I’m off for a week’s break somewhere warm, sticky and off the grid. So I am leaving a holiday hamper. You’ll find a minimum of seven items here (conditions do not apply).


1) A sunny message from the streets:



2) See the finest show of Aboriginal art ever. Go to my next post.

Still writing it but, oh oh a plane to catch. However, this is the show: You have till August 23 to catch it. These pictures – collected about 70 years ago from Arnhem land – have never been exhibited before and who knows when they’ll come back out again. To quote Nicholas Rothwell in the Australian: ‘For lovers of Aboriginal art, this is an event of the highest significance. It may be compared with the revelation of a roomful of unknown works from the Florentine trecento: early pieces that hold in them clues to the majesty of the bark painting schools of more recent times.’ As always, showing something on the screen will never provide clues about scale or surface, but here is one of the pictures, with a figure to compare.

000448 Thomson Bark painting


3) A thought from Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘The will to a system is a lack of integrity.’
That would be a salty thought for any artist or philosopher. And look out for mannerisms, crutches, tics.


4) A podcast to check out:
Slate’s Culture Gabfest.
I have mentioned them in the post on Brünoin a survey of reviewers, the three gabfesters provided the most honest and interesting discussion of their own responses. I find their weekly podcasts irritating (ie I don’t agree with them; but then they don’t agree with each other) and interesting (ie when I agree with them) in roughly equal measure. They’re a good way to track the American cultural zeitgeist.


5) A long, maximally articulate – in that distinctively high-low NYC way – and entertaining roundtable discussion of Susan Sontag by critics and writers who knew her (July 2008), at New York’s Philoctetes Center. It’s 1 hr and 48 min of YouTube so be prepared, or just watch segments. The panelists (tableists?) are Joan Acocella, Robert Boyers, Roger Copeland, Philip Lopate, and James Miller. They are quite as critical as much as admiring of Sontag’s character and her work.

ssontag1Parts of it are sheer high-culture-society gossip; as with this hilariously bitchy segment from Joan Aocella, the New Yorker’s acerbic dance critic (from 42.10 mark):

‘The time when I was interviewing her, which went on for months, I felt as though I was in a cage with a dragon. She was quite brilliant and interesting and so on and so forth, but demanding, self-centred, uncompromising … By the way when I asked Susan if I could write a profile on her she said: “Well, I knew this was coming but I thought it woukld be Janet Malcolm.” Can you imagine such a remark? You got to understand, that’s what she was like, dealing with her … This is what I mean about her taking postions and doing things that were really embarassing. She was really embarassing … We can get out of this personal element but boy, have I not forgotten it.’

‘Sontag’s neediness. The immense neediness. She truly wanted me to say nice things about her. She truly wanted me as her friend, quote unquote … She was immensely proud and self-deceiving about who were her friends. She would say So-and-so is my very close friend, and I would have been on the phone with him the day before and he would have said, “That fucking bitch, I’ll never speak to her again.” ’


6) As we are all getting into food and cooking with MasterChef, I’m going to read Michael Pollan’s latest book In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating on my break. Pollan is so famous in America, even Obama has read (and analysed) the celebrated Pollan piece (Oct.’08), “Farmer in Chief,” an open letter to Dear Mr. President-Elect. He is a big part of the movement that sparked off Michelle O’s organic garden at the White House.

julie-juliaIn the meanwhile you may like to check out his latest piece in the New York Times, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” in which he explores how Americans mislaid the pleasures of cooking and how cooking became a spectator sport. He plays off the new film, Julie and Julia, by Nora (Sleepless in Seattle) Ephron about the pioneering American cookbook writer Julia Childs.

He says of growing up with his mother watching Julia Child on TV:

‘I was only 8 when “The French Chef” first appeared on American television in 1963, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this Julia Child had improved the quality of life around our house. My mother began cooking dishes she’d watched Julia cook on TV: boeuf bourguignon, French onion soup gratinée, duck à l’orange, coq au vin, mousse au chocolat … So whenever people talk about how Julia Child upgraded the culture of food in America, I nod appreciatively. I owe her.’

But also how ‘today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation … that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our television screens.’

And this: ‘When I asked my mother recently what exactly endeared Julia Child to her, she explained that “for so many of us she took the fear out of cooking” and, to illustrate the point, brought up the famous potato show, one of the episodes that Meryl Streep recreates brilliantly on screen. Millions of Americans of a certain age claim to remember Julia Child dropping a chicken or a goose on the floor, but the memory is apocryphal: what she dropped was a potato pancake … And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” ’


7) A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

A little consoling pop philosophy from Alain de Botton, speaking from Oxford:

‘One of the reasons why we might be suffering [from career anxiety] is, we are surrounded by snobs … A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.’

‘And the dominant kind of snobbery that exists nowadays is job snobbery. And you encounter it within minutes of being at a party when you get asked the iconic and famous question of the early 21st century “What do you do?”. And depending on your answer people are incredibly delighted to see you or look at their watch and make their excuses.

‘The opposite of a snob is your mother.’

(And he advises: ‘You can’t have it all … Any wise life will admit there is an element that is not suceeding.’)

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