Like Mark Antony, “in the East my pleasure lies”, but I am not dreaming of Cleopatra and my ‘East’ is further away from Rome – India. The first time I visited India was in the Seventies and like most tourists I thought it would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. As I came down the steps of Delhi’s Grand Mosque, shrugging my shoulders to brush off street vendors and beggars, an educated voice stopped me in my tracks. A distinguished-looking gentleman in a blue turban started insistently to discuss my past and my future.
It was riveting stuff but when he told me that the rest of my life would be punctuated by repeated visits to India I dismissed the notion as fanciful and to myself I explained away the rows of books he pictured, all bearing my name, as an English teacher’s library. However I was asked to write a book on Indian food and during my first research trip I fell in love with India. I try to return at least every other year and as I get off the plane to a sea of noise and confusion I feel I have come home. For the first few years I sought out my Delhi seer, but with no success, and I have come to accept his many accurate predictions as just another inexplicable Indian mystery.
This February I returned to the princely city of Mysore, arriving by train from Bangalore. We staggered off, laden down with far too much luggage for train travel, onto a platform seething with people. To my amazement one man helped another to load two of our suitcases weighing at least 23 kilos each on to his head and he strode, with no apparent effort, ahead to the taxis with us scuttling along behind. We stayed at the majestic, white Lalitha Mahal, built originally for the visit of the British Viceroy in 1921. The wiring and plumbing were endearingly archaic and we felt that we had travelled in a time capsule back to the days of the Raj. After this it was a relief to return to my Goa ‘home’, Simon and Charlotte’s Vivenda dos Palahocas. We enjoyed great company around the convivial garden dining table and slipped off to the beach for seafood lunches at Zeebop. We had a memorable evening dining at the Palacio do Deao to the sound of fado drifting over the garden and one of my projects for the future is working with Celia to write up her unique collection of traditional Goan recipes.
I have been back in Italy for almost a week and already there are signs of spring in the Roman food markets. Campo dei Fiori was selling the first fava (broad) beans and one stall was offering small sweet peas at astronomic prices. Ferentino is always a few degrees colder than the city and there is still snow on the mountain tops. Yesterday I sat in front of Amadeo’s blazing log fire with a glass of Cesanese del Piglio and a plate of bruschetta, oozing fruttato olive oil. In one week I had enjoyed high summer in Goa, tentative hints of spring in Rome and winter bounty in Ferentino. Life is good.
I am looking forward to the magical enchantments of Istanbul in May, and June’s Greek island idyll in Symi. Puglia is shaping up nicely for October so the gourmet adventures are all on track.
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