Follow Us or Subscribe to the Feed

RSS ReaderAdd to Google Reader or Homepage Subscribe via email


Pin It!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why the ‘happiest’ cities are boring #Switzerland @FT

Why the 'happiest' cities are boring -
What we've always said ;-) 

Why the 'happiest' cities are boring

An illustration by Bill Butcher depicting a travel advertisement of Switzerland©Bill Butcher

Switzerland is the happiest country in the world. That's official. The UN has published its third World Happiness Report since 2012, and Switzerland is top. You can see why. Switzerland is rich, temperate and has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It has avoided the ravages of two European wars. You feel completely safe in the streets. And yes, the trains run on time. When I recently took a train from Italy to Switzerland, it left Milan decently late — why need driver or passengers hurry to finish lunch in Italy? But the train pulled into Zürich just as the second hand on the clock clicked to the designated arrival time.

Switzerland is closely followed in the happiness stakes by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and, of course, Canada. But there is another word besides happy that springs to mind when these countries are listed. That word is boring. "Canadian boringness isn't intrinsic," the (Canadian) journalist Jeet Heer wrote recently. "It's something we work at, cherish and reward."

There are no internationally agreed standards of the world's most liveable cities. The Economist's Intelligence Unit's survey has been criticised for equating "liveability" with speaking English: eight of its top 10 cities are in Australia, Canada or New Zealand. Helsinki is English-speaking for all practical purposes (necessarily English-speaking for anyone who was not speaking Finnish before they were able to walk). Vienna is a marvellous city, but a museum: a memorial to the architectural splendour and intellectual vitality of an era that has long gone.

The compilers of the other study of liveable cities, the benefit consultants Mercer, clearly have a German phrase book to translate happiness into. Well, what is the German for happiness? Freude? Fröhlichkeit? Or just glück? You will need German in five of its top 10 cities. Mercer shares the EIU's approval of Vienna, which pips Zürich for the top spot. Düsseldorf is number six.

There may be a surer way to end a promising relationship than to propose a romantic weekend in Düsseldorf, but it is hard to imagine one. None of the cities that lift the spirit are on the Mercer or EIU lists of the best places to live. Venice is crowded, hard to navigate, inadequately served by public transport, its public administration is hopeless and its commercial activities are corrupt, but however often you have visited, the magic remains. New York, Paris, London, Barcelona and San Francisco are cities whose names make the pulse beat faster, but Adelaide and Toronto do not, and never will. There is evidently a large difference between a great city and a liveable city.

There's no surer way to end a relationship than to propose a romantic weekend in Düsseldorf

That difference lies behind the rise, and fall, of modernist town planning. The high priest of such rationalism was the (Swiss) architect Le Corbusier, whose ideal city was based on a Plan (always capitalised in his writing) "drawn up well away from the frenzy in the mayor's office or the town hall, from the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds. It has ignored all current regulations, all existing usages, and channels."

Le Corbusier's "Plan Voisin" proposed to bulldoze most of the centre of Paris in favour of large tower blocks. His scheme died in "the frenzy of the mayor's office" amid the "cries of the electorate", but Nehru allowed him to build a new capital for Punjab at Chandigarh. Like Oscar Niemeyer's Brasília, it is grand, antiseptic and utterly alien to the country in which it is located. The failure of such artificial cities is demonstrated by the fact that the only Australian city not to make either the Mercer or the EIU list is the country's capital, Canberra.

The reaction against modernism began in the 1960s with Jane Jacobs' great book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Jacobs' central insight was that the vibrancy of cities is the product of spontaneous interactions, and these chance encounters are the product of random historic development which cannot be replicated by ordered design. Her analysis was based on careful observation of the everyday life of Greenwich Village. In the words of the political scientist James Scott, Jacobs saw the city from the street, while Le Corbusier viewed it from the air (or, perhaps, like the researchers from Mercer and the Economist's Intelligence Unit, with a checklist and clipboard).

Oeschinen lake in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland©Siegfried Eigstler/4Corners

Oeschinen lake in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Jacobs' book began the backlash that finally ended the power of Robert Moses, the master builder (and demolisher) of New York, and halted the decades of rationalism in town planning. The wrecking balls destroyed Penn Station in 1963. But in the 1970s the process began that would lead to Grand Central's modern incarnation, in which rail tracks and the Oyster Bar coexist with the Apple Store and organic food stalls.

Liveability and happiness are complex concepts. The happiest countries identified by the UN are those of "Jante Law", the stifling conformity described by Danish author Aksel Sandemose: "You are not to think you are anything special, you are not to think you can teach us anything." Yet there is much that is good about social homogeneity, shared values, peaceful coexistence and honest government. Life in unhappy countries — Myanmar, Syria, Zimbabwe — is not boring, but much of the population desperately wishes it was.

Yet boring is not enough. Security, hygiene, good public transport — the factors that enter the assessment of liveability — are necessary for a fulfilling life, but they are not sufficient for it. That is why so many young people from Melbourne or Toronto go to London or New York in search of the excitement and creativity of the great, rather than the liveable, city. For the technology writer Jonah Lehrer, cities are the knowledge engine of the 21st century. And he wasn't talking about Düsseldorf.

