Thursday, 13 August 2015

Sharing, not competing

Besides direct exposure to chilly winds, overpriced trains and hard pebbles on the beach, Baron von Trotta was greatly amused in his Kent trip by a magazine a former guest had left in his hotel room.

The magazine was a special number devoted solely to Italian cuisine.

The first reaction of the Baron was of sheer surprise, since Italians were strikingly missing from most of the pages of the magazine. 

On top of that, all cooks and restaurants mentioned were British, and the recipes carried the unmistakable imprint of both unbridled commercialism and a fashionable cook's ego.

Ah!, sighed the Baron... those golden times were cooks were not personalities but just devoted craftsmen aiming at anonymous perfection in their trade and not to quick stardom! How much better one ate then! 

Even if Central European cuisine has somewhat remained proudly alien to the worst excesses in minimalism perpetrated since la Nouvelle Cuisine captured the heart of chefs, the mind of accountants, and the vanity of the masses, the Baron always regrets leaving his Moravian cook for too long.

But was first amused, then saddened the Baron, was the tone of most of the articles and interviews:

"we can cook better than the Italians"
"Italians do not now how to boil vegetables"
"Italian restaurants, with few exceptions, are nothing to write home about"
"the best Italian food is in London"

Why, then, do all those interviewed spend some years precisely in Italy learning their trade before returning to London? Return prompted, one presumes, to make a career -an expression Escoffier would have never uttered. Why not rather staying in London to learn if the best Italian cooking is made there?

Besides the all-to-evident commercial self-interest of those remarks, there was something else. Traces of an attitude the Baron has met over and over again in his trips across Europe: refusing to acknowledge whatever other nations, often considered inferior, are good at.

The Baron has not visited an European country, however poor in so-called macroeconomic terms, where something was not worthy of admiration. 

It could be the quiet autumn sunset of a Greek village, with the generosity of their citizens displayed in many a kind, noble gesture; the solemnity and silence gravity of the inhabitants of the Slovak High Tatras with their superb sheepskin coats; the camaraderie and relaxation of Russian banyas, the opulence of communal Russian dinners where none is counting the final bill ahead of time; the haughty politeness and great cooking of the restless Hungarians, able to build in the glorious years of the k.u.k. Monarchie that masterpiece called Budapest and produce so many great writers; the gentleness and music of the Irish; the deep quality of Portuguese textiles and all those delicious cod recipes; Polish filmmakers and Kapuscinski; Bohemian castles and Czech passion for exercise; Romanian literature and the beautiful Swabian villages in Transylvania; the Viennese Ring and the solid construction of Austrian farms; and general Italian fondness for good living and elegance...

There is so much to enjoy in Europe if only we open our eyes without prejudice. Every people has produced, by sheer effort and creativity, a distinct way of living in its struggle against nature, climate and the whims of the powerful. And that diversity should be worth of our admiration and interest. 

The moment we turn our regard inwards to our own small group and believe we are better by diminishing the achievements of The Other, our lives become poorer and sadder.

After all, the Baron has often found true dignity, elegance and human worth in the so-called simple and poor people, much more than in those who think themselves superior and civilized because they can travel in Ryanair often.

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