Category Archives: In Progress

XL Popcorn – Glory

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 715/1007Title: Glory
Director: Edward Zwick
Year: 1989
Country: USA

When I saw that there was an American film about the Civil War called Glory that needed to be watched for the 1001 list I made the, not unfounded, assumption that this would be some three hour epic. And so I have pretty much avoided this film for a while, but thought it might make for a good time sink for this trip to Greece. Turns out that it’s just over two hours, which ended up being an ideal length for the rail trip back form Meteora.

The term ‘important’ is banded about a lot in the world of cinema. However, Glory feels like one of those films that deserves such an adjective. Why? Well, because it depicts the 54th battalion – the first all non-white battalion to fight in the American Civil War – from their conception to their disastrous battle at Fort Wagner. As a Brit I had made the somewhat naive assumption that, given that this was a war for America’s survival, people might have been able to put aside racism in order to battle for the Union. Shows what I know, doesn’t it.

This was always going to be a difficult topic to deal with given the attitudes back then and the attitudes in more modern times, but they broach it with an earnestness that does the film credit. It should also be noted that the cinematography and art departments did a fantastic job in bringing this film to life. Where the music was overly sweeping or the speeches overly inspirational, the world around them remained grounded in trenchfooted reality.

There is some debate online about the casting of Matthew Broderick in the lead role as Colonel Shaw. However, given his rank and what he managed to achieve, this is still a well-connected man who was given an incredibly high office at the age of 23. I actually like that Broderick’s portrayal depicted him as unsure and as a person who makes bad judgements. Whilst Shaw has been mythologised since his death at 25, it’s worth remembering the letters we have of his… which do tally up with Broderick.

In contrast, there is no real debate over the casting of Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington (in the role that gave him the first of his two Oscars). In fact the ensemble cast of the 54th battalion give a wholly strong performance as this first volunteer regiment of black men who answered a call that most whites were too racist or politically motivated to make.

Whilst Glory does go waist deep into the swamp of sentimentality on a number of occasions, there is a lot to appreciate here. You’ll just have to brace yourself for the manipulative score.


The Great EU Quest: Greece – Meteora

There aren’t many things that I would do a ten hour round trip for. Especially when it only means three and a half hours to be able to appreciate a place. However, this is exactly what we did today in order to see the precariously perched monasteries of Meteora.

So long and so infrequent are the trains between Athens and Kalabaka that you really have to make sure you book a seat and make it there on time – otherwise that’s your day gone. The train left at 8:20 from a platform that was only announced about 2-3 minutes before the train came in, so you can imagine me in a slight panic trying to work out where the hell to go.

This also meant us having to be up and out of the apartment by 7:20. Breakfast was some sandwiches I made the night before containing mortadella and some unidentified cheese that bore more than a passing resemblance to Gouda. Keep in mind that yesterday was a Sunday and that very few grocery stores are open – so we got what we got and it helped us last until the train back.

Despite being 5 hours long I must say that the trip pretty much flew by. Watching Frenzy for two of those hours definitely helped, but so did staring out at the passing scenery – something I find myself doing as I write up this blog post on the train back to Athens.

For the most part the train goes through the Greek countryside with views of rolling fields and tall mountains of all shapes and sizes being on offer if you sit on the correct side of the train. As you get closer to Kalabaka and the Thessaly Valley the more farmland you see with cotton as far as the eyes can see. I know I’ve seen cotton fields in Gone With the Wind and in a Geography textbook about lake shrinkage in Russia, but in person they look like something from a Doctor Seuss book.

At about 13:30 we arrived what Kalabaka and loaded up into a small (air-conditioned, yay) minibus for our three and a half tour around Meteora. From the station you can actually see one of the many monasteries resting atop one of the many huge rock formations that are unique to this area. According to myth, these stone structures are petrified Titans having lost in battle against Zeus and his Olympians – something that only endears me to this area all the more.

