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.

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.

Seduced by Naples

I first saw Naples when I was working as a babysitter in Rome. It was winter.

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The beginning of Rachel Donadio’s Seduced by Naples, a great piece of writing from 2013. The Instagram feed that fed this to me talked of the slap of realising it’s only an hour from Rome by train. I’m goggling at a holiday that would cover both.

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Even today, you can tell that Naples was once a Greek city. It is the quality of light, which is clearer and stronger and feels more ancient and essential here – and in all of Magna Grecia, the Southern Italian regions that were once Greek colonies – than the light of Rome, with its softer pinks, or the steady, subtle light of the Italian north, with its countless shades of grey.

paintings by James Wilson Carmichael and Renoir

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.

You must learn your lines

Obedient daily dress,

You cannot always keep

That unfakable young surface.

You must learn your lines –

Anger, amusement, sleep;

Those few forbidding signs

Of the continuous coarse

Sand-laden wind, time;

You must thicken, work loose

Into an old bag

Carrying a soiled name.

Parch then; be roughened; sag.

And pardon me, that I

Could find, when you were new,

No brash festivity

To wear you at, such as

Clothes are entitled to

Till the fashion changes.

Phikip Larkin, Skin

Nourishment

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As usual on a bank holiday, I spend a lot of time lying on (not in) my bed, still in my pyjamas, reading and planning lots of meals.

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About 9pm I might start cooking some, getting to bed at 2am the next morning a bit too tired and irritable and completely mis-setting my body clock for the rest of the weekend. I am also very happy for finding new voices and stories.

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This time it was Rachel Alice Roddy, whose tales of Testaccio and Sicily grabbed me (photos from Rachel’s Instagram above; link to blog here). For those of you around, head to Stoke Newington Festival & other sites in London this month to hear her talk about cookbook as memoir and taste her cooking.

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Rachel’s feed then led me to Hanna of  Building Feasts, whose supper clubs look divine, and whose weekly round ups include both makeup and books amongst the food. Both Hanna and Rachel feel like direct links to Nigella Lawson, whose writing and sheer enjoyment of food can’t be faulted.

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Finally, here is the great idea of Kino Vino, pairing a cuisine and a film. Little Vera and Russian dumplings are still to come, as is a pairing of I Am Love with Rachel’s cooking. Full circle.

Top two photos my own; Building Feasts & Rachel images from their Instsgrams.

Beekeepers and Dostoevsky

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A party of six settled at the next table, all countrymen in homespun, rawhide footgear and sashes, but two in broad-brimmed hats of plaited osier, the others in cloth caps…untroubled smiles and good-humoured wrinkles round their eyes and the corners of their mouths. Anyone would have felt calm and happy in their neighbourhood. Appropriately, as I divined…they were itinerant beekeepers travelling up and down the region and tidying up the hives for the winter.

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One of many gentle passages in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s conclusion to his trilogy of his walk from Holland to Turkey in the mid-1930s, The Broken Road. I also liked his description of reading in bed in a loft above a wheelwright’s shop on a rainy day (“Dostoevsky ever since, and even the mention of his name, evokes a momentary impression of rain and fresh-sawed wood.”), or meeting the hotel-maid Rosa, who treated him to a nannyish scolding for wet shirts and lost belongings, and whom he treated in return by taking her to a showing of The Blue Angel, which evokes memories of her time in Vienna as lady’s maid to a grand hostess.

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Not to fret

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The days, the days they break to fade.

What fills them I’ll forget.

Every touch and smell and taste,

This sun, about to set

can never last. It breaks my heart,

Each joy feels like a threat:

Although there’s beauty everywhere,

its shadow is regret.

Still, something in the coming dusk

whispers not to fret.

Don’t matter that we’ll lose today.

It’s not tomorrow yet.

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Shades of Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson in Kate Tempest’s collection “Hold it Own”. Photos of small things that give me pleasure.

Heavens to Betsy

 

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Reminded by Beth Bonini’s cheerful Instagram feed of these delightful books (I’ve posted about their companion volumes here and here before), I think I’m getting ready for a re-read.

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Lots of commentators compare these books to Meet Me in St Louis, and as well as the period details (the hairstyles! the dresses! the slang! the excitement over a telephone!), what I love most is the inherent optimism – progress is always good, and friends and family remain stable whilst welcoming new developments – but also the complete acceptance that a job, writing, singing, making your own mind up, are all important to a girl and in no way conflicted with the rest of her being.

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I find it depressing that a modern book wouldn’t show this, or would have to make a big point about it. Written in the 50s about the 1900-1910s, Betsy, Emily and Carney are in fact far more progressive than any characters today.

Amy Sweet

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“I climbed three rickety flights to her flat to share her gulls’ eggs, and as soon as I reached the door, I knew that Amy’s home was not as other homes. Instead of a bell push or door-knocker, a Persian scimitar was attached precariously to the door, and you had to announce yourself with that…Amy herself let me in, wearing an exotic deshabille consisting of flimsy Turkish trousers, a short embroidered velvet jacket and masses of jangling gold bracelets. Her hair was hidden under an enormous Russian fur hat, with blonde curls escaping here and there… I squeezed into the narrow hall, nearly smashing a blue Victorian lustre with my right shoulder…Having negotiated this hazard, my left elbow banged into a china  jardiniere holding a castor-oil plant which sprouted to the ceiling. My head just grazed a small chandelier which hung from a hook, and the feather on my hat tickled a row of china jugs hanging on a shelf on the wall… “Wait a few minutes,” said Amy, “and I’ll bring in the lunch.”

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Lesley Blanch (photos above),sketched by her colleague Anne Scott-James in her memoir In the Mink. Cunningly, Lesley’s pseudonym recalls Amy in Little Women, and Lesley’s own adventuring was certainly wrapped in similar levels of fantasy, coquetry and almost overpowering femininity as Amy March. Later on Anne remarks that she always liked to appear in public swathed in masses of veiling, but she also accurately recalls how within a few days of “Any” leaving for Tunis or Helsinki, her friends were writing to her begging her to come back. Whilst I don’t think I could have stood her in person, Blanch’s own writing is irresistible and her fluttering exterior hid a great deal of determined toughness.