Gareth Jones Now Goes In Search of TASTE
North of 500,000 words across +380 articles I am doing as pledged to myself. With this piece I am putting www.garethjonesfood.com into what I can best describe as a digital hibernation as I move on to focus on ‘In Search of TASTE‘ magazine.
It was with such thoughts in mind, travelling through Italy just recently, I was specially taken with re-visiting ‘Savouring Italy’, the Robert Freson 1992 work which followed ‘The Taste of France’.
This remarkable photo-journalist is but one of several souls who have thrown their weight, gravitas and encouragement behind ‘In Search of TASTE’ - www.insearchoftaste.com - an independent food & wine title, free of invasive advertising and set to offer witty, passionate, experienced and fired up writing from around the world. The guest blogs on our website already are samplers of just that promise.
As you have liked what you have read here these past three years, then what’s to come will continue the journey – another promise. Very soon now our subscription channel will open – £48 pa for the four quarterly issues – with paper and on-line versions there for the asking. We are still slightly short equity take up, so I would be wasting a trick to not suggest at £1,500 per 1% over three years, it’s a snip – more from email@example.com
Invited back to my beloved Italy, I recently made the 5½ hour journey by Trenitalia from Rome’s Termini station through to Genoa – that’s like London to Glasgow or Plymouth. I chose to take the regular train rather than the new high speed inter-city express which sat purring and beckoning in Rome station.
All the way it was like I was surrounded by friends – and on the journey up Italy’s west coast I chose memories, including many of Freson’s Italian images as my compass.
The Lazio stretch takes the traveller from Rome up the coast to Civitavecchia – a name one always associates with the scene in blessed ‘Tosca‘. Travel tip – a reserved seat in a compartment, long since committed to history in England, is civilised. But, the compartments are on the ‘wrong side’ for the journey north.
When in Rome, etc, I joined others and stood in the narrow al mare corridor, as people moved up and down the train whispering ‘Permesso‘ every few minutes. There were even tiny drop down seats along the corridor. We spied down into back gardens, looked across a silvery blue Mare Tirreno and got to imaging life around small train stations in little towns along the long way north through Lazio, Tuscany and Liguria.
With a head spinning with recent memories of 72 hours in Frascati and Rome, hanging with writers Jo Wennerholm and Rachel Roddy, I tried to focus on Pesto and why I was here. It’s hard to think green when all around you’re seeing blue.
Travellers unwrap home-made parcels of panini with assorted fillings. The young Chinese couple in the carriage had rice and chop sticks – and why not as the girl was heavily pregnant much to the delight of others in the compartment. Bottles of water and wine came out too. I realised my morning had been fuelled by just two sweet caffès and one last Marroquina with a small croissant all crema in Termini. Marroquina will have to wait for ‘In Search of TASTE’ to explain – it’s a close relation to the ‘Espressino’.
Italian trains and stations have great coffee and snack foods – I’d travelled on two just months ago from Parma to Bologna and again from Bologna to Faenza. This is why I felt no need to come aboard with supplies for my 5½ hour journey to Genoa.
‘Permesso‘ I now said as I moved slowly up the corridor from car to car. I reached the front and First Class – no bar and a locked door. The engine was behind that door.
I retraced my steps the longer way to the rear car. No bar. I met the guard, thinking a bar might be attached along the way much as they used to add and de-couple the dining car on the Paris-Milan wagons-lits.
“No bar,” said the guard. I thought of hopping off and on at a next stop – I timed the first one and this train was in the station and off again in less than 5 minutes. No time to find a station bar, order and pay, then wait to be served. I settled back into another 4+ hours without water and food.
It reminded me of a camping trip, as it happened to precisely where I was passing – the rounded peninsular called Ortobello. I would never travel with food supplies from home, always insisting on buying locally. These were times pre-ATM and Euro, so getting cash involved queuing in the right bank with Travellers’ Cheques. I hadn’t figured on a bank holiday and had only a few French Francs (as useful as Roubles in rural Italy). I did have two eggs and bread from the previous night up on the French border. Hungry, I fried the first egg for my partner on the one ring burner. Then I cracked my egg into the pan knowing it was the last chance of food until tomorrow when the banks re-opened. Somehow, and how I’ll never know, the unstable ring slipped over and, as if in slow motion, my half-cooked egg slid onto the mud outside the tent – despair followed as options shut down.
My thirsty train journey had me reliving that moment – as well as dreaming of the small portion of nervetti left on the serving plate in Testaccio the night before.
Now we were into Grosseto and more memories. It was near here, on another Italian holiday, that I spent a disproportionate chunk of holiday budget – remember please, not only no ATM’s back then, but also a UK Government strictly enforced ‘Foreign Travel Allowance’ of £50 stamped into your passport.
