Renovation and Romance

And just like that we spent half of our lives together. 22 years to be exact. Through those years we moved houses seven times, refurbished three bedrooms, two halls, two sets of stairs, two bathrooms, one living room, one garden and one converted attic, well not to mention an entire 2-bed apartment recently.

It always starts with an idea, a glimpse of image, a “what if”.

What if we swap the window and the back door in the living room?

What if we turn the bedroom 90 degree?

What if we convert the shower into wet room?

And then it moves to research, sourcing and hard physical work.

We are a DIY Mr and Mrs. We like to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty (the other half possibly more than myself, I must admit). We take great care, try hard and spent hours overtime as we work on our own project and improving our own place. Also, if you bring your own work you bring down the budget, make renovation more affordable or use the savings for better quality materials.

We did as many jobs as possible, sometimes learning as we go, some days falling flat tired, often wondering how many more days to go. We were cutting wood and timber, tiling, hammering bricks, carrying tone of sand, gravel and pebbles, installing wood flooring, fitting 2×4 metres window and sliding wardrobe doors, screwing, drilling, polishing, plastering, demolishing and rebuilding walls, applying wall paper and painting.

We have a good few so called DIY jobs clothes but our favourite renovation attire is a pair of matching grey long sleeved T-shirts. Originally designed and created to celebrate our anniversary, they washed-off and became our DIY tops. A splash of paint, a hole in the sleeve, a smudge of plaster only add to their character and make them a prized possession.

We built our own bed and headboard. We used IKEA kitchen top wooden board to make desk and window bay bench. We made our house efficient, smart and app and voice operated. We reused materials and upcycled furniture and fittings. We reclaimed supplies and sourced used and second hand ones.

I guess it all comes down to compromise and finding common ground for colours, patterns and finishing touches. Usually, and luckily, one of us has a very strong vision and a sense of what needs to be achieved and can persuade the other party to accept the solution.

In terms of the breakdown of work – the majority of times we are working 50/50. Sometimes I am fetching and passing the tools, doing endless tidy up, and providing catering. And sometimes, I am just complaining about the mess and noise (only to be over the moon with the result later).

I think these renovations might be the very best marriage therapy. It literally sticks us together (pun so much intended). Getting hands on with the DIY projects, and hand in hand too, creates a sense of togetherness. Following your heart and vision makes your home a feel-good and happy place. Improving provides comfort and convenience. Exchange of ideas, and of course arguments, is refreshing and formative.

What’s our next what if?

There is always room to improve, and another project to launch. Step by step and space by space by the time you finish the cycle you might as well start again. As our needs change, the house must adopt. Building (or rebuilding) a house and making a home is a long-term project and lifetime process. What I know though is that we need each other to drive, navigate and motivate as in the end we are and need to be in this together.

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Balthazar

One day Pierre heard of a teddy bear that was sitting on a shelf in the shop window. The bear was big, fluffy and very cuddlable. It was beige and had a elegant bow tie. Pierre thought about him a lot and wanted to have him. Very much. So the next day Ela went to the shop and got it for Pierre. She brought the huge bear home and placed him sitting on the sofa.

Pierre immediately fell in love with his new friend. He called the bear Balthazar. From now on Pierre and Balthazar would spend most of the time together. They would sit on the sofa together watching TV. They would have breakfast and dinner at the table together. They would cuddle in bed together tucked up for the night.

Pierre is 77 years old. Balthazar was there to hug, to pat, to touch. And Pierre felt less lonely. He felt like a small boy again hanging around with his bear. Waking up in the morning and looking forward to what the day brings. Facing the daily routines hand in hand. Having a buddy to take care of. Balthazar turned out to be so much more than a big teddy bear. He brought a smile. He brought joy. He brought a sense of bond. He showed that there is an inner child in each of us and that we need hugs no matter how old we are.

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Goose in November

Every year in November I make a roast goose for dinner. It all started a few years back when I was passing the frozen section in the local grocery shop and came across the goose. Suddenly all the childhood memories came back: the cast iron roasting tin big enough for the bird and only just about fitting the oven, the table set with the golden embossed crockery, the homemade vinegar poached pears and plums served on a side in little china porcelain bowls. I needed to recreate that perfect luxurious yet homely dinner, to bring these tastes back and to gather friends around the table on a dark autumn evening. 

