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March 2013

March 2013



If fluency in both Latin and 140-character neospeak requires superhuman abilities, then Benedict XVI’s faltering tweets might merit absolution. However, the furore elicited in some quarters by his decision to relinquish the Petrine ministry is surprising when compared with the lack of outrage over other recent retirements. Phillip Roth’s farewell to his muse, which is perhaps connected to his own troubles with Web 2.0, has generated more lament than anger. Jean Rochefort, the moustachioed patriarch of French cinema, has abandoned both theatre- and film-goers at the early age of 82 to little indignation. Gifted artists may well be entitled to eventual respite, yet one wishes others might follow the example of Antoni Tàpies, who soldiered on with his self-described ‘gray, silent, sober, oppressed paintings’ until death did them part last month. One who appears, thankfully, to be cut from Tàpies’s canvas is J.M. Coetzee, whose new novel, The Childhood of Jesus, emerges on 7 March. This fantastical reworking of the ancient story is the latest in a long line of variations, including The Infancy Narratives, the final instalment of the newly-ex-Pope’s momentous Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, and no doubt the least divisive aspect of his controversial legacy.




Luis Barragán could have made a fortune building arenas and skyscrapers, but the Guadalajara native preferred gardens, granaries, and stables composed of the same harsh lines, deftly softened by colour and texture, as in his own successive homes. Convinced that architecture should induce serenity, Barragán was partial to the soothing gurgle of fountains, such as the one which streams into the horses’ pool at Cuadra San Cristóbal in Mexico City – his modernist variation on the traditional rancho. The resident quadrupeds may only appreciate the spray as a thirst-quencher, but its generously complex design reaches beyond the merely functional, to the quietly poetic.




Get on a streetcar named Desire and alight in the French Quarter for the Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival (20-24 March). The playwright and the city he called his spiritual home will be praised through performances, panels and poetry slams, but these are mere springboards for a more ecumenical celebration of the written and spoken word. No-one with an appreciation for long-form journalism should pass up ‘Telling the Truth but Better’, where John Jeremiah Sullivan of The Paris Review and Dwight Garner of The New York Times promise to share trade secrets on the art of creative non-fiction. Julliard-trained vocalists and julep-drunk novices alike may cap off the fête with the yearly ‘Stellaaaa’ shouting contest – and perhaps sound the depth of their own despair.



Born in Nagasaki to a woman who was injured when the Bomb fell, Kazuo Ishiguro was unreservedly adopted by the English language after his relocation to Surrey at age five. So much so in fact, that his narrator in The Remains of the Day eclipses even Jeeves in readers' rankings of fictional butlers prone to tightly constrained formality. Ishiguro’s is the art of the doleful anti-climax, his characters' lives relentlessly aggregating in missed opportunities – much unlike the time he responded to an advertisement for a creative writing class. Rising from the embers of his dream of becoming a singer-songwriter à la Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen are six novels and a Booker Prize. Ishiguro opens a window onto his craft and his past in this free-flowing interview



With some dates already sold out, now is not too early to book for the Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Jean Genet’s The Maids (4 June - 20 July). The true story of the possibly incestuous Papin sisters (the ‘maids’ of the title), who in 1933 murdered and mutilated their employers for no easily discernible reason, fascinated the French interwar intelligentsia with its conflation of sex, sadism and class struggle. This rendition will see Cate Blanchett – in her final year as the STC’s co-Artistic Director – alongside Isabelle Huppert, no ingénue when it comes to portraying perversion: her excoriating performance in Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste is one of those beautiful things you wish you could forget. 



At the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, ‘Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion’ (28 April – 18 August) traces two centuries of masculine fashion, flamboyance and flair. Through exquisite garments, paintings and works on paper, the exhibition surveys clothing as a means of self-expression constantly subjected to fickle fads, crazes and vogues. Baudelaire, Wilde and DuBois are conjured both as tweed-clad silhouettes and scandalous freethinkers, to exemplify the collision of traditional craftsmanship and subversive innovation. Do bring a penny farthing to the Tweed Ride bicycle parade, but refrain from riding after the Dandy Drink bourbon tasting.



Peter Porter was predestined by onomastics to become a crafter of alliterations and consonances, but nothing pleased him more than a fine apophthegm. From the first lines he scribbled while working odd jobs in the forties until liver cancer wrenched the pen from his hand in 2010, his subjects spanned the globe from Brisbane to London and realms of experience from the philosophical to the intimate. The uniting element was his ruthless, biting wit. Leaving Australia as a young man afforded him the requisite distance for a lucid and influential appraisal of his homeland, where he remained largely unrecognised until mid-life. Yet he avoided resentment, retaining a dignified humility all the way into his own Sick-Room at Home.



Many festivals call themselves ‘international’, but few actually straddle two continents, which makes the Istanbul International Film Festival unique. Much as Byzantium and Constantinople flourished from their fortuitous position on the Silk Road, the Festival arranges Eastern and European films, filmmakers and enthusiasts, using a shared passion for the cinema to establish transnational communication. The 2013 programme (30 March - 15 April) is yet to be announced, but year after year the features submitted for the Golden Tulip are as rich and profuse as the Grand Bazaar. Beyond the theatres, a veritable jamboree recalling the most festive days of the Ottoman court provides diversion should a screening sell out.



After two decades of increasing sophistication, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (1-17 March) turns to humble concepts with this year’s theme: earth. The 250 events scattered across the city and its hinterland may well leave foodies feeling disoriented, but Queensbridge Square offers the perfect start, thanks to coffee brewed among terraces of potted Arabica plants by some of the city’s best baristas. The fortnight’s menu also allows Melburnians to sample comfort food from beyond their comfort zone, with the day-long, subterranean cooking of a feast in a traditional Maori hangi, and visits from far-flung chefs such as Sean Brock, a South Carolinian with a passion for seed preservation, who spends about as much time in the field as in the kitchen – clearly a recipe for health and vigour.



Image: ‘The Fire and the Tree Quill’ – limited edition pigment print by  Rebekah Stuart.


'Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.' Søren Kirkegaard

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