A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two Blogging Years...

Two years on and this blog has been rated for general audiences.

Online Dating

Does this mean that people between 7 and 77 can log on without fear of having their minds warped by the content of my posts?

I started blogging because it was a novel way of wasting time. Most of you faithful blogfriends have been there for the ups, the not-so-ups and the downs...
You see, I often make the running of three restaurants sound like a walk in the park and it would be if I did not have to employ staff, feed customers, or just get back to work after my holidays.

When I started over 22 years ago, it was a challenge, a way of looking after myself, Karen and the kids. The first restaurant came at a time when the town was devoid of decent ons, so what I had learnt in a couple of pizzerias, came in handy. I began aiming for the stars and improving, got rid of the pizzas within a month of opening and got the place noticed by a few guides.
What does one do after such a cushy start?
Simply look for the next challenge.

Today, after a few moves and openings, financially it can be attractive to have three restaurants, ego boosting too, because of the recognition.

But I did not really mean for life to go so fast! And that's when the dreamer in me rises to the top.

Travel lifts my spirits and liberates me. Spain is exciting, the South of France, enchanting, Marrakesh, magical... And every time I go somewhere I want to stay for ever.
Art fascinates and transports me... I want to do everything, from mosaics to drawing, sculpture to painting...
Reading enchants me and tempts me to write in a language that is not mine, even though it is the only language I feel comfortable with.

If this blog goes slightly quiet it is because this dreamer is dreaming of turning his dreams into reality, one at a time...

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Papa's Raising Sultans...

Vit has just written a post on family trees and illustrated how hard it is to unravel branches and roots, etc...
I really do admire all those people who spend long years in libraries and record offices, meticulously sifting through mindnumbing archives in an attempt to trace their ancestry.

The BBC's popular series "Who do you think you are?" prompted many viewers to begin their own dig.

A few months ago, when I phoned him to enquire about the price of eggs in Algeria and how he was keeping, Papa, in his infinite wisdom calmly claimed:
"We are descendants of the last Sultan of Granada, you know!"
I was truly taken aback. Papa does not drink and he is a very rational man. It usually takes him days to mull over an idea before saying anything.
He is the kind of guy who would spend hours and days trying to repair a watch, stowing it the bathroom cabinet for months "just in case" before finally admitting defeat and discarding it.

I put his fantastic claim down to his 86 years and tried to humour him.
"I am telling you it's true! Why don't you check on your computer?"
What is the world coming to? Papa has heard of computers!

As soon as I got off the phone, I Googled and found out that our family name and that of this Moorish Sultan are uncannily close but for a spelling variation.

It sounds absolutely outlandish but could Papa be right?
Come to think of it, didn't the Alhambra car park attendant direct me to a well shaded spot when I visited in February?

But perhaps I should keep quiet about this... While Googling I came across a fundamentalist website blaming the Sultan for the fall of Andalucia and the demise of the Moors...

Could this be my new abode?

Papa is 87 on Saturday!


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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A busy weekend...

Friday night, we were invited to a wedding with a difference.
The couple were already man and wife. They had got married in the United States two weeks ago but as most of their family and friends could not attend, they organised another wedding party. The bride, groom, ushers, etc... got dressed exactly as for the wedding ceremony. Food and cake was laid on. Slipping out early from work, it was around 10pm before we got to the party, desperate for some food. A hard shift in a restaurant does make you ravenous, especially when you see platefuls of food flying past you all night.

Saturday night it was a fortieth wedding anniversary at some friends' house. Once again it was a good job there was some food left for us when we got there at 11pm. No, we do not eat while the restaurants are busy. The party went on till well past midnight. Got home full of red wine and spice cake.

Sunday came late and went early.

And then Monday, another do. This time it was the turn of one of our chefs to get hitched. It turned out to be one of the best weddings I have been to for many years. The civil ceremony took place in the function room of a hotel nearby. The bride and groom looked great. The weather turned clement just for them. A live band played while Pimms and champagne flowed. Lots of photos on the hotel lawn. The food was very good. The chef said that he had three tastings before he chose the menu. So much attention to detail. The place names were made out of chocolate. Can you imagine! Chocolate Cream!
The best man's speech made everyone laugh, especially as the young chef is not usually known for his eloquence.

