Frankfurt Winter Weekend, Part 1

The first month of 2019 is coming to an end and even if I already live in a big city, I felt like a city weekend in another city. That’s enough times saying “city” in one sentence! So Frankfurt it is, with the added pleasure of having friends living there.

6 AM rising and successful arrival at the train station in Hamburg with 20 minutes to spare. One of my friends once told me with a smile, incidentally one of the people I’m visiting this time, “The train will not leave earlier.” That’s true! But you never know how other elements of getting to your platform will work out. If you’re going from Hamburg to Frankfurt by train, some of the options available are leaving either from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) or Dammtor station. The former is always busy and bigger, the latter is usually quieter and it’s a smaller space.

My early morning train choice was cancelled, something I found out only upon arriving at the platform. Not to worry, my organized (German) thinking switched on. Down to the travel center (Reisezentrum) of the Deutsche Bahn I go. I get a free ticket and a free reserved seat for another direct train. My first adventure of the day, practically a classic for any train traveler, has been mastered. I while away the remaining half hour in the bakery next door and reward myself with a cup of hot chocolate for my common sense. It’s not 8 AM yet, but the station is already bustling with commuters and other travelers rolling their suitcases past me. I think once again that as much as you love playing tourist in the place where you live, it’s good to get out of that zone every now and then by being an actual tourist.

I have a spot at a table by the window, the sun is shining and all around me people are quietly working on their laptops, or reading and watching stuff. There is Wifi, halleluja. I wonder if I’m the only one heading to Frankfurt for a vacation, since it’s the kind of city that typically attracts a steady stream of business people, many of whom take the train due to the good connection as far as long distances go.

Hamburg’s familiarly flat landscape has given way to hilly forests wherever we are now, and so far I see it has snowed here too, like it did in Hamburg last night. I’m not sleepy at all, though very comfortable, and it’s nice to think I didn’t panic one bit when I saw my original train was cancelled. “Oh, so this is what’s happening now, OK.” Looking forward to Part 2.

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The Innkeeper Chronicles: Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

Breath caught in my chest. I realized with absolute clarity that one day I was going to die. One day I would no longer be here. All the things I wanted, all my thoughts, all my worries – all of it would be gone with me, lost forever. There were so many things I wanted to do. So much I still wanted to see. I had to hold on to it. I had to hold on to every short second of life. Every breath was a gift, gone forever to the cold stars the moment I exhaled.

This is expressed so well, it makes me want to cry just like the main character, Innkeeper Dina Demille, owner of Gertrude Hunt – not exactly your average, everyday hotel.

I seem to be reviewing sequels lately, or at least not the first book in a series. But sometimes books need to sit with me a little, or I’m reading a couple of things at the same time and I just want to sort through my thoughts and feelings. With Sweep in Peace, my review started forming as soon as I read the paragraph above, and this is one of many poignant moments in a novel packed with action, mirth, drama and excitement, but a novel that still stops to think.

Dina knows how to put down roots, literally, and her magic, the profession that she was basically born into, is a reflection of who she is as a person. She is hospitable, hard-working, occasionally desperate, realistic, witty, and she’s a deeply loving, loyal human being. Whether it’s the special attachment formed between her and Gertrude Hunt, for the Inn is a living being of its own kind, or the fierce love that drives her to search for her missing parents, Dina’s heart is in everything she does. What’s also appealing about her are her moments of immediately relatable vulnerability, popping up among all the skills, talent and magic that make her a true Innkeeper.

So I’ve scribbled on quite a bit about the main character, because I don’t want to spoiler about the plot, though let’s just say that Dina definitely has what seems like an impossible task on her  hands, and the conclusion had me tearing up. Final revelations make you stop and think about current events or even relationships inside families, how we can hurt each other, how hard it sometimes is to open someone’s eyes to the truth. Yes, deep!

Dina’s relationship with the Inn and the Inn’s with her is intriguing and heart-warming, taking me back to Russian folklore and understanding of the home as such in particular (that’s my roots talking), magic within four walls (or more) influenced by the people living in it and the environment around it. Brooms, as Dina’s own proves, are not to be underestimated.

Enjoy your stay.

The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion by Megan Hess

To catch a thief must be one of the most stylish movies in the history of Hollywood. Alfred Hitchcock’s romance mystery depicts Grace Kelly in ten costumes, each more beautiful than the last. My favourite, however, is this flowing, draped blue gown by Edith Head. The dress, inspires by Dior’s ‘New Look’, features a gathered skirt and variegated chiffon swathes, and was worn with a matching clutch, white open-toe sandals and a floaty blue stole.

