Sharpening the edges

There is something poetic about this September salad of two vine fruits. The last of the tomatoes, heavy with sun, with the first of the grapes, the onion and vinegar sharpening the edges like a heavy pencil outline.

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I’ve posted quite a lot about / from Rachel Roddy recently, but sometimes you just find writing that slots into your head and gets you. I can think of at least two friends I want to give her cookbook too, whilst the recipes posted online with the Guardian satisfy me.

The lemon cream is typically southern Italian, and therefore thickened with a little flour, which gives it an old-fashioned and homely feel, especially if you are used to more elegant, butter-rich lemon curds.

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The mix of lightly-worn food history and anecdote reminds me a lot of Nigella Lawson in her glory days, and she knows how to turn a phrase:

You know how we are often reassured that the fussiness of anchovies will slip away like an obedient manservant, leaving just the wonderful seasoning? This is not the case here. The anchovy flavour remains indignant, its fishy saltiness producing golden crumbs that shout “I am an anchovy breadcrumb!” There no doubt, if you hate anchovies, you will hate these breadcrumbs. If you like anchovies, I suggest you make this for lunch tomorrow.

A language of the gods

In those days not many language teachers played gramophone records to their class, but Mr King did. They were old and very precious to him and us, and he kept them in brown paper bags in a satchel that he put in his bicycle basket when he rode to school.

The blog’s most proflific researcher (aka my mother: sorry there’s no pay-rise this year, but I’ll give you Christmas off that zero hours contract) found me John Le Carre’s address on why we should learn German. You can hear both the novelist’s view, and also an entirely genuine pleasure at learning.

What did they contain, these precious records? The voices of classical German actors, reading romantic German poetry…And I discovered that the language fitted me. It pleased my Nordic ear.

In between musings on the connections and sympathies that come from learning language, and an appreciation for the fierce attention to truth that German can provide, there’s still time for a joke.

You’ve probably heard the Mark Twain gag: “Some German words are so long they have a perspective.” You can make up crazy adjectives like “my-recently-by-my-parents-thrown-out-of-the-window-PlayStation” And…you can turn for relief to the pristine poems of a Holderlin, or a Goethe, or a Heine, and remind yourself that the German language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty that make it for many of us, a language of the gods.

Three cheers for this speech! I’m still grateful every day for the amazing – and eccentric! – German teachers I had. They gave me so much, even when my language was learned rather than instinctive: fun, new authors, a way of understanding my own language, and friends.

Bastille Day

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Monet, Rouen art gallery.

Is this a difficult image these days? I think the nationalism sits uncomfortably with memories of Nice 2016 and many other events. Even in Monet’s life the existence or otherwise of a republic was fraught; his first London paintings were the result of being a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war, which is maybe why this reminds me of American WW2 ticket-tape parades. But as a painting of exuberance, movement and space, it’s joyful.

The American Dream

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Currently being analysed, dissected and put on display at the British Museum in their fantastic exhibition of post-war art, from pop art to minimalism to photo-realism, and from the AIDS epidemic to artists dealing with feminist and racial issues.

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There were a few nods to Liechtenstein, Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud, but a lot of this art will be new to UK viewers, and that’s great too.

All photos my own.

Revisionism

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I haven’t got into Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, but I’m really enjoying this podcast, which is quite short and high-level, but has some interesting scenarios. In the two episodes I’ve listened to so far, Gladwell has talked about moral licensing (how making a small concession is used as an excuse to withdraw from wider change), and the point that intelligence failure is inevitable as each agent listens to reports through their own lens.

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These points aren’t new, but his comparison of a Vietnam project spiralling out of control in search of more data with the current war on terror ($1m in 1965, versus 1271 state agencies investigating counter-terrorism in the US today), and of an 1870s artist who nearly became the first female member of the RA with Julia Gillard are interesting.

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My only suspicion is that Gladwell’s eagerness to demonstrate that the “forgotten” situations are still relevant to today skews his summaries of the past. I’d also argue that the past doesn’t need to be relevant to the future in order to legitimise it, and it’s a complex point how far we can learn from the past in any case, but that unaddressed overtone just makes the podcast more thought-provoking.

Belief

Beyond Belief is a BBC podcast and one of the best out there: a changing panel of experts debates for half an hour each week, intercut halfway through with “the view from the street”.

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Thus a debate about whether you can enjoy CS Lewis without knowing the Christian and mythic subtexts to Narnia, and if he’d even get published nowadays (“I was asked to rewrite¬†Pilgrim’s Progress¬†without the Christianity, which I thought a bit much.”) was interspersed with a dad talking about writing a book to explain her Muslim heritage to her daughter. A panel talking about the symbolism of hair covered both young Sikh girls claiming the turban for themselves and an Afro-Carribean woman who took on dreadlocks and a whole lot of politics at once.

I’ve also listened to episodes on state-funded religion in Belgium, the effect of the Somme on religious belief and Magna Carta. Each debate is thoughtful, well-informed and intellectually provoking. In no way does it seek to convert or proselytize, but its discussion provides an intensely human experience, reminding us of the importance of having opinions and values, understanding where they came from and accepting others’ paths.

Blog of the week

I’ve followed Kristabel at I Want You To Know on and off for about three years now, and she’s the reason I’ve given Boden’s clothes a go again, after thinking of them as Country-Sloane-central all my life. She’s also a girl after my own heart with her love of travel.

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However, apart from her style, energy and love of colour (yes! SUCH a relief to find a style blogger who’s not always mooching round in shades of beige, looking smug/sulky), what makes Kristabel hit it out the park is her blogging with a conscience.

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Unlike other writers, whose “what I’ve learnt” posts breathe of carefully-constructed interview-style answers and humble-bragging, Kristabel is honest about the learning curve she’s out herself on and the challenges of being self-employed. Even greater to see are these deeply authentic posts about black, female entrepreneurs, ethical gift guides (with gifts that you actually want), and interviews with other business-women about being the different one in the room. For my vote, the entrepreneurs posts could be a series on a par with A Cup of Jo’s Motherhood Around the World: direct, honest and enlightening.

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I particularly liked the point that whilst the fashion sector claims to champion difference, the money-trail is far more cautious. And I’d suggest that there’s an element of questioning to be done about if marketing commissioning editors and their teams actually know where to go and look for the new voices. Diagnostic algorithms on your own social media feed are hardly going to help…

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Much to chew on, and always worth a read. Plus, what a great gallery wall!

(All images via Kristabel’s blog)

Arabia unbound

The British Museum has always had a strong art collection.

The Turner bequest, with his sketching notebooks, was here before they moved to the Tate and Laurence Binyon, whose famous poem For the Fallen (“they shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old…”) is recited every November, was a curator in the prints and watercolour department, where he was responsible for introducing his artist contemporaries to Chinese and Japanese prints.

All this provides good materials for furnishing small temporary, free exhibitions, like the one last spring of modern Arabic art and book illustrations:

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When I saw this poster image, it reminded me of Robert Motherwell’s “Black for Mozart”, which I passed in a Mayfair gallery this summer. It’s much bigger and more textured than it looks here.

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and it also brought home to me how the calligraphic tradition of Islamic art allows the creators to focus on structure and composition, as much as decoration.