Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Book of Mediterranean Food

Elizabeth David was a mid-20th century food writer whose work was influential in bringing Mediterranean cuisine to post-war Britain.  Her coming-of-age story is dashing: after studies at the Sorbonne, she became an actress, then sailed away from England at the age of twenty-five in a boat she'd purchased with her married lover. Their travels were interrupted by World War II, and they settled for awhile on the Greek island of Spyros before moving on to Crete.  Later, they were evacuated to Egypt.  David split from her lover and went on to other adventures, returning to England in 1946 where she began her food-writing career.

David's later life sounds melancholy, as I read about it in Artemis Cooper's biography Writing at the Kitchen Table.  Cases of white wine were delivered to her Chelsea kitchen, where she drank alone.  Many prominent characters in the food world came to the field by accident (James Beard also began as an actor) and many seem to have had more than a little darkness in their lives.
A Lawrence Durrell citation (see previous post) opens the "Jams, Chutneys, and Preserves" chapter.  Elizabeth David met Durrell during her time in Greece.

I bought this book, maybe in 1997, from Old Town Books, Tempe, AZ

David, Elizabeth. A Book of Mediterranean Food. New York: Horizon Press, 1952.
First American edition?
Illustrated by John Minton.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Family and Other Animals

The cover of this little paperback attracted me at the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library used bookstore.  I love when this happens: you find a great book by an author of whom you've never heard, and it turns out that he or she wrote lots of other books, so you've got a whole cache of new reading material!  It seems that everyone but me already knew about this hilarious autobiographical account of the writer's boyhood years on the Greek island of Corfu with his eccentric English family.  The domestic cast of characters includes Durrell's older brother, the novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell.  Young Gerald is passionately interested in birds, animals, reptiles, and insects.  During the family's fve-year sojourn on Corfu, he devotes himself to studying the island's wildlife -- and to bringing creatures into the family villa, often to comic effect.  The 2005 BBC film based on this memoir is fun, but it's nothing compared to the book.  For one thing, the 90-minute movie doesn't have time for many of the colorful secondary players, like Mrs. Kralefsy, the mother of Gerald's tutor, who can converse with flowers.  In the following passage, she speaks of a deep-red rose:
"Isn't he wonderful? Now, I've had him two weeks.  You'd hardly believe it, would you?  And he was not a bud when he came.  No, no, he was fully open.  But, do you know, he was so sick that I did not think he would live?  The person who plucked him was careless enough to put him in with a bunch of Michaelmas daisies.  Fatal, absolutely fatal!  You have no idea how cruel the daisy family is, on the whole.  They are a very rough-and-ready sort of flowers, very down to earth, and, of course, to put such an aristocrat as a rose amongst them is just asking for trouble.  By the time he got here he had drooped and faded to such an extent that I did not even notice him among the daisies.  But, luckily, I heard them at it.  I was dozing here when they started, particularly, it seemed to me, the yellow ones, who always seem so belligerent."

Here's another Durrell memoir, this one about his adult life as a zoologist.  It describes his animal-collecting trips to the Cameroons, Guayana, and Paraguay. 

I bought this book on October 28, 2008 at the Book Bay Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA.

Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, Ltd., 1956; reprint ed., New York: The Viking Press, 1963. 15th printing, 1972.
Durell, Gerald. The New Noah. Copyright 1953,1954; New York: The Viking Press, 1964.
First American edition?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Carthaginian Rose

Stanzas from "To the Not Impossible Him" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ilka Chase, the daughter of longtime Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase, was an actress and writer. 
The Carthaginian Rose is a memoir of her world travels.  The adventures she describes were mostly undertaken with her third husband, a distinguished doctor.  The late-1950s, first-class mode of travel depicted:  American Express escorts from airport to hotel, cocktails with ambassadors, fittings with tailors in Hong Kong, a private tour of the Acropolis Museum, ordering Paris couture to be "sent home" to New York.  Let's just say it's something to think about the next time you're standing in your socks at United Airlines security holding a Ziploc bag full of 3 oz toiletries!

Chase's husband, Dr. Norton Brown, o.d.'s on St. Sebastian in Italy.
"'Don't tell me he was a martyr,' he snapped. 'He was simply arrow-prone.'"

Ilka Chase travels to Monaco to cover the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier.
A few samples from The Carthaginian Rose:

''Peggy,' I cried, 'what on earth are you doing here?"
"'Directing Noel's play, of course, what else?'"

"'Another friend in Venice was Her Royal Highness the Princess Aspasia of Greece, the mother of the Alexandra married to ex-King Peter of Yugoslavia, whom I had met the previous year on the Riviera. The princess had been married to the king of Greece who died so tragically of a monkey bite in 1920."
Chase, Ilka. The Carthaginian Rose.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1961.
Illustrated by Mircea Vasilu.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Always in Vogue

I mentioned Edna Woolman Chase's autobiography in my last post.  She was editor-in-chief of Vogue from 1914 until 1952 -- the Anna Wintour of her day.  

Edna Woolman Chase was eighteen years old in 1895 when she got her first job at Vogue.  She describes the effort of dressing for work in that era:  "I could not dream of affording a maid, so I spent hours, when I got home from the office, washing and starching and ironing my petticoats, only to put them on in the morning to have them soiled again by the time I had walked three blocks."  Later, when Chase had risen to the position of editor, her boss Conde Nast rewarded her for her hard work one Christmas with a box of candy.  Under each chocolate was a twenty-dollar gold piece.  Do you think Si Newhouse has ever done that for Ms. Wintour?

Edna Woolman Chase with her daughter and co-author Ilka Chase.
Photograph by Horst.
I don't know when I bought this book.

Chase, Edna Woolman, and Chase, Ilka. Always in Vogue.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1954.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hindu Stories

Another treasure from The Calico Cat Bookshop. 

The endpapers are beautifully illustrated with birds, animals, and vines. 

Each page is bordered with charming line drawings.  Edna Woolman Chase writes in her autobiography that these borders were called "spinach" in the early 20th-century publishing business.  This spinach is made of leopards, running deer, fierce lions, and elephants on the march.

I bought this book on August 13, 2009 at the Calico Cat Bookshop, Ventura, CA.
Williston, Teresa Peirce, Hindu Stories. New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1925.
Illustrated by Maud Hunt Squire.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Told Under the Magic Umbrella

Ventura, California. The Calico Cat Bookshop on Main Street. I picked up a red-bound volume. It fell open to the illustration below, and my childhood came back in one pristine rush, as Charlotte Rampling's character says in Stardust Memories.The stories and pictures were already deeply known to me, yet I'd completely forgotten them until that moment. Strange to think what's locked inside the mind, waiting for the rattle of a key!

The wonderful illustrations are by Elizabeth Orton Jones (1910-2005). 

I bought this book on August 13, 2009 at the Calico Cat Bookshop, Ventura, CA.

Literature Committee of the Association for Childhood Education. Told Under the Magic Umbrella. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1939.
Illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones