At first, we found it hard to find any boats at the show. Enveloped by the pong of frying onions from hamburger stalls, visitors are obliged to navigate their way round three or four separate sites mainly devoted to stalls selling nautical knick-knacks. Reflected in a porthole mirror (pounds 18.50), you can sit on your rope box (pounds 445.11), cracking filberts with your ship's wheel nutcracker (pounds 10.95). After being further distracted by an estate agent specialising in waterside properties ("Timber detached home requiring complete modernisation pounds 150,000"), we eventually made our way to the boats.
In their uniform of shorts, blousons and sun-bleached hair, well-heeled mariners bounced along the duckboards of the marina. Everybody but us seemed very knowledgeable about the moored vessels on display. "That's very cheap for a 32-footer," announced one seafaring squit as he pointed at a price-tag of pounds 44,998 plus VAT. Eventually, even Mrs W and I began daydreaming about the possibility of acquiring a leisure craft. We started modestly enough by examining a folding plywood dinghy for pounds 634.50, but subsequently elevated our ambitions to an elegant electric-powered estuary craft called the Oyster 16 for pounds 11,546 plus VAT - though the running costs are a very reasonable 40p a day.
It was at this stage, according to Mrs W, that a megalomaniac gleam appeared in my eye. While she remained on the duckboard shaking her head, I found myself negotiating the gangplank of an 80-ft speedboat called the Sunseeker Manhattan 80. An unmistakably phallic assemblage of thrusting curves and parabolas, the vessel resembled the Starship Enterprise. "She is the ultimate choice for performance," declared a salesman in a well-practised patter. "Two V-12 engines. A cruising speed of 32 knots - a fair old speed for 50 tonnes. Range of about 500 miles. Luxury accommodation for eight plus crew quarters." I nodded appreciatively, giving every sign of expertise, "And the price?"
"pounds 1.9 million plus VAT," my informant purred. "We've sold the first six. You're looking at an eight-month waiting list," After slipping off shoes as if entering a temple, I prowled the slightly garish interior ("light burr veneer with insets in madrona and birch"). Rubbernecks squinted at me through the oval portholes, I scanned the books intended to impart a homely touch to one of the bedrooms. It was an unexpected collection for an imaginary zillionaire. Next to Glorious Garlic, there was an anthology of George Orwell. I might have pointed out to my host the section on the "idle rich" in Orwell's essay The Lion And The Unicorn: "The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They were simply parasites, less use to society than its fleas are to a dog." But I don't want to rock the boat.
There is something innately contradictory about celebrity chefs who retain an elegant silhouette. However, no such doubts arise about the co-author of a chunky cookbook called A Culinary Voyage Through Germany, for even his severest critics would not describe Helmut Kohl as a lightweight. The Chancellor recently described his weight as "a state secret". Few of the 300-plus recipes have political overtones, though "Carp in Black Beer" (page 71) might have been inspired by late-night negotiations in Brussels.
One dish which had unexpected repercussions was "Stuffed Paunch" (page 127). Appropriately, this is Helmut's favourite. It consists of a pig's paunch stuffed with 10lb of pork, sausage meat and potatoes. As a special treat, this delicate dish was once set before Mrs Thatcher. Observers noted that she did it less than justice and a minor diplomatic incident ensued. If the Iron Lady had shown a bit more spirit with her knife and fork, we might still be in the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Actually, Helmut's contribution to the book takes the form of some rather stodgy regional introductions: "The dukes of Wurttemburg and the Hohenzollern line with their family seat at Sigmaringen helped to make Germany history..." Zzzzz. The belt-straining recipes are the work of the Chancellor's wife, Hannelore Kohl, together with "award-winning chef" Alfons Schuhbeck. Amid the cuisine, they indulge in some chit-chat. "I discovered that the German for sausage, Wurst, is one of the oldest words in German," remarks Frau Kohl. "It stems from the Indo-European Vers and Old High German werrum, meaning to muddle or mix up."
"I didn't know that," chips in Herr Schuhbeck, "But I do know that Germany is a sausage-lover's paradise. We make over 1,500 varieties." Judging by this exchange, I think Chancellor Kohl should spend less time at the office. When a man and a woman start swapping fruity badinage about sausages, the aphrodisiac effect of power counts for naught.
I doubt you were there, but last Wednesday the Maison de la Culture du Japon opened in Paris. This pounds 20-million structure near the Seine, described in the pages of this paper as "a perfect synthesis of architecture and site", was designed by British architects Jennifer and Ken Armstrong. Sadly, in the seven years which it took to complete the project, both their architectural practice and their marriage went pfft. Still, they have created a literally dazzling showcase ("the facade by night lights up as different glass bands, like a Noguchi lantern") for Noh and Kabuki, with a spot of Sumo to add substance to the plinking and plonking,
The Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry was less fortunate with his American Center in Paris. Though completed in 1993, it remains empty simply because no one considered what should go in it. As a report in the New Yorker remarked: "Its trustees neglected to raise an endowment for operating expenses or a programme." So there it remains on the rive droite, a tribute to fashionable minimalism. To be fair, I think it is easier to display Japanese culture than large, brash examples of Americana. A few years ago, I inadvertently walked through an extensive exhibition of the intricate but minuscule carving known as Netsuke held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I thought the gallery was completely emptyReuse content