There is more to the good life than clean water and trains that arrive on time

The most intriguing studies of the determinants of happiness are those of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The moments at which people are happiest are when they are in "flow" — when they are engaged in a challenging task and doing it well: the lecture in which you realise the audience is hanging on your ever word, the tennis game in which every shot takes the ball where you want it to go. For many people, bringing up children is a source of endless demands and frustrations, but taken as a whole it is one of the most satisfying experiences of their lives. There is more to the good life than clean water and trains that arrive on time.

It was Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles in Graham Greene's The Third Man, who famously got to the heart of the matter. (The 1949 film noir is set in the immediate postwar era when Vienna was a much more exciting, but much less liveable, city than it is today). Lime says: "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

John Kay is an FT columnist. His new book, 'Other People's Money' (2015) is published by Profile Books, £16.99

Photograph: Siegfried Eigstler/4Corners

Illustration by Bill Butcher

Read the article online here:

Monday, August 24, 2015

#Banksy Opens Dystopian #Dismaland Art Theme Park in Southwest England | BLOUIN ARTINFO

Banksy Opens Dystopian Dismaland Art Theme Park in Southwest England | BLOUIN ARTINFO
Banksy said: "I loved the Tropicana as a kid, so getting to throw these doors open again is a real honour. I hope everyone from Weston will take the opportunity to once more stand in a puddle of murky water eating cold chips to the sound of crying children."

Banksy Opens Dystopian Dismaland Art Theme Park in Southwest England

Following weeks of speculation, world-renowned graffiti artist Banksy has launched his latest project in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare on England's Bristol Channel coast, a contemporary art funfair dubbed the "Dismaland Bemusement Park."

"Are you looking for an alternative to the sugar-coated tedium of the average family day out? Or just somewhere a lot cheaper? Then this is the place for you. Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus…," states the Dismaland website.

A warning on the site states that the festival "contains uneven floor surfaces, extensive use of strobe lighting, imagery unsuitable for small children, and swearing," and also prohibits "spray paint, marker pens, knives, and legal representatives of the Walt Disney Corporation" in the park.

Occupying the Tropicana, a former lido on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare, the event is described as "a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism." It features works by 58 artists from around the world including a never-before-seen collection of Banksy satirical art and sculpture as well as works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, and Jimmy Cauty.

In a statement, Banksy said: "I loved the Tropicana as a kid, so getting to throw these doors open again is a real honour. I hope everyone from Weston will take the opportunity to once more stand in a puddle of murky water eating cold chips to the sound of crying children."

"I banned any imagery of Mickey Mouse from the site. It's a showcase for the best line-up of artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down," he added.

According to the Dismaland website, visitors can experience a hand crafted miniature world by Jimmy Cauty, a stallion constructed from used scaffolding by Ben Long, a self-operated puppet revue show constructed from the context of Hackney skips by Paul Insect and Bast, two juggernauts performing ballet by Mike Ross, and an armour plated riot control vehicle repurposed as a children's slide.

Other attractions include a Cinderella's castle, a giant pin wheel commissioned by Banksy to power the entire site, a circus tent, an oil-caliphate-themed crazy golf course, a picnic area, a truck-mounted outdoor cinema, a gallery of amusements, and a Guerilla Island featuring a bus-mounted museum, library, and gallery of guerilla art.

One of the highlights of the event is three large galleries comprising what is described as "the finest collection of contemporary art ever assembled in a North Somerset seaside town."

Cllr Nigel Ashton, Leader of the North Somerset Council, said that it was a great relief to finally be able to talk about the show.

"We have been working closely with the organisers for months now, and for obvious reasons, have had to remain tight-lipped about the true nature of the event. In fact, only four people in the entire council knew what was really happening," said Cllr Ashton.

"I had a preview of the exhibition while it was still being assembled last week, and I have to say, it is absolutely brilliant. As well as entertaining, it's also incredibly thought provoking," he added.

Dismaland is open every day from August 22 to September 27, 11am – 11pm. Admission is £3 with free entry for the under 5's. Capacity is limited, so visit the ticket page at and book a time slot for guaranteed entry.

