LISTENING TO THE RADIO IN GLOUCESTOR ROAD

I wanted to revisit this poem, and change it slightly. Also, I felt it got swamped in the Rites of Pasta, one of my previous posts. In my memory it stand out so clearly, the mild English sun filtering through the window. The silence in the house, the pefect peace in the midst of a global city which is what London is.

 

Country 4

 

 

It was not really cricket, but rather a poem

about cricket.

about a match played in Edwardian times

in the countryside, in the summer.

I was having a bath, the transistor radio

tuned to BBC 3

listening to the voice, deliver a poem in a languid voice

describing the dull monotony of bat against ball

in defensive stroke

and the occasional boundary, demurely applauded by

ladies under umbrellas, sipping lemonade

in the summer, in the countryside

So the poem went, as I listened, drowsing in the bath

the water cooling down

as I lay in the bath

in Gloucester Road.

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THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE, SILENT HOUSE AND THE ALLURE OF OBJECTS

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Orhan Pamuk wrote a novel, The Museum of Innocence, and he restored a dilapidated old building in Istantbul, transforming it, as a accompiment, you could say, into a Museum of Innocence. It contained the many items that belonged to Füsun, the young woman he fell in love with and haunted him througout his life. Like the Sultan of India who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife, so Pamuk created a museum for someone who did not exist. As the author himself explained: these are objects from my memory.

I wrote a review of Silent House and The Museum of Innocence for DEKAT Magazine.

