ORDER A GOOD CHEER

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ORDER A GOOD CHEER

The secret is out. One of my friends, Chef Rasheed Abdulkhader who often surprised us with his mastery in culinary flairs is soon to retire after few decades with the Taj Group of Hotels, one of the top hospitality groups in India where he had worked up the ladder to become one of the top Executive Chefs of this Group.

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Over the years, Chef Rasheed’s passion and dedication had gotten him to a position where he could deal with the meals of the high and reputed guests from different parts of the world – the sheer brilliance of his culinary delights earning the adulation of many. Each of his dishes stood up for itself for its excellence, freshness, taste and simplicity. The culinary aspects of many of our own parties were overseen by him and it will be sad to see this shining personality with a never-fading smile take an exit due to “getting on in years.”

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Now first things first. In the olden days, the chef (then known as “Kokki” or cook) didn’t triumph in the popularity and acquired glamour they have today. Back then, the thought about that leader of the kitchen rarely crossed one’s mind when you dined in a hotel. Like the cook in an upscale restaurant or in a smaller establishment like a toddy shop, you are aware they are there. In the context of my childhood, they made their personal appearance in your life to cook for occasions such as a marriage in your house when, following the religious ceremony, a wholesome feast (vivahasadya) of time-honoured family recipes (unaltered over the years) reproduced authentically keeping the taste firmly on the original version, was served inside the house or in a fabricated marquee (pandal) within the residential compound, enhancing the intensely close-knit personal atmosphere.

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It was an occasion when all the near and dear ones were invited with true open-handedness. And they might all come and attend the feast to celebrate with lavish experience.

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The cook turns up some days prior to the function to list the items to be arranged for his work which will commence mostly by the morning of the previous day of the wedding since there would be dinner served on the eve of the wedding day.  The cooking will continue overnight in a temporary outdoor cook-house for a second day running till the lunch is served following the wedding ceremony.

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Besides a couple of his assistants/washers-up, help in the shapes of scores of relatives and neighbours assist the progress of the cook’s work and other arrangements. Many would fondly recall the smell of the wood smoke hanging in the air or hear the sound from the bubbling pans.

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In those times, the caterers with table-ready food service and event managers and pretentious food were unheard of. Relatives and friends had time for manual help and there was collective participation in arrangements: the pandal was erected with sturdy bamboo poles roofed with tarpaulin and decorated with white-painted bamboo trellis panels fencing all around while decorations adorn the white cloth covering the ceiling.

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The hired trestle tables dressed with plain white cloth (without drape or box-pleat or petticoat) were arranged on the tarpaulin laid down on the ground. The cooking pots and pans, serving dishes, china, cutlery, moveable water-tank, chairs and even petro-max for artificial emergency lighting were hired.

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Besides ensuring that cultural traditions survive, thoughtful planning by the elders eliminated potential faults. Reliable relatives and family friends were conscripted as servers of food. There was a personal touch everywhere. Everyone participated – ate, drank and later merrily went away.

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The cook was sent away happily and that was the last time you saw him until another occasion turns up when he is needed or you see him working at another function. Those were simple and affordable, and joyous occasions. Time passes.

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Then came the time when the pomp and middle-persons took over and put a high price tag to everything – much before specialised food shops appeared throughout the length of the State. Soon common Italian words like Spaghetti Pomodoro, tiramisu, etc were no longer a novelty locally. The haute cuisine is here!

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14Cookery books have come a long way from “The Forme of Cury” (Form of Cooking), the earliest surviving mediaeval cookery guide written by the Chef Maister Cokes (Chief Master Cooks) of young King Richard II of England (Richard of Bordeaux, 6 January 1367 – c. 14 February 1400) in about 1390. Apart from the masses of books and DVDs on cookery, many of which are beautifully accomplished, with the advent of TV channels, radio and web shows, movies, foodie bloggers, culinary schools, etc, (and surely many more to come), food and cooking has become two of the most common subjects around, especially on the web – rapidly commercialised and glamourised.

Such medium are good tools to inspire us to try new recipes or to learn the techniques involved to mete out our expertise on the dining plates.

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Concurrently, it also brings about a healthy breeding ground not only for the qualified and dedicated chefs, but also, truth be told, for persons with the slightest inclination in cooking or scant knowledge in qualities of the cooking ingredients or dietary criteria, to gallop their way to recognition on the back of knowledge acquired from cookery books or shows or experience gained through apprenticeship as kitchen assistants or diploma in culinary education in tutorials. Not all that glitters is gold.

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My paternal grandmother never used a recipe in all her life but the heady aroma from her kitchen could lure a fully fed child back to the dining table. I often try my hand in the cooking department – but mind you, not as a hobby cook who ventures into the home kitchen to tackle culinary talents in the mid-afternoon of a Sunday or on a holiday or on one of those perennial local fun-days at home: hartal.

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Just like the innumerable budding actors finding exposure on the vast ever-growing entertainment scene, anyone linguistically proficient with common-sense approach and some knowledge/confidence in cooking can grow into a good cooking presenter on TV and web cookery demonstrations.

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The upshot is that apart from gaining wealth and fame, their perks could include opportunities to bring out cookery books/DVDs or conduct personal cookery classes/workshops, etc.

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The hostess of a TV cookery show once commented, ‘My Domestic chores? I am all behind like a cow’s tail. Where would I find time to cook when my daily schedule is tightly fitted around films lined up for shooting and other public appearances to be made? How do I keep up with it all day?’ The show is just a piece of cake for her. Owing to her profession, she is unfazed by the lights, camera and cables.

