Saturday 11 June 2011


Edward Barber photographer, Visual Athletics Club, Houses of Parliament, London
Houses of Parliament, London © Visual Athletics Club, 2009
Anticipation and wonderment - the Samsonite suitcase that defies its spatial barriers and tardis-like proffers a seemingly unending supply of provisions to please one and all. A childhood memory, my father unpacking his luggage after a business trip to Rome.  Each item held up for admiration - a bottle or two of Chianti, a huge lump of Parmigiano Reggiano fashioned like a shard of sandy rock. Provolone safely ensconced in its vacuum pack, its distinctive aroma secured, air tight, from mixing with the equally impressive Gorgonzola. A visual and olfactory jolt to my memory and momentarily I’m transported to Rome and the cheese boutique on Via Collina, Micocci Antonio. I can picture the cool marble interior, the spotless stainless steel and glass counter shielding hungry customers from the innumerable cheeses on offer and the vault-like refrigerator doors to the rear of the shop, concealing the gargantuan still uncut cheeses. All the while sitting at the cassa, acting as both fortress and vantage point, the signora surveying both customers and employees as she sits and collects the money.

But there was more, two semi circles of Pane Casareccio Genzano - a whole loaf being too big to carry in one piece. Fennel bulbs the size of a small melon, onions sweet enough to eat like an apple, and fresh tomatoes for a salad perhaps or maybe use with the left over bread for bruschetta. Then there were cakes from the Pasticceria Strabbioni, a marvel of construction as tiers of card and paper revealed first a crostata – pastry covered with jam and toasted pine nuts, then a baked ricotta cheesecake spiked with candid fruit. A business trip may have denied us our father for days or sometimes weeks - but on his return he brought a little of Rome home to us in England. Our suburban Surrey dining table transformed and a family reunited with the sharing of food.

There was a time when I would struggle to bring back some delicate artefact to remind me of my holiday, often only to be disappointed as the carefully packed pristine item had transmuted en route into a relic only suitable for a mosaic. Now my luggage is filled with the spoils of a nostalgic appetite, eager to prolong the pleasure of the trip or to share it with those unable to have been there with me. 

A holiday in St Ives, Cornwall at any time of year provides a surfeit of choice for a healthy appetite - crab sandwiches, piping hot pasties, tender lamb and the freshest of vegetables. Cornwall is geographically challenged – a long peninsula that secludes it from the tyranny of the supermarket articulated lorry and secures locally produced food for those lucky enough to live there or visit.  With Cornwall voted the most favourite holiday destination in the UK and St Ives boasting sixth place in a poll of the best beaches in Europe, a trip to the South West is hard to beat.

St Ives as a headland peninsula is surrounded by the sea on three sides with panoramic skies and a variety of beaches from Porthmeor on the northern exposure for surfers, to the sheltered suntrap at Porthgwidden on the eastern side. Follow the azure blue sea further and you reach the becalmed harbour with its south easterly aspect and sun warmed sand, even in February.

It is the miracle of light reflecting back off the sea which produces a quality rarely seen in the UK. White sand lends a further level of luminosity usually associated with more tropical climes. But beyond the sea there are further cultural highlights which illustrate the magnetic draw of the land, in particular the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Now slightly overshadowed by its precocious but less engaging sibling Tate St Ives, this tranquil zone allows the curious to experience the working environment of arguably Britain’s greatest twentieth century sculptor. The exotic flora jostling for space with Hepworth’s sculptures is a collision of reciprocity, each lending the other a further intensity and all the while beyond the garden walls is the view – the harbour, the sea, the sky and in the distance Godrevy lighthouse, muse to countless artists.

A short stroll from the Barbara Hepworth Museum is the Wills Lane Gallery bringing “a breath of the West End to the South West”. In essence this is not the seemingly ubiquitous faux-naïve scenes favoured by most of the galleries in St Ives but a carefully chosen collection of photography, painting, prints, sculpture, jewellery, and ceramics. One of the featured ceramicists is Mick Arnold who creates an array of beakers, plates and vases made from the creamiest of English porcelain - studio pottery at its best - simple, timeless elegance that is both functional and beautiful.

But time comes to return home and consolation is offered by a little local shopping. First a visit to M Stevens and Son on Back Road East, the fish, although nearly always filleted - more for the fishmongers convenience than the customers, is fresh - Lemon Sole, John Dory, and Mackerel. Then down to S H Ferrell and Son on Fore Street to collect our preorderd pasties – twelve in all, as well as saffron bread, and half a dozen gingerbread men. Margaret has usually included an extra treat for the long drive home, some lemon biscuits perhaps and will with a days notice bake up something special, macaroons or congress tarts. From there up to I Should Coco further along Fore Street for the smoothest chocolate creations - chocolate mackerel, bars of single variety cocoa chocolate – Java is a personal favourite – gifts for friends and family…maybe! A final stop at the Floral Shop on Treganna Hill where not only do they sell flowers grown on their own allotment but vegetables also – wonderful multicoloured Swiss chard, Cornish new potatoes, the tenderest of carrots.

A last lingering walk along the harbour side and a few moments to bask in the sun and drink up the light before commencing homewards. The long journey is comforted by the smell of twelve warm pasties and the knowledge that for days and weeks to come the pleasures of St Ives will be ours to experience and share with those special few for whom we bring it all back home.

Image: Visual Athletics Club

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