Osteria Da Mario, Bologna

Osteria Di Mario, BolognaDon’t know your Osteria from your Trattoria? Then allow me. In the simplest terms, an Osteria was a place you once came to drink. You brought your own home cooked food wrapped in paper, and you just, well, kind of hung out. A trattoria, on the other hand, was a place you came to eat. Trattorias have never gone out of fashion. Osteria’s, however, have only recently started to make a comeback. To find out why, you wouldn’t go far wrong visiting Osteria Da Mario, slightly left of centre, on the periphery of the old part of Bologna (and bang opposite  a kebab shop).

Mario’s originally opened in 1900. And it reopened again, just two months ago – after six years – with a fresh, modern twist. In the good ol’ days, it counted local tenor, Pavorotti, as a patron. (There’s the classic signed pic on the wall – a younger looking Mr P,  signature scrawled across his chest, looking more a like a Latino footballer than a respected opera singer). But don’t get me wrong, even now, it will provide some of that old-fashioned colour to your cheeks.

Osteria Di Mario, BolognaSo, how does it scrub up?

Organised higgle-piggle. Dusty old bottles of last century’s nebbiolo mix with jars of pickled everything that sit there like sinister human parts in a Victorian museum. Unopened bottles of Mackheson’s Stout behind glass. The back wall still has the marks where decades of patrons have rubbed up against the wooden side paneling. Paraphernalia lines the walls. Plus, there’s an industrial burgundy coloured meat slicer, art deco lighting and puppets. Oh, and a salami, longer than a camel’s… ability to abstain from water, hangs from the rafters.

What’s good?

The wine. While Bologna is better known for its food, I was taken back. Quite honestly, in two visits, I didn’t get much further than the first Sangiovese I was served. It was a far cry from the Lambrusco I had been forced to knock back in neighbouring Modena (an experience which made me think of Christmas day in suburban Berkshire, circa 1984). When I left, my legs were heavy. My head was light.

What’s a bit rubbish?

The food choice is limited. But it’s an Osteria, right. So, the way I see it is, you come here to drink. The choice was cooked Tomino cheese wrapped in parma ham, the signature Bolognese green lasagne, or a selection of cheese and hams. All were wonderful.

What else they got in the bag?

Nice sweets. Mounds of them behind a little glass counter. And pickles, and a few artisan beers. And loads of port and grappa.

To sum it up

If you’re looking for fraying table cloths and wine served in tumblers, move on – we’re talking Bolognese authenticity bordering on the friendly side of class.

Address: Via San Felice 137A, 40122, Bologna. Tel: 00 39 51 555232

Visit the website here.


Pembrokeshire – Beaches, Brooks and a Hearty Brunch to Boot

Initially enthused by the scenery of Pembrokeshire’s coastline, Keith finds his faith restored in the good old British Holiday during a stay in Newport. And it’s all because of a spot of lunch.

Kings St Rooms, Newport
Kings St Rooms, Newport

Literally, I cannot remember when I last took a holiday in the UK. Maybe it was when, as a child, I was dragged off to Northamptonshire’s Billing Aquadrome to eat pot noodles around a pond (that was next to a funfair). I still wear the scars. This year though, with a small child in arms, the UK seemed like the sensible option again.

Enticed by a coastline more rugged than Rhys Ifan’s beard, we packed up the estate with windbreaks and a few boxes of provisions (just to be safe) and headed to one of the country’s western-most points, Newport (Pembrokeshire, NOT Pagnall).

The Welsh Coastal Path was voted by Lonely Planet as the world’s greatest region in 2012. So we knew we’d get a few good walks in. But if, like me, your appetite is as hardy as your walking boots, then what’s a good stroll without some grub-based reflection? Well, just a few hours into the trip, a cold M&S chicken leg and a service station coffee down us, we were already doubting whether we’d get a decent bite to eat over the coming week. And Wales, it has to be said, is not a destination on the forefront of a foodie’s mind.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Newport Estuary
Newport Estuary

In fact, it turns out the area around Newport offered a real escape from the typical trappings of the British summer hoards. What we found instead was an area with a burgeoning interest in the fat of its own land (and, of course, sea). The story is best told through a couple of the coastline’s restaurants – so, sitting in a small bistro called The Shed, I started to understand why…

The Shed overlooks Porthgain’s small harbour and is hidden by cliffs. And as a local seafood restaurant it’s popular with ramblers. But from the outside it’s little more than a rustic wooden conservatory. Punters will travel for miles (including many of its regulars) to eat here though.

