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The Angel Mangal is long gone now, but as I flew to Istanbul from Madrid, I hoped that it would live up to the expectations aroused in me by one of my favourite restaurants. The room in tny small guesthouse overlooked the Blue Mosque, glowing in the light of a crescent moon. This seemed impossibly romantic until I was tossed out of bed a few short hours later by the first Islamic call to prayer. Unable to get back to sleep, I showered and headed down to breakfast, which in Turkey is a delight. Warm bread, eggs, cheese dribbled with honey and sprinkled with thyme, olives, cuc.u.mbers and tomatoes, all to be eaten with ^ay, or tea, which seems to come at a ratio of three large lumps of sugar to one thimble full of liquid.
With one foot in Asia and the other in Europe, Istanbul is one of the world's most vibrant cities. The population estimates I found seem to vary, but one thing is for certain: when Turkey joins the European Union, Istanbul will by far surpa.s.s London as its most populous city. Every one seems to be on the streets at the same time, selling stuff", making stuflT or fixing stuff". The noise and smells are a heady combination and can easily bewilder. As, of course, can the incredible sights.
Istanbul is a sightseer's dream. Enough to fill a week of anybody's time, even if their unhealthy obsession is food rather than antiquities. There is the Blue Mosque, so lavish a testament to faith, with its six minarets, that the Sultan had to pay for an extra tower for Mecca so that this would not be seen as a challenge. There is Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in Christendom when built, and then, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans, another imposing mosque and still one of the largest enclosed s.p.a.ces on earth. The Topkapi Palace, the home of generations of ruling families with its elaborate warren of rooms and courtyards and, of course, the treasures, including the bejewelled Topkapi dagger. The Spice Markets and the Grand Bazaar, where just about everything you can imagine is off"ered for sale from stalls many of which are hundreds of years old.
I intended to take the opportunity to see all of it. But, of course, I was here for the food, and my expectations were his I knew enough to get away from the touristy Sultanahmet re of the city, where all the restaurants seemed set up as methc of extracting money from visitors, and headed off into the ba streets and towards the river - areas that in most cities offer up choice little hole-in-the-wall joints and eateries packed full of locals.
For whatever reason, it wasn't happening. I went into ca fdled with locals but still found myself presented with drie out kebabs and miserable-looking vegetables, all served with'' the double-carb combo of rice and chips. A favourite pair of shoes was worn out as I traipsed from the Old City to the New City in search of something decent to eat. I found places witi promising-looking displays of meat in the window, which, whe they cooked them up for me, turned to inedible meaty bulk and when I did stumble into a local cafe, I was either ignored i handed a tourist menu offering fish and chips.
In my first few days in the city the best thing I ate was a fish sandwich. To be fair, it was a spectacular fish sandwich. The balik ekmek is a local speciality, prepared at restaurants underneath the Galata Bridge, which spans the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia. It combines freshly grilled mackerel fillet on a soft roll with a good helping of sharp, raw onions. When doused with lemon juice and sprinkled with salt, it is incredibly delicious, but it hardly formed the basis for a seven-day visit.
I was slightly desperate and depressed and composed a post about my plight on the Dos Hermanos blog. I resigned myself to spending the rest of my time in Istanbul sightseeing and eating dire food.
Fortunately for me, Eytan Behmoaras decided to respond. A thirty-year-old Turkish man living in London, he was dismayed by my post and had taken the time to compose a list of possible suggestions proving to me that Istanbul was a worthy place for a food visit and not, as I had rather peevishly suggested, 'a place where the ingredients are mediocre and the techniques not good enough to cover that fact up'. Eytan's Hst was long and had obviously taken a considerable amount of effort, so it was only fair to put in at least as much effort to fmd the places he suggested.
