Murals matter

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Diego Rivera, “Wall St Banquet”

VISUALLY, MY BOOK OPENS and closes with murals. The cover borrows the “Wall Street Banquet” of Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, and the back flap author photo was taken in a restaurant in Germany. I suppose it’s a coincidence that the book is walled-in, so to speak, although there’s something about murals …

Rivera’s “Banquet” is part of a huge set in Mexico City, covering three floors and staircase of the Ministry of Public Education building, taking Diego and his team six years to finish. That was in 1928-29, as Wall Street crashed.

In this panel, eight diners share champagne, while being served ticker-tape streaming the latest stock market prices from the golden machine under a glass dome. Behind that is a bank vault with megaphones. A Statue of Liberty lamp balances on the table in the foreground.

Rivera, “Dinner of the capitalists”

At least some of the well-dressed guests are historical figures, including a Rockefeller, whose family would commission Rivera, who was an on-and-off-again communist, to work in the U.S. Inevitably, in 1934, the family instructed labourers to scrub out his most ambitious American piece, a huge mural in the foyer of The Rockefeller Centre, New York.

Meals Matter might almost equally have been illustrated by a nearby  mural in the Mexico series – “The dinner of the capitalists”, which shows a ruling family served coins, with revolutionaries with abundant food in the background.

Both murals belong to the building’s third level, which illustrates the “Ballad of the proletarian revolution”. Over the Wall St banquet, the banner translates as: “the rich man keeps thinking how to double his money.” The words over the capitalists’ dinner say: “Gold is worth nothing if there is no food”.

I came across Rivera’s murals when idly searching for an illustration of banquets, whose interpretation is important in Meals Matter. (I ended up with a photo of an electric chandelier in Glasgow!) The Wall St version is not strictly a banquet; in this case, “banquet” connotes privilege.

Symons portrait Max 7

The back flap author photo was taken in mid-2019 by my wife, Marion Maddox, in Hannover, Germany. She took out the phone at the Max Walloschke restaurant, where we went several times. Our revisits explain the two versions (shown here) in different clothes in front of different still lives.

Max Walloschke, who was a weightlifter, professional wrestler and German bowls champion, opened the Kneipe (“pub”) on 19 June, 1952.

IMG_20200323_124344735_HDRIn Berlin, I suspected that smart locals crowded old-time Austrian restaurants, because they could not admit to enthusing about what some might call “heavy German kitsch”.

However, Max Walloschke remains unapologetic, calling itself “Das Kultrestaurant am Steintor” – the “cult restaurant at the Steintor”, that is, the place with a dedicated following at the city’s old “stone gate”.

Another of their claims is “Hier gibt es das wahrscheinlich beste Eisbein der Stadt” –  “probably the best pork knuckle in town”.

The restaurant’s official slogan, “Gutbürgerliche Küche und gemütliches Ambiente seit 1952“, uses two words that are allegedly untranslatable. “Gutbürgerliche” suggests “homely” in the sense of lots of sausages, potatoes, and beer. And “gemütlich” hints at a “cosy” atmosphere, and more, because: “Cosy captures an element of it but crucially lacks those of friendliness and belonging.”

Max postcard
Max Walloschke postcard

The restaurant also boasts “authenticity” and “tradition”, which we can believe, and “Herzlichkeit” (“warmth”), which we can confirm. (I plan to say more on this.)

As immoveable artworks, genuine murals (rather than wallpapers) have tended to be sponsored for public places, including cafes and restaurants, where they often employ faux architectural elements to give the illusion of grandeur, space or being in the homeland – sometimes all at once, such as a panorama of the Bay of Naples through trompe-l’oeil pillars. The more Gutbürgerlich murals of beer, pork and vegetables encourage Gemütlichkeit.

I must find out the name of the painter, whose food murals contribute so warmly to Max Walloschke’s welcome.

“Wall St Banquet” on left

Symposium of Gastronomy, Wellington

Duncan Galletly
Duncan Galletly

SINCE THE FIRST Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, which I instigated in 1984, the serious interest in growing, cooking and dining has only exploded, fragmenting into talkative clusters of scholars, chefs, social activists, greenie growers, and more.

With only one-fifth of the available population, the gastronomic symposiums we got going in New Zealand in 2001 have arguably had a better prospect of holding together.

The recent gathering in Wellington returned to more eclectic interests, rather than specifically culinary history. The “Diversity” theme attracted an appropriate variety of papers with the nearly two dozen topics including aprons, Sunday school picnics, dining alone in foreign cities, and Wellington’s nearly lost Chinatown, around the corner.

Founder of Peoples Coffee, and keen promoter of fair trade, Matt Lamason has turned his mind to the benefits of training prisoners and ex-offenders in what New Zealanders call “hospo” (hospitality industry). Archeologist Dave Veart provided expert illumination of the ancient Maori farms further threatened with “development” outside Auckland. Exemplary cookery writer Lois Daish explained her adulation of predecessor Patricia Harris (1910-2003), who proved prickly when they actually met.

Phil Cook argued that “craft beer” is not novel, but very, very old; two Iranian postgraduate students Amir Sayadabdi and Saman Hassibi analysed the massive changes in Norwegian cookery books since the 1960s; and a commander in the NZ Navy, Karen Ward, investigated predecessor Captain Scott’s fatal provisioning for the race to the South Pole.

Medical academic Duncan Galletly might even exceed me in gastronomic obsessiveness. The colours of the covers of his journal, The Aristologist, borrow from lollies – the first from Violet Cream, and the latest pale green from “The Snifter – now extinct. Some lament its passing … other do not”.

Galletly’s scientific presentation this meeting was entitled, “Zomato – Zero to connoisseur in 11 easy kilograms”. Zomato is a restaurant review site, based in India and expanding quickly worldwide through the logics of mobile phones, social media and finance – purchased companies include Urbanspoon. As Duncan explained:

For this paper, over a period of six months, I ate and drank at, and reviewed, approximately 200 restaurants and cafes to achieve what Zomato describes as “connoisseur” status, becoming one of the “most respected members of the foodie community”.

Even more gloriously than judging that amateur restaurant rankings are justifiable alternatives to established guidebooks, Duncan Galletly had published so many reports that he had beaten Taylor Finderup as top Wellington foodie.

Taylor Finderup
Taylor Finderup

In the call for conference papers, Duncan had asked for unusually long abstracts of “about 500 words”, which might provide enough reading of my “How big was John Locke’s spice drawer? An inquiry into whether liberalism favours, diversity, equality or both”.

Basic catering was provided in the function room at Prefab, the popular new venue of Jeff Kennedy (formerly of L’Affare). We unavoidably missed the Friday dinner at Giulio Riccati’s Cicio Cacio in Newtown, but did squeeze into the Saturday dinner at Asher Boote’s Hillside Kitchen and Cellar in Thorndon. I’ll explain my enthusiasm, not shared with everyone, in a separate post.

The next NZ symposium is projected for August in Auckland with an “Aesthetics” theme, and the Twentieth Symposium of Australian Gastronomy is tentatively planned for Melbourne from the evening of 2 December until morning of 6 December 2016.