Friday, August 06, 2004

vegemite cold turkey.

it's empty.

my 455g jar of vegemite, smuggled to germany by reinhard a year ago, is empty. empty as in, well: completely empty. you can see the sun shine through. it's scratched out and empty. it still smells tempting, but i fear that it won't provide any more breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack delights anymore.

i'm on vegemite cold turkey.
how am i supposed to survive this?

in 1995 i got my scholarship to go to new zealand. it was then that i first heard about vegemite.
a schoolmate of mine had won the scholarship the year before and had returned from australia 16 kg heavier, thanks to timtams, xxxx, minties, caramello koalas, hokey pokey ice cream and buttered toasts with vegemite.
with my letter of acceptance into the programme and the notice that i would host a girl called mary from christchurch, i also received the yearbook that the previous years' scholarship students had written.
the yearbook, teamed with stories told by my schoolmate where enough for me to develop an immediate crush on a bloke i had never met: timm. he had a perfect way with words, he wrote in the most perfect personal, mad, insanely funny way. he'd be an exceptional blogger. these days, however, he's a real journalist instead (or so google tells me). lucky, talented him.

he wrote in a cool way about his experiences in australia, about everything from aussie music, outback adventures and the all women household he stayed at.

and he wrote about encountering vegemite for the first time.
he was disgusted by its strong smell on that first encounter, he wrote. a few days later a female schoolfriend (and i am sure she had a crush on him, just like i did) told him the following:

"having vegemite for the first time is like having sex for the first time: you don't really like it. you wonder why everyone is making such a fuss about it. but then you try it again, and like it a little more. and you try it again and again and again, and after a short little while, you don't want to miss it anymore."

wise words. not because i think first time sex necessarily has to suck (mine didn't, thanks frank), but both vegemite and sex are things that definitely get better with practice.

with vegemite you need to find out how you like it, on what kind of toast, what kind of bread, with butter, marge or pure. - just like you need to learn through masturbation and making out and trying out how you like your sex best.
ideally, with both vegemite and sex, after lots of practise you realise that you like it no matter what, no matter when.
a generally fantastic thing can never be bad, even under not so fantastic circumstances (like with sour dough bread, or on a cold stone floor).

before meeting vegemite, i met marmite.
being from new zealand, mary brought a jar of marmite to germany, and i will always fondly remembert how she forced it on my brother on the evening that she arrived at our house. she was handing out welcome gifts, paua shells, kiwi figurines, a book on christchurch and the like and she also presented my family with a jar of marmite. mary explained that it was a typical kiwi spread that she couldn't live without. i will never forget how my brother opened it, made the mistake of not smelling it, and thinking that it looked like nutella, so it should taste like nutella, pushed his entire finger in it and put it into his mouth.


he spat it out and almost threw up.
mary laughed. lots. so did i.

apart from her, no one in my family regularly ate marmite. my brother and mother wouldn't touch it after my brother's first encounter with it. my dad kept giving vegemite a try, on different breads, but never really found it tasty (go figure).
i liked it, at least a little. i preferred it very very thinly on dark bread. back then, i wouldn't eat marge or butter. looking back it's no wonder that i didn't fall for marmite back then: by avoiding a base for it, i quite simply stood in my own way of discovering the perfect yeast spread bread.

i mentioned before that i developed a crush on timm based on his writings on vegemite.
when i finally met timm at the student exchanges wintercamp in passau, sparks flew. timm had brought his own jar of vegemite and would generously share it. i ate it to impress him, but didn't think it tasted much different than marmite. i liked it, but again, because i didn't use a base for it, i didn't fell in love with it.
i fell in love with timm though.

i can't say when it happened. i remember how i longed to be near him and always hung around near him. i remember how beautiful he looked when we walked across one of the bridges spanning across the danube on a bright, sunny january morning. i remember the music he liked so much. i remember how we held hands on the final night in passau and i (stupid! stupid! stupid!) took my hand away. why did i do that? i can't remember, but i did, and i could still beat myself up for it.

after camp, i tried to undo my mistake. timm send me a mixed tape featuring the cruel sea, yothu yindi, skunkhour and the sharp. we wrote each other smart postcards. i had the urge to tell him that i had fallen in love with him.
for valentine's, 5 weeks after camp, i send an anonymous package, containing...a tiny jar of vegemite.