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It is implied that she just needs to turn up for the shooting of the episode, gets beautifully attired (in most cases chef’s uniform is avoided), decked with gold ornaments all over the body, hair let loose rather than tucked under a Chef’s cap or headscarf. The emphasis for such hosts is on glamour. In one’s hankering for ostentation and attention, one tends to forget that one actually has more lustre than gold.

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Good cookery shows do not just happen. Unlike most of today’s presenters who try to put in 100% data of their own for each episode, some amateur celebrity presenters in “cooking partnership” with the studios just follow the script guidelines for the episode researched and provided to them by the TV Studio writers for study and possible input. These writers often think visually. They push for the big goal: the show must be exiting and full of drama to hold the audience and entice sponsors.

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At the studio, where the presenter is already well acquainted with the many cookware and other aids at hand, he/she just needs to make a mental run-through of the episode, make mental notes for the occasional change of pace if the script calls for it, before the final shooting which would be suitably edited later. As the shoot progresses, it would likely trigger impulsive, spur-of-the-moment ideas in the presenter to suit the characterisation being projected. They needn’t be afraid to try something new. Amateurs built the ark. If you enjoy yourself, so will others. That’s the long and short of it.

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Being cheerful and unflustered from the curtain-raiser down to the end of the presentation, they are programmed to come across as culinary specialists, inspired by a deep love of home life, and smitten with the nostalgia of home-cooked cuisine of their childhood. If there is a guest for the show, their pleasing disposition is highlighted through chats with him/her who, in most cases, would be another popular personality who himself gets a shot to showcase himself with a song or dance or other gimmickry – all part of the ingredients of the cookery show.

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Currently, there are some truly amazing cookery programmes dominating the airwaves. To watch the shows of learned and talented chefs, including Michelin Star Chefs, Nutritionists, Hotel Management professionals, wellness experts, expressing valid ideas and tips for healthy and tasty food is always a pleasure and benefits us to learn and discover new recipes or smarten up the known ones.

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In fact, we watch the German show “Lafer! Lichter! Lecker!” hosted by Chef Johann Lafer and Horst Lichter. At other times, we find pastime in MasterChef Australia, a reputed show co-hosted by Chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, and food critic Matt Preston where the emphasis, besides good cooking, is on drama and competitiveness within a limited time. However, we keep away from another franchise show where some contestants sport an inborn addiction to mouth bad language while cooking good things.

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Our intense travel has brought us in contact with many top chef de cuisines in different countries. They have ensured that our appetites are in safe hands. Their skill and enthusiasm in their respective specialties are quite amazing.

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Some of them also possess that special gift of “blessed hand” known locally as “Kaipunyam”. Chef Stefan Trepp of Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok and Chef Joseph of Grand Hotel, Cochin are the owners of such brilliance. Chef Ken Murphy, Chef Nicolas Bourel, ……. it is impossible to name here all of them known to us. Of course, I do not leave out Carina’s skill in German cooking.

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Traditional cuisine of different countries has grown through little change over the years. In Kerala, keeping in line with the massive promotion of tourism, there is a renaissance of traditional dishes. The set-up of the recipes and the vocabulary of cooking sessions remain almost unchanged down to that most commonly and frequently used word in cookery: “….a little bit of …….”

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However, with the growing popular interest in good food, cooking is a process of evolution – subject to amalgamation of spices with different ingredients; mixing of flavours and culture like Chinese/Italian, Indian/Thai, etc.

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Imagination is the highest kite that can fly. Like Chef Rasheed whose thirst for knowledge and willingness to experiment with new ideas had driven him forward, a dedicated chef knows that his/her profession also calls for a very imaginative level of creativity and do-ability.

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During a dinner party we attended in Milan, the guests stayed longer than the proper time. The hostess, a French aristocrat known for her elegance and imagination where hospitality is concerned, was not at all disconcerted. She had a huge dish of Spaghetti Bolognese ready, specially prepared earlier envisaging such a circumstance. When everyone cheered her, she happily let out her plans for her next party. “Now let me tell you about that other dish I am going to cook next time. What about Saltimbocca?” There you go! I was nailed. Everyone is entitled to hope. Until next time. Jo

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Picture above: Rose of Melon with Capocollo, a speciality of Trattoria Ristorante Il Porcospino, at Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini in Florence, Italy. Il Porcospino is worth visiting for its fine cuisine.

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Notes:

1.. Many thanks to friends Ms. Suparat Phumrattanaprapin, Ms. Clarissa Lo Cascio and Chef Rasheed Abdulkhader  for their hands on support to illustrate this article with their pictures.

