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A [Christmas] Dinner for Semra and Azra

Stef Hulskamp

 

There are now six plus three champagne glasses in my little house. Two decanters [also vases but I think they look good as decanters], six green glass plates, five round glass flat-bottomed straight-sided bowls and five or six damn good-looking spoons that weren’t all there yet before last week. Green glass is the best.

Even though it’s all second-hand, I still spend a damn fortune on tableware, forgetting – I haven’t even got a table! Or chairs and stuff for that matter. I own two of these Barcelona chairs but only one’s at mine and the other one is – well, it doesn’t matter where the other one is. I’ve always kind of disliked tables in interiors. ’Cept if your house is very big but that’s never been the case for me, so no table. Just one all-glass side table in the kitchen and one in the living room that has a huge floor lamp or a big vase on top. But nothing for eating and sure as hell nothing to accommodate this number of people.

I’m doing a Christmas Eve dinner.

At first it was six. And I toyed with the idea of leaving one place open – you know, for all the guys that died from cancer and everything, my dead dad and others who didn’t make it. But this is corny and oh, I drunkenly but happily invited three more people and there simply isn’t any room for my ghosts.

It’s a fine line between camp and style. I decide I want some type of Christmas decoration but not a goddamn tree or some shit. So, maybe this: I take a piece of string – this generic post-office brown string – and I tie it to the little hook in the ceiling, threading the string through the baubles until it reaches the non-existent table.

I spend quite a long time in a thrift store looking for baubles going through heaps and heaps of a different generation of dead people’s Christmas decorations. It’s crazy how much of the thrift store is dedicated to Christmas stuff.

Hey, those are nice, some lady tells me. She looks about as old as most of the baubles in my basket.

  Yes.       They really are nice, no?  The key, I think, ma’am, is no plastic – you’ve got to look for

the ones made of glass.

Oh yes, glass – she says – I like

glass.

I like glass too.

 

I’ve picked about thirty different baubles and they’re all glass. Beige white creamy or silvery colours. Neutral neutral, neutral is good. They’ll look good when light hits them. I think, I hope. I only get one with colour. A sort of big oily greenish one. She points at it with her wrinkly finger. Pretty.

I can tell she wants me to offer it to her. I resist.

The big oily green one is for the end of the string as sort of a stylish detail to make it not boring.

See, a string of glass baubles hanging from the ceiling – it’s not a subtle thing. Even the word is not subtle and a bit strange to type, b a u b l e s.  Anyway – I can’t resist adding the one that is big and dark oily green to the fill-this-tray-for-five-bucks tray. Miraculously, the baubles all survive the plastic-shopping-bag hour-long walk home and I only break two at home when tying them up.

Ah, I’m getting so carried away with this Christmas dinner stuff. It’s good it’s good. I could fill days with this stuff [and I do, ha ha ha] – it’s beyond me that people get bored without doing paid labour. The only thing that frustrates me and makes me a little jumpy is that the people I invited are art people and the dinner has to be, of course, vegan. Well, that’s not the only thing that makes me jumpy, but it makes me terribly insecure either way. I don’t like murdering sentient beings either but no big amounts of butter to fry things in rattles my cooking confidence BUT ZUCCHINI SOUP IS A GOOD VEGAN STARTER, it’s easy to make and looks fucking good in those glass bowls I got.

Man, the older I get I – I used to feel like I kind of –

You know, like, I had to work twice as hard to figure stuff out –

I’m ex-young now and I spent my youth in those blurry dumb memories no one remembers – I don’t either really. It’s all OK – I forgot it all. I just want a nice dinner.

It’s hard for me to explain this stuff. I like reading and writing but don’t necessarily – there was never a kid wanting to be anything, ha. There just wasn’t the money and time and I don’t know much about anything. Sometimes I wish I knew earlier you could do photography and writing and all. I no shit used to think art school was just for painting.

I like colours and I like smelling vegetables and figuring out if two three four things’d go well together. Anyway, this zucchini soup is damn good I’ll tell you; you take red onions garlic ginger and a bit of dried chili – fry it a little in a lot of butter [or olive oil actually for this vegan thing] then you chop a fennel and add all of it, take two handfuls of sprouts and throw those in, half a kohlrabi and a couple of zucchinis. Low fire with lid on – steam and add a shot glass of water now and then until it’s all vibrant alive green when it’s time to put it in a blender. Most people in this country always boil vegetables until they are grey green but that’s no good – especially for soups. Oh, broth too, of course.            In a separate small pan you fry pumpkin seeds until they’re dark brown.

