Saturday, June 13, 2009
Of Kakis and Coconuts
Iâ€™m in France again under a sky like half a starlingâ€™s egg. The garden has survived the winter (it rained and there is still snow on Mount Canigou to feed the rivers). I had a bad dream that the kaki tree would have died but it is there, glossy leaved and sprightly. If you havenâ€™t tasted the fruit, it is an exotic shock to the system. When the leaves have turned red and orange, they drop away in early November leaving bright lanterns of orangey red, rather like peppers from a distance. They stay firm and if you eat them the juice turns to sour sand in your mouth. (I was once given a wine tasting lesson by a great UK importer, Simon Loftus in Southwold and I proved ok at bouquet, taste and the look of the wines but was really bad at the texture. I couldnâ€™t differentiate gravel from sand from satin, from silk,,,,). The Kaki is no such paragon of ambiguity. You have to leave it until it starts to rot and then, presto!, the sand turns to something slightly satin and gloriously sweet and you spoon it out like a Moroccan fruit yoghurt. It is a great reward after abandoning my daily mango from the garden in Accra with an exquisite perfume and taste that is lost when the fruit is exported.
On the way here I stayed in a B&B on the Roman Wall, near Hexham. I donâ€™t usually advertise but it is called the Carraw and beats any hotel. Heavy complex breads, local black pudding and organic farm produce complement the views of the fells where the Romans once walked, their faces (I imagine) twisted into despair like visitors to Cromer in late autumn, hoping to catch a rare glimpse of a Keatsian autumn sun but instead being knifed by Siberian winds. Remember this was June and it was snowing in Yorkshire!
A few miles away is the archaeological dig that has produced the greatest find in British archaeology â€“ very human letters from Roman civilians and the military that show we have not progressed in needs or desires much since those days. I prefer social history to old buildings. Anything to throw light upon the opaque business of existence.
So here I am for a week or two. Ghana is far away but does not lose the allure of its rawness and challenge to most of the cosy assumptions and expectations of western Europe. I have the wine and I have the cheese and can sit out in the tranquil mountain air but I have had to exchange it for my daily coconut water (which is a substitute for blood plasma in battle zones and fortifies the body against the constant heat and humidity of Accra life).
There must be a novel in it. The Kaki and the Coconut.