Maltese cooking, a lingering legacy
Ispent a day in London in the company of Helen Caruana Galizia who has just had the 4th edition of
published by Midsea Books. It is already for sale in Agenda bookshops, maybe in other bookshops as well. Helen pointed out to me that the previous editions were co-authored with her sister Anne who has been living in Australia for many years. Yes, I am aware of that. I have both well-thumbed editions on my little bookshelf in the kitchen and when in doubt about a Maltese recipe I look the Caruana Galizia books up.
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We started off with coffee at Pain Quotidien, Notting Hill. London street life is full of colour when the weather is fine. Eccentrics abound and you know when the odd billionaire passes by as the balder and shorter he is the taller and blonder the girl by his side. You know the sort of man who believes that even the bags under his eyes are Gucci, so obsessed is he with designer labels which show. Well, in a way it is consoling to watch fat men with some little Asian girl in tow proving that there is life after girth.
The English seize the fleeting joys of their short summer and al fresco takes over. I have to say that with temperatures hovering around 23 degrees I am always glad to get away, even just for a few days, now that cheap fares abound, and escape the often swampish heat of a Maltese summer. There are days here when even mad dogs and Englishmen don’t go out in the midday sun.
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Helen had originally suggested coffee at the legendary Daquise, the Polish place in South Kensington, close to Brompton Oratory. It has been in existence since 1947. But we were too late. Tables had already been laid for lunch. In the Sixties, during the height of the Profumo affair, Daquise played host to Christine Keeler and Yevgeni Ivanov, the naval attaché of the Soviet Embassy and KGB spy. Roman Polanski regularly stopped by for dumplings and goulash whilst filming as did Edward Raczynski, the President of Poland in exile, who anointed Daquise his unofficial headquarters and planned many campaigns to overthrow the Communist regime from its tables. One of my sisters tells me that Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain used to meet there.
A quick visit to the Royal Albert Hall followed as Helen wanted to try and get some seats for one of the Prom nights, only possible at this stage if there were ‘returns’. People were already outside sitting on collapsible stools waiting to get in to the evening Prom. Yet here we are constantly battling to fill up the seats of our national theatre, St James and the MCC. Thank goodness for cultured tourists who help out with this.
Lunch was at a Thai restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious Pad Thai which seemed to be bigger than any I had ever eaten before. This was accompanied by a long conversation with Helen who among some of her fascinating stories told me that the Asphar family – her mother is an Asphar – will be coming from all over the world to congregate in Malta next month. I recall her visit to Aleppo some years ago to meet a relative. Look at the state of it now.
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One of the great pleasures of spending time in London is the plethora of places to visit, cultural events and restaurants from which to choose. Was there anywhere I particularly wanted to go – Tate, Courtauld, National Portrait Gallery? After a brief consultation we ended up at my favourite museum the Victoria and Albert, which brings me back happy memories of carefree days when I was in love with my husband-to-be and with life. We visited the Islamic Hall which is a feast for the eyes followed by the Chinese section. Another feast for the eyes as is the shop where it is difficult to fight one’s instincts to purchase some exotic necklace designed on one Cleopatra had worn to seduce Anthony. Or get yet another book. We both resisted. Should we go and see the latest exhibition
but instead we voted for coffee in the Morris room. There a pianist was playing what I suspect were his own compositions. Not a bit inspiring or inspired. So we moved to the next room where we could hear each other speak.
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Helen is still incredibly active and energetic. Politically on the left and. by her own admission, an idealist, she studied Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science while she had two small children. No easy feat. As Helen Tomkins (her married name) she is the author of a biography Mr Lewisham: A Life of Les Stannard published by Lewisham Pensioners Forum in 2001, an organization she worked for in the ‘80s She is a co-founder of Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar with Astrid Vella. In London Helen takes part in national demonstrations for causes she supports, going back to, amongst others, CND, (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), Anti-Apartheid and most recently in support of refugees. Currently she works for the Movement for an Adoption Apology (www.movementforanadoptionapology.org) which was established in 2010 and recently received support in a letter to The (UK )Times, signed by MPs, QCs and other eminent citizens including Martin Sixsmith who wrote the story of Philomena on which the film (starring Judi Dench) was based. (A most moving film. Do see it if you haven’t done so already.)
Out in the street she pointed out the Rembrandt Hotel which sits opposite the V & A and in 1911 was originally built as apartments for Harrods store which is just up the road. They used to stay there whenever they travelled to London. Her mother liked the fact that Brompton Oratory was nearby so she could attend mass by just crossing the road.
A day well spent in enjoyable company. Here is one woman who makes the best of every minute – and usually in the service of others – including her family naturally. I have now browsed through her cookery book. To say it is well worth buying is an understatement. It is far more than another cookery book with recipes.
The Turkish cemetery and a petrol station
How are we going to stop some philistine from building a petrol station and more next to the Turkish cemetery designed by Caruana Galizia after a commission by Ottoman sultan Abdulaziz in 1873? Whoever is asking for this permit simply cannot be given it. The Turkish ambassador did well to object and many of us I am sure are right behind him. This is a beautiful piece of architecture. I know the previous Turkish ambassador, like this one, was interested in its restoration and had already taken some steps towards this with funds from Turkey. What should be done is to demolish the disused Multigas factory which abuts on the cemetery and with the help of the Turkish embassy, clean up the place, restore what needs to be restored and perhaps occasionally open it up to visitors. I would love to get a closer look.
I am going to need more than a couple of gin and tonics to restore me if that petrol station is allowed to be built.
Carpark in Mosta
I read somewhere a comment as to why NGOs did not rave and rant about the carpark to be built close to the church in Mosta as they had done when a museum under St John’s Cathedral was being planned. The answer is surely so simple. How can you compare an international treasure like St John’s to the enormous and out-ofproportion-to-its-surroundings, Mosta church? If anything should happen to this white elephant as a result of digging for the carpark it can easily be fixed but the same cannot be said of St John’s. Every inch of St John’s is unique and cannot be restored so easily. The only real value of the Mosta church, if value it is, is its huge dome and let’s face it, big is not always beautiful. I have also always admired the fact that it was built in the spare time of the Mostin. Not many of them are objecting to the carpark it seems.
Coffee and conversation in the Morris Room at the V&A