Off The Page, Vietnamese food, 2666 and all that…
I’ve just been to that London for a recording of the Radio Four series ‘Off The Page’, which is due for broadcast sometime in November. My fellow guests were the excellent Melissa Cole, and the legendary Simon Fanshawe. We were debating the demise of the pub, and hopefully it will make for a fun listen.
I struggle more and more with that London, though I did have the enormous pleasure after the recording of running into the worshipful Matt Barnard outside the Salisbury on St. Martin’s Lane. Astute readers of ‘The Longest Crawl’ will notice that I ran into him in the penultimate chapter on the ferry to Shetland; he is a great human being, and I love to run into him, at Pilton, on ferries, and outside pubs in London and Edinburgh.
And old Charley is now living and working in that London, so I went to stay with her, which was the hugest pleasure, and she took me out to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in Dalston with loads of my nieces and nephews and my ex-sister-in-law, Em, with whom I once lodged, and of whom I am very fond. Niece Z lived in Vietnam for a year, and speaks quite a bit of Vietnamese; and this particular restaurant is clearly very well thought of. So if ever I was going to start liking Vietnamese food, this was my moment. Thing is, I’ve had Vietnamese food a couple of times before, and on both occasions I felt quite ill afterwards. But I bit the bullet, and let Niece Z order for me; and it was quite horrible. Is it me? Or am I alone in disliking cold pancakes stuffed with under cooked vegetables, or slimy boiled up fish? All the Londoners seemed to lap it up; perhaps I’m just being provincial, as so often. I made my excuses as soon as I could, and hurried off to find an all-night newsagent to buy a Mars Bar to take the taste away. But I’m beginning to suspect that Vietnamese food is the Emperor’s New Clothes of metropolitan cuisine. After all, who would go to Dalston and eat anything other than Turkish?
But a huge thrill of being in London, one which sustained me all through a white knuckle ride of a hell flight back to Belfast, was buying and becoming utterly absorbed in Roberto Bolano’s ‘2666’. The reviewers have gone bonkers for it, and I can see why. The reviewer who said that it was like the novel that Borges would have written was spot on. But I’m reminded too of the spooky story-telling power of Isak Dinesen, or the hypnotic list-making of Perec or Harry Matthews, with some breath-takingly vast Proustian sentences that carry you through the narrative like waves carrying surf dudes up Fistral Beach. Astounding stuff; buy it here!