As you go up the winding roads to Meteora proper is is seemingly impossible to stop somewhere without finding an excellent opportunity for a photo (trees willing that is). The huge rock formations are, in places, pock marked by caves – which originally provided schedule to hundreds of Christian hermits prior to the establishment of the first monastery.

In total there are six monasteries open to the public, with each one closing on a different day of the week for the purposes of upkeep. We purposely chose to do this tour on the Monday because it meant the oldest and largest of them would be open – which is the place that we visited first.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 82/100Sight: Meteora
Location: Kalabaka, Greece
Position: #119

The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro is over 600 years old and towers above all the other monasteries in the area. Despite being the size of a small village, very few monks reside there anymore due to the tourists (tourists that they need if they are to keep it open, as it is the tourist money that now pays for upkeep). This was the first of two monasteries we were going to see today and despite having an hour here, we could have had a lot longer.

The views from the wooden balconies were spectacular and started theme of myself and the hub wanting to get back into a game like Skyrim. The wide panorama photographs really do not do justice to what you can see from there.

Inside the monastery itself there are a number of rooms set up to be mini-museums as well as a church and an ossuary. The walls and ceiling of the church itself, the first Greek Orthodox building I’ve ever been inside, were covered in frescos. Thanks to the painting method, these frescos look like they cook have been painted 5-6 years ago rather than 5-600. The only damage having been done by the Turks when the Ottomans took over Greece and scratched off a number of saints’ faces with their swords.

From here we were driven to a number of photo points in Meteora. The first, showing the landscape that Game of Thrones used to depict the Vale in Season 2 (the monasteries were removed digitally as they wanted no part in an X-rated TV show).

We were then taken to an outcrop that is a popular spot to take wedding photos. It looks a lot narrower than it is and did allow for some exceptional pictures of the area – even if I was a bit scared at first to make it onto the rocks, let alone towards the edge. I was fine though and found my inner mountain goat to be alive and well.

A few more photo stops later we got to the second monastery – which is now a nunnery because all the monks have left. The Roussanou nunnery (named after the founding monk who was either Russian or a redhead or both) is quite young for this area… having been founded in 1545. It’s a lot smaller in size, but still has a lot of stone stairs in order to get up there.

Everything about this monastery feels a lot quainter, down to the ticket office being operated by an actual orthodox nun. With this smaller size came the problem of other tour groups. When we got there an Italian school group took up all the room in the, admittedly small, church and in the way out not only did we have them to contend with but also a huge tour group coming in the opposite direction. I’m go glad that I was able to get the pictures I could when I did.

Then that was it for Meteora. The time passed in a flash and yet I feel that we saw an awful lot in the time we had allotted. It was back to Kalabaka in order to buy a late lunch/dinner for the way home. Also a final photograph so I could remember what I saw when the train pulled in.

Dinner was a big slice of spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and chocolate cigars. Writing this has helped me to kill the first hour and a half of this journey and now, as long as my iPad battery holds up, I’ll be indulging in a second movie now that the sun has set over the Greek mountains.

XL Popcorn – Frenzy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 714/1007Title: Frenzy
Director: Alfred Hithcock
Year: 1972
Country: UK

The idea of doing a day trip that is 5 hours in each direction really is an insane one. I’ll be going more into that in a future post as, since I prefer to do these things chronologically, I’ll be posting about the film I watched on the way up.

It’s been a good while since I last watched a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and especially one that is as late in his career as Frenzy (which would probably be Marnie). The later films of Alfred Hitchcock are a real mixed bag, but that’s as you would likely expect from an extremely prolific director within the final era of his career. I’m happy to report that, with Frenzy, this is definitely not another Topaz (boy how that film did bore me).

Previously with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets I saw the horror of a mass shooter out onto screen for the first time, with Hitchcock’s Frenzy we see an interesting early take on the psychosexual serial killer. It’s worth remembering that this film is from the early 1970’s when watching this – some of the comments made by the men within this film aren’t just misogynistic but (in the case of policeman joking with a barmaid about rape before being murdered being a silver lining) are downright despicable.