Kadikoy, a short ferry ride away, is a bustling neighbourhood in its own right with shops and a busy market. Nestling among it was the first restaurant that Eytan had suggested. It looked promising, and I chose the largest room and claimed a table. With the waiter's help I picked out four items to sample from a wide selection on the counter and at once understood why Eytan had made the suggestion. Each dish placed in front of me was better than anything 1 had tried so far. A bowl of lamb stew was soured with local plums and came with whole, braised cloves of garlic. A dish of aubergine had smoky flavours that come only with from long, slow cooking. And best of all was a plate of lamb's intestines stuffed with a mixture of ground lamb mince and bulgur wheat. It may have been only a sampling, but already, as I mopped up the juices with a slice of warm bread, my perception of the food of Istanbul was changing for the better.
There was a lot more to sample in the immediate vicinity: fish restaurants offering meals of Black Sea turbot or snacks of fried mussels on sticks;- cafes serving lahmacun, flat bread topped with spiced minced beef to be rolled up and eaten on the hoof; and tubs of fresh yoghurt, onto which honey was dribbled straight from the comb. My biggest regret, however, is that I have but one stomach to give and this particular internal organ was attached to a body that was close to shutdown with a sudden cold. I bought myself one last treat of baklava, the frighteningly rich pastry traditionally plumped out with lamb fat, and headed back to bed and shivered through the next few calls to prayer.
The next day was my last, so, despite the fact that I still felt miserable, I was determined to try more of Eytan's other suggestions. Taksim Square is at the heart of the New City, and jostling around its edges are innumerable stalls selling doner kebabs, freshly squeezed orange juice and, best of all, Turkey's own unique take on the hamburger. Pre-made, they sit steaming in gla.s.s cabinets. They are greasy, nasty and devoid of merit,; I loved them. I devoured two in about three minutes and there licking my fingers, wondering if I could fit in another i before I threw up. I did. I regretted it immediately, and it adde to my secret fear that, in fact, when it comes to food, I have standards: I am just a very greedy person.
Lunch called, and I worked off the grease as I walked ba to the European side of the city, taking one last opportunity watch the bristle of fishing rods on the Galata Bridge, and set myself at a table on the terrace of Restaurant Hamdi, overlook ing the Bosphorus. Theirs are known as the ne plus ultra of kebat in Istanbul, and I can see why. Hand-minced with a frightenir looking knife, the lamb used is moist with fat and rich in flavou The service was suitably miserable, and the wine I was drinkir suitably rough. I raised my gla.s.s and made a silent toast to tt Angel Mangal. I also made a toast to Eytan, whose advice save me from getting an entire city wrong. Thanks to him, Istanbu and I were getting along just fine.
I am sure Istanbul will be just thrilled to hear it.
Palermo: An Offer I Can't Refuse in Sicily 'She is a cheek,' Claudio leaned over to me in a conspiratorial manner, hand covering his mouth, 'but she has a deck.'
It w^as one of the more unusual introductions I had experienced on the trip, but there was no doubting the veracity of Claudio's grappa-fuelled statement. The person sitting opposite me taking a deep drag on a cigarette may have been going for the feminine look, but the tight jeans 'she' was wearing sported a package that suggested there was still plenty of work to be done.
I am getting ahead of myself again.
Claudio was the owner of my small B&B in Palermo, Sicily. I arrived well past midnight after my delayed flight from Istanbul. My back ached, and I had a pain in my foot which I found out later was the beginnings of a stress fracture. I was in a sorry state. When I saw the six flights of stairs, I was glad of the help he offered in lugging Big Red up to the apartment.
I told him the reason for my visit to Palermo over breakfast the next morning, and he began scribbling down the names of local specialities. 'Ah', he sighed, twisting his finger against his cheek, a gesture meaning 'delicious'.
'Sicily has the best food in Italy, the best meat, the best cheese, the best pasta and the best wine. You are going to eat well.'
He explained that, because of Sicily's history and its proximity to Africa, it had 'nine denominations in one island' and consequently a wider range of food than anywhere else in Italy. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? But I have watched enough films to know not to argue with a Sicilian, so I took the notes he offered, folding them into my back pocket as I went to explor the city.
