May 2010 Archives

Writing about food, eating and drinking - as distinct from how-to cookery manuals - goes back at least to antiquity, from Juvenal's biting Satires and Petronius's detailing of the excesses of Trimalchio's feast, to the dietary prohibitions of the Old Testament. It would be both interesting and a little tedious to trace food writing through the ages; however, there has always been a self-consciously literary tradition, as in Petronius's mocking exaggerations of a decadent Roman cena. In the hands of really good writers, as we've seen in our own time in the work of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, even collections of recipes can have literary worth - though this is exceptional, and most writers of recipes do not have literary pretensions, or even ambitions.

         Something new is happening, though. Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, which had its origins online in a blog, has turned into a movie with a magnificent role for Meryl Streep. One of the effects of this has been to make high-end food a subject for mainstream entertainment - as it has been for 25 years anyway for affluent urbanites, for whom eating out is a major leisure activity (as Social Trends reported yet again in 2006), and cooking a hobby. But perhaps the correct way to view this is as the crest of a foodie wave, in which people are thinking and writing about food in all sorts of novel ways.

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May 28, 2010 3:51 PM | | Comments (6)

Religion is a difficult subject for me. I hate it - but I'm fascinated by the details of religions - liturgical, scriptural, ceremonial, even ecclesiastical - the whole lot. I feel that all religious belief is childish and weak, and I've never understood why believing you have an Imaginary Friend, and that you can pray or talk to him should make you a happier or better person.  But it's the belief part I don't get: I'm riveted by the detail of the rituals you practice to get in touch with him, and, of course, recognize the genius of the artists, musicians and architects who claim they have been inspired by him and his sacraments, rules and the disputes these have caused. For all my militancy, I'm a sort of pious atheist, as my friend Dr. Jonathan Miller says we should all be.

Love the Sinner




May 25, 2010 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
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photograph: Hugo Glendinning

Ought we to be entertained by the truly horrible? The 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, is the first play I've ever seen that turns on gynecological matters, for in civil-strife-torn Congo, a woman who has been "ruined" has not just been raped, but mutilated. British reviewers have, perhaps understandably, been shy about spelling this out in full, wince-making detail; though, in fact, it brings home what Amnesty International means when it speaks of rape being used as a military strategy in this nastiest of all conflicts.  February 2010 UN figures for the Kivu Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone say that "about 1600 women are raped every week, mainly by armed men," with 8000-plus cases reported in 2009.

May 5, 2010 3:46 PM | | Comments (0)

"England's Mozart" one critic dubbed the young Thomas Adès a few years ago. I very much hoped this was true, as our visitors' book has an entry for 9-10 September 1978 in firm, legible, scarily grown-up handwriting, the name and address of the six-year-old Thomas, along with those of his mother and younger brother. Now 39, Adès seems at the height of his powers as a composer, with two operas, a piano concerto, a violin concerto and plenty of other orchestral works to his credit. He is also renowned (and in demand) as a conductor. But until April 27
th in a piano recital at the Barbican, I had not heard him perform. Now I'd be more inclined to say he is "England's Liszt," as he is that (currently) rare thing a composer who is a virtuoso pianist.


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Joan Rodgers as Marg of Arg in "Powder Her Face"

May 1, 2010 4:28 PM | | Comments (0)

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