A LIT­TLE FLIGHT READ­ING

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

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.

GRA­HAM ERBACHER

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