I liked Palermo immediately, although it struck me as a cit^ that had not quite made up its mind about its past, as ma.s.siv restoration of historical monuments in one place sat uncomfor ably next to gaping holes in the ground and derelict building in another. But you can forgive the occasional ugliness in a city with this much pa.s.sion and raw, fizzing energy.
I spent the morning in the old town and the market districts ( Capo and Ballaro, filled with stalls selling meats, cheeses, fruit and vegetables and fishmongers advertised by signs pierced by the fearsome spike of the head of a swordfish. From each stall the owners barked out a list of their wares in a cacophony of sound that soon had me dipping into a local cafe to escape the din.
By this stage of the journey I felt like I was running on fumes,: I felt bloated and unfit, not helped by my worsening foot. My palate was jaded, and I felt lonely and depressed. I was ready to go home. It would have taken a very special place to reawaken my taste buds. Palermo was it. I had met many nationalities obsessed] with food along the way, but few would be able to stand their I ground with the Sicilians, for whom food is obviously an offer you can't refuse. From the morning coffee, which comes, inevitably, with a rich, b.u.t.tery pastry to a mid-morning sandwich snack to long, leisurely lunches, afternoon cakes and mammoth-sized suppers, there seldom seems to be a moment in the day when Sicilians are not putting food into their mouths.
I ordered a thick, dark hot chocolate and a cannoli, the uniquely Sicilian pastry tube filled to bursting with sweetened ricotta cheese. One was enough for me, but others in the bar were working their way through mounds of them as though they might never eat again. Feeling more energetic after a huge intake of sugar, 1 took out Claudio's notes and began to think about a mid-morning snack. One thing in particular caught my attention.
A pani ca meusa is the favourite snack of every self-respecting Palermo man and involves slices of calf spleen simmered in lard and then served on a soft roll with a good sprinkle of salt and lemon juice. You can have it 'single', which is just spleen, or you can have it 'married', to a few slices of additional calf's lung.
The best is served at a small storefront facing the harbour. As I approached, a queue of middle-aged Sicilian men was already forming, but service was rapid and minutes later I stood at the counter with a large sandwich in my hand containing the 'married' version. The meat was soft and melting from the long simmering in lard, the salt cut through the offal taste and the lemon juice lifted the whole thing up a level. The juices had soaked through the roll, and the final combination was entirely fabulous.
I could have eaten another there and then, but I had lunch to think of and wanted to turn my mind to matters pasta. Like everything else when it comes to matters food, the Sicilians are very specific about their pasta and about their sauces, and as I walked away from the harbour back towards the town centre, I took out Claudio's list again, reading it as I decided which one of the seemingly dozens of trattorie to visit. He had written 'spaghetti con la sarde' in large letters and underlined the word 'spaghetti' three times to make it clear that this was the only acceptable pasta to have with this sauce, made of sardines. I chose a place at random and ordered as instructed along with a flask of the local Nero d'Avola wine. It was a challenging plateful, given my breakfast, cannoli and spleen sandwich, but I managed to polish off a pile of pasta spiked through with garlic and meaty chunks of sardine in a tomato sauce flavoured with local wild fennel. The wine worked perfectly, and after my meal I sloshed a little of it into the almost empty bowl and wiped the resulting melange up with a hunk of warm bread.
I had been tempted to give supper a miss, but Claudio was having none of it and invited me to share supper with him and his partner, who was from Tunisia. She had spent the day making brik, a savoury filo turnover stuffed with tuna, capers and fried 265.
eggs, and as I emerged from my room, she was placing a towi ing plate of them on the table. They were delicious, but 1 could scarcely do them justice after what I had eaten in the day. I picked at a couple as Claudio asked me questions about my trip before finally escaping to bed at well past midnight.
