CAR COLOURS

Beijing, 2 March 2013

When we arrived back in Italy from the US in 1990, I was … underemployed, shall we say. So when I was offered a job to do quality control on a small landfill I agreed with alacrity. It was the first time I had ever worked on a landfill, and I hope it will be the last. Apart from the nauseous smells drifting up from all the rotting garbage, I was perpetually afraid I would leave my wife a widow and my children orphans. Methane was pouring out of that landfill and it would have taken only a small spark to send us all hurtling into the afterlife.

As you can imagine, this place attracted a strange bunch of people, from the drivers of the shovel scoops who worked all day on the open landfill cells to the guys the quality of whose work I was there to control; they were closing the filled cells, capping them, and inserting a methane collection system. We would all go down to the local restaurant at lunch – great food, by the way – and the shovel scoop drivers in particular always accompanied their lunch with copious quantities of the local wine. I made sure to give those people a wide berth when they working in the afternoon.

I got to be quite friendly with the leader of the team closing cells. He had worked on many different landfills and would regale me with tales of these jobs as we stood around waiting to check the work the others were doing. One day, he told me about this completely illiterate, uncouth man who owned and ran a modest landfill, and who made pots of money with it. The man lived in a house next to the landfill. One day, he invited my friend into the house and with a mysterious air took him to a room in the back of the house. The room had a curtain running across it, which, after turning on some strategically located spotlights, he dramatically drew. “That guy,” said my friend, leaning in “had a brand new, unused Ferrari Testarossa behind that curtain.” “Wow!”, I said. “And it was yellow!” he continued

Yellow-Ferrari-3

I was dumbstruck, and my friend nodded meaningfully. Yellow! Good Lord Almighty! Everyone knows that Testarossas must be red! Any other colour is … such bad taste.

red ferrari-1

Anyone who has watched Formula 1 races knows that red, and only red, is the Ferrari colour

ferrari formula 1 cars

(well, nearly only red). And it is red because before the war, when nations rather than car companies competed in Grand Prix races red was Italy’s colour (and green was Britain’s, while France was blue).

I was reminded of this terrible faux pas in taste a few days ago when, walking to work, I saw a baby-pink BMW parked on the side of the road.

pink-bmw

Baby pink! Everyone knows that BMWs should come in some shade of grey – because it’s just the right colour for this kind of highly tecchy car but also because grey became Germany’s racing colour in the 1930s.

grey bmw

I have to tell you that bad taste in car colour has touched even my family. When I was really little and we were living in Africa, my father had a typically English car, the Austin Hereford Saloon.

austin-3

So far, so good. But our car was … egg blue. I distinctly remember the colour. I liked it, but I was young. Now that I am a few years older and far wiser, I always ask myself: how on earth could my father, a sober, upright member of the community – just like the man sitting behind the wheel in the picture above – how could he have possibly chosen such a terrible colour? I never asked him and it is now too late, alas.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not absolutely rigid about staying with the “normal” colours of a car. Take the Citroën Traction Avant, the French car that popularized the use of front-wheel drive. This car was manufactured from the mid thirties to the late fifties, so there were still lots of them around in France when I was growing up, and they were all, without exception, black.

citroen traction avant-2

I’m rather reminded of Henry Ford’s memorable quote: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

But now look at this example, which I came across – rather bizarrely – parked on the side of the road in Luang Prabang in Laos.

laos 225

That rich burgundy colour is really gorgeous. Every time we walked by it, I would stop to admire it. And one time, as we were walking towards it, the owner got in and drove off! I watched it lovingly as it moved sleekly down the road … although I really began to appreciate modern novelties like catalytic converters when the fumes from its exhaust nearly knocked us out.