Every year they come, the grandchildren, to the village by the sea to visit their grandmother, Fatma Hanim, who lives in the small coastal town of Cennethisar near Istanbul. She lives alone, except for the dwarf Recep, who cooks, cleans, shops, and acts, generally, as her caregiver. But the once sleepy little fishing village has changed, we are told. Brash apartment blocks are now everywhere in evidence, ugly shops, traffic clogs up the streets, noise fills the air, billboards abound and on the beaches, the once pristine beaches, semi-nude women shamelessly display their bodies. Years ago, Fatma and her husband were banished to the fishing village. Now the grandmother is beset by bitter memories of the many follies her husband committed. He squandered her heirlooms, selling off her jewellery, piece by piece, to fund his encyclopaedia, a Quixotian undertaking spanning 48 volumes wherein he, among other eccentric pursuits, set out to prove that God did not exist. His one ardent desire was to rouse Turkey from its Oriental slumber, and bring secularism and scientific method to the Turks. What causes the deepest bitterness, though, is that her deceased husband cherished a pretty servant girl who bore him two sons. One of the bastard sons is the dwarf Recep, on whom, to her chagrin, she now has to depend. There are five narrators in the novel, and each narrator is allocated a number of chapters, one chapter at a time. The action in Silent House takes place shortly before the military coup of 1980 and is, in a way, a precursor to the cataclysmic events that are to come: a coup that plunged Turkey into an abyss, with more than half-a-million people imprisoned, with summary executions, street violence, and people dying in custody. Turkey’s position in the world is ambivalent and has been ever since the dramatic reforms introduced by Kemal Atatürk after World War I. It is a Muslim country and yet it is also highly westernised. Geographically speaking, too, it is situated between East and West and while its gaze is turned longingly towards Europe – to the European Union, to be exact, which it wishes to join – many of the country’s conservative and even repressive traditions from the time of the Ottoman Empire remain. These conflicts and contradictions are also present in Silent House, where each sibling is beset by some restless ambition. Faruk, a historian, who has become not only an alcoholic but is also rapidly gaining weight, attempts in vain to reconstruct the past from the documents he finds although originally published in 1983 in Turkish, has only recently been translated into English. It has been short-listed for the Man Asian Booker Prize for 2013. The author, of course, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. in the local archive, while his pretty sister, Nilgün, who reads leftist newspapers, is an idealist and has yet to discover the realities of life. Metin is a high school student who dreams of going to America where he imagines himself becoming a rich, cold-hearted playboy who mesmerises women. Meanwhile he must grudgingly resign himself to driving a clapped out old Anadol while his nouveau riche friends race around in Alfa Romeos and speedboats. And then there is Hasan. Hasan, Recep’s nephew, is a high school dropout who struggles in vain with the mysteries of mathematics. He has also joined a right-wing nationalist group and it is his brooding presence that invades the lives of the siblings and eventually brings their annual summer sojourn to an abrupt end. Hasan’s head, too, is filled with dreams of trips to far-off countries, bloody wars, the rattle of machine guns, the intoxication of combat, historical films with galley slaves pulling oars, whips to silence the howls of sinners, disciplined armies, factories and prostitutes. And he, too, dreams of greatness. It is summer by the seaside and they are young. Inevitably, the pursuit of love is one of the main themes of the novel. Metin meets Ceylan and falls in love with her but Ceylan seems not to notice and if she does, she does not care. On a night of revelry and reckless driving, Ceylan sticks her bare legs out of the back window. Her legs are tanned and beautiful. She is having fun. She laughs. Metin looks behind him and sees what she is doing; he suffers. But it is Hasan’s obsessive yearning for Nilgün that is the central love theme in the novel. As children they used to play together. Now she hardly recognises Hasan. Or perhaps she doesn’t want to. Still, he follows her to the beach where, from a distance, he observes her with a dull ache in his heart. She lies on a towel, reading a book. She wears a blue bikini and is oblivious of his presence. When she goes into the water, he steals her hair comb from her bag. The hair comb takes on a disproportionate significance in the novel and is raised to the level of a fetish, indirectly leading to disastrous consequences. This novel, like all Pamuk’s novels, is dense and rich in poetic detail. It is not as labyrinthine as, say, The Museum of Innocence and more to the point. It is quite astonishing to think that the author was barely 30 when he wrote this wonderful book. It is summer by the seaside and they are young. Inevitably, the pursuit of love is one of the main themes of the novel. While a hair comb is an object of some significance in Silent House, Pamuk’s previously published novel in English, The Museum of Innocence is dominated by the presence of objects, all of them “touched” by the beautiful young Füsun. The story starts quite innocently: Kemal, the book’s dolorous hero, buys his fiancée, Sybil, a purse from Paris, designed by the famous Jenny Colon. The purse turns out to be a fake but the sales assistant happens to be a distant cousin of his, Füsun, barely out of school. He has an affair with his cousin, even though he is 12 years her senior. At first Kemal treats the affair lightly, with his gaze set upon Sybil, who is socially acceptable, unlike Füsun, who is no more than a shopgirl and, moreover is a disgraced poor cousin. Too late he discovers that Füsun is the one he loves. Too late because by the time he realises this, Füsun has vanished without a trace. From this moment on, Kemal becomes a collector, a collector of things that belonged to Füsun and that she left behind during their brief affair. It is not only that that these objects belonged to Füsun, it is also that they represent the happiest moments of his life, the time spent with her even though he had no idea of the depth of his feeling for her. After years of searching fruitlessly for her – his relationship with Sybil has meanwhile ended – he manages to track down Füsun. She is now living with her family in a different part of Istanbul and she is married. For eight years he visits the family almost every night to have dinner with them and, of course, to see Füsun. He continues to collect everything from her parents’ home that reminds him of her; but then everything reminds him of Füsun! He collects wine glasses to go with his handkerchiefs and a tricycle his family gave to Füsun when she was a child. All objects have a value as the writer believes, just as narratives need objects, so too do objects need narratives. For eight years he observes Füsun, “her hand, her arm, the curl in her hair, the way she stubbed out cigarettes” and so he collects her cigarette butts, 4 213 to be precise! And not only cigarette butts. There is the salt shaker. What importance could a salt shaker possibly have? For Kemal (or the author) its importance is profound because, “Just as Füsun picked it up a rusty Soviet tanker rumbled past the window, the violence of its propeller shaking the bottles and glasses on our table, and she held it for a good long time.” And, further on, we discover that for Kemal, a half-eaten cone, if it has touched Füsun’s lips, is a revered object: “On our fourth meeting, we went to Zeynel in Istinye, and as we all strolled, I was just behind her, Füsun cast off this half-eaten cone, which I retrieved from the ground and pocketed in a flash.” All these objects have found their way into the gallery of an actual museum that Pamuk has created in Istanbul, called The Museum of Innocence. It is a kind of companion piece to his novel, as well as a picture book called The Innocence of Objects, which contains pictures from the museum. As The New York Times wrote: “In the museum, ‘Happiness Means Being Close to the One You Love, That’s All,’ we find that very (salt) shaker and cone, dramatically lighted like operatic singers on a stage. We become flâneurs, wandering past the illuminated windows of an arcade.” And the author himself wrote: “Füsun’s white panties are displayed with her childish white socks and her dirty white sneakers to evoke our spells of silence.” Objects, Pamuk believes, if left in their natural surroundings, have stories to tell. In an interview with The New York Times, when asked if he was, in fact, Kemal, Pamuk responded: “No, I am not Kemal, but I cannot convince you that I am not Kemal. That is being a novelist.” And this much is clear, in The Museum of Innocence fiction has merged with reality. Hemingway wrote: “All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.” It’s as if Pamuk has wanted to prove to us the veracity of this by actually creating a real museum and a gallery of “ordinary” objects that all attest to the existence of Füsun. And so, in a way, Füsun indeed continues to “live” on in some way, sipping tea somewhere in Istanbul, and stubbing out her cigarettes.

