Mal­tese cook­ing, a lin­ger­ing legacy

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

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