Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Still 6 songs left to go?"

Last night, I finally saw the "infamously-explicit-for-a-mainstream-movie" 9 Songs, with a friend whose accompaniment to the film provided all the narrative I needed:
  • [After one of the many performances filmed at the Brixton Academy] Me: "So that's the third song." Her:"Oh, so that's why it's called 9 Songs. God, does that mean we've still got 6 songs to go?"
  • [After dinner, during yet another romp on the bed] Her: "I'd rather watch them eat."
  • [During a bathroom scene] Me: "The paint effect on the wall's really nice." Her: "Not very practical though, is it? No splashback tiles."

Her constant stream of comments saved me from leaving my seat before the tedious 69 (oh yes) minutes were up.

Okay, it wasn't that boring: the movie never billed itself as anything other than an unpretentious, ordinary, explicit, lo-fi accounting of two strangers having casual sex and nothing more; and this spare, pared down approach made it refreshingly engaging, for some of the time.

Beyond that, however, I can't think of anything else to say: the movie was bland and the experience left me indifferent. Perhaps if more attention had been focussed on the guy's sexual experience -- his body, his desires, his needs -- I, as a woman, would have been more engrossed.

It's been a while since I left the cinema completely nonplussed.

I'll leave the reviews to the pros:

+ Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian: "This is no great love affair; there are no big scenes of tears and laughter; breaking up and making up. Leo and Kate on the prow of the Titanic it ain't. Its very casualness, its unfinishedness and downbeat messiness give the affair the feeling of real life, which by a further paradox makes it more engaging than something more obviously dramatic. ... Boring? Gosh, really? Is that why all those male journalists in the audience were gulping and surreptitiously recrossing their legs? Because they thought it was boring?"

+ The BBC: "Kieran O'Brien and Margot Stilley star as a couple who do nothing besides go to rock concerts and have sex under fluorescent lighting, but while they bare a lot of skin, they fail to get beneath it. All that's left is the cinematic equivalent of a painful rectal examination and not just in the metaphorical sense. ... Actually this film does provoke thoughts about the meaning of life - mainly because you feel it slowly slipping away in wasting 70 precious minutes trying to figure out what the heck Winterbottom was thinking with this stultifying, self-conscious, and flesh-creepingly repulsive lot of codswallop."

Monday, March 28, 2005

Where worlds collide

It must be obvious to even the most casual listener that Radiohead have diverse musical influences, but hearing the wide breadth of music curated by Jonny Greenwood at the Ether festival last night at the Royal Festival Hall reminded me sharply of Greenwood's eclectic classical leanings and the various ways these have found themselves on to recent Radiohead albums -- particularly Amnesiac and the spellblindingly awesome Kid A. Greenwood has said:
"I get these enthusiasms which can drive the band crazy, but I just say: listen, French horns are amazing, we've got to find a way of using them. Or I'll say, it would be great if this song sounded like [Krzysztof] Penderecki [acclaimed Polish modern classical composer], or Alice Coltrane [famed jazz instrumentalist]. And it's childish because none of us can play jazz like Alice Coltrane, and none of us can write the kind of music that Penderecki does. We've only got guitars and a basic knowledge of music, but we reach for these things and miss. That's what's cool about it."

On its release, Pitchfork described Kid A as "an album of sparking paradox. It's cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike, infinite yet 48 minutes".

The mix of music showcased at Ether last night was just as exquisite: from Greenwood's own subtly radiant smear -- by turns mystical and futuristic -- and dark and uplifting Piano for Children; through Olivier Messiaen's atmospheric, haunting and multihued tone poem La Fete des Belles Eaux, featuring 6 of one of the world's earliest electronic instruments -- the eerie, swooping and sliding Ondes Martenot; to the passionate and dynamic classical Arabic pieces of The Nazareth Orchestra.

The night was capped by a duet between diminutive Thom Yorke and Arabic singer Lubna Salame of Radiohead's Arpeggi and Where Bluebirds Fly. Yorke's voice is an amazingly unique instrument and his twisting falsetto crying over the sensual wail of Salame was simply mesmerising.

A gloriously hypnotic evening.