When it’s done you put and grate [a lot of] orange peel over it and add some mint leaves.

Yum

 

I walk into some vintage clothing store to say hi to the lady who runs it. As we’re talking, I see this old silk scarf with a dark blue and dark green flower print. It’s very elegant and I’m thinking of tying it to the top of the bauble string thing. I imagine a scene where some girl at the dinner says oh such a nice silk scarf hanging from that string of baubles and I can give it away. See, with all the baubles a pretty neutral whitish colour the scarf would stand out. Or maybe it doesn’t work but that’s OK I can just give it as a gift the normal way like the store lady now decides to gift it to me. Nice, no?

I get a call back from this place where I used to work – I can borrow their beer table and two benches as long as I’ll get them back by New Year’s Eve.

I call up W, who’s helping me cook – we’ll take a shopping cart. It’ll work man, it’ll work. Happy days.

Risotto for main, in prosecco and maybe green asparagus I think. Fuck, how do these people live without cheese but OK, OK. It’ll look good on those big dark green glass plates. I can already picture it. I like green glass I discovered. I like it a lot. Moving into the apartment I live in now, I got a little green glass cup for my toothbrush that sits on a shelf in front of my ridiculously huge bathroom mirror. It’s one of the first things I got for the house. Next to it is a tiny picture frame with a passport-size photo of my ridiculously handsome dad wearing Italian sunglasses in sunny Italy. Maybe I could invite just one ghost still. Maybe I’d want the ghost seat at the table to be him. But I would never have the balls to say this in front of others.

For dessert I will pan-fry walnuts and almonds, after a while add A LOT of sweet pear to the pan – they shrink anyway and it’ll all taste so good that by the time you’re eating it you wish there’d be more – so a lot of pear. When this is so soft you can smell it and the pan’s so hot you feel it on your face you pour in half a bottle of stout or, if you have money, some brandy/calvados. When this is done you grate dark chocolate over it.                   Oah.

 

It's best to serve on top of little pancakes with mascarpone or ricotta but that’s not possible with the vegans. Anyway, it’s fucking good in itself too.

 

Ha ha, I notice I’m getting a bit worried about not having space or tableware or tables or chairs. You need real things for a dinner – not just a romantic imagination. Fuck, also pans. Ten people. I need big pans. Oliver Twisty hungry soup kitchen pans.

Also, I’ve barely got money, so it’s all thrift-store dependency here. You can make up for it if you’re dedicated. I go to two or three thrift stores every week. Sometimes I find great things, you know; I found these three great champagne glasses. I initially thought I’d do a Christmas dinner for me and one person, maybe two, but now that it’s nine I realise those three glasses don’t make sense – vegan or not, all these people drink wine. So I thought, tiny glass cups always work. And those ‘make sense’ together even if they are slightly different.

Last month I heard I won’t ever be able to have children.

Actually, typing this I’m happy all the guests are non-animal-murdering people because serving ten with rabbit or duck would be murder on my non-existent wallet.

Yesterday’s beer table operation was a success. Me and this guy took a shopping cart and managed to load the table and two foldable benches on top of it and push the cart all the way to my house. Jesus Christ, some effort. But nice effort, exciting effort.

I decide the decanters don’t look good. I laid out the table to try and it all looks cosy – I was trying to go for sleek. Ah – with everything – photography, interior, writing, romance – I always have this picture in my head, of the type of guy I am and all. I very intentionally do things and set out to buy and arrange things according to my ‘taste’ and they all end up painfully recognizable as me, but not the type of me I was going for!

Oh my oh my – never try!

Still I refuse to give in to cosy, interior arrangement isn’t necessarily a matter of artificially crafted identity. You can have a bunch of yous. You gotta experiment a little. Well, you gotta nothing but it sure as hell is an interesting pastime and this table business happily took up all of yesterday.

Today Lois calls me, I get as annoyed as she does when apparently so many people think you say her name as Loyce, [which I’ve never heard anyone be called in my damn short life] instead of Low-iss, like Lois.

