America the beautiful

IMG_1658Can a cookbook be righteous? Can right-minded recipes make all things well, and all manner of things?  Am I enjoying my TGIF G&T?

Yes, yes, yes.

I’m deep into the pages of ‘Glorious American Food‘  (Christopher Idone, [1985, Smithmark); a $50 book that I bought for a song in a bargain book store at the beginning of this restless century. Probably the shop in Bethesda, MD, where I solaced myself every Friday after a week of agency agony with some hardback treasure of photography, biography or foodography for myself or Fred.

Idone, an NY-based restaurant and catering consultant all those 30 years ago, worked with photographer Tom Eckerle to produce this beautiful book. It’s dedicated to “the farmers, the fishermen, the ranchers and the vintners who love this land.”

Together with Eckerle, Idone went on a pilgrimage around America, finding out and celebrating real food, soul food, food that comes straight from the air, land and sea and is dressed, cooked and presented in ways that have evolved from the time of the first settlers. Food with story.

Each region of the States is introduced with the story of how its classic dishes developed, from seasonal and available food, and classic dishes come with their own creation story. The writing is never flashy, but as real and true as the ingredients and dishes Idone celebrates.

‘Glorious American Food’ reminds us that classic American food originated from thrift, a sense of place and season, authentic ingredients, pride in good housekeeping and open-handed hospitality. In spite of Trump, police brutality and corporate callousness, I think and hope that this essential goodness can still be found all over the States.

A new edition of the book, as well as the 1985 original, is available on






It’s a dangerful life

My girlfriend is spending a few days with me in Malaga. This morning she showed me the news about the  massacre in Nice, where 80 spectators were mown down by a rage-propelled truck right after the Bastille Day fireworks.

And then she mentioned that just as she’d set off for her morning run (she’s a personal trainer and passionate distance runner), a car emerging from a garage driveway near our home had run over her foot. She screamed “back up, back up!” to the panicked driver, and then fell over, tearing a hamstring.

The woman driving the car was more upset than my friend, who is gentle and kind, and had to comfort and reassure her before she could go to casualty. It could have been much worse.

I have spent the whole day drifting around, doing absolutely nothing, waiting for my friend to get back. I’m thinking about the ugly thoughts, words and deeds swirling about the planet right now. Rage breaking out in gunfire and blood and in type on screens just about everywhere. So unpredictable and so inevitable.

I’m thinking, if we are at war, shouldn’t we be at war with the worst in us? Our hatred of ‘Muslims’ or ‘Leave voters’ or ‘Immigrants’ or ‘the one percent’? Or with drivers who could have been more careful? Or with irritation at my wasted day?



Write. That’s it.

My head is spinning. Am I in WordPress now? I haven’t created a Post here for a long while, and in the intervening weeks, WordPress is showing me a new face. I don’t have any of the familiar markers – I am just writing into thin air.

It’s Sunday and I am struggling with the whole writing thing.  It should be a joy. I should be eager to change into ragged shorts and teeshirt and go play in the gardens of my mind. Instead, like Oscar Wilde said about exercise, what I really want is to lie down until the feeling passes over. Preferably with a large mug of tea and any of the novels I have read countless times. Why should this be? I love words, I love words about what I love, but this doesn’t translate into writing the words down.

I can’t see the point. Maybe writing for a living since 1993 means that without an audience (in an ideal world, one who is a paying a fee) I feel that I am writing for nobody.  And it’s not as if I am out collecting extreme experiences. My life is as humdrum as the life of an 18th century country gentlewoman. (The clock’s loud ticking, the oceans of time). I don’t drive anywhere except to the gym, I don’t cycle, ski, skate, swim or run. An hour’s walk with Eddie the little white dog is a joint achievement, avoiding busy roads, vocal dogs, long stretches of harsh sunlight, and strange neighbourhoods.

So when I skimmed my weekly dose of inspiration and creativity, called Brain Pickings, I followed a thread about the importance of keeping a journal. And, yes, it is important. As is writing through self-doubt, boredom, hopelessness, laziness, noise and silence. Brain Pickings – worst name ever for one of the most generous resources online – is simply brilliant. Its creator, Maria Popova, shares ideas about creativity, love, life, the universe and everything, drawn from the great and good of this and other times. I recommend you subscribe to the weekly newsletter, from which you can jump off to dozens of related themes.

