Cake!

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There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perry’s being seen with a slice of Mrs Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr Woodhouse would never believe it. – “Emma”, Jane Austen

Not at all like Mr Woodhouse as I go to celebrate a friend’s wedding today, partly with a lot of cake.

The top picture is the wonderfully-titled “The Tempting Cake” by Albert Roosenboom.

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Practice

I amused myself by giving my father daily  Palsy Practice, which consisted of gently shaking his hand while he was taking his tea: “In a few years, when you’re really old, you’ll probably have palsy. I must give you a little practice now, before you actually get it, so that you won’t be dropping things all the time.”

Jessica Mitford – Hons and Rebels

Meatless Days

For the next several years Pip let himself occupied by inventing newspapers and procreating: Shahid was born in the year the Evening Times became a morninger; the Times of Karachi and I followed close behind.

Sara Suleri’s Meatless Day’s is a series of essays that collect together not just her family, a failed lover and an irritating friend she can’t drop, but also the birth of Pakistan, where her father was a Dickens-style newspaper editor and her Welsh mother taught literature in the universities.

Ifat, Shahid and I greeted a goat into the family with boisterous rapture, and soon after he ravished us completely when we found him at the washingline nonchalantly eating Shahid’s pajamas.

The early morning was my favourite time, because then those flowers felt firm and fresh with dew. I would go to the vegetable patch and squat over the cauliflowers as they came out one by one, hold them between my knees and chew as many craters as I could into their jaunty tightness. Qayuum was crushed. “There is an animal, Begum Sahib,” he mourned to my mother, “like a savage in my garden. Maro! Maro!”

Childhood reminiscences scatter through each piece, her eccentric and stubborn grandmother who had a direct line into God and would also sit in the empty dining room crying “Oh God give me tea” in order to annoy her son, that same grandmother accidentally setting herself alight by making tea on an open flame one night and the grisly business of tending her burns, the eccentric cooks they had and the scorpion stings she incurred when her brother made her clear out the swimming pool.

Most present of all is the constant, double dislocation of grief and physical exile as her mother and eldest sister are killed in traffic accidents and the remaining family scatters to Kuwait, England and the US. 

I was pleased to have my mother to lead me through those shelves and see the pleasure it conferred on her when she told me contemplatively, “Yes, now you’re old enough to read Jane Austen.”

Soon, I think, we will put the clock forward, obliterate one April hour, and the day will make a startling leap into expansive evenings, creating ample setting for lucid conversation.

Even happy memories carry a load of melancholy and loss, and a weaving together of personal and national histories

when in her nineties she was dying, frail, my brother Irfan was deputed to transport her from Lahore to Islamabad: he chose to take a train, since Pakistan is still a country that takes railways seriously. Such commitment makes of stations, however, a seething mass of life: once they reached Ralwapandi and Irfani had looked first at my grandmother and then at the density of bodies around him, he decided that he had no choice but to pick my Dadi up and, holding her above his head, go running through bodies like a coolie, crying, “Jan dus! – Give way! Give way!” Light and tiny Dadi, the luggage on that coolie’s head, sent wraiths of wails toward the ceiling: “Irfan, Irfan, Irfan”.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the title essay Meatless Days, where an amusing memory of how the meatless Tuesdays and Wednesdays imposed by Pakistan’s first government led to a triple slaughter on Monday’s rather than the efficient rationing that was hoped for merges with a memory of kidneys as a punishment meal as a child, with the gradual adulteration of food (including milk watered with paraffin) in 60s Pakistan and the wider metaphor for disappointment in life that what was a potato on the fork became a turnip in the mouth:

So long before the kapura made its comeback in my life, we in Pakistan were bedmates with betrayal and learned how to take grim satisfaction from assessing the water table of our outrage.

Topkapi palace

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The first time I read about the Topkapi Palace I was an eighteen year old doing some rather nervous work experience in a museum, and being asked to look for examples of Chinese porcelain ripped off by western factories and then Indian or Turkish knock offs of the Dutch sort.

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Clueless would be a polite way to describe it, although the curator I was working to firmly gave me a list of Sotheby’s catalogues and monographs – one of which mentioned this unpronounceable Palace that for some reason I decided must be Hungarian – and off I went. A lot of photocopying and post-it noting later I wasn’t much the wiser.

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A few years and some truly bad, trashy historical novels later I couldn’t have you told you anything more except that my mental picture was probably of dark stone, gloomy rooms (had I heard that it’s now empty and been unable to envisage a building without furniture?) and was somewhat sceptical that I was really going to enjoy it.

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So thank you Becca for recommending that it was still least a half day trip. These photos from an afternoon’s wander are pretty much the order in which we came across things, so if you feel eye-crossing set in at the glorious tiles, then I’ve done my job.

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As you can see, the building had a good deal of the Rococo about it, and also elements of chinoiserie – maybe in the sense of outdoor pavilions and also the whimsical names given to them all.

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I’m afraid I can’t any longer remember what room was what: the library, the closet of the sultan’s turbans, the moon light or breakfast divan, the grand council room, but who cares (my inner historian just did a Munch face there) when you can see this?!

All photos March 2018.

John Monks

97AE8A24-FC74-495C-BAA6-C7D3673A5603These rich paintings by John Monks remind me of the scene near the start of the Cazalet Chronicles where Louise passes the remains of a pre-war dinner party that the maids are clearing up and decides it looks pretty “decadent”.

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An urban childhood

The two younger Bodens were sitting at the large, very much littered table, while Felicity lay stretched out on a comfortable sofa near the glowing fire. The light in the high, well-proportioned room was growing dim, though it was barely three o’clock. Beyond the window was a view of Old Church Street, Chelsea, dismal on the wet, misty December afternoon, in spite of the pleasant frontages of the eighteenth-century house’s opposite.

Swiss School, ME Allan. A London childhood means that scenes like this are catnip to me – they’re my equivalent of the wanderer turning the corner to see a beloved hill or mountain.

Drawing in

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The Painter’s family (detail)

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Another detail of The Painter’s family

Some time before I or any of us had even heard of hyyge, I had a short summer visit to Norway where I went to the National Gallery and strongly enjoyed the National bend for painting lots of pictures of people having breakfast. It’s very easy art to live with, and I found it immensely comforting. I particularly like this one for early winter with the lamplight on the faces, and the mix of snow, books and porridge.