Howard Davies: Holy cricket and cultural appropriation

MT's diarist takes on the Vatican's batsmen and samples Warsaw's hearty cuisine.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 02 May 2017

When spring is in the air, a young man's (well, let's stretch a point for effect) thoughts turn to cricket. To get a jump on our regular opposition, Barnes Common CC took all roads to Rome for a pre-season warm-up weekend.

We were not optimistic about our chances in the first fixture, against the official Vatican team, known inevitably as St Peter's XI. Armed with the Pope's personal patronage they have a well-earned reputation for infallibility, and indeed had not lost at home for five years, until they came up against our ecumenical combination of a Muslim/Hindu bowling attack, evangelical Aussie bats and some godless Brits. The game took place in a racecourse, with funny little chariots trotting round the boundary. The sun shone and with the addition of some cucumber panini it would have been a perfect scene.

Sadly, the tour degenerated from there. We celebrated our win with a little too much Communion wine and were beaten the next day by a team called Capannelle, who were fortified by the opening bowler of the Italian national side. He was fearsomely allegro, a bit troppo for our fading eyes.

I am not sure when the cricket season starts in Singapore, since the weather always seems the same. When I popped in, the square was fenced off and the Cricket Club, one of the smartest addresses in town, was very quiet. But I was just passing through on the way to Jakarta, where cricket is not big. That's one of the many drawbacks of having been a Dutch colony.

I expected an exotic change from my Roman diet of pizza and pasta, but the restaurant in the hotel where my meetings took place was Italian. Quite good, as it turned out, but a bit of a cultural let-down, with not a nasi goreng in sight. I tried to go off-piste and explore the neighbourhood, but walking is not an option in Jakarta. It is the largest city in the world with no kind of mass transit system, and it shows. Hotels are marooned at the side of urban motorways swarming with motorbikes, like being on the bank of an impassible shark-infested river. I tried to mount an escape, but was beaten back. The osso buco and cassata were some consolation.

Neither Garuda nor LOT have yet been far-sighted enough to see the obvious potential in a direct route from Jakarta to Warsaw, so it took a long night and two changes to get across to fulfil a teaching commitment at the College of Europe. There is a branch of the Bruges outfit, where Eurocrats have been trained for decades, in an elegant manor house 10 miles out of town.

The Brits on the course, admitted pre-Brexit, were a melancholy group. The European Commission has recruited very few UK citizens for years, and are not going to restart now. The rest of the students seemed uninterested in our departure, but a touch mystified as to why they were being taught about financial regulation in Europe by someone boasting a ticket to leave. I increasingly wonder about that myself. I guess I am not so much a Bremoaner as a Brignorer.

Warsaw itself was a delight on a sunny weekend and they have a new bike rental scheme, which is not called Boris. Outside the old town, which is like a film set, and a pleasant park, there is not a whole lot to see. The Germans destroyed 80% of it in 1944 after all. So I passed the time counting coffee outlets. The result was surprising. Costa: eight, Nero: seven, Starbucks: three. The Poles like British-owned chains, clearly. There must be something to build on there. If we threaten to bring our Costas home they will surely forget about the exit bill.

I didn't try one to test the authenticity. After my Italian experience in Indonesia, it seemed right to eat Polish. At the Inn under the Red Hog, an empty joint drenched in Soviet kitsch, I certainly succeeded. 'Luxurious Dripping of the Polish People's Republic' was followed by 'Erich's Pork Knuckle', named in honour of Herr Honecker of the German Democratic Republic, who liked knuckles, it seems, both in his tummy and other people's faces. I haven't dared try a cholesterol count since.

You can fly direct from Warsaw to New York, but I dropped into Paris briefly and took a BA flight from Orly to Newark. (I wonder if that can survive Brexit.) After two and a half hours in the immigration queue at Newark, I decided it had been a poor decision.

New York is odd in the Trump era. I was staying a couple of blocks from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Outside it, there was a stall selling the collected works of Lyndon LaRouche, who believes that 'Blimps' rule the world. That's British Liberal Imperialists, if you didn't know. Turns out we are in league with Iran in a global anti-American conspiracy. So I jumped on a Citibike and fled downtown. For only twice the price of a metro ticket you can take your life in your hands and in half an hour make it to the new Whitney gallery in the Meatpacking District.

There, Trump is a world away. The gallery is enmired in a dispute about cultural appropriation. A white woman artist has painted a picture of the dead body of Emmett Till, a black teenager murdered by white vigilantes more than 60 years ago. A group of artists of colour are protesting that she has no right to do so. While liberal New Yorkers are tearing themselves apart on that one, the inhabitants of Trump Tower are reinforced in the view that their hour has come.

Dazed and confused, I avoided Little Italy and tried SushiSamba, where teriyaki is served on Peruvian skewers. There's an extreme case of cultural appropriation for you. The result is surprisingly successful.

Howard Davies is chairman of RBS. Follow him on Twitter.

Image source: Chris Schmich/Flickr


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