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There's Still a Lot of Coffee in Brazil

THERE'S STILL A LOT OF COFFEE IN BRAZILI once ate dinner in a restaurant called Chez David - where else? - in a market town in southern France called Castelnaudary, famous for a rich slow-cooked casserole known as cassoulet, of which it claims to be the world capital. 

Originally, cassoulet was 'siege food', scavenged from anything edible that could be found within the town walls during the blockade of 1355 by the Black Prince.  It can take two days to prepare, by which time hungry starvelings would be banging cutlery impatiently on their wooden tables, unless they had burned them to cook the cassoulet.

The point I am struggling to make is that we often epitomise countries - cities, towns, people - by their products or other features that typify their way of life.  The Breton farmers who came to Britain to sell my mother onions were predictably known as "Onion Johnnies" - their bicycles, berets and striped shirts became the stereotypical picture of a Frenchman until the 1950s.  Seventy Johnnies died when the SS Hilda sank in 1905.  No wonder onions can make people cry.

david aitken"I'm Charley's aunt from Brazil, where the nuts come from," will be a line familiar to older readers, but a later song by Frank Sinatra emphasised yet another product of that country: "The politician's daughter was accused of drinking water, and was fined a great big fifty dollar bill.  They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil."  

Products are frequently a shorthand method of advertising the delights or advantages of nations, whether it's hurtling downhill at breakneck speed on skis in Austria or sitting still for a day-long performance of a stylised Kabuki play by almost motionless Japanese actors.  Not much point in telling them to "break a leg."

Switzerland is easy.  Cuckoo clocks and Alp-shaped Toblerone and genuine Rolex watches - as opposed to the one you bought in a market in Marrakesh.  Not to mention Davos, where I went on a school trip in 1960.  (To say nothing of my Swiss bank account, which is what it contains.)

Japan is even easier: Toyota, Nissan, Sony, Canon, Kodak, and fish that will kill you if not properly filleted.  You also have to be careful crossing the road, needless to say.

It is cost-effective to buy silk in China, where there is even a Silk Road, I believe, but you are flirting with 10 years in prison if you take Cuban cigars into America.  Germany is Mercedes and BMW, sauerkraut and Black Forest Gateau.  (Never eat both during the same meal.)  Italy has more stylish associations, such as Gucci, Versace, Armani and Lamborghini, although most Italian men like to think of themselves as Alpha Romeos.

Spain has tapas and football clubs, England has Indian restaurants and Italian footballers, Iceland has wool - well, they need it, don't they? - and my own country has whisky to keep us warm.  In fact, there are probably more varieties of the amber liquid in Scotland than there are blends of coffee in Brazil.  Personally, I stick to my 5 A Day.        

  

  

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