EST. 2009

July 14, 2016

That Brighton Affair

A BEACH FROLIC, A PARK RIDE, A CLIMACTIC NIGHT. Brighton is where lovers Sarah Miles and Maurice Bendrix escape to before the end of their affair. Adapted from Graham Greene's 1951 novel of the same name, The End of the Affair follows the tormenting entanglement between a passionate writer and a discontented wife in wartime London.

Caught in the Blitz, "Bendrix" and Sarah's relationship is as tumultuous as their times. They are not only neighbors to begin with. Sarah's husband Henry Miles, a civil servant, was to be the subject of Bendrix's research. Intending to learn about his habits, "what he drinks at bedtime and when", Bendrix ends up discovering more than what he initially came for.

The affair carries on with strain and squabbles spurred by Bendrix's jealousy. Having been written by Greene however, it transcends romance, subtly dipping into faith and disbelief. While Greene considered himself an agnostic, even an atheist, Catholic religious themes ground much of his writing, particularly in his four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. They are regarded as the "gold standard" of the genre.

The film takes place mostly in London, depicted with heavy rains and World War II bombing raids. Brighton provides the setting for contrast; sea air and sunshine for momentary joy and calm. Once back in London, their stories carry on.

Wish I could say the same for myself as we approach a full season of living in Brighton. With its seaside pace and summertime attractions, living here still only feels temporary. It's as if elsewhere, my story longs to carry on. But as I'm not involved in any sort of revelatory, soul-shattering tryst, only time will determine the end of this Brighton affair. For now, London is a train ride away.

Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in The End of the Affair, 1999. Directed by Neil Jordan.

June 9, 2016

That Golden Cure

IT WAS COMPOSER KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN that suggested repetition as being "based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing." Usually thought monotonous or irritating, repetition can in fact be very soothing in its continuity.

Bath's architecture is a testament to this. Uniform façades, crowned with equally duplicating roofs and chimneys, offer a repeating vision of classical proportions. Identical, alternating columns and windows line rows of buildings in gold-tone Bath stone. While visited widely for its spas, and said in legend to have cured King Lear's leprous father with its waters, the city's Georgian structures prove just as therapeutic to any visiting aesthete.

The Circus is a visual experience. Inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, it comprises three curved terraces forming a circle, with the entire circumferential façade growing progressively more ornate as the building rises: Doric on the ground floor, Composite on the piano nobile, and Corinthian on the top floor. Also impressive is the Royal Crescent, lined with 114 Ionic columns across 538 feet of terraced house façades. Even the weir by Pulteney Bridge consists of three concentric arches, juxtaposed with the bridge's own three arches. Bath's famed fudge, the making of which is demonstrated in-store, employs repeated, rhythmic folding to achieve a distinct creamy texture.

Leading to the Holburne Museum in Bathwick, which adjoins Bath, Great Pulteney Street is over 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, lined on each side by identical honey-hued buildings and street lamps. The thoroughfare is the grandest in Bath, although non-landmark streets don't really fall too far behind in appearance.

We did not bathe in the spas of Bath during our visit, though we did try drinking its spring water. We indulged in other liquids after that. At the height of our first full English winter, I found myself seasonally affected and was seeking some sort of cure. Waters did it for King Lear's father. Mine came in the form of a beautifully repetitive backdrop, for spending an uninterrupted weekend with the one whose life I share.

Thrice removed now from the places we've called home, I acknowledge the comfort imparted by repetition. Karlheinz Stockhausen associated it with such things as heartbeats, walking and breathing. Can anything be more essential?

The Circus, Pulteney Bridge, Fudge Kitchen, Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, The Queensberry Hotel and Royal Crescent, Bath.

May 19, 2016

That Field of Her Own

TO STAIN SOMETHING NORMALLY IMPLIES "blemishing" or "soiling" that thing. Wine, coffee, catsup or Bolognaise are all good things in themselves until they're on the couch, the carpet or a crisp white shirt. With stains generally carrying a negative connotation, it's noteworthy seeing them inspire a painting technique, for creating beautiful art nonetheless.

Helen Frankenthaler's invention of the "soak stain" can be said to have brewed since her childhood. Young Helen would dribble nail polish into a sink filled with water "to watch the color flow." As an artist in the 60s, she thinned paint out with turpentine, pouring the heavily diluted pigment onto a canvas on the floor. The resulting stains married paint and canvas, in light, luminous washes resembling watercolor.

Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaller painted from all sides of the canvas and applied paint with unconventional tools, in unconventional ways. She ultimately created her own language in a more abstract form of Color Field, which deviated from Abstract Expressionism by eliminating both the emotional content of the movement and the personal or gestural application associated with it. "What I took from that was the gesture and the attitude and the floor working, but I wanted to work with shapes in a very different way. And instead of being involved in his technique, what evolved for me out of my needs and invention had to do with pouring paint, and staining paint."