Thanks for reading this 10-min write, if you got this far. I am going to keep my journal for a week, and check in again next Sunday with juicy highlights. You?








Explore – I have advice for people who want to write. I…

I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.Wisdom from Madeleine L’Engle, quoted in her biography. Couple with Hemingway’s advice to aspiring writers and Virginia Woolf on the creative benefits of keeping a diary, then revisit L’Engle on writing and creativity.

Source: Explore – I have advice for people who want to write. I…

OZHEET: A poem in memory of my grandmother

Yester Elmadjian, my dear grandmother who died in 1995

Yester Elmadjian, my dear grandmother who died in 1995

My beloved grandmother passed away in 1995; 25th October was her birthday.

I wrote this poem as part of my degree work in 2009 when we were learning about ‘glossing’ –  adding a note about the meaning of a foreign or unusual word in the text of a poem.

Gran (‘Medzmama’ or ‘Medz’ for short) lived with us in London for extended periods of time when we were kids. She was gentle, neat and meticulous in her ways. Her whispered Bible readings, prayers and stitch counting often lulled me to sleep.

Made from love and cream silk yarn
(white goes yellow in the sun)
I am a history lesson in
the flickering of a pointed tongue.

Capturing her eyesight’s light,
her whispered count, a stitch in time,
I am the silk web spun to bind
her daughter’s daughter to the maker’s mother’s mother.

On a divan or table top,
I’ll show her status as a wife.
Heavy with hope, gossamer-light,
thread hooked round love and woven tight,
her heartwriting to keep for life.

*Traditionally, an Armenian girl’s dowry or hope chest, often containing handcrafted clothes and household items.

Daughter Of The House

Spooky photo credit goes to my partner and photographer-in-chief Fred Shively - with thanks as ever.

Spooky photo credit goes to my partner and photographer-in-chief Fred Shively – with thanks as ever.

This summer, we finally connected with the owner of the lovely, crumbling villa around the corner from our apartment, and were invited to visit and tour the house. The house and Julia’s story were both stranger and sadder than we had expected, and I wrote this poem about the experience.

Daughter Of The House

As you open the carved wood doors
and step aside to let us in, darkness
falls into the sunwashed street
and we step carefully
over it and across the marble hall.

You lead us from room to room, where
only junk-filled boxes
bloom and dust flowers
flourish in the yellow gloom.

Under its vintage clothes, nothing
is alive, the very air and light were
trapped here years ago.

Then, out in the green froth of the garden you
morph from faded
old girl to flower fairy. You
skip up one flight of crumbling steps and
down another, you
pick me a tiny nosegay of roses, pink as young love, you
spill white wax stars of Russian jasmine into my free hand, you
fill my lap with lemons, laughing.

Back inside the house,
we’ve kept them waiting.
As you see us out, their shadows shift
behind you. Your sick, strong mother, your stern
soldier father.

We’ve barely said goodbye before
they are pulling you back, into sepia

We wave, smile and stumble
out into the clanging light.

Spooky photo credit goes to my partner and photographer-in-chief, Fred - with thanks as ever.

Spooky photo credit goes to my partner and photographer-in-chief, Fred – with thanks as ever.

Bit of a mezzo

Musical violin and book captured by Fred Shively in Granada. With thanks as always to you and your camera.

Musical violin and book captured by Fred Shively in Granada. With thanks as always to you and your camera.

12 seconds of Bubbles or Lip Trills
two minutes and a half in a Kiu
I move on to Ning, Nay say and
Then sing to Moi and Mah Mah. Halfway through.

Run upscale then downhill on Goog
Still panting I slog through a Gug
There’s a yowling Nyea
That goes one note too far
Before coming to rest on Hung Young

That was today’s vocal scales practice. For the audition. I found one on YouTube for tenors since I don’t know what key I should sing in. For the audition.

