De Beauvoir Town and Partner Yoga
Easter Monday morning run on the Heath.
Writing my journal while hours fly by unnoticed, words simply splashing out of my fingers and my mind calmly focused on just that one thing: stringing together ideas and letters on a screen. Until Sanoop starts making lunch, and I jump up like a little puppy, not that hard to distract, with something tasty, after all.
Cycling through the cleanest air and least amount of traffic North and East London have ever seen, while listening to classical music, to meet a friend for a walk around and around and around the adorable little communal gardens of De Beauvoir Town, lilacs and wisteria waving in the wind, birds chirping, and cute dogs hopping around everywhere. To be clear: we don’t hug upon greeting or parting ways, and we keep a 2-metre distance throughout the walk (except for that second in which she hands me a cup of coffee from the only cafe in Haggerston that’s open), and we only even get together at all because my friend has just lost two family members, and her job, and may have to leave the UK as well, and I really, really wanted to be able to talk to her, give her some sense of comfort, in person.
In the evening, Sanoop and I try out my mum’s friends’ harmonious, fun partner yoga, after which we cook together: cod loins sautéed in coconut oil and with lots of spices, and veggies stir-fried separately with tamari, lots of spices, and a small handful of cashews. One glass of red wine in the golden hour sun. Mmm.
On Tuesday morning, we notice that the beech leaves have sprung out. I woke up with a sharp lower back pain, so rather than going for a run, I’m walking across the Heath with Sanoop. It’s a bit nippy; delightfully refreshing. Back home, we have chai and toasted sourdough with marmite — ready for the 4-day work week ahead.
Wednesday’s morning run looks like this, steam rising stunningly from the ponds:
Finishing work at 6pm that day, I pour myself a glass of wine and take a seat in the kitchen window overlooking the pond in the evening light and finish Find Me, the sugary sequel to Call Me by Your Name, vaguely reminiscent of Before Sunrise and generally like gulping down a big glass of delicious full-bodied Italian red wine, followed by an even larger glass of French red, and finishing off with single malt for a night cap, all the while thinking of Timothee Chalamat. Mmm. Pretty perfect escapism.
At 6:30pm, I walk back to the part of our dining table that’s my office these days and settle down by my laptop with a stack of thick cream-coloured drawing paper, sharpened pencils, and a selection of crayons for a live-streamed guided dynamic intuitive life drawing class led by a friend’s friend. I don’t know what to expect — and the class is way beyond anything I could ever have expected. So, so interesting. The aim is to get us, the approximately 70 attendees, out of our heads and into our bodies as we experience the power of drawing as a meditative exercise more so than as the means to a specific creative outcome. This is not about learning to draw in a specific way. Starting with a short meditation, the teacher invites us to pin the model’s screen to ours as she guides us through various exercises encouraging everyone to let loose, be playful, and remove any considerations about the result. Simply noticing the experience of moving pencils around paper. Being present. With pencils in our hands. Tactile, simple. I love ‘traditional’ life drawing — observing my own and others’ techniques, choice of materials and styles, perspectives, and general ways of interpreting what we see. Love paying attention to getting proportions and traits right. This class is stripped of all of that. But it’s got a lot going for it anyway, and I still feel that familiar creative buzz that drawing always gives me. Only now, I’m seated at my dining table, loud and varied birdsong sounding through the open windows, good red wine by my side, looking at my computer screen, smiling as sunlight spills deliciously across the drawing paper, reacting to the instructions given: draw with your eyes closed, use your non-dominant hand, look up (ie not at the paper), draw 4 times faster than usual, AND/OR draw when the model is dancing — dance with her! No expectations. We’re all in this together. Remember to breathe. Such a clever, calming, joyful, and expansive experience. It teaches me so much, and I’m so glad that this is a recurring thing (with a new theme every week).
When my class is done, Sanoop gets dinner ready: spicy lentil soup, salad, toasted rye bread. When we’re full, we settle down on the couch with tea and The Economist.