The next morning he announced that he was not going to give me such a huge breakfast because we were going on a tour of the local neighbourhood, Vuccaria, famous for its fish market, street stalls and restaurants. Among the stalls displaying the day's catch was a man serving polpo, octopus, which he bought at harbour every morning and simply boiled in salted water before serving warm with the head split open so the insides could form a creamy coating of the meat. 'The 'ead is the best bit', Claudio mumbled as he licked fishy brain matter from his fingers.
We stopped in for a drink at Claudio's favourite bar, filled with gruff old men, cigarettes drooping from their mouths. Claudio ordered two large, cold bottles of Moretti beer, and while 1 kept watch over them, he ran around the corner and returned with a plate filled with fried seafood he had bought from another bar. 'The perfect combination', he added, giving me that finger twisted in the cheek movement again. Finally, as we drained the last of our litre bottles of beer, Claudio announced, 'Is time to have some lunch. Follow me.'
I waddled after him, and we ducked into the tiny entrance of a trattoria called Caffe Attico. 'The owner, Giovanni, is a good friend and makes the best food in the city', he a.s.sured me, as we were shown to a table outside in a busy alleyway. A couple of bottles of the inky Nero d'Avola were placed in front of us, and Giovanni and Claudio got into a heated discussion, which involved lots of hand-waving and pointing in my direction. Claudio explained, 'He did not think you would like sea urchin. I told him you ate anything.'
A large plate of spaghetti con ricci was placed in front of each of us, the pasta tossed with a sauce made from the fresh sea urchin. It tasted of the sea, and inside I could see Giovanni splitting open more of the spiny creatures, adding them to garlic sizzling in oil.
Claudio apparently knew everyone in the city. As we ate, we were joined by a parade of his acquaintances, all of whom declared that they couldn't possibly stop for a drink, before sitting down and spending the next four hours with us and getting horribly p.i.s.sed. At one point I was surrounded by seven hard-faced Sicilians, all arguing about food as they tucked into the bowls of home-made semifreddo and cannoli that Giovanni had brought to the table along with bottles of lethal local grappa. It was at this point that Claudio leaned over and pointed to Valentino, the chick with the 'deek'. Valentino was Claudio's upstairs neighbour and a pre-op trans.e.xual. She had joined us during the meal, a fact I had missed, despite her appearance, because I was horribly, horribly inebriated.
'She has invited us to supper. Is OK? Because, as I say, she has a deek', he added as though this might matter to me.
'As long as she can cook, I don't care if she has two of them and can tie them in knots', I replied, swaying slightly in my seat.
Giovanni presented us with a bill that I suspect barely covered the cost of the wine we drank, and Claudio and I staggered back to his apartment, arms around each other for support.
'You are good man. You should stay for longer', he told me, fumbling for the key, letting us into the apartment and pointing me towards my bedroom. A few hours later, as I was sleeping it off, he rapped hard on my door. Disturbingly, he looked right as rain and breezily announced, 'Time for supper with cheek with deek'.
Whatever her gender definition, Valentino could certainly cook and had prepared a dish of linguini in a sauce made from veal and thickened with potatoes. It was just what I needed to help soak up the booze, and I raised my gla.s.s to propose a toast to Valentino for providing yet another memorable moment on the trip. I somehow knew that I was not going to get any sleep that night as Claudio stood and plopped the corks from another couple of bottles of wine.
At 4 a.m. I realized I only had one hour before my bus to airport. Claudio insisted on giving me a lift on the back ofl scooter, which led to the unlikely sight of a Vespa weaving i^ way unsteadily through the empty streets of Palermo carrying two men, both the worse for wear, one of whom was carrying a large red rucksack and holding on for dear life. As he deposited me at the bus stop, Claudio kissed me on both cheeks.
'Ciao, you come back soon. We have more eating to do.'
With that, he hopped back on his bike and sped off into tl: night, waving over his shoulder as he weaved unsteadily into'^ the distance. I just said a silent prayer of thanks for the fact I was still alive and for the opportunity to see Sicily through one of its native sons.