Oh didn’t I say? I’ve got an audition on Wednesday evening, along with two girlfriends who live here in Málaga. We are trying to get into Coro Nostro Tempo, an a capella choir with around 40 singers, based at the Conservatoire Eduardo Ocón. Founded in 1990, its repertoire ranges across the centuries from mediaeval polyphony to pop-rock and gospel. Just like mine.

The audition is forty minutes for each of us. FORTY MINUTES! What can they possibly want with us for forty minutes? It will only take them 30 seconds to discover that I don’t read music (yet), I don’t know half the Spanish musical terms, that I squint and tilt my head to one side when I’m trying to hit a note. That leaves 39.5 minutes for a lecture about wasting serious musicians’ time and a weary admonition to go away and think about our audacity in auditioning at all.

Moving on. For my triumphant solo effort, I am going to sing that English folk classic ‘Early One Morning’. I remember Mary Bennett sings it very badly in the 1980 movie of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘. I can only aspire to that true 18th century amateurism in my own performance. Remember, ‘amateur’ means ‘lover of’, and I really, really love singing in a choir and want to get into this one.

Don’t worry about wishing that I might ‘break a leg’. In this summer of The Broken Ankle, I shouldn’t be worrying about performer’s luck.

I’ll keep you updated…

Narrow road to the beach

Narrow road to the beach

Photo courtesy of Fred Shively. See more at:

Here’s a poem I wrote earlier this summer, Before the Fall. Late June, that time of year when I still enjoy a beach day despite the flaff of getting there, still cherish hopes of becoming a slimmer, bronzer me, at ease in this here Málaga life.

Narrow road to the beach

Stuff my bag with sun-safe
stuff. Squeeze
sweaty flesh into too-
tight swimsuit and
cram hot feet into sandals that
bind like pastry strips over fruit-pie filling

Crowd on to the beach-bound bus,
fight my way off, catch
another. Find the
backstreets to the beach.
Start to wonder why I bother.

Tug off street clothes fall
exhausted on to grubby sunbed,
writhe to get the balance right between
sunburn and
sunban. Sweat.

Lie still. Eyes close.

Listen to water.

Listen to Spanish voices, my beach family of grannies, sisters,
cousins noisy kids I fall

And wake with the sea-breeze on my face, and peace.

All day I have been travelling to this:
half-hidden in sand, the chip of pure light.
For the space of a breath, loving my life.

Common Sense Sunday

Surveying new horizins in the Paseo del Parque, Malaga, 16 August

Surveying new horizins in the Paseo del Parque, Malaga, 16 August

The sun and I both emerged from our haze of obscurity at around the same time last week. It’s still hot, it’s still August, but the difference between the clagging heat and sullen skies of the past several weeks and this ‘proper summer’ have to be felt to be understood.

Since my ankle was unstapled a week ago last Friday, I’ve noticed a gradual improvement in mobility and weight-bearing with hardly any pain. I’ve even been out a few times, and late last week I left my crutches at home and trusted to the CAM walker boot to keep me out of trouble.

Today I clomped down the road with Fred and got on a bus for the first time in almost a month.  Just two or three stops on the Linea 1 brought us to the Paseo del Parque, the  ribbon of semi-tropical gardens that extends from the main Alameda Principal. And from then on, this Sunday morning was a feast for my long-deprived senses.

In the park: hibiscus – scarlet, lilac, sunshine yellow. Blue flowers of wild onion nodding in the gentle breeze, lime green parakeets carrying on their never-ending hen weekend high up  in the black-green palms. The pure primary colours of the Pompidou Centre walls at Muelle Uno. Pools of shade on the damp earth paths that crisscross the gardens, the sweet hothouse scent. Clean light.

At Galopain, the delightful French café/patisserie under the Hotel Maestranza, we met a girlfriend (all my friends are coming back from hols, yay!) sat in the benevolent shade, drank excellent coffee and ate Danish pastry set with tiny amber apricots. I saw a family and their pet dog in a horse-drawn carriage, and feria-goers flounced past in dotty dresses. Simple pleasures made sweeter by absence.

Even when I glanced at My Big Left Foot, I felt gratitude when I thought how much worse it could have been (my leg! my back! my HEAD!) and how far I have come in less than four weeks.