We’ve recently returned from a long train journey through Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus. A month to celebrate being alive, together after 20 years. A cross-reflective journey in search of the exotic after four years of not flying. We’re still having travelling dreams, where the smell of sewage mingles with the call to prayer and the beautiful, dilapidated, ancient and chaotic has its own cohesion. It’s hard and unrealistic to try to make sense of such rich exposure. As difficult as interpreting the curly script of Armenian or the professional fleecing techniques of the Georgian taxi drivers. It’s enough just to wonder.
As a food lover I was struck by the inverse relationship between the wealth of a country and its interconnected, employment-intense food infrastructure. As soon as we crossed the Bosphorous in Istanbul, that marks the divide between Europe and the East, we saw people growing and selling food all along the roads, from women knocking walnuts out of the trees growing along the main roads, to horsedrawn carts piled with produce. Outside our homestay in Tblisi, Georgia, a man and his wife sold freshly-made khachapuri – cheese-filled pastries – from their front window, an old lady sold tomatoes and grapes from a little shelf outside a shop to supplement her tiny pension, and the next-door shop employed five women attending five counters, each selling different goods: fresh, preserves, alcohol, toys and household goods, cooked fast food: a whole department store in one little shop the size of Bill’s. And yes, it smelled very good, a mixture of fish, pastries, tobacco smoke, bodies and fruit, with a whiff of sewage.
Returning home, through Austria and Germany, I became chilled by the cult of efficiency – acres of clean pavement; supermarkets with minimum employment: materialism gone too far. Back in Lewes, I have mixed feelings; we’ve definitely lost our food resilience, being 98% dependent on Tesco and Waitrose. But we have a weekly market. And we’ve created a kind of token ritual in the Octoberfeast. Maybe, tentatively, we’re coming back to our senses.