Harlequinades 2009, plus little pleasures for the weekend

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This weekend was supposed to be perfect with numourous baking challenges, plus a speech contest, all of which I thought would be a success. Sadly, things didn't go so well in either of those areas and I ended up walking home tonight in the rain without an umbrella and feeling frustrated. Luckily, after some tea, pasta and an Italian film, my mood isn't quite as dark and I'm at last ready to tell you about Harlequinades. It was Rose who suggested I take part; basically the challenge is to read at least one romantic novel (the equivalent in anglophone countries is probably Mills and Boon) and discuss it in an interesting way in order to grasp its philosophical and sociological significance. French speaking readers can find more info here. Some people might raise their eyebrows at my book choice but it's been ages since I read something like this and I had fun doing it. Actually, I thought it might be nice to have a romance in German to see if the clichés are similar. At Dussmann, the choice was surprisingly limited but I did manage to stumble across Frühling und so (Spring and so on) which is not only a Spiegel bestseller, but also set in Berlin. It tells the story of Raquel, a teenager and her sexual and romantic journey over one year in the German capital. Raquel is actually the Spanish version of Rachel which means "ewe" or one of purity so it's ironic that it's the name of our heroine.

The book is actually divided into four chapters, entitled spring, summer, autumn, winter and spring. I wondered whether the journey of the heroine would be one of profound self-discovery as in the beautiful film by Kim Ki-duk which is also called Spring, summer, autumn, winter and spring but each section is not so different, except in the various moods which the changing seasons create. Will Racquel ever be able to get over being left by Noa, her long-term boyfriend? Does the man of her dreams really exist at all? Is it possible to have a physical as well as an intellectual connection?

Raquel is what many would call a typical teenage girl; she worries about her looks and figure, goes out with friends and feels torn between her divorced parents and their separate families. The novel describes the modern patchwork family extremely well. Already though, she has a clear idea of the kind of life she should have in ten years and often expresses disapproval of those who haven't achieved that level. At thirty, for example, you shouldn't simply have an ordinary job on a film set but do something more important in the social hierachy.

She meets men easily and is aware of her seductive powers over them. Yet all too often, they seem to lack her emotional maturity and powers of observation. With sex, Raquel is often able simply to treat her body as an object, something separate from her emotions and is constantly analyzes herself from the outside. One of the nicest aspects of the book is that fact that it combines sexual advantures with the everyday life of Berlin and the many different areas form a backdrop which makes it a refreshing read. Raquel sees the social problems around her relating to Hartz IV, the long-term unemployment benefit many Berlin's citizens live on and alcohol and drug addiction in notorious areas like Kotti.

I won't spoil the ending for you but just want to finish by saying that there are some surprising twists along the way and that the author, Rebecca Martin is certainly good at writing about sex.

And the pictures in this post? So there's no recipe for you tonight but it's late on Saturday night and I had no energy to prepare much - sorry! The pictures are of two things I treated myself to yesterday; perhaps the last good tomatoes of the season - sweet and crisp - which I enjoyed with some good bread and cheese and a concerto torte from Lenôtre in KaDeWe. Maybe it's because I've gotten used to simpler cakes but it was somehow nicer to look at than to eat. In any case, you can savour them with your eyes and I promise you another recipe before I leave for Italy at the end of next week.

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