At the start of 2019 I wrote a list of loose resolutions, which included keeping notes on anything (books, films, music, objects) that I enjoyed throughout each month. I don’t actually believe in resolutions, but here is a first gesture towards some structured note taking for 2019.
Most of January’s reading was dominated by Haruki Murakami’s new tome, Killing Commendatore. Although I treat the release of anything by Murakami as a cause for celebration, and I enjoyed the novel’s play with bizarre magical realism and the musical references that have become synonymous with Murakami’s writing style, it felt as though it didn’t break any new ground. The book that really left an impression on me was Alice Water’s Coming to my Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook.
Water’s recounting of her childhood and early adulthood that led to the opening of her restaurant, Chez Panisse, is interspersed with her unpretentious philosophy of simplicity and beauty. While Waters is cook, and not a writer, her prose has a genuineness and authenticity that creates an easy intimacy with the reader. As a further reading note, I also recommend Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee. McNamee goes into more detail on the brilliantly unconventional everyday machinations of Chez Panisse and almost picks up the final thread of Coming to my Senses.
I think I may have absentmindedly clicked on the Nice Guys because I am easily enamoured with guys of the nice variety, but their YouTube channel instantly got me with their uploads of albums of the dream pop/chill wave persuasion. When not listening to their 24/7 radio stream, I have had Between Days, the EP from Leeds band Far Caspian, on repeat.
My Christmas stocking had two new cookbooks that have become a part of my kitchen repertoire: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple and Hetty McKinnon’s Family. Both are beautifully photographed with a focus on seasonal, share plate style dining. I particularly love the final “meal suggestions” chapter in Simple, where Ottolenghi curates dishes to create either a brunch, supper or feast.
As a side note, I have started bookmarking the recipes that I want to make again in my cookbooks with cat page markers that I bought in Japan last year. It is quite heartening how much a little cat face peeking out from between the pages of my cookbooks sparks joy. Simple pleasures, I guess.
I finally jumped on the Netflix bandwagon and spent most of January binge watching Vikings. Fortunately, I redeemed my somewhat questionable small screen viewing by seeing some excellent films at the cinema. I viewed Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (2018) at a sparsely filled outdoor cinema on a cool Saturday night and it was so heart achingly beautiful and such a perfect showcase for Kirin Kiki’s final screen performance. I haven’t seen many of Kore-eda’s films, but I am keen to seek them out.
Continuing the Japanese theme, Heather Lenz’s documentary on artist Yayoi Kusma, Kusama Infinity (2018), shed some light on an artist who I have long admired, but knew very little about. If anything the film is a reminder that Kusama’s work is far more layered in meaning and pathos than the ubiquitous Instagram shots of her pumpkin at Naoshima would suggest.
And then there was Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War (2018), which looked and felt as though it was from another time. The combination of black and white cinematography, Joanna Kulig’s performance (an abstract echo of Monica Vitti), the framing of architecture and the underlying sense of futility that reminded me of Michelangelo Antonio’s trilogy on “modernity and its discontents”. It also features a dance sequence to “Rock around the Clock” that rivals the brilliant pas de trois in Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964). Cold War made me recall the European films I love from the 1960s and was definitely my highlight of the month.
A final quote from Alice Waters’ Coming to my Senses that really resonated with me:
It’s a matter of discernment and appreciation, but anybody who is educated in a certain way is able to see that beauty...It’s about everything in life: What do you want to look at while you’re washing the dishes? Can you make your own lampshade rather than buy it? What sort of rose can you plant in your garden? What herbs can you plant on your fire escape? What kind of pan do you want sitting on the stove? What kind of handle does it have?
- Alice Waters