The Museum of Innocence and Silent House by Orhan Pamuk, published by Faber & Faber.

THE SADNESS OF THE MAN BEHIND THE ‘NEW LOOK’

When Christian Dior created his famous ‘New Look’, he not only saved France’s economy but also lay the foundation for what was to become a fashion empire, known throughout the world.

Rihanna Dior

I think I will always have a soft spot for great artists who acknowledge the role their mothers played, like Bergman. Similarly, Dior’s New Look was influenced by the rustle of his mother’s dresses as she came into his room after a party to kiss him good night, and he remembered her perfume. This was known as La Belle Epoch.

And so he created his ‘New Look’, a look that shocked the fashion world.  This was after WWII.

I couldn’t help thinking of him with so much compassion after watching Vogue’s short film on Dior, featuring Rihanna.  I think Dior became human to me after I read about his waiting on his mother to enter the room after a party. I had similar feelings for Yves St Laurent, who secretly stole out of the house to watch his mother dance by heaving himself up so he could see through the window.

But back to Rihanna and Dior. I loved watching it. I also could not help wondering why we make so much of the feminine mystique and yes, the rustling of dresses (although we can’t hear it in the Rihanna film).  There is Versailles. The voluptuous empty spaces, waiting to be filled, the lone figure of the woman. We will have to ask, at some stage, why is she alone. Why does a man not appear, mysteriously, to hold her by the waist, to plant a kiss on her voluptuous lips?  Why is it that the Dior woman is alone?

Dior's New Look

Dior’s New Look

Perhaps it is the image of his mother, and in his childhood dreams his mother kissed only him?  His mother always entered the room alone, his father forever absent.

It is in advertising agencies that these scenes are plotted and designed.  I can imagine the creative director, saying, no, no man. She is alone. She is mystique. A man entering will make it commonplace. She is waiting to be fulfilled but not now.

Anyway, I found the Dior short thrilling.

I could never completely reconcile the rather mundane figure of Dior with his creations, a rather plump gentleman in a suit, with his voluptuous creations.  But there he stood, directing things as his models stepped onto the catwalks of Paris. A not-imposing figure but a figure of such great import. For instance, when he introduced his New Look.

If I remember correctly from my reading it was snowing in Paris when the editor of, for instance, British Vogue made her way to the showing. There was an air of expectancy. But actually, no one knew what to expect. Then the first model appeared on the catwalk and every gasped, and the New Look was born. I just so love that it was born of the rustle of his mother’s skirts, her perfume, and the nocturnal kiss planted after a party.

Was Christian Dior lonely?

By all accounts yes. Of course he was.

So he met a boy, a boy from Algeria.

This was the sixties. Such things were scandalous. But Dior was beyond caring. He was seen holding hands with him in public. It was sad, perhaps, depending on how you looked at it: a plump, elderly gentleman holding hands with a young man, perhaps merely a boy, but a boy with his whole life ahead of him, good looking, and here was this plump, famous aging, sad person holding his hand.

Imagine. He had built a fashion empire, which, in a way saved France. All he needed was to be loved.

