This week has been full of departures and closures. It was my last week as a research fellow at the Museum für Islamische Kunst, where I’ve been stationed for nine months. Next week I’ll be leaving Germany to return to the USA. I’ve been slowly saying goodbye to the people who became my friends in Berlin, and my last day at the museum was Thursday. This whole process was more difficult than I expected when I showed up in October. At that point, I was worried that I would be living a life of social isolation for nine months as a foreign researcher at an institution to which I don’t belong, and I thought that leaving would be a breeze. Things turned out differently though, and I’m glad for it.
I made true friends in Berlin and developed a life here. Still, the past twelve months have felt like an extended work-related trip – a situation that I came to enjoy but knew wasn’t permanent. I was living in someone else’s apartment and in someone else’s city. A large portion of this time has been spent alone, and I got used to coming home, cooking dinner for one, listening to the radio or watching something on netflix, learning to savor the time away from the objects of my research. I wrote about this back in September when I was first getting into it.
I don’t think I’ll miss the life of solitary dissertation research, but the experience was an important one to have. Part of living solo was test-driving a method for dealing with this new sort of work that I’m doing: learning how to confine the very abstract and free-form world of the dissertation to certain times and places- not letting it take over my personality completely. I’m still learning, but I feel better prepared to return to a life where I will no longer be living alone, and will need to be both a productive doctoral candidate and a social human being.
And so when Thursday night came around and I realized that was also my last weeknight on this long version of a research trip that I somehow managed to pull off, the feeling was bitter-sweet. I don’t know when I’ll be on another extended trip like this, and I don’t necessarily want to be, but I know the experience has served as a sort of seasoning- something that enriched and added an important dimension to my twenties.
On Thursday I decided to do my usual routine one last time. After I got home, I changed into comfortable clothing and put on one of the archived episodes This American Life. I listened to the episode while I was making dinner – I decided on Spaghetti Bolognese because it’s simple and oh so satisfying, and makes leftovers (an important element of cooking for one). I stuck to the recipe that I have been using a lot lately- it’s loosely adapted from Jamie Oliver:
Finely dice a small yellow onion, a stalk of celery and a 2 large carrots. Sauté these in a cast-iron skillet with a couple of spoons of olive oil until the onions turn translucent. Then take 1 pound of ground beef and add this to the mix, turning the heat down and stirring occasionally. When browned, add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and a red chili. Then add a tin of whole San Marzano tomatoes, and use a potato masher to break them up, adding a healthy bit of salt and black pepper.
When the mixture is bubbling, put it into a hot oven (about 350 F) and let it bake for about 40 minutes, until the top of the beef is golden brown and the sauce is a deep red. Meanwhile, boil water for pasta. Use an assortment of shapes that had lots of wrinkled edges so that the sauce would stick. Make a quick salad with romaine lettuce leaves and a vinaigrette. Strain the pasta, add the sauce and grate parmesan cheese over the whole deal.