…and I wonder how far I could stretch the concept of guerrilla semiotics.
But no, seriously: I’ve spent the evening googling ‘effortless style’, doubtlessly the result of having slept only 3 hours last night, and of being a bit fatigued and under-dressed, in that academic way which unmistakably points out to 15,000-word projects and afternoons of interpretative phenomenology. I’ll be sounding like a broken record, but oh I’ll say it once again: I’m in thesis hell, health purgatory and have had a 12-hour fight with a Trojan on Tuesday. All my clothes are unwashed, I have had an unbroken spell of 3 months without cooking a meal, and bronchitis. I owe a number of reviews, all of very good shows, to a number of very good people, but oh there is the non-theatre side of life too, and it’s taken over.
What I’m about to reveal here, what only a few people have hitherto known (ie, Ian), is that I can run on Heidegger and Peggy Phelan for months, peut-etre, but every so often that lifestyle stops working for me, and then I go on stupid binges (ie, binges of stupid): playing Stardoll dress-ups, or scrolling up and down lookbook, or buying furniture. Also, more auspiciously, cooking or arranging flowers or hand-washing cashmere cardigans – these at least are calming activities. Which brings me to my point: this blog wouldn’t suffer so much neglect if I felt free to post the results of my dress-up games or pictures of my flower arrangements or, godforgive, cake. What if this specialisation was an over-, and a mistake?!
One thing, for example, that I’ve been dying to share with the world in the most unashamedly bloggy way was my fight with my eating habits; they’re niche habits, so stay with me.
You see, despite being almost-Australian, I’ve spent all of my 5 years in this country trying to re-create some kind of Croatian eating routine. Now, we’re not a particularly foodie nation, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as ‘Croatian food routine’ before I left the place. But oh there is!, and it is completely un-Australian. Where here one has a huge breakfast (allegedly; I’ve never seen a breakfast that wasn’t, deep inside, brunch), a sandwich for lunch, and then barely survives until the abundant 6 o’clock dinner, feeling guilty for wanting to snack in between (I know I’m caricaturing, but), in Croatia we eat the whole time. Croatian eating day consists of 5 meals: breakfast, snack, lunch, cake, dinner. The importance and time of each also differs: the eating peaks at lunch, around 1pm, and falls off on both ends. While breakfast can be anything, the 11am snack (which keeps you going until lunch) is usually a sandwich or spanakopita or donut or some such caloric thing. And cake, at 5 or 6pm, with coffee or tea, does half of the dinner’s job, leaving you with only small things to eat at 8pm – bread and cold meats, or soup.
Now, as a person who has never learned to eat breakfast, this worked very well for me, because I had plenty of opportunity to re-fuel, and lunch happened so soon anyway. But in Australia my eating routine immediately collapsed (this due to us Europeans being social eaters, unlike you funny Anglos – without company, I simply skipped all meals) into an unhealthy starving until 6pm, when I had to eat for the whole day, go to bed feeling unwell, and repeat. And imagine my confusion at the idea of having a sandwich (a snack in my books) have to stretch over a whole lunch! And at 12pm too, a time which was neither snack nor lunch, and which I was expected to do alone, in 30 minutes – very different from the big-deal-meal I was used to, with multiple courses and table conversation and plans for the afternoon (people don’t work afternoons in the post-socialist Europe).
Anyway, earlier this year I’ve started having cake again. It just so happened. Around 5ish or 6ish, I’ve been finishing work and getting a biscuit or hedgehog slice or tartlet with tea, to re-fuel on my way to cooking dinner (this was before I went on cooking strike). And I’ve realised that cake is my favourite meal of the day. It makes perfect sense exactly where and how it is: you’ve already digested lunch, you’re a bit hungry and a bit tired, work is over, you need an indulgence, you may be doing all kinds of things in the evening, for which you need energy, but it’s not quite the time for a big meal. Ta-daan: have a hedgehog slice! Life immediately improves by a factor of 10.
So I started making time for the 5pm cake. It will sound terribly melodramatic when I say it changed my life, but, look: multi-tasking perfectionists like me spend not inconsiderable energy identifying habits that improve their well-being, and this was definitely one. My dinners became light and dispensable: I could eat before the theater, or after. I could graze on finger food for dinner, and it no longer mattered. I would wake up hungry, and so I started eating breakfast (or a snack, technically). Even lunches started happening, somehow! After 5 years of misery and undesired weight loss due to starvation, I could live happily again.
The only drawback is that this is all still hellishly difficult to explain to Australians. First, people think it’s immoral to plan to eat cake. Late at night, alone in the kitchen, stealthily, with much guilt, sure. But make a decision to eat cake every day! God forbid. So cake remains a lonely meal. The only equivalent after-work meal that Australians practice is called ‘beer’, but unfortunately there’s no way to reconcile cake and beer, not in Australia where establishments inevitably specialise in only one out of the two. And beer is much healthier (?).
Then, the whole business of eating so many times a day: certainly it’s fattening and unhealthy and spoils appetite. Yes, well, it does! That’s the point! It keeps you sated, but it also timetables what would otherwise be disorderly snacking. In 2006 or so, when I was googling food blogs, trying to figure out how to have lunch in Melbourne, I kept finding forums in which people discussed something called ‘4 o’clock slump‘. In my world, that’s your body telling you to finish work, sit down and have a slice of cake. In the world of Australian foodie blogs, ‘4 o’clock slump’ was a chance to starve your body and then feel frustrated, but virtuous. It was not allowed to happen, and they were not going to feed it. Ah, but if you only have a sandwich for lunch..? What else are you going to feel at 4pm if not hunger?
But the rest has been reasonably OK. Big lunch, small dinner, and what I call a snack is generally nobody’s business. Being borderline underweight, people generally don’t give me shit for eating things they think are unhealthy (butter, bread, whatever). I have even come up with a working day that allows a big lunch, from 1 till 3 o’clock. It gives me an hour less to work, but I would have been slumping for an hour anyway…
I do find it remarkable, though, that something as simple as cake at 6pm can result in so much happiness, structure, and overall wellbeing. By which I mean, I’ve spent years trying to restructure my Australian daily life. It took an accident to realise that this one piece of cake was the key to it all.