Books: Blowing in the wind

Suggestive scones, erotic artichokes and Madonna's knickers: Paul Bailey takes his feast of sex-and-grub with a sack of salt

Aphrodite: a memoir of the senses

by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

Flamingo, pounds 20

In "certain rural areas of Great Britain", Isabel Allende reveals in this "mapless journey through the regions of sensual memory", the bored and frustrated girl or housewife makes use of an age-old spell or recipe in order to trap the "elusive lover" who is denying her the gratification she craves. She "kneads flour, water, and lard, sprinkles the dough with her saliva, then places it between her legs to endow it with the form and savour of her secret parts". She puts the concoction in the oven, and when it is baked she offers the bread to the "object of her desire". I am curious to know which particular "rural areas" are noted for this arcane practice, but Isabel Allende - a tease if ever there was one - is typically vague on the subject. I can only say that the next time I sit down to a cream tea in Devon, I shall be on the look-out for the vulva-shaped loaf that might be my undoing. Safety in scones is of the essence.

"Everything cooked for a lover is sensual," Allende declares, "but it is even more so if both take part in the preparation and seize the opportunity to naughtily shed a garment or two as the onions are peeled or leaves stripped from the artichoke." Allende's mother, Panchita Llona, who supplies the recipes that occupy the final pages of Aphrodite, shares her daughter's belief in the aphrodisiac properties of that tasty thistle. "Artichokes stuffed with the pulp from the leaves are very erotic," the saucy Panchita observes, with Isabel's blessing.

Erotic, eh? Let me advise the gullible reader to the contrary. Some years ago, in Rome, my lover and I feasted on chicken breasts with carciofini, the baby artichokes that are one of the culinary delights of the Eternal City. (The Allende style is catching.) We strolled back to our hotel, where we had been given the camera matrimoniale, and "naughtily shed" our clothes. Soon after, the first fart of the night was sounded. Another quickly followed. We went on serenading each other in this fashion until dawn. Some of Panchita's and Isabel's recommendations should be taken with - well, a pinch, or even perhaps a sack, of salt.

Since I have never drunk the urine of a virgin, I cannot argue with the author when she asserts that the potion is likely to bring on libidinous feelings. It is common knowledge that Sarah Miles regularly consumes her own pee to keep her complexion shiny, and it is safe to guess that Aleister Crowley probably knocked back a pint or two in his heyday, but I have yet to encounter anybody prepared to admit to a penchant for this speciality. Along with the "paws of koala" and the "eye of salamander", it is, she says, "on the endangered list".

Bulls' testicles, however, are readily available, and in the section entitled "Aphrodisiac Cruelties", Allende describes how she boiled the balls in salted water and waited for them to cool. She peeled off the skin, diced them "so fine they can't be recognised for what they are", and mixed them with chopped onion, fried minced calf's liver and bacon, as the 18th-century "erotic cookbook" she consulted suggested. She seasoned the ingredients with rosemary, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and added a "thick wine sauce". The resulting dish, she writes, resorting to italics, was awful. Thanks to Isabel Allende, I shall decline the offer of cojones when I next visit my friends in Madrid.

Aphrodite is a lavishly illustrated book. The paintings, drawings and general design are the work of Robert Shekter, without whose "humour" and "wisdom", Allende confesses, she would be a "straight-laced grandma writing tragic stories". Under Robert's gentlemanly influence, Allende is displayed here in coquettish mode, with the requisite nudge and wink on almost every page.

Thus: "There are people who collect catalogues of intimate apparel, and there is a flourishing market for used undergarments to satisfy the needs of certain fetishists. Recently, through an error on the part of the mailman. I received a pair of Madonna's panties in discreet brown-paper wrapping. I didn't know Madonna wore such things." You know now, don't you, Isabel? Strange, isn't it, that the panties belonged to Madonna, and not Mrs Bloomstein?

Elsewhere in the rambling text, she tells us, archly: "I find it impossible to keep anything in my mouth for more than a few seconds. I'm referring to food, of course. I have more patience with other things." Such coyness, Isabel, as the poet might have said, is a crime. Which "other things" do you mean? Come on, out with it, so to speak. You're a big girl, after all, on your own admission. And what is the "occasional mischievous game" you play with the avocado, when you aren't occupied with "tragic stories"? It's naughty of you not to be specific.

But then, Isabel - despite being colossally famous and endlessly self- referential and reverential - is quite a lazy scribbler. The most obvious quotations from Shakespeare elude her ("Shakespeare has a wonderful line about it, but I'm sorry, I couldn't find it") and she seems not to be aware that Tom Jones ("That wonderful English comedy of the Sixties") is by Henry Fielding. The Porter in Macbeth is called a "second", whatever that is. When dropping a line from one of her own Mrquez-and-water novels, she exhibits the proper respect and care she denies the greatest writer in English. Her translator, Margaret Sayers Peden, should have corrected these errors and omissions.

Robert Shekter, whose "scientific" mind kept Allende from indulging in too many fictional fantasies, is an "immovable vegetarian". Robert is an old man now, but he's still up for a bit of fun. Once in a while, Annette - "the woman of his erotic dreams" - comes to visit, and Robert invariably prepares the same meal of stewed aubergines, peppers and tomatoes for her delectation. He "fries the eggplant in olive oil for five minutes as he hums 'O Sole Mio'". He sets the casserole on a low heat. "While it's cooking, he showers, puts on his best shirt, and welcomes Annette with a rose between his teeth." Ole!

Carmen Balcells, "the world's most famous literary agent", is also involved in this bizarre undertaking. Carmen enjoys hosting "orgies", during which she serves a "robust" soup containing a pig's foot, a ham hock, veal, pork sausage, a turnip, a carrot, a couple of leeks, and much else besides. Carmen's "bacchants" must have exceptional constitutions, if they can still perform after a bowl of something that "raises a sweat on your eyelids and awakens your basest instincts". According to Allende, the soup will "revive the passion of the most world-weary". I keep remembering those Roman artichokes, and have my doubts.

I have to say that I enjoyed reading Aphrodite. It's a preposterous compilation, a whole arch world away from Allende's "tragic" fiction. I love it for the rhetorical questions that are scattered throughout: "Is your lover an impenitent fisherman?" and "Is there anyone who hasn't made love after a preamble of caviar and icy vodka?" Isabel Allende, we learn, has no head for wine, and will remove her clothes if given access to the bottle. Future hosts have been warned.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

    £26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

    Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

    £6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works