MAY GLOBAL NEWSLETTER
George Nakashima’s woodworking practice, influenced by a fellow WWII internee who had trained in traditional Japanese technique, was to sublimate himself to the 'one perfect use' for each part of the tree. Mira Nakashima, legatee of her father’s philosophy, skills, tools and rare timber, continues his work as a craft but also a joy. This black walnut conoid desk from Nakashima would be a fine place to lean above a page of James Joyce, whose published works entered the public domain in the EU on 1 January. One little-known text in which the greatest modernist writes at his plainest is a children’s story, ‘The Cat and the Devil’, within a letter to his grandson in 1936. The droll tone and the revelation that the prince of darkness speaks bad French very well, ‘with a strong Dublin accent’ almost bring both author and subject into the company of mere mortals. Such deliberate absence of sophistication defined Danila Vassilief, whose work is recognised in a major retrospective, ‘A New Art History’, at the Museum of Modern Art at Heide in Melbourne – where the Russian émigré died in near-oblivion. Modern art is extending its realm in Zurich with David Chipperfield’s addition to the city’s Kunsthaus. Chipperfield’s refusal to establish an immutable 'house style' allows him to engage carefully with each project’s demands, producing an architecture of substance. Checking the building’s progress over the coming years will be worth a detour, especially if punctuated with a visit to our new store in Bärengasse, itself hardly a stretch from the perfectly aligned therapists at Muladhara.
Paris once sold the world on the idea that fine dining required scintillating chandeliers and comically pompous courses, paired with any wine at all, so long as it was Burgundy or Bordeaux. Pierre Jancou epitomises the modern direction towards authenticity and flavour, starting with the all-natural, 'living' wines in his cellars. At Vivant, a former exotic bird shop in bustling Hauteville, Jancou sources each ingredient painstakingly. Freshness dictates the daily menu, whether it be asparagus from Annie Bertin in Brittany or black chicken from Challans. Exceptional produce does make an exceptional dish when it is seasoned with such simplicity and generosity. Like Hemingway’s oysters, this is indeed for the bon vivant: food to make one happy and to encourage the making of plans.
Nowhere seem the economic winds as bitterly cold as in sunny Greece. Although the crisis – which, unfolding as it has since 2009, seems to share the duration dilation of life-threatening events – continues to attract the media, it is difficult to fully grasp the extent, roots and possible consequences of the country’s complex plight. In a reversal of the usual analytical lens, John Markakis, a scholar of modern African political economy, distils Greece’s systemic dysfunction since WWII in 'Taking to the Streets’, a short essay for the London Review of Books. Markakis articulates the hardships of the most vulnerable Greeks while firmly assigning blame to the many quarters where it belongs. Far from Pericles’ rhetorical sweep – ‘a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws’ – Markakis describes politicians ineptly protected by the army and ‘phalanxes of police’, arguing that the modern Hellenic political system is all but finished. The Failed States Index assembled each year by Foreign Policy, traditionally dominated by African nations that Markakis knows so well, may need to include a European ‘postcard from hell’ in 2012.
In 1953 Charles Manning Hope Clark and his wife Dymphna moved into the modest white house they had commissioned from Robin Boyd in Forrest, a suburb of Canberra. There the historian would become a leading Australian public intellectual. Manning and Dymphna, a scholar and linguist herself, shared a passion for wide reading and stimulating conversation, so it is fitting that Manning Clark House has become a creative retreat. Resident scholars and artists can pursue their work with a measure of serenity, leavened by events designed to encourage the civil sharing of ideas between people who may disagree. Visitors can sit at the desk in the rooftop study where Clark worked and spend the night – but all artists, scholars and writers sleeping over are invited to give a talk on their area of expertise.
Nancy Margolis opened her first gallery almost by accident, when she found that her space at a Maine artists’ colony was too large for her own clay pieces. By the time she landed in Chelsea, which was at the time still terra incognita of the art world, Margolis had also begun to show painting and work on paper, and spotted rare talents like Erin Murray. Murray’s paintings and drawings of vernacular architecture – bland row houses, government offices, tract estates, metro stations – resemble daguerreotypes made by extraterrestrial anthropologists. Her meticulously detailed graphite drawings are particularly haunting, with repeating structures neatly delineated down to the last brick, floating in space and entirely devoid of any human presence, as if they were abandoned an aeon ago, before the first tenants had even moved in.
True urban obsessives bypass guidebooks, which are overhauled every year or so, and the Gaussian reliability – and, therefore, aggregate mediocrity – of online user reviews. Instead, they navigate by Suica, Octopus, Oyster and the digital cartography of superfuture. Even the print-and-fold city guides are updated no less often than quarterly. Such creative reflexes are most critical in cities like Berlin where the pulse of development is tachycardic. The superfuture editors might enjoy the serviced apartments of Flower’s Boardinghouse in Mitte’s Scheunenviertel fashion quarter. Since Flower’s own generously-assembled local guide includes recommendations for buttered pretzels, a full German breakfast, rich espresso, a kosher café, lunchtime pasta with truffles and a restaurant where one dines in total darkness, every guest must wish that he or she were also (ein) Berliner.
Nearly a century after the first known 'word-cross' puzzle, crosswords remain one of our least diagnosed addictions. Cruciverbalists get their daily fix in incremental doses: the deeper they fall down the rabbit hole of anagrams, hiddens, homophones and combinations, the heavier the clues they require. For them, the lighter Monday grid is just a gateway to the harder Saturday stuff. As one’s taste in clues approaches the cryptic, many sufferers begin to present with dangerously enlarged vocabularies. For those currently experiencing election-stress syndrome in France, now may be a good time to indulge in the legendary 1996 New York Times election day crossword – and to cross their fingers on 6 May.
Maurice Pialat’s L’Enfance Nue (‘Naked Childhood’, 1968, winner of the 1969 Prix Jean Vigo), concerns an asocial 13-year-old who suffers early abandonment followed by peregrinations between foster families. He is taken in by an elderly couple living in the grey rain of Northern France but even their loving care cannot unburden the boy. Shot on a nominal budget with amateur actors and ramshackle equipment, edited without professional help or, seemingly, any concern for continuity, the film avoids any trite exploration of poetry in the bleak milieu or the bleaker plot. Why would anyone want to punish themselves with such a feature-length ordeal, as the irascible Pialat himself later wondered? Simply because the film is as honest and powerful as it is intensely painful.
Gaikokujin find it difficult to understand the many types of sake. Palates unaccustomed to such intensity can find the liquor’s surprising earthiness dominating its many other fine characters. Enthusiastic amateurs can sit at the long wooden bar in Sasamoto, just five doors from our store in Ginza, and begin with the sake that is most unlike the others. Nigori, known simply to many as 'the cloudy one', is filtered through a coarser-than-usual mesh after fermentation, which retains some of the rice solids that are usually removed. Those solids are responsible for the alabaster translucency and above-average sweetness and they carry strong rustic aromas, overpowering the nuances of flavour prized by the cognoscenti. Nigori is therefore not the most ‘serious’ variety, but it may be the smoothest introduction into the realm of Matsuo-sama.
When jellybeans and ‘pink slime’ are passed off as food, Stephanie Alexander is advocating a nutrition revolution through her Kitchen Garden Foundation. With the foundation’s support, more than 180 Australian primary schools have built sustainable produce gardens and taught 8 to 12 year olds how to get dirt under their fingernails. The simple, radical, idea is to re-introduce children to real food and the pleasures of eating the fruit of one’s own toil. In this soiled, soylent era of edible food-like substances, Ms Alexander’s mission is more than admirable, it is essential.
‘Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognise.’