‘We like to take a drive out occasionally,’ said one these regulars, sat on the table next to us. The couple were from Aberystwyth, and for what it matters they had driven two hours for their lunch.

‘You know,’ his wife added, ‘all the fresh fish up there gets taken away on lorries. Shipped off to France and Spain.’

6‘You can’t even get a scallop in Aberystwyth anymore,’ agreed the man, with defeat. ‘They’re all trudged up from the sea floor. Don’t leave nothing for us.’

But the owners of The Shed have their own fishing boat and what they can’t get they are supplied with by a small network of local fisherman. And that’s why this couple are here. All The Shed’s fish and crustaceans are locally sourced, even if they have to go a few nautical miles down the bay (the mullet from a fisherman in Solva, the crab from the head Porthgain’s very own bay).

The menu includes a bistro option, and a no messing about battered fish option, where the batter is fluffy as candyfloss. Things like monkfish tail and some of the more esoteric crustaceans can be found. And it sounds clichéd to bang on about ‘fresh’ fish but when you can taste the sea in the flesh, and hear the waves in the shell, you know you’re onto something.

At The Shed, we are not talking molecular gastronomy, just reassuringly proper ingredients cooked with reassuringly proper care.

The Shed has been a round for a while though. And where it is more about the seafood, another restaurant (which only appeared on the scene last year) might better exemplify the areas interest in the land.

While technically just outside Pembrokeshire, Cardigan’s The 25 Mile promises its customers to source the best produce they can find within (guess what) a 25-mile radius. And there’s plenty of cattle and flora to be found lurking in the surrounding fields.

The 25 Mile
The 25 Mile

Local delicacies like Dinefwr Estate Wild Venison, Welsh Black Beef, Cardigan Crab and Dogmaels’ Scallops, are all regular contributors to the daily changing menu.

One dish alone told me a lot about the regions burgeoning enthusiasm for food: Pan Fried Gnocchi with shiitake mushrooms and Perl Las (a blue cheese so creamy the cow must have been put through the tumbler drier).

The shiitake mushrooms (native to East Asia) are grown by Maes y Ffin on woodchip sourced from local hardwood brash. The Perl Las is made at Caws Cenarth, a family cheese company set up in the eighties as a response to the crisis of excess milk from the controversial dairy quotas.

Many dishes also use the delicate salad leaves, which burst with mustardy flavours, from Nathan, at Troed y Rhiw farm. Nathan, the owner, provides to local communities and restaurants alike and in fact, the farm also offers courses in wild food foraging, bee keeping, plus an organic vegetable-growing weekend. And he also pops up at local farmers markets throughout the week.

So, it seems some people around here take food seriously. And The 25 Mile is doing something towards bringing them all together.

Pembrokeshire Coast
Pembrokeshire Coast

This marriage of North Pembrokeshire’s natural beauty and its burgeoning pride in local produce and cooking really left an impression. Certainly, you’ll find few of the ubiquitous chain pubs that litter Britain’s roundabouts and outskirts.

And undoubtedly, the area offers the cream of the country’s culinary crop with enough temptation to keep even the most insatiable urban types weary-muscled and full-bellied.

Where to Stay:

The town of Newport not only offers some good accommodation options, but it has an array of quality provisions stores, such as a butcher and a health food shop (plus the weekly farmer’s market). There’s also an impressive curriculum of eating-out options, with updated chalkboards and all. Basically, there’s enough to keep the local spar at baguettes length.


Pembrokeshire Boat

Kings Street Rooms is a bed and breakfast abundant in rural style and character, conveniently situated up a lane a couple of minutes walk from the town.

Golden Lion Pub is a credible option for walkers stopping over for the night.

Further outside of Newport, there are a few foodie focused accommodation options:

Fforest also boasts a fun holistic family glamping and dining experience.

Troed y Rhiw Organics also have a range of accommodation on their farm.

Review: The Backpack, Cape Town.

The Backpack, Cape Town
The Backpack, Cape Town

The Intro

Back in the day, when I was carrying Travelers Cheques and still thought wearing a fanny belt was sly, I filled a German Backpacker’s hiking boots with shaving foam. I did it because of a falling out over a bunk bed.