Related links:

+ Pop pioneer in love with the classics. "Classical music was Jonny Greenwood's original passion. He learned the viola at home in Oxford years before he picked up the guitar at 16. His first band was the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra, and he still remembers how 'the first time I heard a proper orchestra, the sound just blew me away.'"

+ Bodysong. Jonny Greenwood's magnetic score to the British film.

+ Radiohead at ease. Up-to-the-minute Radiohead news.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Just links

The best:

Some wonderful blogs I've been reading regularly:

+ Cassandra Pages. This woman writes beautifully about her life in Montreal. Her description of snow: "It's as if our whole world were inside an owl's wing: muffled, soft, white, and slightly blurred."
+ Budapest and the Rest. "The maternal instinct is, in my humble opinion, the instinct to get it on." Great line from an American in Budapest!
+ Meanwhile, Here in France. Another gorgeously-written blog.
+ Knäckebröd. A New Jerseyan in Sweden.
+ Stay of Execution. Sharp observations on life from rural America.
+ This Fish Needs a Bicycle. Have I not linked to this sparkling NYC blog already? The kind of blog-writing to aspire to; alas I could never be this personal.
+ Orangette. I will link to this Seattle food blog again and again, it's so yummy.
+ De Grouchy Owl. Another re-link to this descriptive account of life in urban Pakistan.

The rest:

+ Life isn't just as you want it? Remix it! "We're remixing our music consumption by buying songs online one at a time instead of in CD collections. We're remixing our TV behavior as TiVo-style video recorders let us 'make every night Thursday night'. We're remixing our media by grabbing online articles from dozens of different sources and then broadcasting our own opinions with blogs. When you get down to it, the remixing metaphor applies to almost any area you can think of."

+ Ego-casting, revisited. "Today's personal technologies, particularly the cellphone and the digital video recorder, are marvels of individual choice, convenience and innovation; they represent the democratization of the power of the machine. Our technologies are more intuitive, more facile and more responsive than ever before. In a rebuke to Marx, we have not become the alienated slaves of the machine; we have made the machines more like us and in the process toppled decades of criticism about the dangerous and potentially enervating effects of our technologies. Or have we?" Reg. req.

+ Geekfathers: CyberCrime mobs revealed. "Crime is now organized on the Internet. Operating in the anonymity of cyberspace, Web mobs with names like Shadowcrew and stealthdivision are building networks that help crackers and phishers, money launderers and fences skim off some of the billions that travel through the Web every day."

+ The inner world of Joe Blogs. "'The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything,' wrote Oscar Wilde 'except what is worth knowing.' Few things bear this out more convincingly than the world of blogging," argues The Times in their scathing attack on blogs.

+ Need a building? Just add water. "A pair of engineers in London have come up with a 'building in a bag' -- a sack of cement-impregnated fabric. To erect the structure, all you have to do is add water to the bag and inflate it with air. Twelve hours later the shelter is dried out and ready for use."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Let's talk about sex

Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, it is difficult for me to fully comprehend the high levels of secrecy and fear surrounding sexual practice. So last night's viewing of the filmed biography of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey was a real eye-opener.

The scientist Kinsey described sex education in the 1930s as "morality disguised as fact" and embarked on a comprehensive statistical analysis of American sexual behaviour. The appearance of the report Sexual Behavior In The Human Male in 1948 transformed the way people regarded their sexual activities by revealing how widespread premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, oral sex, masturbation and even zoophilia were in American society. Its findings were so explosive that Kinsey quickly became a target of Hoover's anti-Communist witch-hunt.

The publication of Sexual Behavior In The Human Female a few years later, was even more explosive, focussing on such taboo subjects as female masturbation and the female orgasm. His research found that women were as sexual as men, and that a libidinous sex life was essential to a woman's marital bliss. He even found that women who had engaged in premarital sex were more likely to have orgasms in marriages than those who had not.

Although the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the States was a direct result of Kinsey's research, there are still archaic state laws today that outlaw oral sex, even within marriage: in Maryland, for example, they will lock you up for 10 years. In North Carolina: "If any man and woman not being married to each other, shall lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed, and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor." In Idaho, the penalty for adultery is up to a $1000 fine and three years in the state pen. Even "blue-state" Massachusetts will bang you up for three years if you commit adultery and five years if you sell a dildo.

Related links:
+ Famous Kinsey Report statistics
+ More Kinsey Report findings
+ Biography of Alfred Kinsey by PBS
+ Kinsey Institute
+ Legislating your sex life. A search of sex laws turns up some surprises.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hanging out

Had such a chilled weekend, yet somehow still managed to be as busy as ever. I think it was the glorious weather that warmed my mood and slackened my pace.

Saturday began with a lie in -- preparing for the day ahead by luxuriating under the covers, watching the sun stream in through the wooden blinds and listening to the birds shrieking at each other through the open window -- followed by a flick through the papers over brunch, and a saunter -- arms bare to the sun -- to catch the bus to Aldwych.

We meandered through the backstreets from Drury Lane and Covent Garden to the top of Tottenham Court Road, then walked down its length towards Oxford Street, wandering in and out of whatever gadget shop took our fancy -- dreaming up our electrical wishlists.

Arms still amazingly free of shopping, we strolled across a sun-hazy Hyde Park to Bayswater, where we sank into two antique armchairs of a backstreet pub -- doors and windows flung open to the quiet street -- for some liquid refreshment. By evening, we found ourselves at the cinema watching, in astonishment, Christian Bale's phenomenonly gaunt features and emaciated body in the predictable but moody The Machinist. Cheap and delicious kebabs in a fluorescent-lit and plastic-tabletopped cafe, followed by Never Mind The Buzzcocks on the TV at home capped a wonderful day.

Sunday began with a delightfully purposeless stroll around Tate Britain -- enjoying The Cholmondeley Ladies, The Saltonstall Family and Giovanni Canaletto -- then vanilla ice cream cones from the van outside, and a jump on Damien Hirst's spotted Tate-to-Tate boat that took us along the Thames to the Tate Modern for a look at August Strindberg's broody paintings of blustery seas and skies. I found Strindberg's paintings dramatic enough, but ultimately -- curiously -- flat and uninspired.

After another look round the Tate's brilliant Beuys exhibition, we ate dinner by a window overlooking the River: tasty Caprina (goats cheese and sundried tomatoes) and Four Seasons (mushrooms, peperoni sausage, mozzarella, capers, olives and anchovies) pizzas followed by rich chocolate fudge cake and pear tart at the Pizza Express next to The Globe. Neat double whiskys on Whitehall ended a fabulously relaxed "summer" weekend.

Friday, March 18, 2005

English summer

I snapped this photo last year under Richmond Bridge on the River Thames, and the beautifully warm and sunny weather today has me hankering after long, sun-drenched walks along the Thames, picnics and papers in the park, ice cold beer in the pub garden, vanilla ice cream cone dripping down my arm, and bare legs under floaty skirts.

Though I wouldn't go as far as one of my work colleagues yesterday, who chirped, "Summer has come!", to which I replied, "Well, an English summer at least." And we've still got two days left of winter.

Sleeveless ti-shirts and bare skin out on the streets. Even the two love birds are necking and preening on the tree outside my window. Me, I'm putting on my coat.

C'mon, guys, it's not that warm.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Infernal London

Last night, we saw John Virtue's monochromatic paintings of London at the National Gallery. I had never heard of Virtue before, but I soon discovered that he is a remarkable artist who paints entirely in black and white on giant canvases, one of which stretches across seven metres.

His epic paintings of London are bleak and brooding battles between light and shadow: the darkened buildings of St Paul's, the Gherkin and others slowly emerge from blackened skies and the tumultuous Thames in a manner that recalls the tradition of such European landscape painters as Turner, Constable, Rubens and others.

Tutored by Frank Auerbach at the Slade, Virtue produced abstract explorations of the isolated wilds of Exmoor and the Pennine uplands, prior to moving to London to take up his post as the sixth National Gallery Associate Artist. But he treats London in a similar way: his London cityscapes are void of people and the elemental worlds of water and sky dominate. In fact, it is only when you move closer to the canvas that the outline of the city's buildings reveal themselves in subtle revelations.

