Tuesday, 4 March 2008
1. THE INVITATION
3 April 1951
My Dear Eric,
You are coming in July? How fashionable you are, to arrive when there is least interest on the island, between spring flowers and autumn fruits. Never mind. Oleander, hibiscus and jasmine will be in full cry and you can see how well the Hottentot fig has caught hold: it will remind you of Africa. I can find no indigent of this island who has had the wit to put a name to the 'Carpobrotus edulis'. If you pick its flower and ask a Caprese what it is, he will look at you as if you have asked him why he gets up in the morning: he has not the slightest idea or interest, It's the same with fish.
July should at least seem a suitable distance from winter, which I spent being a guinea pig to Dottoressa's cures. She makes them up like the lunch-time 'piatti del giorno', which ensures they are far more efficacious than anything a real doctor might prescribe. There is some warmth back in the sky now, but I am still confoundedly shrivelled and chilly, as you have no doubt deduced from this arachnid scrawl. Come and see me before I give it all up. And don't forget to bring everything on the lis I sent you. Will you be in uniform? Or do Tanganyika police superintendents disguise themselves in mufti?
You won't like it here, I warn you. It may look the same bit it's full of shitsExpatriate gossip gets quite out of hand. I have been obliged to circulate a memorandum inviting various gulty parties to stuff their incorrect information up their arses.
One or two friends rise above it. You will meet them. Ettore and Macpherson you know, and we might get a visit from Harold Achtung bearing al the gossip from Florence (Achtung the Panama hat! If it is ever removed it is after lunch when slicing a peach suddenly reminds him of moments from his youth: he gets going then, and starts recalling how I set him on his career by telling him to go East. I don't remember it myself, but I am not wrong when it comes to putting young men on the right path, as you well know!)
Mrs Elizabeth David promises to turn up. She is the woman I got to help me reach Lisbon in '41. I had shown her how to make an omelette and not settle for a drop less than a bottle of wine for lunch. She is a handsome woman, a little shy but sharp as a lemon. Her first book came out last year, not too bad, on Mediterranean food. If it does anything to stop one single Englishman from eating the frightful stuff the septentrional nations pass off as cooking, she will have done Western civilisation favours beyond the dreams of Epicurus.
I have finally finished with Venus in the Kitchen', which is going through Heinemann at the moment. They are assembling the scraps of wine-marinated pages I have been sending them ober the months in the hops of some fucking cash. Graham Greene is going to write the introduction, and I suppose I should by pleased, but GG conjures up to me neither a love goddess nor an aromatic stove. They are even proposing to use that picture Davde Lawrence gave me of a naked couple romping round a kitchen: Lorenzo had no more idea of draughtsmanship than he did of the erotic. Nowt to do about it now.
I look forward to lunch together in an umbrageous restaurant near the marina: you, me and Mrs David. Books still keep me afloat, but a good lunch is a greater levitator and far more enduring.