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March 2012

March 2012



Fitzgerald wrote that we are "borne back ceaselessly into the past", yet this need not be unpleasant. Indulge in an evening of "Fireworks and Fantasy" in the company of Prokofiev and Berlioz at the Sydney Opera House (22-24 March). As conductor of the city's Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy returns to the Romantics who were his calling card as a young piano virtuoso more than fifty years ago. After the performance, circumnavigate Circular Quay via the Oyster Bar and acquire Peter Carey's new novel The Chemistry of Tears from Ariel Books at 103 George Street. This story of museums, diaries, antique automata, hidden love, death and silence exhibits all of the symptoms of the terminal writer's bug that Carey contracted directly from Faulkner, who famously remarked that the past is never dead. Faulkner's aphorism might well inhabit the India Design Forum, a pioneering celebration in a country with an enviable aesthetic legacy that is definitively "not even past" (2-10 March). Classical thinking and respect for tradition also inform the delicious poppy seed cake at Słodki...Słony, the cafe owned by Magda Gessler, a relentlessly innovative doyenne of Warsaw gastronomy. Notwithstanding the allure of modernity, the past still has much to reveal.



Chess has long been both a test and an enhancer of human intelligence. Whatever the skill level of the opponent, it exercises memory, develops creativity and intuition, inculcates the importance of long-term strategic thinking and of taking calculated risks, and even shows the value of sacrifice. Until Garry Kasparov (a former world champion and the highest-rated player ever) lost to a souped-up super-calculator, chess also symbolised our superiority over modern automata. Instead of debating the outcome or abandoning the game for worthier pursuits (such as the more lucrative, and far less complex, poker), this momentous event should lead us to reconsider the way human intelligence interacts with its artificial cousins. As Kasparov himself argues, what is at stake is our capacity to innovate when the important decisions are increasingly being made by computers.



In Stranger Magic, Marina Warner traces the history of The Arabian Nights, from the origins of the stories down to their contemporary incarnations: no small feat, considering that the tales are already consumed with storytelling. With erudition and academic rigour as her sole compass through multiple layers of text and interpretation, Warner recounts a dazzling history of magical thinking. Although firmly rooted in the legacy of Orientalism, she eschews Said's polemic to mount an impassioned defence of folklore and revel in the power of narrative to defer death.



As all brands are supposed to but mostly do not, certain labels carry an assurance of quality and integrity. Hank's Jams was started by a Sydney chef who left service to work full time on his marmalades. You can still taste his attention to detail in every jar. The recipes call for no artificial or exotic ingredients: time and heat do all the work through the slow reduction of the best available fruit. Certifiably great taste also characterises Kampot pepper, which recently became a Protected Geographical Indication. Resting between the sea and the Elephant mountains, the Cambodian province for which the pepper is named demonstrates that wine is not the only product for which terroir is important. Without the heavy rains and porous soil, the pepper clusters would never reach their full potential. Pair some of the mild and fruity red variety with Hank's apricot jam around a vanilla dessert or even a dish of poultry, and let these simple ingredients speak for themselves.



In his will, procrustean even by art-world standards, the reclusive and irascible Clyfford Still requested that the paintings in his estate be kept locked in a Maryland warehouse until an American city agreed to build a museum solely dedicated to his art. In 2004, Still's wife Patricia finally came to terms with Denver, to which she also bequeathed the artist's possessions and archives as well as her own small collection of his work. After three decades in seclusion, Still's effects, both painterly and personal, have a permanent home under the tracery skylights of the Clyfford Still Museum, a cantilevered structure of richly textured concrete. As the true extent of Still's oeuvre is still being discovered, so will the metaphysical force of his brand of Abstract Expressionism.



Philip Kaufman's adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) may only light the surface of Kundera's masterpiece, yet it is a stunning piece of filmmaking. Thanks to stellar performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche and an ingenious screenplay by veteran storyteller Jean-Claude Carrière, it becomes more haunting with each viewing, using the male character's unbridled eroticism to show how the absurd is an intrinsic part of life. Whenever a novel is chiefly remembered for the voice of its narrating "I", its adaptation cannot fail to disappoint the naive reader in all of us who wishes to see on the screen exactly what is contained on the page. In order to re-live the experience of the book, we must remember that the only real reading is re-reading.



Skye Gyngell and Paola Antonelli are kindred spirits. Gyngell, quondam chef of the newly Michelin-starred Petersham Nurseries Cafe in London, has been hailed as the antidote to those concept-heavy restaurateurs who use food as cannon fodder for their personal brand. Meanwhile Antonelli, as the Design Curator at MoMA, has enriched the museum's collection with such ethereal items as the "@" symbol and the Verdana typeface. She is the intellectual's intellectual, if you will. In their respective fields of excellence, Ms Gyngell and Ms Antonelli are telling us that simple is beautiful: our greatest design achievements are perhaps the generic chopsticks or water glass. The best partners for such humble masterpieces at table are generosity, fine produce and laughter in the kitchen.



On good design, let us acknowledge the brilliance of the original apple. It comes in its own packaging, keeps for weeks and cannot be rendered obsolete by some "apple2" the moment it leaves the tree. Few juice-makers manage to squeeze anything so satisfying as the actual fruit. Among the best is Neville Mock, whose bio-dynamic orchard on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula yields an outstanding sparkling beverage. As for Alain Milliat, he bottles the very essence of specific cultivars: his Reinette juice, sourced from around Lyon, has all the woody tanginess of the original.


Complement the architectural joys of Antwerp's Hanseatic heritage with a lesson in resourceful interior design at the tiny Boulevard Leopold B&B. After renovations consumed most of the new owners' budget, they managed to retain the Bohemian feel of the 19th century house by subverting what they found in flea markets. Old suitcases were turned into TV stands while used books became coffee tables. The proprietors' refined sensibility gives each room a distinct personality, yet with a unifying thread – as if this were the home of an eccentric but warmly hospitable family.


"There is no perfection, only life." Milan Kundera

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