Yes! Megan Hess said it. I have also loved that dress the moment I first set eyes on it in my teens and it is one of the reasons why I still hanker after light-blue frocks. This is one of the many enjoyable moments had while reading The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion, that “my” dress made the list happiness, as well as discovering numerous delicious tidbits and trivia about 99 other gowns from the 20th and 21st centuries. Sounds grand, doesn’t it?

The book is lovely to hold in your hands, with it’s gold framing against black and white on the cover, and gold page tips, like a gift ready to be unwrapped again and again. It’s divided into sections covering specific dresses within them – designers, female icons, weddings (with another shout-out to Grace Kelly), music, film and the Oscars. For me the film chapter was especially fun to read, as I recognized many dresses that had also caught my eye in various movies, or got curious about others, especially in older movies I hadn’t seen. But the best part is that the book is not simply about the dresses themselves. In a warm and engaging style, Megan Hess shows with a few well-chosen sentences, just like the strokes in her gorgeous fashion illustrations, the women who gave life to the dresses by wearing them and putting them in the context of a memorable occasion.

The illustrations themselves give the whole representation a different quality then photos do, because while many stories, names and gowns might be instantly familiar, or conjure up specific real-life or cinematic images, removing them slightly from being documented, and illustrating instead makes it all just a tad more magical and imaginative. I may never afford any of the outfits in this book, but I loved the creative approach to showing the potential and the power a dress holds simply for ourselves, whatever dress it is.

Dear 18-Year-Old Me

I give what might be advice exceptionally rarely (family philosophy that turned out to be my thing as well, something all my friends know), but I was intrigued by the idea of imagining what I would say to my 18-year-old self if I got the chance. As my Granny told me once when I asked her if she was talking to herself, “But of course, it’s nice to talk to an intelligent person.” I was also inspired, among other blog posts and pieces I’d read, by this article published on Edition F in German. Here goes.

Dear 18-year-old Zhenya,

If you’re not ready to move away from or move out of the home you grew up in, and NO ONE is pressuring you to do it, stop pressuring yourself just because you’re “of age”.

Yes, you will go places. Please be patient and don’t doubt yourself.

You don’t have to know right now where you’re going to work and how it will all play out.

Sure, it’s a big disappointment that scholarship didn’t work out. It’s OK, though, it was just one of so, so many.

Continue to look for sensible jobs where you can earn money between the ones that you do for the experience. Save up – it will always come in good use. It’s important to be able to provide for yourself.

Not everyone your age has to understand or accept your views for them to continue being acceptable and understandable for you.

Still, don’t preach or explain, just stick with your principles.

Ignore the aunt repeating you need to cut ten inches off your hair to make it prettier. It’s already pretty.

The people who laughed at you for not getting drunk, and you will meet a lot of them in the following years, are stupid. Go talk to that nice girl from your German class instead.

Your feeling about that nightclub was right. Trust your gut, always. There will be a chance to re-examine whether you were right later.

I’m proud of you for leaving situations you were uncomfortable in. Just because seemingly “everyone” is doing something, doesn’t mean you have to.

That guy was worth more laughs than tears.

There’s nothing wrong with you, that girl was just jealous and she’s not your friend.

Write, write, write, whatever you like, as much as you like, type it up, write it down, scribble it, journal about it, designate special notebooks, submit it somewhere, send it out, share it with people you trust, JUST WRITE, WOMAN.

You’ll be glad you spent your teens without this thing called social media. Yes, you’ll find out what it is, and I trust you.

You’re not being overly sensitive, picky, emotional or immature – you’re facing a bully without empathy who is refusing to accept responsibility for their actions and doesn’t care about your feelings. Walk away, you have better things to do. The people who love you are waiting.

What Starting Zumba Classes Taught Me So Far…

Oh yeah, I can step in place and in sync, this feels good, I’m all ready to DO THIS, this should be fun…Oh, wait, she moved sideways, OK, oh, now it’s the other side, was I too slow? What is she doing with her feet? How come mine aren’t doing the same? Am I spinning the wrong way again? WHAT’S GOING ON?

When I try to do that leaning forward, chest shaking thing, nothing shakes, I just take turns rapidly moving my shoulders back and forth. It happens by itself. On the other hand, any booty-shaking seems to happen very easily and with a lot of joy. It also strongly feels like there’s, ah, much more to shake than with my upper body, and I can’t decide whether this is funny or disconcerting. Maybe it just is.

The moment the trainer says the choreography is simple, my brain goes into overdrive with its “Complicated” setting, but they do say that resistance is what makes you work harder. She adds some theatrics that go in line with the lyrics of the song, which kind of brings out my headphone party dance/ acting skills (you obviously don’t just sing along to stuff, you illustrate it with your moves), and hey, this is that song from that IISuperwomanII video, and is it actually about taxis…?

When you’re concentrating on doing some semblance of proper steps and not cuffing the girl next to you with your waving arms, you can’t really whoop. Sorry. But please be assured that I am actually able to let it all out.