I Danmark Er Jeg Født
On Thursday morning, I head out for a run in glorious weather at 7am. I know I keep writing this every day: it feels like a miracle every day. We have friends across the world, who are cooped up in their homes all the time, literally only leaving it once or twice a week to do essential grocery shopping. We’re allowed and able to roam freely in lush grass. On my way back from the Heath, just as I’m about to enter the narrow passage between Parliament Hill and our street, I see someone approaching in the opposite direction and prepare to hold back, wait my turn until the person has come through. Under normal circumstances, people just squeeze past each other in the passage; in these coronavirus times, it’s one person at a time. But then, two seconds after stepping back and to the side a bit, I realise that the person in question is in fact the only person in the world whom it’s ok for me to touch … Sanoop. On his way out for a morning walk, he’s strolling along peacefully, with a big smile on his sweet face. I give him a big hug, happiness hormones kicking in and rushing through my body. What a nice surprise. Plus, I tend to miss him on my runs, the longest periods of time we’re apart these days. In our almost four years as a couple, this is the most time we’ve ever spent together. The longest we’ve ever stayed in one place. The longest time we’ve gone without one of us or both having to travel somewhere. I sometimes yell at him, snap, misunderstand his words and get angry, feel misunderstood and turn really upset, while he, on the other hand, is just consistently sweet, calm, caring, curious, interested, affectionate, funny, and patient. He makes me want to practice all of those things. When I treat him better, he kindly reminds me, with a big teasing smile, it means treating myself better as well. And the thing about those less ideal moments is that it’s never that he gets on my nerves — it’s always a result of me having been stressed about something else. Which I of course have to deal with some other way than letting it out on him — a run, deep breaths, reflection on the root cause of the problem. Generally, we’re doing great — loving that we get to spend so much time together, dancing, being silly, laughing hard, chilling, pottering around, fiddling with creative projects, talking about everything and nothing, sensing what’s going on with the other, giving each other whichever space is needed, without ever even actively feeling that we really need it — it just comes naturally that we’ll have video calls, do yoga, read or otherwise spend time in each our room, for a little while, before meeting again for a cup of tea or a hug or a laugh. We make each other a lot of tea these days, haha. And pour each other glasses of wine. Buy each other’s favourite healthy snacks at the local health store. Message each other’s families. Ask about each other’s friends. Summarise and share articles we each read more often than ever. Or even read them together. Have ongoing discussions about fears and hopes for the world around us, using each other as soundboards for perspectives and theories. Comfort each other. Remind each other to sit up straight and protect our spines and shoulders when pouring over devices all day long. Swap political podcasts for jazz tunes when needed. Take turns emptying the dishwasher and taking out the trash completely automatically. Internalise and, when called for, compensate for those of each other’s strengths and weaknesses with which we weren’t already familiar.
Every day at noon during this strange time, hundreds of thousands of Danes from across the country and world tune in to sing and play a communal song together apart. Today, the queen’s birthday, was no exception. I’m not a royalist, and I don’t consider myself a nationalist (re: any nation), but singing along to Hans Christian Andersen’s beautiful I Danmark er jeg født makes tears stream down my face. Sanoop is hugging me throughout the experience and asks concerned, do you miss home? I shake my head, say that I am at home, and mean it. I feel nothing but gratitude and joy.
Have you seen the Google Doodles from this past week? It started out celebrating medical workers, and then it went on to food service workers, packaging, shipping, and delivery workers, public transportation workers, grocery workers, farmworkers and farmers, custodial and sanitation workers, and emergency service workers, a tendency that’s set to continue for a while … celebration everyday heroes.
Morning walk to England’s Lane in Belsize Park, marvelling at the gorgeous white mansions on the way, and picking up a delicious oat flat white at Black Truffle when there. Two people are allowed in the cafe at a time; these days it takes at least 20 minutes to pick up a coffee from anywhere, but we’re incredibly grateful and excited when we’re able to do it. The work day speeds by, and ends up with a pub quiz with colleagues in Zurich at 4pm. In the evening, Sanoop and I dress up, I in a pleaded silk rainbow dream of a dress that I wore at two weddings last summer, Sanoop in a blazer with a bright yellow pocket square, to pick up our Friday Night Takeout from our favourite indie Indian restaurant, Paradise. We set the table carefully, light candles, put on some Bollywood tunes … and after dinner, still giving our athleisure uniform a well-deserved break in our smart attire, we curl up on the sofa with big mugs of tea and TED talks on a laptop.
Samin Nosrat (of Netflix Salt Fat Acid Heat fame) has whipped up a podcast, Home Cooking, which I hear her talk about on this week’s episode of the FT’s Culture Call, a funny, delicious, honest chat on resourcefulness, compassion, joyfulness, silliness, and people’s different realities (mainly around food) in this time of constraints, while I go for a run on the Heath on Saturday morning, the first grey-skied morning in ages. Same as last time it happened, it feels rather soothing: the week’s sunshine has stuck to the ground and budding leaves everywhere — the greyness feels like a cosy duvet smelling of spring. I run, and run, and run, feeling so relieved that it’s the weekend, even if the week hasn’t been overly strenuous and even if I’m so, so, so grateful that I have a job that I love. It’s still nice to be able to reset. After the run, I go home to join a friend from Singapore’s live-streamed HIIT and pilates class. An hour of tough exercises, precise cues, perceptive feedback (so impressive she has the capacity to provide that via live stream!), and encouraging vibes. Wrapping up with a soothing body scan and juicy stretches. Her classes — and company! — are some of the things I miss the most about living in Singapore, so this is awesome.
