Unhealthy 2014

Don’t fool yourself. We both know that regardless of our New Year resolutions, we will keep eating junk food. We are lazy. We hate changes. We can’t resist temptations. Any attempts to cook healthy meals will backfire.   

Sure, there are thousands of recipes online. Sure, there are tons of cookbooks. But if you’re not Jamie Oliver yourself, there is no way you can make use of them, because:

  1. You have no idea how much is 150ml and you wonder why they don’t measure liquids by some commonly and globally understandable standards. Everybody knows the volume of a beer glass.
  1. If you decide to watch a cooking video for a better visualization of the creation process, it seems that all ingredients miraculously appear cleaned and chopped in little glass bowls on a table. You have no clue how to get from “a fish” to a “fantastic pieces of fresh mackerel, already butterflied, filleted, and without intestines, brain, spine, and skin, kept overnight in a basic French marinade. Beautiful.”
  1. What on earth is a Jerusalem artichoke and where do they sell it???
  1. You don’t know which cooking guru to trust, because they all differ greatly in their opinions. There are even TV shows in which one professional cook screams and shouts at another professional cook, with their anger boiled up to a point that they start hitting each other with a cookbook- one of the billion available on the market. It’s all very confusing.
  1. You read somewhere that you need at least three home cooked meals a day. So just after you finish cleaning the massive blender from the leftovers of the morning smoothie, you’ll have to start folding cream cheese and avocado wraps for your healthy lunch. Don’t forget to already start cooking broccoli soup for dinner. You also need to chop the wok veggies (frozen ones are unhealthy), mix the salad dressing (bottled dressing? Bleh!), and collect fresh tomatoes from your mini tomato garden on your balcony… Congratulations. You’ve just spent a whole day in a kitchen and you are now officially a housewife.

You can just as well order a pizza now.

Project Happiness

When I moved to the Netherlands five years ago I wasn’t exactly the happiest person on earth. I had a hard time adjusting, com­bining studying with a physically tiring student job, and most of all I was quite lonely.

To make myself feel like I had (sort of) a plan, I used to neuroti­cally compose lists of things in different areas of my life that I needed to change in order to be happy. It was kind of like a bucket list, except that instead of listing things to do before I die, I listed things to do before I can fully live. I never waited for New Year’s Eve. Almost every week I used to scribble those bul­let points on a first page of my notebook, in my agenda, or on a glossy page ripped from a textbook.

After five years the lists are still scattered around my desk, in between the pages of my books and written on the palm of my hand. Most of the points have been rephrased over the years but they’re still there, making me stuck in the almost-­there phase. I hopelessly flip through the colorful pages of all those self­ help magazines that promise bliss, energy and light if you manage to lead a spotless lifestyle, but they just make me nauseous instead.

There is nothing wrong with self-­improvement and striving for the better. But I’m afraid it’s time to realize that becoming a happy person is not up to checking off a few tick boxes. When you complete your to­-do list you won’t go puff!, and turn from a sad little frog into a princess with glowing skin, who’s so ecstatic about her life that she can’t stop singing to a bunch of birds. Con­trary to what all the reading materials made out of recycled paper tell you, happiness is not a project

Entering the Lion’s Den

As great as Tilburg is for students, it is very likely that one day you’ll get bored with a place that calls one street a city center, and you’ll move to a more exciting place. If you are already wowed by Amsterdam and plan moving there, remember that it is a long, seductive game.

My affair with Amsterdam started with approaching her just a bit closer by moving to Utrecht. The capital is like a moody woman who doesn’t just let anybody in. Finding a place to live is a nightmare, and people are squeezed on a couple of square meters just to be able to brag about getting in. But Utrecht is much more sympathetic. She will take you under her wings because she knows how much it hurts to be rejected by her bigger sister.

The second step was approaching Amsterdam’s suburbs. The very heart of the city can be rather overwhelming, smelling of weed,
vomit and sex. Instead, I chose to live among the trees. By living just outside of a city you tease Amsterdam a little by visiting during the night, but going back to your place in the morning. You have to make sure she doesn’t get clingy.

I don’t think I’m ready for the final step yet. Entering the lion’s den and moving to the center is definitely something that many
suitors of Amsterdam want, but that’s when things go wrong. Think twice before jumping in and moving to Amsterdam immediately after living in Tilburg; if not properly tamed, she will eat you alive.