Apart from Christmas stuff I’m on the lookout here for a tennis racket, which I find. It’s four bucks and the thing looks good but what the shit do I know about tennis and maybe there’s differences in rackets. Anyway, Lois knows little of tennis, she says on the phone, and can’t help me with that. Short small talk and I say how carried away I’m getting with this Christmas Dinner [might as well capitalise by now]. I tell her about the beer tables and being nervous about having that many people over. She asks if I’m the one throwing the dinner. Her sort of surprised tone makes me suspect I didn’t invite her. I could’ve sworn I invited her so I say hey I could’ve sworn I invited you but she says no.

So of course I invite her and I’d love for her to be there too but now I’m getting not a little but really nervous at the prospect of eleven people. I really live small. And trying out this table setup, I realise nine, let alone ten will be quite cramped – quite, ha ha fuck, cosy.

Chances are I’ll die young – not some art hippie live-fast type bullshit here, chances are I’ll die young for the same reason I can’t have kids. Yeah – it’s a real bitch.

I’d like to give everyone some kind of gift, too. Gifts are good. I buy a lot of gifts randomly for people. Recently I bought a girl a red water tap. Bright red. It was in a thrift store in Germany. You’d never expect to find nice things in Germany but nonetheless, a matt bright red thick metal tap. This lady I know and her boyfriend became miraculously well-off overnight. They lived together in a student room when one day the guy heard he’d inherited big bucks thru some distant relative. Would sound like a scam to me but they immediately bought a house and renovated the thing beautifully. See? These things fucking happen. I helped install the roof with her dad and boyfriend and a while later I went there for dinner and I gave her this pretty tap. But that’s a thing I stumbled upon which made me think of that person. It’s hard to buy gifts for a specific thing. I know only two people at the dinner really well. I could get them things, but that’d only emphasise me not really knowing the others [or hint at attachment issues, ha ha]

SO I SETTLE ON THOSE TWO-EURO SCRATCH CARDS FOR EVERYBODY.

Two Christmases ago I spent it with my army buddy Tom.

 

I prepare the zucchini soup and loudly play ‘Chi il bel Sogno di Doretta’ by Fleming and goddamn it, if I don’t start getting a tear or two three four in these eyes of mine.          Oah, Lois texted me asking if I already had a menu, so I told her the general idea – lately I’ve brought up this dinner to almost everyone I’ve talked to.

Most people suggested I’d do a bring-your-own-food type thing but eh. I want to throw a dinner. [And not end up with 2 kilos of hummus.] Anyway, fuck, so I told her the food plan sort of vaguely, saying I’d like to do a cocktail too actually, you know something colourful but I don’t know the first thing about cocktails and am more of a straight gin guy. But she isn’t! – a straight gin gal. And she suggests we make espresso marti- oh no, Sgroppinos – those are fucking delicious. Maybe another ghost I’d invite is this guy I killed with my thoughts when we shared a hospital room. I’m sorry man, I had to, I had no choice really no choice and it was so long ago I was a kid then.

 

Ah, I think, we can maybe add a drop of food colouring to it, to the cocktail. Maybe green. Or yellow. Yeah, yellow. It’s OK for dessert, I think. It’s nice. She’s nice. Everything’s nice.

 

OK, I bought vodka for the Sgroppino, decent prosecco for a toast and yesterday I got two extra tiny cups to use as wine cups because there’s always one or two that break – Jesus, not sure how to pay the rent. Sometimes it sucks being an ex-cancer patient you know. I barely work at my minimum wage job so to the outside it seems like I’m lazy or some shit, but I just can’t. I’m just so tired I don’t remember anything – I forgot it all yet I’ll always remember.

Maybe dying confronts you with what’s important in life and being lower-class confronts you with knowing none of that stuff will ever happen. Anyway, I’m not going to cancel my goddamn Christmas Dinner [in sickness and poverty it is always all or nothing].

So what if I survived? I don’t remember.

 

No kids – first time I can remember I cried in public. How about that? Dying, homeless, losing my fiancée, no tears; but no kids, tears.

But today I am repressed, I think, and don’t really feel much about it. I can just type it here meaninglessly.

I bought the scratch cards. I’m laughing already. Also got sparklers. I like sparklers. I think the scratch cards will be funny as hell to everyone.