Right, with that out of the way lets get to the meat of the film. A serial killer is on the loose in London – who rapes women then strangles them to death with his necktie. It’s a horrible way to go, and it’s not comfortable viewing when we see this crime being committed – let alone the three other times that we see the victims once they have been murdered.

The film itself follows two main threads: the perpetrator himself as he commits the crimes from the shadows (the titular frenzy) and that of a man who ends up being fingered for the crimes because of his association with certain victims and because he himself is no saint. There is palpable tension multiple times in this film – most notably the sequence where the killer goes in search of an item of jewellery that would incriminate him.

Frenzy is one of those films that serves as a reminder that even when a director has nearly been making movies for 50 years, you shouldn’t make the mistake of discounting them completely. I mean, here is a film about some of the most disgusting crimes out there… and yet Hitchcock is able to weave in some proper laughs. This is mainly done during the exposition scenes where the police inspector shares details of the case with his wife whilst dealing with her new found love of (rather suspect) continental cuisine.

With his cache, Hitchcock was also able to recruit excellent actors for the two leading roles. The accused man is sympathetic (whilst still an insufferable jerk) and the psychopath shows a incredibly faceted outgoing personality that can change on a dime. Another example of why he was not a director you could properly fob off.

Given the nudity and the sexual violence this may not have been the best film to watch on a train… so I guess that would be a bit of advice from me to you oh dear reader. Watch a film like this in an appropriate venue, which doesn’t include a Greek train going through beautiful countryside.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – The Acropolis!

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 20/28

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am finally crossing off Greece from the list of EU countries to visit. This really feels like the last truly major country to tick off the list and what a better way to cross it off officially than by visiting one of the major ancient wonders… more on that later.

Country: Greece
Year first visited: 2018

Getting to the apartment last night was a bit of a misadventure as a mixture of plane delays and broken ticket machines meant that we didn’t get in until gone 11. Thankfully the bed was comfortable and our temporary digs are exactly what we hoped for. It’s also cool that each apartment takes a name from a Greek god, ours being Dionysus.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t get up until about 9 (which for me on a holiday is rather late) and we made the decision to skip breakfast in order to get a start on the day. Of course the hundreds of local Athenians we came across doing a cancer run got a better start on the day than us. Oh well.

Since our apartment is about 30 minutes walk from the Acropolis we opted to walk there so that we could start to get to know Athens just that bit better. On the way we passed an interesting landmark: the stadium that hosted the visit modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pretty cool to come across this just as an extra site! I had to photograph it later in the evening due to the sun being right overhead.

A short hop from there was the first (of many) ancient sites of the day: the Olympieion. Back in the day this was a tall temple to Zeus, but now all that remains is 15 standing columns and 1 collapsed one. It really worked to see this first thing as we could still marvel at the height and not be spoilt by what is to come.

The Olympieion area also features Hadrian’s Gate which marks the then boundary between Ancient Greek Athens and Roman Athens. It’s amazing just how intact this particular gate. Also, if you stand in the right place, it provides a perfect frame for the Acropolis in the distance – our next destination.

We got a tip online that if you want shorter queues to get into the Acropolis area not only should you pre-buy your tickets online, but go to the South-Eastern entrance. Most people tend to go to the western entrance as it is the more direct route to the Acropolis itself, but with the entrance we chose there was plenty of shrines and other ruins to see on our way up.

The big one to see is the theatre of Dionysus, whose area spans a lot more than you would first think. The ruins of the theatre is a real mixed bag. Some of it is amazingly preserved whereas others are completely missing. Still, it gave us a cool chance to take a seat in a proper Ancient Greek theatre – something that we will be doing again in a few days time… where I hopefully won’t regret not packing a cushion.

After weaving in and around a number of ruins it was time for us to hit the big ticket item itself: the Acropolis itself.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 81/100Sight: Acropolis
Location: Athens, Greece
Position: #28

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Acropolis is the whole area at the top of rocky outcrop. The major part of this is the Parthenon, but other ruins (including the incredibly well preserved ‘Old Temple’ to Athena) can be found up here. Also feral cats, but those really are everywhere in Athens.