As a fresh goose is a bit hard to come by in Ireland I am happy to get the frozen one. If you buy it a day in advance there is enough time to defrost and you do not need to struggle trying to fit the 3-4 kg of the bird into your fridge. The frozen goose also usually comes with giblets which is only a great reason to make stuffed neck. Now, this takes the roast goose to an entirely new level and I am very proud that this is my little, or not so little, addition to the family recipe. 

Surprisingly, the preparation does not take much time or effort. You will only need to pluck any remaining feather shafts and season. The stuffed neck requires an additional hour and a half so if making that (and did I mention it is worth all the time), make sure to start earlier so that you are ready to put the goose in the oven 3 and 1/2 to 4 hours before your dinner. 

Roast Goose

1 goose (fresh or frozen)

3 tbsp of dried marjoram

5-6 onions

3-4 bay leaves

salt and pepper

Stuffed goose neck

goose giblets such as liver, heart, gizzard and neck

3 tbsp of breadcrumbs (freshly made if you have any piece of sourdough or breadroll)

3 bay leaves

1 tbsp peppercorns

1 tbsp of all spice berries

2-3 sticks of celery

2 tbsp goose fat

bunch of parsley

a few sprigs of thyme

1 egg

salt and pepper

First prepare the stuffing. In a medium pot bring to boil the giblets (without liver or heart as they will be fried) and simmer with celery sticks, bay leaves, peppercorns and all spice berries for at least an hour. Then use some of the goose fat to fry the liver and heart until golden brown. Once all is ready and cooked, add the breadcrumbs, mix well and mince in a mincer. Season with salt and pepper. Add plenty of chopped parsley and finally mix in the egg.

Lay out the neck flat on the board or kitchen top and fill with the prepared stuffing. Use a thread and needle to fix the neck back together pushing the stuffing tight in.

Preheat the oven to 190°C fan. Place the goose in a large roasting tin breast side up and brush with some water. You will be turning the goose a few time while roasting. Remove any excess fat. This can be melted and stored or used for roast potatoes. Prick the skin with a fork or knife. Rub the goose with some salt, pepper and marjoram. Place the peeled onions in the goose cavity along with the bay leaves. 

Put the stuffed neck on the side. You want to make sure it will baste in the goose fat while roasting so that the skin gets crispy and golden brown.

Roast for 3-4 hours depending on the size and turn every hour to make sure the skin is golden brown and crispy and the meat is dark and velvety soft.

Serve with roast potatoes (just make sure to use some goose fat) red cabbage, purple carrots or beetroot salad. Place any preserves such as poached pears, pumpkin chutney, quince jam etc. in little serving bowls on the side. 

Enjoy with your friends and family on a cold November evening. 

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Crazy Stupid Dog

When we bought a summer toy for Lucky we thought it will take him a good few days to learn the trick. It took him two minutes to grasp. We placed the water fountain on the patio, connected it to the garden hose and pushed one or twice with our human paw to demonstrate. Then we waited for the dog to figure it out. He was as excited, if not more, as we were. It took him a few attempts and then the playing began. It is really a very simple mechanism. The dog pushes the big square button with his paw and the water sprinkles right up. Now, some dogs might use it occasionally for drinking water, but not Lucky. When we say: “Push” Lucky pushes the button and snaps at the stream trying to catch the droplets of water. The water splashes. The dog gets utterly wet and soaking. And absolutely happy. We had no idea it will be such a hit and so much fun.

On hot summer days the dog water fountain kept him busy and hydrated, even when we were away. We made loads of videos of the crazy dog snapping at the showering water, trying to catch the streaming droplets, letting go of the paw pad and pushing it back again to get the squirt right into his mouth. Over and over and over again. One of the side effects, not such a bad one after all, was that our potted hydrangea was regularly watered and sprinkled. Another was the wet paws marks on the floor if Lucky got home from the garden without being towel dried first. But it was summer. It was hot. And it was only water.

