Two weeks ago I took myself to see the film Caravaggio: The Soul and the Blood, which was part of the Italian film festival showing in our local cinema. I am a big fan of Caravaggio, and three works in particular, which appear in the movie. To think that I almost missed seeing these works in the flesh when visiting Rome some years back. The accidental way this came about is quite funny, I think, and why I’m reposting the story I wrote in 2018 about this experience.
Last week I took a short break to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and my old home town. I went specifically to stay with a friend I’ve known most of my life, and now that she lives alone, I try and visit often. Jayne is Wellington-born like me and lives in an apartment high up on The Terrace which affords marvellous views out over the harbour. It’s a great place to see the breadth of changing cloud with each shift of the weather, and I could spend hours watching its passing moods.
Elizabeth and I met at High School, and have been friends ever since, and I am very pleased to be telling you about her recipe book Capers, not just because she is an exceptional cook, but because this recipe book is different from the usual. It is a kind of memoir, with each recipe marking a particular time, and meals shared with family and friends, in settings that span the globe.
She writes so well. For example, when describing the ‘casually impressive starter’, Bruschetta, Red Peppers and Cannellini Beans, as ‘Minimal, like a Paul Klee painting, with clean flavours and interesting textures’. We follow Elizabeth as she takes us to Jerusalem, and we walk down Salah al-Din Street to Damascus Gate where the village women gather with their wares and we breath in the fresh scents of mint, basil, tomatoes, cardamom… Yum.
That’s just the first recipe. With a story on one page and the recipe nearby, I turned the pages, enjoying the stories and the recipes created from my friend’s memories. In one, she observes her mother gorgeously dressed for a special party, holding aloft a tray of Choux savouries, her skirt, a field of poppies swirling. I’ve never made Choux savouries, but now I shall – using Elizabeth’s recipe, of course.
The reason I haven’t posted recently is, that I had an unexpected road trip to Wellington with my daughter. She was filming in the city for a couple of weeks, so, I arranged to stay with my friend Jayne for a week. ‘Have you been to Somes Island?’ she asked me that first night, as we talked about what we’d like to do, or see. I originally came from Wellington and worked in the city when young, travelling from the Hutt Valley by train, which skirted the harbour and I came to know Somes Island well. In those days Matiu/Somes was known as a quarantine island. Day-trippers were unheard of, and its status only changed in recent years. The weather was hot and clear when I arrived at my friend’s, but wild winds and brooding skies blew in, and plans quickly changed.
I met Mutsuko in Nakatsu. She wasn’t part of the art group I wrote about in my last post, but she was an artist all the same. She was years younger than me but we connected right from the start through our love of travel and art. Her family home was in Usa, just a few kilometres from Nakatsu, and I visited often. Mutsuko was a teacher of English, but loved teaching me Japanese. Our classes were weekly, but often shorter than planned as she liked to show me the sights in her wee Toyota. I was introduced to her family, as well as the Sagara family whose girls she taught. And when my husband came to visit, he got to meet them all too. It truly was a special time.
I first lived in Nakatsu, in Kyushu Japan, arriving in August 2001. It was a freezing day when I left New Zealand and a sweltering one when I touched down in Japan. On the train down from Osaka, sweat pooled in my boots, after I’d removed my woollen socks to supposedly help cool me down. I was met off the train and taken to my apartment, a short walk away. Everything was close in this old castle town. Some might have called it ‘sleepy’, but I found it a perfect place for finding friends and cycling around.Continue reading
As we will not to be able to travel widely for some time, this week I have been looking at some mementos to sketch from the times I have been able to travel overseas. I have sketched many items I’ve brought home from places visited in the past, so I needed to find one I had overlooked. Ah ha! The chosen one is a very old (and rather grubby) fabric doll I bought in Japan, when living and teaching in Nara, several years ago. It was a special time, as an old friend from New Zealand had come to stay for a week or so, and we enjoyed tripping about when I had time off work.
Adrienne was a great planner, and this day we were going into Nara from Ikoma (20 minute train ride) then a bus (a stop and start hour), to take us to Hōryū ji, the oldest surviving wooden complex of its type in Japan, founded by Prince Shōtoko in 670. It did have a nasty mishap around that time when it was seriously damaged by lightning. Fortunately the central buildings were reconstructed, some 1,300 or so years back. The kondō (main hall) is recognised as the world’s oldest wooden building. In 1993 the complex was recognised as Japan’s first UNESCO World heritage site under ‘Buddhist Monuments’ in the Hōryū-ji area, and we felt most fortunate to visit such a large and illustrious site.
Whenever I read a regular post by someone from Brittany, I am immediately taken back several years, when I met two men from that region. I had been staying with a friend in the fabulous Villefranche-sur-mer, on the southern French Coast, when she suggested we visit some nearby gardens she had spotted in a tourist magazine. Hanbury Gardens. Old, and of historic interest. The images looked beautiful, so I said “why not?” and we planned our trip for the next day, Saturday.
Me on left, all ready to go.
We continued our West Coast travel northwards. The weather was no better by the time we reached Punakaiki, and it was clear I wasn’t going on any horse trek here. I have only ridden a few times, but always thought that I’d like to learn to do it properly – some day. Probably never now. And then there was the scenic flight over the glaciers which quickly became an unfilled whim, but once we walked around the Punakaiki (or Pancake) rocks, we held no remorse for losing those dreams.
It is true, that the weather was lousy the day we drove to Franz Josef, and the road flooded in patches, but we arrived safe and sound at the Alpine Glacier Motel. It was hard to realise that mountains surrounded us, as the sky had lowered to road level. Rain, and hunger saw us drive to Alice May’s restaurant for dinner (although it was a mere 5min walk), for rain continued to fall. This is THE place to go to dine, for three reasons: the friendly staff, whitebait omelet, and to read the legend of Alice May. One of twelve children, from Hawkes Bay. She worked as a hotel maid, fell pregnant, and was rejected by her lover when she lost the baby, when he’d originally promised marriage. She shot and killed the man, and was imprisoned. The Socialist feminist movement petitioned widely for her release, and she was, six years later. Later, after moving to the South Island, she married Charles O’Loughlin and they had six children together. Jennie O’Loughlin, the owner of Alice May’s restaurant, is one of Alice’s many grandchildren. Amazing story.