Archive for October, 2011
“They made contact with me in an Apple Shop, of all places,” says Simons. “A man in a trenchcoat and 1950s fedora offered me a circa 2005 32GB iPod in return for my services. At first I didn’t know which Agency he was from. Then he asked me to come to his house for a bowl of mămăliga and a chat, and I knew he could only be from the SIE HQ in Bucharest.”
Mămăliga, a cornmeal mush served on its own or as an accompaniment, is a popular dish in Romania.
At first, Simons says, he was tempted. “I’ve always liked mush, whether cornmeal or otherwise,” he says. “And an iPod from 2005 is practically a collector’s item.” Moreover, he continued, he was getting desperate; recently, as blog readers will appreciate, he suffered rejection from both MI6 and the Russian secret service, the Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации.
However, Simons’ bubble was burst when the role he was being offered became clearer. “I had assumed they wanted me to be an Agent,” he explains, “but gradually I realised that they wanted me to Teach English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to their operatives in Bucharest, at a rate of £3.50 per hour.” After brief consideration, the writer declined.
This morning, the SIE released a statement in which they denied any role in the debacle and blamed the “overactive imagination of the novelist.”
“We cannot be held responsible for what calamity may befall the writer if he dies not desist from spreading such malicious untruths,” Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, Director of the Agency, did not say. “Rumours that I have a poison-tipped umbrella are likewise completely false. But if I did have one, I would not be afraid to use it.”
If Hannah Arendt—the great political theorist, critic of totalitarianism, and sometime lover of Martin Heidegger—had not died from a heart attack on 4th December 1975, today would have been her 105th birthday.
Arendt would doubtless have had mixed feelings about 2011. This year marked a half-century since the trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution. Reporting on the trial from Jerusalem, she developed the ideas for her most influential book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality Of Evil. And 2011 is, of course, both the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the year in which Bin Laden met his end at the hands of American commandos.
To point out that the phrase “the banality of evil” is often overused is itself somewhat banal. Whenever a high-profile tyrant is brought to justice, headlines groan with the phrase. The New York Times used it in connection with Saddam; TIME magazine used it about Bin Laden; and when Gaddafi gets his comeuppance, it will almost certainly be used about him, too.
Or rather, misused. As Elisabeth Young-Bruehl points out in her excellent Why Arendt Matters (Yale University Press, 2006), the phrase is “predictably and reverently invoked—and completely misunderstood.” It doesn’t simply refer to an evildoer’s lack of charisma. It neither absolves criminal responsibility, nor suggests that we would all do the same under the circumstances. Rather, it expresses a complex reading of how murderous ideologies can take root. Continue on the Prospect website
Of all the recipes in The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia — a book of sexy cooking by the restaurateur and bon viveur Mark Douglas Hill — “Roast Iguana with Chipotle and Oregano Marinade” is the most exotic. The iguana, Hill writes, is revered in Central America as a “paragon of virility” and feasted on by libidinous Nicaraguans during their Holy Week.
“You can grab an iggy at any pet shop,” he explains when my wife Isobel and I join him at home in Bloomsbury, Central London, for an afternoon of aphrodisiac cooking. “The tricky part is slaying it. My method is to put some Chopin on, feed the creature some beaten egg and brandy, then hack at it with an axe.”
For a long moment we almost believe him. “OK, OK,” he says at last. “But I have eaten iguana. Did you know they have two penises? That is absolutely true.”
Mark Douglas Hill — self-confessed “epicurean, glutton, sybarite and sensualist” — knows these things. His conversation is peppered with similar morsels of trivia. Within half an hour I have learnt that 10th-century Arab traders used whale’s bile to make them horny; that the Filipinos used curled-up duck embryos for the same reason; and that Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, found that lacing her guests’ food with desiccated Spanish flies contributed to their arousal. All this information, he tells me, is in his book. But, he adds, notwithstanding the iguana, the recipes themselves are far more palatable.
I have decided that Hill will be a trustworthy aphrodisiac cooking instructor. He learnt how to cook at the prestigious Leiths School of Food and Wine, then went on to become a culinary entrepreneur, travelling all over the world. He runs a spice company called Little Devils, has a foodie hotel in India and is about to open a restaurant in Oxford. He moonlights as a gastronomic consultant, and says he designed “40 per cent of Giraffe’s menu” (that’s Giraffe the restaurant chain).
