August 2019

The Ledger

August sees two meteor showers—the Perseids and the Kappa Cygnids—flare across the northern hemisphere’s night sky, their ephemerality a symbol of seasonal pleasures. Stargazing, picnics, goblets of cold rosé, sunscreen-stained paperbacks, painting en plein air—summer has many a reliable delight. Energetic adventurers might encounter new visual culture at the São Paulo Photo Fair, CHART in Copenhagen or the Asia Hotel Art Fair in Seoul; enrol in a language immersion course in Portugal or a green woodworking course in the Scottish Highlands; or behold ancient and modern architectural marvels in Pachacámac, Peru. Those in the southern hemisphere can explore a wintry mix: screenings at the Melbourne International Film Festival; brisk steep hikes rewarded by hearty hot soup with flavoursome sourdough rolls on the side, or peaty neat Scotch (or perhaps all in tandem); and manageable goals in the garden. Wherever you reside or decide to travel, recall the poignant paradox that is August, a month that seems long and languorous at the start and vanishingly fast on the threshold of all-business September—treasure the lull, the holiday, the hiatus.



Earthly delights, raised by hand

Whether you reside in the southern or the northern hemisphere, August is a good time to get into the garden—for northerners a time to reap, for southerners a time to sow. In the south, those with green thumbs can tackle an exhaustive list of tender edibles to be planted in August, from Jerusalem artichokes to rhubarb, Broccolini to silver beet. It’s hard to surpass the flavour (and the satisfaction) of leafy greens lovingly harvested from one’s own backyard. This year, why not try planting something less likely to be found at the grocer’s? Warrigal—a.k.a. Tetragonia tetragonioides, a.k.a. New Zealand spinach—is a so-called bush food with fleshy triangular leaves and pale yellow flowers that can be grown in a pot to pretty effect, and quickly—it takes just a few weeks to go from seed to salad, making it a practical choice for a kitchen garden. Tatsoi, in the Brassica (mustard greens) genus, has a mildly peppery taste and functions much like a spinach leaf. Sorrel, or Rumex acetosa, is bright and acidic, its youngest leaves redolent of wild strawberries, its more mature ones best used sparingly as sour and tangy accents. Grow it in partial sun, as too much exposure yields leaves that are hard and bitter. Mitsuba, also known as Japanese parsley, is a perennial herb that doesn’t need much oversight—left unchecked it grows like a weed. It can be a nice substitute for sandwich lettuce. The ambitious who grow all four can mingle them in a large bowl with some radishes and a red wine vinaigrette for a spicy homegrown salade mixte.



Touching chronicles of the everyday

The Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami wore many hats: he was also a producer, screenwriter, photographer, graphic designer and poet. His Taste of Cherry (1997) won the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, but he first won acclaim for The Koker Trilogy, a marvellous series of documentary-style narrative features that build upon one another, snug as nested Russian dolls. All three films are set in the rural northern Iranian town of Koker. Each is a whimsical and humane fable. In Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987), a schoolboy mistakenly takes home a classmate’s notebook and sets out to return it to him. Guided—and sometimes led astray—by the inhabitants of two towns, he crisscrosses streets and neighbourhoods, the simplicity of his task complicated by the richness and intrigue of the rural Iranian society he encounters. The film is a wondrous portrait of a single day told from the wide-eyed tunnel vision of a particular child’s perspective. And Life Goes On (1992) looks at the aftershocks of the devastating 1990 earthquake that killed 50,000 Iranians. Kiarostami trains his camera on the devastation in Koker, and searches (with his son) for the young boys who acted in Where Is the Friend’s House? This meta-narrative extends into the trilogy’s final chapter, Through the Olive Trees (1994), which takes a behind-the-scenes look at one of the actors in And Life Goes On, and particularly at his unrequited romantic feelings for the actress who played his wife in that film. The tension his pining and her rebuffs create for the director becomes part of the plot. Through the Olive Trees is gently comedic and self-referential; the trilogy as a whole is a masterful depiction of the rhythms and manners of the Iranian countryside. Watched in quick succession over, say, a holiday weekend, The Koker Trilogy sweeps you into Kiarostami’s lively and capacious vision.