2.. For more details on Kerala cuisine: http://www.keralatourism.org

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

 

StarChoice 23: MRS. ‘ARRIS GOES TO PARIS

a1 a2The day was wet and windy when we learned that an unexpected restriction was rightly slapped on visitors’ entry to the top of Gustave Eiffel’s Tower, the emblem of Paris. For Bianca, a first-time visitor to Paris at that time, the spectacular view from the third inner platform at 276m had to be compensated with a panoramic view from the second inner platform (115m) of the Eiffel Tower which was over crowded with visitors despite the chilly wind. The night before from the window of our hotel rooms, we had seen the tower fizzes with champagne sparkle (336 600-W projector sodium lamps and 20,000 bulbs for the Sparkling Tower) periodically from sundown to the early hour while the old moon gleamed over it. Why does Paris hold a special place in many hearts? Most visually recognisable in Europe, the city’s beauty is undeniable. From where my wife Carina, Bianca and I stood on the second platform, not in the very distance was the Arc de Triomphe. Our eyes shifted from the Arc and trailed over the tree-lined straight boulevard of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with its lovely sense of space now obstructed from view by the masses of buildings, to Le Grand Palais with its iron and glass domes. a3 a5Scanning past the city’s oldest monument, Obélisque de Luxor in the vast Place de la Concorde; and the splendid Jardin des Tuileries, we can’t miss architect I M Pei’s pyramid and that honourable house of La Gioconda, Le Musée du Louvre, where I have spent many many days over many years discovering the magnificent genius of our gifted ancestors, each object d’art systematically displayed for global citizens. Further to our right on the eastern half of the natural island, Île de la Cité in the Seine, loomed the 90m Gothic spire of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, beyond which is Gare de Paris-Bercy from where we would catch the night train to Milan four days later. Gazing at the distance to the left, our eyes fell on the dome of that neo-Romanesque-Byzantine edifice, Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica on the Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs) hill where we had chosen our hotel for this time to explore the life in Montmartre. Each arrondissement of this legendary metropolis is self-contained for necessities, its treasures, and its secrets. All life is here – in Paris. a6 a4Bianca, our eldest daughter, with her imminent degree in Fashion Design on her mind, had her thinking caps on for ideas and inspirations of the French fashion: Chanel, Dior, Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent,… – all the more reason, this is the age where luxury fashion endeavours to be more accessible to the public. Her eyes were now busy trying to locate the Christian Dior Couture building on Avenue Montaigne which she finally found straight ahead of us, few blocks up the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel where Princess Diana with two others was killed in a car crash on the night of 31 August, 1997. Well, Dior would be our next destination for the day, the first of the haute-couture houses she intended to trail to “catch the fresh French fashion touch.” True to the word: Fashion is followed! a7

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris   (1992)