All Roads Lead to Rome 'Veni, vidi, vici.'
Or at least, that's how it should have been when I entered Rome, in triumph. I had been, I had seen and I had eaten. Rome was the last official stop on the trip before I headed off to meet up with TGS for a wine-sodden 'end of the adventure' week back in Spain.
I had been to twenty-nine countries. I had eaten thousands of meals, met hundreds of people and completed a task that had not even entered my mind eighteen months earlier. I should have stormed into Italy's historic capital more unbearable than ever, stayed in a fine hotel sipping on the best wines while unutterably attractive Roman girls gave me shoulder rubs, peeled me grapes and applauded my achievements, all the time whispering in my ear 'You are not a G.o.d'.
Cut to picture of shambling forty-something hobbling up five flights of stairs to a tiny room in a grubby hotel, throwing Big Red on the floor and collapsing on the bed in tears. 1 had developed the tiredness equivalent of a water table, and it only took a small amount of effort to push me over the top into physical meltdown. 1 had not slept the night before, on my last night in Sicily, and the headache of my grappa-induced hangover had kept me awake on the plane. My foot, which had begun to ache as I reached Palermo, was now beating out constant and painful rhythms that convinced me that it was indeed fractured. 1 winced as I pulled off my walking shoes and socks and looked at the bright red swollen lump that was now where my foot used to be.
My only previous visit to Rome had been in 1980, a last, reluctant, childhood holiday with my parents at the age of sixteen. They had both been in their pomp - my father a successful surgeon, my mother the local magistrate - and true to form, Gwen Majumdar, who had experienced a secure but modest upbringing, was doing nothing by halves. We stayed in one of the better hotels, ate meals at expensive restaurants, and my father, who remained besotted with my mother from the day they met until the day she died, surprised her with lavish gifts of jewellery. Now, nearly thirty years later, I was far from my pomp and filled with fear.
What was going to happen now I had finished? Did 1 start looking for another job in publishing? I would certainly need the money. Or was this, as so many people had told me along the way, the beginning of a new chapter? I didn't know, I had not even thought about it much during the trip, but now I would have to. Added to all the other things I was experiencing, my worries began to escape me in floods of salt water.
By the time the waterworks had dried up, I was feeling better, or at least spent. I stripped and had a shower, swallowed a fistful of painkillers to numb the pain in my foot, and took out my guidebook and notes. I may not have been in any shape to conquer Rome, but I was going to have a go.
It is, of course, impossible to do the Eternal City justice when you only have two full days and you can't walk. Not that such impediments could seemingly stop the coachloads of elderly American tourists I encountered at every turn and at every major sight as I hobbled around the town. At the Colosseum I was battered out of the way by a wave of blue-rinsed women who made their way to the front of the queue using their walking frames as a handy weapon, and I saw the same group at the Palatine Hill and in the Forum. It was overhearing the description of the latter as 'a cute bunch of rocks' that made me think I should have some lunch before I said something that would make me a marked man in senior centres all over the USA.
I headed up Via Cavour, dived into a trattoria that I recognized from my internet research and ordered half a litre of house red before my backside hit the leatherette seat cover. Like all other Italians, Romans are obsessive about food and have their own specialities. In particular, they like their pizza, and pizzerias are dotted all over the city, from the corner shop selling it by weight from square blocks with different toppings to the smartest restaurants with wood-fired ovens and the finest ingredients. I have expounded my 'snot on toast' theory about pizza before in this book, so I won't repeat it here, but it is fair to say it is normally something I avoid.
When in Rome, however - even if it does involve eating something resembling mucus. I ordered the Roman favourite, pizza margherita, which, although it actually originated in Naples and is in theory the most simple of all to make, with little more than tomato and mozzarella cheese, is a source of constant discussion among the Romans. While that was being prepared, I fortified myself with another favourite, bucatini all'amatriciana, a dish of tubular, hollow pasta with a sauce made from pork jowl, pancetta and tomatoes. This was much more to my taste, with a slight kick from a hot chilli used in the cooking and the zest from the addition of lemon juice before serving. I was famished and attacked the bowl in a way that won admiring glances from other tables and from the staff, who quickly brought me another bowl of bread when I finished the first one sopping up the sauce.