Published: Univers no. 2, 5 September 2013

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Shadowed by a Mosque

Red, fluorescent lamps on each table illuminate the grinning profiles of teenagers almost too young to be sipping flamboyant cocktails. Their fun was accompanied by old school, American 80’s hits instead of rhythmic, Arabic music so typical for the streets of Marrakesh by night.

I happen to sit next to an artificial palm tree, even though the street just outside was full of the real deal. There were only few elements in this scene that were comfortingly lo-cal: colorful water pipes smoked by those giggly youngsters, complimentary spicy olives, and a Mosque tower in the background, quietly guarding the city from a distance.

It seems that, just as traditional tourism, party-tourism is spread-ing to spoil more and more unspoiled places. Ibiza and Mallorca are slowly becoming passé as more exotic countries like Morocco are taking over as party destinations for thirsty teenagers. The most surprising thing about this choice of a location for spring break-esque holidays is that alcohol is a rather sensitive subject in Muslim countries. And the upcoming Ramadan didn’t make the search for booze any easier; I myself went to great lengths to get hold of even the smallest bottle of nameless white wine to satisfy the kind of thirst that water cannot.

That makes us, tourists, a gold mine for Moroccan bars and res-taurants trying to accommodate our shameful lifestyle. But they do prefer to keep it a secret. Tourists ordering alcohol are rarely seated among regular customers; they are secretly sent upstairs
instead. If you think that sipping beer while being secluded behind a fence of a restaurant terrace adds more excitement and makes you nostalgic about your high school years, this type of holiday destination is for you. The question is, however, how
much this type of tourism changes the ways in which Muslim cultures deal with the issues of (public) drinking. And I don’t necessarily mean for the better.

Univers no. 1, 21 March 2013

Memories: Dosage and Side Effects

This weekend I finally decided to organize my photo library. I have to admit, I’m far behind the digital revolution and I still haven’t migrated all my files to the cloud. It’s not a surprise, given that I get a mild panic attack every time my Samsung uploads photos from my phone to the online account. Almost fainting, I need to compulsively check the privacy settings of my photo albums to make sure they’re not for all two of my Google+ followers to see.

So my digital spring cleaning was happening on my hard drive, and flipping through countless folders, sub-folders and files was a nightmare. I discovered thousands of photographs from my four months trip to South Africa that I haven’t even properly looked into, random Skype snapshots, inappropriate selfies with ex-boyfriends, imported WhatsApp photos that somehow found their way to my folders…. I felt like all my life in images is trapped in this little black device, never having seen the light of my Facebook Wall and never having felt the flattering tickling of other Facebookers’ likes.

Since I was a little girl an idea of a scrapbook enticed me very much. A possibility of choosing a selection of images that best reflect the milestones in your life, briefly sum up the biggest achievements and show off the greatest adventures. This would be a kind of collection of highlights that Facebook automatically (and randomly) pulls from your profile at the end of each calendar year and composes a neat sideshow that your friends would then eagerly comment on.

Scrap booking in itself is a soothing practice. There is something therapeutic about going through memories, selecting the ones dearest to your heart, and imprinting them forever on colorful pages (given that a scrap book does not fall victim of a natural disaster of some sort, be it fire, flood or just plain human forgetfulness). Decorating the photo with drawings, descriptions, and quotations gives it a more multi-dimensional aesthetic quality. The picture then merges with the written word, with literature or tradition, and by doing so grounds your memory in history, imprints it in the flow of time.

But I never made a scrap book. Or, rather, I started many but could never keep on pasting fresh memories onto the blank pages. Doing so has a certain finality to it. Acknowledging something as a memory paralyzes a still living, vivid experience. I could never bring myself to lock my memory between two covers and, literally, close a chapter of my life for good, admitting that from now on it can only lend itself to nostalgic reminiscing.

I much rather collect bits and pieces of my memories in form of cinema tickets, bills from bars with too many wine glasses mercilessly printed on them, and cards from restaurants in which I would end up by pure chance. I would then place all of those pieces of paper in random places only to come across them months later between book pages, in my calendar, or in a pocket of my summer coat, and suddenly be entirely overtaken by this one specific memory.

Watching a scrap book, a photo album, or an entire slide show from holidays past is like getting drunk on memories. You just down all of them at once, only to find yourself in a state of melancholic hangover of the soul afterwards. Moderate dosage of memories, re-living one of them one day, reminiscing another one a week after, is much healthier. It keeps your emotions alive among your daily routines and can brighten many of your ordinary days.