Year of Grace, Day 57. A walk through Südstadt

There are days that are full of delight for all the senses, and yesterday’s walk through Südstadt was one such. It was the annual Artists’ Open House in this charming historical quarter of Bonn. It was drizzling when I left home with M but by mid-afternoon, the sun – a rather watery one – came out and lightly tipped the trees with heightened colour.

This part of Bonn reminds me so much of Leamington’s Victorian and Georgian architecture, even the interiors – the narrow entryways and stairwells, the carved wooden banisters, soaring ceilings – that with their subdued lighting bestow on everything and everyone there a romantic chiaroscuro effect. There were canvases depicting clouds over the sea, pastels of watery scenes à la Monet but with a different colour palette, mixed media detailing bits of rust on ironmongery, prints and aquarelles of leaves, and collages of handmade paper and dried leaves – all a delicious feast of inspiration for the eye and the soul.

I found the most engaging and charming works were those of the ceramicists. At the first venue, garden snails – a bit larger than those that gorge on my plants and slightly smaller than those that end up on your plate of escargots – playfully featured on vases and statuettes. I was especially taken by the artist’s personal display in small cubicles – a tanuki (Japanese badger); a hina ningyo – a classic Japanese display doll for Girls’ Day, not the modern type with their chubby faces; Indonesian masksnot for sale and not made by the artist him or herself — I assume this eclectic collection feeds the artist’s imagination as they did mine. I hankered after my similar ones in storage in Leamington. Downsizing is a worthwhile and noble concept and I do like the simplicity of minimalism, but oh, sometimes, how I long to have some of my beloved pieces around me…

At the second ceramicists’ venue, again there were whimsical pieces – several reminded me of Mycenean figurines. There were two plates that struck my fancy – a small one with a glaze of blues and greens, as if of an underwater scene of waving algae. The larger one, suitable for serving food — I can envision bits of this and that on it — had a copper oxide glaze of swirling greens. I was assured by the lady potter that it would be safe to put food on it. I fell in love with those two.

Past the weir that runs around one side of the Bonn Botanical Garden, the leaves made lovely patterns in the water, with the pale setting sun behind them. A late lunch or very early supper at Tuscolo downtown, just behind the Münster, capped the day. We were seated in the “train” section – complete with traditional luggage racks, including vintage suitcases (!) and little gas lamps. So quaint!

I had a full view of one part of the open kitchen and one of the cooks — the one with a red beret (it made him look quite French), very relaxed and calmly going about his work with none of the ulcer-causing intensity that many performing cooks seem to take on. He would take a pinch of this or take a step away and take a pinch of that – no fuss made, no wasted effort, and no self-consciousness of being on stage. I took comfort at the sight of his prodigious enbonpoint — attesting to his own perhaps unabashed appetite. I loved seeing the flames fly up as he drizzled wine or other alcohol into whatever it was he was preparing. I do like the informal atmosphere at Tuscolo – the waiters and other staff – all of those you pass as you are led to your seat — greet you “Buona Sera!” in the same manner that staff at a Japanese restaurant would heartily say “Irasshaimase”. And the same when you leave – even the cooks joining in smiling with “Arrivederci!”

A leisurely walk through a gracious and endearing part of Bonn, a cornucopia of aesthetic delights that inspired and pleased my eyes and heart and lifted my spirits, the sun coming out to bless the day, a nice simple meal in convivial surroundings and dear company – for all that have made my day an extraordinary and satisfying one, I am grateful.

Year of Grace, Day 6. Simple food

One of my favourite foods is spaghetti with a seafood sauce, and although Bonn has many fine Italian restaurants, it was not until this year that I finally found love at first bite (sorry, I just couldn’t resist). Tuscolo is more noted for its pizza, but it’s their spaghetti al frutti di mare that I  look forward to and always order. It was so good the first time I had it that for the first time in my life, I surprised myself by finishing it all. And the helpings here are enormous. What I love about Tuscolo is that I can rely on them to make this dish unfailingly satisfying each time. The taste is not always the same, probably because they have different cooks, but it is unwaveringly superb. The seafood is absolutely fresh and the sauce, made from fresh tomatoes, light enough not to overpower the prawns and squid. The squid includes the tentacles as well, so squeamish diners might be put off. But I relish squid, tentacles and all. Just a mere suspicion of rosemary, a few sprigs of rucola, a sprinkling of parsley and garlic, plus the enticing smoky scent of grilled prawns on al dente pasta. Simple and honest perfection. And yet, in all these six years of searching for the definitive seafood pasta in Bonn, it is only recently that I have come across it.

Spaghetti al frutti di mare at Tuscolos, Bonn Zentrum

Spaghetti al frutti di mare at Tuscolo, Bonn Zentrum

It isn’t really that complicated to make, and were I to make it, this is the way that I would want my seafood sauce to taste like, though without the rosemary. It is not an herb that I would have thought of including with seafood, but the one or two almost imperceptible snippets of it do give just the right kind of lift in Tuscolo’s sauce.  I do appreciate being surprised by what seem to me as improbable combinations. It surprises me how such a simple dish as pasta partnered with a good seafood sauce has eluded many Italian restaurants here. I found that most often the tomato or cream sauce they use is a stock sauce that they use for everything, and a stodgy one at that. I am really thankful to have found one perfect pasta dish at last! Long may Tuscolo continue to excel in making one of my favourite dishes.

While I am quite adventurous where food is concerned, what satisfies me most is honest food — made from fresh ingredients, simply prepared, and cheerfully and graciously served. Yesterday, Tuscolo delivered as expected, and the waiter was charming and not at all obsequious, speaking mostly in Italian. “Prego, signora!” he said as soon as he presented the menu. Although Saturday is their busiest day, he never lost his smile or good humour. I am also thankful that I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes, a lady brought my rosé wine and then, even before I’d had two sips, my steaming pasta, cautioning me that the plate was extremely hot. It was most delectable and went very well with the Italian rosé. When the waiter came to take away the plates, I didn’t even have to ask; he seemed to have read my mind: “Espresso, signorina?”(I wonder what made him change from the initial ‘signora.’) It was the perfect meal for a lovely, warm not-quite-autumn day. I thank everyone who’s had a hand in making my wonderful meal: from the fishermen to the farmers and vintners, the olive oil and balsamico producers, bakers (there was wonderfully chewy bread for sopping up the wonderful sauce, greedy me 🙂 ), the cooks, and last but not least, the lady server and my engaging Italian waiter.

I am enormously grateful that a simple, well-prepared meal can bring me such a feeling of well-being and contentment. And I didn’t have to  wash the dishes :-). Thank goodness for that!