Interestingly, renowned American novelist Paul Gallico (Paul William Gallico – July 26, 1897 – July 15, 1976) in his beautiful short novel, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, published in 1958, tells the story about a widowed English working class woman’s visit to Paris to buy a beautiful dress. This book forms part of the four “Mrs. Harris” books Gallico wrote, viz., Mrs. Harris Goes to New York (1959), Mrs. Harris Goes to Parliament (1965, aka: Mrs Harris, M. P), and Mrs. Harris Goes to Moscow (1974). Adapted as a TV play with some alterations by John Hawkesworth, “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris” was filmed on locations in London, Paris and Budapest. a8 Synopsis: It was the London of 1953. Our protagonist, Mrs. Ada Harris, the charwoman somewhere in her late 50s or early 60s, led a regular-as-clockwork life in Battersea cleaning homes of well-to-dos living in and on the fringes of fashionable Eaton Square and Belgravia – 10 hours a day – 5 ½ days a Week. One morning after she had reported for work at the luxurious home of Lord and Lady Dent, one of her rich clients, Ada was sent to her Ladyship’s bedroom to collect some letters. There, Ada saw an invitation to Lord and Lady Dent to attend Her Majesty’s Coronation Ball at Buckingham Palace on Friday, 5th June 1953. It was then she saw two lovely gowns hanging by the wardrobe – one red and the other in pale blue. Ada had never seen anything so beautiful in her whole life. a9 When Lady Dent found Ada admiring her pale blue gown, she informed Ada that they are from Dior in Paris and the pale blue gown cost a pricey 450 guineas, an astronomical sum in 1953. Lady Dent plans to wear one of the gowns to the Coronation Ball. When Ada was given the chance to select one of the gowns for Lady Dent to wear for the Ball, the blue gown was Ada’s choice since she thought that the pale blue was the best for the Palace. Besides, they say Her Majesty liked pale colours. Lady Dent was apparently impressed by Ada’s selection. a10 In next to no time, Ada was besotted by the desire to own a similar Dior gown, but the cost, of course, was beyond her financial capacity. Having played in the weekly football Pool, Ada won 174 pounds 6 shillings and 4 pence – not much – but it was a good start for her to edge closer to owning a Dior dress. Mrs. Butterfield, her Cockney neighbour and close friend in the same profession was taken aback by Ada’s new interest in getting dressed up. She was all questions: from where will Ada find that kind of money with her low salary? Where will Ada wear the gown after all? Play dress-up in the attic? Ada had her reasons: they may only be charwomen – but they certainly can have their dreams – there is no law against that. As with everything in life, money buys quality. She would work hard enough. She is going to get a Dior gown. Seriously! a11 As a Chinese proverb goes, “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping”. She “scrimped and saved and slaved” with unwavering determination for three long years until she possessed just sufficient money to see her through her travel to Paris and return, plus the cost to acquire the gown. Perfect! a12 The year would be about 1956 by now when Ada, upon arrival in Paris, was confronted by the reality that obtaining an original couture creation from Christian Dior’s Salon is a challenging task. Then again, at the House of Christian Dior in the Avenue Montaigne, she was lucky enough to have met Mme Colbert, the Chief Vendeuse of Dior who was at that time in the middle of organising a Collection to be shown to a selected audience that afternoon where the guest of honour will be Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, famed for her love for Christian Dior’s creations in the 1950s. a13 a14 As it turned out, with Mme Colbert’s help, Ada ended up sitting in the front row of the show next to a Ministre, Marquis Hippolite, who would soon become fascinated by her charming personality. a15 In a little while, as the Dior show proceeded with the display of magnificent haute couture creations, a young model named Natasha appeared dressed in a most gorgeous dress no: 89 “Temptation” which was the dream of Mrs. Ada Harris. Overwhelmed with admiration for that soft-pink gown, Ada’s incessant clapping was disdainfully stared at by the room full of high-society women in their aura of riches, getting their fashion fix here. a16 Following the show, Mme Colbert was delighted to accept Mrs. Harris’ booking for the gown “Temptation” at the cost of 437,000 francs (£450). Arrangements were swiftly made with the head dressmaker, Monsieur Marcel and his assistant Mme. Claudine who agreed they would spin into overdrive to get her dress done within a week. a17 Accommodation was arranged quickly for Ada’s one-week stay in Paris. However, to get Ada measured and fitted, it was found necessary to evade an antagonist in the form of the pompous director of the House of Dior, Monsieur Armont, who appeared to be an expert in brewing up anxiety in the salon. Mrs. Harris had never thought of that possibility. a18 And so, Ada slips under the protective umbrella of the triad: Mme Colbert, M Marcel and Mme Claudine. Keep the fingers crossed – everything comes to the one who waits. a19 Ada’s forced and unforeseen stay in Paris was not in vain. By the time the week has come to a full circle, she had sown the magical seeds of sure-fire success all around her: to put a bachelor’s house tidier; to bring together two lovers; mend the stormy time between the Marquis, his daughter Mme Louise and granddaughter Claire; and arranged a much needed letter for Mme Colbert from Le General de Gaulle conferring the Order of Croix de Guerre with palm  posthumously on her husband M Michelle Colbert, a member of La Résistance Française who was shot dead 12 years ago during the German occupation of France. a20 As luck would have it, not only M Michelle’s name will be inscribed in the book of the Heroes of the Resistance, but Mme Colbert will also be given the Médaille de la Résistance from the General himself. Wonderful! a21 In spite of this, M Armont still persisted on her neck. However, as in all stories trailing the legend of Cinderella, Ada Harris’ had her saving grace in a friendship to help her through her hurdles and finally finger-point M Armont as the bad leaf on the lettuce. Friendship isn’t a big thing – it is a million little things. a22 Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris is a Canada-United Kingdom-Hungary co-production, and filmed