Contemporary art in the lush countryside

In 2012, a former dairy farm in Reading, Vermont, was reborn as one outpost of the Hall Art Foundation (the others are located at Schloss Derneburg, in Germany, and at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts), and thereby became one of the best little museums in New England. Its snecked ashlar stone farmhouse and barns now house extraordinary temporary exhibitions of contemporary art between May and November each year; admission is by appointment, for intimate group tours with a modest fee of $10 per ticket. This season’s programme includes paintings by Malcolm Morley and a stunning outdoor installation of work by English sculptors, among them Richard Deacon, Nigel Hall, Gary Hume, Richard Long and Marc Quinn. There is also a retrospective featuring 40 sculptures, paintings and works on paper by the American artist Richard Artschwager, whose unconventional use of industrial materials, including Formica, gives his work a distinctive sheen. ‘Made in Vermont’, a group exhibition of Vermont artists that had its first incarnation last year, is back with a new crop of talent. Previously, the foundation displayed only work from its permanent collection and the private collection of its founders, Andrew and Christine Hall (which gave curators a lot of latitude, since these comprise more than 5,000 works, some by such boldface names as Olafur Eliasson, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons). With ‘Made in Vermont’, it is experimenting with a new model: work by lesser-known locals, available for acquisition. After you’ve toured the minimalist galleries, explore the gorgeous grounds; the museum is situated next to a roaring waterfall on a tributary of the Black River. Admission is free between 5pm and 8pm on the first Friday of each month, for self-guided visits. Spend what you saved on a perfect wood-fired slice from La Pizza Lupo’s food truck, complemented by ice cream from the seasonal stand just down the road.


A marvel of a purpose-built pavilion

In 2018, the architects Guillaume Othenin-Girard and Vincent Juillerat guided a group of 45 architecture students from Lima and Zurich in the design and construction of a remarkable wall-less outdoor pavilion, completed in just three weeks. Its purpose? To provide shade for archaeologists brushing dust and debris off freshly unearthed artefacts at a dig site in Pachacámac, Peru. Four walkways—made in part from kiln-baked tornillo, a flexible and resilient tropical hardwood harvested in the Peruvian rainforest—form a rectangle enclosing a sandy courtyard. Above the walkways is a canopy of soft material: white polyester textile laced through upper and lower struts in a zigzaggy, diaphanous pattern, offering a respite from the strong Andean sunlight while preserving views of the dramatic landscape beyond. On either end of the structure, panelled bamboo sheets create breathable chambers for storing artefacts before they are transported to the Pachacámac Museum. The pavilion’s design—from above, only its white roof is visible—echoes the outline of its much older neighbours, ancient tiered buildings that include the perimeter walls of the Acllahuasi, the cloistered home of the Inca priestess class.


A shimmering collection to relish over and again

Lake Ontario spills over its shores and the skyline of Toronto slips underwater; revolutionaries surreptitiously tap maple trees lining the sedate streets of a fancy neighbourhood; a crow observes a deer that keeps licking up road salt; a couple makes a foray into the shrinking boreal forest. The stories, fragments, poems, songs and reimagined myths that make up This Accident of Being Lost (2017), a collection by the Mississauga Nishnaabeg author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, are unpredictable, fiercely imaginative and quietly ravishing. Simpson, the inaugural recipient of the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, combines many forms and genres in this honed, heterogeneous book: science fiction and realist fiction, diary entries, indigenous storytelling and free-form verse. The result is writing that straddles tradition and contemporaneity, asking, in a variety of ways, what it looks like for indigenous people to inhabit the ‘settler’ mentality and environs, and to shoulder the anxiety of assimilation. 'Their kids will still be white if they don’t have the kind of beach they want', she writes. 'Our kids won’t be Mississauga if they can’t ever do a single Mississauga thing.' This Accident of Being Lost eschews turgid categories of identity. Its characters and scenes shimmer with humour even as they contend with serious challenges. Simpson describes the collection as a bid to write 'unapologetically and truthfully so that I see myself and my community in these pages.' She succeeds.


