Arab Today, arab today al dente by david winner
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Arab Today, arab today
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Al Dente by David Winner

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Al Dente by David Winner

London - Arabstoday

For a book that purports to be about Rome and Roman food, Al Dente is surprisingly light on both. Anyone hoping for an insider’s insights on which restaurant does the best Animelli di abacchio (sweetbreads) and Coda alla vaccinara (oxtail), or which market the Romans favour, or where to find the finest artisanal cheeses or the freshest rosette (bread rolls) will be disappointed. Instead David Winner has chosen to use food as a springboard to present a random selection of incidents, encounters and reflections whose one organising principle appears to be that they popped into his head and were considered worthy of further exploration. In a city where eating out is still woven deeply into the fabric of everyday life, Winner hardly bothers with restaurants at all. He does drop in on a Chinese – not for the food, though, but because he is intrigued by the perverse admiration of its proprietor for Chairman Mao. Winner’s freewheeling, improvisatory approach can produce rich and surprising rewards. There is a delightful excursion into the woods with his Italian girlfriend’s Communist uncle in search of wild asparagus. Winner’s account of the genesis of Giovanni Fassi’s Palazzo del Freddo and the resulting birth of that indispensable institution, the gelateria, is as sharp and tasty as a good granita di caffe. Winner’s real interest seems to be not food or Rome at all, but Italian cinema. He manufactures one opening after another to enthuse about the masterpieces of Visconti, Pasolini, Fellini and the rest. He bows reverentially before “the world’s greatest maker of horror films”, Dario Argento, whose one notable contribution to their interview is: “I don’t like eating.” Scarcely less intense is his fascination with religion. For some baffling reason he includes a verbatim interview with a nun in charge of making communion wafers, which is almost as hard going – though mercifully shorter – as one of Antonioni’s existential masterworks. The sight near the Castel Sant’Angelo of a statue of the 14th-century mystic Catherine of Siena sends him off after a succession of female saints: Catherine, who dreamed of drinking blood; Ida of Louvain, who ate only mouldy bread; Christina the Astonishing, who threw herself into thorn bushes; Dorothy of Montau, who ate so little she stopped excreting. Winner is a classy writer, with a pleasing, relaxed, chatty way with the language. He has lived in Rome and should have had all the material at his fingertips; but too much of Al Dente is harvested from other people’s books and old films. I wanted to hear him on the subject of the city where I have wandered all my adult life, not banging on about nutty nuns and the schism between Christianity and Judaism.

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