food is so pleasingly universal

Cooking can be a great humaniser of another culture.

My grandfather refused to eat garlic because that was food for Frenchmen and Arabs. But I mean something broader than that.

Our impressions of other countries are news driven. Not the countries we’ve visited, or whose films we watch, or whose clothes we wear, perhaps; but that still leaves whole continents we only know about in terms of wars, revolutions, famine, disease and abject poverty.

If you asked people what they thought if you said “Iran”, the list of topics would be short: oil and fundamentalist Islam. I’d be tempted by that answer myself. But I also own various cookbooks which tell me that Iranians eat dishes like a pilaf cooked so that the rice at the bottom forms a golden crusty base; or tea made from dried limes; or dishes flavoured with lots of mixed fresh herbs – dill, flat-leaved parley, mint, coriander. And they make meat dishes flavoured with fruit – duck with cherries, chicken with apricots.

I guess if you don’t cook a lot, especially food which is foreign to you, that might make Iran seem even more distant. For me, though, it transcends religion or language or culture and makes us all just human. I read these recipes, and my mouth waters. A dried lime pilaf doesn’t compensate for a lack of human rights – but it does bring out the shared experience of being human. The food of other cultures can seem forbidding – try cartilage on a stick or soy-fried grasshopper, if you’re in Japan – but the more you know how to do it, the more it just all becomes food.

I should stop before I become any more like “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”

  • Post category:Other

the secrets of the ancients have been uncovered

Who needs aliens, when you’ve got ingenuity, common sense, a grasp of physics and a willingness to experiment? Not W. T. Wallington.

The annoying reliance of Mr Wallington’s website on embedded mpegs means that, at least on my version of Netscape, his site is a bit flaky. It worked better on IE. But he’s a hero. Too many people, faced with Stonehenge or the Pyramids, just make a lazy leap to a supernatural explanation. If more people cast themselves enormous concrete blocks and quietly got on with working out how to build their own copies of ancient monuments, we’d understand rather more about early building techniques.

Just because they didn’t have JCBs, it doesn’t mean the ancients were stupid.

  • Post category:Other

a platitudinous observation

Isn’t it odd how little we sometimes know the people we know best?

Yeah, I know, it’s hardly an observation that’ll win me the Nobel Prize for Human Insight. The specific incident that prompted it happened the other day: I wandered into a room where my father was, whistling a merry tune. He looked startled, and said “I didn’t know you could whistle!”

Possibly part of the reaction, if he didn’t think I could whistle, was that he thought there was a whistling stranger in his house. But the point is – he’s known me for 29 years. I’ve been able to whistle for about 20 years of that time. I don’t whistle that much – I tend to hum or sing under my breath instead – but if you’d asked me, I would have said I whistled fairly often. Presumably not. It was an odd moment.

  • Post category:Me

a faltering start

I haven’t got off to a very good start on the blogging thing, have I? It was a probably a mistake trying to start The Poetry Blog and stormy petrel at the same time.

I actually set this blog up initally to play with Squishdot. I’d done a certain amount of redistributing and restyling on PoBlo, but it was still very much using the framework of the out-of-the-box fancy version of Squishdot. stormy petrel was my attempt at using the code and content of a Squishdot site but building up the page layouts from scratch.

In the event, having done that, I decided that I liked it much more than the previous version, so I used a version of it on PoBlo too. This version almost eliminates the use of tables for positioning, with just a two-cell table to hold the toolbar and main column in position, and everything else done with CSS; as a result, it’s much easier to customise than the old one.

But, having set it up, I do intend to make a genuine stab at running a personal blog. Watch this space.

  • Post category:Me