Monday, December 15, 2008

So good they named it once

It's not often, walking round town, that you start to ponder the many ways in which Lewes is actually a lot like New York. In fact, it's never happened to me before. It probably hasn't happened to anyone before.

But suddenly, on Saturday, there I was, thinking, hmm, yes, Grange Gardens is just like a very small, clean, safe Central Park. If you squint a bit. And the twittens are kind of laid out in a grid, really, aren't they? Just not a very conventional grid.

What, I hear you plead, led to this Manhattan-obsessed train of thought? I'm glad you asked. It was a small thing, really. I was trundling along the High Street, and I'd like to say I was minding my own business, but that's not true, because not only was I peering nosily into every shop window and smiling randomly at old ladies, but I'd also just caused a minor fracas in the bank, the details of which needn't detain us here.

Anyway, in the midst of this not minding my own business, I was suddenly brought up short by an unfamiliar and extremely unexpected sight: a chollah in the window of that cheesy shop (as in, they sell cheese, not that they are naff and like Val Doonican).

A what? I hear you gentiles cry. A chollah: it's a plaited loaf, traditional in Jewish homes on a Friday night. Well you could have knocked me down with a chollah, as the old saying I've just made up goes. I haven't seen one of those since the last century when my dear old East End mum would mutter an ancient blessing over such a loaf on Sabbath evenings (and would be ably supported by my brother and I saying 'Get on with it, we want to watch 'Winner Takes All').

I bustled in to the cheesy shop and was about to seize a chollah, possibly two, for who knew when these times would roll round again, when a horrible thought struck me. This was Lewes, right? Not Manhattan, or Ilford, or Hove, even. Probably - and here I let out a disappointed sigh - almost certainly, this chollah was nothing but brioche in rabbi's clothing.

'Is this brioche?' I asked the sales assistant, putting the full force of my disdain into the word so that it sounded as if I was swearing.

'No', she replied, 'It's chollah'. She pronounced it perfectly.

Strolling away with the bag under my arm (I only bought one in the end - it's just a loaf of bread for god's sake, nothing to make a song and dance about), suddenly Lewes was lit with a more cosmopolitan light. My overdraft-related fracas in the bank now seemed like a vibrant and forthright exchange between two colourful and busy city-types, rather than an overheated scene of public humiliation.

And that wasn't all. Why yes! Like New York, we have an amazing array of shops, some of which even sell things you want to buy. We have restaurants with food from many nations, although mainly Italy. We have a melting-pot of people, from all over Sussex and the south-east, and if we don't have a mayor who preaches a zero tolerance regime, we do at least have a parking system which operates on the same principle.

So ran my thoughts, as I wandered home, imagining that the lone Big Issue seller was in fact a large number of witty pan-handlers, and that if I popped into Beckworths they could sort me out with salami on rye to go.The chollah tasted of brioche, by the way. But it was very nice brioche.

Beth Miller December 2008. Published on

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