Shades of the Beguine

Chimneys, rooftops, the Beguinages, Bruge

Bruges is a strangely sinister little town, with deep houses and twitching net curtains.

As the sun sets, shadows lengthen and night begins to fall, a strong sense of the gothic creeps across the town.

My Kingdom for a Horse

For those of you who watch Heroes, Ventimiglia will be an Italo-American, all-flying, all-teleporting, multi-purpose dreamboat called Milo, who sports a razor-sharp jaw and flawless skin. For the rest of you, it’s a one-horse town on the Franco-Italian border that, at some point in history, lost its horse.

Faux Gucci handbags and sunglasses...gone

Friday morning and early afternoon are best spent ambling through the town’s weekly market, which sprawls along the promenade, its myriad stalls selling wares that range from good quality, inexpensive and delicious food: cheeses, oils, olives, and dried meats; to outrageously naff designer rip-offs; handbags, belts, sunglasses, bling, blang, best ignored – you could end up arrested for selling contraband at the French border.

Trains return to France infrequently after 3pm, and we found ourselves stranded until 11pm after an evening spent trudging around in search of a decent restaurant by the bay (on a Friday night!)

My mother and I were reduced, for nearly two hours, to sipping (delicious) red wine, in near silence, at a tiny café opposite the town’s cinema. Near silence, for those of you who know my mother, is rare, but we were rendered speechless by the tangible sense of inertia that seemed to hang, like dustsheets in an abandoned house, softly over the town.

So watch Heroes, stick to Milo, and give the town a miss.

Fun-paqued cooking from the Middle Ages

Échaudé – a traditional French Easter delicacy

The Échaudé takes its name from the French and means, literally, “scalded”. Hurled briefly into boiling water before being chucked into a hot oven, this Easter speciality (hence the awful pun) hales from the Middle Ages, in whose times unlucky humans were wont to suffer a similar fate.

These were baked and photographed at La Capeline, Place Centrale, Vieux Nice, but can be found in most ancient Provençal towns, of which there are many.

Tardivo magnifico: worth the wait

Radicchio Tardivo di Treviso – deeply delicious

Radicchio tardivo is a subspecies of chicory, and owes its striking colour to Francesco van den Borr, Belgian agronomist and inventor of the imbianchiamento technique, which uses scalding spring water to transform the colour of the leaves.  A little bitter when eaten raw, cooking changes the flavour to a deep, rich sweetness.

This specimen was discovered in a Treviso market, and found a home in nearby Piombino Dese, where the formidable talents of Mara Quarneti magicked it into three memorable feasts risotto con tardivo, lasagne con tardivo and, of course, polenta con tardivo.

And no, we didn’t get sick of it, at all.

More on Treviso and its famous radicchio at .

Death is Certain:
  notes from an Indian road trip

Hindustan Ambassador cars
We Three Kings: the Hindustan Ambassador, based upon Britain’s
Morris Oxford, is fondly known as the ‘king of the Indian road’.


Only Death is Certain

Paradoxically, although nearly everyone gets sick in Delhi (myself excluded – I got sick a week after I left) it’s easy to eat healthily. Fruit is fairly cheap, and at the juice bars on the Main Bazaar it’s possible to buy a glass of sugar cane juice for ten rupees – about thirteen pence, or any mixture of fresh mango, banana, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, pomegranate, guava, papaya etc. for just under twenty.

It’s now really hot – during our journey yesterday from Laxmanjhula to Delhi in a glossy white Ambassador taxi that took an unbelievable NINE hours (including a stop for puncture repair) to cover 250km, the temperature reached 105F/41C. The three bottles of water we’d stashed under the seat were hot by the end of the day – hot enough to bathe in but too hot to be refreshing. The only places to go in India to escape the heat are in the north, and Kashmir is, sadly, out of bounds.

However, one doesn’t have to go far to find danger – during our lengthy ride yesterday I witnessed two accidents; a motorbike crash from which the victim walked away, and a hit-and run, from which the victim didn’t.

As our Ambassador sped gently in the direction of Delhi from Rishikesh,  Hindu gods swaying from the rearview mirror, sun beating relentlessly down on us, I heard the screeching of brakes next to my window and saw, as though in slow-motion, a car roughly the size of a Mini-Metro hurtling along a few inches to the right of my door.  (In India, they overtake and drive on every side of the road.) The car braked far too late, and its passengers screamed as they collided with an old man, dressed in white kurta and pyjama trousers. He seemed to levitate from the road and slide up the bonnet of his own accord – a weird illusion produced by our relative speed and perspective. The windscreen shattered as he hit it, the momentum carrying him higher, over the roof and back of the still speeding car, until he came to rest on the busy road, rolling over and over a few times until he stopped still. We were all stunned, and tried to get our driver either to stop or to give chase to the other car. He refused to do both, explaining that locals would help the injured man, and that if the other car had stopped, its driver and passengers would certainly be lynched.

Interestingly, my horoscope for that day had promised me a “memorable journey, if travelling.” But that wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind.

*The title refers to the following meditation:  The Nine Point Meditation on Death (PDF).