Trav­ellers’ Tales – hope­fully with a meal in­cluded

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Skin­ner

When­ever I have been go­ing to a new place, in my own coun­try or abroad, my hopes are: firstly, good food; se­condly, good wine; thirdly, a com­fort­able bed. Ide­ally a con­junc­tion of all three. I have slept in quite a few hor­ren­dous beds in Africa, the Mid­dle East and es­pe­cially in small ho­tels in France, but I am happy to say I have had far fewer hor­ren­dous meals

Be­fore I found my vo­ca­tion (writ­ing this stuff ev­ery week) I loved trav­el­ling; and when I wasn’t do­ing that, I loved read­ing about it. First choice, food books; sec­ond, wine; third, travel. Lately, I have be­come fond­est of travel writ­ing. There are in­cred­i­bly well-trav­elled writ­ers who nonethe­less are ex­tremely bor­ing. Lawrence Dur­rell, for in­stance – plough­ing through the is like read­ing Dick­ens when you’re an eight-year-old; and although I have read a num­ber of times, I find the writ­ing con­ceited and self-ob­sessed and in parts im­pen­e­tra­ble. It is a pity that this is re­garded as the clas­sic book about Cyprus in its fight for in­de­pen­dence. It is not.

by G. Phillipou Pierides is the one. Beg or bor­row a copy from Ruth at Mouf­flon book­shop if you can.

When I look at a travel book, the first thing I do is rif­fle through the pages and if, af­ter a rif­fle or four, I can’t find a ref­er­ence to a meal or a drink of some de­scrip­tion, I am put off. If the book has an in­dex, then I search for the word ‘wine’. You’d be sur­prised how many very fa­mous writ­ers don’t ap­pear to drink the stuff.

The news­pa­per in Lon­don used to have a fa­mous writer, Eric Newby, do­ing the travel. He was eru­dite, aca­demic, but he could be a lit­tle pedes­trian now and then. His wife, Wanda, in my view, was a much more ex­cit­ing writer be­cause she got you in­volved with the peo­ple in her trav­els, whereas Eric told you about the routes, the his­tory and the ar­chae­ol­ogy, in some­what dry style. Nev­er­the­less, if you are an arm­chair trav­eller, Newby’s books are well worth read­ing.

Pa­trick Leigh-Fer­mor ( trav­eller, writer and WWII hero (he kid­napped a Ger­man Gen­eral) who lived to be 96, was also a schol­arly man, and very hu­man, as this ex­tract from

(Pen­guin) shows. “As I drank the cof­fee and lis­tened, their fea­tures slowly came back to me. At some point, un­will­ingly emu­lous of the ca­su­al­ties I had no­ticed with scorn, I had slumped for­ward over the Hof­brauhaus ta­ble in un­wake­able stu­por. There had been no vom­it­ing, thank God; noth­ing worse than to­tal in­sen­si­bil­ity; and the hefty Sa­mar­i­tan on the bench be­side me had sim­ply scooped me up and put me in his hand­cart, which was full of turned chair legs, and then, wrap­ping me in my great­coat against the snow, wheeled it clean across Mu­nich and laid me out mute as a floun­der. The calamity must have been brought on by the mix­ture of the beer with the schnapps I had drunk in Sch­wabing; I had forgotten to eat any­thing but an ap­ple since break­fast. Don’t worry, the car­pen­ter said: why, in Prague, the beer-halls kept horses that they har­nessed to wick­er­work coffins on wheels, just to carry the ca­su­al­ties home at the brew­ery’s ex­pense... What I needed, he said, open­ing a cup­board, was a ‘sch­luck’ of schnapps to put me on my feet. I made a dash for the yard and stuck my head un­der the pump. Then, combed and out­wardly re­spectable, I thanked my saviours and was soon strid­ing guiltily and at high speed through th­ese out­ly­ing streets.”

Eve­lyn Waugh was not re­ally, a travel writer but, as a cor­re­spon­dent, went to Ethiopia and wrote a de­light­ful book, first pub­lished in 1931 and re­pub­lished in 1985 by Duck­worth, called

He later fic­tion­alised many of his ex­pe­ri­ences into a less ab­sorb­ing but amus­ing novel called In this de­light­ful episode from one can see his gas­tro­nomic pro­cliv­i­ties.

