East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A Christmas’ Eve adventure


It was a bit of Indiana Jones stuff, you see…
OK, let’s start from the beginning.
SFS_french_onion_soup-31Yesterday being Christmas’ Eve, my brother and I decided to treat ourselves with a hearty French onion soup. Nothing too complicated, but good and healthy, and unusual enough on our table that it feels like a festive dish.
We had the ingredients and the recipe down to pat, but we still faced a problem: finding two decent-sized bowls in which to cook the soup in the oven, and then serve it. So I started digging in the cupboards, looking for some fitting container.
No luck.
I moved to our father’s wine cellar, where we do not go normally now that our father’s not with us anymore, neither of us being a wine-drinker.
fundador-brandyI went in, found the light switch, and started digging, and soon I found…

 . an age-old bottle of Fundador brandy, that had probably been hiding on its shelf these last twenty years. Exactly what we needed to season our soup (and it also came in handy to adjust the hot chocolate we had at midnight)

 . a full set ceramic of soup bowls, exquisitely decorated with an ivy border, complete with dishes, and still packaged, shrink-wrapped and never used.

So there I was, the brandy bottle in my sweater pocket and the bowls in my hands, when I spied on a dark shelf at the back, a pack of books.
And you know how I am right?
So, still balancing my bowls, I went and checked the books, and found a pile of volumes I had struck off as lost when we moved here in 2009. They were not lost – quite simply, my father had stashed them away and forgotten about them.
9780714825083-usAnd there, among the lost books, together with a second edition of Ars Magica, the roleplaying  game, and a book called The Mystery of the Nazi Gold, I spotted the blue & red back of Egypt, a Cultural Guide, complete with its papyrus flower motif.
Now, I bought this book, with its sturdy hardback, water-resistant cover, back in 1992 when I was living in London, together with another Phaidon Cultural Guide, the one for Provence.
Phaidon is a well-known and respected publisher of books about art and architecture, and the “Cultural Guides” were designed as a thinking-man’s (or -woman’s) tourist guides – no hotels and shopping spots, no “be sure to try the honey cakes”, but an in-depth coverage of every bit of art, history and archaeology you can find in the territory.
In the last six weeks I have been literally turning my library upside down looking for this book, for the simple fact that it has everything I need to spice-up my AMARNA stories: there’s descriptions, timelines, photographs and maps.

I had resigned myself to the idea that the book had been lost forever, and instead here it is!
And it’s exactly as I remembered it: the text is clear, the maps and pictures spot-on. Sure, it’s 25 years old, but considering …

A . We are talking Ancient Egypt
B . My story is set in the ‘30s

…  25-years old guide is no big problem.

And so, with the brandy in my sweater pocket, my long-lost Egyptian guide in the back pocket of my pants, and balancing the soup bowl and plates, I made my way back to the kitchen, where my brother took a moment from tending the fire to brush off the thick layer of dust and cobwebs on my shoulders.


I am pretty sure Indiana Jones had a few moments like that in his career.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “A Christmas’ Eve adventure

  1. Merry Christmas Davide! For our holiday adventure, I am cooking a goose. I’ve never done that before so wish me luck!


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