We were blessed with a beautiful summer and actually the Indian summer too. This year’s September was the hottest I remember. It lasted and lasted and we soaked in the sunny days and the warm evenings trying to enjoy it as long as we could. We did not mind a little splash when outside or the wet smelling dog. Now that the autumn has started to creep in, we might be putting away the toy into the shed for colder months but next season the play will begin once more.

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Taste of South Africa

Some of my favourite recipes are the ones I get at social events and get-togethers at work. I have a collection of most wonderful and splendid dishes that I discovered at bake sales, birthdays dos, celebration breaks and international days: Sam’s Shortbread, Orla’s Carrot Cake, Alice’s Brownie, Marta’s Cheesecake, Candice’s Bobotie … Is it that somehow everyone always tried to impress the most their work colleagues or did I just get the chance to work with the most amazing bakers and cooks?

Bobotie just sounds like out of this world. A little spell. A tasty bite. A hidden gem. I have never been to Africa but this dish takes instantly me there. The chutney, apricots and sultans beautifully accomplish the meat. The bread is basically undetectable but adds the texture. The eggs and milk create a perfect topping. The dish serves six to eight people and taste great once cold too.

Bobotie

(as made by Candice for Nielsen’s International Day)

3-4 slices of stale toast bread (I use Brennans)

1 1/2 cup of milk

1 1/2 tbs of oil

2 tsp of butter

2 onions

2 cloves of garlic

3 tsp of curry powder

2 tsp of salt

2 tbs of chutney

2 tbs of apricot jam (or 5-6 fresh apricots)

1 tsp of turmeric

1 tbs Worcester sauce

2 tbs of dark or apple vinegar

1kg of mince meat

1/2 cup of sultanas (do not substitute with raisins as they are too sweet)

3 eggs

pinch of salt

pinch of turmeric

a few bay leaves

Pour the milk into a shallow bowl, cut the crust off the slices of bread and soak for 10-15 minutes.

Roughly chop the onions and garlic. In a large pan or casserole heat oil and butter and sauté for 10-15 minutes until, soft. Add curry powder, salt, chutney, apricot jam, Worcester sauce, turmeric and vinegar and stir well. If you do not have the apricot jam, halve and stone the apricots and stew with a tablespoon of sugar and a bit of water for 25 minutes until the fruit is soft and turns into mash.

Drain the bread but reserve the milk. Mash the bread with a fork and add to the pan together with minced meat and sultanas.

Cook over low heat and keep stirring until the meat gets brown. Remove the pot from from the heat.

Grease the 28cm x 16cm baking dish and preheat the oven to 180C.

Add one beaten egg to the meat mixture and mix well. Spoon into the baking dish and level the top.

Beat the remaining two eggs with the reserved milk and add salt and turmeric. The turmeric will add a wonderful yellow glaze. Pour the mixture over the meat and arrange a few bay leaves on the top.

Place the baking dish in a larger dish or tray filled with water to prevent drying out and bake uncovered for an hour.

Serve with rice, fresh or canned fruit, chutney and coconut.

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Postcards from Mazury

There is something remarkable in the art of sending holiday postcards – the sender handpicks a beautiful card, writes the message sitting at a cafe or a bar, sticks on the stamp and posts to those far away at home. When you get your postcard it brings you a bit of the holiday magic, takes you to the wonderful destinations and tells you the summer stories.

Many of the cards I got from my friends are the ones from Mazury. All the picturesque places I saw only in the postcards. The red and orange sunsets. The calm flat surface of the lakes. The birds flying peacefully. The yachts sailing smoothly with their white sails catching the wind.

Up until now I have not been to Mazury, the nature lovers lake district. It was the holiday destination I missed to explore and experience and I discovered it only through the postcards that recorded the summer adventures of my friends.

I learnt that you could travel for one smile, that despite the bad weather the fishing was still quite good, that the waves were playing in the sails and that you mustn’t sail between sunset and sunrise in the dark.

I wish I was there. Jumping into the crystal clear lake, sunbathing on the deck, catching the breeze in my hair, sipping beer while watching the sunset, singing chanties in a cheerful company.

A very special bunch of postcards from Mazury are the ones I got from my boyfriend. We were two teenagers separated by 600 km, missing each other and writing cards full of passion, longing and daily reflections.