“At last supper ar­rived; first a bas­ket con­tain­ing half a dozen great rounds of na­tive bread, a tough, clammy sub­stance closely re­sem­bling crepe rub­ber in ap­pear­ance; men two earthen­ware jugs, one of wa­ter, the other of ‘talla’ - a kind of thin, bit­ter beer; then two horns of honey, but not of honey as it is un­der­stood at Thame; this was the prod­uct of wild bees, scraped straight from the trees; it was a grey­ish colour, full of bits of stick and mud, bird dung, dead bees, and grubs. Ev­ery­thing was first car­ried to the for his ap­proval, then to us. We ex­pressed our de­light with nods and more ex­trav­a­gant smiles. The food was laid be­fore us and the bear­ers re­tired. At this mo­ment the Ar­me­nian shame­lessly de­serted us say­ing that he must go and see af­ter his boy.

“The three of us were left alone, smil­ing over our food in the half dark­ness. In the cor­ner lay our ham­per packed with Irene’s Euro­pean del­i­ca­cies. We clearly could not ap­proach them un­til our host (the Abuna) left us. Grad­u­ally the fright­ful truth be­came ev­i­dent that he was propos­ing to dine with us. I tore off a lit­tle rag of bread and at­tempted to eat it. ‘This is a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion,’ said the pro­fes­sor; ‘I think per­haps, it would be well to sim­u­late ill-health’. It was ad­mirably done; the Abuna watched him with the great­est con­cern; presently the pro­fes­sor held his stom­ach and retched a lit­tle; then he lay on his back, breath­ing heav­ily with closed eyes; then he sat up on his el­bow and ex­plained in elo­quent dumb show that he wished to rest. The Abuna un­der­stood per­fectly, and, with ev­ery ges­ture of sym­pa­thy, rose to his feet and left us.

“In five min­utes, when I had opened a tinned grouse and a bot­tle of lager and the pro­fes­sor was hap­pily munch­ing a hand­ful of ripe olives, the Ar­me­nian re­turned. With a com­pre­hen­sive wink, he picked up the jug of na­tive beer, threw back his head, and, wimout paus­ing to breathe, drank a quart or two. He then spread out two rounds of bread, emp­tied a large quan­tity of honey into each of them, wrapped them to­gether, and put them in his pocket. ‘

he re­marked cheer­fully, winked at the grouse, wished us good night, and left us.”

James A. Mich­ener, who died in 1997 at the age of 90, is per­haps best known for books such as

but to me, his two vol­umes on Spain (large pa­per­backs pub­lished by Corgi in 1983 un­der the ti­tle proved him one of the most metic­u­lous re­searchers and seek­ers af­ter ac­cu­racy; but this didn’t stop him be­ing a won­der­fully evoca­tive writer. He is the only au­thor of travel books in my ken ac­tu­ally to in­clude recipes in his in­dex. There are quite a lot of them, but not set out with the amount of in­gre­di­ents and the pre­cise method - but they are de­scrip­tive enough. Take, for ex­am­ple, this one for rab­bit:

“One of their de­lights is to shoot a rab­bit, skin it and then spread­ea­gle it on a struc­ture made of three sticks tied to­gether in the form of a Cross of Lor­raine. The up­right mem­ber of the cross is left long, so that it can be used as a han­dle for hold­ing the rab­bit over a fire of hot coals un­til the meat is hard and crisp. Salt is rubbed on the fin­ished meat, which is cut into thin strips and mixed with raw toma­toes, pep­pers, much onion, gar­lic, olive oil and vine­gar. ‘Maybe the best salad a man can eat,’ those who live along Las Maris­mas claim.”

You can repli­cate this quite sim­ply with­out shoot­ing or skinning your rab­bit, merely buy­ing one from your lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. Then, char­coal­grilling it and car­ry­ing on from there.

Email: edi­tor@east­ward-ho.com

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