The Edge of the City and Semolina Cake

“I perpetually feel the need to escape through travel, I beg for, humiliate myself for the money to go, eke it out of nearly empty cupboards.” – ‘Norway’

The Edge of the City: A Scrapbook 1976-1991 is a collection of brief non fiction pieces written by Irish author Desmond Hogan. The book was published by The Lilliput Press in 1993 and showcases a striking photograph of Hogan in a patterned yellow shirt on the cover.

This is the first of Hogan’s works that I have read. I remained mesmerised. His writing is lucid, poetic, enchanting. It weaves, in an elaborate tapestry of words, the essence of a world on the cusp of change. Hogan’s pieces are penned from Berlin, Leningrad, Yemen, Guatemala, South Africa. All places in the throes of collapse and regeneration. He is an astute observer and a traveller who seeks to do more than merely scratch the surface. His prose recreates an atmosphere rather than painting a portrait, a feat that is by no means straightforward.

Hailing from the town of Ballinasloe in the west of Ireland, the location, Hogan reminds us, of one of the largest mental asylums in Europe, he attributes his propensity for voyaging to the travelling communities that inhabited the town’s environs. He is an author who has, in many ways, slipped through the cracks. Without publishing houses such as The Lilliput Press, many of his works would be extremely difficult to locate and read.

Rarely have I been as excited to read more of an author’s work than Desmond Hogan’s. I can relate to his hunger for experiencing different places, but also comprehend the loneliness that constant change can incur.

To keep in track with the itinerant theme of this post, in the past fortnight I travelled home to my native Brussels for the festive season. It has been a time of reunion with the oldest of friends, as well as an opportunity for feasting and the reigniting of an intense love for and obsession with continental Europe.

While reading The Edge of the City, a winter birthday celebration befell and I made a coconut, marmalade and semolina cake from the brilliant Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The cake is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The semolina gives it a sort of irresistible fluffiness and the coconut provides a refreshingly tropical, if slightly ridiculous, edge.

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