Thursday, 22 March 2007


As I mentioned, I went to Womad for the music, but ended up more interested in the cooking sessions. Whoops! But actually they were great for musical reasons too, because often the artists sang or played as they cooked, and you could ask questions. The best of these sessions was by Guo Yue, a traditional Chinese bamboo flute player, now residing in England. He cooked four dishes in his one hour tasting session - the zucchini and tomato dish that I cooked last week, a prawn dish, a fish dish, and a mixed mushroom dish. He was so excited about cooking, and had such a wealth of knowledge that his enthusiasm spread and I went to see him play later that day (which was amazing - I've heard Chinese flute before and haven't liked it, but this made me wonder why in the West we changed to metal flutes - the wooden flute has such a rich depth of sound) and I bought his book.

Music, Food and Love reminds me very much of "Mao's Last Dancer" by Li Cunxin. It has the same elegance of writing, and many of the experiences are common - both were artists growing up in Maoist China. While Li's book is an autobiography though, his stories joining to form a comprehensive history of his life, Guo's book is shorter and works more as a collection of his memories. These are in rough chronological order, and do serve to give a good summary of Guo's life; however, these memories evoke a time and place more than they give a thorough history. I wouldn't necessarily complain about this though, except to say that this collection of stories might leave you wanting more. I certainly enjoyed the book enough to wish that it was bigger, and that it continued after the author emmigrated from China.

Although the book is called "Music, Food and Love", food features more heavily than music. The love bit is woven through everything - he tells stories about food to reflect his love for his family, and the Beijing of his childhood. His flute playing is present, but is less the focus of the book than his cooking. Indeed, at Womad, Guo actually said that he prefers cooking to playing flute - because "you have to eat to play the flute". One of the great things about this book is that most of the dishes that he describes are given as recipes at the back. Some of these are quite complex, but many are very simple, and I think would serve as a great introduction to learning to cook simple Chinese food authentically.

I really enjoyed this book - its main subject matter, music and food, are two of my favourite things, and it's written simply, but really beautifully (being co-written by Guo's wife, an editor and writer). The stories are interesting in and of themselves, but give a great insight into life in Maoist Beijing. If you enjoyed Li's book, I would definitely recommend this one. FYI: if you decide to buy it and are having trouble finding it, you might try Dymocks, who were at Womad, or

Aha! And now I have an appropriate opportunity to showcase my only Chinese, in my best worst pinyin.

Bao-le, ma? ("Are you satisfied?")
Syair-syair, chir der jern bao! ("Thankyou. My tummy is happy!")

I kind of expected this film to be bad, and it was. I read Nick Hornby's book years ago, and quite enjoyed it, but never really understood how it would translate well into a film. Well, it doesn't.

The book is kind of a memoir of Hornby's lifelong soccer fandom, and how and why he came to love the game. It goes right back to his childhood, and addresses lots of interesting broader issues about why we as grownups get neurotic about seemingly arbitrary things. I quite enjoyed it, although I'd probably recommend it more to soccer fans than everyone (although I know nothing about soccer and I still liked it). It's quite nostalgic in a way, but all (as far as I can tell) non-fiction.

So you can see why I didn't think it would work as a film. The story of a bloke who goes to the football a lot. Nick Hornby wrote the script himself, but he had to create a plot for everything else to flow around. So the film basically turns into Colin Firth being a sad football-obsessed loser, who is trying to balance this against getting a life and maintaining a relationship with pointy Ruth Gemmel. Which is ok, but it's not really enough to sustain a whole film on, because after a while you start to wish Colin Firth would get over it, or Ruth Gemmel would just dump him and have done with it. The problem is, basically, that so much of what was good about the book was really introspective stuff, which is impossible to portray in a film, and so instead of Colin Firth seeming like an interesting and clever person who understands emotionally what's going on with his obsession but is nonetheless hijacked by it, he basically seems like a dull and stupid slob. So if you're interested, read the book, and avoid the film.

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