In Grosseto market I came across a stall selling porcini – the first I’d ever seen fresh picked as against dried in London. Excited at my find, I talked with the stall holder in that funny language we would speak when abroad. That’s the one which employs charades and all the ‘foreign’ words we can muster spoken with an accent to suit the circumstance – in others words passable French spoken in faux Italian. Our man convinced me I could slice and sun dry the funghi in the three days left before heading for home. The meteo was good, he assured me. I sliced my 3 kilo’s of fresh porcini, laid them on newspaper and proudly sat guard during all the sunshine hours that shone on Tuscany that week in 1972.
I returned home happy with three cardboard sugar boxes filched from the local bar full to the brim with dried porcini. Hence Grosseto means porcini-to-dry to me. With Elba offshore, it meant other things to the French.
Gazing again out of the window it was obvious we’re into Tuscany’s hillyt verdant landscape with snow capped mountains behind. Cattle and sheep graze, vineyards have been pruned and spring flowers are out everywhere.
The shipyards of Livorno look busy and affluent. Pisa is next stop – not the Pisa of leaning towers and pink stoned baptistries, but a workaday Pisa of train station. Viareggio and soon views across to the marble quarries of Carrara – where Michelangelo shopped for stone, stopping as they tell you in tiny Colonnata, to eat Lardo as had been done since the Romans.
In Roman times runners would bring the pig backs from Parma across the mountains to be cured in Colonnata. 2,000 years on, Lardo di Colonnata was awarded IGP status just 10 years ago after much lobbying by Slow Food.
One year we travelled home with a well known budget airline with vac-packs of lardo, a large mortar and length of polished marble from Colonnata as our hand luggage. A life in food has us doing some extreme things on occasion and long may it last.
Bringing that Carrara marble mortar back to London was perhaps an omen of times to come – and why I was on the train from Rome to Genoa with around 2 thirsty hours to go. I have been called many things in my life and now I am officially introduced in Genoa as the London Ambassador for Pesto alla Genovese al Mortaio – it’s an unpaid role, but one I enjoy.
Back in the train corridor, I strike up conversation with a doctor from Rapallo returning home from a conference in Rome. He is excited about my journeying to Genoa, his family home town. We talk of making pesto and cooking, then inevitably to Camogli and Portofino – as with so many Ligurians I know, it’s as if Rapallo was second best. I am yet to meet a soul who doesn’t go watery eyed with mention of the pearl that is Camogli.
We pass by Recco and Nervi – places given mention by Fred Plotkin in his master-work ‘Recipes from Paradise’ – and a man who chooses to live in Camogli for part of his year following the opera seasons as ‘The Operavore’ - http://www.garethjonesfood.com/7931/liguria-plotkins-paradise-panizzas-pesto/
Finally with thoughts of water and coffee coming back to front of mind, the train slows to cross Genoa’s outskirts with typical grand villa’s and apartment blocks set into the steep hill sides and busy port below. Then on time to the minute, we draw into Genova Principe. I make straight to the kiosk by the taxi rank to drink down two bottles of water and take a caffè like a man possessed. The owner laughs when I tell him my pledge to never again travel without supplies.
I eat a slice of warm onion foccacia with a local dust clearing Vermentino and get excited about seeing old friends and my role as judge again the following day at the World Championships of Pesto alla Genovese al Mortaio - http://www.garethjonesfood.com/10794/nonna-87-wins-pesto-glory-in-genoa/
Landing up in Genoa, a city I love, and eating what will stay with me as one of the best meals ever, I ask didn’t Laurie Lee once write an essay about not enjoying water until one has been truly thirsty – and not appreciating food until being hungry in the real sense of meaning. He wasn’t writing of the horrors of famine, he was talking about being really hungry and thirsty like me that afternoon in Genoa.
Gene’ is what the locals sometimes call Genoa (Genova in Italian). Who knows that this gave us the word ‘jeans’, just as Nimes gave us the name of the fabric ‘denim’ (de Nîmes). Napoleon named his newly annexed department Gênes during the short French occupation between 1805-1814. The blue dye used for mariner’s clothes was known as ‘Bleu de Gênes’ and so ‘jeans’ entered the language. The city has just rebranded itself – Genova ‘More Than This’. I like the earlier descriptor of ‘La Superba’ – ‘the proud one’ where the Cross of St George has flown as the true flag of honour for 1,000+ years.
Robert Freson wrote to me that he’d liked me as travelling companion when shooting ‘Savouring Italy’ in the early 1990′s. Let this journey be a sampler Bob.
Always, aren’t we in search of taste? Now it comes in magazine format – www.insearchoftaste.com
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Blue Collar Gastronomy stays my mantra. BFN.
TOP TIPS: Asked where to eat in Genoa, I’m always quick to say ‘Il Genovese’ on the Via Galata – owned and run by the Panizza brothers, Roberto and Sergio. www.ilgenovese.it
Now I also offer ‘La Locanda degli Stelli’ – Lungomare Lombardo set beside the sea below at 27, Corso Italia – Boccadasse (literally ‘the donkey’s mouth’). www.lalocandadeglistelli.it
Robert Freson lives in Maine. His humour is evident.
CREDITS: Bookplates from ‘Savouring Italy’ shot with permission from Robert Freson©