He wrote a cardful a day, yet of course the post came every now and then and some days I got a pile of postcards and some days the post box was empty. Some of the cards got wet or creased. Some of the cards he wrote in the middle of the night, waves splashing against the boat. Sometimes the writing was more difficult to read – slanted, smeared, miniscule.

The cards meant we kept in touch, even if slightly delayed. Each card came from a different port they docked for the night: Kozin, Giżycko, Sztynort,  Wegorzewo, Mikołajki, Ruciane Nida, Wilkasy and I was following their cruise on the map and sticking each card of the beautiful lakes on the wall. The cards were a means to remind, remember and revive.

This summer, for the first time I am spending my holidays here, in Mazury. The nature is truly amazing and unspoilt. The interconnected lakes invite for a sail and swim. And of course, I got a selection of sunsets postcards that I am sending to my friends with greetings from Mazury.

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Season for Cauliflower

You either love or hate cauliflower. I have always been a fan – it’s low in calories yet provides a substantial meal, it’s grown locally, well at least when it’s season, and it’s just pretty.

One of my favourite summertime salads is the cauliflower and dill – full of summer flavours and perfect for the barbeque. Cauliflower is a specific vegetable, it needs to be the star of the salad and it is best served on its own with herbs and spices to highlight and develop the flavours. It does not need to be cooked and it tastes great raw and crunchy.

Since I got the amazing Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE book I have enjoyed exploring new ways to prepare vegetables. The recipe for the cauliflower couscous or tabbouleh comes from the book and I first made it for my friend who’s on a diet and could not enjoy the full, calory packed barbeque menu. She liked it so much that we made it again the next week and the salad has been an absolute hit since the start of the barbeque season. Even a few cauliflower haters were convinced.

Cauliflower Couscous

1 cauliflower

juice of 1/2 lemon

3-4 spring onions

a bunch of parsley

a bunch of dill

a few springs of mint

2-3 allspice grain

3 tbs of olive oil

1 pomegranate

salt and pepper

Remove the leaves and the bottommost part of the stalk. Coarsely grate the cauliflower florets into a medium salad bowl. It will look like couscous. Squeeze the juice of half of a lemon and add the salt. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes.

Chop the spring onions, dill, parsley and mint and add to the salad.

In the mortal and pestle grind the allspice grains (or used the ground one). Add to the salad along with olive oil and season to taste with pepper.

Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the red seeds. Be careful as the fruit easily releases the juices and you can get a splash. Add the seeds to the bowl and gently mix to combine.

The salad tastes best served fresh but can be stored in the fridge for a day.

Enjoy your summertime.

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Contemporary Shakespeare

This post presents my reflections on contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare and links to the “Shakespeare Across Media” module that I signed up this semester. During the last three months, Shakespeare got integrated into my everyday life as I was reading the plays, watching the adaptations and following hashtags on social media. Funnily enough now my YouTube suggestions include videos of David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh and my Instagram feed is filled with #shakespeare. I wish to thank my lecturer, Dr Vanessa Lim for the exciting content she provided, her enthusiasm, guidance and support.

Shakespeare is the most distinct playwright, a part of the literary canon and the ultimate classic. The stories of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth are as familiar to today’s audience as Harry Potter and Star Wars and even if the particular details may be unknown the very basic plot is recognizable. The knowledge of Shakespeare is also fueled by the media and social media. The films, ads, posts and hashtags make Shakespeare even more popular, relevant and engaging for the generation that interacts with screen rather than the text.

Illustration by Benedik Kaltenborn
Source: The New YorkerWhy Rewrite Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is a cultural phenomenon, abundant source of quotes and memes and inspiration for art and creative projects. The two graphic designs below show how many phrases we owe to Shakespeare and use nowadays, not even realizing they sank into our everyday lives from his works. Even the ultra-modern, Facebook-bound word “unfriend” was coined by Shakespeare in the 1600s and used in King Lear and Twelfth Night. So the next time you say: “come what may”, “laughing stock” or “wild goose chase” think of the writer who incorporated those phrases into his plays and enriched our language.

Douglas Lanier believes we should think of Shakespeare as a rhizome – a plant stem such as ginger or turmeric that grows horizontally and non-hierarchically forming a network of connections with no specific origin. Thus the plays, their translations, adaptations and appropriations as well as social media content create a web of interconnecting influences and multidimensional processes.