Click the slideshow to see images of Dismaland


Andreas Hykade (Bavaria), Amir Schiby (Israel), Axel Void (USA), Banksy-14779">Banksy (UK), Barry Reigate (UK), Ben Long (UK), Bill Barminski (USA), Block9 (UK), Brock Davis (USA), Caitlin Cherry (USA), Caroline McCarthy (UK), Damien Hirst (UK), Darren Cullen (UK), David Shrigley (UK), Dorcas Casey (UK), Dietrich Wegner (USA), Ed Hall (UK), El Teneen (Egypt), Escif (Spain), Espo (USA), Fares Cachoux (Syria), Greg Haberny (USA), Huda Beydoun (Saudi Arabia), James Joyce (UK), Jani Leinonen (Finland), Jeff Gillette (USA), Jenny Holzer (USA), Jessica Harrison (UK), Jimmy Cauty (UK), Joanna Pollonais (Canada), Josh Keyes (USA), Julie Burchill (UK), Kate MacDowell (USA), Laura Lancaster (UK), Lee Madgwick (UK), Leigh Mulley (UK), Lush (Australia), Mana Neyestani (Iran), Maskull Laserre (Canada), Michael Beitz (USA), Mike Ross (USA), Neta Harari Navon (Israel), Nettie Wakefield (UK), Paco Pomet (Spain), Paul Insect & BAST (UK/USA), Peter Kennard & Cat Phillips(UK), Polly Morgan (UK), Pure Evil (UK), Ronit Baranga (Israel),Sami Musa (Palestine), Scott Hove (USA), Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė (Lithuania), Shadi Alzaqzouq (Palestine), Suliman Mansour (Palestine), Tammam Azzam (Syria), The Astronauts' Caravan (UK), Tinsel Edwards (UK), Wasted Rita (Portugal), Zaria Forman (USA)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Looks like #Barolos are going to get a lot more expensive! Why #Piedmont is the New #Burgundy @WSJ

The secret is out!

Why Piedmont is the New Burgundy
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs

CORKS POPPED and wine flowed earlier this month, as the “hillsides, houses and cellars” of Champagne and the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune in Burgundy were granted Unesco world heritage status, joining an illustrious list that includes the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge.

But while the French president heaped plaudits on his country’s wine industry, my mind turned back to a year ago, when the vineyards of the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont—including Barbaresco DOCG, the Langhe and the villages of Barolo and Monforte d’Alba—were also deemed to have the special cultural or physical significance worthy of this honor.

“In terms of pure thrill factor, Piedmont is difficult to beat,” says David Berry Green, Italian wine importer for DBGitalia, who is now based in Barolo full time. “It’s not just that it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The grape varieties possess attributes which can make fine wine: a balance between sugar, acidity, tannins and aromas, as well as an ability to age gracefully over many years. In that sense there is a real parallel with the wines of Bordeaux.”

If the ability to age gracefully draws a comparison with Bordeaux, the landscape, style of wine and culture of the growers owes more to Burgundy. “Italy is just like one big Burgundy, with lots of tiny growers and lots of regional differences,” adds Mr. Berry Green.

Piedmont, often seen as Italy’s second-best wine region (after Tuscany), feels like it is on the cusp of achieving something special. Last November in Beaune I spoke with Burgundian négociant Roy Richards who said, over a glass of red Burgundy, that, in terms of potential, no region in the world excites him as much as Piedmont.

He pointed to what happened in Burgundy in the late 1970s, when a new generation decided not to sell their wine to the local cooperative but to bottle it themselves. This resulted in wines with more individual character and definition and, he says, almost exactly the same thing is happening in Piedmont today: the quality has risen but the wines also have their own signature.

The key to understanding this region is the Nebbiolo grape variety, which is grown in Barolo and Barbaresco, in the foothills of the Alps. Although it makes up only a small part of Piedmont’s overall output, it is these wines that I believe are of most interest to the fine-wine sector.

At its best, the Nebbiolo grape produces a medium-bodied wine that has the ethereal appeal of good Pinot Noir, and can smell of anything from rose petals to cherries. One of its main attributes is that the tannins, the astringent, bitter flavors that leave your mouth feeling dry, come from the fruit and not wood, as they do in oak-aged, heavier wines.

These grapes also have a real sense of provenance, thanks to the rare ability to communicate the character of the location where they are planted. You get a village expression just as you do in Burgundy, where Santenay is different from Pommard. In Piedmont, Barolo from Verduno is soft and accessible, whereas from Monforte d’Alba it is more powerful.

Mr. Berry Green recommends producers such as Giovanni Rosso, TrediberriCasina Bric 460Cascina FontanaFratelli AlessandriaCascina LuisinPunsetRoccalini, Manuel Marinacci and G.B. Burlotto. For my own part, I find these wines as thrilling as any I have tasted.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jerry Weintraub, a Force in Film and Music, Dies at 77 -

One of the great Hollywood producers. They just don't make them like that anymore. 

George Clooney in a statement said, in part: “To those who didn’t know him, we send our deepest sympathy. You would have loved him.”

Jerry Weintraub, a Force in Film and Music, Dies at 77

LOS ANGELES — Jerry Weintraub, a consummate showman whose up-and-down career touched musical entertainers as grandly diverse as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin and screen artists who included Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman and Michael Douglas, died on Monday in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 77.

The cause was cardiac arrest, his publicist said.

Once best known as a concert promoter and a music manager, Mr. Weintraub became a force in the film business with Mr. Altman’s “Nashville,” Barry Levinson’s “Diner” and Carl Reiner’s “Oh, God!” He joined in producing those movies in the 1970s and ’80s, before a crippling business failure temporarily halted his Hollywood career.

A longtime intimate of former President George H. W. Bush — initially a friend of Mr. Weintraub’s second wife, the torch singer Jane Morgan — Mr. Weintraub made himself into a myth by combining his three hallmarks: political access, Hollywood success and relentless charm. That persona was cemented both in a 2010 memoir, written with Rich Cohen, called “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man,” and “His Way,” a 2011 HBO documentary about his career.

