April 14, 2010
April 14, 2010
April 14, 2010
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is traveling around the United States this week. She loves the country, but she has a few problems with its president, Barack Obama. Her political style is vastly different from that of the US president, but she also has something else to contend with: Washington’s disregard for and attempts to dominate Europeans.
When Merkel is no longer Germany’s chancellor, she will fly to America. She will land in California, rent a car, drive to the beach and gaze out at the Pacific Ocean. That, at least, was her plan in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and she still clings to that vision: America, the Pacific and a long road trip across the entire country.
Merkel is in the United States this week, as chancellor, and she will hardly be in a position to satisfy her wanderlust. But at least she’ll see the Pacific, when she visits Los Angeles and San Francisco after spending time in Washington.
She is traveling to a country whose stunningly beautiful aspects hold an almost childlike fascination for Merkel, but whose political realities represent a cause for concern. During her visit, she will encounter representatives of opposing camps in the country’s deeply divided political landscape. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Merkel will meet with protagonists of the American dream, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, filmmakers at Warner Brothers and some of the Silicon Valley’s best and brightest.
Tensions with Obama, But No Open Quarrels
But first she’ll be in Washington, where Obama runs the show. She will see him at a nuclear summit attended by 40 other heads of state. The two years in which Merkel has interacted with Obama have been filled with tension, even if there has never been an open quarrel between the two leaders. He is precisely the president she didn’t want to see in office, because he is the antithesis of her. This sentiment has been palpable from the very beginning, and it hasn’t gone away.
But Obama isn’t the only source of Merkel’s concerns about America. She is also vexed over Washington’s policy, which fluctuates between disregard for and dominance of the Germans. This isn’t just the result of the president’s personal characteristics, but of the respective roles of the two countries: the United States, a superpower being challenged by China, and Germany, which wants to be a medium power, but only plays this role economically, not politically. Merkel is confronted with this underlying conflict again and again.
The chancellor was last in Washington on Nov. 3, 2009. She was there to give a speech to the US Congress, a rare honor for a foreign leader, and when she was responding to a journalist’s questions shortly before the speech, something happened that almost never happens to her: she swallowed. She had a lump in her throat, and it rendered her speechless for a few moments.
‘Nothing Inspires Me More Than the Power of Freedom’
She was excited, because this speech meant a lot to her. Then she stood up in front of the assembled US representatives and senators and said that because of the Berlin Wall, America had long been “the land of unlimited opportunity” for her. “I had to create my own picture of the United States from films and books, some of which were smuggled in from the West by relatives,” she said. “I was passionate about the American dream — the opportunity for everyone to be successful, to make it in life through their own personal effort.”
At the time, she wore Levi’s jeans that an aunt had sent her from the West, and because she longed for freedom, she also longed to see the country that had come to embody freedom, the United States. Before the joint session of the US Congress, she said: “There is still nothing that inspires me more, nothing that spurns me on more, nothing that fills me more with positive feelings than the power of freedom.”
April 14, 2010
The Full English is the one meal that England does well, with fat bangers, sizzling rashers and eggs oozing sunshine, strong tea and two buttered toast.
This is food that makes you feel good just thinking about it, a platter that pulls on the heartstrings (as well as straining the heart). It’s an icon of Englishness, as much of a symbol as the flag of St George, but here’s the thing: who really eats it these days?
Less than 1% of the population starts every day with a cooked breakfast, compared to the 1950s when it was more than half of us. I was thinking about this the other day, chewing (and chewing) my compulsory muesli while dreaming of bacon and eggs. If the full breakfast is so representative of the English, what does it say about us? And if our attitude to it has changed so much, what does “the Full English” really mean — not just in the sense of what is on the plate, but in terms of being fully English?
Those questions inspired a mad, bad, salt-soaked road trip from culinary heaven to hell and back, and from one end of the country to the other. Come with me, if you want to see what the English are really like now. But prepare for some very strong and surprising tastes.