The Backpack, in Cape Town, is a place where you’re safe from such shenanigans. It’s a hostel alright… but it has its own groove. In fact, it won Hostelworld’s best hostel in Africa this year. So they’re getting something right…

The Backpack, Cape Town
The Backpack, Cape Town

How does it scrub up?

The Backpack has a lightness about it. There’s a decent decor. And by that, I mean it HAS décor. You’ll find dorm rooms with homely fireplaces, and fun pieces of furniture (plus, Mandela’s face can be found in some of the eccentric wallpaper). It’s cool – urbanified, well clean, but not squeaky sterile.

The welcoming courtyard invites a natter, and the colourful bar space will keep even the most insatiable wanderers captive for an evening at least. It’s relaxing. And you won’t find the air sucked out of it by pumping drum and base music, or youngsters being cool. 

Middle of somewhere or middle of nowhere?

Its position is spot on, just a few minutes stroll from Long Street, and the colourful Bo Kaap district. The Backpack is overshadowed – literally – by Table Mountain. Dipping your toes into the small pool out back you can while away hours watching the clouds dance around its peak, wondering whether you can be bothered to drag yourself away from the hostel to climb it.

The Backpack Luxury doubleWhat’s a bit rubbish?

I don’t recall there being a bookswap or anything like that – every hostel should offer up the opportunity to swap your Garcia Marquez with a bit of Coetzee.

 What else they got in the bag?

 There’s a travel centre, offering impartial advice. I needed car hire – they sorted it (dead cheap too). They also focus on responsible tourism and organise local community projects, which they encourage visitors to check out.

 To sum it up…

 An urban-hip backpackers dream where you’d be comfortable taking your mum for a cuppa.

Rooms at The Backpack start at around 220 Rand. Options range from private to dorms. And there’s camping too, for those of you that love the sound of zips in the morning.


Granada. Two weeks. Only one lunch.

Keith spent a couple of weeks in Granada. But he only ate lunch once. Here’s why…

9. Au Vieux Bon Temps3Tapas is, of course, a Spanish thing. The whole world and his Ryanair Priority boarding pass knows that. So what? Well, the tradition of free tapas (or more eloquently put – tapas of the house) is now the domain of just a few remaining areas, mainly Andalucia. Where cities are concerned though, Granada tops the table. And the Alhambra aside, it’s one of the main reasons visitors love this city.

What it means is each time you order a drink you’ll be brought a complimentary plate of tapas. It could be prawns. It could be snails. Or it could be something in between…

And it’s usually pretty good. What’s more, if you drink enough you actually save money. So all you need to know now is where to go. And as I have a weakness for old school (I mean, I occasionally eat fondue for goodness sake) I’ve drawn up a list of Granada’s more authentic, long-standing establishments to help you along the way:

Bar Casa Julio

There are other reasons to go to Granada, you know
There are other reasons to go to Granada you know…

Casa Julio is a very popular hole in the wall bar.  Once you’ve waded through the knee-deep carpet of serviettes and prawn shells, you’ll be treated well.  A young Grenadian crowd tends to fill the alleyway outside and the value for a glass of wine and tapas is great.  The toilet harks back to 1800s Mexico (think creaking saloon door in the corner). It has more charm than space and feels more Spanish than Spain itself. Note – it only seemed to be open at the weekend whilst I was there.

 Bar Sevilla

Bar Sevilla’s décor is intriguing: seats that look like they are pulled from a conference centre on the isle of White circa 1972, walls covered head to heel in photographs of actresses, actors and, of course, matadors. It doesn’t feel like much has changed in this drinking den, originally opened around the time of the civil war. And while its charm may be slightly eroded by a high number of tourists at key times, find yourself a 3pm slot at the end of the bar and you may never come out. You’ll be drowned in small pots of homemade stew for every drink you decide you need. And the daily specials are written on plastic slates. It’s a nice escape off one of the main shopping through fares. There’s also a small adjoining restaurant with a few tables which makes for a cosy evening.

 Bodegas Castaneda

This is an unequivocal favourite of both Grenadians and tourists alike. A bustling bar where thinking is drowned out by the sound of clinking plates and waiters voices bouncing off the sherry vats on the back walls. It has a high turnover, even on quite nights. Jamons hang above the bar like church bells. Cheeses sit in a large fridge in the corner. You’ll even find troughs to catch the excess from the dripping casks. (Some of the patrons, the ones that lean slightly over the bar, look like they have been sipping from these troughs.)  All in all, Bodegas Castaneda has a real feel. It’s no messing.