I ran into an ex-army buddy last night after getting the scratch cards and sparklers. I’d heard his laugh around the corner and I smiled. Guy was sitting at a bar next to my house. I yell his name and our eyes glitter. I think he was on drugs or in any case very drunk. I remember his laugh so well. He urges me to sit down for drinks but I tell him I can’t drink so much anymore. I remember mine too, my laugh – I can’t think of anywhere else I’d laughed so much as in the army. This guy on our fire team would imitate the sgt. major’s voice and I’d just be laughing. Couldn’t stop. [Ha ha ha, I hear it in my head now, writing this; wellll mennnnnnnn – it is vital you keep your weap-uhn and eeeek-quipment in propppper connndition.] Rolling on the floor of the tent, it was all so inexplicably hilarious sometimes – some other dude would crack the same corny joke we’d heard a million times and it’d be equally belly-ache funny as the first time you heard it. Except dying from the illness maybe, that was pretty funny too, sometimes. Ah, I’m looking forward to the Christmas Dinner. This guy W who’s helping me cook [no, W isn’t short for a stupid name like Walther, ha ha ha] is a bit in love with – well no, I think really in love with this woman he’s been seeing for a few weeks. Last month when I won some prize they were out on a date and he brought her to shake my hand which was very sweet of them and I froze and nodded and said thank you thank you. Me and W had already planned this dinner and he kept going on and on and on about her, this lady – I tell him to fucking invite her to the Christmas Dinner or something. And then not or something but just invite her to the Christmas Dinner. I know the guy won’t do it so I find her contact and say hi it was nice to meet you those two minutes – come to Christmas Dinner why don’t you and she says yes I would love to. Fucking cool. I’m excited to see them laugh. I’m excited to see them happy.

 

It’s my first real place, this apartment, cancer ruined me financially and I was so tired all the time after I worked but not tired enough and shitty prison-like shared housing was all there was. Now I’ve got this fucking apartment and I’m hosting a dinner, woah.

 

I bought these three Ikea Glass Cube lamps from the 90’s. They look good. This American girl told me hey this apartment looks exactly like your dad’s. She knew my handsome dead dad from photographs.

Fuck did I feel found out. For a window cleaner and us being poor my dad sure had amazing taste, I see now, looking back at photographs. He liked this stuff too and I never knew. This makes me smile. I bought a vintage Philips lamp too and it’s got the same shine as those silver earrings my ex-fiancée wore, whom I lost because I just couldn’t talk about it. They used to jingle so much when she was laughing while we spent hours in a messy kitchen.

These tiny cups look great. I really prefer tiny glasses over wineglasses. I asked at the café yesterday if I could borrow ten napkins for this dinner I’m organizing and then I can fold them the way I learned at the café. My boss said he was doing the same. We both smiled.

Shit shit this reminds me I need cutlery too! Mine is really nice but I only have two of each. For the sake of saving money I’ll ask W to bring his.

 

Besides, I don’t want all this stuff in the house after the dinner. I get jumpy from overfilled cupboards and drawers and things. You see this in houses, you open a drawer and see fifty cups or twenty-nine forks. All different. As if there’s two dozen people coming for dinner, what the hell. A vase or serving thing bought for a dinner you can easily gift to someone. But cutlery’s weird as a gift. I’d be weirded out if someone gave me cutlery.

I lost most of my friends during my illness, or after, really.

 

It was too hard or something, for me, I can’t remember. I don’t know why I was so ashamed to face anyone. Like I’d cheated them by not dying. Life lost its innocence, I think. I wrote a goodbye and consolation letter to this girl. I remember trying really hard to write in straight lines across the thick expensive pretty creamy paper. I wrote it up all semi-heroic and tragic. And I was so in love and I knew it and I knew I would die and if nobody saw me again we’d all forever have laughing memories. I remember feeling so adult, but I realise I was just a boy. Boy or not, I really loved her. And then you don’t die and everyone’s got lives and you are – I don’t know, how the fuck do you come back. But this is another life and in this one there are nice dinners, I decided.

I used to get lots of shame around the holidays, I became a bit fidgety – I didn’t want anyone doing the whatyoudoingfortheholidays small talk. I remember during army time, Tom and me cleaning our rifles – handing them in, getting two new rifles, repeating the cleaning but with less interest and attention because the rifles weren’t ours. And my buddy Tom said, man, didn’t you and your girlfriend split up? I let him know he was correct by jokingly trying to sound military and said that’s A-ffirm! My buddy Tom then said he thought I also didn’t really have any family, which is A-firm, too. So, what the shit do you do on Christmas? the guy said, and I replied, by getting tipsy on white wine and maybe a little gin and watching the Hugh Grant-starring masterpiece Love Actually. But I didn’t end up doing this. I ended up spending Christmas getting drunk with my army buddy whom I realized I’d barely ever seen or talked to in civilian clothes before.