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And so he found love, or so he thought.

He had gained so much weight. He wanted to appear attractive to his Algerian boy. So he decided to visit a health spa in Italy. Well, I think it was in Italy. I could check. But I do think it was in the Alps.

At this time, he was strongly advised by his clairvoyant not to go to the spa. She saw only darkness if he went. But Dior wanted to lose weight. He wanted to appear beautiful before his boy.

His clairvoyant was the one who had originally advised him to go into business. He followed her advice. And from then on he did not move without first consulting her.

On this occasion, blinded by love, his ignored her advice.

He depended so much on her. Sometimes, before a show, he would not be able to leave the car and the chauffeur would have drive around the block endlessly. His clairvoyant would be called. She was the one who persuaded him to get out of the car.

But this time, he ignored her advice.

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Now, on the train, on the way to the health spa, he devoured two foie gras. Perhaps more. But not a good start when trying to lose weight. I imagine the train, rattling through the night, the dimly lit windows, appearing to anyone still about, perhaps wanderer, who sees the yellow lights of the passing train. And inside, a man alone with his passion, foie gras, devouring, his mouth greasy as he stuff the foie gras into his mouth, fingers covered in fat ­- fat, fat delicious fat.

Then in the spa. In a white gown. Dior is some way into the cure, the diet cure, dressed in a soft white gown. They are playing bridge. His niece is with him. He has the Ace of Spades in his hand but he his dreaming of his love back in Paris. He will return slim and young to him, and kiss him on his lips, a rejuvenated, young Christian Dior as once he was.

But his dreams froze, because, possibly with a good hand of cards, he died in his chair without a word. His niece might even have looked up and said ‘Your call.” The weight loss regime had proved too taxing for him.

I like Christian Dior. I empathise with him. I can’t help empathising with sad, lonely people who have good taste, who are so knowledgeable about art, who visit the galleries, who read, who speak softly but intelligently around dinners table and who live with such longing in their hearts.  I prefer the little fat Dior so much more than Karl Lagerfeld, the smug, self-assured Karl Lagerfeld who is only happy when he can tell people they are fat.

The Rites of Pasta

My Rites of Passage consisted not of circumcision, or anything as dramatic like that. Well, no, it was more dramatic, actually. Fresh out of school, I had the nerve to order a Spaghetti Bolognaise at my beloved La Perla, the restaurant in the centre of town. And, come to think of it, just about the only restaurant in town at that time. The experience was traumatic. I was, to my chagrin, unable, at 18 years of age, to twirl the spaghetti strands around the tines of my fork. It represented, in my young eyes, a colossal failure. Let me explain.
Where I come from, in Cape Town, I sometimes see along the N2, the white-painted faces of initiates, half naked or draped in grey blankets, appearing furtively before melting back into the bush once more. It is part of their initiation ceremony. They spend days in the bush, having to survive, and endure mysterious things, mostly painful, I believe. At the end of it, if they have passed the various tests, they are declared a man.
As a Christian boy, we had none such rituals. I was not circumcised. I was confirmed and that was that, not much of a ritual. My rites of passage consisted of eating spaghetti in La Perla. And I failed it like I failed my first driving test. I was unable to eat spaghetti in public.
Instead of being pilloried on the village square, I felt the stings of brief but critical stares in my direction. “Ha! … a novice…. No, a peasant. Pissant!” I half expected, well, in retrospect, to be honest, the maître d’ to come up to with a stern expression, and in an undertone ask me to leave. It did not happen, of course. My money was good enough, even though my sophistication amounted to nothing.
Spaghetti Meat Sauce

