Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lose Yourself To Dance

Waaay back in May Random Access Memories by Daft Punk was released and I fell in love with it first time I heard it.

It made me hum, it made me listen, it made me angry.

Everything I ever want from a stimuli; to engage me.

When RAM was just a seven day baby Dean Kotiga wrote a great review on Kultivator covering all the things music geek would ever want to know about this album. I still read a paragraph or two of this awesome article now and then to remind myself of something or just to enjoy concise beauty of it and ginormous discrepancy between simplicity of expression and thousands of hours spent in making all this knowledge accessible and well presented.

Few weeks later I decided to lose myself to dance (i.e. take dancing lessons).

Dance is not something I felt proficient in and it never brought me any joy before taking this course. As I was quite depressed and fully in joy-free mode at that time I reckoned I’ll give this a go as an aerobic activity since exercise is scientifically proven depression treatment. I am aware of dancing being prelude to procreation and its value for social interaction including limbic resonance but I just chose to consider this functions as far second to actual movement in rhythm with the music. I never gave much thought to considering dancing a dyadic social activity and have always thought about it in terms of knowledge and steps - proficiency in narrow meaning of the term. But as it happens this was a gross mistake on my part. This dancing lessons were such a great choice and Martina and Mislav from Jungle dance school are such great teachers because they teach most important thing of all - dancing is NOT just knowledge and steps.

As it could have been expected I had no trouble whatsoever in remembering the steps. Interacting and dyad-ness were completely different story.

Very idea of having to touch another person of male persuasion and to coordinate - let me rephrase that - “to let him coordinate” OUR movements through space in time with the music was so overwhelming for me I spent all my mental fortitude on smiling (as scientifically proven mood and image management) and I must have told a million and ten jokes in that 12 hours of lessons (as I diffuse tension with humor, apparently).

Somewhere in second half of lessons there was a bit of skirmish.

We had to change partners for every dance and I liked some partners less than others. As it happens to me more often than not, extroverted talkative ones I find most… unlikeable.

So we danced. It was cha-cha-cha (my second favorite), 360°turn and Manhattan roll-out figure. While doing that figure you momentarily let go of your partner so lady can do a 360° turn and then both do a sequence of steps and half steps in one direction and then other while taking care to stay close enough and hold and let go hands in sequence so that whole thing is nicely coordinated and social. So we did the cha cha part and then I rotated and he did not (over)reach for my hand and I did not extend it. We just continued with the steps as if we were dancing separately.

After the whole figure (steps only) he said, in a tutoring voice of someone who thinks he has shown me wrongness of my ways:

“You see how this looks if you don’t give me your hand?”

And I said, flat out, surprising myself almost as much as I surprised him:

“Yeah, I do. It looks just like any other dance before now in my entire life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean just that. Looks like I’m dancing alone. Just like I danced alone every time I danced up until now.”

That blank stare of utmost lack of understanding that only the chasm between introvert and extravert can cause. He got angry, turned red and clammed up. I was so shaken up I lied that I feel overheated and I went to the toilet and cried. I cried because I want to learn how to dance and because “to dance” means “to voluntarily let go of my solitude for the duration of the song”. The expression for this predicament in Croatian goes: “Nemreš bit’ jeben i pošten” and in English I “can’t have my cake and eat it too”.

So I dried my tears and went back to class.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mistaken for Strangers

I could never, ever, be mistaken for The National fan.

It's not that I don't like their music or that I find their congregation funny, it is just that they don't do anything for me, they do not move me.

Or at least they didn't until last Thursday.
On Thursday (19Sep2013) evening I went with some friends to opening screening of Mistaken for Strangers in Kaptol Centar Zagreb. Movie hall was nicely filled and had an unseemly event, like bombing or fire, happened, Zagreb would have lost almost all of indie-hipster opinion makers. We waved and greeted people around us entering the hall and I smirked a bit and said we should do a muster call to see if anyone's playing hooky. When I sat down a friend leaned down to me and asked:

"Why is hipster sad?"

"Dunno. Why?"

"'cause he heard his band on the radio."

And as we laughed the room got dark and the movie started.

Original movie poster

Right from the start I felt that I'm right where I should be. I may not be The National fan but I'm person enamored with music related documentaries and well made films built on disarming psychological premises and this film is clearly both of those things and displays all its glory right from the very first scene.

 "Don't you have any kind of system or organization for the things you'd like to ask?" 
[Matt to Tom in one of the scenes from his dissorganized interviews]

 The axis of this movie, principal structure around which everything here revolves is Tom Berninger, the guy that spent a year on tour with his brother's band (as movie tagline deftly spells). Tom Berninger is pudgy, naive, seemingly easygoing yet troubled and at the same time extremely gifted individual. Incidentally, he is also the younger brother of Matt Berninger, The National frontman.

By the course of either fine dramatization or simple truth of events Tom Berninger goes on tour as a roadie with The National as a pity or support gesture from his brother - depending on how you look at it. Motivation behind Matt's act remains his own throughout the movie, but this does not diminish the grandeur and beauty this course of events brings.

