Thursday 30 January 2020

toasted avocados

Dear Jonny,


HAPPY BIRTHDAY for 30 July 2020 

Your 40th year

My birthday gift is a recipe for toasted avocados.  


TOASTED AVOCADO for two people

Ingredients: Two avocados, one lemon, chilli flakes, garlic salt, black pepper, olive oil.

Method: Cut the avocados in half and remove stones. Scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Squeeze in the lemon juice and mash with a fork. Season to taste with garlic salt, black pepper and chilli flakes. Toast two slices of bread, drizzle over the oil, pile the avocado on top and serve immediately.

Four months into Covid-19 lockdown, I think a lot about food and have started writing a new book on :"Food and Memory". Writing this one for you gave me the idea. 


So I have BURRITOS which will be what Anne brought me evey day in hospital, LAMB ON THE SPIT, Croatia and Bosnia, PITTA BREAD, memories of Tuvia Gelblum, VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE, visits to art dealer Gustav Delbanco and more to follow. My publishers, Unbound, are interested so I must get on with it!

Each chapter opens with a recipe as does this birthday greeting for you.


Last week’s Oddbox delivery of fruit and veg included four small avocados. According to the supplier’s leaflet, avocados are packed with mono-unsaturated fat that is good for the heart. I have no idea what a mono-unsaturated fat is, but after my heart operation and stroke, I’m a sucker for anything I’m told that’s good for me.

These avocados were hard. To speed the process of ripening, I put them in the east-facing window to absorb the morning sun. Later, I moved them to the other end of the flat, to place them on the west-facing window. It was a sunny day so we had avocado salad that evening.

The avocado is a single seed fruit that originated in Mexico. The Aztecs called it āhuacatl which translates as ‘testicle’. Perhaps that is because of its texture, shape and size, not to mention that they hang in pairs.

It was the favourite food of 16th century Aztec Emperor, Montezuma II. He fathered an enormous family with his many wives and concubines, so perhaps he liked avocados for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities. It was unlikely to have been their taste which, without a good dressing, is bitter and earthy, perhaps even testicular.

In the John Dos Passos trilogy, USA, he recounts a sea journey transporting avocados from South America to California. En route his protagonist went hungry rather than eat the fruit. In Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood can’t stop eating them, not because she likes the taste, but because their consumption evokes memory.


I have an avocado memory. Do you remember you, me and Maria eating brunch at Rabbithole (I may be wrong about the name) a cafe on Bedford Avenue and a five minute walk from your apartment beside the Williamsburg bridge? I ordered avocado toast. It was delicious.

I have no idea how past generations in our family thought about their food or what memories they evoked. They won’t have had avocado memories because they were only introduced to the UK in the late 1960s.


We learn something of their memories from personal mementoes passed down through the generations. Before photography, and for the rich, it might have been a Thomas Gainsborough or Joshua Reynolds portrait. For the middle class a mini-portrait carried around in a locket. For the rest of us perhaps a piece of hair.

With photography came the family album. Your aunts, Liz and Joanna, and I still have some of these albums.

In this digital age we keep photos on our iPhones, although our departed loved one are still printed out, framed and placed on the bookshelf alongside those of our living loved ones. 


After ten years, this NYC photo of you and me is still on my phone. I think that is the Brooklyn bridge behind us. Was it taken in 2008, the year Obama was elected President? I'm drinking a bottle of Brooklyn Pilsner and you, I think, Coke through a straw. Your ‘Papel de Fumar’ T shirt reminds me of the rollies we smoked together.

Are you still a smoker? You have been in Spain for ten years now. Your son is now six. Does he look like you? Perhaps a mixture of you and Maria.

Does she eat avocados? She's not Aztec, but I think, Mayan. I can't remember whether either of you joined me to eat the avocado toast at that Williamsburg cafe and don’t think she was there when this photo was taken. I have no photos of my daughter-in-law which is sad. Only one of Rhys.

We tend to associate the feeling of grief with death. When a relative or friend dies we must come to terms with their departure, their ‘not being’. If religious we may accept their ‘passing’, even envy their departure, on their journey to heaven, Nirvana, to a further existence. If not religious, we will come to accept that they are no longer in this material world. Whatever our beliefs, our grief at their loss will weaken and diminish with the passing of time.

But grief can apply to the living and can be worse than grief for the dead. Our thoughts at the absence of someone who is still alive, but has removed themselves or been removed from our lives, cannot be diminished with celestial thoughts, cannot be ‘got over’ with the passing of time.

I have read about people who have lost loved ones to cults, removing themselves into a parallel universe. An act of disappearance that leaves the abandoned grieving for their living dead.

This doesn’t just apply to cults, but to those who have lost a loved one to an unstoppable silence. 


You may have good reasons for your 'unstoppable silence', but I would like to know what they are. On this day, your 40th birthday, I would also love to hear how life is going for the three of you.  I hope all is good and positive. 

You and I were like brothers. You supported me in the raging battles of separation and divorce and when you were struggling, at the time this NYC photo was taken, I helped you.

Your last communication to me, nearly six years ago, acknowledged this when you spoke of your love for me. “I just wanted to write to you to say that I love you and also to say that there really isn't an issue between you and me.”

Do you remember those parties you and your friends organised on Brooklyn rooftops. Swimming in the pool behind your apartment in New Orleans. After you moved to Barcelona, it was table tennis?

There are two tables in our nearby park and, when I walk there, I remember that we played every day in Passeig de Gràcia and in Park Quell. One eye on the game, the other on your dog Whitney. Is she still alive?

I have birthday and Christmas presents piling up for my grandson, but have no address to send them to. I buy them anyway and store them in a cupboard. Maybe when Rhys is twenty he will get the picture book about dogs and the card with a glittering ‘Two’.

Family and friends have advised me not to send Christmas or birthday presents to you or Rhys, even if I had your address. That I should, like you, go to earth. To lead my life to the full and not let the situation get to me.


But today I cannot let the it pass without at least attempting to reach out to you.  To tell you I think of you every day. To let you know that you are my son; that I love you.

I hope you are leading your life to the full, but given my age and precarious medical condition I’m not sure I can act on this advice. I face a finite limit to acceptance that time is on my side. I cannot lead my life to the full. You are the missing piece in my life’s jigsaw puzzle. 


Memory never goes missing and I spend a lot of my time looking at photos which are always there to see. Here you are with Ben. I guess you, here, are at the age Rhys is today.



It is another sunny day and we have had a new vegetable delivery. There are avocados again. They are soft and ready to eat. I must mix the dressing.


Much love to you all,


David xxx



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