After the dinner, the tables were rearranged, a dance floor magically appeared. More guests arrived for the evening do. Live dance music began at around 8pm. The guests danced the night away. A few stayed at the hotel. One of them, my party animal son, who everyone agreed is a great dancer. I wonder who he takes after...

I took this photo at a local annual festival. An Argentinian Tango duo.

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Friday, August 17, 2007


The furious son of a hoaxer who convinced a town he'd won the £35.4m Euro lottery has spoken of his anger.
Jordan Frater quit his job after his father Fergus, 46, promised him a £5m share of the jackpot.
Roofer Jordan told The Sun: "I could kill him. I'm absolutely gutted."

"When dad told me he'd won the lottery, I phoned my boss to tell him I was leaving. I've had to get back on the phone and beg for my job back.
"I don't know why dad would have done this to us. We're in shock. We can't get hold of him."
Jobless Frater, who had gone missing last night, also pledged to give his sister Lorraine, 41, £1m after bragging he had the record-breaking ticket.
Jordan said he and his pregnant girlfriend Lucy Scrivens, 25, started making plans to move to Australia with their young daughter as soon as Frater bragged that he had won the huge jackpot.
He said: "One minute I was a multi-millionaire, the next I was back to having nothing."
Scottish-born Frater vanished from his flat in Littlehampton, West Sussex, after telling his family he was off to claim the money.
Earlier he posed for pictures with a EuroMillions ticket as he downed pints during a pub crawl. His local paper even splashed news of his windfall on its front page

Story Courtesy of Orange
(I know... The photo has nothing to do with the story...
It's off a boating holiday in the Midlands.)
What would you do with £35 Million (or $70M)?


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wordless Wednesday...

"There are charms made only for distant admiration. "
Samuel Johnson
Actions speak louder than words...

I noticed W.W. on Bella's Blog, so I decided to have a Wordless Wednesday...a day late!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Crouching Tiger...

A few of our chefs go golfing on Mondays when the restaurants are closed.
I have played on and off in the past and so, when I invited myself to join them, one even let me have his old golf set for a few quid.

Yesterday morning at ten, three of them were waiting for me at the local golf course. I hired a pair of shoes and a trolley, bought a bottle of water and off we went. We spent a few minutes practising on the putting green and then we attacked the first hole. Well, it turned out to be elusive. My ball could not find it. A par four turned out to be an 7 over-par. For those who have not yet fallen in love with Tiger Woods, it took me 11 stokes instead of 4 to get the ball down the hole.
At one stage I thought I was about to collapse with pains in my legs and in my right arm and shoulder. It took a bar of Snickers after the 9th hole to stop me throwing the bar towel.

The only reason I persevered to the end was that I did not want to be a wimp in front of these fit twenty-something year-old chefs. If one of them had handed me a frying pan there and then I would have dropped it. The only thing I still had a strong grip of was my honour.

When the last ball went into the 18th hole, I could hardly breathe a sigh of relief. I should have been inside an oxygen tent. Words failed me to congratulate the winner.

At four o'clock, I dragged myself and my trolley back to the car. By then I could barely lift my golf bag.
"How many bloody clubs, balls and tees does one really need!"

Six hours after I left my favourite chair, I got home and collapsed back into it.

Karen suggested I take a bath.
"But the bathroom is bloody upstairs!" I thought.
I prefer showers but Zoe has got me a bit worried. She claims showers make you gain weight.

I mustered a bit of courage and made my way to the first floor. The climb was so painful I felt like planting the Algerian flag on the landing.
I started filling the bath and climbed into it.
I dozed off a few times in the hour I spent in the soothing warm water, lovingly rubbing my painful shoulder and jellyfied calves.
After a few thoughts of encouragement I persuaded myself to get out of the tub. Persuasion is one thing. Action is another.
With the wall to the left of me I had to use my sore arm to lift myself out. I screamed. No one heard. I managed to grit my teeth and clambered out.

Arriving at work this morning, instead of heading straight to my office, I bravely made the excruciating walk to the kitchen. The chefs were already hard at work. I straightened my shoulders and back and waltzed in.

"Next Monday, then, if you're up to it, lads?"

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Under a Moroccan spell...

There is a café in downtown Marrakesh
Where semen comes really fresh
You can use it to coat your meat
Before you turn on the heat.

It is often as thick as butter
You may even need a cheese cutter
To slap it on a piece of toast
With a drop of honey or a slice of roast.