At home there was very little that I ate that I can remember. Tripe (which my mother always cooked with lamb’s neck, or perhaps it was sheep’s neck), and curry, usually made with – again- sheep’s neck or lamb’s neck. She used Cartwright’s curry powder, and perhaps butter or oil, I am not sure. It was good. But that was about the sum total of my culinary pallet. Perhaps because of the lack of so-called sophistication at home, I began to see food as a gateway to adulthood.
The first time I really started to make spaghetti was in London. It was in Gloucester Road, sharing a studio, as Yousef called it, although others would have just called it an apartment. Yousef was larger than life. His works were once exhibited with Chagal, and that was his claim to fame. His paintings didn’t do much for me, but I never said so. I just stared at his works and nodded. But I loved him as a human being, his love of poetry, his love of women and sex, his larger than life aspects.
Anyway, this was where I learnt to cook spaghetti or thought I did. Yousef acted as my mentor, he of the grand gestures. He tossed a spaghetti strand against the wall, with a rallying cry, like a non-commissioned officer summoning his troops into battle. “Al Dente! It has to be al dente!” he roared. It stuck to the wall. We had the spaghetti. It was not all that great, despite being al dente.
Later I read somewhere that this was a myth. You have to actually taste the strands. You have to taste the slight crunch under your teeth. (dente … very close to dentist, I realized, that must be the origin of the word ‘teeth’ … ‘dente’ … dental – not rocket science).
It was at that time, in the summer, that I found myself lying in a bath, luxuriating in the warm water, and listening to BBC 3 Radio. Or was it called the ‘The Third Programme’? I can’t remember, it was so long ago.
But lying in that Victorian bath, a ray of sunlight pouring through the window and fanning out across the wooden floor, I heard the most wonderful poem. It was about cricket, of all things, a match being played in the countryside during Edwardian times. I realized, drowsing in the bath, at that moment, that anything could be beautiful, that anything could be turned into poetry. That was then.
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A few days ago, listening on the radio to the semi-finals where South Africa faced their nemesis, the Black Caps, and were defeated, I remembered again my time in Gloucester Square, and wrote this short poem, a memory piece really:cricket image

Discovering cricket in Gloucester Square.
It was not really cricket, but rather a poem
about cricket.
about a match played in Edwardian times
in the countryside, in the summer.

I was having a bath, the transistor radio
tuned to BBC 3
listening to the voice, deliver a poem in languid tones
describing the dull monotony of bat against ball
in defensive stroke
and the occasional boundary, demurely applauded by
ladies under umbrellas, sipping lemonade
in the summer, in the countryside
So the poem went, as I listened, drowsing in the bath
the water cooling down
in Gloucester Square.
How time has moved along since then.
Cricket has developed into a limited overs game of 50 overs, and 20 overs, since those soft languid days of four-day tests.
And so has the skill of making pasta. This came to me as I read a story (I prefer ‘story’ to article. Stories have something enchanting and childlike about them) And I enjoy reading Mark Bittman of the New York Times. Here he is on pasta: “On a clear fall day in Rome, I was sitting outside at Flavio al Velavevodetto, a restaurant in Testaccio, in a neighborhood that was once the city’s slaughterhouse district and is now inhabited by both older working-class people and gentrifying youngsters.
He had heard that this was where you could get ‘real pasta’ and so he asked Flavio why it was that “the simplest pastas of all — pasta alla Gricia, pasta cacio e pepe and pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino — were the darlings of Rome, appearing on nearly every menu?” Flavio had little hesitation in replying that it was because of the magic of water. And he added that if you used it right, you can create a beautiful sauce, a cremina which has a thick, round and rich texture.” Flavio added that if you got it wrong, you have “a pile of pasta with a watery sauce on top.”
Flavio then proceeded to show Mark Bittman how it works.
What Flavio wanted to show Mark Bittman was that you had to stir the pasta vigorously in the water, almost as if you were making a scrambled egg. Let me quote directly: “In all three dishes, the secret, as it turns out, is to stir the mostly cooked pasta quite vigorously so that its starch emulsifies with the seasonings and added water. Flavio did this with deceptive ease, almost whipping the pasta as you would egg whites, using a fork in some cases and a large spoon in others, his wrist swiftly moving not so much in circles but in tight ovals.”
The article had numerous responses. And reading them, I realised there was no one way of making spaghetti, even though my early mentor, Yousef Chamoon, taught me otherwise.
Speaking of Rome. I was in Rome a few months later, after my time of instruction at the hand of Yousef. I stayed with friends of my mother’s, the SAA air attaché in Rome or something important like that. They had a grand apartment and a crazy daughter. The woman cooked her food with KWV Roodeberg which mortified me. I knew a little about wine at that stage. But in a way, she was right without knowing it and I was wrong. You’re supposed to use wine you drink in the food you cook. Oh, those times. I was reading Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. By day I was taken to see the sights of Rome and I cannot describe how they bored me.
The weekend came, and things changed. We went by hovercraft to the Isle of Capri. I saw the Grotta Azzurra, I remember clearly the azure (of course) colour of the water in the mysterious cave. But what I remember most was that we walked up a steep incline to have lunch at a trattoria. For some reason it felt like a pilgrimage, that we were following a route up the mountainside, after the strange waters in the cave, that would lead to some sort of enlightenment. I followed Mr Wilson, and saw his white shirt, billowing slightly because there was a breeze. I remember large windows through which the light poured, the soft, Italian light at that time of the year, and tables that seated four, with simple white table cloths. I had the best meal I have ever had on that day, in that trattoria on the hill. And I can’t remember what I had to eat, but I am assuming it was spaghetti, my first love. And my first torment.
By now I was an initiate, and more adept at eating spaghetti. But another rite of passage awaited me upon my return to Rome.