"I have no interest in recording a rhetorical history of London," Virtue has said. "Really I'm interested in making exciting abstractions from what I perceive. So in a sense I'm not a Londoner painting London out of any roots or any kind of affection -- I'm an accidental tourist."

Afterwards we went to the excellent Indian version of Wagamama, Masala Zone off Carnaby Street for nimbu pani (spiced, freshly-squeezed lemonade) and Cobra beer (brewed in Poland), plus a delicious lamb thali and a Malabar seafood bowl with rice noodles. Always a great place to eat Indian food.

Related links:

+ "This is London in all its rain-sodden, beery-eyed, nervy exhilaration", Simon Schama on John Virtue in The Guardian

+ It's curry, but not as we know it. "New wave Indian restaurateurs are eschewing the traditional image of chicken tikka, lager and flock wallpaper in favour of stylish interiors and posh cuisine. But one thing never changes - wherever you eat your curry, you can be sure they've got nothing like it in downtown Bombay." The Observer Food Monthly on the "new wave" of Indian cooking in Britain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

How to dry a sweater

Handy laundry tip, courtesy of Sam Shepard:*
"He washed his red shirt in the sink. Laid a motel towel on the floor. Laid the shirt on the towel. As he smoothed the sleeves and crossed them on the belly of the shirt he thought of his own death. Of how they might cross his arms just like the sleeves on his own dead belly. He laid a second towel on top of the red shirt so the shirt was sandwiched then walked on top of the towel with his bare feet, making tight mincing steps, squeezing the water out. This was something he'd picked up from his mother. He'd seen her do this with her own bare feet on top of blue fuzzy sweaters with small synthetic shells for buttons. He'd seen her toes curl. Watched water squish out faintly bluer than water. Bleeding from dye. He thought of her feet and pictured them so vividly that his whole mother appeared before him."

From Motel Chronicles

* Not as random a blog entry as it would seem: I am doing laundry right now. I am reading Shepard. I am also a little bored.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Life Is A Miracle

Black marketeers hoovering up cocaine from railway tracks, brass beds flying through the air, naked lovers rolling down hillsides, dogs pouncing on dying pigeons, suicidal love-sick donkeys, deranged opera singers, and bathing bears all featured in the chaotic, frenetic and vibrant slapstick-cum-romantic movie we saw last night, Life Is A Miracle.

Set during the Bosnian war, the movie ostensibly tells the Romeo and Juliet tale of a Bosnian Serb railway engineer falling in love with his Muslim hostage. It has been slaughtered by the English critics for its superfluous storyline and for making a farcical lightness of war, but I really liked the fact that it shows how the mayhem of peoples' lives continues in spite of the mayhem of war: at its heart is not a story about the factions of war per se, but a story about the factions that persist within a community.

I found Life Is A Miracle so delightful, warm, funny and beautifully shot, that I broke out into spontaneous applause at the end (thankfully for those around me, it was a quiet applause).

Related link:

"What is the problem with you English? You killed millions of Indians and Africans, and yet you go nuts about the circumstances of the death of a single Serbian pigeon. I am touched you hold the lives of Serbian birds so dear, but you are crazy." Director Emir Kusturica chats to The Guardian in the village he built for himself on a mountain.

Other links today:
+ Turkey meatballs with sultanas and pine nuts. Yum.
+ Mumbai to Midtown, chaat hits the spot. "Chaats are jumbles of flavor and texture: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crunchy, soft, nutty, fried and flaky tidbits, doused with cool yogurt, fresh cilantro and tangy tamarind and sprinkled with chaat masala, a spice mixture that is itself wildly eventful. The contrasts are, as one fan said, 'a steeplechase for your mouth,' with different sensations galloping by faster than you can track them." More yum. (Reg. req.)
+ Saucy is the new foodie webzine from the people behind Bookslut. "This is not a website for picky eaters. If you're cutting carbs, eating at McDonald's, or buying margarine, this may not be the site for you. But if you love all kinds of food like we do, Saucy is here to entertain and enlighten." Yey!
+ Wiki becomes a way of life. Hardcore Wikipedians.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I was really excited to visit the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Alison Jacques Gallery today because I have liked his work since I was a teenager, having discovered him through my love of Patti Smith and Sam Shepard. His photographs are perfectly controlled balances between "light and shadow, balance and symmetry, beauty and obscenity" and there is a wonderfully structured element to his work. The vintage silver gelatin paper the photos are printed on only serves to enhance the clarity of his images. I've only ever seen his work in books, so this exhibition was a real treat.