And it was just me and him. And we went to a bar he knew and had one scotch. And then we watched a very bad but enjoyable Western movie with some wine. And then we cooked a good meal, I don’t remember but it was something good and Christmassy like lamb and we spent two hours making and eating it. Then Tom let me listen to some songs and we got very tipsy and at night when we were really very drunk he said to me, you know this thing called foie gras? I have foie gras. We could eat it. And we did.



Tom took away some shame I think. Or guilt. Which is very nice. When I rotated back to the world I just wanted, well, I didn’t want a whole lot anymore. Last year I could just truthfully say, oh I spent Christmas with my army buddy Tom, and I remember some girl said that sounds nice and I said yes. This year I can’t shut up about it. About this dinner thing.

OK, so final menu done – I can’t be bothered typing it all out but it’s good, it’s a menu that makes sense. I picture W and me sweating and buzzing in my tiny kitchen, ha ha. Anyway, it’s time to think about serving. What things to serve from. Glass glass of course glass. It’s been my new thing this year. I always like it if you can see things thru the tray. But not with bowls. For bowls I like stone. Eh, it’s hard to explain – maybe what I mean when I say trays are actually called bowls, but not in this old mind of mine. I mean thick glass trays round or square. It has to be a straight line to the bottom. Like a straight U-shaped ninety-degree angle. It’s just, you know – better.

But no coloured glass for this type of stuff.

I like seeing the food thru the side. Same with drinks. No colours. Plates are different – you eat from the plate, so your eyes are already looking at the food from above – plus with a plate there are no sides. It’s tricky business, colours. A lot of things can look good on their own, like a yellow glass bowl or painted porcelain but then combined with other coloured things there’s no focus and it negates the prettiness of the individual things. You risk things looking a bit childish or theatrical. Ah! – distracting.

This stuff matters as much to me as anything. I’m serious about it. Or I am, but I’m not. I mean, you’ve gotta do something right? I smile like hell picturing how things will look. I get all warm inside seeing someone’s eyes light up saying oh what a nice spoon or chair or vase or lamp and sometimes I can say here have it or just agree and we can be happy we agree that it’s good.

This one time – there was this horse during army manoeuvres. Me and the guys were eating our lunch and this truck stops behind Tom and Ali, it has some weird huge claw on it that stretches out and it just grabs this horse. It lifts it in the air and drops it in the open-topped truck. Like those fairground crane machines. The horse looked so pretty and peaceful. It didn’t look dead at all.

 

I really wanted kids. I’d fantasised about this for years. Always two girls. Semra and Azra. It’s all fantasy. And I mean, nothing happened to me.

I survived. My dangers aren’t there anymore.

All the same – it feels a bit stupid to write it down – it hurt me.

I get a tablecloth from the fashion brand I used to work at. It is so pretty. It is an antique linen. It still has the initials on it of some family from two hundred years ago that had this thing too, imagine!

 

It’s my final trip to a thrift store.

In my dumb hands, a pretty silver serving tray.

It’s enough. Now just groceries tomorrow. That’s it.



I think of my dad. It’s so long ago really. The guy died when I was sixteen. Sometime soon, no, already, I know life better without parents than with. I can write it down all sentimental and say I miss him, but really what the fuck do I know.

Probably if I could’ve had children I’d die on them. This would be shitty for them. So maybe it’s good I can’t. These two daughters in my imagination, Sem and Az, I wouldn’t want them to go thru puberty without some fucking guidance, ha. So maybe it’s good. Still.

 

Whatever,

God I’ve turned into such a sentimental old boy. Ha ha.

Bah, what a fucking undertaking this has been [in a good way].

I mean, there’s really nothing like elaborately organising your first Christmas Dinner for a bunch of people to give your life some meaning and unexpected fucking symbolism, Jesus Christ I sure am am am looking forward. And still I toy with whispering, all the best, girls, from your dad.

Should I type it? Yes, why not.

Merry Christmas ha ha fuck bla bla bla


 

Stef Hulskamp makes photo series, sometimes with text, sometimes without photos.

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Stef Hulskamp maakt fotoseries, soms met tekst soms zonder foto's.

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