Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Horses sweat and men perspire but ladies only glow.

(whoever wrote that must have been on HRT)


American literature has a long tradition of “immigrant fiction”, novels which tell of America through alien experiences and Harbor by Lorraine Adams fits squarely into that tradition.

This is the story of Aziz Arkoun, a young illegal immigrant from Algeria, who arrives in Boston a year before the horrors of 9/11. He arrives as a stowaway on a fuel tanker, and though penniless, injured and unable to speak any English, manages to link up with a group of fellow Algerians many of whom are illegal refugees like himself. He has come to America to escape the bloody civil war in his homeland, and in the hope of earning enough money to build a new, better life and to be able to send money home to his parents. Aziz is haunted by the brutality he has suffered and inflicted back in Algeria, episodes of which are told in flashback. He finds life in this new country lonely and bewildering, ”Days -- no, weeks -- went by without a person speaking to him, and longer still, without someone's eyes meeting his own.”

The other Algerians are a motley crew, some are loosely related to one another and to Aziz, some are working legitimately, some are involved in credit card fraud, shoplifting, drugs and smuggling. They are not religious, taking to drinking, and promiscuous sex with gusto, most of them regard fundamentalist Muslims as “mosque heads”, and they have no real empathy with the politics of terror: ''Irhabiya, khandjiya mujahadeen, jihadists, terrorists. Same, same, same same,'' says one.

Their muddled views on America are frequently based on misunderstanding, and when this group comes to the attention of the various anti-terrorism intelligence agencies this misunderstanding is reciprocated. Relationships, conversations and intentions are misinterpreted in ways which illustrate just how difficult it is to monitor potential terrorists, and how easy it is to get it wrong and let the real culprits slip through the net.

This was a difficult book to read, my knowledge of the Algerian political situation and the civil war is non-existant, and the author describes the incidents in Aziz’s past life in such a confusing way that I couldn’t always tell who was doing what to whom, and became really irritated. The same was true about what was going on with the various Algerians in Boston; trying to figure out what was actually happening was difficult and there were several points where I almost gave up reading. The book jumped from the life of the Algerians in Boston, to Aziz’s tormented military service, to the surveillance of the anti-terrorist agencies and then back again and this fragmented structure made it even harder to get a clear picture of the story. In fact near the end of the book Aziz himself summed up my frustrations when he said:

"The CIA has no one in Algeria. If they did, how would they tell who is who? I am Algerian, and I could not tell."


George Bernard Shaw’s comment that the US and the UK are two nations divided by a common language has become something of a cliché but I was forcibly reminded of it when I came across this new website Conservapedia
Apparently there are a whole lot of people in the USA who find Wikipedia anti-Chrisitian and anti-American, so some of them have set up this new site which they define thus "Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America."
How absolutely awful if those poor thin-skinned little Yanks were to be contaminated by the fact that on Wikipedia dates are referenced as BCE or CE rather than BC and AD, and that words are usually given the English spelling rather than the American spelling – eg: flavour not flavor;
Aah, diddums. You SHALL have your own ikkle wikkle encyclopedia on the big bad web. It would be too, too horrid if you had to read anything from another point of view.
Its only finding things like this that make me remember what a huge population America has, and how not all of them are witty, erudite, charming people with a good sense of humour (English spelling) like the Americans I know and love.


Up in Scotland last week I went out to a wonderful restaurant
The Cellar, in Anstruther for a celebratory meal with my APs. I've eaten there several times over the years and the seafood is always superb. After dithering over the delights on the menu I finally chose scallops as my main course. They were divine. Whilst enjoying coffee and a digestif at the bar afterwards, I was wondering aloud why when I cooked scallops at home they were always so tough when the ones I had just eaten were tender as butter. To my chagrin, my musings had been overheard by the chef/patron Peter Jukes, who proceeded to talk me through a master class in how to cook scallops to perfection. Apparently I was making the common mistake of cooking them for too long. Inspired by this, I purchased some fresh king scallops the next day and brought them down to London as a treat for my DH and son.

Here are Peter Jukes' words of wisdom:
Only use fresh scallops, not frozen.
Prepare everything else needed for the final dish before cooking the scallops.
The pan you cook them in should be very, very hot before you put them in it.
Only use a tiny drop of oil to cook them.
Do not put too many in the pan at once.
Place them in the pan and DO NOT, stir them about, shuggle them or anything else for half a minute whilst they caramelise slightly on the base. Then turn them over and cook for a further minute on the other side. A quick squeeze of lemon juice, a knob of butter (or garlic butter) and a quick stir and they are done.

3 King scallops per person
3 asparagus spears per person
6 small new potatoes per person
Salad leaves - I used a mix of frisee, rocket and oakleaf

Juice of a lemon
Garlic butter
Salt and Pepper
A little roughly chopped parsley and
lemon wedges to garnish
(I had six Quail's eggs left over from something else so I added them as well, but they are not essential)

Olive oil for dressing

Boil the potatoes until just cooked, keep warm.
Trim the asparagus spears, and if very large cut each into two, steam until tender (you can do this in a steamer basket over the potatoes).
Place a good amount of mixed salad leaves on each plate.
Cook the scallops as described above.
Arranged the potatoes, cut in half lengthwise, the asparagus and the scallops over the salad leaves. Spoon the butter/lemon juice from the pan over each plate as a dressing. Garnish with a wedge of lemon, and put olive oil on the table in case anyone wants more dressing.

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