Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Glass Menagerie

In my grandfather's wardrobe sat five little boxes. each one no bigger than a ring box, but made from stiff brown cardboard.

They'd been kept safe, in amongst the handkerchiefs and silk ties and yet upon opening them, they seems so out of place, and consequently so much more elusive.

Each one had a single word scrawled upon the lid. A French word, some instantly recognisable, others less so, until I saw the contents. Then they too made sense, the French word for the type of animal within.

For within each box was a miniature animal accompanied by 4 smaller ones made in pastel shades of a frosted glass.

Where were they from?
The style did not look to be at all Australian, but more reminiscent of the colours and textures I associated with Egypt. And the animals had Egyptian associations too. But that was just my educated guess. I had no affirmation that this was their true origin.

And if they were from Egypt, then which era? My Great Grandmother's, my Grandfather's or far more recently when Granddad had revisited Alexandria and expressed his disappointment at the extreme change since his day?

Who's were they?
They were not stored with my Grandmother's possessions, in amongst her remaining hats and gloves, or secreted away in the glory box with other possessions of sentiment or value.

Were they my Grandfather's mother's? A sentimental reminder of her husband, or of life in Egypt? But if so, why were they stored in such an intimate and unusual location?

What is their connection?
Were they kept separately because they had sentimental value for my grandfather?
A memory from his childhood home, of his father, his mother, an event?

Were they the first present he gave my grandmother back in the early days of their courtship and he kept them because she'd kept them?
Were they a present he never gave her? Never gave someone(s)?

 What ever their providence, their history, their connection, their meaning, this minute menagerie is sweet, delicate and so well preserved given their fragility.

They are unlike anything I expected to find, and anything I've seen on my own travels, as though bigger is now better and these are just 'quaint', a term that seems to have not all too positive associations with a bygone era.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Preserving Lemons

Preserved Lemons are one of those things that are ridiculously expensive given what they are and how easy they are to make.
Essentially they're just lemons cut up enough to have the juice squeezed out and salt squeezed in. They're then left in their own salt enriched juices to mature for a few months, preferably in a cool dark place.

With an annual abundance of limes I keep meaning to make them, but never do.
Until this year... finally.

It's not as though we don't need them, or wouldn't use them for they are always the missing ingredient when we make Moroccan and Dad likes to cook his chicken in the juices.

I don't know whether it was that finally I had a set of jars to use, I was more confident with the sterilisation process, had fewer other ideas for how to use the fruit...
but they're now bottled to await the long maturation in storage process.

Half of the limes undiced:

Half of them diced. Each recipe seems to have a preferred method of cutting them, be it in sixths, eighths or fluted at one end while kept whole, the salt squeezed in through the open end. I'll admit, I was lazy and just cut them in a simple easy manner so that they would be easy to juice, easy to press the salt in and easy to pack into a jar. 

Squeezed, salted and thoroughly mixed,

before being packed into a jar with the salty juice poured in over.

These will be dumped in the back corner of the pantry and forgotten about, so let's wait and see how they turn out in a few months. 

The Recipe: 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

British Subject, of Maltese heritage originally from Spain, with a French education, who was born in Egypt.

In relation to a kind lady's response to my previous post, and the curiosity it created for her for more information on what probably seems a confusing history/identity at this end, I thought it was probably easier to explain it out (as I know it) in depth, and subsequently length. 

Granddad's heritage has always seemed to confuse people. And though the easiest way to describe him is as a British Subject, of Maltese heritage originally from Spain, with a French education, who was born in Egypt, that still seems to confuse people.

So here's hopefully a breakdown...

Sometime in the mid 19th century, when the Khedive of Egypt was in trouble with the French government regarding the construction of the Suez Canal, he asked the British government for protection. This the British were willing to provide, with certain conditions. 
  1. The British government would carry on the construction of the canal and run it for 99 years. 
  2. The British government would bring in the necessary skills to complete and run the canal (and all administration that could conceivably be connected to the canal). 
Even though the British did not have subjects that possessed all of the necessary skills, rather than curry favour with the local people (the Egyptians), they decided instead to ask Europe to supply people with the desired skills. This would then enable them to 'run' the various businesses associated with the protection of Egypt. 
What it also enabled, was the British to create a sizable social structure to superimpose on the one that had already existed in Egypt (probably since the time of the Pharaohs).

