Saturday, May 8, 2010

Feasting the Senses


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry here at Fatal Foodies about Roman food - what people ate in southern Europe two thousand years ago, and how Colleen McCullough, in particular, used her knowledge of the Roman diet to enhance the realism of her novel, The First Man In Rome. 

I was recently reminded of another wonderful historical novel, This Hippopotamus Marsh, by Pauline Gedge, that does much the same thing, but for ancient Egypt.  Gedge's description of life in Twelfth Dynasty Egypt is so lovingly detailed, so sensual, that you can feel your clothes sticking to your skin in the heat, and the cool barley beer sliding down your throat.

In Gedge's books, we are not simply observers of the action, but we are invited to experience the characters' lives along with them, using all our senses - the sights and sounds, the feel, the smell, and of course, the taste. 

Come join in the banquet :

Flowers littered the tiny dining tables scattered over the tiled floor, trembling in the drafts from floating linen and sending their perfume gusting into the room.  Every lamp...had turned the dim expanse into a golden day. There were no shadows.  The stewards bent with brimming wine jugs over guests who held up their cups eagerly...Duck, fish and gazelle meat smoked under fresh leaves of pungent cilantro.  Stalks of celery springs of parsley and round brown chick peas nestled on beds of crisp lettuce.  Sycamore figs soaked in honey from the persea trees and little crumbling sweet cakes were offered, and the beer was flavoured with pomegranates and mint.  Kamose's musicians plucked and tapped valiantly, the melodies almost lost under the clamour around them.

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