George-Grosz_-Fern-im-Süd-das-schöne-Spanien-(Far-in-the-South_-beautiful-Spain)_-1919.-Courtesy-of-Richard-Nagy-Ltd_-London
I was a virgin. Just think! At 21. That changed, when the sex-mad daughter, who was older than me, slipped into my room while her parents were sleeping and seduced me. I was also mortified at the thought that we should be caught. And perhaps this added something piquant to the act, but the next night, the same routine was repeated until I called a halt to it.
In these nocturnal moments, as she slipped away furtively to her own room, I felt I had experienced a rite of passage, I had learnt something about sex. I was not left with a feeling of exultation, but rather a somewhat sad, melancholic experience, as sometimes happens in life.

The images are from the Rome tourist buro, the pasta from Wikipedia and the art works by George Grosz and Chagal.

A fish market in Venice, and a remarkable Englishwoman

I love food.  So some social media-savvy friends have advised that I should cut to the chase and write about food, directly. What I have been writing up till now, they said, is more like a memoir – a book, in other words. Of course, I do want to write a memoir. So much has happened to me; some of it absurd and amusing (two directors wanted to do a short film based on one story I told around the dinner table) – so I must write down these stories, and I will. But for now, let’s get to food, more or less.  Which reminds me, when a woman I met at a party asked me what I wrote about, I said, “Food,” and, somewhat ambitiously added, because it was not 100% true, “…and travel.”  She asked me where I had travelled and I replied, “From the kitchen to the dining room to serve my guests.  I was not being facetious. What I meant by that was that there is a whole world of experience locked into a meal that you prepare. If you write about food, you also write about life, psychology, philosophy, history, and travel. And, God knows, possibly even about love. 24 January, 2015 On Saturday I needed some lemons for a recipe. The recipe was for tomato bredie ­– a traditional Cape Boerekos (farmer’s food) dish. There has been some dissenting views on what actually constitutes ‘ Boerekos’ and I did contribute to the debate but more on that later. A few nights prior to this I had had dinner at Spasie, purported to be the first ‘Underground’ restaurant venue in Cape town, where I savoured Steffen Olivier’s delicious, absolutely delicious tomato bredie, a dish that is traditionally made with lamb shank. Steffen deviates from the tradition and uses shin which he cooks for hours on end. I would say that he prepares it like one would an Osso Buco, which also uses shin.  He adds lemon zest at the end, just like the traditional Osso Buco (although Italians prepare a mixture of garlic, parsley and lemon zest – Gremolata.) I wanted to make the dish I had enjoyed so much and to this end I even got the recipe from Steffen a few days later. I can get obsessive about food – and I do! (But not as obsessive, thank God, as Bill Buford who is, of course, insane – but again, more on that later.)

