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On a meal deal at the Menier – one of the best theatre experiences. Lovely food served quickly and washed down with wine. And so to see Forbidden Broadway – the pisstake of the current big production musicals running in the West End. Well, obviously it was originally about the Broadway ones, but perhaps ‘Shafting Shaftesbury” or ‘Dreary Drury’ just didn’t cut it.

So this is the second time I’ve seen this – the first time about 5 years ago in the same theatre, but this version is updated and relates to current shows. And it is great. Obviously helps if you’ve seen the actual shows to get all the in jokes, but even though I had not been drawn in to see The Pajama Game up town, I knew enough about it to find the Menier’s “Revival Game” a cracking number. They basically say the things most people are thinking and do it with fabulous singing voices and humour themselves. The four-strong cast takes us through all the big ones: Billy Elliot, Lion King, Miss Saigon, Phantom, Wicked, Matilda, Once, Jersey Boys, West Side Story,….. too numerous to mention, but the best for me had to be the fantastic parody of Les Mis just before the interval. The superb farce of them pretending to get on and off a rotating stage is making me snigger at the memory. The classic ‘Master of the House’ overblown, over acted and with lyrics along the lines of ‘Half an empty house, still we never close”, and the bored extra singing “On my phone”, about how all she wants to do is get out of there.

The second half was not as strong, with some solo bits I could have done without and references to stars who I didn’t know. But still a great night out if you enjoy a well executed revue show in a fabulous little theatre.

So last night we are having people round for dinner and split the meal so that hubby doing starters and I’m doing mains and pud. I’m thinking slow roasted lamb. Easy. slap the veg and wine in a casserole pot and job done. Made it before and works a treat.

As hubby is roasting tomatoes and will want a highish heat, I decide I will leave him the oven that I have been cooking the chocolate mousse cake in and use the second oven to slow roast the lamb. This is a new cooker and in fact I’ve never used the second oven before, but seriously, what can go wrong? It’s just a matter of turning a dial. Unfortunately when I go to take the lamb out just before the starters are served, I realise it is still raw. Despite having been in the oven for seven hours. Well, not completely raw, but even the surrounding carrots still weren’t cooked. We have six guests and no main course. I call hubby in from outside, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice.

We transferred the lamb to the main oven whilst we tried to figure out what to do. Luckily on his Waitrose trip he had bought Sunday’s roast and it was beef. And in fact he’d bought two pieces for some  (still unexplained) reason. So we cut them in to smaller joints, turned the heat up full blast in the main oven and slammed them in. The roast potatoes were transferred to the second oven to keep warm. The green beans flopped limply in the pan, gently overcooking.

We sat down for starters, ate slowly and forty minutes later the beef was carved, the potatoes burnt and the green beans mush. But we served it anyway and our guests had to eat it. There was no other choice. I was drinking for England and trying to remove the carbonised potatoes from the dish. But there was no salvaging this meal. We could only apologise.

Still, this morning we thought that at least we have the lamb for today. But  no. Unfortunately it is still inedible as now it has been overdone by being blasted with the beef and being left in the cooling over overnight. Even the onions and carrots are black.

 

The Palio 2014

July 7, 2014


Hubby and I have just returned from our second holiday in three weeks. I could get used to a one week on one week off kind of flexitime. But the main reason for this second jaunt was to see the Palio; the bareback horse race around the central square in Siena. But this is no simple horse race. This is a horse race steeped in tradition and pageantry and machismo and dates back for nigh on 400 years or so. One thing it is not is a contrivance for tourists. In fact they make no concessions for tourists with no readily available timetables, information or announcements. Everyone who matters (the locals) know exactly what happens when and where and exactly what you should be doing.
Siena, a beautiful walled city, is divided in to 17 districts (contrada) represented in colours and symbols and the residents of that district are baptised in to it. They each have a chapel, a social club and a museum. All the boys of Siena must learn to play the drum and do flag throwing and they are taught this in their contrada throughout the year. Only the two best flag throwers from each contrada will represent them in the Palio parades (and compete for the title of ‘Most elegant’), along with one drummer. The parade on the day of the Palio is two hours of non stop pageantry, flag throwing, trumpeting and men in tights.

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the Palio ( hand painted silk banner) itself

the Palio ( hand painted silk banner) itself

For each Palio only 10 contrada will race. The other seven will automatically compete next year and then three are randomly drawn to make up the ten. Only those competing in the Palio are allowed to decorate their contrada with the flags and tapestries representing them. As you walk around Siena it is like being in an opera set with these wonderful buildings dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries bedecked with colourful flags and lamps which are only displayed for the four days of the Palio. The morning after they have all disappeared except in the winning contrada. Similarly the residents wear their contrada colours and scarves. But this is Italy so it’s not a football scarf, it is a square of silk worn usually as a triangle around the neck.
It is such a mental experience. The maddest race I have ever known. Horses (no thoroughbreds allowed) are randomly allocated to each contrada and they hire a jockey to ride it. They raise money all year to pay for the best jockey they can as he’s going to be riding in the race having only just met the horse three days before. (And it is ‘he’ except once in 1957 a woman was chosen as she had been the stunt double in a Hollywood film that featured a woman jockey in the Palio so a contrada chose her to ride for them.) Then there are a morning and evening trial race in the over the next three days until the Palio itself.
10514285_743337675704411_4899559516025502828_oOn the first training race we saw – with a fantastic view from an apartment balcony – by far the best way to watch the Palio if you can – we didn’t understand the rules and thought the blue and white jockey was unable to line up and causing havoc as the other horses got jumpy and fretful pushing against the rope that is the starting line. When they did finally set off, the rope did not fall cleanly to the ground and horses got their legs tangled in it falling over and throwing their riders off.Others fell off round the tight bends and one was running with his horse down the back straight until he eventually remounted.

the start

the start

But we discovered that in fact the horses line up according to the draw that is made at the start of the race.The final horse then does not have to line up until he wants to. And in fact may take ten minutes, half an hour, an hour until he decides to. Once he waited so long it had got dark and the race was abandoned! The tension at this point is incredible. Silence from the huge crowd as the horses start champing at the bit, and jockeys can use their whip on each other and each other’s horses. This is a no holds barred kind of race. And then the final jockey decides to go and a huge firework is let off to start the race. Three bareback laps of a tiny, tight bend, sloping track with I don’t know how many people yelling them on.
And then the winner crosses the line, and another huge firework explodes and everyone runs on to the track. The winning contrada immediately goes to claim the Palio itself – a silk hand painted banner that hangs near the equivalent of a royal box – they climb up and pull it down and then parade with their horse back to the stable.

There are no announcements at all. This is all a well-rehearsed machine oiled over the centuries. The drummer of the winning contrada was overcome with emotion, sobbing in to his velvet tabard. And everyone sang. Just like they had sung every day leading up to the race. Just like they sang at the end of the contrada dinner we went to. And at the horse blessing we went to. And you could feel this was where opera is at home. The incredible set, the drama, the tears, the big Italian voices soaring in to the sky. Nessun dorma indeed.

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