 Bar Estafador

At the other end of Via Colon is a spacious, yet relatively inconspicuous watering hole that appears popular with a local lunchtime crowd. There is a gaudy mural of the Alhambra on the interior wall and so despite its slightly off centre location, you will not miss out on a view. The Menu del dia is good value and the food is heartier than a matador’s lunchbox. The raciones of crouquettas, shared between two, for example, put me into a semi-conscious siesta. We didn’t finish them before closing time – but we weren’t kicked out.

 Bonus Track
And if you fancy venturing out of town…

Restaurante Ermita De Santillan

I mentioned that I only had one lunch in my during my whole stay in Granada. It’s true. And this was it. The Restaurante Ermita De Santillan is a homely establishment with a wipe-your-foot-on-the-mat welcoming feel.  The waiters are incredibly hospitable and (justifiably) took immense pride in the food.  The portions were generous. I had grilled mushrooms and calamari, both on recommendation of the waiters. It’s just ten minutes out of Granada. And the drive is superb. So, if’ you’ve got time, get away from plastic tourist menus and while away a pleasant Sunday afternoon in agrarian, gastronomic Spain.


Tuscany. In a Camper.

I’m in Tuscany. But other than the fact that I managed to scrump three figs, and take another four off of an old lady in the street, I shall not bang on about the food.

What is infinitely more interesting is travelling in a camper van. It’s on loan from the in-laws. On loan, that is, to allow me to escape them for a week. That’s why I’ve dragged the family to a campsite, which happens to be brim full with Dutch and Germans. We could be Nijmegen, except that I cannot see nought for olive trees.

I promised I wouldn’t bang on about food. Except this one other thing: here I am serving up some ravioli with pesto. Frowned upon, I’m sure, by anybody from Liguria and wherever the hell ravioli is from. But anyhow, that’s what I’m doing.

And I was doing it in the confines of the camper van’s cooking area. Which is too small. So I turn, knock the saucepan against a crappy, good for nothing cupboard with those irritation pop out handles. The ravioli goes everywhere – it has nowhere else to go. And I spend the next 20 minutes trying to clean up my mess with a toothpick.

So, trying to ignore the bits I can’t get to, I go to leave the camper. In the process I knock the tap (placed at perfect elbow height as you try to squeeze your way out of the kitchen). Off it goes. The whole place gets soaked and my girlfriend chucks us one of those looks.

I hold my arms out, palms facing heaven.

‘This thing is just too small for me.’ That’s what I said.

A Camper Van
A Camper Van

So we sit down and eat the remnants of the pasta that I managed to scrape from the riveted draining board. We sit down on one of those fold away tables with one leg. We are all, my girlfriend, daughter and I that is, facing the direction we would be travelling. Except we are not travelling, so that’s pretty inconsequential. And the curtains were drawn, or at least held together by a slither of Velcro, to stop the last bit of sun from ruining our day.

‘Tomorrow,’ I say, during my penultimate mouthful of pasta,  ‘barbecue.’ It was the first thing any of us had said.

The in-laws had loaned us a rusty old grill on legs thing you see. It could barely stand on it’s own feet but congealed ash seemed to be just about holding it together. It would be fine.

There’s a ‘hello.’ Somebody was approaching the van. It was the neighbour with the bedouin tent and the bicycles.

‘Do you have a bread knife?’

When you’re in a camper, you see, people expect you to have stuff. Bottle openers, torches, awnings. But we had none of that. I had a bed that was a few feet too short, so I had to spoon the side door-handle. Other than that, nothing.

So we sent him away, all three of us, squashed up, staring from the dining table.

A little later I’m sat out under the stars, doing all that stuff like thinking. Actually, I’m polishing off my fourth large bottle of Peroni and nattering away to myself. One of the things I say is: ‘I wonder how many olives the person on the plane above my head has on his or her plate.’ In fact it’s a him. Then I imagine them looking down and going, there isn’t much down there. We must be going over Africa, or something. Bloody Americans.

And then, once I realize I couldn’t recognize a single constellation, I got to thinking about why camper vans bother having showers in them. Or toilets. Who wants to sleep in such a confined space with stock piles of your family’s excrement washed down with grannies blue hair dye?

Earlier I had to empty out the waste water pipe. It had been festering for weeks. You have to empty into a special little grill and you find signs for them as you’re driving about. Mostly you miss the turnings though. Anyway, when we did eventually spot one in time to veer to the right, I rolled my sleeves up and took a deep breath. The stuff stunk as it came out. It was around 5pm, peak midgie time, so I got bitten to shit.

