Sunday, 27 November 2011

Aesop ~ November 2011 thinking

November 2011


Our universe, this set of logarithms visible and fused, continues to surprise us. Researchers at CERN in Geneva have timed neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light – findings which, if confirmed, may invalidate Einstein's theory of Special Relativity. We applaud their work but wish that they had consulted us before releasing the news, since one of our new gift kits is named after the theory. Our decision to explore science in this year's kits and support a renaissance of wonder is better timed in other ways, though. Three scientists who proved that the expansion of the universe is accelerating have recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. On behalf of our Accelerating Universe kit, we congratulate and thank them.

The freshest organic produce in Berlin is available at the farmers' market held every Thursday on Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg. This ecomarket doesn't open before noon allowing local growers time to harvest their produce in the morning and sell it the same day, all in the name of maximising flavour. Some of the stalls offer prepared food to enjoy with the live music at the market. For an after-lunch espresso without the cloying cosiness of the typical 21st century café, head towards Mitte and visit neighbourly, sofa-free NoMoreSleep Coffee. Instead of maintaining the division between patrons and baristas, the counter faces the wall. It feels like walking in on an old friend brewing coffee in his open-plan kitchen. While in Mitte, take a stroll to nearby Tiergarten and stop by the expansive Andreas Murkudis concept store and gallery, which carries your favourite Aesop products.

Sax-player-turned-poet Jason Crane conducts in-depth interviews with seriously swinging musicians at The Jazz Session. Young talents such as pianist Carmen Staaf prove as salient and inspiring as living legends like Ron Carter. But if you don't know zip about hip, perhaps you should start with NPR's Jazz Profiles, where singer Nancy Wilson weaves together conversations with the greats of jazz history and foot-tapping performances – from big band to bebop and beyond. Both series suggest that through the podcast, modern technology may yet save the endangered art of oral history.

On the tennis court, always bear in mind the laws of physics behind Rafael Nadal's lethal forehand and superlative topspin. While the ball is rotating, its felt lining drags some of the surrounding air along with it, which causes the air to travel faster around the ball on one side than on the other. According to Bernoulli's principle, this creates an imbalance of pressure between the two sides, which deflects the ball's trajectory. To get a good view of this cornerstone of fluid dynamics in action, you can now pre-order tickets for the 2012 Australian Open. And should you need convincing that tennis is anything more than a glorified grunting contest, read the much lauded David Foster Wallace piece: Roger Federer as Religious Experience.


Zhang Yuan's film Little Red Flowers (2006) is loosely based on Wang Shuo's autobiographical novel, Could Be Beautiful. Zhang is part of China's 'Sixth Generation' of film-makers, who evade the censors by using limited budgets or international funding. Little Red Flowers follows Qiang, a four-year-old boy at boarding school. Unable to meet the teachers' standards for proper behaviour, Qiang realises the only way he can survive is as a dissident. This film may be less ideologically combative than Zhang's early underground works, but the creative energy and pictorial beauty remain undiluted.

The Whitechapel Gallery offers Rothko in Britain, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the artist's first solo show in the UK. The exhibition revolves around a single canvas, Light Red Over Black (1957), supplemented with archival and documentary material. This particular painting paved the way for the original exhibition (also at the Whitechapel), as it was the first of Rothko's works to be purchased by the Tate. The artist had previously travelled to Europe in 1950, finding inspiration in the galleries of London's premier museum and forming enduring friendships with several British artists. Grainy black-and-white photographs of the 1961 exhibition's awe-struck visitors testify to the importance of having artworks travel around the globe, spreading wonder from one port to the next – whether the artist is travelling with them or long since departed.

Well-protected from the hot winds that sweep through the semi-desert near Tudela in Spain is Hotel Aire de Bardenas. This collection of one-storey boxes achieves a kind of quiet poetry in the Bardenas Reales National Park. Monica Rivera and Emiliano Lopez, the young Barcelona-based architects responsible for the project, had hitherto focused on works such as public housing and schools. They have taken simple, local materials and given them a light, sure touch: produce crates discarded by nearby farms have become windbreaks and outdoor bathtubs were salvaged from a steelworker friend of the owners'. For Europeans, this is as good a place as any to catch one last glimpse of the sun before winter really settles in.

Artcurial's yearly celebration of design, Intérieurs, has reinforced our admiration for India Mahdavi. In her installation In Bed with Mark, the Iranian-born architect reinterprets some of Mark Rothko's later work as silky velvet wallpaper for a room containing a steel four-poster bed. Rothko favoured large canvases because of their ability to gently envelop both the artist and the viewer, and Mahdavi's wallpaper does this quite literally. The psychedelically patterned bed linen and carpet clash with the artist's rectangular abstractions, resulting perhaps in something of Rothko's famously dark psyche instead of the peaceful and serene atmosphere of a typical bedroom.

Enjoy a café crème or a madeleine, each served with appropriate literary context at the café inside McNally Jackson Books. Around the corner from our own Nolita store, this establishment aspires to be 'the centre of Manhattan's literary culture.' With guest speakers including Ariel Levy, Henry Rollins, André Aciman and Thurston Moore, that centre may not be too far away indeed. It all may sound very highbrow, but at least they have a sense of humour about it: the store's signature trivia nights are derisively called Nerd Jeopardy.

'The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.' Charles Darwin

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