I am reading The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald. I have had this book for years, and tried reading it several time, but it’s never ‘stuck’ til now.
Here is a description of dinner at St Angelicus, the fictional Cambridge college at the centre of the novel:
They drank manzanilla imported for them from San lucar, until the butler came in. ‘The Master is on his way.’ Everyone got to their feet. With his chair drawn back for him to exactly the right distance, the Master needed no guidance, and none was offered. The Chaplain pronounced a grace which was used on domestic occasions by Benedict XIII himself, followed by the menacing Spanish words — El Juicio Final descubrira las secretas de la Historia. All the chairs trundled back, and those who had dropped their napkins disappeared for a moment, recovering them. The manzanilla continued with the soup, and changed to champagne for the fish course only. After that it was claret at St Angelicus. At the end the guests were always offered preserved fruits, of the kind which failed to poison their Founder.
I am only at Chapter 5 and food has not been mentioned much, but I like this small passage. I can taste the manzanilla and would like champagne for my birthday next month.
I have not been reading much lately. This is unusual and a little alarming.
Most of the time, it’s just a matter of finding the right book to fit my mood, but I was in the middle of The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin when things got difficult (a couple of weeks ago) and I just gave up and retreated into … Call the Midwife!
Actually, I now have the books the TV series is based on on my Kindle, although I’ve been warned that the writing isn’t great. Still, nuns and nurses, how could I not enjoy them? (When I was still a Roman Catholic, I did think of taking holy orders, but I knew that the rule of obedience would be my undoing. Do most RC girls have fantasies of becoming nuns? I suppose there is a certain romance about the profession (?) if all you know of it is Audrey Hepburn looking beautifully wistful in The Nun‘s Story.)
Naturally, Call the Midwife reminds of my years as a nurse, although things had changed totally by the time I trained, in the 90s (at the District General Hospital in Eastbourne, East Sussex). I did not enjoy midwifery, but when the protagonist is referred to as Nurse Lee, it brings back all kinds of memories.
I suppose this series is like a comfort read — there are heartbreaking episodes but also much joy and celebration.
I am now reading Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark, but I think I am due for a Barbara Pym re-read. I have checked and I re-read her novels in 2016 and, before that, in 2014. Apparently, I need to be Pym’ed every two years. Perhaps just my favourites: Excellent Women; Jane and Prudence; A Glass of Blessings; No Fond Return of Love; Some Tame Gazelle … hmm, actually I want to read them all. And I will make another attempt to read A Few Green Leaves, the only Pym I’ve not enjoyed and have never managed to finish reading.
I’m trying to feature food from books I’m currently reading instead of resorting to paragraphs from old favourites. (I realise the best food passages, or at least the ones I remember, are all from children’s books.)
I’m reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed at the moment and this description of party food stands out because it reminds me of parties from my student days, especially the greasy nibbles.
The night before he left for Abbenay his fellow students gave a party for him.
Parties were frequent, on slight pretexts, but Shevek was surprised by the
energy that went into this one, and wondered why it was such a fine one.
Uninfluenced by others, he never knew he influenced them; he had no idea
they liked him.
Many of them must have saved up daily allowances for the party for days
before. There were incredible amounts of food. The order for pastries was so
large that the refectory baker had let his fancy loose and produced hitherto
unknown delights: spiced wafers, little peppered squares to go with the
smoked fish, sweet fried cakes, succulently greasy. There were fruit drinks,
preserved fruit from the Keran Sea region, tiny salt shrimp, piles of crisp
sweet-potato chips. The rich plentiful food was intoxicating. Everybody got
very merry, and a few got sick.
Several paragraphs on there’s this passage and the last line really gets to me. I want to wipe her mouth and chin with a wet wipe. Actually, I want to wipe my mouth because I can feel the oily residue left by the greasy fried cakes!
“Suffering is a misunderstanding,” Shevek said, leaning forward, his eyes
wide and light. He was still lanky, with big hands, protruding ears, and
angular joints, but in the perfect health and strength of early manhood he was
very beautiful. His dun-colored hair, like the others’, was fine and straight,
worn at its full length and kept off the forehead with a band. Only one of
them wore her hair differently, a girl with high cheekbones and a flat nose;
she had cut her dark hair to a shiny cap all around. She was watching Shevek
with a steady, serious gaze. Her lips were greasy from eating fried cakes, and
there was a crumb on her chin.
The Artsy Reader Girl hosts this meme, and I join in if I think I have something to share.
I recently deleted a whole lot of books from my Kindle because I suspect I’ll never read them. In any case, some of these are there on Project Gutenberg and some on my shelves if I change my mind.
I’ll list the authors’names if there are several books by them that have been removed from my TBR list:
- Charlotte Yonge
- Edmund Crispin
- The Vampyre by John William Polidori
- Jose Saramago
- Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
- Louisa May Alcott (I’d planned to read beyond the March family novels, and I did try, but I’m giving up. Just can’t seem to get on with her non-Little Women books. )
- Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
- Elizabeth Gaskell
- Keigo Higashino (I’ve made two attempts, the second time after I read Seicho Matsumoto, but I fear KH is not for me.)
- Kurt Vonnegut
You never know with books though. I might read them all eventually.
Stephani Soejono is an Indonesian freelance illustrator and creator of comics. She has lived in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Canada where she went to university and majored in animation.
In her own words, ‘I am a little disappointed to have to come back [from Canada] for various reasons, but mainly [the lack of] Female Health Empowerment and Religious Freedom [in Indonesia]. On the other hand, Indonesian food, lol.’
Soejono recently published Tale of the Bidadari with Maple Comics. You can read my review here.
The following Q&A was done over email and Twitter. For more of Soejono, follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.Read More »