Portraits featured include rock icons Iggy Pop and Patti Smith (who Mapplethorpe lived with in the early 70s at the Chelsea Hotel); artists such as Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein and Ed Ruscha; writers William Burroughs and Bruce Chatwin; as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Gere and gay porn star Peter Berlin.

Also hung were his architectural still lives, flowers and nudes. The exhibition was not as cocktastic as I had hoped and disappointingly there is a complete absence of any of his harder-core S-M images. But perhaps this is due to the curation by "nice and cosy" David Hockney: "I must admit," Hockney told the New Statesman, "I am not really attracted to some of Robert's more graphic sexual images -- I don't object to them, they're just not my thing." Shame really.

Afterwards, we succumbed to Waterstone's 3 for 2 offer on paperbacks. I bought David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Paul Auster's Oracle Night, Stephen Smith's Underground London, plus Fernando Pessoa's The Book Of Disquiet.

That's my reading for the year sorted then.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Knitting guerrillas

Knitting seems to be enjoying a fashionable renaissance at the moment -- not only in Hollywood but also in my humble office. The last time I clicked and clacked was several years ago whilst supervising school children during their prep sessions in India. I could barely master the basics of knitting: just "knit one, purl two" (or is it the other way around?). I never went beyond a one metre long scarf which I then unravelled and reknitted over and over again. For I was interested more in knitting as process, knitting as meditation. Losing myself in the click clack of the needles and the lengthening of the rows, I wasn't concerned whether my knitting was productive and certainly didn't care for knitting's potentially subversive functions.

The Craft Council's Knit 2 Together exhibition is concerned with just this: knitting as subversion and political practice. Pieces knitted from human hair, wire or paper from secondhand books hang alongside photographs of people wearing knitted balaclavas around NYC, knitted hand grenades and knitted furniture. Knit-ins on the Underground's Circle Line are also described and male knitters make statements about knitting being underrated because it's "women's work" and teaching themselves knitting and crochetting because "boys don't".

The relentless politicisation of the pieces (often simply for the sake of it) felt a little over-indulgent and tiring. However, I did enjoy one artist's work immensely: Kelly Jenkins and her humourous and edgy wall hangings based on cliched adverts from the sex industry. Her Knit Uncensored, for example, features a giant magazine cover advertising stories such:

  • Turn your partner on with 22 new and uncensored knitting positions!
  • Remember boys...It's all in the fingers!
  • Real life stories! My knitted condom nightmare
  • Nudist knitting colony uncovered in Wales

Her work gave me a much needed belly laugh.

Afterwards, we relaxed with drinks (Becks and heavy red wine) and food (aubergine and coconut curry, broccoli frittata, Greek salad, chicken with spinach) at the wonderfully bohemian Candid Cafe (part of the Candid Arts Trust centre behind Angel tube). The rickety Candid Cafe looks and feels like an delapidated 19th century French boudoir: antique couches for lounging in, huge wooden table for eating at, oil-painted nudes on peeling indigo and burgundy walls. The fact that it's entirely candlelit makes it an incredibly romantic place to chill in.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Scratch paper

I organise my work life with random bits of scrap paper strewn across my desk and Post-it notes plastered across my monitor. Despite working in new media and being interested in gagdets, I still prefer the tactility of paper over software when brainstorming a project or writing my to-do lists. I find my random bits of paper reassuringly lo-tech and non-linear (Post-its are highly associative, encouraging organic grouping and regrouping of ideas). The Post-it note has a spare utility that is refreshingly simple and efficient.

So I was curious to see how my favourite office utility would be transformed by artists exhibiting in Adam Carr's Post Notes exhibition at the ICA tonight. Carr asked artists from around the world to produce work on a simple Post-it note. They were allowed free reign over what they produced, so long as the basic qualities of the note were retained. Works ranged from the sublime to the plain silly: laser cut flowers, flick book animations, and notes with burnt out holes in them.