Where better to start than at a place that dares to call itself a “quintessentially English hotel”? The Goring in Victoria has been run by the same family for four generations and claims to be the last five-star luxury hotel in London that can say that. Breakfast here is not cheap, if you include a room. My £850 suite is nice enough, and has a very groovy mirror that turns into a television, but I wake up raging at the wallpaper.
It is covered in drawings of scenes from an estate, including the lady of the manor wafting around and a gardener who is hauling a manual lawnmower across a back-breaking expanse of grass. What makes me so angry is that almost everybody who slept in the bedroom before me over the past 100 years would have identified with Her Ladyship. Not me.
Downstairs I walk past a bust of the Queen Mother and into a dining room recently made over by David Linley, the viscount and designer. The tables are draped in heavy cream linen and set with blue-and-white china. The chef comes out to meet me, and the first thing I want to ask Derek Quelch, who worked at the Savoy and Claridge’s before this, is a burning question that occupies all lovers of the English breakfast. Hash browns, Derek. Yes or no? “No,” he says, quickly and firmly. “Never. They’re American.”
Derek is a hardliner on this one. All traces of foreign influence have been struck from the menu, including baked beans (unless the customer wants them, because the service here reaches cult-like levels of intensity). Ask for the works and you get a truly wonderful breakfast with a lot of English pig: sausages with natural skins, sweet-cured, unsmoked bacon rashers cooked crisply, and black pudding from Cumbria made with blood. There are eggs, of course, mushrooms, lightly grilled tomatoes and a cute bubble of meat that turns out to be a lamb’s kidney. Bless.
“For us, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” says Derek. “If a guest is spending hundreds of pounds on a room, the breakfast has to reflect that. You will see captains of industry and cabinet ministers in here, we get some real high-flyers in the morning.”
There is wealth on display. Even “Big Dave” Morgan-Hewitt, the hotel managing director, tells me he spends thousands on a good suit. Those are big suits, mind. “I shouldn’t be having this,” he says, scooping cold bacon into toast for a quick sarnie after the guests have all gone, with a napkin at his throat in a Bunteresque fashion. “I’m having lunch in an hour with the princes’ private secretary.” Yes, he does mean William and Harry. We are only a stroll from the palace, and this has long been the haunt of royalty.
The first thing you learn at the Goring is that the class system has become a theme park, where people with money can pretend to be aristocrats. The clever ones do it on the cheap, bringing their contacts here for breakfast to be impressed. “Since the recession, more people are coming for breakfast,” says Derek. “They don’t have to buy wine, so it is cheaper, and they can get back to the office for a full day’s work.”
Eccentricity is very much part of the brand, in a mild form. The 44-year-old owner, Jeremy Goring, is a surfer who wears an open-necked shirt and swears quite often. “Ninety-nine per cent of sausages worldwide are shit. Particularly when you go outside England.” He goes on frequent road trips with his chef, “out in the middle of nowhere to find food that they don’t want us townies to have”, and was the first hotelier of his kind to employ his own forager.
It is also hard to ignore the eccentricity of the Swarovski-crystal chandeliers in the dining room, which hang down, as the regular diner Michael Winner said, “like leftover Christmas decorations from a bad day at B&Q”.
Under those chandeliers, Big Dave suddenly treats the remaining staff in the dining room to high-decibel excerpts from a one-man opera. His boss teases him in a very un-PC way — “I am banning all poofters from this hotel” — then tells me: “Being very English is quite a rebellious, anti-Establishment thing to do now, because the Establishment has become the world of political correctness.” Maybe. There is one thing you see very clearly, though, in this place that seeks to elevate Englishness to an art. We’re all foreigners, if you look far enough back. The Gorings came here from Germany in 1893 but assimilated so quickly that the hotel became the command centre for the chief of the allied forces during the first world war. “We’ve had immigration here for 400 years,” says Jeremy Goring, “so we’ve got to be quite good at it by now.”