The pizza arrived. It looked as I imagine a good pizza should: the toppings bubbling and glistening under a sheen of juices and a drizzle of olive oil, the base crispy and cracking under the pressure from my knife. It was a good example of the genre; I just didn't like the genre and this was not going to change my mind. I nibbled at the crust and ate a bit from the centre, but my mind was still going back to the meaty, rich pasta dish. In the end I pushed the plate away, contents half-eaten, indicating that it was fulness rather than disgust that had caused me to fail.
The day, and indeed the trip, had caught up with me, and I decided to head back to my hotel room. I bought a bottle of good red wine and spent the evening drinking, reading and sleeping - all restorative acts that I hoped would at least bring me back to a semblance of normality.
I felt much more energized the next day and, because of my early night, was up and raring to go at 7 a.m. Stopping only for the prerequisite Italian pastry on the way, I found my way to the Vatican City and was the second person in the queue when the doors opened at St Peter's. I was able to stand in awe before Michelangelo's Pieta for twenty minutes before another soul appeared. I was not so lucky, however, when I headed out to the Vatican Museum, where already vast queues had begun to form. I was tempted to turn around, but it seemed silly to have gone all the way around the world and not to see one of the truly great pieces of art on my last stop. It was, of course, a hateful experience. Tour groups ruled, with, in these modern times, each tourist attached to a earpiece that made them look like a mismatched a.s.sortment of trainees for The Gap.
The solo tourist is the lowest in the pecking order, and I had to fight my way with considerable force until I found myself staring upwards at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is, despite recent insensitive restorations, which make it look like it has been coloured in with crayons, as remarkable as I had imagined, doubly so because its majesty shines through the pushing and shoving of tourists and guides alike.
The Yorkshire lad in me could not help but look up and think 'A bit of Artex would work a treat there'.
I found my way out of the building and hailed a cab, asking the driver to take me to the Piazza San Salvatore, where I had a likely spot for my last lunch in Rome. I had my mind set on two other Roman specialities and began with one of the most misunderstood of all pasta dishes, spaghetti carbonara, all too often a bowl of limp pasta swamped with cheese and cream, often from ajar. At its best, however, it is a beautiful mix of sauteed onions.
crispy Italian bacon, large amounts of pecorino and beaten eggs, which cook in the residual heat of the pasta.
To follow, it was just the time of year to order abbacchio, a dish of beautifully tender, slow-cooked spring lamb, seasoned heavily with lots of garlic, sage and rosemary before being spiced up with the addition of anchovies just before serving. It was a simple yet glorious meal, and I lingered over it for two or more hours while I treated myself to a bottle of Brunello, the smooth, subtle wine from Tuscany, some gelato for dessert and an unfeasibly large grappa to send me on my way, this time more with a slight swaying than a hobble.
I returned to my hotel for another early night. I had to fly to Spain the next morning to meet TGS. I had done a bit of sightseeing and had had at least two excellent meals, but I had scarcely done Rome justice. Mark it up as another place I have to return to one day. I had my excuses, though. General weariness, the sorest foot any human male has ever had to endure without having it amputated, and limited time. Whatever the excuses, it definitely was not a case of Veni, vidi, vici', more a case of T came, I saw, J conked out'.
The End of the Road.
For a journey that had involved so many long-distance trips, the final flight was an anti-climax: a short hop fiom Bilbao, where I had finished a final few days touring La Rioja with TGS to celebrate the end of the journey.
