07 Apr Ofer Eitan Declares: From her self-quarantine in London, Claudia Roden shares be…
“I’m self-isolating in my house,” Claudia Roden, 84, told me last week when I asked how she was feeling. The woman who has become a source of inspiration for multitudes of food lovers around the world continued, “I don’t shop and only go out for a walk on the heath behind my house. Nobody comes into the house. My children and grandchildren leave food boxes on the doorstep and come round the back to sit in the garden three meters away from me. I wish I could go out. I miss being with friends. It is awful to think it could go on for months and months until a vaccine is found.
“But I’m not bored,” says Roden. “I’ve been working on a book for several years on and off while spending time on other projects. Now publishers want the book soon. But writers work in isolation, so my everyday is much the same as usual. Now that I have to hand in a new book within weeks it is even an advantage.”
Born in 1936, Roden grew up in Cairo in a Sephardic Jewish family whose roots lie in Aleppo and Istanbul. She studied art in Paris and London. In an effort to recapture and revive the feelings of warmth and belonging of her childhood in the cosmopolitan Levantine community, she started to collect recipes from friends. Her cookbooks – the most famous are “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” (1968) and “The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day” (1997) – are based on many years of research, are widely translated and have made her a household name worldwide.
Roden, who until a month ago was a frequent traveler and lecturer, was at an international conference in Istanbul as recently as the beginning of March.
“I was speaking at the international Parabere Forum of women chefs. It was attended by chefs from 40 countries including Italians and Spaniards. Everyone was hugging and kissing.”
A few days later, after returning to London, she was compelled to go into solitary isolation. The news from Italy and Spain, two countries she knows well and about which she has written cookbooks informed by a broad cultural-historical perspective, horrified and saddened her.
“But it was also heartwarming to see Italians keeping up their spirits by singing together from their balconies and windows and clapping in concert to thank their health workers.” She adds that in her neighborhood, too, “there is a great feeling of community and togetherness; neighbors keep offering help.”
Like most people, she says, “I would rather die than see my children and grandchildren die. If a doctor has to choose between keeping alive a young or a very old person I would naturally expect them to choose the young one. But that is a very extreme situation and I do not agree to withholding medical treatment from older people unless that is the case.”
For the first time in her life, this modest and gracious woman will be holding the Passover seder alone, without family or friends.