The weird thing about seeing the Parthenon for the first time is just how hard it is to process what you are being confronted with. Most of the times you see it in pictures you are seeing a zoom in from a nearby hill or the picture is being taken at a distance from a helicopter. Up close, it’s just difficult to parse the scale of the whole thing.

To allow the brain it’s time to process (and to get out of the way of some big tour groups) we went down to the ‘Old Temple’ to Athena (so-called because it predates he Parthenon as a place to worship Athena). It’s a bit of a marvel that is incredibly well preserved and has some interesting building quirks. This is a place that had to be built around a crack in the floor said to be where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, the original olive tree as planted by Athena, the burial place of a mythic king and a substantial slope.

After this we still couldn’t quite process the Parthenon… so we climbed up a platform on the eastern edge of the Acropolis to take in some great views of the city (including a bird’s eye view of the Olympieion). I think it was the point where we turned around to face the Parthenon once again that it really hit us that we were here.

The Parthenon itself is truly vast. I can only imagine how it would have been to see this before most of it was devoured by the explosion in the 1600s. It will also be interesting to see how it will end up looking after the restoration work has been completed – although this really does feel like a project that will never be truly finished.

We ended up walking around the Parthenon itself two times to try and soaking he ambience as well as we could. It also afforded me the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of photos before we made our way back down the slope. I cannot over emphasise the number of great views that you get from up in the Acropolis – I can only imagine what it must be like to be there when it’s all lit up at night.

After finishing our descent it really was time for some lunch, and what could be more Greek than gyros! I feel that there is this big list of Greek food that I want it try authentic versions of whilst I am here – gyros being the top of that list equal to some proper feta cheese. We appeared to be the only people eating a meal of this size, but then again we had missed breakfast and (more importantly) who cares.

Next to the Acropolis’ slopes is the Acropolis museum – a newly built museum that houses all the findings from the Acropolis area as well as a lot of the original sculptures. However, before getting into that, we went around a temporary exhibition about Emperor Qianlong from China. This did serve as a bit of a palate cleanser for what was to come.

Sadly there is no camera policy in the vast majority of the Acropolis museum, so I’ll be brief. The sheer number of recovered statues and relics is truly overwhelming. There is so much that it makes you wonder just how much did not survive. Some of the best pieces are actually pre-Parthenon pieces that survived a massive act of arson by the Persian army. Some of these pieces still have visible paint on them!

The elephant in the room if the Acropolis museum are the missing marble pieces that are currently sat in the British museum. Being a Brit, it’s interesting to hear the Greek side of the story – especially as they characterise Elgin as essentially being an upper class pirate. Who knows if this will ever be fully resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the museum, so we had to prioritise some sites from our Archaeological Sites of Athens ticket (with the rest to be done in a few days). We made our way down a lovely promenade and some really touristy ships to the Roman Agora.

There isn’t too much to this as most of the area compared to everything we’d seen previously, but it still had some columns and a gate intact. Also, and most interesting of all, the old observatory is nearly perfectly preserved. It really does help if a building has been buried for a long time.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Salep Ice Cream
Progress: 753/1001

We had a bit of a walk between the Roman Agora and our final site of the day. A walk which took us down some busy shopping streets and gave us the chance to cross off some ice cream. Salep ice cream has a number of names, which has made the hunt confusing. The Turks call it dondurma and the Greeks call it kaimaki. If I did not know this piece of information, I would never have found it today. The key feature of this ice cream is texture, which is like regular ice cream infused with an almost marshmallow-like stretch and chew. I really did like this ice cream and it makes me want to see if they have different flavours elsewhere.