*stands up* "my name is carolin and i tried to hook-up with someone via vegemite and it didn't work."
"hi, carolin."

(oh, how i wish i was making this up.)

i had bought it at some obscure australian shop in my hometown. the owners were a couple in their thirties who had fallen in love with australia when travelling, but who didn't really dare to emigrate. instead, they offered didge courses and sold yellow "roos next 5km" signs and vegemite in the middle of one of germany's most depressing industrial towns. i don't think many people appreciated their efforts. they closed shop a short while later.

timm immediately knew the vegemite came from me. he sent a letter immediately. a cute letter. i re-read it a few years ago, and it was sweeter than i had remembered it. while it might have been sweet, it wasn't positive.
since camp, timm had started a relationship with sophia, a girl from his hometown with whom he had hooked up just before camp.
can we spell bad timing? oh yes, this was really bad timing, yes.

at least it was a good, long-lasting relationship that he started back than. last time timm and i were in touch (it has been way too long, and thinking about him, i realise how much i miss him in my life), he was still dating sophia.
i tried to undo my mistake from that party night in passau many many many times. at the camp in l├╝beck we drank cuba libre (with real havana club!) in my room, later giving each other massages. we spent countless weekends writing and layouting a zine together. we slept in the same bed. i tried to impress him with new aussie music.
nothing never worked. duh.

so yeah. i put timm behind me and continued my marmite/vegemite experiments on my own.
after mary was gone, i continued to have marmite every now and then. one evening, however, i ended up with a red, rashy face after marmite. or so my mom thought. i remember walking down the stairs from my room into the living room, and my mom was more than a little shocked as my face looked odd. she asked me what i had done that day, what i had eaten. i told her about the marmite. she blamed the marmite.
thinking about it right now, it could have just as well been post-orgasmic facial flush or something. he.

in any way, my mothers' reaction - and my face was kinda swollen that night, yes, indeed - i, too, suspected that i might be allergic to something in marmite, maybe to the yeast. so i decided to avoid it for a while .
i went away to new zealand without having any marmite there. i had fun writing "allergies: marmite/yeast extract" on patient info forms when going to the doc's - it proved to be a good source of fun in new zealand and -a few years later- in australia as well.

meeting evan made me take another look, another taste, at vegemite.
like pretty much every aussie kid, like all his siblings, he had been raised on vegemite toasts. he liked it, but he liked other things as well. on his visits to germany, he didn't need to bring any jars of vegemite for himself: he could easily go for months without vegemite. his younger brother gareth however couldn't go a day without vegemite. he would eat stacks of toasts with marge and vegemite as late night snacks, every single day.

i can't remember exactly when i first decided to try whether i was allergic after all. i suspect gareth talked me into trying, maybe on a saturday morning or some other time when evan wasn't there. gareth showed me the perfect way to eat vegemite.
toast white bread till desired level of browness (i like mine just barely toasted). use plenty of salt reduced marge (soak that toast!). spread vegemite (straight from the fridge!) thinly. let soak. enjoy.
before digging into my toast, i told him to administer first aid in case of anaphylactic shock. him being a med student like evan, i felt pretty safe, actually.

it was like orgasm on toast, that vegemite toast.

all other toasts before that one, no matter whether marmite or vegemite were foreplay. it tasted as good, it felt as good as the first time i totally lost myself in enjoying my body, in enjoying someone else's body during sex.
it has been a love affair between me and the vegemite sandwich ever since.

from then on, i would join gareth for late night vegemite toasts in the kitchen. i enjoyed those little bonding toasts we shared: they were good. and i think he was proud that he made me like vegemite.
me and vegemite, we just clicked that day. it was the perfect taste. since then, vegemite has proven time and time again that it simply has a simple, perfect taste. it is an easy delight - kinda like sex with a vibrator or a longtime lover: trusty and reliable and always delicious and satisfying. - and sometimes even mind-blowing.
few things are better than a vegemite toast when you come home from a night out drinking and partying. some of the best vegemite toasts happen in the middle of the night after lots of booze.

