Thursday, February 11, 2010


Over the last few days I've been thinking about the quality of my life. This is pretty much a direct result of watching 'Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour'.

Although I am increasingly trying not to be, I'm a huge fan of Kevin. I love 'Grand Designs'... but so does everyone else, and I find my love being tainted by my inherent mistrust of anyone who is too successful. Let's face it, Kevin's head must be so big by now that it's developing its own gravity well. Everything he's touched has turned to televisual gold.

But while I suspect that he might be absolutely insufferable in life, on screen he remains an engaging host and a discerning judge of good design. In short Kevin = Quality. We can be pretty sure that he won't be lowering himself to any 'Surprise 30 Second Renovation!'-style shows, arguing with some shrieking chav about hot pink feature walls.

The Grand Tour hasn't let me down. In it Kevin reenacts the Grand Tours undertaken by young Englishmen of the 17th and 18th centuries through France, Italy and Greece, and relates this back to the life and architecture of Britain. Thus we see how St Paul's Cathedral would not have existed without the Duomo in Florence, or Covent Garden without St Mark's in Venice. Interspersed through the art and architecture are the other things that opened the eyes of these young men: food, wine and a heckuva lot of debauchery.

As Kevin shuttles about examining the construction methods of everything from the Duomo to parmesan cheese, it's hard not to be beguiled by the classical simplicity of the lifestyle he's purveying. I can remind myself that it's all as contrived, if not fake, as the average episode of 'Top Gear'. But it doesn't help. It's all simple food, simple cars and simple travel, rather than energy drinks, iPhone apps or the monstrous idiocy of Facebook.

It's made me recall one of the most memorable meals I had in Europe, which was a dinner at a vegetarian hippie hostel situated in a ramshackle French castle. There was wine, a local cheese, some fresh bread, and a salad which consisted of lettuce and a vinagrette. I first saw it and thought, "No meat? No variety? No dessert? HOW WILL I COPE?" But it was all delicious, and elegant in its simplcity.

It's also reminded me that the southern Europeans have a priority of doing things well, while the Americans have a philosophy that any good thing can be made better. Thus the Florentines invented gelati, made from eggs, sugar, cream and dessert wine, which Kevin pronounced "divine", and the Americans have triple choc cookie dough icecream with peanut butter ripples. If the former is "divine", the latter is idolatory. It's easy to get caught up in the creeping featurism of life, whether it be in food, cars, architecture or technology. But the pleasures of going back, especially with food, are enticing.

And so I drool at the thought of some good bread, locally made proscuitto, fine cheese and fresh herbs. But then I remember that I'd need to drive halfway across the city, and pay twice as much, to get it. So instead I have a Pepsi Max and play with my new iPod Touch. Fool that I am.


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