“Shakespearean meaning is available in the present only through processes of appropriation that actively create rather than passively decode the readings and values we attribute to the Shakespearean text.”

Douglas Lanier

Maurizio Calbi and Stephen O’Neill in their Introduction to #SocialmediaShakespeares use the phrase “Rhizomatic Bard” to highlight the importance of ongoing interactions and connectivity. The following graphic quote explains the need to modernize and contextualize Shakespeare to reflect the contemporary global culture.

Source: Pinterest
#SocialMediaShakespeares

There is a great demand for Shakespeare and he needs to be made contemporary to fully explore the issues presented in his plays. Translators, playwrights and creative directors all face the challenges of conveying language, setting, plot and characters to the modern audience. The language is beautiful yet funny. The setting is defined yet universal. The plot is intricate yet authentic. The characters are exalted yet relatable. One of the Shakespearean actors who played Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the 2009 film production, David Tennant, explains the relevance of Shakespeare in the TV show interview. He points to the fact that the plays “get to the nub of what it is to be human being”. They present and study the complexity of real-life emotions: love, jealousy, greed, anger, desperation. At the same time they are full of humour and offer a good dose of laughter. Shakespeare “says it better than anyone has done since”, David Tennant adds before they move on to discuss the authenticity of Shakespeare’s writing, the celebrations of his 400th anniversary and finally watch Prince Charles giving the unsolicited advice on Hamlet’s soliloquy #worthawatch.

David Tennant Explains Why Shakespeare Still Matters on The Late Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Source: YouTube

Hamlet

The story of Hamlet focuses on the issues that are still relevant, current and ongoing. The conflict of generations, the passion of the youth and the drive to power and control of the middle-aged men. The politics and the leadership. The basic instinct of revenge. The alienation of mental illness. All those remain unchanged and need to be explored and reinterpreted into the modern reality. The only significantly noticeable change is the role and voice of women. The current adaptations and appropriations, including the ones that I will discuss later give a stronger voice and more prominent identity to the female characters even if they still recognize sexuality and vulnerability.

Source: Pinterest

Hamlet is quoted and misquoted frequently and abundantly. Apart from the outstandingly obvious “to be or not to be” there is a handful of recognizable, though not always correctly traceable, quotes such as:

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5

Though this is madness, yet there is method to it”

Polonius Act 2 Scene 2

Shakespeare himself modernized and reinterpreted the story while creating Hamlet. His rhizomatic inspiration might have been the Scandinavian tale of prince Amleth who through insanity sought revenge on his father’s killer. Shakespeare twisted the plot and used appropriate language to wow and engage the audience. It is only natural that the same process applies nowadays and a good story is recognizable for its entertaining potential and adapted to address current expectations. A great example of rhizomatic nature of Shakespeare is Hamnet recently published by Maggie O’Farrell. She was inspired by the story of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who died from plague at the age of 11, and whose name is believed to be given to the famous play. Whether Hamnet and Hamlet are linked remains the question, yet it brilliantly shows the scope of interactions and influence of Shakespeare. Even Walt Disney ventured the adaptation of the story of Hamlet in his 1990s animated blockbuster “The Lion King”. The graphic below shows how similar the plots are, though highlights the difference of the final scene and Elton John’s Can you feel the love tonight performance.

Source: Twitter
#shakespeare
https://twitter.com/WeAreTeachers/status/535821269967855616/photo/1

Hamletmachine

One of the Shakespeare’s adaptations that is deeply rooted in contemporary culture and explores a range of socio-political issues is Hamletmachine written by Heiner Muller, a German playwright, in 1970s. Heiner Muller adds a variety of voices to the original theme of seeking revenge and opposing the authorities in control. The communist leaders: Marx, Lenin and Mao appear in Act 4 as three naked women speaking simultaneously in German, Russian and Chinese.

