Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Cooking with Fernet Branca – James Hamilton-Paterson in interview

This book took a life of its own. I never write out a plot for my books, I just start writing and see where it gets me, so each new day, writing this one, I'd no idea what various absurd episodes might crop up – it probably reads like that too(laughs)”.

The absurd episodes are aplenty, and all written with a sharp, concise, page turning quality. And so we turn back to the cat cooking. Two articles in particular that I came across, while researching for the interview, struck me. In both, Hamilton-Paterson deals, from a personal experience, with fishing. The first, from Granta magazine Do fish feel pain?, and the second, from the Guardian Troubled Waters, both deal with the violence of fishing, and challenge conceived notions of what is acceptable to eat. Were the outrageous recipes in the book sending up the hypocrisy of those who shudder to eat a feline, while happy to wolf down a Sunday roast? “Yes, not consciously, but I suppose that it is a part of the way I think at the moment. There's so much hypocrisy, it's glaring the sentimentality people attach to certain animals while at the same time there's a lack of concern for calves that get turned into veal, or chickens that get turned into indistinguishable nuggets of meat, far removed from the slaughter.

I got into some trouble a couple of years ago, writing a column for a Swiss newspaper, a regular column that I write, and I mentioned something about dog eating and suddenly I started receiving a load of hate mail, and there was a bit of a to-do about it. Then it emerged, that I got some great support from a Swiss guy who wrote in: “This is absolute nonsense, we've been eating dog in my Canton for centuries, and we still do, it's just that we have to play it down a bit nowadays”. And certainly in Alto Adige there's a tradition of hanging cats, dead obviously, in chimneys to smoke them before eating. It really happens”.

In 1979 Hamilton-Paterson went to the Philippines, on the advice of a helicopter pilot friend in Vietnam, who described Manila as “wacky”. Instead of Manila though, through strange fortune, Hamilton-Paterson wandered to a small fishing village, where he settled for a time, learning about both indigenous language and the Filipino culture. Since then, he has repeatedly spent time in the Philippines, and currently divides his time between there and Italy. One of the more controversial fruits of his time there has been his book on Marcos and the regime in the Philippines. “The reason I came to write the book was that I'd been staying in this village for years, on and off, and I really did know it quite well, three months here, three months there. Once Marcos fell in 1986, and had been flown out of the country, a lot of the older people in the village wandered around, saying to me ”Well, I hope it works for this new woman (Cory Aquino)” but with an obvious scepticism in their voice, and after a couple of years there emerged this undercurrent of people clearly thinking it had been better under Marcos, and saying so. And this struck me as so at odds with the received wisdom of American dominated international journalism on the subject, so I wanted to try and find out a bit more of why people might think that. It wasn't an uncommon thing in the Philippines, though it was uncommon to express it to foreigners, because people thought it might be the wrong thing to say, but because I'd been there so long, I'd become friends, and after a few
gin and tonics discretion could melt. It became clear to me that both the Marcoses were perfect expressions of the culture there, or certain aspects of it. Mrs Marcos for example: though everyone went around saying what a monster she was, there wasn't a woman in the village who wouldn't have given her eye's teeth to be in her shoes, to have millions at her fingertips and all that power; they'd have been only too happy to settle a few differences and go out and buy some expensive frocks. The more people I met, who had actually served under Marcos, the more I felt that the Western media's portrayal of it was a sham.

It's a bit like this business in Iraq. It's the same kind of cultural arrogance that the Americans often display. I don't mean to say that the British haven't been guilty of this too, but it's mainly American now, the arrogance of being able to swan into places, give a diagnosis of what's wrong, and breeze out again, without any knowledge of the culture or anything. In the Philippines it was particularly noticeable because, after all, it had been part of the Commonwealth, by any other name a colony, and they'd had many years, since 1898, to learn something about Filipino culture and yet there were virtually no Americans there who spoke any Tagalog or had much clue at all about how the Philippines worked, or cared, quite frankly”.

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