Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Tastes of the 'Mongrel' City: Geographies of Memory, Spice, Hospitality and Forgiveness

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Tastes of the 'Mongrel' City: Geographies of Memory, Spice, Hospitality and Forgiveness

Article excerpt

Injera is an Ethiopian flat bread ... usually made from ... teff... a cereal grain widely grown in Ethiopia for human consumption, but in other countries as fodder ... Teffflour is not readily available in Western shops ... [but resourceful expatriate Ethiopians have evolved different ways of making injera outside of Ethiopia.

Dorinda Hafner1

The object invested with sensory memory speaks ...

C. Nadia Seremetakis2


Until recently, Yenenesh Gbere had not seen her mother in Addis Ababa for more than thirty years. Nevertheless, the tastes of chile-spiced stews, together with the sour flavours and spongy textures of Ethiopias traditional flat bread-injera-have travelled well. These dishes, reinvented by Yenenesh after her arrival in Australia in 1992, are now staples on the menu of Addis Ababa Café, a small ethnic business in the city of Adelaides western suburbs. Its menu offers, for home-sick Ethiopians and other nostalgic travellers, imagined comforts of home. In the same neighbourhood, Gaganis Brothers, wholesalers of Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods, sell everything from fresh, dried and tinned goods to giant spit barbecues and huge pots for authentic sauce making.3 With products stacked high in its cavernous interior, Gaganis warehouse provides essential ingredients for Yeneneshs cooking or, when these are unavailable, possibilities for creative substitution. Meanwhile, down a suburban side street, the African Village Café operates behind closed doors. Open these doors and youll find young men around a pool table, smell the coffee, hear the sounds of conversation. Opposite, another Ethiopian business-a restaurant and late-night bar-prepares for its customers. From midday, cooking aromas and sporadic sounds of African music driftthrough the side streets ... past California-style bungalows, shady English trees, scrawny rose beds and lawns exhausted by long, hot summers.

This article examines fragments like these-stories of local places and people, traces of affective landscapes-to chart micro-spatialisations of Africa in a historically mixed Australian neighbourhood.4 The project essentially is a geographic one. It maps not only lived and culturally specific uses of urban spaces but also regimes of emotional exchange and sensory knowledge5-embedded responses to one of the postcolonial citys critical challenges. The question that haunts everyday life in our mongrel cities is, of course, how is it possible for different people to live together? 6

This is a question that, increasingly, has become a significant one for cultural theorists, human geographers, sociologists and policy-makers alike. For Gill Valentine, for example, the pressing concern is how we might forge a civic culture out of difference;7 for Leonie Sandercock, it is to collectively forge new hybrid cultures and spaces;8 for Ien Ang, to capture, productively, the ambivalent resonances of together-in-difference;9 for Iris Young, to celebrate, unashamedly, social life as a state oftogetherness-in-difference with its many mestiza spaces and many mestiza people.10 So, to align these theoretical and political imperatives with those drifting, late afternoon smells of Ethiopian cooking in my neighbourhood, we might be tempted to ask: do meanings ofAfrica sit comfortably among a plurality of other meanings in the streets and businesses of Adelaides Mile End and its neighbouring suburbs, while retaining a distinctive, and perhaps edgy, presence? How might people living in neighbourhoods characterised by diverse populations be imagined to rub along together?11

The complex textures that rubbing along engenders, however, are not always evident in recent cultural analyses. Both David Bell and Gill Valentine claim that a tendency in current theorising to celebrate new kinds of encounters, new forms of sociality in the urban everyday, is, to some extent, problematic. Although this trend might seem to represent a more productive approach for engaging with difference than its opposite (demonising cities as sites of danger, and the presence of strangers as threatening), such literature of celebration provides little insight into the dynamics of everyday encounters. …

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