I’ve been blessed with the perfect new flatmate for all things domestic. SP loves to cook and bake (and even craft) and we’ve worked as a great team so far in hosting a flatwarming and two dinner parties, not to mention lots of simple suppers. We have pooled our cookbooks and here are some of the culinary highlights of the partnership so far…
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner: This was a brutal read. I very much liked Faulkner’s stream of consciousness style, and shifts in time and character in The Sound and the Fury, but it was all a bit too much here. The story is essentially about a father and his sons, and their tribulations in transporting their dead mother in a coffin to her hometown to be buried, cursed by having to cross flooded rivers and broken bridges with their flagging mules and unresolved interpersonal grudges and miscommunications. There is foreboding, relentless physical slog, insensitivity, and, for some, a loosening grip on reality into mental illness. My only consolation was the vernacular Faulkner uses – he does an excellent job at channelling the different voices of the Deep South. Just silently reading the words in my head made me feel like I could really hear the characters’ olden times Southern drawl!
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche: I have been trying to read more African literature. This was an earlier book than Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which I loved. This is also set in the 1960s in the years before the military coup leading to civil war in Nigeria. It is a coming of age novel that is tender, tragic and joyful. The protagonist Kambili lives in the shadow of a domineering, violent father who beat her mother. She and her brother are given a reprieve when they stay with their free-spirited aunt and have a taste of personal freedom.
The Space between Us, Thrity Umrigar: An exploration over the decades of the friendship between Bhima, a house servant, and Sera, a wealthy Parsi housewife in Bombay, for whom Bhima works. The class chasm between them puts embarrassing and painful limits on the ways they are able to reach out to each other, help each other and resolve conflicts. In many ways, their dreams, resources and opportunities in life are quite different to each other, yet they are united by love for each other and their children and grandchildren. A bittersweet story about the moments we are able to transcend class and other differences to recognise each other’s humanity, but perhaps only in the most desparate of circumstances.
The Examined Life, Stephen Grosz: A London-based psychoanalyst conveys his insights about our psyche (very every day but deep and compelling stuff) through stories of his work with his patients. I’d highly recommend it if you like thinking about why people act the way they do and don’t mind it stirring up some self-reflection.
The grey blue roof of the Blue Mosque blended in with the early morning sky – it was a lovely sight to behold. Cousin R and I had arrived in the early hours, after the morning call to prayer has sounded but before the city’s tourist heartbeat began in earnest. Cafe workers were industriously setting up for the day, fetching loaves of freshly baked bread from local bakers. The city was quiet and still. I was sorry to disrupt it with the grate of the wheels of my suitcase on the cobblestones, on which a particularly welcoming Istanbul bird had just left a generous deposit – I was told it was surely a lucky sign.
We marvelled at the alluring sight of neatly stacked Turkish delight and baklava in an endless parade of tearooms. The red colouring signifying rosewater or raspberry flavours, dotted with freshly roasted nuts (pistachios being a firm favourite), with more exotic chocolate and marshmallow confections also on offer.
The Hagia Sofia is one of those religious building that have done ecumenical national service as far as buildings go. It was built as an Orthdox basilica, adapted to be used as a mosque, and is now open to the public as a museum. My favourite part was the dome, which vaulted over the vast space gracefully, help up seamlessly using hidden supports. Soft light entered through the many windows, illuminating the gold lustre of the paint inside that had been dulled by time. The worn colours appealed to me more than the flashy gold medallions bearing the names of Allah, Muhammad and caliphs.
I have always loved Ottoman architecture. It seems to me to combine the intricate craftsmanship and beauty of delicately painted domes, tiles and stained glass, the mathematical precision of tessellating geometric designs, and the clever or wise simplicity of minimally filled spaces (rooms, courtyards) left empty to provide physical and intellectual repose and contemplation.
On our last day, we took two invigorating ferry rides across the Bosphorus strait which forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. On the first, we watched this old man feeding the sea gulls who followed the ferry for quite some time. On the second, we were lucky enough to see a school of dolphins passing, leaping in smooth arcs in and out of the water, their smooth grey flesh glistening in the sun. What a wonderful way to end the trip.