Hitting the road

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Fare is a magazine that’s published twice a year about cities and their food culture. I thought I’d waited too long to buy their first edition about Istanbul, but the Aberdeen shop “Curated Stories” still had copies and posted me one so quickly that I got it the next day. Having read it and also some of the Charleston edition I’m now quite intrigued by their choice of Helsinki as a second destination.

Are you tempted too?

Day trips

Day trips are possibly my favourite kinds of escape. You’re still home in your own bed (revelling in cool, clean sheets for added summer pleasure) at the wnd of the day, you’ve had a pleasant and slightly special breakfast before setting off and you’ve still had a whole day of fun and exploration.

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Lyme Regis, Kings Lynn, Oxford or (my latest set of plans) the Kent Coast are all perfect for this from London. Enter Bleak House, a shop with a sideline in recommending both walks round London and day trips out of it. Both Ightham Mote and Hambledon on their list sound good – and also remind me that I want to get to Bateman’s as well before the National Trust season closes.

Stucco

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The Music Room, Lancaster – a converted summer pavilion built in the 1730s and showing the muses, Apollo and various Roman emperors around the wall.

All photos from a visit, May 2018.

Granite Island

We envied the Cesari. They had leisure, and we had not had any for several years. The farm work seldom needed more than two of the brothers at any one time; the sisters got through the household chores in a couple of hours of the day. In the long intervals between work Francois shot hare in the maquis that Antoinette cooked in a pot on the open fire with olive oil and whole cloves of garlic; Antoine and Jean-Baptiste repainted the living-room, experimenting with pale Etruscan red framing several shades of blue and grey; Marie embroidered sheets with intricate patterns of roses; Pierette studied a book of the geography of the world….there were hours too when no-one did anything…

In London I had not taken the true measure of our deprivations. I had not understood how far  my daily load of anxiety was a craving for the things every peasant know: space, silence and food that was not stale.

Dorothy Carrington first went to Corsica in 1948, and large sections of the book are infused with a postwar melancholy about the effects of civilisation and the need to retreat to a rough landscape and older society.

But there’s also a much more contemporary zest, akin to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writings, of discovering beautiful vistas and a motley crew of companions, albeit in Dorothy’s case more archaeologists and shepherds than Leigh Fermor’s east European aristocracy and Consuls.

The simmering pot was taken off the fire; it contained a mutton stew, thick with vegetables. But first we had plates of smoked ham and several varieties of smoked sausage, and tomatoes and raw onions swimming in the local unrefined olive oil which gave to all this food a provocative musky flavour; and afterwards came a homemade cheese made of ewes’ milk, oddly tasting for nuts, and finally small, very sweet melons.

If the book had stayed with this it would have been nice enough – I am enthusiastically reading myself into the holiday I’m currently dreaming of – but what makes it really special is that quite soon, Carrington turns the book into a serious and detailed history of Corsican society, from the mountain peaks to the fishermen, from the vendetta, the folk singers, the people cursed to predict and bring death to those they know and the soothsayers, from the revolutionaries who attempted a parliamentary democracy in the 1730s to the prehistoric statues and spirit huts near the capital Ajaccio.

This was completely fascinating – Carrington’s love for Corsica comes through, and she must have carried out huge amounts of research, from Greek texts to political treatises, but wears it lightly. Most praiseworthy of all, she definitely lives up to that other heroine, Gertrude Bell, in her willingness to scale a mountain in pursuit of an archaeological quarry.