Frankenthaler's paintings received much criticism, being dubbed "pretty wallpaper" or reminiscent of menstruation. They fundamentally offered an entirely new look and feel to the surface of the canvas, and beauty at a time of otherwise aggressive abstractions. "What concerns me when I work, is not whether the picture is a landscape, or whether it's pastoral, or whether somebody will see a sunset in it. What concerns me is - did I make a beautiful picture?"

Cloud Burst, Nature Abhors a Vacuum, Tales of Genji I and Sphinx by Helen Frankenthaler. Helen Frankenthaler by André Emmerich © Estate of André Emmerich.

April 21, 2016

That Finesse

"THIS BUSINESS REQUIRES A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FINESSE." said Jake to his associate, shaking off a pocket square before stuffing it back into his breast pocket. He, like most of the characters in Chinatown, attempts to exhibit a certain amount of finesse, failing more often than he succeeds.

Set in 1930s Los Angeles, the neo-noir film follows private investigator Jake Gittes as he uncovers a murder within a water fraud conspiracy. Played by Jack Nicholson, Jake sees himself as suave and capable, ultimately displaying subtle sleaze and a somewhat endearing naiveté. Sharing the screen is a Greta-Garbo-esque Faye Dunaway as the newly widowed Evelyn Cross Mulwray. She looks like the classic femme fatale though she is anything but. Daughter of the wealthy Noah Cross, Evelyn suppresses fear and distress behind a faltering nonchalance.

Styling is what initially drew me to Polanski's Chinatown, with its delectable swing-era-inspired fashion and decor. Having now finally seen the film, I find myself also a fan of its style beyond the styling; from the timeless acting to the immersive camerawork and rich use of symbols. It was particularly enjoyable spotting a quality manifest in different ways. That "certain amount of finesse" slithers through the film in the form of water, gesture, smoke and saxophone.

A noteworthy style insight for when you're not feeling too suave or sultry: qualities take on many forms. If you can't look like Faye Dunaway, maybe try her bedroom voice.

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, 1974. Directed by Roman Polanski.

March 17, 2016

That Room to Grow

JIN AHN WORKED IN GRAPHIC AND FASHION DESIGN FOR TEN YEARS before deciding to study horticulture. Seeing a potential in green things, she went on to open Conservatory Archives along east London's Hackney Road. Originally intended by Jin and her partner Giacomo to be part-plant-shop, part-antique-shop, they saw the leafy side of business too quickly outgrow its counterpart since opening in December of 2015.

There's still a sprinkling of furniture and accessories, albeit overtaken by the forest of foliage. Ferns hang overhead, birds of paradise dwarf a door frame, succulents sit like trophies on tabletops, and all sorts of potted greens fill shelves and boxes on the floor. Possessing both volume and variety, the plants are well selected, purchased by Jin herself from different sellers and private collectors. She tells me that the large cacti go fast. Showing one that stood over five feet, priced at £300, she gives me an idea of just how big a recently-sold £500 cactus might have been.

The perfect hostess for a snug yet buzzing shop, Jin managed to chat with me between attending to visitors. It was a Wednesday, the shop's quietest day, and in my two-hour visit, there wasn't a period of more than ten minutes in which there wasn't at least one customer browsing. Jin says that on weekends, it gets so busy, people line up to pay.

The Telegraph's Debora Robertson calls it a renaissance. "Like so many trend evolutions, this hip green renaissance is spreading from the style hothouse that is east London. Where once they came with their cocktails, food trucks and pop-up restaurants, now they’re here with their succulents and ferns, air plants and ivies, following a nurturing continuum from pop-ups to potting up."

In existence since the early Greeks and Romans, houseplants gained popularity in colder climates by the 17th century. Benefits of keeping them have also been made known, particularly by a 1988 NASA paper determining their ability to remove trace levels of toxic chemicals from indoor spaces. The study revealed such figures as 2,592 micrograms of formaldehyde dropping to 259 micrograms after 24 hours of exposure to aloe vera. Benzene levels dropped from 18,500 to 9,000 when bamboo palm was introduced into the enclosed space.

Today, houseplants appear to be celebrated for their ornamental qualities, as unlikely style symbols. #monstera and #fiddleleaffig appear in quintuple digits on Instagram, posted by tastemakers and coolhunters alike. #cactus now appears over two million times and that doesn't even count #cactuslover, #cactusclub or #cacti.

Conservatory Archives is one such hashtag-worthy destination, in a hashtag-worthy pocket of the city no less. You might be one to sneer at trends but it's hard to vilify houseplants, which thrive on care, and inanimately care back. To take it from a a blossoming plant professional, perhaps there is indeed a potential in green things. Any trend that makes life a little less toxic must be worth cultivating.

Conservatory Archives, 493-495 Hackney Road, London. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Mónica García Koewandhono.