"I had no idea you were never in Europe!"
[Matt to Tom while flying from USA to Europe]

Movie tells a tiny bit of story about Matt Berninger and The National, about how frustrating and humble their beginnings were and how big they have grown from then to now and this leaves me quite unimpressed as it also left Tom. 

I was never that kind of fan who makes subject of her adoration into an object. I never forget that there are personal lives behind that people up there on stage and I see their crumpled up clothes and bags under their eyes when they are on the road. I notice that overrehearsed boredom and meet with respect both the surprise with unexpected well reception from the audience and watery glazing over of the eyes looking somewhere deep inside his own head where someone close is talking to him from afar.  So in this respect my experience is akin to Tom's. We both see the musicians for ordinary humans and we're too close to the topic to be impressed. But in everything else, hearing Matt talk is just like hearing my own inner voice; civilised yet annoyed and short-fused, focused on the task at hand and intent on having no idling in between two successes. And what makes us most annoyed of all is not being able to transfer that skill (modus operandi, really) to ones we feel closest to us, to ones we believe would benefit the most of it.

So Tom's trouble and lack of focus moves me on a personal level like daily life does - but this feeling comes out of a sequence of scenes and motifs that Tom had put together, while making his movie.

It is a wonderous paradox.

Beauty of seeing someone understand for the very first time. Magnificence of growth.

Tom: “It’s like they think the only reason I’m here is because I’m your brother!” 
Matt: “The only reason you’re here is that you are my brother.”

There is a slew of scenes depicting Tom as a quitter, failure, misfit, inadequate and a great bunch of people that love him and believe that there is value and ability behind his facade of leisureness. It slowly dawns on us, the viewers, that the only thing he truly lacks is not the talent or ability or persistence - it is confidence. But confidence stems from success and feeling of self-worth from feedback of being good at something. 

Like being good in making a movie and people liking that movie you made.

I may not be The National fan but I'm sure as hell Matt's fan after seing this film. Because the greatest gift one can give to another is an opportunity to be a success.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Walnut-Cinnamon Buns

I'm just sickly methodical person. Let me illustrate:

Since my daughter is in third grade this year and there is no afternoon programme in school few weeks ago I started to prepare for cooking in the morning, before work, to leave her with freshly cooked lunch. Last year she had lunch in school so I only cooked dinner after I got home and I didn't worry much about what kind of food I cook in terms of practicality and re-heating because I was there to help her with serving and it was freshly cooked but now I have to leave her with a lunch that would look and taste well in four hours time and one that she can easily serve and eat without assistance.*

Yesterday she told me a little story.

She likes to have mid-morning snack and I usually make her a small sandwich to take to school. Yesterday T (my daughter) said that her friend also had sandwich during break and that she asked her, while they were munching on their sandwiches, what will she be having as her "nice lunch".

Friend responded that she will have another sandwich.

"What do you mean, "another sandwich"?! I asked." T told in her story:"My mum left a nice lunch for me to have when I return from school, before doing my homework." 

I have no idea where she got this "nice lunch" expression as it certainly wasn't from me but it felt like a ginormous compliment. Especially after just one week of me cooking her school lunches "for realzies".

It felt so great a compliment I decided to bake a fun cake for breakfast and snacks. It took just a few moments to come up with this adjustment of Chelsea Buns recipe I found in The Ultimate Book of Diabetic Cooking (bought this for ideas for entertaining friends and family members with diabetes).

Walnut-Cinnamon Buns

300 grams flour (150 g graham + 150 g plain)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dried (instant) yeast
180 ml warm milk
30 g butter 
1 egg

Measure and assemble all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Warm up milk with butter so it is hand-hot and butter nearly melts.  Pour milk and butter into dry ingredients and stir it with a fork, check the temperature and mix in the egg and then turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it for 10 or so minutes until it forms soft, elastic dough that doesn't stick to surface or your fingers. You can flour surface or your hands additionally but bear in mind that the dough should stay quite soft and that graham flour will use more moisture from the dough than regular flour would while rising.

When you're done kneading roll the dough on lightly floured surface to about 1 cm thickness.

2 tbsp olive oil
3 -5 tbsp ground walnuts
2 tbsp sugar (or mixture 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon

Brush dough with olive oil, sprinkle ground walnuts, sugar and cinamon over, leaving 2 cm empty border on one edge. Starting with covered edge, roll the dough to finish at empty edge. Cut the roll into 12 slices and arrange them in lightly oiled tin, cut side up. Leave in a warm spot to rise for an hour, until almost doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 200°C (without fan) or 180°C if you plan to use oven fan and put the tin in  when fully heated. Bake for  approx 15 minutes, until fragrant and golden all over.

Turn off the heat and take out the tin. Pour 1 dcl milk over the rolls using spoon so everything is covered and cover the tin with aluminum foil (or another tin, if you have it, to keep the steam inside) for 15 minutes.

Enjoy your hot walnut-cinnamon bun or leave it to cool so it is only warm. Baked like this rolls can stay out of fridge for a day, no more, or you can keep them in a closed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Warm up cold/refrigerated buns before eating them, to at least room temperature.

*And I think I'm doing a great job after a few weeks practice if you don't mind me saying so! You can check my progress on twitter (my handle is @derzafanistori) as I usually tweet my lunch idea for the day. And all this without being late for work! :D