APRIL GLOBAL NEWSLETTER
Donne imagined that our souls were spheres, whirling and turning both east and west. London's White Cube gallery exemplifies this thinking by making Hong Kong its first international location. No doubt lured by the creativity of the city which will soon breathe life into two of our new spaces, White Cube has stuffed its suitcases with pictures by the quintessentially British Gilbert & George, while its North London counterpart exhibits works by Liu Wei, whose Beijing base invites consideration of the perils and possibilities of unchecked urban growth. Within all this cross-pollination, Mai-Thu Perret, a polyphonic artist of French and Vietnamese origins, is part of 'La Loge', a mixed-media exhibition exploring the lure of the unknown in her home city of Geneva. Spring in Switzerland seems to suit us; we will gain a Geneva address this month while work continues at our second Zürich location, close to the deceptively-named Hotel Rivington & Sons bar. There are no beds at Rivington & Sons but its strong coffee quickens the stately pulse of the city and recreates some of the vibrant feel of a Brooklyn taproom, where regulars might include some of the characters in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Egan's ageing hipsters are no doubt devotees of the rare vinyl at Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies, where the 45s will no longer spin once the West Village institution – located a couple of blocks from our next New York venture – closes at the end of this month. Some solace can be found in Roman lore, where April was the month of Venus. It might be best to enjoy the green shoots of the northern hemisphere from Gareth Neal's carbon-negative Love Seat, pictured above, where comfort comes not from plush cushions but from the person one shares it with.
The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation was set up a year before the photographer's death to preserve and present the work of a man once dubbed the 'eye of the century'. Housed in a former artist workshop in Montparnasse, cousin to the studio in the same district where Cartier-Bresson apprenticed as a painter, the current exhibition is of pictures he and Paul Strand took separately in the early 1930s in Mexico (which André Breton called the home of 'actual surrealism'). The juxtaposition with Strand's heavily composed, static shots underlines HCB's prowess at capturing that elusive 'decisive moment' when reality, caught in the act of its own beauty and strangeness, fleetingly reveals itself.
The March of the Living perpetuates the memory of the Shoah by bringing thousands of teenagers from around the world to Poland. This confronting journey ends on Holocaust Memorial Day with a three-mile walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Survivors share their excruciating stories but their dwindling numbers beg the question of how to remember once they are gone. Perhaps we can be inspired by Anne-Karin Furunes's portraits of young people deemed undesirable by the Swedish government in the 1920s because they were 'sick', 'degenerate', or simply Jewish. By filtering light through holes of varying sizes, Furunes reveals the haunting intimacy between us and what could otherwise have been anonymous faces.
When Renzo Piano was asked to design a convent next to Le Corbusier's Chapel at Ronchamp, he buried the new structures in the hillside so as to make them practically invisible from where the original building stands in its modest, modernist glory. Bay windows looking over the valley fill the nuns' quarters with natural light and, reportedly, their hearts with serenity. With enough respectful persistence, one can be granted the right to spend the night in a quiet, sparsely furnished single room of bare concrete and raw wood. A privilege indeed: few accommodations seem more conducive to meditation.
At Koya in London's Soho, patrons can get anything they want so long as it's udon. Not the store-bought variety: this is kneaded daily on the premises the traditional way, by foot (udon paste is too thick to be hand-kneaded) and ranks with the best noodles near our own Ginza store. Koya imports its wheat flour from Japan but sources all fresh produce, down to the seaweed, from the UK. The result is a richly flavoured noodle, wonderfully chewy and slippery, that instantly cures the universal condition that the Japanese call 'lonely mouth'. Luckily, in Japan, it is polite to slurp.
Instead of following one of the predictable paths cleared for him by his Yale education, Stephen Haff created a reading and writing sanctuary in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighbourhood. Still Waters in a Storm is open at no cost, to residents of any age, in the largely Spanish-speaking area, where books sometimes seem outnumbered by guns and the illiteracy rate is among the highest in the city. Reading is taught through creative writing, often with the help of such volunteer masters as Russell Banks and Peter Carey. This year the workshop has expanded into a home-schooling group for families who want to inspire their kids to explore the boundless world of words.
London 2012 is upon us, yet England has not taken up the cry of 'badminton is coming home'. Such pessimism is understandable: the world's fastest racquet sport has been dominated for decades by Asian countries and in particular China, where it is heavily funded by the government. Western officials would have good reason to follow suit, given the proven benefits of this full-body workout in stamina, reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Russia may already have caught on: its defence department has allegedly put its soldiers on a strict badminton regimen, reflecting that the skills developed by the sport are similar to those needed in combat. This is not quite what Pierre de Coubertin had in mind.
In 1974 Martin Scorsese made a documentary with a personal theme. He interviewed his parents in New York, setting up in their modest apartment in the strictly Sicilian neighbourhood of Elizabeth Street. That apartment building was two doors up from what is now our Nolita store. As the grainy 16mm film rolls, Scorsese grants the audience a rare, moving glimpse into the normally private transmission of family identity. Catherine and Charles Scorsese recount their own parents' arrival in America and it is clear from his reactions that young Martin – bearded and moustachioed like his coevals – is hearing some of these anecdotes for the first time. Despite the fame of his better-known classics, it is hard to counter Scorsese's oft-repeated assertion that Italianamerican is the greatest film he has made.
Long derided by connoisseurs of arabica for its cans of konbini caffeine shilled by billboarded Hollywood stars, Tokyo is in a coffee renaissance. At Mocha Coffee, a narrow glass-walled cafe in Daikanyama, co-owner Hussein Ahmed offers four rare varietals he has spent years sourcing from his native Yemen. (Mocha is a port city there and has nothing to do with the dubious mixture of coffee and sugary chocolate with which this name is associated in the west.) Ahmed's approach epitomises the so-called 'third wave' of coffee making: a light roast and a slow, individual drip brew to gently cajole the most out of high-quality, single-estate beans, elevating each cup to the aromatic complexity of a glass of fine wine. Now that it has such coffee, Tokyo might be the first truly perfect city.
This year marks the 600th anniversary of Joan of Arc's birth, yet the milestone has barely been mentioned in the very country she risked her life to defend. Ever since the odious Action Française – and later the Front National – pre-empted Joan's legacy, her name has mistakenly become synonymous with xenophobia and bigotry; a most undeserved fate for such a potent symbol of humanistic values. Far from the bloodthirsty warrior celebrated by right-wing extremists, she is known to have mourned her fallen foes as well as her fallen friends. She is remembered as a zealot, but her burning at the stake speaks volumes in favour of religious tolerance. After all these centuries, the properly understood life of this uneducated farmer's daughter is testament to the inanity of all prejudices of class and gender.
'One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.' Joan of Arc