Stone Age bread. The COVID-19 epidemic and lockdowns have resulted and will continue to result in a bunch of different phenomena, ranging from deeply devastating to actually quite wonderful. Towards the positive end of the spectrum, and true for us, is living more mindfully: we’re cooking more, exploring new paths on the Heath, observing Londoners around us slowing down and finding joy in small, essential things. Food is a big comfort. We want to feel well-nourished. Nostalgia is a vital ingredient. On Saturday afternoon, I take a break from reading (more on that below) to bake my mum’s delicious chestnut bread rolls, which I love and miss and have NEVER previously even as much as dreamed of making myself. It turns out to be a rather painfree, deeply satisfying, and even successful experience (Sanoop likes the result, too!):
6 dl lukewarm water, 2 dl psyllium husk, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 1 dl flaxseed, 1 dl sesame seeds, 3 dl hazelnut flour (we used coconut flour), 4-5 dl chestnut flour, and 2 teaspoons sea salt
Stir salt, oil, and psyllium husk into the water and let it sit while measuring the other stuff. Add the seeds. Stir in the flours little by little. Mix thoroughly with a hand mixer using dough hooks. Shape the lightly sticky dough into 8-10 buns. Put them on a tray and into a preheated oven. Bake for 30 mins at 200 degrees Celsius, and then for another 15 minutes at 150 degrees. Cool down — enjoy!
I’ve been a bit hesitant to buy Where the crawdads sing, dismissing it as ‘probably too popular to be any good,’ but something still compelled me to order it, and I end up totally devouring it. Spend most of Saturday reading it in the window seat, staying up until 2am, and getting up again at 6am on Sunday to make myself a cup of black coffee and continue. At 8am, when Sanoop and I tune in to our friend in Amsterdam’s virtual yin yoga class, I still have 10-15 pages to go. At first, it feels quite counterintuitive to be filled with the adrenaline of a murder mystery when I’m supposed to relax in a deep meditative state, but the soothing poses actually manage to suspend thoughts and reactions related to the book throughout the class, which focuses on the lung meridian and breathing through compression and tension. It’s been a grey morning, kind of supportive of the fact that I for the first time in months, maybe years, felt more compelled to read rather than go for a run when I woke up at 5:30am, but during the class, when Sanoop and I are splashed out in bananasanas on the yoga room floor, the sun suddenly breaks through the previously so thick white clouds and makes the day a gorgeous scorcher. After class, I jump up to finish the book, shaking and bawling as I speed through the final few pages, and immediately after, I call or message a bunch of close friends to share the story with them. I’m reminded of one of my most familiar childhood feelings — the flow of complete, elated joy and energy that comes with reading a really, really good book. Delia Owens’ masterpiece contains moments of romance and empathy in a vast expanse of abandonment and isolation (oddly timely), animal instinct, resilience, zoology, Southern cuisine and way of life (some of the many passages I had to read out loud made us reminisce our North Carolina road trip exactly a year ago), thrilling murder mystery and investigation, curious facets of human (and animal) behaviour and psychology, all wrapped in the most well-structured, gorgeous, lyrical prose. The most vivid, immersive nature accounts. I didn’t want it to end, and yet all pages were turned in no time. Shocking twists, life-affirming turns. I’m itching to read other gems I ordered, but at the same time feel sad about having finished this already. It’s the kind of story that stays with you, and that you want everyone to read 🌿
When I’m done, Sanoop and I hop out on the Heath for a long, meandering walk. So many dogs are swimming in the ponds, hopefully aware of how lucky they are … they are allowed to take a refreshing dip in the clear, blue ponds; humans aren’t. Ahh … I’m being silly: when it’s really warm enough (for me) to go swimming, hopefully restrictions will have been lifted again. We’ll see. For now, just being on the Heath and experiencing SPRING here feels like an immense luxury. In the past week or so, it has really sprung, with big chunks of bluebells and yellow clusters of coconut-scented gorse breaking up the various shades of luminous green everywhere. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Grownups are keeping respectful distances to one another, and kids are running around and climbing all of the awesome gigantic trees. Dogs everywhere. We walk up to Highgate to pick up a Sunday roast, nut and mushroom for me, lamb for Sanoop, from the pub, The Red Lion & Sun, and take it home to eat while listening to the most recent episode of the podcast The Political Gabfest, red wine on the table, all windows wide open to let in fresh, fragrant air and all of the cheerful birdsongs.