Perhaps the strangest thing about me is that although I have spent the past 6 years living in two different countries, hearing languages that are not my own, I'm not much of a traveller. Years ago, a feeling of empathy came over me when reading Huysmann's A Rebours about the narrator is packed and ready to leave on a long journey, only to stop when he thinks of the inconvenience of getting to the station, how tired travelling will make him and that it would be far more enjoyable just to stay at home and travel in the mind. I wonder why I have that feeling.
Long school holidays were interminable for me, spending most of the days at friends' houses, inviting them over to mine or going away with my parents. My closest friend back then was probably C. who had incredibly long hair put back into a plait. She lived in a semi-detached house just down the road from the school with a pink bedroom and a garden at the front. There were mornings of watching TV programmes or walks into town to buy filled baguettes from a place called the Deli which has since closed down or occasionally fish and chips drowned in salt and malt vinegar from the Crest of the Wave which we would eat perched on top of a wall opposite some offices. Once one of the employees even asked us for a chip. I'm sure the quality of the food was awful but to us it seemed something special.
There were also the trips away with my parents, often to France or Spain. We took the ferry because my mother doesn't like to fly and one of the nicest things was suddenly seeing the sea on the horizon, hearing the shrieks of the seagulls overhead and getting out of the car to breath the fresh, salty air. I loved watching all the people standing on the piers waving goodbye as we pulled away and later on walking up the cold metal stairs to the deck where it was always a struggle to open the door because of the strong wind. In the restaurants, fellow passengers munched on greasy hamburgers and it seemed exciting to wander round the gift shop which sold large bars of Toblerone or Milka chocolate, as well as teddy bears. The longer trips to Spain though made me seasick and I hated lying in the tiny cabin, desperate to arrive. Other passengers would tell me I looked like death because of my white face. To pass the time we went to the cinema which is strange with the movement of the waves as you look up at the screen. Admittedly, some of the films were not so bad; As good as it gets with Jack Nicholson and Spiderman but City of angels got on my nerves, even if there is a nice scene with pears, especially after watching the original Himmel über Berlin. All that was forgotten though the moment we pulled into the the harbour and were in the car, ready for those first moments on foreign soil. Yet as much as I loved the excitement of other countries, there was no feeling like coming home to my own bed. In a way, I guess that experience has stayed with me and I'm often reluctant to leave the comfort of my surroundings and disrupt the routine I need.
For the past few weeks though, I've been journeying through Patagonia with Bruce Chatwin's book as well as reading an amazing biography of him by Nicholas Shakespeare, both of which have made me hungry for travel. I can't remember when or how I first heard of Chatwin, the goldon haired, blue eyed writer of books that tread the line between fact and fiction without fitting into any category. Today he's less read, suffering perhaps from a backlash that comes from being popular in his lifetime but people still tend to have strong opinions about him, either liking or loathing him. Even if his sentences are smooth and cold as glass, there's still something inside me that clicks with the spareness of his writing and wonderful stories, perhaps because I have a weakness for storytelling myself. For two weeks I dreamed of giant sloths, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's adventures, a Frenchman who crowned himself King of Patagonia, shipwrecks and Tierra del Fuego. Writing of Argentina:
It was lovely summery weather the week I was there. The Christmas decorations were in the shops. They had just opened the Peron Mausoleum at Olivos; Eva was in good shape after her tour of European bank-vaults. Some Catholics had said a Requiem Mass for the soul of Hitler and they were expecting a military coup.
By day the city quivered in a silvery film of pollution. In the evenings boys and girls walked beside the river. They were hard and sleek and empty-headed, and they walked arm in arm under the trees, laughing cold laughter, separated from the red river by a red granite balustrade."
Last week was both the beginning and end of an Indian summer. Warm enough to go out without a jacket and sit outside in the evenings, you could forget the grey weeks full of rain that went before it. The light in September has a special quality now that the trees have begun to turn yellow in parts, as if someone had dabbed them with a paintbrush. It seemed cruel that all of that sunshine disappeared into relentless rain that fell all weekend. I awoke on Sunday to see small figures of children dressed in brightly coloured macs bending down to hunt for the fallen conkers from the chestnut trees down in the park below. Sunday was only good for thick, hot soups (see recipes below) and epic films for rainy afternoons on the comfort of your sofa. Patagonia is still on the wish list of destinations but there are a few days booked for Venice at the end of October where I hope to fall in love with the city as much as last year.
Probably the last hot chocolate outside this year in the lovely café in the Bürgerpark
Perfect autumn days
The view since Saturday night.
Broccoli and feta soup from A Celebration of soup by Lindsey Bareham
The idea of cooking soup used to terrify me. All the ones I made were tasteless or slushy so I preferred to wait for a good restaurant for a bowlful. Then in the summer, my mother gave me a set of Penguin cookery books by people like Nigel Slater and Elizabeth David but also one called In Celebration of Soup by Lindsey Bareham. I have a miniscule collection of cookbooks but this is really one you want to have. It has every soup recipe you could ever need with all possible ingredients and only a minimum of equipment required. I've rarely felt so inspired in the kitchen! Everything I've tried has been wonderful and this is defintely my book for winter. Here are two recipes to get you through a rainy weekend:
1 head of fresh broccoli
1 medium onion
some fresh tarragon, chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
1.75 litres vegetable stock
200g feta cheese, crumbled (the original recipe calls for Cheddar which is also nice but I somehow prefer the flavour of Feta with broccoli)
1. Melt the butter and fry the onion in it until soft. Add the potoatoes, herbs and seasoning. Pour in enough stock to cover everything. Leave to simmer for around 10 minutes.
2. Cut the broccoli up into tiny florets and boil in the rest of the stock. Only cook the broccoli until no longer hard, you don't want it too soft.
3. Liquidise the broccoli and potato mixtures together with a hand held blender or in a food processor and return to a clean pan.
4. Add more seasoning if you like but remember that the feta is salty. Crumble in the cheese and some more harbs if you like. Heat the soup without boiling it and serve with crusty bread.
Pumpkin and ginger soup (adapted from the same book)
1 small pumpkin or squash
1 small leek
1 medium onion, choppped
1 small piece of fresh ginger, with the outside removed and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1.5 litres vegetable stock
some butter for frying
150ml double cream
salt and pepper
1. Slice the pumpkin open and remove the seeds and pulp. Cut into small pieces and simmer in the vegetable stock until soft.
2. Cook the leek, cumin seeds, onion and ginger in the butter in a large saucepan until soft. Add to the pumpkin mixture and liquidise with a blender. Return to the heat, add some salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the double cream just before serving and allow to blend into the hot soup.
What better way to finish off with Heidi's limoncello macaroons as dessert to make you think of sun drenched days in Italy?