Monday, January 01, 2007

Last Sunday of 2006

A new fishmonger has opened at the bottom of Seymour Road off Green Lanes, round the corner from our house and we excitedly trotted over there this morning. In the window were glossy piles of octopus, squid, carp, tiger prawns, sea bass, sea bream, cod, herring and more. We bought sea bream and prawns. The floor was so wet we joined the other customers hovering by the entrance as we watched the two old Turkish men gut and clean our orders on the other side of the room. One of the old men wore low-rise jeans that clung to his ample hips but somehow we don't think this was in the name of fashion.

We went into town to the small but colourful Myths of Bengal exhibition at the British Museum, which focussed on the tradition of storytelling in Bengal in India using scrolls, prints and paintings from the Museum's collection. The exhibition felt more like Hindu Myths for Dummies than an indepth assessment, but it was enjoyable enough and perhaps I'm biased because I'm Bengali myself.

Pressed for time, we jumped into a black cab all the way down to Pimlico where we met my Oxford friend K and saw the magnificent Holbein in England exhibition at the Tate Britain, featuring Holbein's exquisitely painted realistic portraits of the court of Henry VIII and wealthy merchants, dressed in sumptuous fabrics, from the 16th century. My favourite was of Cyriacus Kale of Braunschweig who Holbein painted as a full-frontal portrait holding letters addressed to him at the London Steelyard. Kale was 32, his motto was "Patient in all things", he had a bulging right eye and a scar on his chin, and wore sleeves of brilliant black fur and damson coloured silk damask.

We popped into the Turner Prize 2006 exhibit. Much of it was lacklustre - including the winner Tomma Abts' paintings of geometric forms, which felt more like the kind of mass-produced art you find in Ikea or Habitat than in a gallery, but hey ho - although I wouldn't have gone as far as one visitor's comment scribbled on a piece of card that read, "I don't like". We did like Phil Collins' installation of an office though. My favourite piece of Collins' art is his video footage of Istanbul teenage fans of The Smiths singing their favourite The Smiths songs in karaoke.

The bookstore was having a half-price sale so we bought photographer Wolfgang Tillmans' If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters and a book on painter August Strindberg.

After stilton and broccoli quiche with rocket salad and chocolate cake at the gallery's museum, we said a hasty goodbye to K who was returning to Oxford and leapt into another cab (hey, it's our New Year treat!) to meet some members of M's family in town.

Afterwards, we popped into Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and bought some cut-price DVDs: Together With You by Chen Kaige about a young violin prodigy who moves with his father from a small Chinese town to the big city so he can audition for a place at a famous music school; Vodka Lemon by Hiner Saleem about widowed Kurdish army veteran Hamo living in Caucasus and his burgeoning relationship with the beguiling Nina; Vietnamese At The Height Of Summer by Tran Anh Hung about the secrets that are uncovered when three sisters meet up to honour the memory of their mother on the anniversary of her death; and The Scent Of Green Papaya, also by Tran Anh Hung, about the life of a ten year old servant Mui.

From Foyles bookstore we bought two Orhan Pamuk novels - The Black Book and The New Life. The Turkish writer recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. We also picked up a half-price copy of Udit Sarkhel's The Calcutta Kitchencookbook featuring West Bengali recipes such as fish head curry, cod with mustard and tamarind, masala omelette curry, and green mango curry. The book is filled with amazing photos of Calcutta's food culture as well as essays on Calcutta's food history. I can't wait to read it and try out the recipes. We'll be in West Bengal soon after our wedding and it'll be great to taste authentic Bengali food again.

We're back at home now and have just finished a sublime and moreish dinner of fillets of sea bream roasted on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and tomatoes and covered with a delicious sauce of chermoula, made with fresh coriander, crushed garlic, ground cumin, paprika, chilli pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. We used the recipe from Claudia Roden's Arabesque cookbook, which my parents gave M and me for Christmas. Quinces are now roasting in the oven and we've already popped open the champagne.

2007, here we come!

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