We are off site today due to gale-force winds. Having done all my paperwork and tried and failed to make a kite, I now have little to do this afternoon except think of all the things I’d like to eat but can’t. I am not enjoying the culinary side of life at Ur:
Hors d’oeuvres – selection of disappointments
Breakfast consists of finding something edible in the fridge in the dark. The highlight is the Iranian yoghurts, one of the ingredients of which is ‘Thermophile starter’, suggesting that it originates in the enriched uranium-producing regions. Most of the team mix this with ‘dhibis’; a black date syrup closely resembling diesel oil, except for J who uses a table spoon of instant coffee. Lunch is the usual cold hardboiled egg love/hate experience, enlivened by carbtastic boiled potato sandwiches. It is served in the site tent against a backdrop of machine guns.
Entrée – Rice and Red
The diet here at the Ur dig house is a classic example of archaeological dining in the Middle East, as perpetuated by the least imaginative cooks to be found between the Bosporus and the Khyber Pass. Excavation cooks are by and large not selected for their culinary skills but for their ability to put up with the astonishingly bizarre demands of foreign archaeologists (fixed mealtimes, basic hygiene, refrigeration of dairy products, vegetarians(!?)) and their familial connections to other employees of the project. This generally leads to the hiring of the driver’s/site guard’s/land owner’s brother/cousin/uncle, who in fact only knows how to cook one dish; the one he cooks when his wife’s away. This dish is invariably ‘rice and red’, referring to beans and/or vegetables cooked for an average of four hours in a tomato sauce and served over boiled rice. In nearly three weeks at Ur we have now had rice and red every day except the first Friday when we got our own takeaway kebab. Even with our now formidable range of hot sauce bottles, it’s sometimes difficult to remember there are flavours other than tomato.
Plateau de fromages
The cheese board of Ur is a thing of wonder, featuring on occasion as many as twelve different types of locally sourced processed cheese, ranging from creamy yellow Happy Cow, through the harder canned cheeses such as Kraft Cheddar and Pinky to the rubbery delights of Kiri and Boy Cheese triangles. The mystery surrounding this apparent variety is that they all taste exactly the same, and not of cheese. Served with artisanal bread in a damp plastic bag.
Carte de vin
There is of course no vin here or biére and we are limited to the one litre each of the strongest duty free spirits available which we were able to bring through customs (currently carefully curated against the harder times to come). Most commonly drunk is an execrable local brand of instant coffee called Coffee Prince (referred to here as The Prince or The Prince of Darkness) and the usual brown 100% sugar solution that masquerades as tea. The project is in fact almost entirely fueled by industrial quantities of Diet Pepsi.