Tomato Bredie

Tomato Bredie (not the traditional sort)

 I was joined at Spasie by Denise Cowburn Levy, who had invited me, and Almo. Denise has started a cooking school, Ginger & Lime and Almo cooks with her.  Almo is also the partner of Denise’s younger brother Graham, who joined us at Spasie. Denise it was who, over our tomato bredie and vegetable wrap, mentioned the fish markets of Italy, and it was then that I recalled reading, and writing about that wonderful piece Elizabeth David did on the Rialto’s fish market in Venice. But right then, on this glorious Saturday morning, I was faced with a dilemma. I needed organic lemons. Where would I find organic lemons? They had to be organic. I did not want to grate pesticides into my food. Perhaps I even wanted to recreate the wonderful evening with my friends through recreating the dish. In food one discovers so much. As I said, it is not only a way of travelling and all the other things I mentioned but also a way of recreating the past. I started phoning around but I was out of luck. Even Woolworths didn’t have organic lemons in stock. Then, as if a signal from a higher being, all at once I caught the sound of music wafting in through my open window. A piano accordion. There was so something melancholic about it, this music that reached me through the open window on this summer’s morning. Then it struck me. Of course!. There was a farmer’s market in progress. The Oranjezicht City Farm had moved their Saturday market to the lawns of the premier of the Western Cape. Of course, they would be selling organic lemons! When I got to the market these pungent aromas reached me; or, rather a potpourri of aromas trapped under the canvas canopy that induced a heady feeling as if one had entered another, perfumed world. For some mysterious reason, I thought of the decadents of the Fin de Siecle who dreamed of being smothered by a thousand rose petals … Here, in the confines of the tent, the smells were trapped and concentrated and very powerful but I was far from being smothered.

Ribbet collage markets new

I passed an attractive woman with tanned features. She was in conversation with a gentleman wearing a straw hat. This, I knew, was the woman who began this market, in the heart of the city. Her name is Sheryl Ozinsky. She is a remarkable woman and I am only one of the many who admire her. (I hope to interview her soon for Cape Town Café.) But now the idea of markets was in the air. I remembered again Denise speaking of the fish markets of Italy. And I wanted to revisit, with the author, Elizabeth David, the Rialto fish market.

A Remarkable Englishwoman

 Photographer unknown

Elizabeth David (photographer unknown)

Of all the spectacular food market in Italy, the one near the Rialto in Venice must be the most remarkable.  The light of a Venetian dawn in early summer – you must be about at four o’ clock in the morning to see the market coming to life – is so limpid and so still that it makes every separate vegetable and fruit and fish luminous with a life of its own, with unnaturally heightened colours and clear stencilled outlines.  Here the cabbages are cobalt blue, the beetroots deep rose, the lettuces clear pure green, sharp as glass.  Bunches of gaudy gold marrow-flower show off the elegance of pink and white marbled bean pods, primrose potatoes, green plums, green peas.  The colours of the peaches, cherries, and apricots, packed in boxes lined with sugar-bag blue paper matching the blue canvas trousers worn by the men unloading the gondolas, are reflected in the rose-red mullet and the orange vongole and cannestrelle which have been prised out of their shells and heaped into baskets.  In other markets, on other shores, the unfamiliar fishes may be vivid, mysterious, repellent, fascinating, and bright with splendid colour; only in Venice do they look good enough to eat.  In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn. The gentle swaying of the laden gondolas, the movements of the market men as they unload, swinging the boxes and baskets ashore, the robust life and rattling noise contrasted with the fragile taffeta colours and the opal sky of Venice – the whole scene is out of some marvellous unheard-of ballet.”

 Italian food

28 January, 2015 I went out to Waterkloof farm in the Cape Winelands to do a story for Food & Home Entertainment. It’s my third visit to the farm and I have so much to tell you about it, but all in good time, and in good order, otherwise there will be chaos. Because before I can write about organic farming and even bio-dynamic farming, I must first finish the thread on fish markets – at least up to a point (it’s a BIG subject) and in a way, the subject of fish markets will never be exhausted, at least not here, where I live. As I sat talking French chef French chef Gregory Czarnecki of the Waterkloof Restaurant, a lovely man, remarkably modest for someone who has always worked in Michelin Star restaurants in Paris (his last one was a Three Star Michelin Restaurant!), I again lamented, as I always tend to do, the lack of fishing harbours at the Cape and elswewhere. And this needs further exploration. Why are there no fishing harbours – so-called ‘free harbours’ in Cape Town?  Chef Gregory Czarnecki was in full agreement. “It’s a shame,” he said. “A country with such a big a coastline …”