with the production assistance of Air France and Christian Dior. It was produced by Susan Cavan and Andras Hamori and directed by Anthony Shaw (the first son of Angela Lansbury and Peter Shaw). a23 The ensemble of crew consists of: Stanley Myers (music); Laszlo George (Director of Photography); Sidney Wolinsky (Film Editing); Roger Murray-Leach (Production Design); Jane Robinson (Costume Design); Tamas Hornyanszky (Art Director), Virginia Gallico (Creative Consultant), etc. a24 One of the seasoned pros of the past, the performance of British actress Angela Lansbury, CBE (born on 16 October, 1925 in London) as Mrs. Ada Harris, a honest, working-class widow without children, is heart-warming. Out on a long-distance adventure, Angela’s Ada is a delight to watch as she braves the hurdles on the Parisian scenery. a25 Daughter of Irish stage/screen actress Moyna MacGill, and granddaughter of George Lansbury, the British Labour Party leader, the Strawberry blonde Angela had her screen debut in the role of the sly maid in Gaslight (D: George Cukor, 1944) which earned her nomination for Academy Award for best Supporting actress. MGM soon regarded her as a rising young star. Although she had to content with supporting roles owing that she was considered not pretty enough to be a leading lady, film after film she lured the limelight away from the top-billed stars of her movies. a26 Early in her career, she appeared in the post-war colour remake of the costume drama The Three Musketeers (D: George Sidney, 1948) in which Angela portrayed the role of Queen Ann. Next, I saw her in the biblical tale Samson and Delilah (D: Cecil B. DeMille, 1949) as the Philistine Semadar who was romanced by Victor Mature’s young Danite Samson. a27 a28She favoured her appearance in a string of movies: The Red Danube (D: George Sidney, 1949), The Purple Mask (D: Bruce Humberstone, 1955), All Fall Down (D: John Frankenheimer, 1961), The Manchurian Candidate (D: John Frankenheimer, 1962), Harlow (D: Gordon Douglas, 1965), etc. Success in movies drove her further to establish careers on stage and in television shows. She appeared in the long-run stage musical hit Mame (Jerry Herman); in TV productions including Murder, She Wrote, launched in 1984; in the musical Sweeney Todd (D: Stephen Sondheim); in Barry Sandler’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack’d (D: Guy Hamilton, 1980), etc. It is Angela’s sweet singing voice that we hear when the housekeeper Mrs. Potts sings in Beauty and the Beast (D: Garry Trounsdale & Kirk Wise, 1991) in the scene where the Beast romances Belle with dinner and a dance. a29 a30Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (born Michael Shalhoub) was already a Romantic/sex symbol of the Egyptian cinema before he rose to international stardom with his role as the fierce tribesman in Lawrence of Arabia (D: David Lean, 1962). While Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris was preparing for production, Sharif was already working in Continental Europe acting in two films by French director Henri Verneuil: Mayrig (1991, and later, a TV play in 1993), 588 Rue Paradis (1992), and in Italian director Duccio Tessari’s Beyond Justice (1992). Omar Sharif was contracted as a guest star to portray the wealthy and charming Ministre, Le Marquis Hippolite de Chassagne. Sharif’s physical presence gave character of Marquis more than the film could have acquired from the script alone. a31 a32Diana Rigg (born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg in Doncaster, England) is the Tracy (Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo) of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969), the only woman 007 James Bond married. Dame Diana had already established her reputation in Shakespeare plays before international fame came her way for her role as the secret agent Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers (1961–1969). The performance of Diana Rigg was first-rate as the brainy and fair Mme Colbert who tries to assert her authority as the in-charge of the sales in the House of Dior, and lock horns with M Armont who threw his weight around and refused to let Mrs. Harris, a commoner, have the gown. a33 a34 Montréal, Québec, Canada actor Lothaire Bluteau (Jesus of Montreal, 1989) is the dignified André Fauvel, the Dior accountant who was shy to reveal his fancy for model Natasha but thought that she deserved better than a “pen-pusher” like him. a35 A talented British actor, whenever John Savident (A Clockwork Orange, 1971) appears as the assertive and aggressive M Armont, it is like watching a snake come out of a basket. a36 Lila Kaye (An American Werewolf in London, 1981) acts as Mrs. Butterfield with the cockney dialect matching Mrs. Harris’, which is at its most distinctive during their journey to their workplaces by the doubledecker London bus no: 19 to Victoria. a37 a38 In her screen debut role, Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada-born Tamara Gorski (Murder at 1600, 1997) is exquisite as the small, fair-haired young Dior model Natasha Petitpierre, truly blessed with the loveliest of natures and the sweetest smile in that part of Paris. a39 Also on the supporting cast are: William Armstrong (M. Marcel), Barbara Barnes (Mme. Claudine), Tamsin Olivier (Mme. Louise), Trudy Weiss, Jenö Pataky, Jason Carter, Alex Knight, György Emõd, Mel Martin, Toby Whithouse, David Sterne, Anna Safranek, Ottó Szokolay, Tibor Medveczky, Kieron Jecchinis, Fruzsina Radnai, amongst others. a40 The film rightly features the period-details of the fairy-tale storyline: the white horse-driven van of Lambs Farm Dairy delivering milk in silver-topped bottles; the street-cleaner with his pulling cart; the old Harrods delivery van; the style of dressing, etc. a41 a42 Complemented by the melodious music of Stanley Myers, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, with competent cast of actors and some interesting plot twists, is a nice and gentle family film,  that lifts our hearts with a positive assurance that things can turn up right if you set your mind to it. Watch it if you can – there is nothing wrong in having a little fantasy now and then to lift the spirits. Jo. a43 Notes: 1.. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details. 2.. The DVDs of the movies referred above are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc. 3.. The novel “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (original UK title: Flowers for Mrs. Harris) by Paul Gallico is available with leading book dealers. a44

