Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Modern Travel, or Where's My Adapter?

Dateline Antigua. How travel has changed. Or perhaps it is me. Or both. My packing was dominated by thoughts of how to rationalize the quantity of electronics I HAD to bring, plus various grooming products. Clothes, who needs clothes when you have more computing power than got man to the moon and your hair looks this good?
Once established in my little cottage surrounded by oleander (it’s like living in a Rousseau painting) I headed out in search of food. The market was a study in contrasts, as interesting for what wasn’t there as what was. No fresh fish, but lots of fresh herbs, tiny pineapples and local yogurt, which is excellent. . . there was a bewildering selection of olive oils, Italian prosciutto, pine nuts and chocolate, Canadian chevre and Ploughman’s Pickle - they get a lot of Brits here. Nelson himself stopped by long enough to get the harbor named after him.
Tired, I opted to keep it simple. I ate my prosciutto and local melon dangling my feet in the pool while the water for the pasta came to a boil. Pesto rhymes with pronto for a reason. All washed down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a quick skinny dip and so to bed. Like I said, who needs clothes?
Since then I’ve played a game with myself, trying to have variety while using up ingredients. I’ve had pasta puttanesca with tuna instead of anchovies. And eggs, eggs are a great friend of the solo chef. I used up the other half of a can of diced tomatoes poaching eggs in a sauce with capers, onion, celery and olives . . . salad nicoise . . . egg salad sandwiches on lovely little onion buns. Tonight is pork curry on rice and a raita hobbled together with yogurt and some terrific avocado salsa I stumbled on. Have to work up an appetite with a swim first I think. . .
Have a Hunch
As a mystery reader I’m in it for atmosphere as much as the puzzle. I love the elasticity of the genre, there are archaeologist detectives, house sitting sleuths, ancient Roman finders, and on and on. I recently spotted a mystery series in which the recurring theme is pizza. I left the pizza crime behind, but I did bring along C.J. Sansom’s Heartstone, Shardlake Goes to War, the fifth in his series set in Tudor England featuring the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake. 
Heartstone takes place in the shadow of impending war with France towards the end of Henry the VIII’s reign. Intricately plotted, I never saw the ultimate twist coming, and thoroughly enjoyed the period detail - Sansom is a former lawyer and scrupulous historian, however, ever susceptible to the pleasures of pedantry, there is one anachronistic misattributed quote methinks. Let me set you some detective work: should you decide to follow Shardlake from London to Portsmith see if you can spot it. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

And the Crowd Muttered

My friend Naomi’s youngest son has memorized pi to 60 places. I understand this impulse completely and can share in his delight when his math teacher asked him if he knew what pi was. As a child I memorized the Roman emperors in the hopes that one day someone would ask “who came after Vespasian?” It hasn’t happened. Yet.

Don’t underestimate the pleasures of pedantry. For instance, I recently read in a newspaper, whose shame I shall cloak in anonymity, that rhubarb is a fruit. Rhubarb is an herb. Its leaves are poisonous. It is also what actors say on stage to mimic the murmur of a crowd. In England it is forced in large dark barns. Its emerging leaves sound like barnacles clutching at air at low tide. At my old house it was the first thing up in the spring. Brave souls eat it raw.

I am not brave. Rhubarb! It is lovely stewed, in jam and pies, alone or with strawberries. I was so excited to see rhubarb at last that I bought much too much. The result was a pie, rhubarb blackberry jam and I haven’t decided on the third thing. As Mae West said, “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

What’s that? Titus, thanks for asking.

The Prof, The Cook and an Aussie
If you are interested in the craft and art of writing can I suggest Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt. He is also the author of the best seller Making Toast and a playwright. This may explain why the dialogue feels stagy. The first six chapters are classes in which Rosenblatt and his students discuss their work. It is the book’s seventh chapter that makes it worth reading, his summing up of all he meant to say to his students.

The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn is another in a new genre, “How I Found Redemption Through Food” or HIFRTF, as I like to call it. Flinn picked herself up after being dusted from her job and took herself to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. The writing’s clichéd at times, there is no challenge without a corresponding triumph, giving it a Disney-ish feel. Think of it as a series of postcards from Paris with recipes and you won’t be disappointed.

Finally we come to the first volume of Clive James’ autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs. His father enlisted in the Australian army at the outbreak of war, survived combat and internment in a Japanese POW camp only to perish when the plane returning him home was downed by a monsoon. Watching James grow up in the shadow of this absurdly tragic event is like watching a tree nurtured by Terry Gilliam take shape, funny, macabre and unpredictable.