A splendid roll call that speaks for itself

The tenth edition of the Louisiana Literature festival unfolded between 22 and 25 August at Denmark's vibrant Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Situated a brief train ride north of Copenhagen in idyllic environs, the festival gathers writers from around the world to participate in readings and panel discussions that are held on intimate indoor and outdoor stages abutting the gentle, sparkling waters of the Øresund (with Sweden visible in the distance). This year’s lineup featured the English novelists Rachel Cusk (author of the Outline trilogy) and Isabella Hammad (The Parisian), the American novelist Lisa Halliday (Asymmetry), the American poet and essayist Claudia Rankine (Citizen), the Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai (Satantango), the Nigerian novelist Ben Okri (The Famished Road), the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak (The Bastard of Istanbul), the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses), the American cartoonists Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb and the poets Anne Waldman and Katarzyna Fetlińska.


A little heat can be a murderous thing

Jesse Hill Ford (1928–1996), an Alabama-born writer, published a gripping piece of crime fiction in the Summer 1966 issue of The Paris Review. 'The Highwayman' is the brief but shocking tale of Little Frank, a 26-year-old towhead with light blue eyes who hails 'from Unicoi County up in the east end of Tennessee where the Unaka Mountains seemed to drop off under the roadside into valleys that made a man think perhaps he might be happiest if he were a bird'. Little Frank is on a long, hot car journey with his sister, Lula, and her husband, William. William—younger, taller, darker, more sharply dressed, an Army veteran (the Army wouldn’t take Little Frank because he’s too short and can’t read or write)—is the brains behind a scheme to fund the trio’s adventure, which is also meant to be his and Lula’s honeymoon. He’ll pilot the Chevy and wink at Little Frank, and Little Frank, who is a dead shot, will know to enter whatever gas station or grocery store they’ve stopped at, whip out a pistol and rob the attendant or clerk on duty. This goes off without a hitch the first time round, Lula none the wiser ('What taken you such a long while?' she asks Little Frank when he gets back in the car). But Little Frank is rattled by the sighting of two foxes on the road and demands William turn the car around so he can try to recruit one as a pet. William won’t do it, though he and Lula try to soothe Little Frank with the promise that they’ll stop for the very next fox they see. Little Frank doesn’t believe them, and when the car comes to a stop for the next heist, his luck takes an irrevocable turn for the worse. Ford’s strange and violent little story hints at why crime spikes in the summertime—heat, boredom and claustrophobia warping the simplest of three simple minds.


In praise of the high life

'That thing some people call boredom, in the correct if elusive dosage, can be a form of inoculation against itself', writes Philip Connors in Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, his 2011 memoir of the years he spent in a two- by two-metre tower overlooking a fire-prone forest in New Mexico. 'Once you struggle through that swamp of monotony where time bogs down in excruciating ticks from your wristwatch, it becomes possible to break through to a state of equilibrium, to reach a kind of waiting and watching that verges on what I can only call the holy.' Connors has literary forebears who were similarly drawn to these lonely towers, among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac and Norman Maclean. Yet you needn’t be a writer in need of long stretches of time for introspection, or a naturalist in search of seasonal employment, to experience the bare-bones beauty of these shelters, with their spectacular vantage and scant creature comforts. In the western United States, nearly 75 fire towers that have been retired from service are available for short-stay rentals, an elevated (literally, if not amenity-wise) form of camping that affords you views of Wyoming’s Spruce Mountain, Colorado’s Jersey Jim or Idaho’s Deer Ridge (amongst others; browse the full list at your leisure). The facilities come with mattresses, propane lights, a two-burner cooktop, an outhouse, glorious hiking and, of course, bragging rights to unrivalled rugged intrepidity and thrift.

Illustrations by Audrey Helen Weber

‘There seems to be a kind of order in the universe… in the turning of the Earth and the changing of the seasons.’

Katherine Anne Porter