You can’t walk up to the local town. The roads aren’t illuminated and that’s dangerous with a small child, you see. So you resign yourselves to the campsite restaurant, where couples of all ages but not below forty sit there and whisper the odd disparaging word at one another.

You leave a restaurant with this obsessive paranoia. And there is the Italian waiter that only talks to tipping nationalities. He showed us no mercy when he realized my girl was Italian. So when he turned his back I did that thing where you raise a fist rigidly into the air, and slap the palm of the other hand between your biceps and inside elbow.

My girlfriend pretended to be mortified, but giggled. He didn’t see me. But he might have heard the slap of skin. Anyhow it doesn’t mater. She said that his Pasta al Pesto was too salty. Cocksucker.

One thing I do love about a camper van though, is that it seems that the rule about unbolting yourself and moving freely from front seat to backseat, is void. My girlfriend happily throws herself between as I’m negotiating a lorry takeover at 98kph on a wet surface. Probably best. Like turbulence on a plane, you don’t notice how bad it is when you are standing.

I said I wouldn’t go on about the food. But I ate the best tomatoes ever in a bar in some small mediaeval town with two world famous ice cream shops.

‘Grown on an allotment,’ the Barrista told me. And they had a kilo of salt on them. There was a reason I was eating tomatoes. There was a reason I was not gouging on my daily feast of cured meats and Montepulciano.

It was the almond in my cantucci. We were in Siena. And it so happened that my big toe became so painful that I ended up sitting on the incline of Piazza Del Campo, the one where they do the horseracing, among hoards of camera wielding Asian tourists. A few took my picture.

Turns out, I’d ‘contracted’ gout. At least that’s what everyman and his canine prescribed. Even the doctor. Although I didn’t actually see him myself because it cost fifty Euros, so I sent my girlfriend in with a picture of my swollen big toe. Word gets back to the in laws. It always does. So that night I receive a call from my girlfriend’s Grandfather. As ever, he was full of advice – had it for years, it turns out.

So we drive back. Me trying not to press too hard on the pedals to aggravate the gout.

I have to say though – in reflection, with kids, I’d do it all again.

A Shot with The Shaman

DSC_9370A shot with the Shaman, Northern Thailand

‘Me and my friend Tee, we both say if we not live long, no problem,’ said Pou as he necked a shot of root wine from a bottle cap.

We were sat on a path outside the home of the Karieng village leader. It was dusk and I was slapping imaginary mosquitoes from my legs. Kids were observing me from a distance.

Pou started to explain his theory of contentment by drawing the axis of a graph in the dust. He was using a twig. Turns out that Pou enjoyed his role as a guide for two reasons and he revealed them both on his graph.

The x-axis represented number of friends, he explained. The y-axis was bottles of O’Thay – his name for the local brew. With the variables established Pou drew a diagonal line. ‘It starts zero friends and zero bottles of O’Thay,’ he said.

Pou liked to talk.

‘And it finishes here.’ His stick stopped in the top right hand corner, where maximum friends and maximum O’Thay was the desirable point on the graph. He marked out happiness with a large dot and grinned a toothy grin. When Pou smiled his ears stuck out even more and he looked like a child who had been praised for his cheek.

So while Pou’s graph was not overcomplicated by mathematical anomalies or accidents of the universe, I decided to accept it. I had another drink with him.

O’Thay was made from a number of ingredients. Whilst mostly undetected by my unaccustomed palate I knew already that it includes betel nut and root vegetables. I had seen them earlier, being unearthed from a subterranean fridge dug out in the soil.

This crude liquor was a kind of epicentre of Karieng social life, more so tonight because I, the visitor, was drinking it. It was passed around in a chipped, stained mug, mouth to mouth, bashfully accepted by the Karieng who were bright with smiles and timid as boxed dolls, although their tactless curiosity was ample enough to unnerve even the least self-conscious. By now, however, self-awareness had started to drain from my body.

The sudden arrival of a small dead bird on a bamboo skewer aroused the pleasure of everybody in the hut. No larger than a sparrow, our village elder carried it to a makeshift but controlled fire in the corner. His benevolent gaze fell upon me. I knew that our eye contact was suggestive of the fate of both bird and I and I guzzled another O’Thay to dull my senses further.

