Posts Tagged ‘letters’

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Chops, cheese, octopus, and the end of Patrick

March 9, 2009
Patrick White, presumably in his kitchen. Picture reproduced by The Age in 2006; photographer unacknowledged in this version online.
Patrick White, presumably in his Martin Road kitchen.**

Tonight I finally finished the Patrick White: Letters, a book I’ve been reading slowly and with deep pleasure since January. Now feel a little mournful and quiet with respect, as one does on finishing a Great Book.

And I don’t think it’s too trivial to return to a couple of moments near the end, about PW’s cooking and domestic life. In fact PW himself, at the end of his life, repeatedly intimated that the routines of domesticity and household love, in which lay his life with the outstanding Manoly Lascaris, were the only important things he had achieved. Not true, obviously, but I can see why he said it. Domesticity and love, after all, were the great subject matter of so much of his work.

In 1985, he had a bout in St Vincent’s Hospital’s thoracic ward just as he was preparing to launch a new novel, his last: The Memoirs of Many in One. Amid other news in a letter from hospital to Graham C. Greene (the other’s nephew, a UK publishing chap), he complains that when he first came down with his symptoms, including  ‘curious persistent lapses of memory’ , a doctor told him he only had a hangover. This was: “- a pity because we had eaten such an excellent lamb biriani”, which happened to have been cooked by Neil Armfield, from Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Patrick White’s kitchen

March 2, 2009
Patrick White Letters ed David Marr
Patrick White Letters ed David Marr

One of the things I like so much about letters, as opposed to biographies, is the layer of intimate domestic detail that gathers in the former. I’m reading Patrick White: Letters, so skilfully edited by the wonderful David Marr. (This edition also has the perfect cover, designed by Helen Semmler and featuring Brett Whiteley‘s 1981 portrait of PW.)

In the letters Patrick is always moaning to someone about the burden of being chief cook and bottle washer*, but he clearly loved food and cooking.

He and Manoly [Lascaris, White’s lifelong partner] were always cooking dinner for large groups of people, and Patrick often turned down invitations to restaurants, instead suggesting dinner at his home.

Little culinary details are always creeping into the letters, and I love them. Like these, in a letter to the director Neil Armfield in 1982, when White was 70 and his and Manoly’s health were failing in various ways. Manoly had arthritis and White glaucoma; he had also had a few ‘shocks’ to jump-start his heart. Read the rest of this entry ?