Read the whole article here: Jerry Weintraub, a Force in Film and Music, Dies at 77 -

Saturday, June 20, 2015

#Geneva: The place for a vacation—if money doesn't matter

That's why if you're smart you don't vacation there! :-)

Geneva: The place for a vacation—if money doesn't matter

Situated at the foot of Switzerland's Alps and along Lake Geneva lies one of the most luxurious—and pricey—cities in the world.

Famous for being a font of global diplomacy and expensive watches, Geneva continuously ranks among the world's most costly travel destinations, and with good reason. During 2014, the average daily rate (ADR) for luxury European hotels was $866 per night, according to luxury travel company Virtuoso. For Switzerland, it was $929 per night.

Switzerland's economy draws in more than 34 billion Swiss francs ($36 billion) annually from tourism, according to the Swiss Federal Statistics Office, with Geneva as its centerpiece. The city has a well-earned reputation as a hub for all things cosmopolitan and international, and it is estimated that more than 40 percent of Geneva's population comes from other countries. For lovers of the finer things in life, the city should be near the top of any list of potential summer getaways.

Naturally, it won't be cheap. A study by, which used a "club sandwich index" that recalls The Economist's"Big Mac" Index that measures purchasing power across economies, shows that Geneva is the most expensive city for a regular club sandwich. The quirky study revealed that the average such sandwich costs a whopping 20 francs (the equivalent of about $21).

Provided that money is no object, finding a suitably grand living arrangement won't be a problem.

The Hotel President Wilson—part of the Starwood family of hotels—boasts the most expensive room in all of Switzerland, and indeed the world. The 12-bedroom, 12-bathroom Royal Penthouse Suite covers an impressive 18,000 square feet (the entire eighth floor of the hotel).

If you stay in this grand "room," you can expect a hefty list of amenities and features.

"Sweeping views of the lake, a private gym, a Steinway piano and probably anything else a guest could desire," said Misty Belles, director of global public relations at Virtuoso. "It also has enhanced security measures such as bulletproof glass and a private elevator."

It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that the Royal Penthouse Suite is attached to a price tag of at least $64,000 and tops out at $83,000 a night—making it the most expensive suite in the world.

Geneva: The place for a vacation—if money doesn't matter

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Challenge for Police: Finding Pot in Lollipops and Marshmallows @NYTimes

Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home-baked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neon-colored drinks as potential dope

An edible can take one to three hours to produce its maximal high, while smoking takes minutes. Inexperienced consumers easily eat too much, winding up severely impaired.

New Challenge for Police: Finding Pot in Lollipops and Marshmallows

Commercial marijuana products confiscated by Oklahoma agents in one seizure in July. Credit Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics 
After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures — dry green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often double-bagged to smother the distinctive scent.
But these days, Chief Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: lollipops and marshmallows.
Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds of marijuana-laced cookies and small hard candies shaped like gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for making more.
The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, Chief Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused with the marijuana butter and heat-sealed into their bags.
“This is the first time that we have ever seen marijuana butter or any of this candy containing marijuana in the county,” Chief Jeffries said. “We hope it’s the last time.”
That seems increasingly unlikely. Across the country, law enforcement agencies long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now wrestling with a surge in marijuana-infused snacks and confections transported illegally across state lines for resale.
Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home-baked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neon-colored drinks as potential dope.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

In Flight @NYTimes

An excellent essay on flying well worth the read
En route from London to Tokyo, a pilot’s-eye view of life in the sky.


As we push back from our gate at Heathrow Airport we light the Boeing 747’s engines in pairs, starting with those under the starboard wing. A sudden hush falls in the cockpit as the air flow for the air-conditioning units is diverted. It’s this, air alone, that begins to spin the enormous techno-petals of the fans, faster and faster, until fuel and fire are added, and each engine wakes with a low rumble that grows to a smooth, unmistakable roar.
We begin to taxi. In legal terms, a journey begins when “an aircraft moves under its own power for the purpose of flight.” In aircraft manuals, elaborate charts that recall da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” illustrate the angles and distances that the extremities of the plane sweep through as we maneuver on the ground. A pleasing terminology accompanies these images of the plane’s turning limbs: tail radius and steering angle and the wingtip that swings the largest arc.
A quarter of an hour later we reach the runway. I push the four thrust levers forward for an experience that repetition hasn’t dulled: the unfurling carpet of guiding lights that say here, the voice of the controller that says now; the sense, in the first seconds after the engines reach their assigned takeoff power, that this is only a curious kind of driving down an equally curious road.
But with speed comes a transition, the gathering sense that the wheels matter less and the flight controls on the wings and the tail matter more. In the cockpit we sense the airplane’s speed-born life to come in the air, we feel clearly that long before we leave the ground we are already flying along it, and as the lights of the runway start to alternate red and white to indicate its approaching end, as the four rivers of power that equal nearly a quarter of a million pounds of thrust unfurl over the runway behind us, I lift the nose.
As if we are only pulling out of a driveway, I turn right, toward Tokyo.
We are underway.
When someone I’ve just met at a dinner or a party learns that I’m a pilot, he or she often asks me about my work. Three questions come up most often, in language that hardly varies. Is flying something I have always wanted to do? Have I ever seen anything “up there” that I cannot explain? And do I remember my first flight? I like these questions. They seem to have arrived, entirely intact, from a time before flying became ordinary.