THE MAIN POINT IS TO OVERTHOW ALL EXISTING CONDITIONS …

Hamletmachine Act 4

Ophelia gives a final powerful feministic monologue in Act 5. She rejects the maternal role of women, of giving birth, of breastfeeding, of procreating. Even though she is strapped to the wheelchair at the bottom of the sea, a clear allusion to the drowning of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, she refuses to be victimized and sexualized and rebels against the oppression. The performance at the Castillo Theatre takes it even a step further by finishing the play with a strong performance of black woman rapper, Browneyes. While she raps the text reinforcing the words of the final monologue, Ophelia gets liberated and leads the entire cast in a hip-hop version of danse macabre finale.

Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller at the Castillo Theatre
Final scene: 1:01:40
Source: Vimeo

Hamlet rebels against the sociopolitical system, yet is unable to execute his call to action. He is confused, lost in his rejection of both communism and capitalism. Heiner Muller compares Hamlet to Germany before the fall of the Eastern Bloc:

The German writer Freiligrath, a close friend to Karl Marx, said: ‘Germany is Hamlet, never quite knowing how to decide and because of that always making wrong decisions.’ When I wrote Hamletmachine, after translating Shakespeare’s Hamlet for a theater in East Berlin, it turned out to be my most American play, quoting T.S. Eliot, Andy Warhol, Coca Cola, Ezra Pound and Susan Atkins. It may be read as a pamphlet against the illusion that one can stay innocent in this our world.

Heiner Müller, April 30, 1986
Source: Instagram

Hamlet lost his father and his mother married his uncle. Germany lost the war and was unnaturally divided when Eastern Germany became a part of the Soviet Bloc. The two countries of one nation grew side by side in two completely bipolar systems: communism and capitalism. Hamletmachine comments on the historical forces, on the influence of socialism and commercialism. In Act 1 a clown is in the spring of communism. In Act 4 Heiner Muller recalls Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago and the revolution. In the same act three TV-sets and a refrigerator appear on stage and Hamlet speaks of bank accounts and Coca-Cola. These sociopolitical circumstances influence and redefine Hamlet’s internal conflict and make it modern and contextualized.

Berlin Wall Museum – Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
Photos and Collage: Kat Targosz

The production of Hamletmachine is postmodern, condensed and provoking. It asks questions rather than provides solutions. The actors say the stage directions and disconnect themselves from the characters they are playing.

I am not Hamlet. I don’t take part anymore. My words have nothing to tell me anymore. My thoughts suck the blood out of the images. My drama doesn’t happen anymore. Behind me the set is put up. By people who aren’t interested in my drama, for people to whom it means nothing. I’m not interested in it anymore either. I won’t play along anymore.

Hamletmachine Act 3 (translated into English by Carl Weber)

As the audience is constantly aware of the acting, they focus on the text rather than the story. The play offers a new perspective and studies the internal conflicts of the main characters. Hamletmachine retains the 5 acts structure of the play, yet the play focuses on Hamlet and Ophelia. In Fred Newman’s production the actors say, repeat and sing the lines together. That emphasizes the text and makes the staging absorbing and innovative. The few prompts are contemporary such a photograph of the author, refrigerator or this iconic chair that was designed exclusively for Hamletmachine by Robert Wilson.

Hamletmachine Chair designed by Robert Wilson
Source: http://www.robertwilson.com/hamletmachine

The tragedy of Hamlet desperately trying to take the action and of Ophelia being driven to death lends a series of new meanings in the reality of oppressive system and gender inequality. Heiner Muller raises the questions of individual struggles and challenges of living in the modern society.

Al-Hamlet Summit

Another example of modernization of Shakespeare’s play is The Al-Hamlet Summit written in the late 1990s and radically altered after the 9/11 events by Sulayman Al-Bassam, a Kuwaiti playwright and theatre director. Al-Bassam raises a question who Shakespeare belongs to and argues that Shakespeare can be relevant to the audience beyond the Anglophone world. Hamlet is an Arab prince “gambling and whoring the nation’s millions in the playground of Europe” (Act 1 Scene 5) who comes back to his country and plots to revenge his father and overturn the kingdom. While Shakespeare’s Hamlets plot includes actors performing The Mousetrap play, Al-Bassam’s Hamlet plots with the arms dealer. Al-Bassam explores the relationships between the Arab and Western worlds and employs stereotypes such as an Arab dictator, Islamic fundamentalist and suicide bomber.