From Malta, Granddad's Armarego great grandfather was asked to provide his expertise in building wooden vessels held together with dowels instead of nails. Granddad's maternal grandfather also migrated across, working as a lithographer for an English newspaper. 

As incentive to leave their cultured homelands (the view of the time, not mine), each migrant was allowed to retain their old nationality for a number of generations, as opposed to becoming Egyptian. This meant that having originated from Malta, a British colony, the family maintained their nationality as British Subjects by birth even though successive generations were not born in a British colony. 
The horror of becoming Egyptian was also said to be part of the family's incentive to leave Egypt before the birth of my mother's generation.

Granddad was intensely emphatical of his right to a British passport, because it showed that he was not Egyptian as assumed from his place of birth, and that he was not Italian as assumed by ignorant Australians when they were confronted with his surname and foreign accent. 
Unfortunately because he was in no way connected to the mainland of the United Kingdom, having neither been born there, or lived there, his grandchildren are unable to claim any form of ancestry visa through him. 

The family considered themselves to be Maltese and though we hadn't lived there for generations they maintained this identity and elements of this cultural heritage. Maltese was spoken within the community, many of the recipes the family still know and love to this day are Maltese, though as my sister discovered on her recent trip to Malta, our versions are tastier (even when we don't tweak the recipes). There was also a Maltese club they frequented in Alexandria. 

To ensure their subjects in Egypt were able to receive an education equivalent to what they would have received had they remained in their homeland, and to ensure they could easily assimilate back into their homeland, the government/church of each of these European countries established schools in Egypt. These schools were not just restricted to those of the corresponding nationality, but were presumably open to whomever could afford that education. 

My grandfather followed the French education system while his younger brother received a British education. Granddad's French was impeccable, if becoming more dated with time, for I also believe it was his first language. Throughout his life, it was the language he counted in, the language he constructed sentences in before translating them to write them in English, and the language he used on his non-French speaking grandchildren to tell them to stop quarrelling when they visited him the day he died. 
However this in no way made Granddad French. 

In fact he spoke many languages; French, Italian (because his mother decided she liked speaking in that language), English (for work and when his daughters started school in Australia), Arabic (at work in Egypt translating textbooks for the Egyptians to be able to use), a bit of Greek (he and a neighbour in Alexandria taught each other a language). Though French was the one in which he was most fluent. 

In Australia they continued to speak French, Italian and Maltese amongst themselves but were forced to speak in English within the larger community and continually emphasis their nationality as British subjects. 

My mother - born a few years after their migration to Australia has a first language of French because her parents spoke that language within their home. Four years later she needed English to start school so the family made the switch to speaking English within the home. This meant that her younger sister born around the same time only learnt English. 

I don't know what languages Assunta had, though I presume she would have spoken English at some point as her grandchildren would have had few languages besides. However, depending on where she shopped, she may have been able to achieve a lot with her Italian. This is because there was a huge Italian community in Fremantle where the family settled. How much integration occurred between the two cultures I don't know. 

So soon after the war (when Italians in Australian had been viewed as the 'enemy within' and subsequently placed in internment camps) such an Italian sounding name was greeted with suspicion. Granddad was derided has having bought his passport illegally and was questioned by clients over his language. One client asked what language he wrote in as his language did not sound English, while in the early days, phone calls were a nightmare as the Australians spoke extremely fast English whereas Granddad didn't. 

Oh, and the link to Spain, another branch of the Armarego family has managed to trace the family tree back to Spain. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

A new Singer in the family.

The sewing machine I've been using till now is a little old. Not quite a hundred year old treadle Singer, but old enough to be showing its age.

My Grandmother or Great-Grandmother's sewing machine, which my mother learnt on. 
In fact my mother bought it the year I was born, and while it survived the t-shirts, bathers, leotards, tracksuits... of our childhood, recently it fell in a heap when confronted with a piece of raw silk chiffon.