Read the rest of the essay here: In Flight -

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Welcome to the Spacious Era" Boeing #747 The Jumbo Jet 1970

Fantastic!  If they only knew what actually happened... #SardinesInACan

When Pan Am's first B-747 came to London's Heathrow Airport in 1970,
the normally staid British were flabbergasted and awed by such a huge

As you can tell from this contemporary British newsreel clip, there
was no lack of eager observers crowding around, through, and on the
brand new clipper.

Pan Am was looking forward to a new epoch in global transport with
the advent of the 747, offering economies of scale that were scarcely
imaginable only a few years earlier. What it would mean to average
travelers - much more room, much lower fares, greater opportunity to see
the world - is an almost palpable current running through this bit of

The Jumbo Jet (1970) - Pan Am Historical Foundation

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Latin America in Construction: #Architecture 1955-1980

A unique look at Latin American architecture at the MoMA, NY 

Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980

March 29, 2015–July 19, 2015

Posted on April 22, 2014

The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery, sixth floor

Press Preview: Tuesday, March 24, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

In 1955 The Museum of Modern Art staged Latin American Architecture since 1945, a landmark survey of modern architecture in Latin America. On the 60th anniversary of that important show, the Museum returns to the region to offer a complex overview of the positions, debates, and architectural creativity from Mexico and Cuba to the Southern Cone between 1955 and the early 1980s.
This period of self-questioning, exploration, and complex political shifts also saw the emergence of the notion of Latin America as a landscape of development, one in which all aspects of cultural life were colored in one way or another by this new attitude to what emerged as the “Third World.” The 1955 exhibition featured the result of a single photographic campaign, but Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980 brings together a wealth of original materials that have never before been brought together and, for the most part, are rarely exhibited even in their home countries.
The exhibition features architectural drawings, architectural models, vintage photographs, and film clips alongside newly commissioned models and photographs by Brazilian photographer Leonardo Finotti. While the exhibition focuses on the period of 1955 to 1980 in most of the countries of Latin America, it is introduced by an ample prelude on the preceding three decades of architectural developments in the region, presentations of the development of several key university campuses in cities like Mexico City and Caracas, and a look at the development of the new Brazilian capital at Brasilia. Architects met these challenges with formal, urbanistic, and programmatic innovation, much of it relevant still to the challenges of our own period, in which Latin America is again providing exciting and challenging architecture and urban responses to the ongoing issues of modernization and development, though in vastly different economic and political contexts than those considered in this major historical reevaluation.
The exhibition is accompanied by two major publications: a catalogue and an anthology of primary texts translated from Spanish and Portuguese.
Organized by Barry Bergdoll, Curator, and Patricio del Real, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA; Carlos Eduardo Comas, guest curator, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil; and Jorge Francisco Liernur, guest curator, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina; with the assistance of an advisory committee from across Latin America.
A major contribution for the exhibition is provided by Emilio Ambasz.

Major support is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.

Additional funding is provided by The Reed Foundation, the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (AMEXCID) with the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, the Government of Chile, the Consulate General of Brazil in New York, Bárbara Garza Lagüera, the Consulate General of the Argentine Republic in New York, Yvonne Dadoo Lewis, and the MoMA Annual Exhibition Fund.

Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Breakfast with the FT: Francis Ford Coppola

Breakfast with the FT: Francis Ford Coppola

Peter Aspden

©James Ferguson

"Little by little," says Francis Ford Coppola in a documentary that I have just watched the evening before our breakfast appointment, "we went insane." The film, Hearts of Darkness, was about the making of Coppola's own film, 1979's Apocalypse Now, which remains a cornerstone of postwar American culture. Coppola gave heart and soul, as well as his sanity, to the project. He had to deal with a typhoon, Martin Sheen's cardiac problems and Marlon Brando at his heaviest, in all senses. He watched spending on the film, much of it his own money, spiral into scary sums. And so he lost his mind, a little bit.

But he recovered. Unlike the great American movie culture of the 1970s, which suffered a terminal decline. There was to be no other movie like Apocalypse Now. Coppola's masterpiece, which won a Palme d'Or, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, marked a turning point. No one wanted movies to aspire to high art after that. It was too much trouble. Coppola went on to make some very good films. But he also made some lovely wines, from his own Napa winery. And he has built some beautiful holiday resorts. To restore himself to good health, he slowly moved away from the movies and back into real life.

So here he is in London, where he is to receive a cultural award for his life's work. I am taken to a discreet table in the corner of Claridge's, which is set for the two of us. We will be sitting underneath a striking black-and-white portrait of Yul Brynner.

Coppola, 75, approaches the table with an ursine gait and a friendly handshake. "Did you know he was a television director?" he asks me as soon as he sees me looking at the portrait. "It was just after the war. John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet were his assistants. And one day he said he had to go off to do an audition. It was, of course, The King and I." A handsome fellow, I say. "He was quite an unusual man," says Coppola.