Sulayman Al-Bassam
Photo: Jonathon Player
Source: http://muslimvoicesfestival.org/artist/sulayman-al-bassam

The Al-Hamlet Summit is set in the Arab world and it takes place anywhere and nowhere in the Middle East. The play mixes stereotypical and modern details. The setting of the play is a conference hall with a typical red carpet, a huge screen and loudspeaker announcements. The delegates – Hamlet, Polonius, Claudius, Gertude, Leartes and Ophelia (from left to right) are seated at the conference desks with their names on the place cards, a microphone in front of them and a desk lamp on the side. The only character who does not have an assigned place at the stage is the Drug Dealer, who speaks with American accent, dresses like a dandy and influences the course of affairs from behind the scenes.

Al-Hamlet Summit
Photo: Arne Magnussen
Source: https://www.ald.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/full_size/public/showphotos/993.jpg?itok=x6rIiSWt

The New Order that they are introducing is in fact a dictatorship that uses violence to squash the opposition and propaganda to manipulate the nation. In his monologue Claudius speaks to God of his greed and imperialistic goals:

Your plutonium, your loans, your democratic filth that drips off your ecstatic crowds – I want them all, Oh God; I want your Vaseline smiles and I want your pimp-ridden plutocracies; I want your world shafting bank; I want it shafting me now – offer me the shafting hand of redemption – oh God let us be dirty together, won’t you?

Claudius Act 3 Scene 7
Cover of Al-Hamlet Summit
Source: https://www.bookdepository.com/Al-Hamlet-Summit-Sulayman-Al-Bassam/9781902806624

The Al-Hamlet Summit not only presents the clash of Western and Arab culture and conflicts underlying the Middle East but also uses stage directions and props to contextualize the plot. Each of the five acts of the play is named after a daily Islamic prayer: Al-Fajr, Al-Zuhr, Al-Asr, Al-Maghrib and Al-Isha’a. Hamlet appears on stage with a hobby horse dressed as an Abbasid general to announce he is going on a war. Ophelia worries that her brother will be killed and the terrorists will send her a post-mortem YouTube video. Polonius handles the list of the military order of: 500 howitzers, 12 B-2s, 4 Stealths, 500 Centurions, 17 Cruise Missiles, 200 hawks, 300 sparrows and one million of ammunition to the Arms Dealer (Act 4 Scene 3). Claudius opens a briefcase full of petrodollars. In the final scene the characters listen to the news report and collapse dead as their death is officially announced.

Sulayman Al-Bassam on making theatre across the cultural divide
https://youtu.be/n8XgntEFFXA
Source: YouTube

In his interview Sulayman Al-Bassam stresses the importance of the text as a medium of performance. In The Al-Hamlet Summit he uses a vivid language with strong sexual references and a good dose of humour. Hamlet speaks passionately when he calls to action:

words are dead, they died on our tongues. Admonishment is a weak form of faith, now we must mouth meaning with our flesh.

Act 5 Scene 2

The dialogues make the audience laugh. When Leartes passes his condolences to Hamlet and says “may Allah increase your wages in heaven” Hamlet replies “And yours in brothels” (Act 1 Scene 1).

The setting of the play in the Middle East opens Hamlet’s tragedy to new interpretation and casts a new light on his choices and actions. It proves that Hamlet is in fact an “everyman” that faces the issues of the contemporary world.

Source: Instagram @duginart
https://www.instagram.com/duginart/

The tale of Hamlet is very universal and can and should be made contemporary to appeal to the modern audience, make them see themselves in the story and make them laugh. Kingdom of Denmark can become a post-war Europe or Middle East “democracy”. Yorick’s skull can become a can of Coke or a hobby horse. Ophelia can take the action that the men fail to execute. It is the task of the translator and playwright to transfer the layers of plot, language, setting and characters into current culture. Modern appropriations of Hamlet can surprise, shock and stimulate. They can refer directly to Shakespeare’s plot or they can allude to the text. By and by the Shakespeare network grows stronger and the story of Hamlet is being retold over and over again. As we explore the connections and content we discover that a classic is in fact a contemporary story that happened before and will happen again.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. 

