My mum was… not a very good cook.
In saying this, I take nothing from her memory. She often admitted this herself: she did not enjoy cooking. The food that sustained my sister and me for so many years was plain, but healthy and sufficient. Even after all this time, I could still list the dishes we might eat in any two week span. There really weren’t many.
But in my last year of high school, I wound up going on a trip to Indonesia — to Bali, and then to Java. I knew enough of the language to order my own food, and very quickly, I did.
What a revelation! Satay with peanut sauce. Spicy Balinese chicken. Rendang. Ais Kacang… I was amazed, delighted, staggered. And I think that was the point where I became a ‘neophile’.
I’m not inclined to favour a thing simply because it is new, but I am definitely inclined to try new things, and find them interesting. Since that first discovery of Indonesian cuisine (and a few years struggling to replicate that amazing rainbow of flavours!) I’ve learned to prepare Thai, Malay, Szechuan, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Italian, French and South American dishes — and to enjoy even more.
But it doesn’t stop there. Consider music: it’s much easier to list the stuff I don’t like than the stuff that I do. I haven’t figured out how to enjoy gamelan yet, for example, nor Chinese opera. Most rap and hip-hop makes me yawn, and industrial metal calls for earplugs and a brisk walk in the opposite direction. Oh, and pop — K-pop, J-pop, American pop, Britpop — tends to really give me the shits.
But I quite like Chinese folk music, and Japanese music of several kinds appeals to me. Mongolian music is good too, and Tibetan. Traditional Irish: check. Russian folk: check. Klezma. Sufi. Iraqi. Several kinds of Indian music. Northern African music, especially of the kora, the mbira and the Ethiopian harp — and the wonderful vocal stuff that seems to come from all over the continent. I love Andean music, and Cuban music, and modern Jamaican music. I love blues and jazz, funk and motown, big band swing, ragtime, bluegrass, rock, classical, romantic, baroque, medieval, Gregorian…
Now it’s the era of film and television. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Netflix is making me very happy. I have, for example, just watched the first episode of a Spanish science fiction show called “El Ministerio Del Tiemp” — the Ministry of Time. The first episode wasn’t riveting or brilliant, but it was solid and it was interesting and best of all it wasn’t English or Australian or American. The time travelers of the Ministry deal with Spanish history, Spanish characters, Spanish culture — and it’s really good fun to watch.
Then there’s this bizarre Korean thing, a mix of urban fantasy, detective story and romance with a dash of comedy thrown in. It’s called “Black”, and every damned episode is eighty minutes long. Eighty minutes — and there are at least fifteen episodes in the series. Can you imagine? The pacing is different, to say the least. And of course, the characterization and the cultural concerns… the things characters take for granted and the things that catch them by surprise — I’m glad of the chance to watch it.
I’ve also just started a Chinese series about a town on a river. I’ve only seen the first episode, so I don’t quite know when it’s set… perhaps 1920s or 1930s? I don’t know. But it’s already mixed traditional religion and superstition with murder and social drama and odd comedy and I’m definitely going to see more of it.
And what about “The Kirlian Frequency”? Deliciously weird maybe-horror animation out of Argentina. I watched it all at one sitting with my son, and immediately wished there was more.
I admit it. I’m a freak. I’m as weird as a sackful of shoggoths. Fine. Whatever. I don’t care. But don’t ask me to get super-excited about reboots of rehashes of repeats; about Disney flogging long-dead corpses of horses that last ran sometime in the first half of the 20th century; about retrospectives and rewrites and all those other hideous forms of cultural necrophilia when I’ve got so many, many, nifty new things to try!