. . .

We order some breakfast: coffee and assorted pastries. Coppola orders some cold water on the side. I explain that he is our guest, and he is most welcome to a glass of vintage champagne because I want to toast one of the greatest movie directors of all time properly. "At this hour?" he says lugubriously. It is just past 10am. Coffee and water it is.

London is at its windiest and wettest and I say I wish we were having this breakfast over a papaya or two in one of his resorts (there are two in Belize and one each in Guatemala, Argentina and Italy.) "That's why they're there," he answers cheerfully. He begins to tell me about his Italian venture, Palazzo Margherita, in the small hilltop town of Bernalda in the impoverished southern region of Basilicata.

"It's where . . . what is that great Visconti movie where the brothers move north?" Rocco and His Brothers, I reply. "Right. That's where they are from." It seems like all of our conversation will be refracted through the history of cinema, which suits me fine.

"It was this mythical place in our family," he continues. "I had this great character of a grandfather, Agostino, who was born in Bernalda, and he used to tell all of his seven sons all these great stories from the past. And so as a 17-year-old I resolved to visit the place. No one from the family had ever been back."

It was Coppola's grandparents who emigrated to the US, and his father Carmine became a flautist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His concerts for The Ford Sunday Evening Hour gave Francis his middle name.

"I did an early job for [director] Roger Corman which involved going to Europe. He enabled me to buy a car there and bring it back to the US. I had just won a writing prize and bought this Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider for $2,200. It was a fabulous car." One of the most beautiful cars ever, I say. He looks momentarily misty. "Some day I am going to have to get one again.

"Then, later, after The Godfather, I was famous in Italy so they received me as an honorary citizen. And, of course, in that small town, this person is a cousin, that person is a cousin. The whole town is 'a cousin'. Or so they said." The cousins persuaded him to buy the palazzo.

It was the stresses of making movies that indirectly led him to buy his first resort, he says. "I had just made Apocalypse Now [in the Philippines]. They say that when David Lean made Lawrence of Arabia, he was so embedded in the desert that he almost couldn't bear to leave it. And I had that with the jungle. It is a very misunderstood place. It seems wild and frightening but it is, in fact, a very safe place. You can find what you need, you are protected.

"So I stayed a little longer than I thought. And I found this beautiful island there. I wanted to buy it but my wife said we should find a place closer to California." In the end they went to Belize and bought a small retreat, which soon turned into a boutique hotel.

"It was like a surrogate movie project," says Coppola. "A hotel is a show, with costumes, staff, an entire cast of characters. It was very familiar to me. It was like being at the theatre."

It must be easier to open a hotel than make movies, I say. There is no supersized Marlon Brando to contend with.

"Not really. The manager goes crazy and runs off with the chef. Things like that." He chomps on a croissant. I say I thought that only happened in movies. "Anything that is some kind of show, where people from entirely different fields are brought together, it's very hard to get it right."

The Foyer

Claridge's, 49 Brook Street, London W1K 4HR

Bakery basket £13.00

Flat white £7.50

Americano x 2 £15.00

Cappuccino £7.50

Orange juice £6.50

Still water £4.00

Total (inc service) £60.19

I imagine, at that time, he must have been exhausted. "Well, you know I had made the first Godfather, The Conversation, the second Godfather and Apocalypse Now, all in the space of a few years. And I was kicking and screaming the whole time. It wasn't like any of them was easy. I didn't do them because I was so in demand. I did them the hard way.

"And then I was struck by the fact that I had had what seemed to be an unusual amount of success but I still couldn't get what I wanted. It was still very hard to get anyone to listen to me." The film business, he says, had gradually "lost its daring". Entertainment became the key word. "All those wonderful people slowly faded away: Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner, Sir Alexander Korda — he lived in this hotel, which is why I will always love Claridge's. But the fun of the movies started to go.

"I got into the film business, not to make a fortune, or to become famous, but to make those movies we used to see in Europe in the 1950s. Cinema was this magical extension of the theatre. It was a new art form. And I was very idealistic about the kind of films I wanted to make."

. . .

The films Coppola wanted, and somehow managed, to make in the 1970s are cultural beacons of that turbulent decade. The four he mentions so fleetingly received 32 Oscar nominations between them, winning 11. But the next film he made, 1982's musical fantasy One from the Heart, was not only an indulgent oddity but a box office disaster, forcing Coppola to sell his Zoetrope studio.

"I had a couple of serious financial mishaps, notably one big bankruptcy," says Coppola when I ask him about that time. "Bankruptcy is a funny thing. It's not something that just happens once. It is like an earthquake, it has aftershocks. It was very traumatic for me. Everything I was worth was suddenly pledged over to Chase Manhattan Bank."

He made a deal with the bank, which allowed him to keep the Napa winery, which he had bought in 1975, provided he made one major payment to the bank every year. A string of movies throughout the 1980s, of varying quality, kept him afloat. But he fell out of love with film-making. "Rather than just get a job to make some movie about the Crusades — and there is nothing wrong with being a professional director — I always wanted to do something more personal, like a novelist," he says.

