Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Day Two of The Symposium

Day Two began with breakfast which was available from 0745 and it was a very substantial buffet laid out in the dining room.  There was a table with large glass bowls of cereals (about twenty), different nuts, seeds and dried fruits to enable people to build their own choices and on the side were full fat, semi skimmed, skimmed and soya milks all clearly labelled.   This table also had bowls of canned figs, prunes, grapefruit sections and the thickest, creamiest yoghurt I have ever come across.   There was another table with large dispensers of grapefruit, orange and apple juices.  A third table of cold stuff had fresh fruit - watermelon, charentais, grapes, strawberries, raspberries - all piled high.  There were plates of cold meats and cheeses and a basket of mixed warm breakfast rolls.  The fourth table had a hot plate with bacon, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried eggs and black pudding keeping hot for people to help themselves.  I am a fruit and yoghurt girl myself and really have low tastes - I love the canned figs and really enjoyed them.  The waiting staff brought large pots of coffee and tea to the tables and left them there and every few minutes brought fresh toast.  Marmalade and jams were already on the tables in little dishes.  The Scandinavians really loved the cooked breakfasts and raved about them.  It is apparently always the highlight of their Symposia.

I was joined at breakfast by a fortyish Australian called Jo Curtis who works in the film world as an executive producer.  She lives half the time in Sydney and the other half in Soho and was really interesting.  She confided that she had stayed up late the previous night and at midnight was swigging pints of Guinness and smoking roll ups with a young man whose name she could not remember.  She gave up smoking twenty years ago.  Apparently.  She was eating a massive cooked breakfast to soak up some of the previous night's excesses.  We went off to the first lecture together but she only lasted half the morning and had to return to bed long before lunch.

The first paper was given by Jane Kramer who lives in New York most of the time and writes for The New Yorker.  She spends quite a lot of time in France and was awarded the Legion d'Honneur for services to gastronomy.  The theme of her paper was "Celebrating!" and two of her comments were very interesting.  She said that the preparation of food for a celebration feast becomes ritualised and that somehow it always tastes better.  That really made me think of Christmases past and despite forgetting the sausage and bacon rolls the food was delicious.  I also have my rituals but had never really thought about it before as a ritual - I just always do things the same way at the same time of year.  The cherries in brandy are made in July (note to self, buy some cherries today), the cake is made in October, the pudding on Stir Up Sunday and Christmas Eve finds me, the vegetables and the service of lessons and carols from Kings in perfect harmony.  Her second comment that really made me think was that "celebration is one of the great civilising rituals of humanity" which when you think about it is so obvious as to go without saying.  To actually hear it put into words brings it into consciousness rather than unconsciousness.

The next paper was delivered by Joelle Balhoul and was entitled "Judeo-Muslim Exchanges in Religious Celebrations" and was really interesting.  Joelle is a professor at Indiana State University and a world expert on the co-existence of Jewish and Muslim communities.  She concentrated on North Africa and we heard all about the period 1880-1970 when there was much Jewish migration of  the lower class because of persecution but the remaining higher class Jews assimilated into the Muslim communities.  Muslim women have always dominated domestically but their men would actually acquire the food, once it was given to the woman she would take over and decide what would be done with it.  Muslim women would assist their Jewish counterparts at times like Shabbat and Passover but the Jewish women remained the principals in the acquisition and ritual preparation of their food.

We then were shown a short film about the Mexican Day of The Dead and Bruce Kraig and Jan Thompson explained the rituals and the food preparation which was taking place ready for our dinner that evening.

I then went off to another room because the papers I wanted to hear were on the theme "Alone, sad and no food: Anti-Celebrations"  The other choices for the next hour and a half were "Celebration around the Mediterranean in Classical Times" and "Sweets in Celebrations".  I would have loved to go to all of them but these were called Parallel Sessions and I had to make a choice.

The first paper was given by Anthony Buccini and his theme was "The Relationship between Fasting and Feasting" and he was very knowledgeable about the medieval church and its rituals.  He is an academic at  the University of Chicago and that evening I was able to point him in the direction of those wonderful drawings at The Walker Gallery in Liverpool showing the monks feasting and fasting - he had heard of them but did not know where they were.  I felt like a proper grown up at this point, being able to give information to someone of his status does not happen to me very often.

The second paper was given by Robert Appelbaum and the subject was "Celebrating Solitude:  MFK Fisher on Dining Alone".  I am very familiar with the texts he used and understood everything he said.  Robert is presently at Lancaster University but is moving to Uppsala in Sweden this summer.
He admitted that he never "dines" alone because he finds the experience uncomfortable.  If he has to eat out alone he tends to go to Wetherspoons!

The final paper in this session was given by Jane Levi who is the Symposium's treasurer.  That really was a collection of pictures illustrating the theme "Melancholy and Mourning: Black Banquets and Funerary Feasts".  One interesting thought came from this which had certainly never occurred to me was that the funeral feast was a way of introducing the new heir to the community at large.  There was much discussion about black foods.

After this it was time to go off to lunch.  What a lunch we had too - all the food and drink were provided by different Italian regions and the theme of the lunch was to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.   The antipasti were laid out on large platters and consisted of three different sorts of olives, four different salamis, roasted peppers, aubergines and artichokes and large baskets of warm focaccia bread.    After about ten minutes large bowls of ravioli with ricotta and spinach dressed with lemon oil appeared.  We then were given huge portions of chicken cooked with rosemary and white wine.  This was followed by platters of Grana Padano accompanied by bowls of fabulously juicy cherries and dishes of cold zabaglione.   The wines were Gigliotto Nero D'Avola,  Perticato I Quadri, Perticato Valandrea amd Spumante Dolce Perini & Perini.  There was no shortage of either food or drink.  I had sat down at the far end of the room so that I could observe the entire proceedings and Paul Levy came and sat opposite me and introduced himself.  I had stopped gibbering by this time and we had quite a sensible conversation, he gave me the true stories on Elizabeth David and Anne Barr and The Foodie book. 

I shall have to return to this later since I need to dress up and go out for my birthday lunch.

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