No place like abroad

Walk, talk and eat. Wendell Steavenson explains how to feel at home after a week in a foreign land

Wendell Steavenson

Cairo: the market “delivers an instant jolt into another culture”

Let me recount the countries I have lived in by kitchens: Moscow, winter of 1994, I had a hemisphere window with a view of the Kremlin’s spires and a red linoleum floor that turned out to be very good for dancing when you spilled salad dressing on it; Tbilisi, during the dark, unelectrified Shevardnadze years, I left the oven on all winter for heat; Asmara, ten years ago, water was scarce and came through the taps mixed with red sand; Tehran, in 2002, I hid bootleg cans of gin in the freezer from the cleaner who was almost certainly reporting on my activities; Baghdad, in 2004, I found the most delicious lamb chops but could not persuade any of my Iraqi friends to eat them pink; Beirut, the following year, I had a deep wide stone sink, mould on the ceilings and a lemon tree on the balcony; Jerusalem, earlier this year, I left the boiler on and it exploded and flooded the kitchen. I have lived in many places, working as a reporter and writing books. This spring I moved to Cairo. Now practised in the art of homemaking in under a week, I ran around buying bright cushions and old movie posters for my rented flat. Then I had a long and intricate hand-gesture consultation with the butcher round the corner and bought a rack of lamb and invited people over. I don’t really travel, I inhabit.

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