there has always been vegemite in my pantry since then.
i brought vegemite home from my australia trips. i got people to smuggle jars into the country. however, i never emptied a jar.
i gave them away to homesick aussie exchange students. i threw old jars out (their best before dates long passed) everytime someone brought me a new jar. i never finished them: there was always a trusty, seemingly neverending supply.

today, however, there's an empty jar of vegemite in my pantry.

over the past year or so, i've started having more and more vegemite.
when i showed dirk how to eat vegemite the gareth way, he fell for it, just like i did. ever since going vegetarian/vegan earlier this year, my vegemite consumption has sky-rocketed. it's simply the perfect spread for vegetarians and vegans. fat-free. full of b vitamins. tasty any time, as long as you've got any type of bread or cracker and some vegan marge. for everyday consumption, vegemite is so much better than spreads derived from grounded sunflower seeds or nut-butters. less fatty, more tasty, no dry residue on your teeth as can happen with not so good nut-butters.
for all my recent trips, i spooned some vegemite in a small jar - i simply wanted to have my trusty bbeloved vegemite available at all times. dirk even took a little jar on his recent bike trip and emptied it within 6 days. when tammy was here last week, we sat on my balcony in the shade, having pretzels with vegemite. - something about these hot sweaty summer days makes me crave vegemite.

but now there's none left. and i crave some.

i should be calm: help is at hand.
i asked evan a few days ago whether he could send some jars and something for kate's b-side album (coming out august 23rd) in exchange for whatever german things he craves. he said he'll do it and has already specified his requests: but it's still three weeks at least! gasp!
andrea, my downstairs neighbour, left for her first backpacking trip to australia yesterday, and she, too, has promised to bring at least 2 large vegemite jars (and i will pester her via email not to forget it). for now, however, there's none left. and i want some right now. i might be able to scratch enough out of the empty jar to cover half a toast if i am lucky and diligent. i'll definitely try to. but generally speaking, there's no vegemite left.

if things get really bad, i might just go to the world food shop where i buy all my funky foods, where i've been shopping more and more since going vegan and needing more and more funky foods.
the funky foods shop is run by a cool sikh bloke from sri lanka who has never laughed when i asked for a certain odd ingredient that i couldn't even pronounce properly (asafoetida!). i fondly remember the long and winding conversation we had when a the recipe i had found online called for "brown curry powder". it took a little while and discussion on curries until he realised that what i needed was roasted sri lankan curry powder. he warned me of its spiciness, i didn't listen, and the potato curry i cooked that day turned out to be the first inedible meal i have ever made. it smelled great, i looked great, but it simply was way way way too spicy. in any way, i'm a local at his shop now, i shop there at least once a week and he makes a point of always greeting me when we pass each other in the city and being nice and friendly.
in any way, last week, buying chappattis, curry paste and chickpeas, i realised that they have actually have marmite in stock. it's marmite from the uk. marmite, not vegemite. not even from new zealand. but it's a yeast paste after all.

in a dire situation as this one, it might be enough to take the edge of my vegemite cold turkey.
it's really that bad, i swear, the itching has started.
i've been pacing through the kitchen, smelling at the jar, scratching through it with spoons and knives. i can imagine the exact taste of a vegan marge & vegemite toast in my mouth. i need it. i need my vegemite.
i fear that if i don't have anything around that tastes at least a little bit like it, i will soon feel worms moving beneath my skin and get hallucinations with red and yellow swirls in the sky, flying vegemite toasts and green fields on which fat kids with rosy cheeks dance in circles and sing the "happy little vegemite" song.

"we're happy little vegemites/as bright as bright can be/we all enjoy our vegemite for breakfast, lunch or tea/our mommies say we're growing stronger every single week/because we love our vegemite/we all adore our vegemite/it puts a rose in every cheek/we're growing stronger every week"

maybe marmite can be my methadone.
maybe marmite, the spread that gave me my first glimpse of yeast spread goodness might be good enough to dull my craving for salty, yeasty toasts/breads/crackers until i get my jars full of passionate delight personally shipped from australia by multiple sources at the end of the month.

i'm hopeful. it's still 12 hours until the shop opens though.
for now, i'll grab a spoon and try to get the remaining bits of vegemite out of that empty jar and unto a cracker.

*scratch. scratch*