It's interesting that the Post-it note was created at the same time as the Apple computer. I've forgotten what a recent invention it is, and it's clearly become more ubiquitous than an Apple product. Apparently, the idea for the sticky note came to its creator, Art Fry, while singing in the church choir and becoming increasingly frustrated by attempts to bookmark his hymnal with loose bits of paper.

His colleague at 3M, Spencer Silver, had already developed an adhesive whose molecular structure consisted of minuscule spheres instead of an even coating. The spaces between the spheres meant that complete contact between tape and surface was impossible.

Despite the plethora of Post-it variations now available -- over 30 different colours, shapes and sizes, including software versions -- my favourite still remains the original canary yellow.

It was nice being in the ICA tonight. I haven't visited for a while and though they always have digital installations, I rarely see them. So I also made time to see their new media exhibition, Islandhopping, which their notes described as aiming "to question existing hegemonic structures of cultural, social, historical and political landscapes through the construction of platforms for discourse and spaces of tension via the recontextualisation of the geopolitical premise of the 'island'" -- a pretentiously long-winded way of describing what ultimately amounted to a great set of 60 pieces of videoart best seen after several drinks.

Then it was on to Soho's wonderfully homespun Waikiki bar -- surrounded by faded posters of Thai boxers -- to drink Moscow Mules, whiskey sours and Waikiki (passionfruit) vodkas. Now I'm absolutely zonked and ready for my bed. Good night!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bossa nova starman

Tonight I watched Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and adored its quirky, oddball, deadpan humour, "terminal whimsy", technicolour overload, jaded lead protagonist, even its self-conscious and obtuse plot.

But what delighted me the most was the bossa nova reworkings of David Bowie songs. 11 songs, including Queen Bitch, Ziggy Stardust, Lady Stardust, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, Five Years, Changes, Space Oddity and even When I Live My Dream, are reworked into lo-fi Portuguese acoustic versions sung by Brazilian samba star Seu Jorge.

Anderson is a huge Bowie fan, but Jorge thought that reworking 11 Bowie songs would be overkill. "I thought it might be like drowning your food in ketchup, with me being the ketchup -- too much," Jorge said. The Brazilian didn't even know any of the Bowie songs that he was asked to sing. "It's a different culture in Brazil. We only know Let's Dance. "

With the addition of Devo's Gut Feeling, Iggy's Search and Destroy, and Scott Walker's 30th Century Man in their original versions, I definitely need to get a hold of the soundtrack.

Other links today:

+ Cows hold grudges. Once they were a byword for mindless docility. But cows have a complex mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited by intellectual challenges, researchers have found.

+ Canine suicides. A spate of what appear to be canine suicides has animal psychologists in Scotland baffled.

More strange stories

Monday, March 07, 2005

A load of old rubbish

Yesterday I cooked a lunch of scrambled eggs made with smoked salmon, chopped chives and grated lemon zest on toast, as inspired by the NYT article on what chefs eat when not on duty. Then we went to the Tomoko Takahashi exhibition at the Serpentine.

Most people collect objects at some point during their lives, from stamps and CDs to jewellery and vintage cars. We've all rummaged through car boot sales, antique shops, record fairs and eBay at one time or another, the heart racing as we locate our treasured booty. I used to collect Indian stamps, bootleg Bowie cassettes and Enid Blyton books, but as we moved from house to house (nine moves during my childhood), I lost them and most of my toys. For most of us, collecting is a private affair, but there are others who are driven to share their collections.

Britain's oldest museum, The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, began life in 1683 as the displayed collection of an antiquarian, astrologer and alchemist. Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum also began with the eclectic collection of a single collector, and still today resembles a dark and cluttered "cabinet of curiosities". More recently, Robert Opie's collection of packaging and advertising materials -- items we all throw away -- formed the basis of Opie's Museum of Memories in 1963.

The Japanese-born and London-trained artist Tomoko Takahashi's fascination with objects as historically and personally significant has led to several installations, the most recent of which include toys, games, puzzles, old furniture, desk lamps, typewriters and computers found in car boot sales, skips and museum basements.