"But by the time I had done these pictures, people were less and less interested in anything personal. Even now, there are wonderful directors out there trying to scam money and subsidies; it is not easy for any of them." The financial troubles served as a kind of epiphany for him. "I realised that [the point of] life was to pursue things that bore your enthusiasms. That gave you the chance to get some pleasure."

. . .

A waiter arrives on cue, to give Coppola the chance to expand on his point. Offered another drink, he decides to have a cappuccino instead of another americano. I join him. "You see, the way we just went from classic coffees to cappuccinos?" he asks with a big smile on his face. "That's how I went from movies to the hotel business. It seemed right. That's how I did it. That's the way I ran it."

The coffee switch instantly puts him in more expansive mood. "You know, life is romantic. All these things, the unity of the arts, food, and people coming together, to see a beautiful show or have a good meal, these are the joys that we are blessed with. People find it unusual because I am an artist and also a businessman but all I am doing is following my instincts for things that seem to be fun and pleasurable. I don't have any secret formulas."

One of the keys to Coppola's contentment is, famously, his regard for his family. Not only is it something of a movie dynasty (the extended family includes Talia Shire, Nicolas Cage, Jason Schwartzman and Coppola's own children Roman and Sofia) but they appear on the labels of his wines, and always appear extremely close. He has been married to his wife Eleanor, who made the Hearts of Darkness documentary, for more than 50 years.

There is a clip from a press conference for Apocalypse Now that shows Coppola taking the chair with his children alongside him. "I always had that policy," says Coppola. "Wherever we went to work, I took the children out of high school and we went together. And I was right. Because I knew that six months in some country soon became a year and a half, and the family would not survive that."

Taking a child out of school in London is as logistically taxing as making Apocalypse Now, I tell him. "The same in New York. I'm sure I fractured their formal education. But they picked up some stuff. When Sofia was four years old, she was speaking some Chinese because the only school that would take her was a Chinese school. It was like a circus.

"You know, when people tell me that family is so important, I scratch my head. Isn't it for everybody?"

This has a flip side, I say, thinking of a certain Italian-American who has his brother terminated for "going against the family". "You know what they say about Italian Alzheimer's?" quips Coppola instantly. "You forget everything but the grudge."

He tells me that the flagship wine in the Coppola estate is named after his uncle Archimedes, who was himself named after the ancient Greek mathematician by Coppola's grandfather Agostino. "That was his first son. And that was a big deal in a family in which every first son was called Carmine, and his first son Agostino, for longer than you know. But he so admired Archimedes. He, correctly, thought he was the greatest scientific mind the world had ever produced." It was an unusual tribute, I say. "He was quite an unusual man."

This love of the family permeates Coppola's Godfather movies and gives them both their operatic splendour and their emotional resonance. Anyone can make a gangster movie; hardly anyone can make us secretly love the baddest gangster in the movie.

Coppola caught a break when he made his greatest movie, he says. A previous film about the Mafia, The Brotherhood (1968), had been a flop. "I guess that everyone was offered The Godfather," he recalls. "The only reason I got to do it was that I was cheap, I was young, I was Italian and I was a screenwriter. It was a total stroke of luck. I had no business having such an important movie. I was always on the verge of getting fired. They didn't like my ideas."

That was then, and this is now. Only the most scrupulous of movie followers can today name Coppola's latest film (it was 2011's Twixt). But the Francis Ford Coppola Presents brand comprises pasta sauces, a literary magazine and cafés, as well as the wines and resorts. Everyone likes his ideas. Having fallen in love with his fiercely engaging movies, we are buying into his preferred lifestyle: a glass of white, a plate of spaghetti, a nap in the shade of a hot sun. It could be an allegory of what has happened to western culture in the past 40 years; or just the tempering of a happily mellowed maestro who nearly lost his mind to his art but didn't allow it to destroy him. Quite an unusual man, as he likes to say.

Peter Aspden is the FT's arts writer

Illustration by James Ferguson

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. 

See the article online here:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life of Italian Nobility for Sale, Complete With Regulations and Taxes -

The deserted castle and the estate on which it sits are for sale, along with a number of other historic Italian properties.  Credit: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

While castles and historic mansions in Italy have long been family
inheritances, today dozens of them are for sale, even in one of the most
conservative real estate markets in Europe.

In recent years, Italy’s well-rooted inherited wealth has withered from a
potent combination of factors. They include the increasing costs of
living and services, the shaky finances of owners in a time of lingering
economic trouble, cuts in government subsidies to maintain historical
properties and, not least, mushrooming property taxes.

Life of Italian Nobility for Sale, Complete With Regulations and Taxes -

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’ @WSJ

The new Aga Khan museum in Toronto. 

Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’

Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum; building designed by Fumihiko Maki.                           
Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum; building designed by Fumihiko Maki. Photo: Janet Kimber
ByLee Lawrence

For seven years, exhibitions in Asia and Europe have showcased treasures owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual head of an estimated 10 million to 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims world-wide. The collection of some 1,000 objects has now alighted in its permanent home, the recently opened Aga Khan Museum, the first institution in North America devoted primarily to what it terms the “artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Islamic civilizations.” The 300 or so items on display date from the eighth through the 19th centuries and come from as far west as Morocco and Spain and as far east as India, Indonesia and China, with Egypt, Turkey, Iran and other lands in between.

The museum’s setting in northeast Toronto is an urban idyll. It sits in a 17-acre park designed by landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic with reflecting pools and plantings that carry forward the spirit of Persian gardens. Facing the museum’s entrance is the Ismaili Center (by Charles Correa) with a glassed-in prayer hall that rises like a crystalline pyramid. For its part, the museum is a Fumihiko Maki building that uses light and shadow as much as it does granite and sandstone to create an environment at once spacious and human-scale. It is to this new home that one of the most prized private art collections of its kind has come to roost—and work.

Its stated mission is to impress upon visitors the variety and high quality of what is often referred to as “Islamic art.” And it does. It groups works by place and time of origin with only the occasional thematic display. We are thus treated to, among other things, different styles of lusterware and tile work, intricate metalwork and wood carvings; an array of miniature paintings; calligraphy in wildly different styles, some so embellished it is a matter of scholarly debate whether they are actually letters at all; and Iznik ceramics from 16th- and 17th-century Turkey, as vibrant in color as they are in design. In addition, two upstairs galleries host temporary shows—some drawing from the museum’s holdings, others coming in on loan.

Although the Aga Khan has purchased pieces specifically for the museum, the majority are works he and his family have inherited or collected. Primary among them is the highly regarded trove of paintings, manuscripts and ceramics amassed by Aga Khan’s uncle, the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. We get a taste of how he and his wife lived with their collection thanks to a small gallery that emulates a salon of Château de Bellerive, their home on Lake Geneva. A plush circular couch fills the center of the room while, in cabinets that evoke the style of the Alhambra, bowls, plates and vessels beckon us to come close and marvel.

Here, as in the main exhibition, the works reflect a connoisseur’s taste and desire for quality without an art historian’s hunger for completeness. The museum does not offer the kind of encyclopedic presentations associated with, say, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art or the Islamic art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre. Instead, as senior collections adviser Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani writes in the catalog, the museum’s works constitute “an anthology, not a comprehensive survey.” There are therefore gaps—most noticeably the absence of lamps or vessels in enameled blown glass.

But the collection makes up for this in rarities—whether pages with exquisite miniatures from a copy of the “Shahnameh” commissioned in 1540 by Iran’s Shah Tahmasp, a 14th-century astrolabe from Spain with Latin, Arabic and Hebrew inscriptions, or an 17th- or 18th-century palm-sized shell from India in which incised verses from the Quran form a mesmerizing concentric design. There is also an unusual oliphant, an elephant tusk hollowed out to serve as a ceremonial hunting horn. Found in southern Italy, it is covered with carvings of animals and the occasional human all hunting one another. But rather than employing the more usual scheme of medallions or horizontal bands that appear on similar oliphants from the same period, this artist depicted real and mythical animals chasing each other up the length of the tusk with, in places, more humor than menace. One beast, for example, does no more than nip the toe of a soldier who stands, sword raised, while, elsewhere, what looks like a dog turns away from potential prey to attack its own tail.

In form, this oliphant is a product of medieval Europe, but its carving is stylistically in tune with the arts of the Fatimids, the Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of northern Africa, Egypt and Syria from 909 to 1171. Whether it was made in southern Italy or in Cairo for export (scholars disagree on this), the hunting horn attests to a lively cultural conversation among Christian and Muslim civilizations. In this respect it embodies the kind of mutual curiosity and appreciation the museum hopes to foster among people of different faiths and cultures. It is also one of many objects that raise the question of what “Islamic art” means and whether such a thing even exists.

The museum’s position is clear. The ingenious map that fills the back wall, for example, bucks the convention of shading all the areas under Muslim rule. Instead, areas delineating different empires and kingdoms take turns lighting up, thereby subtly underlining their political and cultural separateness. Much in the catalog and presentation, too, strongly suggests the museum hopes visitors will join those who question the very existence of an “Islamic art,” which implies a connection between religious belief and art.

Cases displaying copies of the Quran act as touchstones, reminding us that the cultures represented share a belief in these scriptures. Yet the juxtapositions simultaneously drive home how varied these cultures are. An 1804 book from Indonesia bears no resemblance to an 1847 Quran scroll from Iran, just as the illuminations in 14th-century copies from Egypt and India are strikingly different in style. Only if you stand so far back that you cannot pick out differences in calligraphy styles or register variations in illumination and design do many Qurans look similar—which is pretty much what early art historians in the Christian West were doing when they looked east and south and saw “Islamic art.” Everything in the museum seems committed to dislodging all legacy of this perspective, using beauty to lure us in close enough to appreciate the distinctiveness among Muslim civilizations.

Ms. Lawrence writes about Asian and Islamic art for the Journal.

Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’ - WSJ


Subscribe via email

Enter your email address: