Dead Poet Tourism. Retrospective Travel/5

One of the highlights of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, was a visit to Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage. Our friends, Tia and Carol, (their chosen Western names) recommended this visit and I’m so pleased they did. That visit, in August 2015, sparked an interest in the poetry of the Tang Dynasty. Lasting for 400 years or so, (7th to 10th century CE ), the Tang Dynasty is regarded as the Golden era of Chinese literature and art, comparable to the Renaissance era of Italy and Europe. Over 48,900 poems penned by some 2,200 Tang authors have survived to the present day. Skill in the composition of poetry became a required study for those wishing to pass imperial examinations while poetry contests were common among guests at Imperial banquets.

Du Fu ( 712-770) is regarded as China’s Shakespeare: he is revered as one of China’s greatest poets. His poetry is studied at school and is recalled fondly by Chinese adults. They enjoy sprouting a few lines of Du Fu’s more famous poems, akin to Westerners dropping a few lines from Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet in order to sound erudite. It’s also interesting to know that many non-Chinese scholars are dedicated followers of the Tang Dynasty poets, as work continues on better translations. Translation into English (or any other language) is painstaking work and requires a 4 step process-

  • translating the more stylised characters used by the Tang poets into the modern form of Chinese logosyllabic or logoraphic script,
  • writing this in Pinyin, the Romanisation of Chinese characters based on phonetics, including stress indicators for tones,
  • producing a translation that includes elements of the original sound and structure, as well the encapsulating the imagery and meaning of the original.
  • polishing this version until it is harmonious and accessible. A worthwhile translation of a single poem can take years of work. Versions vary greatly and after studying this field, you may find your preferred translators/ translations.

Du Fu’s cottage and museum is set inside a 24-acre park, situated on the outskirts of Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China. It was created in the early 16th century during the Ming Dynasty and extensively renovated in 1811 during the Qing Dynasty. In 1961 the Chinese government established Du Fu Thatched Cottage Park as a National Heritage site. The park is beautiful to wander through, providing a break from all those dead poets.

The park consists of several areas:

  • Du Gongbu Memorial Hall (工部祠Gōngbù Cí), where the life and work of Du Fu is displayed, including some rare Song dynasty wood carvings.
  • The thatched cottage of Du Fu. A reconstructed thatched hut partitioned into a study, a bedroom and kitchen, recreating the living and working environment of Du Fu’s time.
  • The Hall of Great Poets (大雅堂Dàyǎ Táng). An exhibition hall with a 16 meter long by 4 meter tall mural painting portraying scenes from Du Fu’s poems: “My Thatched Hut Wrecked by the Autumn Wind” and “A Song of War Chariots”. There are also statues of twelve prominent Chinese poets, including that of Li Bai, Du Fu’s friend, and drinking companion. There are also panels displaying different styles of calligraphy.
  • There’s also a bookshop and library. As a traveller, I had to resist the temptation of buying these beautiful but weighty books.
  • Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.

Another ancient style.

Two beautiful poems by Du Fu

Rain

Roads not yet glistening, rain slight,
Broken clouds darken after thinning away.
Where they drift, purple cliffs blacken.
And beyond — white birds blaze in flight.

Sounds of cold-river rain grown familiar,
Autumn sun casts moist shadows. Below
Our brushwood gate, out to dry at the village
Mill: hulled rice, half-wet and fragrant.

Full Moon

Above the tower — a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light.

Self Portrait with calligraphy.

And another, which reminds me of our time in isolation during this pandemic,

Spring View

The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

Dear Reader, Do you read poetry? And if so, who is your favourite poet? Do you find that reading poetry provides you with a silent space for reflection?

References for further inquiry.

  • Hawkes, D. (1967) A Little Primer of Tu Fu. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
    Hinton, D. (1990) The Selected Poems of Tu Fu. London, Anvil Press Poetry.
    Hung, W. (1952) Tu Fu: China’s Greatest Poet. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
    Watson, B. (2002) The Selected Poems of Du Fu. New York, Columbia University Press.
  • An example of the translation process at work, using the poem, Spring View, can be found here. http://www.chinese-poems.com/d15.html

and some sites consulted,

Order and Harmony in China. Retrospective Travel/4

In China, where everyday life is busy, complex and often crowded, order creates harmony. It enables Chinese life to function smoothly. Orderliness can be seen in the cleanliness of the streets, the hygiene applied to food preparation and the public behaviour of Chinese people. The ancient principles of Confucianism,  a philosophical system of norms and propriety that determine how a person should act in everyday life, underlies many aspects of Chinese modern society. Later overlays include the philosophical and religions values of Buddhism and Taoism, along with the modern political system of Communism. You can see these values at work in your travels throughout China, not just in grand temples or fine restaurants, ancient walled pedestrian towns, or beautiful calligraphy and design, but also in ordinary everyday things- in the placement of a small straw broom, in the tiered arrangement of bamboo steaming baskets in a busy take away street stall, or in the beautiful designs on front doors. 

Steaming baskets, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Street recycling containers and below, not a leaf out of place. Around Kunming, Yunan Province, China.

Colourful street bollards, Kunming

Photos from travels in China, August 2015. Adapted from my post of June, 2017. More virtual trips to China will be aired this month as I never really did write much at the time. That was a busy 4 week schedule, travelling by train through Yunnan Province, and then with friends through Sichuan province by car, leaving little time for writing. 

Rome’s Jewish Quarter, Retrospective Travel/ 3.

Rome’s Jewish quarter is a thriving and busy precinct within the centro storico. It is both a cultural and culinary attraction, with Jewish bakeries, delis and trattorie lining the busy streets, as well as synagogues, the Jewish Museum and other important historical markers. These days the area has become a little too popular: spruikers now work the narrow lanes with their menus and intrusive spiel while locals and tourists form long queues at bakeries and delis. The precinct is best accessed via the bridge, Ponte Garibaldi, over the river Tevere ( Tiber) from the inner suburban district of Trastevere.  A good time to visit would be early morning on a weekday.

Jewish quarter, Rome, Sunday!

The Roman Jewish Ghetto was established as a result of the Papal Bull by Pope Paul 1V in 1555 which required the Jews of Rome, who had lived as a community since pre- Christian times, to live in the ghetto. The area became a walled quarter with its gates locked at night.

The papal bull also revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and imposed a variety of new restrictions such as prohibition on property ownership and practicing medicine on Christians as well as compulsory Catholic sermons on the Jewish Sabbath.

In common with many other Italian ghettos, the Roman ghetto was originally referred to in documents as serraglio degli Ebrei or claustro degli Ebrei, both meaning “enclosure of the Hebrews”. Various forms of the word ghetto came into use in the late 16th century, most likely via Venice.

It is thought that the word ‘ghetto’ is based on the Venetian word, getto, meaning  foundry, given the first Jewish quarter was located near a foundry in Venice in 1516. Another interpretation is that the word derived from the Italian word borghetto, the diminutive of borgo meaning ‘borough’. There are other theories about the etymology of this word, but the first seems most likely.

Carciofi.  Time to eat that classic Roman Jewish dish, Carciofi alla Giudia and the best place to find them is close to the Jewish Quarter in Rome.

More information about the Jewish-Roman community throughout history may be found here.

This is an edited version from my archives, January 2018, based on my last visit to Rome. Will I ever return? Things will be rather quiet in Rome now. In 2018, 61.6 million tourists visited Italy. It’s hard to imagine how devastating that will be for the Italian economy this year and into the future.

Vigevano and the Renaissance

Today I’m heading back to Vigevano, a beautiful Renaissance city in Lombardy around 45 kms from Milano. So close to the largest industrial and most polluted city of Italy, and yet it feels so far away when you’re there. Vigevano retains its Renaissance aura, despite this proximity. I like to imagine the Sforza family of the 1400s travelling between their castles in Milano and Vigevano, and the pageantry of the tour. Or of the condottiero, Francesco Sforza, and his mercenary troupes arriving on horseback, returning from battles and diplomatic deals around Northern Italy.

Portrait of Beatrice d'Este by Leonardo da Vinci

The original post was published at the beginning of 2019, based on my visit to Vigevano in November 2017. It took a year to write. After visiting the enchanting Castello Sforzesco, I became immersed in the lives of the famiglia Sforza, especially that of Beatrice d’Este, the beautiful and well educated wife of Ludovico Sforza, who held court to gather around her learned men, poets and artists, such as Castiglione, Bramante,  Leonardo da Vinci and others. I’m still in search of a well written biography/history of the Sforza family.

Open for full post by clicking VIEW ORIGINAL POST below.

 

 

ALMOST ITALIAN

In a country brimming with Renaissance architecture, it would be hard to choose which town might be considered the most beautiful, the most ideal Renaissance city. Maybe we could just settle for a short list? What is the framework for making such a claim? Do we choose on the basis of architecture, famous art, sculpture, painting, churches, piazze, harmonious urban landscape, civic pride or all of the above? Tourists in search of the Italian Renaissance in situ might put Florence near the top of the list, given that city’s fame. I personally find Florence dark, uninviting and not so harmonious when it comes to all things Rinascimento. Florence is crowded and many tourists are happy to see the fake David and Donatello, wander over the Ponte Vecchio, traipse through the Uffizzi for hours, catch a Masaccio or Giotto in one of the smaller churches, get in the queue to wander…

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Retrospective Travel Week. Skye

On rare occasions, an old travel post reappears on my daily statistics page. When a blog reader visits an old post, I am reminded of it and often revisit it too. I relive the day, but also feel the tug and emotional connection to that place, as well as the drain experienced in writing it. I know that recipe posts are far more popular and have an ongoing life of their own. It is not unusual for one single recipe post to re-emerge in the daily statistics with a reader run of 1000 or more per month. Meanwhile, my well researched travel posts get read once then are lost in the archives. For those who don’t blog, the world of daily and monthly statistics on WordPress is one tool that fascinates me- I’m sure this is true for most bloggers. I know that approximately 5000 people visit my blog per month, and most readers come from English speaking countries with India in 5th position. If I take June as a typical month, there were 4871 visitors, with only 78 of those readers visiting my travel posts. So it’s time to re-categorise my travel posts, and give them a new airing.
This week I’m picking my 5 favourites. You may have already read these, but if not, come along on the journey. The following post was written in 2017 when staying for some time in a lovely old stone cottage on the Isle of Skye. The post will open fully by clicking VIEW ORIGINAL POST.

ALMOST ITALIAN

I’ve thought long and hard about how to write about Skye, and about that young girl, Marion, who left Breakish on Skye during the clearances 180 years ago, and the voices that I hear down by the stream of Maelrubha, the Irish red-headed bald monk who came to preach to the Picts in 671 and the healing water of his well. And about the Norwegian Viking princess who was buried, along with her servants, on top of a stark mull in the Cuillins, and of the warrior queen, Scáthach the Shadow, who lived in the Dunscaith castle on the edge of wild sea at Toravaig in Sleat. Legendary figures surround me, they seem to live and breathe.

Dunscaith Castle, Toravaig, Skye

I am struggling in my search for superlatives: none will do. My English language doesn’t fit this place: it’s too modern and limited and fails to describe what I…

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In My Kitchen, August 2020

This month, I’m inviting you to step inside my kitchen. No one else can come inside these days, but you’re all welcome. It’s one long narrow room that incorporates a kitchen, a small pantry, a long table of 2.8 metres, a wood fired baker’s stove and two old sofas. Above are high beams and clerestory windows and plenty of natural light from the windows facing north and east. All are double glazed making the room easier to heat in winter and naturally cooler in summer. I would argue that retrofitting old windows and upgrading to double glazing is one of the most important energy saving moves you should make, regardless of where you live. Although we have other rooms in the house, we have chosen to live in and heat this single space, along with our bedroom which has a heater set on 17º c for 8 hours overnight. Our kitchen/living space heating consists of one small but very efficient wood stove and one split system inverter. Things are nice and toasty, even on days when the temperature ranges between 0º c and 10ºc outside. We monitor our power usage and note that the winter costs are much lower since adopting this single living space approach. Sig Tranquillo chainsaws fallen trees from the forest on our property which supplies the wood heater, another major cost saving and a gym workout for him.

Melbourne is now in stage 4 lockdown, due to the surge in numbers of corona virus in the state of Victoria. This is one of the most stringent of all lockdowns, and the world will be taking notes on the effectiveness of such a move. Mask wearing is compulsory, no one can travel more than 5 kms to shop, only one person from each household may do this and only for one hour, a night curfew operates from 8 pm to 5am, exercise must be undertaken locally, and only essential businesses may stay open. The vast majority of Victorians are doing the right thing and are determined to make this work. Of course, the media will highlight those who break the rules, and give way too much oxygen to the Karens and Kens of this world: anything newsworthy to feed the coffers of the Murdoch Press.

Dan the Man

In My Kitchen is Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, who appears at 11 am, or later on really bad days. Dan has been doing these updates for months: most Victorians admire and respect him. I moved the TV into our kitchen/everything room at the beginning of the pandemic to save on heating. Before the pandemic, we weren’t so glued to the big screen in the daytime. 

In my kitchen is a Nectre Heater, an Australian made wood heater that is very environmentally efficient and effective. We use it primarily for heating, but also  to cook stock and soups, heat the kettle, and warm leftovers and puddings in the little baker’s oven below. I often use the top to toast bread for bruschetta.

In my kitchen, there’s plenty of research happening. Sig Tranquillo is working on a Scottish history project. Sometimes his clutter fills the large table. Meanwhile, I’m finally back into full time reading and the books are piling up. I can highly recommend, Cal Flyn’s Thicker Than Water. A memoir of sorts, Flyn journeys from Scotland to Australia to investigate the travels and massacre of the Gunai indigenous tribe by the explorer, Angus McMillan. It is essential reading to all those who live in Gippsland, Victoria. More about this book in a later post. The local library sent my books by post but I feel that this is one book I must own. Books, computers, phones, diaries,and notes get swept to one end of the large table at meal time. Oh the clutter.

On sunny days we venture outside for lunch and have now established the routine picnic day, every Friday, on the platform under the old half built chimney. Picnic days can be dangerous, especially when the musical instruments appear.

I’m adding my post to Sherry’s In My Kitchen series this month, despite it’s lack of novel kitchen stuff.  Life is up and down here. I hope, dear reader, wherever you may be, that you keep safe and wear a mask.

Header photo. Turnips from the garden. Despite their vibrant colour, they always remind me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. 

Baci Birthday Cake, Flourless and Decadent.

I love making birthday cakes for others. Often it’s an excuse to dig into my prized stash of good quality chocolate or ground nuts. Most of us will be celebrating our birthdays without fanfare this year and so a delivered cake becomes a small symbolic mark of recognition in lieu of a family gathering. During this pandemic, I’ve been nervously eagle eyeing my exotic ingredient stash. It’s easy enough to refill the dark cooking chocolate container, which is sometimes subject to a midnight raid, but my hazelnut and almond meal supplies are precious commodities, not so easily sourced. I’ve made two versions of this Italian style torta over the last year. One was a classic Torta di Nocciole, famous in Piedmonte, and light as a feather, with only four ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs and ground hazelnut. This version is much richer, with the addition of dark chocolate. It stays fresh under a glass dome and keeps well for a week. Unlike the classic Reine de Saba which tends to sink and crack a little, this cake is firmer and stands tall, so long as you use the recommended sized tin and just laid eggs. It’s very easy to make for that special person in your life and tastes a lot like Baci. xxx

Torta di Cioccolato e Nocciole (senza farina)  Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake.

  • 200g dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
  • 150g butter, chopped
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnut meal
  • double cream, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan-forced. Grease a 6cm-deep, 20cm round cake pan. Line base and sides with baking paper.
  2. Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt gently over a saucepan containing water. Cook over low heat, making sure the base of your bowl doesn’t touch the hot water. Stir until melted and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until thick, pale and creamy. Add the chocolate mixture. Beat to combine. Add hazelnut meal. Beat to combine.
  4. Place eggwhites in another bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of eggwhites into chocolate mixture. Gently fold remaining eggwhite through chocolate mixture.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly. Stand in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  6. Serve, dusted with icing sugar and cream.

Tanti Auguri a Te, Sig Tranquillo

Eggplant rolls, Molto Siciliano.

Same Same but Different is a wonderful Balinese-English expression that was devised many years ago by a streetwise Balinese salesperson. It spread quickly among the shopkeepers and Mr T still wears his 10 year old Same Same But Different T shirt which always cracks me up. Same same on the front, But Different on the back. I love this expression: it captures the humour and inventiveness of the Balinese people and their ingenuity at devising new ways to lure a few dollars from the mindless tourist.

I often think about this crazy expression when imagining ways to use eggplants. Our usual standby dish is eggplant parmigiana, that well loved classic with an interesting culinary history. ¹ Involtini di Melanzane, or eggplant rolls, require very similar ingredients to the former classic, and yet the dish seems much lighter and more interesting. Same same but different.

The following recipe is by Karen Martini. The quick process of flouring and egging the eggplant slices before frying prevents them from absorbing too much olive oil, resulting in a much lighter dish. The original recipe uses a simple tomato passata for the sauce. I found this too bland. A more flavoursome dish results from making a garlic and oregano laced tomato ragù, but if you are in a hurry, go for the bottled passata.

Melanzane Involtini. – eggplant rolls ( serves 4 as a main, 6 as a starter)

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 75g plain flour
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 250g ricotta
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons currants, soaked in red-wine vinegar for 5 minutes, then drained
  • 40g grated parmesan
  • 200g mozzarella, cut into 1cm thick sticks ( or grated)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 500ml tomato passata ( 2 cups) ( see notes above)
  • 3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons chunky fresh breadcrumbs

In a small bowl, lightly beat 2 large eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. Peel the eggplants to create a striped effect, then cut lengthways into 1 cm thick slices. Dust the eggplant slices with flour, then dip into egg wash. Heat olive oil in a large heavy  based frying pan over high heat. Cook eggplant slices for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden. Drain well on kitchen paper.