On the surface, these objects appear to have been flung into every corner and across every surface -- even the walls -- of the gallery, but Takahashi is as interested in order and classification as in randomness and chaos. Looking at her work at the Serpentine, it is obvious that she places great importance on a specific set of complex principles, perhaps known only to her, to create distinct environments.

So different toys are grouped together in islands of colour and function: from the rusted gardening utensils, astro turf and farmyard animals that inhabit one room; through to the playing cards that linearly unite -- in ascending order -- picture frames on the wall of another; and to the broken scalextric tracks, model cars, wires and computer peripherals of a darkened third.

According to notes -- to herself and to her assistants -- scribbled on floors and walls, the artist's process is just as important as the final art piece. Photos reveal that she ate and slept in the Serpentine while constructing her installation, and photocopied posters show which car boots sales she visited to source her treasures. I read somewhere that her sense of ritual is inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony -- skills taught to her by her grandmother.

The Guardian hated the exhibition, describing it as "a very pretentious shop window installation". This is the first Takahashi work I've experienced (thanks for the tip, Hypatia), and I really enjoyed myself. I understand that her work can be seen as a critique of consumerism and obsolescence, but I also saw it as a paean to hoarding.

I wish I had kept all my old toys in the attic now.

When I got home, I ate a family-size pack of Galaxy Minstrels chocolates for dinner, to -- ahem -- honour my inner child of course.

Other link today:

+ Fear and golfing. Just prior to his death Hunter S Thompson invented a new sport, Shotgun Golf, with Bill Murray. His description:

"The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge. The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant 'green'. Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably. After that, you trade places and equipment, and move on to round two."

Via the ever brilliant Popbitch.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Food, food, food

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child.

It seems all I'm doing these days is eating lots. Of course, I blame it on the weather rather than greed! Today I cooked lunch for friends in St Albans:

  • Chicken thighs and legs roasted with paprika, garlic and mixed herbs
  • French green beans roasted with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil
  • New potatoes fried with bacon and mixed with fresh watercress

All served with hot ciabatta and butter. Even if I say so myself, it was all rather delicious. Perfect comfort food for a cold day. We worked it all off with a brisk walk and play in the park with the children.

The five of us met at Oxford and have known one another for around 10 or 11 years. We don't see each other as often as we'd like but whenever we do it's as if no time as elapsed. There's none of the initial awkwardness or small talk that sometimes arises between friends who have not seen one another in a while. We slip right back into intimate conversation and I always feel my most comfortable with them. I'm incredibly lucky.

On return to London, we had whisky sours, Mochito and mixed fruit cocktails at Soho's Alphabet Bar, then back home to scoff fish and chips and watch Northern Exposure season 1 on DVD.

Foodie bliss.

Food links today:
+ Busman's holiday: Special chef's edition. What chefs eat on their days off or on the road. (Reg. req.)
+ Orangette. Wonderful food blog.
+ French women do get fat. What the bestseller neglects to mention.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Tonight we watched Patrick Keiller's London at Tate Britain. Keiller's fin-de-siècle film tracks a narrator's meandering journey along the River Thames -- from the City, through the Wembley suburbs, to the markets of Brixton -- during the tumultuous and low-point year of 1992: the year of John Major's election as Prime Minister, a spate of IRA bombings, the Black Wednesday

European monetary crisis, and the "fall of the house of Windsor". The film is rooted in a long literary history of the capital and references London's many chroniclers, such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, H G Wells and Horace Walpole.

The London depicted here during the Tory years is overwhelmingly one of decline, isolation, failure and disappearance: in one shot, a huge, inflatable Ronald MacDonald bobs alone above a burger joint; in another, blinds flutter in the wind through the blown out windows of a bombed City office block. However, the film does identify moments of comfort and liveliness, such as in the suburbs of Wembley, or the hustle and bustle of the Brixton and Stoke Newington markets and Brent Cross shopping mall.