He is also a published psychologist, and for years has been fascinated by the aphrodisiac qualities of food. “I have dined and dallied to my heart’s content, sowing wild oats with enthusiastic abandon,” he writes in the introduction. “Suffice to say, my efforts have never been met with anything short of ecstatic approval.”
In the flesh, however, all this seems unlikely. Tall and avuncular, with a beard and gleaming pate, Hill is ponderous around the kitchen and hardly your obvious Lothario. “It’s a question of persona,” he says when I confess these thoughts. “Honestly. I have a list of conquests as long as my arm. I am a superman lover.”
Like any parents of multiple toddlers, Isobel and I live our lives in a perpetual state of near-exhaustion. So we decided that we could benefit from a super-lover’s aphrodisiac recipes. Hill reassures us that the dishes are all genuine, and that none of them involves exotic wildlife. We make him promise. Then we go for it.
The fun begins with a pair of Bloody Marys. Apparently tomatoes were known as pommes d’amour in 18th-century France, and were banned by the Roman Catholic Church for their licentious associations. Squeezed and “tooled up” with vodka, chilli pepper, anchovy essence, wasabi and celery, they are pure love juice.
After a few sips we set about making nibbles: devilled almonds. Aphrodisiac almonds, Hill explains, were a favourite of the “swashbuckling scribbler” Alexandre Dumas, who would drink a bowl of almond soup before wooing Mademoiselle Mars. The addition of cayenne, paprika, black pepper, cumin, sea salt and honey gives them an extra sexual kick.
The recipe is straightforward: mix up all these ingredients and dry-fry for 15 seconds “while agitating”. The almonds are nice — blackened, very spicy. This, together with the Bloody Mary, causes a powerful heat to rise within me.
“I think it’s working,” I murmur to Isobel. She shrugs. “It’s definitely doing something,” she says. “To you, at least.”
We crack on. The first starter is Avocado with Crab, Chervil and Samphire. Avocados, which grow in pairs, derive their name from the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning “testicles”. They are, Hill explains, “awash with potassium” and rich in vitamins E and B6, which reduce stress-related sexual hesitancy. Crab, meanwhile, contains “all the goodness of the sea” and is “stocked with libido-enhancing minerals, vitamins and amino acids”.
The samphire and spinach are “blanched” in boiling water for a minute, then chopped with chervil and herbs and mixed with mashed crabmeat. A splash of Tabasco, a squeeze of lime, and the garnished crab meets the sliced avocado on buttered toast. There is a coolness about the dish that nicely mellows the heat inside me. Something physiological is certainly happening.
I am reminded that, back when I was a gap-year student, I had a travelling companion who used to carry vials of snake sperm — a traditional Chinese aphrodisiac, available in a district of Taipei known as “Snake Alley” — in his backpack. He claimed that it had the power to transform the demurest of Chinese maidens into raging nymphomaniacs.
“That’s a bit like my next recipe,” says Hill. “Oysters with Watermelon and Daikon Salsa. There’s a close link between oysters and sperm. When oysters ejaculate, they lose a third of their body weight. The sea around the oyster bed is turned into a sexual soup.” Hill, I discover — like Emperor Vitellius, apparently — is a big oyster man. Every birthday, he tells us, he slurps down a number of oysters equivalent to his years. “My girlfriend really looks forward to it,” he laughs. “She always gets a night to remember.”
Isobel and I are impressed with the oyster recipe. The Japanese-style salsa freshens up the pungent sliminess of the oyster and adds a new, almost fruity dimension. “Oysters actually taste a lot like sperm,” says Hill. “Both are rich in zinc.” There is an awkward silence.
The main course is Seared Duck Foie Gras with Roast Cod, on a bed of spinach. We toss two slices of foie gras in honey and flour, then sear it. The spinach is tossed in the foie gras pan, then the dish is assembled with a fillet of roast cod in the middle. It is rich and potent, the tangy foie gras matched by the flaky succulence of the cod.
For dessert we make Hazelnut Cranachan, Scotland’s answer to Eton Mess, which Hill refers to as “a hairy Scottish chest kind of pudding”. Fifty grams of oats — which “free up testosterone in both men and women” — are baked for eight minutes with demerara sugar, heather honey and hazelnut pieces. Then they are added to warmed whisky and heather honey, folded into whipped cream and raspberries, and finished with raspberry coulis. This is no Roger Moore dessert. This is Sean Connery.