So we ended the day at the Lykeion, which was the most far flung of the sites on our ticket. It is also the flattest as pretty much nothing behind the foundations have survived to this day. We didn’t get a whole lot of time here as it was 20 minutes before closing, but we probably got as much out of it as we could. Still interesting to beamong history, even if it wasn’t entirely visible.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Loukanika
Progress: 754/1001

For dinner, I found a place just around the corner from the apartment called Katsourbos. It was pretty high on Tripadvisor and apparently specialised in Cretan food. I guess that this sausage, which is meant to found all over Greece, can also be found there. Now, I have had a lot of different sausages for this food list, but this Greek sausage (smoked and flavoured with honey, herbs and citrus) is truly something else. Sure is nicer than both of the sausages from the French box and it gives the Cumberland sausage a run for its money. Something tells me this will not be the only time I eat this before I leave Greece.

My main was liver with skin-on fries and a honey-balsamic sauce. I didn’t get this for the liver, I got this because the sauce sounded really interesting. Man, this really was a great sauce. I hope that I’ll find a recipe to replicate this as it feels like of those that could go well with a lot of different foods.

I probably should have finished writing up hours ago as it is an early start tomorrow. How early, well we need to incorporate a 5 hour train ride. Wish me luck!

XL Popcorn – The Bad and the Beautiful

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 713/1007Title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1952
Country: USA

The flight time between London and Athens is a bit over three and a half hours. When flying with a budget airline like easyJet, aside fro, the delays and the legroom shortage, I am usually fine for 1-2 hours, but this flight gave me pause to do something that I should have done a long time ago. You see, I’ve had my iPad 2 for 5-6 years (it’s where the initial list for this blog was written on) and never even thought about taking it with my on a plane to watch a movie, and so here we are with a film that I have been wanting to watch for a good long time.

Directed by Vincente Minelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is one of those classic golden age Hollywood films about the sacrifices people make in order to make it big. It’s presented in the form of three flashbacks, as three people who found success after being wronged by a once successful movie mogul tell their stories as to why they would never work with him ever again. These three are united by their distaste for movie mogul Jonathan Shields (played by an excellent Kirk Douglas), all for incredibly good reasons.

The film itself is set up as a short anthology series with Douglas’ Shields and the common thread. We get to see Shields at his rise, his heights and at his decline and how these different situations have led to his using of the director, the star and the writer. It’s not like he uses and disposes of them once he’s done, in all three situations it is the wronged people’s decision to walk away because he crossed the line that he shouldn’t have crossed.

I may be biased because films about old Hollywood really are my bread and butter, but I thought this film was excellent. The way that we watch Shields’s career path and the different lengths he goes to in order to get what he wants helps to keep the film interesting. However, and I am going to give him this, he had no inclination of sending the writer’s wife (a wonderfully flighty Gloria Grahame) to her death – but the way he concealed his, indirect, involvement did speak to his character.

It’s excellent performances from the all the principle cast and some classically beautiful Hollywood melodrama direction that really made The Bad and the Beautiful a winner for me. Sure films about people gathered in a room recounting how someone has wronged them is hardly groundbreaking, but it helps when it’s very well executed. A perfect plane movie.

🎻♫♪ – Salome by Richard Strauss

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 49/501Title: Salome
Composer: Richard Strauss
Nationality: German

I posted a near identical picture to today way back in December for my post about the ballet Sleeping Beauty. That was an evening that was enjoyed so much, to the point of immediately looking on the website of the English National Opera to see if there was another production that caught our eye – which is how we ended up with tickets to see their version of Salome. 

This is being posted nearly half a year since that production ended, so review of this particular version are easily Googleable. I think that a lot of what I saw can be easily summarised by Tatianna from RuPaul’s Drag Race“choices”.

What unfolded over an hour and fifty minutes was a baffling series of choices in an effort to modernise this opera. The fact that Salome is a story of necrophilia and incest means that there is no real need to bring the subject matter up to date in order to facilitate a reaction. Still, this did make for a different form of entertainment than I expected (such as marvelling at the gigantic purple headless horse having it’s knitted entrails pulled out) there were some things that I felt cheated out of – such as a good interpretation of the infamous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (because twerking has no place in opera!).

