Books on the Bus: The Dud Avocado

I decided to start a little book review series. At the end of the day, I am an avid reader who works in the book industry and writes a blog, it was just a matter of time before I decided to write about books. So here it goes, my first Books on the Bus, Reading Suggestions for your Commute, episode 1!

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy, was an impulsive purchase prompted by an unusually long commute; I was coming back home from Fulham, my bag sadly bookless; I stumbled upon the little gem of a bookshop that is Nomad Books on Fulham Road and thanked the gods for giving me an excuse to buy yet another book. Was there a better title to start this series? I think not.

Despite the odd title, The Dud Avocado is, quite simply, a novel about a young woman growing up. It follows the adventures of Sally Jay Gorce, an American living in Paris in the Fifties.

“Oh, to be young and in love in Paris!”

The lady in the bookshop

Sally Jay, who is also the engaging voice narrating the story, had me immediately hooked. The first time we meet her, she’s wearing an evening dress on a weekday morning. All her clothes are still at the laundry, she hasn’t had a chance to pick it up yet because they close from noon to three, which is really the only time she’s up and around!

She describes herself as ‘hellbent for living’: she wants love, fame, success, art, sex. Her adventures unravel before our very eyes: she draws the reader in with her witty remarks, her impulsive decisions and her fresh naivety. She is good at heart, hungry for life and new experiences, slightly disaster prone, a bit like a contemporary ‘adorkable girl’, except free of the most saccharine details; she is the star of the book.

We celebrate when her acting career progresses and she gets the lead role in a play; we frown at her naivety and we worry when it gets her into trouble, like an older sibling would. “You sure about that, Sally Jay?’ we think in dismay when she agrees to attend a dinner at her ex-lover’s house, Teddy, accompanied by her new romantic interest, Larry.

Even when confronted with burning embarrassment or unrequited love, Sally Jay goes on in her quest for more life, more experiences: nocturnal lonely walks, long nights of debauchery in Montparnasse and impromptu holidays with almost strangers. More than anything, Sally Jay fears stillness.
Even if not relatable to everyone as a character, she is instantly charming, a (quite literally) stumbling heroine who’s capable of grasping the readers’ attention and keep their eyes glued to the page.

This edition is a paperback with flaps, handy if you cringe at the sight of dog eared books, and 321 pages long, good for a medium size bag; the publisher is Virago Press, the ‘outstanding international publisher of books by women.’They are notorious for the high editorial quality of their list and their beautiful covers. This particular volume is part of a re-edition, in occasion of the 40th Anniversary Virago Modern Classics, so it will look particularly snazzy in your hands.

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy, an engaging book to read on your commute
I intended to include a picture of my copy on an actual bus, but the results were dreadful, so this comes from the Virago website
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Estate italiana, una bucket list

Le vacanze si avvicinano e, assieme alla lista della valigia e alla lista dei libri da leggere in spiaggia, ho fatto anche la lista delle esperienze da estate italiana da vivere! Dunque eccone un estratto.

  • L’Estathé alla pesca. Ma anche al limone se capita, perchè quando vivi in un paese dove l’ Estathé non esiste proprio, una volta che ce l’hai a portata di mano non ti lasci frenare da diatribe da stadio, viva l’Estathé e la sua cannuccetta che buca la pellicola protettiva.
  • Le stelle cadenti. Non posso insinuare che gli inglesi non le conoscano, perché si tratta pur sempre di un fenomeno astronomico, le “meteor shower”; tuttavia il valore sentimentale ed estivo manca, perché gli inglesi, popolo freddo e razionale, non hanno la tradizione di esprimere i desideri, e quindi le stelle cadenti sono sempre un fenomeno spettacolare da osservare ma meno un’occasione da vivere. Conto quindi di vivermela sulla spiaggia e di vedere abbastanza stelle cadenti da poter esprimere tutti i desideri rimasti inespressi nelle tristi notti di San Lorenzo londinesi.
  • Il glorioso momento in cui scorgi il primo scorcio di mare dal finestrino della macchina e ti scappa un gridolino “il mare!”. Lì ti senti già un po’ arrivato, sei ufficialmente nel luogo fisico della vacanza, ti senti un po’ più leggero e un po’ più emozionato e ti devono legare come Ulisse all’albero maestro perché sennò ti lanci fuori dal finestrino, ché vuoi fare il bagno subito, immediatamente, sono mesi che aspetti questo momento, per Giove!

La lista non si conclude certo qui; altre romanticherie prevedono ascoltare il frinito corale delle cicale, o addormentarsi in spiaggia a pancia in giù verso le cinque di pomeriggio, quando il solleone dà tregua ai noi bagnanti non allenati.

E ovviamente non mancano desideri più prosaici come ingozzarsi di pasta ai frutti di mare, focaccia e gelato al pistacchio, dedicarsi all’abbronzatura con l’impegno riservato a una disciplina olimpica e, infine, pubblicare una foto del mio deretano spiaggiato, perché ormai è tradizione.

