Monday, 24 October 2011

Je ne voudrais pas le steak tartare

It's commonplace for people to express an affinity with a location. For some this is because an event has taken place there that has shaped their lives. A taste, smell, familiar look at an object that reminds you of said place can evoke a thousand memories. Pad Thai laced with fresh cucumber and crushed peanuts takes me straight to squatting on a plastic stool, melting in the humidity with motorbikes shifting the air as they buzz ridiculously close to me on the side of the road. Listening to Bonobo reminds me of whiling away hours on sleeper bus's, unable to sleep as my hips bashed on the metal constraints of my bunk, traversing the Cambodian terrain. Walking past a butchers shop evokes memories of women cooking sheep heads over street side stoves in a South African shanty town. Listening to Ramadanman aka Pearson Sound, sees me dancing in a misty field on the Isle of Wight, strung out on cider and rum. The earthly, greasy smell of olives, makes me think of thwacking the olive trees on a Tuscan hillside, rolling them from the nets to the press. I think of this every time I dunk ciabatta into balsamic and olive oil, sat in a chain Italian. Listening to Ella Fitzgerald or Sting reminds me of being a child waiting for spagetti bolognese to be cooked in the galley on weekend sailing excursions.

Why is it that people say travel broadens the mind? I think travel creates more opportunities to say, "When I was in [insert place here] I  [insert anecdote here]." Far from being annoying or problematic I think this makes travelling a shared experience. 95% of conversations centre around where you have been that day, what you were doing there and why, even if it was just to Tesco's to buy a pint of milk. Social media has only served to heighten our obsessive nosey behaviour. You want to update your status about the odd man who proposed on the bus and you want people to 'like' it. We want to share experiences, so why not make that experience the party piece of conversation? Make time to go somewhere spectacular and have something to say for yourself.

I'd describe it as being the same reason why natural world or space programmes are so popular. Brian Cox is the master of producing space as theatre, and all by merely presenting the facts. Space is simply that epic. And it is why modern day explorers like David Attenborough are revered. The majority of people will watch his upcoming series 'Frozen Planet' because they have a natural curiosity about the world. A curiosity about alien concepts. Most will not have had a personal, sensory experience of - polar bears swimming under ice - but here it is, live in your living room. For some it will inspire them to explore themselves. At 85 years old, Attenborough has made the body of his life's work from his passions, a feat unachievable for many. Some view travel as escapism, but if you look at it from the angle of exploration then it is easy to see why many create links with places, dishes, people far removed from their humdrum lives. It might be something wholly to do with my character as I can't stand to sit in and watch TV all day. I'm constantly thinking of new plans, destinations and activities to spice things up a bit, though I'm well aware this is not for everyone. Maybe that's why I find unemployment so difficult to contend with. Am I unhappy because I cannot plan something engaging for myself to do? Am I unhappy because my life has become stamped with a day time routine that involves trawling the internet, watching Homes Under The Hammer and creating personal statements time and time again?

If I were to pick anywhere to be tomorrow I would choose Paris. Paris is a place that has imprinted upon me so strongly, I don't know how long I will be able to refuse it's charms. I have totally, irrevocably fallen in lust with the French lifestyle. I do not want to travel there. I want to live there. No amount of persuading me otherwise will affect me. Why is it that I have such a romantic affair with the French capital city? It's so cliché. I wouldn't say I view it as the 'city of love', though I did once go there just to be with the person I love. I share an affinity with the slow burning grouchiness of Parisians. In an ideal world, I would go there to eat, drink and write about it. I want to write home and share the experience of eating warm, buttery croissants overlooking the Sienne. French films entice me for that reason - while I can't get to Paris, I will bring Paris to myself. From staples like Amelie to recent movies like Two Days in Paris, I can't get enough.

The relationship the French have created with food is enchanting. As a self confessed foodie, I am slightly obsessed with French cuisine. It it rich, creamy, all guns blazing flavour. Best of all its usually accompanied by wine. Not 'I got this on special for a fiver' wine. Wine that just suits every dish perfectly. And I know nothing about wine. Perhaps that is the beauty of Paris - it just fits well together. I may annoy the French by refusing the dish of the day - steak tartare (raw minced beef with raw egg on top) - but what of it? To speak of sensory association, I will always relate cappuccino's with running in from the pouring rain from the Sacré-Coeur. When the rain cleared, I will always relate peach ice tea with getting thrown out of the Sacré-Coeur for giggling to loudly. I'm sure I've entirely romanticised the whole notion of living there as I've heard it to be a logistical and bureaucratic quagmire in reality.

But if I ever get to Paris and hate it, there is a lot more of the world for me to see, a lot more food for me to sample and many more things to share with you.

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