| CEDAR LEWISOHN: It’s the Easter weekend, and I’m on the 172 bus, typing away on my laptop, although I’m close to throwing it off the top deck, I’m so frustrated with it. I’m on my way home from visiting the Pathology Museum, and I have a lot to write about. I just bought a notebook PC, which is great; unfortunately, it came with this awful new version of Windows. Words cannot express how awkward, annoying, non-user-friendly and, somehow, arrogant this new operating system is. WINDOWS 8 – YOU ARE THE BANE OF MY LIFE! There are so many problems with this operating system that I won’t list them here, save to say it actually makes doing my work harder. I’ve even considered taking my computer back and swapping over to Apple, I’m that frustrated. Microsoft, please sort out this awful system and give us the option to avoid your despicable software which is clearly designed for touch-screens. I want to use my computer for typing, with a keyboard.
Anyway, back to the museum. The Pathology Museum is tucked away on the third floor of Barts Hospital, right around the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral. Their collection includes some five thousand rather gruesome specimens, the earliest dating from 1756. The objects range, according to the museum guide, from ‘the scalp to the toenail and every part in-between’. It’s definitely the kind of place you can imagine a young Damien Hirst or Gunther von Hagens visiting for inspiration. There are body parts in formaldehyde all over the place and mildly horrific illustrations of human deformities line the walls. It’s not exactly the most obvious venue for an Easter afternoon cake sale, but that’s what was happening. Carla Connolly, an ex-mortician who works at the Pathology Museum and has organised the whole thing, clearly sees it differently. She describes the event as a “smorgasbord of Immaculate Confection! A way for people to buy something more interesting than the usual Easter egg”. Other than the religiously themed cupcakes (yes, really), there were certainly some unique offerings to be had. My favourites included the chocolate log cake depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and a portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi with edible animals.
I was at the event to speak to the artist and food historian Tasha Marks who runs the boutique food event organisation Animal Vegetable Mineral. Tasha was at the Pathology Museum event with some of her recent creations. These included boiled sweets made with holy wine and edible versions of the Last Supper. Tasha told me about her upcoming exhibition at Herrick Gallery in Shoreditch. For the show she has obtained some of the extremely rare and valuable substance ambergris. According to Tasha, who studied art history in relation to food, the exhibition will be “an olfactory and edible exploration of one of nature’s most curious scents”. Ambergris is a now fairly unheard of ingredient; it’s formed in the lower intestine of sperm whales and is primarily known for its distinctive musty aroma which was previously used in perfumery. According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, “Ancient Egyptians burned ambergris as incense, while in modern Egypt ambergris is used for scenting cigarettes. The ancient Chinese called the substance ‘dragon's spittle fragrance. During the Black Death in Europe, people believed that carrying a ball of ambergris could help prevent them from getting the plague.’ It’s now illegal in the USA and Australia (thanks to the sperm whale's endangered status), but still legal in France and Switzerland. As well as being used in perfume, it was historically used to flavour food and is believed to be an aphrodisiac. What exactly Tasha will do with it, she’s not saying. But if today’s event is anything to go by, it will definitely be worth sniffing out (sorry). If I can just get my new computer to save this text, I might even see you there.
Animal Vegetable Mineral’s show will be at Herrick Gallery, June 14 to 30.
Carla Connolly’s blog: www.sacred-tart.blogspot.com
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