I arrived at my flat shortly before midnight and threw Big Red down on the floor. As it hit the surface, air was squeezed out through a small rip on the side that had appeared in the last two weeks. It sounded like a sigh, which was fair enough for a companion who had done as many miles as I had and in considerably less comfort. Like me. Big Red had endured nearly one hundred flights, almost thirty countries and had seen the inside of countless hotel rooms. It had been my constant companion - often my only companion. Airlines had tried to lose it, and crooks had tried to steal it, but together, in our own very British way, we had muddled through somehow.
I peeled my walking boots off" and tossed them to one side. I promised myself and my foot, still painful and swollen from the stress fracture, that I would not need them again for a little while, if ever. I made myself a large mug of builder's tea and sat down to check my e-mails. There were a handful that said 'well done', but otherwise the end of my journey seemed to have gone as little remarked upon as the day I handed in my notice. Not even a mention on the TV news, which was so desperate for stories that they were talking to a woman who claimed to have seen the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
Had it been worthwhile? Had I actually achieved anything after all that time, effort and, of course, money?
Glancing up from my cup of steaming tea, into which I was dunking my second chocolate digestive biscuit, I saw an envelope propped up on the dining-room table. I opened it and a read the note inside. It was from Baba.
'Congratulations on finishing your round-the-world trip. Mum would have been very proud.'
Of course, it had been worthwhile. I might have spent every penny I had in the bank and a little bit more, but it had been worth every last cent. I had made a journey that most people could only dream of but few will ever have the opportunity or inclination to embark upon. I may not have fulfilled my avowed aim to 'Go Everywhere, Eat Everything', but I had given it my best shot. I may not be the first person to have eaten rat in China, elk in Finland, barbecue in Texas, crickets in Manila or cod sperm sushi in Kyoto, but there are not too many people out there who can claim to have done so in a little over a year. One thing is for certain: I am the only Simon Majumdar to have done it, and that was good enough for me.
What about Simon Majumdar? Where does it leave him? Well, apparently it leaves him talking about himself in the third person, which, at the very least, sees a richly deserved slap in his near future if he keeps it up. It leaves me (that's better) broke but incredibly rich in experience. It leaves me with memories that few others will ever have, of standing on the Great Wall of China and riding the rails from Mongolia to Moscow, of the smells in the bodegas ofjerez and the smells of Chinese toilets, of the craziness of India and the rigidity of j.a.pan, of much-loved family members in India and New York and new family members in Manila.
It leaves me with over 12,000 images on my computer, most of the different things I have eaten in all those countries - food that, if I look at the pictures, can still summon up pleasing memories of the tastes and the smells and the circ.u.mstances in which it was eaten.
Most of all, it leaves me with hundreds of new people in far-flung corners of this globe that I can call 'friend' and mean it. People like Tomoko in Kyoto and Tana in Santa Cruz. People like Stan and Lisa Cohen in Philly and Bath in Senegal, the Den Dulks in South Africa and Pertti and the Prinsessa in Finland, the strangers who broke bread with me on a train in Morocco and the old friends who welcomed me into their homes all around the world.
A man whose view of the world could at best have been described as jaded before he set out had had his faith in the intrinsic goodness of people restored. That on its own is accomplishment enough, and I suspect it would have been enough to make Gwen Majumdar proud too. I am not sure I need, deserve or want any other accolade apart from knowing that my father is, and my mother would have been, proud of me.
So what now? Perhaps it is time to go back to being a grownup and get a real job involving a desk, a hole-puncher and a PC, on which I can play solitaire when people think I am working. Perhaps I could look for a different job, something in the food industry, going cap in hand to the many people I now know who do this for a living and asking them if they have room for a balding, forty-something with a dodgy foot.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, I should figure out a way to keep doing exactly what I have been doing for the last year. To keep finding ways to travel around this rapidly changing world of ours in search of the best food and the generosity of spirit that makes it taste so good. The offers and invitations are still flooding in - in fact, even more than when I first set out on the trip. There are still another ninety countries out there whose stamps I would love in my pa.s.sport, and, of course, there is so much food still to try. Perhaps Big Red and I aren't finished quite yet.