Anyway, let’s divorce this interpretation from the music. The orchestra were fantastic and most of the vocal performances were excellent – which means I can actually talk about this on a purely musical level as I have done with the likes of Porgy & Bess and The Nutcracker.

The orchestra required to pull off Salome is huge and has provided me with an opportunity to see the triangle in action. There are a large number of recurring motifs throughout the opera, but for the most part the music really helps to heighten the feelings of discomfort at what you are seeing unfold.

A lot of the music that what we hear is dissonant and, at times, unnerving. Even the Arabesque ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ is ominous and brought to mind The Rite of Spring (despite the twerking). It’s a brilliant score and, on the night, was well executed.

The story of Salome itself is utterly bizarre and I wish that the staging had allowed me to appreciate it all the more. I mean is it too much to ask for a model head to be used for the severed head of the prophet Jochanaan instead of a plastic bag filled with (what I assume is) pink slime.

Good Eatin’ – Grilled Dover Sole

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Dover Sole
Progress: 753/1001

Now that food items are becoming rare enough that I am only able to find them once a month or so, the ones in London with heftier price tags are becoming more and more enchanting. Especially when they’re actually cooked for me, which means I don’t have to fret about over-cooking or misusing them.

A number of restaurants in London’s Chinatown offer Dover sole (which I later found out is just the common sole – the name Dover becoming attached as the UK was the top supplier at some point) is pretty numerous. However, at £33 a plate, I have always put this off in favour of eating dim sum or some barbecue pork. Today was not that day.

The moment the sole arrived at our table, I knew that the training I had gotten from eating whole barramundi and silver pomfret was going to bear fruit. It also helps that Dover sole is perfect to be served grilled whole as the fillets slip off the bone with just a little bit of pressure from the rim of a spoon. The only issue was where to put the spine.

What can I say about the flesh, other than it was flaky, sweet and absolutely delicious. It was so good with the ginger, spring onion, soy sauce and mushrooms – the latter being incredible umami bombs when eaten with the fish. There was also a satisfying crisp crunch to the skin, which I only really started appreciating since I started eating special fish for this list.

I’m looking forward to trying more fish in restaurants, but I don’t know how many more I’ll be finding in the UK. Hopefully I will be able to find one or two in Greece next week… but seeing how I wasn’t able to find anything in Freiburg I’ll have to play it by ear.

Acclaimed Albums – Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 172/250Title: Nebraska
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Year: 1982
Position: #131

Between the increasingly packed trains cutting down on my reading time and a new subscription to Stitcher Premium (where I have been devouring the archive episodes of Dr Gameshow) there has been little time left for list albums. Doesn’t help that I am very particular about the types of albums that I like to listen to when I work, which is a long way of saying that my album listening has really begun to slow down.

The main thing on the work menu today was writing documentation, which means podcasts are completely out the window and I could pick something bloggy to listen to. Rather than continue my run of listening to the oldest thing left, I thought it would be good to listen to something relatively more recent – and so I’ve ended up with Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.

This is the third of four Springsteen albums for the Top 250 and I’ll wager it is the most depressing (and possibly most evocative) of the albums. This doesn’t have a big single like ‘Born To Run’ or ‘Dancing In The Dark’, but that’s kinda the point of Nebraska.

This album is predicated on telling the stories of ordinary people who live humdrum lives or are in less than ideal circumstances. Focuses of the songs include a man about to face the electric chair (‘Nebraska’, a man facing 99 years in prison (‘Johnny 99’) and someone driving through the night to see his sweetheart (‘Open All Night’).

The whole album is mostly a sombre affair, even the jaunty tiffs on ‘Johnny 99’ hide something fairly macabre. Considering the music that Springsteen is famous for producing, Nebraska is a pretty severe left turn. It’s also an incredibly admirable one.

I don’t know if it’s my own maturation since starting this blog, my growing familiarity with Springsteen’s music or this album in particular – but I think Nebraska would be my favourite Bruce Springsteen album so far. The change in direction and mood work so well as does the sparseness of the arrangements (which is typically just a vocal track, a guitar and maybe a harmonica). Whilst I do love some lush production values, this album really is an example of how to do more with less.