Some like its salty taste
And it’s not bad on the waist
But let me reassure everyone
This is just a bit of fun.

To those with a dirty mind
It’s only butter that’s been refined
Indian cooks call it Ghee
But semen is funnier, you’ll agree…

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this café window.
I have always known clarified butter as "S'men" but I am sure that with this spelling, a simple Café will easily be mistaken for a Bank...
A sperm bank!

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Papa's colourful languages...

When I young, Papa often reeled the few German words he knew to coax into eating our meals: "Come on, Kartoffeln are good for you!"

During the Second World War, after the Allied landings in North Africa, our quiet town was swamped with foreign soldiers. Being close to the Tunisian border, our local French military hospital housed injured soldiers and among them a few Germans and Italians. One of these, Papa recalled, was a Wehrmacht soldier who had been wounded around Bizerte and brought back as prisoner of war.
Fritz spent months convalescing in Papa's ward and a cautious friendship developed between them. Papa found a stray kitten to keep Fritz company. He sometimes gave him fruit and vegetables from our farm.
Papa also tried to teach him a little French and in turn tried to learn a few German words. They sadly lost touch with each other after Fritz was moved to a secure prison camp.

Then the American GI's came through our town on their way to Tunisia and Sicily. The locals often reminisce about these giant soldiers who doled out chewing gum and chocolate bars to the cheering swarms of children who followed the jeeps bare feet across town.

A few years ago Papa came over to visit me in the UK after my mother passed away. He spent most of his time alone in the garden, probably thinking of my mother.
But one day, after lunch, as we sat at the dining table while my wife prepared the coffee, Papa scratched his head and tried to remember the few English words he had picked up during the war.

"Ha mucha dates?"
"Ha mucha oranges?” He mumbled in a funny Texan accent.
He explained that the GI's had often stopped to buy fresh produce from his fruiterer friend.

He sat there scratching his head, screwing his face, trying to dredge up buried memories. All of a sudden his eyes lit up "I know how to say "Go away" in American, you know!"

Before I could stop him he shouted: "Fuck off!" just as Karen walked into the dining room.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Two worlds...as one...

Having at last landed back from my Moroccan daydreams, I have already started planning my next trip to Marrakesh.
My first visit, as I have commented in my last posts, was a revelation.
You see, I grew up in a similar era and atmosphere as Marrakesh is in today.
A great mix of Arabic, French, Islam, foreign teachers, hippy travellers, tolerance, a sense of freedom as a student in the late sixties and early seventies. Life was easy.
Then Algeria lost its way. Corruption and kleptocracy ruled. Fundamentalism found a vacuum. It began exploiting youth unhappiness. The government sold out on secularism. Centuries of traditions were lost forever. And a reign of fear began. Around 200,000 people were massacred in an unprecedented period of violence between 1993 and 2003.
I did not go to Algeria for 15 years and when I went it was a foreign country to the one I left in the early seventies. Though things have slowly begun to improve, scars will take a long time to heal.

In Marrakesh I truly found my old country.
The old traditions are cherished and displayed with pride, while modernity is embraced and encouraged.
Marrakesh is what I would have loved my country to have developed into. But never say never...

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Marrakesh Medley...

Here are the last photos of a trip to Magical Marrakesh...

Doing the Locomotion...

Couz gets a Speeding Ticket...

Outdoor Shopping...

Indoor Shopping...

Essaouira Beach Scenes...


A bientôt!

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

More from Marrakesh...

Menara gardens are located at the west of Marrakech, Morocco at the gates of the Atlas mountains. They were built in the 12th century (c. 1130) by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu'min.

The name menara term derives from the pavillon with it small green, pyramid roof (menzeh). The pavilion was built by the 16th century Saadi dynasty and renovated in 1869 by sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco who used to stay here in summertime.

One of the many walled palm groves.

Kids cooling themselves in the canals that feed the Menara pool.

The Atlantic Ocean at Essaouira...

All the places I visited, modern or traditional, were delightfully decorated.

Le Grand Café de La Poste. Totally Parisian splendour.

New houses on a golf complex.

The Médina's alleyways are out of fairytales.

Towards the Atlas Mountains...

A cool Sunday lunch break...

A magical evening Chez Ali...

Grabbed by traditional dancing Berber girls...


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