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 22: THE TAMARIND SEED

THE TAMARIND SEED  (1974)

1 2While in Bangkok recently, I once hopped over to the enormous Saphan Khao Fruit Market, mainly to take some photographs of the Dragon Fruit (Gao Mung Gorn) and other exotic and unfamiliar fruits you will come across in Bangkok. Now Saphan Khao Market is a fruit lovers’ paradise where most fruit-lovers can come across their requirements. Having feasted on a delicious breakfast with cheeses, cold meats, small bowl of salads and an assortment of wheat breads, and a hassle-free taxi ride from our hotel in the infamous morning traffic of Bangkok, we were not in a hurry to leave this market.   Amongst the huge crowd of customers on that day was a group of tourists from Singapore tasting and buying a fruit called “Makham wan” (Scientific name: Tamarindus indica), a sweeter variety of tamarind available in Thailand which is generally eaten fresh after peeling, while it can also be boiled in water to make a refreshing fruit drink. Native to tropical Africa and widely grown in India, the long, bean-like pods containing sweet and sour pulp of the tamarind fruit and shiny Spanish mahogany-coloured seeds is not alien to us as it forms part of the culinary usage in this part of the world just as in Latin American countries. 3 Next to the Singaporeans savouring the tamarind fruit (Puli, in Malayalam), I could see a tall plastic container with holes around its lower rim, positioned by the drainage to the side of the stall, where customers could discard the tamarind seeds and pod shells and its strings. Those holes acted as lower outlets for the dirty water to flow out when the water tap above the container is occasionally opened to cleanse the contents in it. Considering the numerous nutritional and health benefits of these seeds and pods, they were eventually collected and transported elsewhere for processing. The seeds are also a popular snack amongst the rural population as an emergency appetizer. Due to its medicinal qualities, they are roasted, soaked and eaten whole to expel intestinal parasites or added with other ingredients to make substitute for coffee. I was told that the extract of the seeds is also used in eye drops for dry eyes while these seeds are also powdered and used as starch in the textile industry. 4 At that moment, I was reminded of a curious legend told in the 1974 Blake Edwards’ film “The Tamarind Seed” in which the seeds play a pivotal role in the culmination of the love affair between the characters played by Julie Andrews and Omar “Cairo Fred” Sharif. As the legend of The Tamarind Seed goes: “A slave on Hayward’s plantation, St. Peter, accused of stealing a sheep, was hanged from a Tamarind tree. He protested his innocence, saying that the tree would vindicate him. Since then the Tamarind tree has born a seed in the shape of a man’s head.” 5 Although we longed to see that film once again, our copy was in our library in India. I stored the thought away for fulfilment at a later date. That later date turned up only after I learned of the sad demise of its male star in the central role. 6 Blake Edwards (born William Blake Crump), as we know was originally a writer and actor before he turned director of movies under the titles: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); Days of Wine and Roses (1962); What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981); Victor Victoria (1982); The Pink Panther series; etc. 7 8He is also the director of Darling Lili and The Tamarind Seed, which was the second of seven films made with Julie Andrews (born Julia Elizabeth Wells) by Blake Edwards since his marriage to her in November, 1969.   The first film, Darling Lili (1970) featured Andrews as a World War I spy against the English posing as a London music hall performer who turns a dance performance into a striptease. The film failed to generate audience interest at its release but the role of Lili Smith transformed Julie Andrews as sexy from the sweetened screen image she earned from the title role (her film debut) in Mary Poppins (1964, D: Robert Stevenson). 9 The second film, The Tamarind Seed was based on the 1971 book by Evelyn Anthony, faithfully adopted for the screen by Blake Edwards, effecting modifications on the geographical details of the romantic storyline from Washington, D.C/New York to Paris/London and supplementing with scenes such as the action sequence at the London Heathrow Airport. The Tamarind Seed featured a contemporary love story with spy elements of the Cold War. 10 Now in this review of The Tamarind Seed, we are talking here about a time when KGB, Lubyanka prison, Iron Curtain were constant reminders of dread. The attractive British widow of the movie, Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) whose husband had died in a car crash, is on holiday in Barbados to find herself after failure of a six-month affair with a married British group-Captain Richard Paterson. 11 The small hilly island of Barbados, shaped like a loin pork chop, with its large sugar cane plantations, elegant resorts, hotels, many miles of silky white beaches, and, of course, sun, has been the most favoured travel destination for sun-seekers for several centuries. Here, by sheer coincidence, Judith is strangely drawn to a tall, dark, ‘very kind, knowledgeable and generous man” called Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) staying in a neighbouring villa, here on vacation “to get away from people”. 12 No sooner their friendship became known in official channels, their activities were closely monitored. What on earth is she doing with a Russian spy? From Judith, Feodor learned that she is a personal assistant to a man called Sam Neilson of the Home Office in London. Feodor let her know that he is employed as a military attaché at the Soviet embassy in Paris. During the time they have been seeing each other, they had developed simple, satisfying routines: two dinners, an early morning swim, a dinner at the Colony Club and sparkling conversations. While on a visit to the Bridgetown museum, they came across “The Legend of the Tamarind Seed” and a seed in the shape of a man’s head. Impressed by the legend, she wished she would find such a tamarind seed. 13 Ever since they met, Feodor had been full of life, energy, and mischief and let her know of his desire for her. Although she found him affectionate and harmless, she was always thinking defensively. All the same, she told him about her failed affair with Captain Paterson, a mistake she admitted to Feodor later. Feodor too was not far behind in telling her about his unhappy marriage to a woman back home, who is a very good judge of everything and knows exactly what is right and what is not right. He didn’t find it a great mistake in letting her know that he did not feel anything for the socialist revolution anymore. The following day, as Judith wanted, they went looking for the tamarind tree at Hayward’s plantation. 14 Later, en route to London, Judith’s flight was over the Atlantic Ocean when she found a tamarind seed, in the shape of a human head, in an envelope given to her by Feodor when he bid goodbye at the hotel. She was happy so now had her tamarind seed. 15 In Paris, Judith was interrogated by Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle), the British Intelligence officer located at the Paris embassy, which Judith found irritating, but felt helpless. 