Women Apologizing: My Personal Experience

Note: This was an essay I originally wrote for a call for submissions on this particular topic, but after I had produced it, I discovered I didn’t qualify for the terms and conditions since I reside in Europe. Buuuut, why waste writing I’d invested in? So here it is. Obviously it’s only one viewpoint of a vast ocean of a subject, but this is what came to my mind upon facing the question about my sorries.

I am known as the serial apologizer in my family. At least I think I was until as recently as a year ago, when I felt like I started getting a handle on it. It had been almost like my own conversation signature that had to pop up at least once a day on any subject. My family helped me a lot in that area by the simple action of being affectionate and joking when my apologies were made in relation to harmless things, like putting something in what I thought was the wrong place or forgetting to confirm a date for a gathering way, way in advance. They would even anticipate when I was about to say sorry and calmly ask me not to.

I think the way I did it before first grew from the combination of taking my words and actions towards others seriously (sometimes too seriously), wanting to show consideration and viewing an apology as a validation of the fact that I was paying attention, present, capable of being honest. I’ve also definitely been the person who apologized automatically when she was bumped into on the street. I’ve apologized to diffuse what I thought was about to be an unexpected explosive reaction to something I did, since it was easy for me. I’ve apologized to stave off or break up fights about small things. Finally, I hope I also apologized when I thought I really did have to, for what I considered to be tactless words on my part or hurting someone’s feelings.

With time I tied apologizing to being able to assume responsibility for words and actions, something I tend to measure people by. Saying sorry for bigger things, for that which actually brings someone undeserved pain and suffering, should definitely be analyzed from within yourself, practiced and cultivated. Understanding that type of sorry doesn’t always happen overnight, and it carries weight that you need to be able to feel and then let go, remembering the impact of it.

For some saying sorry is just a turn of phrase. I found myself imitating that for a while, then I wanted to stop because it didn’t coincide with my personality and the distinctions I made about apologies. I began paying attention to my wording and in those cases where I would have previously said sorry, I substituted it with a polite statement of facts. “I can’t make that day because of so and so, but how about next week?” It was also a question of not succumbing to what felt like tiny lies. I wasn’t sorry about following a plan that had been arranged first, right? And neither was the other person I was talking to. So why even say so?

I guess I just stop myself more, take that extra second, as much as possible in the moment, on any level to evaluate whether I do actually need to make an apology. I think a lot of it is also connected to what I don’t feel apologetic about anymore, because I accept it for myself and I know that it’s not wrong.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

I switched off the light, and lay there thinking how all my sisters teased me about being the spiritual snowflake of the family. I couldn’t really blame them, because when I was young I didn’t understand that I was ‘different’, so I’d just speak about the things that I saw or felt.

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered The Seven Sisters books by Lucinda Riley – the cover of the first one might have been popping up in various social media feeds until I read about it and got curious, but a few months later here I am, finished reading book five, The Moon Sister, in this absorbing, detailed series with a myriad of stories about six sisters separately adopted and lovingly raised by a mysterious man in a beautiful Swiss mansion. The women are all named after the the Seven Sisters constellation and The Moon Sister is about the second youngest, Taygete, or Tiggy d’Aplièse.

It’s Christmas shortly into the novel, and it was also Christmas when I opened the book, which strengthened the feeling of being immersed in Tiggy’s experiences early on. The story sweeps between rural Scotland in the winter and sun-drenched Spain (both past and present), two contrasting countries, but with common themes of second sight and intuition coming alive through the characters living there. Tiggy is open to what comes her way, all the while listening to her instincts with quiet acceptance. She’s calmly assured in her introversion, yet she’s sociable and empathetic at the same time.

Like her other sisters, Tiggy is not only discovering the (as always mesmerizing and rooted in exciting history) truth of her parentage and heritage, but also learning to be truly independent while remaining connected to the people she grew up with as a family. She has a distinctive voice and it’s easy to hear. Tiggy’s book is satisfyingly thick, like the other novels in the series, and I asked myself why it reads so quickly, besides obviously being a very engaging and well written story. The answer is, perhaps, that the novel is not overdone with length in individual scenes, even when we think there could be more said – this works with packing in multiple storylines and timelines in one book. The history in the novel is not heavy, while based on fact and clearly excellent research, it conveys what it was, namely a real life lived by Tiggy’s ancestor at the time.

The landscapes in Scotland and the views from Granada in Spain, as we see the city through Tiggy’s eyes, come alive with the same exhiliration that she feels. It’s easy to imagine walking down paths and streets with her as she comes closer to uncovering the story of her birth, and there’s a disarming quality about her kindness and introspective connection to the world around her. As with the previous books, I might just have to go back and re-read after a while.