22 October 2017

Lullaby singer

Anna Nalick is one of those women whose talents inspire both admiration and jealousy in me. That she's insanely beautiful makes matters worse: do I hate or want to be her?

I've been rediscovering artists I first met in my youth through social media. Recently, I stumbled upon Nalick's Instagram, learning that the 2 AM crooner was about to release a new record. Here and there she'd post clips of her singing what would make up "At now". Then I'd remember how I used to love girls with guitars.

But Nalick has a distinct kind of magnetism, marked by something sexy and poetic and messy at the same time. Her voice is pained but never vulnerable, powerful when quiet yet cracks open an entire world when climbing high notes. She is one of the few lyricists whose words make me pay attention.

When Aura hit Soundcloud earlier, I got excited right away. I just knew that the album would be good. I trusted in the artist, and that time and age would do the trick.

(Photo taken from Anna Nalick's official Facebook page.)

Maybe listening to it at midnight, before sleep has enhanced my experience. She may as well call the LP Lullaby singer (the title of the second track). The songs, though haunting, have a soothing quality about them, like a friend — or your own self — telling you what you needed to hear after a dark day. Lullaby for adults.

My favorite track — and I will not forget the goose bumps I had on my legs during the a cappella humming at the end — is All through the night. It is as much a practice in myth-making as it is in song-writing. With the help of a piano and a metaphor, Nalick unravels her heart in slow waltz.

15 October 2017

Gestes magnifiques

Alain Passard talks obsessively about gestures in Chef's table – France. It's the first time I've heard someone bring that up as a crucial element — if an element at all — in any discipline.

When I was a child, I would mimic adults in unglamorous professions: the cashier swiping a product under a scanner, then hitting a few keys from the till before punching the big one that opens a drawer of cash; or the bus conductor thumbing through a bundle of tickets (the working thumb covered in rubber), after-which reaching for his pouch for loose change.

I didn't know exactly what they were doing back then — how the tickets were counted or what the other buttons on the cash register were for; but seeing them so confident in their actions drew me in. It was their expert gestures that compelled me to imitate them.

"Slicing a shallot can be done 25 different ways. However there is that one gesture to which we can add that elegance, that love," says Passard. Apparently, he doesn't take gestures as mere embellishments in a performance; to him, it's an integral part of the art: "Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we don't. Me, I love it. It might be the sense I like the most. Maybe even more than the sense of taste."

Something might've been lost in translation. The good Frenchman still sounds mystical to me, though I'd like to believe that I understand what he means. "And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, more elegant, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, more accurate and more elegant," he continues. "That's the trick."

Okay, chef.


Muriel Barbery. The gourmet. London: Gallic Books, 2009.

Last August I read The gourmet by Muriel Barbery. It's about Pierre Athens, France's most feared and revered food critic. He's on the brink of death, counting down the days with a painful struggle to recall that singular food that has brought him "raw, unequivocal pleasure".
'A dish? A dessert?' asked Anna, with a sob in her voice.

I cannot bear to see her like this. I love my wife, as I have always loved the beautiful objects in my life. That is the way it is. I have lived as a man of property, and I shall die as one, with neither qualms nor sentimental indulgence; nor do I regret having accumulated property or having conquered souls and beings as if I were acquiring an expensive painting. A work of art has a soul. It cannot be reduced to a simple mineral existence, to the lifeless elements of which it consists. Perhaps because I know this I have never felt the least bit ashamed of considering Anna the most beautiful work of all — this woman who for forty years has used her finely chiselled beauty and her dignified tenderness to enliven the chambers of my realm. (pp 16 – 17)
After reading The life of elves, I missed Barbery's comedy in The elegance of the hedgehog. Great news for me, the humor is present in The gourmet, and her flair for poetry (overdone in Elves) suits the passionately hyperbolic Pierre. And, consistent with the other two books, her characters' musings are a joy to follow.

No other contemporary novelist excites me more than Ms Barbery, who is also a philosophy teacher (it definitely shows in her works). There's the second installment of La vie des elfes to look forward to, and by the time it comes out, I'll hopefully be bold enough to buy a copy in the original French.

I'm hungry. No, hungrier — for new food, for knowledge, for travel. That's thanks to The gourmet and Chef's table. Soon I'll fly to Paris and get my hands on a bag of chouquettes.

05 October 2017

Suffered plenty

Ernest Hemingway. The old man and the sea. New York: Scribner, 2003.

This slim book is a huge test of endurance for me. At a hundred and twenty seven pages, and what seems to be font size 13, double space, Ernest Hemingway's The old man and the sea has the promise of a breezy, melancholy Sunday afternoon read.

It's so boring. If anything I can relate to the old man in the middle of an endless sea, waiting and fighting for his life and pride. I'm the type who'd deliberately abandon a novel if it doesn't excite. But I choose to stick it out with Hem, thinking I can't be beaten by a novella, and at least I'd know for sure if I hated it or not.

At that point when I feel like completely giving up — page 80 or so — it picks up. I want to know, Okay, will old man Santiago catch his fish or will he die? What will he learn about life? What will I realize for myself? Because it's that kind of book that screams, There's a moral in here somewhere, find it. (Would love to hear the vegans' opinion on the story.)

What I like about it are the glimpses inside a mind going through a tedious task — the different voices in your head that argue when faced with the smallest decision; how we frame situations to ease our heart or uplift our spirit. What I don't like about it is the tedious writing.

Let's end with some nice bits:
Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his detemination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. (p 75)

A man can be destroyed but not defeated. (p 103)

It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.

"Nothing," he said aloud. "I went out too far." (p 120)

How much did you suffer?

"Plenty," the old man said. (p 166)

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