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Yellow Ferrari: http://wallpaper.goodfon.com/image/287512-1680×1050.jpg
Red Ferrari: http://www.looksfeelsworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ferrari-testarossa-1.jpg
Ferrari Formula 1 cars: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/Ferrari_Formula_1_lineup_at_the_N%C3%BCrburgring.jpg/1024px-Ferrari_Formula_1_lineup_at_the_N%C3%BCrburgring.jpg
Pink BMW: my photo
Grey BMW: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-rCuWvf1YiRs/Tx0vyO1Wy9I/AAAAAAAAAhg/wMJcA4t4zEU/s1600/bmw-car-front-view.jpg
Austin: http://nevsepic.com.ua/uploads/posts/2011-03/1299860301_4008697193_2eb0005cce_b_nevsepic.com.ua.jpg
Black Citroen traction avant: http://talk.newagtalk.com
Burgundy Citroen traction avant: my photo

HORSE AND DONKEY

Beijing, 1 March 2013

So The Europeans have their knickers in a twist about horsemeat in their beef, while the Kenyans are up in arms because donkey meat is being passed off there as beef. OK, it’s not correct to sell one thing under the guise of another, but horsemeat and donkey meat are actually really good. I first had donkey meat in a little restaurant along the Naviglio Grande, one of Milan’s canals

naviglio-grande

That night, the chef was serving what is a very typical Lombard dish, stracotto d’asino or donkey stew.

stracotto-dasino

And of course, as is de rigueur in a Lombard dish worthy of the name, it was served with polenta.

polenta-2

The combination is vital, because the firm flouriness of the polenta admirably counterbalances the sweet mushiness of the stracotto. Donkey meat, which is anyway sweeter-tasting than beef, becomes even sweeter in a stracotto.

Sweetness of taste is also a characteristic of horsemeat, which I first ate as a boy with my French grandmother. Boucheries chevalines, or butchers specializing in horsemeat, were very common in France when I was young; the French did not have the squeamishness of the English when it came to eating horse.

boucherie chevaline

Horse was also cheaper than beef, so the poorer classes ate horsemeat. My grandmother was poor but had not been so when she was young, so she tried to avoid horsemeat and its suggestion of poverty. But from time to time, when the bank balance was a little low, she deigned to buy it. When we were in the house in the country, the butcher – and the grocer – came to us rather than us having to go to them. One of my boyhood memories is the insistent sound of a horn on the road outside, at which point a great cry would go up “the butcher [or the grocer, depending on the day of the week] has arrived” and there would be a frenzied gathering up of money, shopping lists and shopping bags, as my grandmother [or mother during the summer] was anxious to get to the road before the butcher [or grocer] drove off. I tagged along, loving the noise and drama of it all. I also was fascinated by these mobile shops, which looked somewhat like this:

citroen_h_boucherie

It was a Citroen van, which had been kitted out to open up on the side. The butcher [or grocer] would stand inside exactly as he would behind his counter in the shop. The photo is actually of a miniature model, which has been set up in a very realistic scenery; it certainly comes close to my memory of what awaited us when we got out onto the road. This a photo of the real thing, although this particular example has been gussied up for modern urbanites:

citroen_h_boucherie-2

And when my grandmother did buy horsemeat, she would cook it up as a steak, with home-made frites, or French fries. Horsemeat is a much darker meat than beef, as this photo shows:

horse steak

Well, now that I have confessed – cheerfully, I would say – to the heinous crime of eating donkey and horse, let me come completely clean and also confess to having eaten dog. In South Korea. Very delicious, as the Chinese would say …

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Naviglio grande: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3087/2312319399_2401d37b1f_z.jpg
Stracotto d’asino: http://www.piaceredelgusto.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Brasato-dasino.jpg
Polenta: http://www.italianfoodnet.com/uploads/img/news-polenta_taragna.jpg
Boucherie chevaline: http://www.lebouguen-lesbaraques.infini.fr/IMG/jpg/Boucherie_Lubin_au_Bouguen_Pepere_Mamie_Mr_Guyomard_et_Rosie_famille_Regine.jpg
Mobile butcher model: http://www.minitub43.com/IMG/jpg/2280.jpg
Mobile butcher: http://cmvmoto.free.fr/Salon%20Epoqu%27Auto%20Lyon%202011/Citroen%20Type%20H%20Boucherie_03.jpg
Horse steak: http://boucherie-cheval.fr/wp-content/themes/boucherie-chevaline/timthumb.php?src=http://boucherie-cheval.fr/photos-viande-cheval/Rond-de-tranche-de-cheval-viande-chevaline.png&w=600&h=180&zc=1&q=100