November blues (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 21.11.2013)
The female Russian, who knows a little bit of English and a great deal about disdain, explains the problem. ‘He thinks it’s cold,’ she says scornfully.
‘Well,’ I venture, ‘it is quite cold. This isn’t a very nice time of year, unless you like falling temperatures and growing darkness. And our house isn’t that great, with its draughty windows and its cranky gas heating that didn’t work even when it was installed in 1991…’
‘You should be in Moscow!’ She looks at me in the way a heavyweight world champion would look at a puny bantamweight. Then she turns to the whimpering Sergei and raps out something that’s clearly Russian for ‘Toughen up, wimp’.
You should be in Moscow doesn’t seem the most cheering way to encourage oneself through the challenging month of November. But I try it out as I schlep to the supermarket, sleet lashing my face, my damp gloves turning to ice. ‘You should be in Moscow!’ No, it doesn’t help.
If November were a human being, it would be that unsavoury old uncle who comes to stay uninvited, leaves damp towels on the bed, sleeps until midday, wanders around in a bathrobe that hangs open in an unseemly way, drinks all the whisky – and shows no sign of ever leaving.
At this time of year Scandinavians become increasingly silent and pale, appear in public less and less frequently, and finally disappear altogether, to spend the next six months on a diet of Vitamin D and vodka. Those hailing from a little further south don’t become invisible; they just become grumpy.
The one remedy I know for November blue is strong red wine. It’s a cure I can’t recommend to the crying Sergei, however, because he’s only eight years old. In search of vino rosso, my friend and I trudge through rain to the local Italian restaurant: usually the friendliest place in Berlin. Tonight there’s a conspicuous lack of bonhomie. My favourite waiter has the flu, and his wife’s had pleurisy – something I’ve only ever read about in nineteenth-century novels. Food is served at 22.45; fifteen minutes later they’re trying to seize plates off tables. ‘New closing hours!’ they snap. ‘Eat faster!’
The regulars are shocked. They abandon their half-eaten formaggio and reach for their coats, lower lips trembling like an eight-year-old Russian’s. ‘You should be in Moscow!’ I exclaim. No, it still doesn’t help.
The only cheerful person around is a Ukrainian friend, who looks surprisingly healthy for this time of year. ‘I have a miracle cure!’ he enthuses. ‘For November?’ I ask hopefully. ‘For everything!’ he says, narrating his remedy like a Christmas-cake recipe:
1. Take one tablespoon of sunflower oil.
2. Swish it in your mouth for fifteen minutes.
3. Spit it out.
5. Feel better immediately.
It’s true, I do feel better afterwards – but only because the relief of expelling a mouthful of 15-minute-warm oil from my mouth is simply enormous.
The best mantra for this time of year has nothing to do with Moscow. It’s the old saying ‘Time heals all wounds’. The only real cure for November, of course, is December.