The creature was tossed onto the fire, fully clothed, and it was incinerated. Then it was graciously shared between the more senior Karieng members and myself. I got the best bit: the head, and it was passed to me on the wooden skewer.

I did the decent thing. As I chewed, the brain popped and seeped slowly into my mouth. It was like getting to the end of a Locket. I pushed the puss around my mouth for a bit, until it rested on my tongue like a warm oyster.

Of course, Pou commentated on the whole episode, barely stopping for breath. ‘You like bird, eh,’ he said. I was unsure whether he was sharing the joke or asking me a question. His intonation was all up the spout, one because he was Thai and two because he was drunk.

What I was certain of, however, was that it was the first time this evening that I had been grateful for a mouthful of O’Thay. I followed it up with a puff on a homemade cigarette – a brutal conclusion to a gastronomic orgy of an evening.

A little later every inhabitant of the small village was strewn across the linoleum-covered floor of its largest wooden hut. Earlier the floor had been a little hard under me and I had masked shuffles with enthusiastic gesticulations. But now I barely felt the discomfort. Good thing, because it was where I also slept.

It was the next morning, and to ensure that Pou’s insatiability was at least partly satisfied, the village leader had me up before sunrise to sample the brew that he had slaved over throughout the dark hours. O’Thay is distilled over a fire for the duration of six hours, it seems.

I was already awake, however.  The village leader had been smoking since the very early hours, from a bamboo anti-aircraft gun, right next to my sleeping place on the floor of the hut. And when I had opened my eyes, I had seen him squatting on his feet, with his knees up near his chin. Pou was squatting beside him wrapped in a dirty woven blanket.

Now though, the village leader was smoking some kind of homemade beedie. Resting on his bottom lip it twitched with each affectionate grunt of pleasure. Pou’s addiction to his homemade liquor visibly pleased the village elder, as the cigarette jumped up and down like the handle of the village well.

So after a breakfast of O’Thay we said farewell to our host and alchemist. It was all cuddles and affection, like we had known each other for years. And on our way out of the village, I was taken to meet the Shaman. He lived on the path at the village entrance. This path, it is said, is the conduit from which evil enters and exits the village. That’s why the Shaman lived there.

The Shaman’s hut was cosy. We sat cross-legged on the floor again. I figured the Shaman was many years younger than his appearance made out. His cheeks seemed clamped together and you could see the link between skull and face that is missing in most other living beings. His eyes were set back and rarely moved in tandem. Around him, his possessions appeared limited to some bamboo dinnerware, some shamanistic concoctions on a low, askew shelf and a wife with an unhealthy phlegm habit.

Pou had already explained to me that when the Shaman died the village would be forced by tradition to relocate. Based upon my first impressions of the Shaman I suspected that the lease might be coming to an end soon.

Forever keen to translate, even when no words were being spoken, Pou began.

‘For tradition we drink O’Thay with Shaman for not to offend.’

Pou seemed delighted with himself. It was quarter past eight in the morning. He pulled out a full bottle of O’Thay from a worn hemp bag that hung by his side like a Sankara Stone.

The respect Pou had for the Shaman seemed to accelerate his drinking. He downed around ten small capfuls of this freshly brewed O’Thay before passing it back to the Shaman, who matched Pou and I shot for shot. As a consequence, the Shaman’s eyes grew further apart. Pou’s eyes glassed over.

I was the only one with normal eyes, however, on account of skipping rounds on the sly. They were too engrossed to notice that I was not actually filling the cap. I pulled faces each time and mocked a shiver. Then I would slam the cap on the floor, shout ‘arrggh’ and hand the bottle and cap back to the Shaman. Who handed it to Pou. Who handed it back to the Shaman. And so on.

Minutes later, half way between sentences, Pou’s face began to spasm as if had just sucked snake venom out of a wound. The Shaman, a cure for everything of course, handed Pou some salt.

Pou looked at me, trying to join his eyes together and focus on my face. He was looking straight past me. Pou placed the salt in his mouth and it appeared to stabilise Pou for the moment. There was a pause. Then Pou pulled a grin.

‘To vomit inside the Shaman’s house mean to sacrifice chicken. Then mean to drink more O’Thay,’ he explained. His face was white and transparent like a freshly caught squid.

I sympathised with Pou. Then I realised that there was no need – he had hit the desirable point on his graph. Fortunately, on this occasion the chicken lived. It took us a while to get to our next camp, however.