His final album on the list (Born in the USA) will be back to Springsteen giving me the music that his is most famous for. It’s also the album that I am going into with the most prior knowledge… so it’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up against Nebraska.

World Cooking – Saint Lucia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Saint Lucia
Progress: 24/193

Well here we are with the first Caribbean country, and I ended up going for one with a pretty flag. There are many other flags in this area that I really like, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados both come to mind, but I ended up settling on Saint Lucia because of the striking light blue colour and because it has a bona fide national dish.

Whilst the cuisine of Saint Lucia does share a lot in common with other nations in the Caribbean, there are particular quirks. For example, since this was previously a colony of France and Britain, the colonial influences can be felt in their food – as well as their being some touches from India (because, you know, empire).

Having a national dish that is specifically Saint Lucian really helped to make this the first pick for this region. There are a number of dishes that I want to cook, like macaroni pie and bouyon, which can be found elsewhere – so will be saving those until later.

Main: Green Fig and Saltfish

The national dish of Saint Lucia is a confusing one, at least to a non-native. Why? Well, when they talk of green figs they actually mean green unripe bananas. Believe me, this was a relief as I have not eaten a fig since learning the whole thing about fig wasps – also it is incredibly easy to source green bananas in the UK. Similarly, since I live in London, my local Tesco superstore actually sells saltfish – meaning that this recipe was easy to buy for and cook.

For my recipe I went to 196 Flavours and made the addition of some sweet chilli sauce at the end as it really felt like this recipe could use the kick. Not to say that it’s bland at all, but a recipe containing reconstituted salt fish, 1 kilo of green bananas and shredded cabbage doesn’t sound the most appetising – which was completely wrong of me. If you are able to get your hands on some saltfish, I would really recommend this if you are in the market for something a bit different.

The recipe made enough for four, but myself and the husband ate this in one sitting whilst binge-watching The Middle. So easy was this recipe (and with the right spice level, this will be truly delicious) that it feels like a cool one to roll out if someone ever did an ‘Around the World Pot Luck’. Sadly I don’t live in the world of Desperate Housewives so it’s unlikely to happen – but hope springs eternal!

For the next post I will be at country number 25, which just goes to show how seriously I took my husbands challenge six months ago. Since this is a landmark number, I really want to choose a country that could be considered a substantial cuisine. Not decided what it will be yet, but I guess you’ll find out in a few weeks when I have the time to get back in the kitchen.

XL Popcorn – The World of Apu

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 712/1007Title: Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Year: 1959
Country: India

Four years ago I watched the second film in the Apu Trilogy and I am finally finishing it off.  It didn’t take me so long because I disliked the films, far from it, but I just never got around them in the face of all the other movies on this list.

Last time I left Apu in his eponymous trilogy, he returned to Kolkata having lost his mother and rejected his uncle’s offer to train him up as a priest. We pick up with him in semi-poverty as a struggling writer and about to be kicked out of the room he lives in due to unpaid rent. It’s a bit of a step-down from the education that he was meant to be having when we left him at the end of Aparajito.

The journey that Apu takes from the beginning of the film as an aspiring writer to a nomad is incredibly emotional. I mean, this is a man who was emotionally blackmailed into a marriage, loses the person he loves and spends the final act of the film in a deep depression as he roams around India throwing away the book he’s spent years writing.

The World of Apu is not a particularly easy watch, especially as the concluding part of the Apu trilogy. I mean, you start off with him as a small sensitive boy with dream and we end up seeing him broken by life. Sure he makes some bad decisions along the way, but don’t we all. It’s a sad, but hopeful, ending to a film series that has kept dealing him a real mixed deck of cards.

As far as I am aware, this is the only film series in the 1001 list that I was in the middle of. There are one or two I am left to start, like the Ivan the Terrible films, but as I am heading into the final throngs of this list – it really is time for me to take stock and tie up some loose ends.