So, while it was getting a much needed service, I started researching sewing machines and when Mum brought hers home, I brought one home too. It's not the brightly coloured toy that my sister bought, but I'm happy with it and hopefully it will age as well as Mum's has.

With a sewing machine back on the work bench I got stuck in and finished a couple of projects that had been awaiting the return of Mum's machine.

On the left, the old fabric, on the right, the new. 
First project was a pair of burnt terracotta cushion covers to replace a slightly less appealing set for my Aunt. The couch is comfortable, but needs the terracotta to offset the great expanses of beige tapestry.

They were relatively straight forward; a few rounded corners, overlocked hems and a normal zip (not an invisible zip) in each one.

Project number two: I had this piece of beautiful copper chiffon and decided that I would make it into a top - following a pattern surprisingly. Unfortunately it felt doomed to failure as a) it was cut on the bias, b) my bias pieces didn't exactly match up, c) Mum's machine decided to chew up my test piece (thank goodness) of chiffon before deciding to stop working completely. Resuming the project on my own machine I discovered there was too much fabric incorporated into the cowl thereby requiring some speedy adaptation. As a result the second of the layers at the front now has a deep V neckline.

However a dear friend saw it hanging in the window, expressed a liking for it and was subsequently shocked that I'd made it. Given that she buys brand names, it was a compliment indeed.

With Mum's machine chewing up the chiffon I wasn't going to risk it on the raw silk bodice I was working on. This was being made to accompany a full length skirt made from a length of sari silk. I'll admit I don't start with easy pieces. This one, my first major attempt at sewing (it began long before the dresses and skirts of this post) was inspired by an outfit belonging to Jackie Kennedy of all people. Despite the fact that her figure is vastly different from my own, it seemed, at the time, to be a good idea.

So I began folding the stiffer-than-anticipated silk and was not getting anywhere. It would pleat, but not in the way I wanted and definitely not creating a silhouette I was willing to wear. Practical enough to know that if I wasn't happy with it, regardless of the effort expended, I wouldn't wear it, it sat in a dark corner glowering at me for several months before I decided to pull all the pleating out and start the draping process again. Much better!

With the skirt utilising the pattern of the sari, the bodice was constructed from the different piece that forms the front fall when draped as a sari. I used one of the decorative borders  of the fabric to create the waist band and bodice straps, tying the two pieces together and providing a focal point for the back of the bodice.

As expected, the bodice isn't perfect as I'm still having difficulty finding a pattern or style that fits enough to meet my standards. But that will take practice and a little luck so I've no complaints at the moment.

Found on Etsy
Project Four: This one was made entirely on Mum's machine, but I'll admit is still unfinished as I haven't gotten around to adding the second of the hooks and eyes needed to close the back of the bodice. Window shopping on Etsy I stumbled upon a bodice/skirt fabric combination which in conjunction with a recently bought pattern, could provide a very nice way of using up two measures of rather dated fabric.

Somehow I seem unable to leave patterns alone and make them as is. In this particular case I shortened the zip and moved to cover only the waistband and skirt leaving the back of the bodice open, closed only by two sets of hooks and eyes. It made it easier to install the invisible zip, but I'm not sure how acrobatic I'll need to be to close the bodice up each time I wear it. And as it's not polite to show your bra strap, it may prove a slight dilemma (that hook and eye is the one that still needs to be installed... eventually).

The other alterations were not my fault. Provided zips are moved to the centre back, all waist bands and skirts are now relatively easy to make.
Saying that, I did add 2 inches to the length of the skirt. I seem to frequently forget that I'm taller than average.

Bodices however are still a bloody nightmare. In this instance I measured and cut the pattern and then discovered that it would have barely covered half my boobs. Given that an empire line is supposed to sit under the bust, not cut it in half, I found I needed to add 2 inches to the length of the bodice and even then it just worked.

This pattern also reinforced that pleats and big boobs don't really work. In the pattern diagram, the pleats are supposed to sit softly over the boobs producing a blouse-like appearance, not be pulled out of shape to draw attention to the armpits.
Perhaps 2 inches is not enough to add. Perhaps it just wasn't designed for anyone bigger than a C cup.