Horatio Act 5 Scene 2

Apple Cake

Each household has their own favourite recipe for apple cake – the well tested, repeatedly successful and very much loved. My grandmother used to make an amazing one. A round tart on a thin base with a good layer of slightly sour spicy apples and a fine crispy top sprinkled generously with icing sugar. I could eat the whole cake in one session. Or at least this is what I think I remember. Unfortunately, none of the recipe notebooks that she had and I inherited contains the recipe and I was never able to recreate the cake. However, I have a recipe that I got from my friend that ticks all the boxes and expectations for a perfect apple cake or szarlotka as it is called in Poland.

There are those types of cakes that when you taste them you just absolutely need to take the recipe and make them at home. When Wiola served this apple cake – with ideally balanced proportions of apple and shortbread: crisp, tangy and luscious – it was the one I knew I want and will be baking over and over again.

If I have any leftover apples (and I do like to stock up on my apples and lemons) I make apple compote or apple cake. Even if the skin is a bit wrinkled and the apples have lost their shine they will still make a great cake and it will be just a pity not to use them.

Apple Cake (Szarlotka a’la Wiola)

6 – 8 apples

1/2 cup of brown sugar

3 cups of flour

1 tsp of baking powder

3/4 cups of sugar

a few drops of vanilla essence

250 g cold unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 tbs of sour cream

First peel, core and quarter the apples. If the chunks are too big cut them in half. Cook the apples with the brown sugar in a pan over medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes until the sugar has melted, the apples release the juice, yet are still firm and keep their shape. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and sugar. In a separate small bowl lightly beat the eggs and pour into the dry ingredients. Use a grater to grate the cold butter (this is the trick that Wiola taught me as well and it works excellent for the shortbread pastry). Add to the bowl along with the sour cream and vanilla essence.

Mix all the ingredients with your hands working the butter into the flour and sugar until the dough is smooth and can be formed into a ball. Remember not to overwork the shortbread. Wrap the dough ball with cling film and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Grease the rectangular 30 cm x 20 cm tin and line with baking paper.

Divide the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 parts. The larger one will be used for the bottom and the smaller one for the top. Roll the larger part of the dough to fit the tin. It should be 1 cm thick. Gently move and press into the tin.

Sprinkle the base shortbread with some fine breadcrumbs to keep it crisp. Add the cooled and strained apples (you might keep the sweet syrup for serving).

Roll the smaller part of the dough until it is 1/2 cm or less then cut into stripes. Arrange the stripes to make a checked pattern. This was my daughter’s, Natasha’s, idea and not only it looks great but also lets the apples steam so the juices do not soak the pastry.

Put into the oven for 45 minutes and enjoy the amazing smell of baking that fills the kitchen.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Then cut into rectangular or square pieces. Sprinkle with some icing sugar.

Serve while still slightly warm or fully cooled with a scoop of ice cream or on its own.

Enjoy and repeat!

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Sausage that is not for a dog, mustard after dinner and the joy of charades

Charades are my favourite party game, always have. Those moments when you shout out the words, search for synonyms, link clues. And those moments when you stand there in the middle doing your utmost to relate the meaning, frantically gesturing and jumping with excitement. I am terrible, I honestly mean it, at drawing but I do love showing things. We often play charades as a part of games such as Time’s Up!. I think charades are great one to play at school too as a way to practice titles, keywords, glossary. I still remember the great time we had at a study evening at our third year at the college when we decided to play charades as a revision. We rolled laughing and also, it must be noted did amazingly well in the exams.

Well, it’s been over a year since we could have a party and play charades with friends. As desperate pandemic times call for special measures and once the three of us got bored with 1000 pieces jigsaw and the selection of strategic board games we organized a spontaneous round of charades. I knew the theme had to be Polish proverbs and sayings – literal, though often nonsense meaning, is so easy to present and it is a great language practice for our bilingual daughter. We scribbled as many sayings such as to buy a cat in a sack or to throw pea against the wall as we could think of on little post-its. We invited grandma to join us online to help with guessing. The game was such fun that we did round two and three over the next few weekends and I thought it might be worth making proper set of clue cards.

So here is it a set of 30 Polish proverbs and saying charades cards. I heedfully included the literal English translation for the pure amusement of guessing the true meaning behind the old wives tales. And if you would like to use it there is a download link for the full set at the end of the post.

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