Yesterday, in a fit of boredom, I was trawling back through various holiday photographs, bemoaning the fact that it is unlikely that I shall ever see France, Italy or England again, and I came across this picture. I have lots of pictures of shutters, but this one was so beautiful - to my eyes anyway - that I just had to share. And then when I was on my walk through a patch of sunny, green Eltham, pretending to be a tourist with a camera slung around my neck, the phrase 'carelessly old' popped into my head (I was thinking about the photograph). I rather liked it, so thought I would extemporise on that theme with the challenge of fitting food into the mix somehow. So here goes.
That photograph might be pretty simple at face value, but there is so much going on in it, so many decades, even centuries of life if one could but read it correctly. Decrepit old shutters with rusty hinges, that haven't been fixed for possibly hundreds of years. The diamond shapes cut out at the top - why? To let a little light into the room on hot days perhaps. Maybe this small window is the only light enabler in the room behind the shutters. The glorious colours of the faded wood, the patchy attempts to mend the wall with concrete. Well I assume it's concrete, although I am not at all with it when it comes to such things. It could be some kind of render. The tiny little stones filling the gaps around the window frame. The plant growing out of the stones, and the stones themselves, ranging in colour from almost orange to almost dark grey. Not one of them the same size as another. The only thing that's missing, this being France, are the wires nailed on top of it all. But they are probably there, just lurking out of shot. Or else the house is 'abandonnée' just waiting for a 'foreigner' to rescue it.
There was a period in France's history when stone houses such as this were rendered over with a rough coat - in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries I believe, but today it is much more fashionable to return to the original stone. The foreigners - and that includes the Parisians - who move into the countryside and buy these old houses for their holiday homes, will repair them all to pristine condition, or else they will eventually crumble away into the vegetation. This house does not yet seem to have received the renovation treatment. It has been left 'carelessly old', and isn't it beautiful? Perhaps a little sad but beautiful.
This one is somewhere in between. The rendered walls remain although there are signs, on the bottom right that it is falling away. But the shutters have been left. A long time ago now somebody painted them a pale blue, but that too has faded. The wood is crumbling in places, the hinges are rusting underneath. It is all very fashionably 'distressed'. For there is quite a fashion in interior design for the distressed look. It can be fabricated. But not this one I think. I think this one is real - well at least partially.
Of course there are more of these beautiful old things in the old world. Here in the new world, the old is truly ancient and in Australia anyway, remote and not as noticeable. You have to seek it out. But we do have 'old' in the sense of a couple of hundred years. And out in the countryside, as here in Euroa it is often careless - in every way. And sort of beautiful.
Perhaps we old people should take a lesson from these shutters and doorways - I have heaps of photographs of old doorways too - and start to be 'carelessly old'. Indeed I have noticed that I mind less about things like taking photographs in public of strange things like trees and leaves, and also about how I look. I won't say I couldn't care less how I look. I certainly do. My longish hair is currently driving me mad, and I do try to think about what clothes I put on - at least in terms of colour. I certainly am a very casual dresser. Elegance was never my thing. Again the French are so good at this - they can wear an old rag and look chic somehow. I have never had that talent and never will, so now I don't worry about it so much. And I certainly don't worry about the wrinkles. Well, without my glasses I can barely see them anyway. In fact when it comes to myself there are so many things that I no longer care about in quite the same way - the trivia of life, and the things I can't change or affect anyway, although I do care about them with respect to my children's and grandchildren's lives. For myself not so much. But then I have had a fortunate life.
But the challenge was 'carelessly old' in terms of food was it not?
First define 'carelessly'. Does that mean without any care at all, slapdash, negligent, heedless, slipshod. Or does it mean happy-go-lucky, without a care in the world, carefree, insouciant, adventurous even. Those two meanings of the same word are so very different are they not?
Even 'old' can be taken to mean different things - are we talking about the cook or the recipe, the ingredient or the method? Well in this case the cook is definitely old, and what she is cooking tonight - a nostalgic sausage and pepper stew she will not be careless in the sense of taking care, although she will care less about its potential success as a dish. The dish is nostalgic of very old times and a couple of holidays, one in particular, that we took in Yugoslavia. We camped with old friends near beautiful old Split and the meal we cooked the most was a stew using sausages, peppers and tomatoes because that was just about all you could buy in the market. Every now and then I recreate it. I am doing it tonight because my lovely husband bought me a big bag of peppers the other day. Although we made up the recipe back then I am sure that it is typical of the area. Its an old-fashioned kind of thing of throwing what you have in a pot and cooking it. So in a way it is careless - an apparently random, even if restricted by availability - choice of ingredients, but I can assure you that even over a single burner camping stove it was not made without care. We carefully considered in a careless sort of way, the proportions of each ingredient, and we probably searched for suitable flavour enhancers such as wine, or herbs or olives.
I have not made it yet, and so this photograph is the nearest I could find to what I remember of our early experiments. But I doubt it will taste the same. For one thing we are now old and then we were young, and in love, which always puts a magic glow on to even the simplest things. And then the sausages will be different. I have bought sausages such as kabana and kransky which I hope will be similar, but no, they wont't be the same. The tomatoes will also not at all be the same thing. The Yugoslavian ones were those beautiful large ox heart kind of things. But I shall try combining the care developed over the years and the somewhat slapdash method of cooking that I have developed of late.
So many of the fashionable dishes of today are based on such old, even ancient peasant dishes that are born out of necessity and environment, not to mention the traditions and practises that resulted from that original 'carelessness'. And the best cooks take those ancient dishes and turn them into something new, exciting, different using their technical and creative skills that have been developed with care, and which enable them to be without care, in the sense of not abiding by rules.
Nature of course, is casually and carelessly, old/ancient and very, very beautiful. This wonderful tree is in the Brown Brothers winery. It graces the main drive in, and is no doubt very carefully tended. It is however, a fitting example, of 'carelessly old' - in the way it tumbles all over the place, has fallen apart here and there, and yet still produces beautiful lacy leaves, whilst remaining beautiful itself, whilst flaunting its age.
So I shall try to be 'carelessly old' in the sense of not worrying about things so much. It's the interpretation of 'carelessly old' that seems right to me. But I will continue to be careful of my health, and my little world, and also in the way I cook. Though in a slightly nonchalant way. Careless.