Bread and ashes

Tabasarn, in south-eastern Daghestan, spoken by about 90,000 has, I was once assured by a tipsy linguist, eight genders. Scholars, he assured me, enjoyed introducing new, unfamiliar objects to the Tamasars to see which gender might be assigned. Apparently a samovar was unanimously assigned to the seventh gender, though no one could say why.

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A typically hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy type intervention from this delightful book that talks you through the politics, landscape, history and languages of this region, along with a good smattering of rollicking travel tales (Tony’s friend Chris generally sleeping upright in his green sleeping bag like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and staring at the local cheese trying to decide whether it would make his hangover better or worse.)

Here’s some more on the local linguistic melting pot:

Many languages here have a prolix proliferation of cases: one analysis of  Tsez identified forty-two different locative case markers, which can describe precisely what space someone or something is in, at, under, by, near, away from: a hollow space, a flat space, a space that might be a trifle uncomfortable or sadly lacking in alcohol…Abkhaz, a notoriously difficult language, has fifty-eight [consonants] ; one of its dialects, Bzyp, has sixty-seven…Essed Bey insisted that Tabarsarn was so difficult that the Tabasars…preferred to speak an easier, neighbouring tongue.

Spice, coconut and sour cherries

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I went on a massive reading browse in Waterstones about a month ago, driven by the need to console myself after a brutal exercise class that had nearly reduced me to tears.

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First up in the restoration, The Grammar of Spice, which gives you the history of the spice, some foods it goes well with and a high level hint at a recipe. More of a thought factory and wonderful illustrations.

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Next up, a street food book that looks good but isn’t terribly useful, and at the far more tempting end of things. Stirring Slowly from a Jamie Oliver protege, and lots of tasty recipes, pretty light and healthy too. I went for this courgette and coconut cake that weekend and it went down a treat.

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Finally, an armful of cookbooks from the east of Europe: exploding pomegranates and sour cherries in Kazakhstan and watermelons and dill in Azerbaijan, both reminding me how we’re no longer an agricultural country, and making my mouth water for the summer produce.

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Feed of the week

At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you’re speaking with that you’ll come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself he blurts out, I didn’t know you were black!
I didn’t mean to say that, he then says.
Aloud, you say.
What? he asks.

You didn’t mean to say that aloud.
Your transaction goes quickly after that.

I went on a massive reading jag on holiday – catching up on not having time and energy to read much earlier in the summer, and excited by new books and voices.

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At the perfect time, I discovered @sophia_stories, an Instagram feed for a PhD student studying modern Palestinian authors, and just #readingoutsidethebox generally.

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Poetry, rap, novels of childhood memories and observations of modern life all fill her feed. What I especially like are the double posts: Sophia will flag a book when she starts reading it, and then post again in a few days with her impressions – very different from the usual Bookstagram feeds where you sense that the book was read for its cover or compatibility with some flowers and never actually read.

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And the quotes…

“Instant coffee with slightly sour cream…”

“The English newsreader told me / home was a broken man, holding / a dying child, with flies round its mouth:
A story that didn’t tally”

“home begins with the spoon knocking against the rim of the pot of lentil soup”

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Starting stocking your bookshelves now…

 

 

Jane of Lantern Hill

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Everybody except the baby had brought a present for Jane. Mrs Jimmy John gave her a lambskin dyed red for a bedside rug. Miranda brought her a little fat white jug with pink roses on its sides, Punch brought her some early radishes, Polly brought her a rooted geranium slip and the twins brought her a toad apiece for the garden.

“You have to have toads in your garden for luck,” explained Punch.

LM Montgomery does peak hygge. This one has lots of sowing flowers, swimming in the sea and frying potatoes, as well as a fairytale ending – perfect holiday reading.

Blog of the week

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As you can tell, I like to read, so a blog all about reading will always be a winner with me. Macdonald is actually an academic who has published several fascinating-sounding journal articles and a book about the conservatism of John Buchan and Dornford Yates’ writing.

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Since browsing her blog’s backlist, I’ve come across the autobiography of the man who painted the most famous portraits of Lawrence of Arabia, and who’s writing in 1940s Morocco decided to recall his Victorian life in Aberdeen, an HG Wells war book published in 1916 that criticised the generals and the public’s unthinking jingoism – despite possibly inspiring some of Churchill’s later speeches of WW2 – and has a very sympathetic portrait of a young German, a bizarre novel of post-civil war America that firmly upholds social and racial segregation (Macdonald compares it to being wowed by a 1930s German novella and then finding out that the author was seriously pro-Nazi), and the links of Buchan and WonderWoman. Her podcast sounds a blast too. Read all about it here.

(Shelfies of my own book collection, July 2017 / October 2013.)

Summer evenings

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Flora went into the kitchen, where a lamp already burned on the table. Its soft light fell into the heart of a bunch of pink roses in a jam-jar. There was a letter from Charles propped against the jar too, and the roses threw down a heavy, rounded shadow onto the envelope. It was so pretty that Flora lingered a moment, looking, before she opened her letter.

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. Photo from @elfredapownall.

Bridget Payne Watson

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Really enjoyed both this interview with Bridget, and Rachel Harrell’s illustrations for Bridget’s book The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up.

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It covers everything from reasonable expectations to how to open champagne to going to bed on time (yes, it works).

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Everyone would have their own list of life wisdom, but I liked Bridget’s calm tone and witty illustrations.

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Blog of the week & Mexico City

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I’m still completely absorbed by Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio, and these passages (dinner; setting up a hotel) show why. If it fuels your fever, you really must see Ben Pentreath’s blogs here and here. Normally I dial in to Ben’s pastoral idylls on Mon mornings, but these posts from his travels carry some heat.

Cake instead of pudding

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We had lunch at half past twelve, and the food was rather different from what we usually had – we had fish instead of meat,  and cake instead of pudding. I don’t quite know what the point was, but it helped me to feel excited and rather sick. Then our luggage was carried down. I had an immense trunk with a rounded top and straps, and Marguerite had a brown tin box tied up with cords.

Travelling today, sadly without fish and cake first, so thought this passage from “Christmas with the Savages” fitted. It was written by Antonia Fraser’s aunt, so a nice piece of serendipity to read it just after AF’s own account of her father and aunts’ upbringing.

Painting by Henri Fantin-Latour