Beautifully melancholic, though very much rooted in the social politics of a particular time. As Screen Online points out:

"Nearly ten years after the film's release, London is a different city. A Labour government has given it back a governing body, and new social architecture. The Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern have reshaped London's face, and [the narrator's] worst predictions have not come true."

Afterwards, we ate in Brixton's wonderful Eritrean restaurant Asmara, where the owners remembered and asked after my parents who ate with me there last year!

Related link:
+ Patrick Keiller profile

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sushi heaven

Tonight we ate again at my favourite Japanese restaurant, Fujiyama in Brixton. We had a mixed platter of vegetable (sweet potato, courgette and red pepper) and prawn tempura; spinach ohitashi (steamed and lightly dressed spinach with toasted sesame seeds, fried shallots and spring onion); a sushi and sashimi bento box; and freshly squeezed fruit juice.

Japanese is one of my favourite meals to eat out and no matter how much I eat, it never fills me up to the point of discomfort. I'm curious to make sushi, but I suspect it would not be an easy process. However, it would be fun to have a sushi-making evening at home with friends.

According to Wikipedia, sushi -- made up of rice, rice vinegar and fish -- made its first written appearance in a Chinese dictionary in the 3rd or 4th century BC. In Japan, the first written record of sushi appeared in 718. According to Eat Sushi, "In the 7th century, Southeast Asians introduced the technique of pickling. The Japanese acquired this same practice which consisted of packing fish with rice. As the fish fermented the rice produced a lactic acid which in turn caused the pickling of the pressed fish." It wasn't until the 15th century that Matsumoto Yoshiichi of Edo (Tokyo) introduced rice vinegar to sushi rice. Sushi and sashimi (raw fish) became "fast food" in the 1820s, when Hanaya Yohei set up a sushi stall in Edo.

A basic sushi pantry should consist of:

  • Sushi rice –- "sushi rice" is best, but any premium short grain white rice can be used
  • Nori –- dark green (almost black) toasted sheets of seaweed
  • Rice vinegar –- non-seasoned; this is the key ingredient of sushi vinegar made from water, rice vinegar, sugar and sea salt
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi –- a spicy green mustard paste
  • Pickled ginger -- meant to be eaten between servings to freshen and cleanse the palate
  • Sashimi-grade raw fish -- such as tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel and prawn

How difficult could this be?
+ Making sushi. Handy one-page guide to download (PDF).
+ How to make sushi according to Kuro5hin. The comments are the most useful.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Mo Ca chill

A friend from Oxford was in town tonight so we arranged to drink (amaretto sours, berry vodkas) in Brixton's Dogstar to begin with, but it was so cold, we couldn't bring ourselves to leave until late. Luckily for us the Dogstar now has a restaurant upstairs -- the Caribbean Mo Ca.

The food was average but filling. We started with aloe (potato) pies with tamarind sauce and callaloo (spinach) fritters with cucumber, mango and lime chutney; then a grilled chicken with fried plantain, coleslaw and "Spanish rice" for one main course, and chicken with tamarind sauce, pineapple and mango chutney plus "Spanish rice" (tasted like pre-flavoured Uncle Ben's to me) for another. Mo Ca is probably better for lunch or else after alot of evening drinking.

Along with the Queen, the Effra and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Dogstar is one of my favourite places to drink. In fact, there are so many great places to eat and drink in Brixton, I don't know why I don't hang out there more often.

Related link:

+ Urban 75's guide to Brixton. The only guide to Brixton you'll ever need to consult.

Other links today:

+ Engineers devise invisibility shield. "The key to the concept is to reduce light scattering. We see objects because light bounces off them; if this scattering of light could be prevented (and if the objects didn't absorb any light) they would become invisible. The plasmonic screen suppresses scattering by resonating in tune with the illuminating light."

+ The real world behind James Bond. "Documents and photographs released by MI5 have given a fascinating insight into the real-life intrigue which inspired James Bond's creator Ian Fleming - from exploding fountain pens to human torpedoes."

+ My own private Tokyo. William Gibson in Tokyo -- an old article, which I've been re-reading since starting Idoru.

+ Disneyland with the death penalty. William Gibson in Singapore. Another, even older article.

+ The $1,000 omelette. Made with lobster and lots of caviar.