A LITTLE FLIGHT READING
The history of this city of three names — Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul — is a big tale to tell, particularly when the starting point is 800,000 years ago. Remains in the Yarimburgaz Cave, on the outskirts of the modern city, date back to then. The city, described as the gateway between East and West, North and South, has served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman empires.
British historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes has spent 10 years on this book and her effort is richly rewarding. It is a scholarly work, but highly readable and enlivened throughout with photos and illustrations. At 800 pages, however, it’s best to read the volume before you leave home (200 pages consist of a timeline, footnotes, bibliography, index and the like, but that doesn’t make it any lighter).
Hughes writes: “For men of many faiths and for East and West alike, Istanbul is not just a city but a metaphor and an idea — a possibility describing where we want our imagination to take us and our souls to sit. A city that encourages abstractions and armies, gods and goods, heart and body, and mind and spirit to travel.”
The book aims to tell the story not just of emperors, viziers, caliphs and sultans, but of the ordinary men and women whose aspirations have continuously reinvented Istanbul. It is a wonderfully complex story, so worth knowing against the background of today’s headlines, including the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks. Good things come in threes for American chef-turnedwriter Matt Goulding, it seems. Hot on the heels of his award-winning Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture comes Grape Olive Pig. This time Goulding’s “deep travels” take him to Spain, which, with a Spanish wife, is his adoptive home.
It’s an entertaining journey through the nine cities or regions into which the country has been divided. Along the way there are helpful hints on such topics as how to eat like a Spaniard (expect to dine after 9.30pm but snack beforehand, keep it simple, but stay on your toes for a movable feast that may mean the best octopus here and fabulous croquetas somewhere else) and how to drink like one too (consume sidra, a sparkling hard cider, in one animated gulp, but skip the sangria, which in many trampled thoroughfares can be a tourist “trick” of cheap wine and sugar).
The pictures leave you wanting more; linger over the Tapas Taxonomy section and imagine the delight of the first mouthful of patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy paprika sauce) or the sardines in garlic, herbs and vinegar. In a foodiefigure snapshot, I appreciate the thoughts of nun and baker Sister Consolacion, “Spanish nuns have always made sweets. Eating sweets isn’t a sin, but you need to eat them after a meal.” That’s divine wisdom.
So where does Goulding go next? Surely there’s a trilogy in his series of deep travels.