In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta with remaining egg. Season with salt and pepper. add the drained currants and half the parmesan and stir to combine. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of this mixture onto each eggplant slice. Add a little mozzarella and roll up tightly.

Preheat oven to 170ºC. Brush the base of a large ovenproof dish with 1 tablespoon of EV olive oil. Spread half the tomato passata or ragù in base of dish. Place the eggplant rolls on the sauce, seam side down, so they don’t unroll. Drizzle with remaining oil, spoon over the remaining sauce and sprinkle with parmesan.

Combine the chopped parsley, pine nuts and breadcrumbs in  a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for a further 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. and top golden.

Mmmm, Molto Siciliana

¹ A History of Eggplant parmigiana 

² Recipe from Karen Martini, Where the Heart is, Lantern, 2006. 

Covid Kitchen, July 2020

My overwhelming sense of pessimism is now off the Richter scale. And while the kitchen is still central to our health and well being, it has become a place of drudgery. Any comparison to a glass half full or empty is now meaningless. There may be a few drops left in the bottom of that metaphorical glass, and while I do feel grateful for all that I have, knowing this does little to improve my world view. Things are bad, and they’re likely to get worse. I keep recalling the rise and fall of dynasties in ancient China, where dynastic change followed a sequence of events which built up over time, and included plague, flooding and natural disaster, famine and food shortage, insect infestation, poverty and inequality, ineffectual, corrupt and cruel leadership, followed by war, more famine and the eventual rise of a strong leader committed to change. I sense we are on a similar trajectory. This outlook can be quite crippling when it comes to writing and guarantees a sleepless night. I know I’m not alone in holding this view.

Chestnut haired angels delivering groceries. it’s now a drop and go affair.

I’m trying to address this daily terror. I read far too much most days and remember very little. I’m sleeping in more, and personal grooming has taken a nosedive. One helpful routine is to write down at least one inspiring quotation each day in the diary. This delightful quote from Kurt Vonnegut, in a letter to school students, inspired my return to the keyboard.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Another useful routine, mainly to counter the daily grind of cooking two meals a day for the last 4 months, is to write a weekly menu, based on the items available in my fridge and pantry. Included in the list will be a few new recipes, largely from cookbooks, rather than internet sites. It’s time to go back to those lovely books and I do have far too may. These meals are substitutes for restaurant dining, a date night at home. I also try to vary the menu from week to week, and include one Indian curry, a few pasta meals, a pizza night, one fish meal if I can get my hands on some, classic old style comfort dishes, as well as soups and salads. At present, we seem to have a glut of pumpkin, eggplant and red capsicum, so the focus will be on these ingredients for the week.

I’m attempting to improve my sourdough baking, aiming for a more disciplined approach to shaping. This is another form of artistic expression for me during this lockdown, mark 2.

The other daily delight includes bird visitations. I often hear Mr T chatting outside, and have often wondered if he was finally losing the plot. But no, he’s chatting to birds, they follow him around like pets, and watch him through the kitchen window as he washes the dishes. Some are special messengers and others are after some seed. Their visits keep us sane and help us ignore the negativity out there on social and regular media. It’s like slime seeping through your kitchen door.

On Not Comparing Winter to a Summer’s Day

This year’s winter has brought so many charms, compensation enough for the cold. As the early morning light breaks over the horizon, the distant hills and clouds blend and cling to their darkness still. The lingering fog hovers over the Diamond Creek, vacillating, waiting, before moving along the valley. The sharp crystal light captures the work of the night weavers, strings of pearls webbed between gnarly branches, holding the night rain, ethereal but strong. I imagine wearing this exquisite rivière for one second, more alluring than gemstones, a spider girl’s best friend.

The winter flowers have more charm than their spring cousins, their appearance always surprising and more welcome. The first delicate jonquils of June exhilarate with perfume, while the long flowering fronds of the Hardenbergia Violacea glow deep magenta in the early light. Blossom spurs fatten on the pear trees, the coned tips of the Echium engorge: the more abundant seasonal rain will make these creatures shout in purple and blue when the time comes. Pale green lichen hugs the Melia Azedarach, an exotic knitted sleeve that will dry out in summer’s harsh winds. Brave dying oak leaves, copper and russet, cling to the trees, Pre- Raphaelite colours brightening the driveway.

I’m learning to understand winter and may even like her now. But then it’s only late June. While the light slowly returns, the cold winds will come and shock that early promise back into dormancy. It’s not yet time to rejoice.