Sunday, August 27, 2006

If a tidy desk is the sign of a tidy mind, then my mind is a shambles.
Every evening I tell myself that when I have an hour to spare I will use it to get everything sorted out, filed and dusted, so that my desk will become an uncluttered space reflecting inner peace and harmony. And so I day soon...

Years ago I went to an exhibition at the British Museum entitled “Ancient Faces", and it blew me away. In the semi darkness of the exhibition rooms I felt as though the past two thousand years had rolled away and I was gazing into the faces of living men women and children. It was an exhibition of Mummy portraits from Egypt at the time of Ptolemey, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

Fayum portraits are funerary paintings from the Roman period and one of the oldest human representations of cultural heritage. These portraits were widespread in Egypt from the 1st Century BCE to the 4th Century CE. Pictures of the dead, they were inserted inside the sarcophagi between the wrapping of mummies, over the face. They were painted on a thin or thick wood plank. They could also have been painted on linen wrappings that enveloped the head of the mummy.

My dear husband gave me a copy of “The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt” by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, in which the author has gathered together full colour reproductions of all these portraits which are now scattered round the great museums of the world. The Egyptian climate had enabled their preservation. Commonly called “Fayum portraits,” from one of their discovery locations, some of these portraits have been excavated from other Egyptian sites, especially Antinoe. The people living in Egypt at that period were from many lands and cultures, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Jews, Nubians, Libyans, Persians, and all are represented in these remarkable portraits. The author has grouped them according to the areas in which they were found, which allows the reader to recreate communities and family relationships. Her impressively scholarly text is lavishly illustrated and sets the people and the paintings in their social context. I particularly love the pages of hairstyles, jewellery and other cosmetic devices used by women all those many, many years ago. It is a book I dip into again and again. Sometimes when I feel particularly fraught or fed up with things, gazing at one or two of the portraits helps me to put life back in perspective. They were people like myself, now long gone, and their troubles and worries long gone too. One day I too will be gone, so I must live life to the full while I have it, and not become bogged down with minor anxieties.


I have just been listening to a current affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 on the subject of "Agro Terrorism".

For heavens sake, talk about galloping paranoia. Interview after interview with farmers in the Texan "beef belt" showed how they are being led to believe that this is a very real threat . Millions are being spent on prevention of something that has never happened and is highly unlikely ever to happen. It is an exercise in using fear to make money and political capital. Somehow wicked evil terrorists guided by bin Laden -or someone similar- will get into the heartland of the USA and poison the cattle or the milk or the cornfields....what the f**k do they have for brains? I should think more people would be likely to die of food poisoning from poor personal hygiene whilst eating a beef burger than will ever die as a result of Agro-terrorism.

I think that the US Department of Homeland Security should really get their thinking caps on and figure out some other likely terrorist plots. How about a wily member of Al-Qaeda getting a job in a soap factory and putting a poison in every bar of bath soap so the population would all die when they had a wash....just as likely don't you think?

But hang on a minute, why am I surprised, surely to keep their department in funds and focussed, the USDHS must be in the business of scaremongering.

Although the short English asparagus season ended some time ago, there is still a lot of asparagus from Spain and Portugal available, and tonight we are having one of my favourite "comfort" foods for supper. It is so easy to make, and there is something immensely soothing about stirring the rice slowly and watching it turn a beautiful delicate shade of pale green after you have added the asparagus.


Serves 4 generously or 6 as a starter

Ingredients500g/1lb 2oz asparagus

1 onion, finely chopped
85g/3oz butter
300g/10½oz Arborio or Carnaroli rice
750ml/1½ pints hot chicken or vegetable stock
55g/2oz freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the tough ends of the stalks.Steam the asparagus for 3-6 minutes or until tender to the point of a knife. Once it is cooked cut the tips off and set to one side, chop the stalks roughly.
Gently fry the onion in the butter until it becomes translucent Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, stirring so that it gets a good coating of butter.Add a ladle of hot stock at a time stirring until it is fully absorbed before adding more, add the roughly chopped asparagus stalks and continue adding stock and stirring until all the stock has been used.Add a knob of butter, the asparagus tips, half the parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper to the risotto and give it a stir. Serve the risotto in warm bowls with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top of each serving.

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