16 Her friendship with Feodor has put her in a cloud of suspicion and she is considered a security risk. Questions were raised at her. Was their meeting really accidental? Why did this man choose Judith out of the whole island? Was Feodor trying to recruit Judith as spy? The way Judith was, she would be a brilliant gift to them. Anyhow, Loder would take the issue in stride and directed her to inform him of any specific developments. Jack Loder had other worries, too. He worked in a world of political loyalty, betrayal, murder and professionalism. He had discovered that an unknown Soviet spy under the code name “Blue” existed within the British government. 17 Arriving back in his Paris office, Feodor spoke of his friendship at Barbados with his Russian boss, General Golitsyn (Oscar Homolka). The General, who listened with perceptible interest, was led to believe that the woman in question has a very confidential job at the Home Office in London and could be very useful. Feodor also suggested that he could recruit Judith. In fact, Feodor secretly believed that this ploy would enable him to meet Judith again, the inspiration and object of his love, and he can continue with the affair blossomed at Barbados. 18 In time Judith met up with Feodor for a dinner and let him know about Loder’s interrogation. Feodor advised her to “try to tell the truth as long as possible, that way when time has changed and you have to lie, there is a great chance that you will be believed.” Although in the beginning Judith was wary of starting a new relationship, things are different now. Later, based on warning from Judith, Feodor decided against returning to Russia but elected to seek political asylum in Canada with the help of Captain Paterson and Jack Loder. Feodor will not go empty handed to Canada. In exchange to set up home there with the usual guarantees, Feodor will be a very worthy acquisition to Britain. His offer to the British would be magnificent: the identity of the unknown British traitor “Blue”. For that prize, he knew Loder would plan everything for Feodor down to a “T”. 19 Subsequently, Feodor stole an ultra-secret file from the Soviet embassy for the British intelligence – an action which would set off the bulls and bears of the good old days of the Cold War lashing out dangerous repercussions in the lives of Judith and Feodor. 20 As the character of actor Donald Sutherland spoke in the 2003 version of the movie, The Italian Job: ‘There are two kinds of thieves in this world: the ones who steal to enrich their lives, and the ones who steal to define their lives.’ Well, Feodor’s reason is obvious. 21 Produced by Ken Wales with music by John Barry, the American-Britsh romantic drama, rated PG, has an impressive line-up of crew: Ernest Walter (Editor – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)); Harry Pottle (Art Direction – You Only Live Twice (1967)); Maurice Binder (Main title designer – earlier James Bond movies); John Briggs (wardrobe supervisor – Isadora (1968)) and Academy Award-winning cameraman Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago/Lawrence of Arabia). Young had worked in Barbados earlier for the 1957 film Island in the Sun (Dir: Robert Rossen) 22 British-born Julie Andrews in the role of the British Home Office functionary has the role tailor-cut for her. Julie is always worth looking although in this movie she does not wholly delve beneath the surface of her character. Julie Andrews’ clothes in this film are by Christian Dior and co-ordinated by Emma Porteus. 23 With his dark Egyptian features and smouldering eyes, Omar Sharif (born Michel Demetri Shalhoub) as the Russian spy lover displays a masterly flair in liveliness and chivalry, and, of course, very persisting with his wanting for Judith ever since he met her. Sharif was a very popular heart-throb during this period with a string of romances and a steady row of films prior to The Tamarind Seed: The Last Valley (Dir: James Clavell), The Horsemen (Dir: John Frankenheimer) and The Burglers  (Le casse, Dir: Henri Verneuil). 24 In 1973 when he appeared as Le capitaine Nemo in six episodes of the TV-Mini-Series L’île mystérieuse, he had purchased a huge mansion on the Spanish island of Lanzarote (in the Canary islands off the coast of West Africa), calling it Casa Omar Sharif. In May, 1973, The Tamarind Seed started initial filming at locations at Barbados’ west and east coasts before the unit shifted to London for further filming. Meanwhile, in early June, Omar Sharif won The Ladbroke World Master Bridge Championship, when he beat the former champion Latvia-born Boris Schapiro in London. 25 Under Blake Edward’s intelligent and sophisticated direction, the film also features an impressive line-up of supporting cast: Anthony Quayle; Oscar Homolka (Final film); Irish actor Daniel O’Herlihy (Fergus Stephenson, the British minister in Paris); David Baron (Richard Paterson); Celia Bannerman (Rachel Paterson); Bryan Marshall (George MacLeod); live up to the roles of their characters. Also in the supporting role is English actress Sylvia Syms (Sylvia May Laura Syms OBE) as the unhappy diplomatic wife Margaret Stephenson with desire for unholy carnal pleasures and an energizing passion for dominance. Syms, who would act as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in The Queen (2006, Dir: Stephen Frears), earned a BAFTA nomination for The Tamarind Seed. 26 Other members of cast: Roger Dann (Colonel Moreau); Sharon Duce (Sandy Mitchell); George Mikell (Major Stukalov); Kate O’Mara (Anna Skriabina); Constantin de Goguel (Dimitri Memenov); Alexei Jawdokimov (Igor Kalinin); Janet Henfrey (Embassy Section Head); John Sullivan (1st KGB Agent); Terence Plummer (2nd KGB Agent); Leslie Crawford (3rd KGB Agent). The film is also known under the titles: La semilla del tamarindo (Spain); Il seme del tamarindo (Italy); A Semente de Tamarindo (Portugal); Die Frucht des Tropenbaumes (West Germany); Sementes de Tamarindo (Brazil). The Soundtracks are: a) “Play It Again” sung by Wilma Reading (uncredited) – Music (John Barry), Lyrics (Don Black) and b) “Man with a Monkey” Music (Sam Fonteyn). 27 The Tamarind Seed was filmed through facilities of Samuelson Film Service Ltd, London. Besides locations at Eaton Square, Belgravia, I remember having read somewhere that more location shooting was facilitated at the London Zoo, at scriptwriter George Axelrod’s house in Mayfair district and at a Jazz Club. In Paris apart from Champs-Élysées, and other streets, locations included France-Amériques, Orly Airport, etc. 28 The film never fully explores the attractions of Barbados which retains its Old World charm which is British. On a historical note, this is the place where George Washington brought his brother, Lawrence, in 1751 to recuperate from tuberculosis (now known as the George Washington House) – the only land outside North America Washington ever set foot. Apart from the scenic beauty of the sandy beaches and the horizon, people lazing under coconut palms, parts of cultivated countryside, and interior of the museum, hotels, etc, the heritage monuments and picturesque sights of the island are not shown – such as the bronze statue of Admiral Lord Nelson (erected on 22 March 1813) at Trafalgar Square (renamed National Heroes Square) in the picturesque capital city of Bridgetown, which is older than the Lord’s statue in London. 29 With a good script, charming performances, haunting score, this is a lovely movie for those who love ingenious espionage thrillers and mature romance – a mellow way to end the day. Jo. 30 Notes: 1.. The DVDs of the movies referred in this article are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

2.. This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details. 31

3.. The book Judith is reading when she first met Feodor is a hardback edition of Kingsley Amis novel The Riverside Villas Murder, published in 1973 (read elsewhere that this dust jacket was designed by illustrator and children’s author Ian Beck.)

4.. Darling Lili gathered Academy Award nominations for Best Original or Adaptation Score and Best Original Song (Whistling Away the Dark – sung by Julie Andrews) for Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics); and for Best Costume Design for Jack Bear and Donald Brooks.

5.. Evelyn Bridget Patricia Ward-Thomas (pseudonym: Evelyn Anthony, Anthony Evelyn, Eve Stephens) born on July 3, 1928, and convent educated, wrote ten successful romance/historical novels before turning to genres: Mystery/Crime/Suspense. She lives in Essex, England.

6.. Those of you who liked the novel “The Tamarind Seed” may like to check Evelyn Anthony’s “The Defector” for their similarities. Further books by Evelyn Anthony currently in Manningtree Archive:  32 33 34 35 7.. Sharif divorce his wife, Egyptian film and television actress and producer Faten Hamama in 1974, the year this movie was released (Faten Hamama died on January 17, 2015 at the same age Omar Sharif will join his former wife at the grave in less than six months later.)

8.. Julie Andrews is the second Julie to become Sharif’s heroine following Julie Christie of Doctor Zhivago. Julie Newmar was his co-star in Mackenna’s Gold.

9.. The movie’s links to month of July: Author Evelyn Anthony was born on July 3 (1928); Director Blake Edwards born on July 26 (1922); Omar Sharif died on July 10 (2015).

10.. This article is in memory of Omar Sharif – May his soul rest in peace. 36

(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

CHRISTOPHER LEE – A TITAN OF CINEMA

Is Count Dracula one of your favourite book/screen personalities? Well, the 6 feet 4 inches veteran British actor/musician/Opera singer/author Christopher Lee will not be reincarnating in the form of Count Dracula anymore. Lee of horror characters such as  Kharis the high priest/Mummy (The Mummy, 1959), Count Dracula, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973), is reportedly sadly died on Sunday 7th June at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, after suffering heart and respiratory problems. Chris-3

Lee, who belonged to the Carandini family, one of the oldest families in Italy dating back to the first century AD and to Emperor Charlemagne, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest leading actor amongst Clint Eastwood and others. He was also a step-cousin of the late Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels. According to reports, Fleming had recommended Lee for the role of Bond’s nemesis in Dr. No (1962) but the role went to Joseph Wiseman. Finally, Bond in the form of Roger Moore faced him in the role of the three-nippled, million-dollars-a-hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

From early on Lee’s flair for acting was evident when he appeared as the evil Rumpelstiltskin at Miss Fisher’s Academy in Wengen, Switzerland. In spite of his five-year stint in the Royal Air Force and Intelligence during World War II he was rejected for a role in the war-movie The Longest Day (1962) on the grounds that he didn’t command the look of a military personal. Chris-4 After his retirement from the RAF by the end of the war, taking heed from the suggestion of his cousin Count Nicolò Carandini, he obtained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation in 1946. Lee debuted in the psychological drama Corridor of Mirrors (1948), the first film directed by Terence Young. In the following decade, despite that he was remonstrated for being too tall, dominating the frame, he appeared in many films. Chris-1

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Then came his Hammer years. At the age of 35, Jimmy Carreras’ Hammer Film Productions cast him in the role of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1957). This successful role earned him the mantle of Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian bloodsucker Count Dracula in Dracula (aka. Horror of Dracula, 1957). Under the master direction of British film director Terence Fisher, Lee portrayed the fanged Count as the most attractive and virile of all screen vampires. How can one forget that striking first entrance of Lee’s Count Dracula at the doorway and his descent down the stairs? Lee would go on to feature the stature and presence of Count Dracula in further eight movies including Dracula Prince of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1965), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1968), El Conde Drácula (Dir. Jesús Franco, 1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka. Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, Dir. Alan Gibson, 1974), etc. Chris-6 With British studio Hammer specialized in the production of screen horror, Lee’s name was for many years synonymous with the best in horror films. He was part of the four iconic horror film stars: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and they acted together in House of the Long Shadows (Dir. Peter Walker, 1983).  While Vincent Price shared his birthday with Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (born on 27th May 1922 in the upmarket Belgravia area of London), Peter Cushing was born a day earlier on 26 May. Although Lee set up his own production company, Charlemagne Productions Ltd, he diverged from his horror image to mainstream film roles. Nevertheless, it is an unwritten fact that, just as Sean Connery will be indelibly associated with James Bond, the image of Count Dracula will always be correlated to Christopher Lee. Chris-7 Fluent in a variety of languages, the English-born actor Lee was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (15-Jun-2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours) and Knight of the British Empire 2009. He is also a Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 2002, Lee was awarded the prestigious World Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vienna, etc. Lee was also presented with the Academy Fellowship at the BAFTAs in February 2011. Chris-2

Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Sir Christopher launched his singing career in the 1990s, with an album of Broadway tunes. During his illustrious career, the veteran actor appeared in over 250 films, some of them the most iconic of our times. Watching the innumerable films of Christopher Lee in my collection was always joyful for me – especially those of 1950s to mid-70s. Chris-8   Endings are usually sad and we will miss Sir Christopher Lee. Nevertheless, there always will be the comfort in knowing that I can sit with a couple of soft pillows and a glass of red wine and watch the legendary actor come alive through one of his movies, his deeply melodic basso voice booming.                                                                           FINIS NB: The DVDs of the above movies and music albums of Sir Christopher Lee are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)