As a pattern that's annoying to assemble, and unflattering, it definitely doesn't win my favour, or live up to its branding of being a 'Vogue Easy Options' pattern.

Not a bodice pattern I will be using again soon.
Sorry Vogue.

The next projects have already begun...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Loquat Season

There's a loquat tree in the garden and this year it's covered in fruit. So, in a bid to stop the birds from getting more than their fair share, I've been cooking... again.

Now loquats are one of those fiddly fruits where if you don't eat them in a day or two, they go bad and are wasted. They're also the type that you have to gather at just the right time: you want them to be losing the last of their green tinge so they're still slightly tart. Otherwise they're a bit too sweet.

So having picked two bowls full, I set about peeling and pitting them.

The first bowl went on these; Tarte aux Néfle du Japon Frangipane.

They were delicious, but the fruit lost some of its bite as a result of the steaming process and didn't contrast strongly enough with the additional sweetness of the Frangipane mixture.

So the second bowl was put to a different use. 

Loquat and Onion Chutney.
I found the recipe through Yummly one of my favourite sources of food inspiration, but typically, wasn't satisfied with the recipe 'as is' and so adapted it slightly.

In this case, that just meant throwing in a few more spices and not exactly measuring the amounts properly. (The coriander seeds, cardamon seeds and fengreek were all additions)

It was left to bubble away on the stove for a while giving the fruit time to disintegrate into the mixture and spices to infuse throughout the onions and fruit.
I forgot to cut the loquats into small pieces before throwing them in, and so when they had well and truly softened I took the potato masher to them. Seemed to do the job.

With the few leftover loquats, I followed a recipe for brandied loquats, compacting them into a jar, covering them in sugar and hiding them in a dark cool corner of the pantry, allowing them to ferment in their own juices. I'm not sure how that will turn out, but the recipe looked interesting enough to be worth a try, and unusually flavoured alcohol is always appreciated.
Will just have to remember to check on it in a month or two. 

And I've found a recipe for the left over seeds. Next time... 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

1952: The Journey Out.

My Grandfather kept everything.
I'm sure of it.

And pouring through his collection of documents relating to his trip out to Australia the statement feels entirely justified.

Granddad (Oswald), his younger brother (Anthony) and his mother (Assunta) travelled out from Port Said to Fremantle on the s.s.Strathmore, berthing in Fremantle on 22 April 1952.
*I wasn't there, so my understanding of the voyage is based solely on what the documents are telling me, and the few stories I have heard within the family.

According to documents, preparations began three years earlier, when Assunta wrote to the English Coaling Co. asking for the necessary application forms for passage registration to Australia on the P&O Liners. These forms would have put her and her two younger sons on the waiting list only, a general exodus of British Subjects from Egypt resulting in limited spaces.

* It is perhaps worth noting here that Assunta was not renown for her knowledge of the English language (in fact she preferred to speak Italian). Even my Grandfather, who did learn English never lost his French grammar. These letters however are in old, but English sounding English. The question then is, who wrote/translated Assunta's communications?

In January 1950 the three joined the waiting list and in subsequent letters to the English Coaling Co. Assunta attempted to gain passage on the s.s.Himalaya, s.s.Stratheden and s.s. Maloja all leaving Port Said in September of that year.

In September she tried again, asking for berths on the s.s Strathaird leaving on 20th October but was again informed that the desired number of berths were unavailable.

A month later the situations of her sons is described as precautious though it is not known how much of this is simply what Assunta is telling the English Coaling Co. to propel them to offer her the desired berths.

The letters cease between November 1950 and January 1952, when Assunta resumes the discussion in a tone that reminds me strongly of my grandfather. For some reason, she politely demands passage to Australia before April 1952. This was not requested as a result of the Revolution of 1952 as the letter is dated to January 15.

After a reminder letter, this seemed to have had the desired affect, for by return of mail, Assunta is offered three berths on the s.s.Strathmore, due to sail from Port Said on or around 4th April.

By 12 March she had the cost of the fares.

A week later the letter of confirmation required by the Passport office to proceed with the formalities.