Buone vacanze!

I Watched a Brit Making Pasta

I watched a Brit making pasta and a few things worth noting happened.

The Brit in question was told to fend for himself, picking anything he wanted from the cupboard. We don’t run the Italian Hunger Games in my house, and pitch every Brit that steps in our doorstep against each other in a battle to the last spaghetto. Still, it was a random but interesting social experiment.

First of all, he could not make out the difference between the types of long pasta. Or to be fair, he did not expect such a selection, demonstrated by the fact that he picked the three opened packets out of the cupboard, assumed they were all spaghetti and joked good-naturedly “do you see where the problem here is?”. How smug I got when I could show that those were three different types of pasta, namely linguine, the ever-present spaghetti, and the rarer, imported spaghetti alla chitarra.

He unexpectedly knew a few tricks, like adding sugar to the tomato sauce to counteract the acidity, or saving a couple of spoonfuls of cooking water to mix it to the sauce. I probably have to thank Jamie Oliver for that, although I cannot completely forgive him (and many other celebrity chefs, let’s be fair) for the abomination that is Chicken Pesto Pasta. Dear Jamie, you know well enough that if you say Chicken Pesto Pasta to an Italian, he or she will think it’s a ‘which one doesn’t belong” kind of puzzle!

He put a lot of garlic and onion in the sauce and a random courgette, and some chilli. There is nothing really wrong here, simply different: an Italian would have just picked the tomato sauce, a little bit of onion for the soffritto and an herb, because really, spaghetti al pomodoro needs no improvement; what do you all have against simple flavours?

In conclusion, did the Brit in question survive the Italian Hunger Games? Yes. Will he be allowed to roam our Italian storeroom again? Yes, he earned his right to do so. Will he be able to tell the difference between types of pasta? He better, that was level one!

Spaghetti-al-Pomodoro-Recipe
Spaghetti al pomodoro in all their glorious simplicity, do they look like they miss a courgette to you? Pic by Eataly

Commensale

Commensale. Chi mangia con te. Chi condivide con te il sacro momento del pasto. Un significato tanto bello, per una parola che invece, nella mia mente, mantiene una connotazione tanto negativa perché contenente la parola mensa. Non so voi, ma io delle mense scolastiche non ho affatto una bella memoria. Ricordo pasta tanto scotta da appiccicarsi al piatto e a prendere la forma della fondina di cartone plastificato. Ricordo pasti grumosi, odore fetido e insegnanti che litigavano, imploravano, minacciavano per farti ingoiare un boccone in più. Che, se ci pensate, che compito ingrato avevano!
E invece commensale veicola condivisione, complicità, amore, casa. Quindi d’ora in poi, quando cenerò con un’amica o una coinquilina, mi impegnerò a vederla come una mia commensale, nella speranza che questa parola perda quell’aura di maleodorante squallore e acquisisca invece in grazia, calore, condivisione.

The Emigrant’s Luggage

The emigrant’s luggage still holds the function it used to have when it was made out of cardboard, held closed with twine and no one at the gate of the transatlantic checked that they had just one piece of luggage, because they did not pay for priority! The emigrant’s luggage is filled with pieces of home that will make the leaving less traumatic and will bring comfort in those moments of homesickness. Because we all agree that nothing is more comforting than a nice bowl of pasta, it will come as no surprise that the emigrant’s luggage is often filled with food!

Here is a list of the victuals that found a spot in my bag after the Christmas break. I shall warn you, it is representative but by no means complete.

  • Pasta, obviously. The lack of variety in the pasta aisle of British supermarkets breaks my pastafarian heart. In this cruel world of spag-bol, I rebel by filling my luggage with trofie, spaghetti alla chitarra and bucatini. On top of these more exotic shapes, I also carried spaghetti and linguine Garofalo, which, I admit, I can find also in London, but they were so much cheaper in Milan, it would have been rude not to.
  • Cured meats. Prosciutto crudo holds a priority spot in the emigrant’s luggage. It’s always purchased fresh from a butcher, packed airtight and it brings me pure joy in those grey days when I bring it as my packed lunch in the office.
  • Passata Mutti. It’s, in my opinion, the yummiest on the market and I have never seen it in a British shop, so whenever I travel with a fancy checked baggage I bring a couple of cans.
  • An assortment of other edibles that I cannot find in the UK and that, as soon as I see them on the shop shelf, I need to taste them again, that very moment. If you ever find yourself wandering in an Italian supermarket, pay attention to Più Gusto crisps, or the vast biscuits line by Mulino Bianco, which are the main part of many Italian breakfasts.

A month after Christmas, the stock of Italian groceries is greatly depleted. There won’t be an trip to Italy until May so, until then, my lunches and breakfasts will be sad!

cibi italiani da portare a Londra, Mulino Bianco e Barilla , pastasciutta e passata Mutti per tutti.
Part of the packing process is taking pics of the food!