Sunday 26 October 2008
The highspot of this week...
...was lunch on Wednesday, in glorious sunshine, on a wooden platform built out over the edge of the Danube. Looking across the water towards the slopes beneath the craggy fortifications of Kalemegdan Castle, hundreds of water birds wheeled and dived and bobbed gently on the waves. Through the gaps in the planks, the water was visible flowing just two feet beneath our feet - gently slapping against the platform supports as it did - and all that was visible otherwise were the densely wooded banks of the river and the wide expanse of intensely blue sky. We feasted on calamari salad, followed by simply grilled 'Sander', the local fish, which is generally translated as pike-perch, and in texture is like an oilier version of bream. Accompanied by a rocket salad, and washed down with a bottle of chilled local white wine, it couldn't have been more perfect. I abstained from the aperitif of Rakija that was offered at the start- to be knocked back, in traditional style, from something that looks like an Edwardian lady's scent bottle - as I had an appointment straight afterwards with some bad-tempered Serbs, for which I thought I would would need my wits about me (they didn't like a decision they thought had been my responsibity, and were intent on 'persuading' me to change my mind - it had been, and they didn't. But in the course of the meeting, I began to understand how the Bosnians must have felt in the not-so-distant past....)
Other than that, the week had an increasingly surreal quality as it wore on.....starting from a presentation in Athens on Tuesday concerning development opportunities in Montenegro, given by a welsh-sounding serb who sported a hairstyle that wouldn't have shamed a Bee-Gee.....and ending up in a cold and damp Moscow at three o'clock on Friday morning, wending my way from a nine-hour stint at a party in the Zafferano Restaurant. Notwithstanding the sweetness of Russian champagne and the inexplicable pinkness of the Pinot Grigio on tap, I can state unequivocally that Russians certainly know how to party!
In between times, there was the occasional oasis of calm - most memorably when I went in search of an Athenian taverna I used to frequent in the seventies near the Evvangelismos Hospital, and found that it had been transformed in the meantime into an elegant and distinctly upmarket eatery. I sat in dappled sunshine for nearly half an hour under the elegant canopy of pleached limes that now shades the terrace, and indulged in Proustian recollections of afternoons whiled away in that very place consuming endless plates of fried cheese and bottles of Boutari. Times have certainly changed, and the price of the single glass I drank contemplatively on this occasion would have probably paid for an entire lunch for four back in those days!
Or there was dinner taken on Tuesday evening at Madera Restaurant in Belgrade - definitely more bizarre than serene. The food looked - and probably tasted - like an offering from one of the more adventurous issues of Good Housekeeping circa 1968; at the table next to me were two ladies who had clearly escaped from a Fellini casting (one, stylishly sporting a silver fox fur tippet, and the other with an exposed embonpoint that was of positively architectural proportions) and all this against the background of a piano and cello duet, who produced a superb rendition of, amongst other things, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' . The cellist, I thought, was particularly good.
And now, two days in London, before disappearing off to the peace of Italy for an entire fortnight - which will be truly blissful! Yesterday morning, to the Queen's gallery, for the Breughel to Rubens exhibition. Most of the early portraits - Quinten Massys and Joos Van Cleve particularly - were spectacularly splendid...
On the whole, I think having the pictures might just about make it worth being monarch - although the rest of the job-package isn't particularly persuasive. Which is fortunate, really, when you think about it...
Poached Eggs, on a bed of Spinach & Sprue.
Pork Tenderloin, roast with Star Anise, and served with Turnip Gratin.