There is a story in the family that, though they knew that they would have to immigrate in the near future, their journey was expedited by an incident where some natives (Granddad's description) from Cairo hassled Uncle Tony and the only way in which he could escape was to wade into the sea, clothes and all, and swim out as far as he could, the Cairo natives having never had the necessity to learn to swim.
Viewing this story in connection with the data before me, I wonder where it fits into the timeline. Was it the incident that made Assunta first write to the English Coaling Co. or the cause of the precautious situations of her sons? Or was it even the reason Assunta suddenly resumed her correspondence with the English Coaling Co. in January 1952 after more than a year of silence?

In 1950, before Assunta had commenced communications with the English Coaling Co., the Australian Legation in Cairo provided her with the necessary certification that there were no objections to her (accompanied by her two sons) proceeding to Australia.

WIth her acceptance of passage aboard the s.s.Strathmore, the three passengers received updated certificates from the Australian legation, this time one each.

It was then left for them to arrange the rest of the voyage.

Having been allowed to retain their nationality upon migration from Malta to Egypt, the Armaregos were British Subjects, despite having an Italian sounding name, a French education and Egyptian place of birth. Until he became an Australian, Granddad saw himself as British, a fact many Australians refused to believe: one even went so far as to ask how much Oswald had paid for his British passport. In some ways it was understandable as, 62 years later, Australians still have difficulty pronouncing the name, and Granddad never sounded anything but 'ethnic'. 

Oswald's passport was still valid having been renewed until 1955, but 'Australia' needed to be added to the list of countries for which it was valid.

Assunta's passport required renewing for another five years, being due to expire three days before their departure (1 April 1952). Australia was also added to the list of countries for which her passport was valid.

I don't know whether it was around this time or earlier that Anthony, her youngest son, was removed from her passport and granted his own, but his name has clearly been crossed through.


Medical examinations were carried out on all of them.

Before he departed Alexandria, Oswald arranged for some funds to be sent forward to Australia.

Their Immigration Form and Accommodation Guarantee had been completed by October 1951 (although the date looks like 1957, family history and the ages of the family indicate that this has to be 1951 instead) with an Annie Marshall sponsoring them upon their arrival.

Their three pieces of luggage, weighing 218 kilograms was insured for £300 with the Prudence Assurance Co. Ltd, before being collected on 31 March by the Khedivial Mail Line for placement on the s.s.Fouadieh, the ship that would transport Oswald, Anthony and Assunta from Alexandria to Port Said the following day.

From there they would meet the s.s.Strathmore and continue on their journey to Australia.

Aboard the s.s.Strathmore Oswald and Anthony had cabins 839 and 840  while their mother was in berth 835.

They were in tourist class, and so may have recognised the photos below (having found these online, I'm unsure of the date they were taken).
Tourist Class Dining Saloon
Tourist Class Lounge Room
Tourist Class Smoking Room

 Of the journey itself, Oswald kept at least two of the dinner menus,

a Passenger list (surprisingly with the Armarego names missing),

documents noting the ports they would dock at on their way to Fremantle, and protocols for going ashore at each place, among other things. 

For the duration of the voyage, Tuesday 1 April 1952 to Tuesday 22 April 1952, Oswald Armarego kept a diary.

Unlike his future wife, Violet Camilleri, who wrote in English, in preparation for life in Australia, Oswald retained his old language, that of his education.
My lack of French, combined with his ornate handwriting make for a beautiful, if slightly illegible document.

In addition, the journey is recorded in a series of love letters he sent to Violet, again in French.

Also, through a small collection of photos of the sea, distant mountains, each of them posing on the ship, with new friends, and in the ports along the way.

At some point as they neared the end of their voyage, and Oswald could confirm the time of arrival into Fremantle, he wired Violet the details, in French, in an 'Urgent' Telegram, no doubt knowing that she would meet him at the port.

In Western Australia the ship's progress was recorded as shipping news in the West Australian newspaper.

On the left, The West Australian, page 10 dated Tuesday 22 April 1952.

The Strathmore is due today from London, with passengers and general cargo.

Having berthed at 7:55 am, Oswald was finally with Violet at 10:00am, a fact he recorded in his Births, Deaths and Marriages diary.

On the right, The West Australian, page 10, Wednesday 23 April 1952.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...