own character and everyone has their opinion of which is the best to go to. Because we took so long getting up, we headed towards a ‘Freibad’ on a small like in Jungfernheide, Charlottenburg, under the mistaken belief that a ‘Free Bath’ (literal translation) would be free. Ah, not so, little Grasshopper. After walking many minutes through the forest, we discovered that not only was the lake bathing area full to bursting, they were asking for 5 Euro to get in. However, the pay area was only a small part of the large lake, so, we walked back through the woods to find the section of the lake where all the cheapskates were swimming and went there instead. It did worry me, I have to admit, as if swimming outside the pay area with all it’s fences, was the equivalent of swimming outside the Yellow and Red flags, or outside the shark net or something. Even though I could see that the pay area and the free area of the lake were connected (indeed, they were the same lake), something in my brain was convinced that the paid area was safe and the free area was full of sharks and jellyfish, dangerous rips, chemical dumps, or at the very least, giardia. Presumably your 5 Euro went towards building the underwater concrete wall that kept the two bodies of water separate and the pay one clean and the free one dirty.

Anywho, it was hot, so despite my misgivings, we found a spot and got in the water gingerly. I’m not sure the colour of the water did much to allay my fears, or the fact that once I was ankle deep, I could no longer see my toes, but seeing how my limbs didn’t immediately drop off or start stinging or burning, I continued to venture in. Our spot on the lake included a tree which had fallen into the water, allowing us to edge out into the middle of the lake, without ever having to put our feet onto the unknown and unknowable lake bed. And, indeed, during an hour and a half of swimming, I never once allowed my feet to touch the ground. I know it’s weird. But I just can’t help feeling that if I put my feet on the ground, I’d find that it wasn’t sand, or rocks, but a writhing carpet of slimy eels. Perhaps other people would call these slimy eels pond weed or something similar. But it wouldn’t matter. If I can’t see it and it’s slimy and seemingly moving against my legs of it’s own accord, then it’s an eel, which is practically a snake, which definitely wants to eat me from the toes up. Urgh.

The water was actually a lovely temperature, and providing I kept my mouth shut and didn’t think too hard about the fact that the charming group of ducks floating past me definitely shat in the water I was swimming in, all was well. We did a few laps of the lake, did a few elegant dive bombs into the lake from the tree, got nibbled on by some curious fish (eek! eek! eek!) and then were so starving hungry that we had to get out. It was a delightful afternoon. Also, A. took a photo of me looking like that Venus woman in the shells with the angels and things. Except, you know, standing on a fallen tree, with no angels and with pond water hair and not naked. Which, I feel is a much more accurate and un-photoshopped version of how Venus would have been birthed.

Birth of Venus

See? So much more realistic.

See? So much more realistic.

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