Our toddlers are unimpressed that we have abandoned them for the afternoon. Bedtime is a labour, and by the time we go to bed ourselves the aphrodisiac effects have been tempered by nappy-changing and the repeated return of crying children to bed.
Nevertheless, once the lights are out and the duvet is on, the warm, tingling sensation returns. “Maybe,” I say, “old Mark Douglas Hill is on to something.”
“Mm,” Isobel murmurs. “Just don’t go and buy an iguana.”
The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia is published on Oct 20 (Square Peg, £9.99)
Headlines have been dominated this week by damning revelations surrounding the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, who is rumoured to have had a number of compromising relationships with various young men. This morning, fresh allegations emerged that Dr Fox is “actually a literal fox.”
“I was as shocked as anyone else,” says Jake Wallis Simons (32), the novelist and journalist who uncovered the damaging information. “But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Foxes are known for their stealth and cunning. It’s not a coincidence that this creature managed to become a senior figure in British politics.”
The revelations are supported by transcripts of a 2003 interview in which Liam Fox confessed to “a visceral dislike of farmers,” and an “overwhelming passion for chickens.” He also confessed to having “intimate knowledge of my constituents’ bins.” These comments were initially dismissed by analysts as being frivolous, but they are now being taken more seriously.
In another startling development, the Guardian today leaked details of some unreleased video footage showing Dr Fox at a late-night bar with an unidentified young man. A large fox’s tail – known to specialists as a “brush” – can clearly be seen protruding from under his raincoat.
“We are currently subjecting the footage to a series of rigorous tests to establish its authenticity,” a source from the newspaper said. “Once these tests have been completed to our satisfaction, we will release the Fox Tapes on our website.”
When questioned about his sources, Simons was candid. “I heard on the local grapevine that a member of the Scottish animal community had infiltrated British politics at the highest level,” he explained. “The foxes, of course, closed ranks. So I began by questioning my sources in the hedgehog population, but they were reluctant to give anything away. The same went for the squirrels and badgers. Finally, however, I was approached by a group of weasels who alleged that the Defence Secretary is, in actual fact, a literal fox. As I said, I was as shocked as anyone.”
Late last night, the Defence Secretary’s office released the following statement: “Liam Fox is recuperating after some nocturnal scavenging last night. We can nonetheless state categorically that at no time was he dependent on any Canidaelean behaviour, from the time he took office until the present.”
Dr Fox is due to make a statement to the Commons later today.
“It will simply be a normal day like any other,” said Jake Wallis Simons (32), speaking to reporters at his home yesterday. “I’ll wake up in the morning, have a shave, turn to my lucky writing aftershave and – poof – it will be empty. Just like that. This is a real danger, and I’m trying to raise awareness.”
Simons has been using “Scent of Chokolat” aftershave since July this year. He bought it while on a trip to Portugal, and has not looked back since. “It has a rather unusual scent,” Simons explained. “It’s sort of a bit chocolately, but then also smells a bit of handsoap or something. It’s totally, unique, very cheap, and very lucky. When I wear it, my writing flows like the brown river in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.”
The problem is, Scent of Chokolat is very rare. It is only available in Tomar, a small town in the centre of Portugal, and supplies are very limited. According to a Chokolat spokesman, the aftershave takes an unusually long time to produce.
“The frightening thing is,” said Simons, “the more I use it, the less there will be. I call that the Aftershave Change Theory.”
Although Aftershave Change – the notion that aftershave simply “runs out” when used – is supported by the majority of scientists, it is by no means accepted across the board. While some experts refer to AC as a “proven set of facts,” opinions differ vehemently. Many factions still strongly feel that the decline in the level of aftershave in the bottle is the result of a natural aftershavic adjustment. “We have seen aftershavic decline several times over the course of Simons’ lifetime,” explained Professor Steve Stevenson, an Aftershave Change sceptic. “There is every reason to believe that the current lows represent simply a fluctuation in an otherwise stable situation. The scaremongers should be ashamed of themselves. There should be no cause for aftershavic alarm.”
The problem for Simons is that since ”Scent of Chokolat” is his lucky aftershave, he cannot afford to take the gamble. ”If the bottle did run dry,” he said, “everything would fall apart. I’d be afflicted with writer’s block forever, and life would not be worth living. We need to get the message out there. It’s vital that we all take steps to combat Aftershave Change now – before it’s too late.”