Sharpening the edges

There is something poetic about this September salad of two vine fruits. The last of the tomatoes, heavy with sun, with the first of the grapes, the onion and vinegar sharpening the edges like a heavy pencil outline.

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I’ve posted quite a lot about / from Rachel Roddy recently, but sometimes you just find writing that slots into your head and gets you. I can think of at least two friends I want to give her cookbook too, whilst the recipes posted online with the Guardian satisfy me.

The lemon cream is typically southern Italian, and therefore thickened with a little flour, which gives it an old-fashioned and homely feel, especially if you are used to more elegant, butter-rich lemon curds.

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The mix of lightly-worn food history and anecdote reminds me a lot of Nigella Lawson in her glory days, and she knows how to turn a phrase:

You know how we are often reassured that the fussiness of anchovies will slip away like an obedient manservant, leaving just the wonderful seasoning? This is not the case here. The anchovy flavour remains indignant, its fishy saltiness producing golden crumbs that shout “I am an anchovy breadcrumb!” There no doubt, if you hate anchovies, you will hate these breadcrumbs. If you like anchovies, I suggest you make this for lunch tomorrow.

Summer delight

The last month has been the time to dream of holidays (why does everyone go away in June and give me travel envy?) and therefore reading.

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Twice a year the world is filled with book lists: Christmas and pre-holiday. This is Heywood Hill’s booklist. I’m caught by Maxwell Knight’s spy story (it reminds me I also need to read this) and the shenanigans of Ann de Courcy,which triggered a yearning to re-read of this, a classic of the redeeming-the-house-as-metaphor-for-finding-yourself genre.

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The Guardian list is full of annoyingly weighty tomes that only a professional author of the more pretentious sort would want. I’d rather read a Mills and Boon than any of these, except possibly Joan Didion’s South and West, as travel books are always good on holiday. Even this sounds like the closest to enjoyment any of the interviewees dare creep. Nice illustrations by Owen Gatley though.

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The New Yorker list is better, but I find it strange that all these illustrations show a woman reading but the choices are so bogus and aggressively macho. The only lists I’m taken by are Heywood Hill and Furrowed Middlebrow.

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pictures: Slim Aarons in 1960s Athens; Owen Gatley x2; Cynthia Kittler.

A language of the gods

In those days not many language teachers played gramophone records to their class, but Mr King did. They were old and very precious to him and us, and he kept them in brown paper bags in a satchel that he put in his bicycle basket when he rode to school.

The blog’s most proflific researcher (aka my mother: sorry there’s no pay-rise this year, but I’ll give you Christmas off that zero hours contract) found me John Le Carre’s address on why we should learn German. You can hear both the novelist’s view, and also an entirely genuine pleasure at learning.

What did they contain, these precious records? The voices of classical German actors, reading romantic German poetry…And I discovered that the language fitted me. It pleased my Nordic ear.

In between musings on the connections and sympathies that come from learning language, and an appreciation for the fierce attention to truth that German can provide, there’s still time for a joke.

You’ve probably heard the Mark Twain gag: “Some German words are so long they have a perspective.” You can make up crazy adjectives like “my-recently-by-my-parents-thrown-out-of-the-window-PlayStation” And…you can turn for relief to the pristine poems of a Holderlin, or a Goethe, or a Heine, and remind yourself that the German language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty that make it for many of us, a language of the gods.

Three cheers for this speech! I’m still grateful every day for the amazing – and eccentric! – German teachers I had. They gave me so much, even when my language was learned rather than instinctive: fun, new authors, a way of understanding my own language, and friends.

The Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation (who also have an excellent app, allowing you to search for poems at the intersection of Humour, Commitment, and Work and Play, amongst other terms) has just revamped their website too.

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It’s a dream. Poets from the 8th century and earlier – good old Anon – to the present day can be searched by name or theme.

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I especially liked the pre-made collections. Summer had the Amy Lowell poem on the bath, whilst Movie Heroes & Villains had several crackers, including What I Learned From the Incredible Hulk, May Swenson’s very funny poem about watching Roger Moore as Bond whilst struggling with the popcorn, and tame Monsters in the Closet (“Dracula wants to drink my blood – I think that’s rather rude.”).

If you click through to a poet’s page, it includes a link to their other poems and I’ve already had a gorge on Ben Jonson, whose wit appeals to me more and more. But best of all is discovering so many new poets: Paisley Rokdal, Gwendolyn Brooks, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jesse Randall, Lucia Perillo and James Weldon Johnson. In fact, this website’s a model of what to be: made for easy browsing by the beginner, but segmented enough for the specialist researcher and not falling into the usual school textbook cliches for the anthologies.

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Bastille Day

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Monet, Rouen art gallery.

Is this a difficult image these days? I think the nationalism sits uncomfortably with memories of Nice 2016 and many other events. Even in Monet’s life the existence or otherwise of a republic was fraught; his first London paintings were the result of being a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war, which is maybe why this reminds me of American WW2 ticket-tape parades. But as a painting of exuberance, movement and space, it’s joyful.

Blog of the week

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I love the Tube and I’m currently exploring one of the lines of it with the Bishopsgate Institute. The first week was St John’s Wood, and the station platforms are plain cream except for cheeky little heraldic tiles and snapshots of London by Howard Stabler.

150 great things about the Tube has taken far better photos than I could and has also written about Stabler here.