11 Apr 2018

Say it with Flowers

When words fail to express how much I miss you, and fail to lend me the strength to hold my own onto that ship...

While your being gone has cast our lives into disarray like a tempest unforeseen, bashing us castaways against the harshness of our depleted surroundings, wreak havoc our lives, split open our hearts...

Despite your not being afar for I can feel you around, softly brushing past, hesitant tip-toe, lingering into regretful embrace, gliding up and down the Stairway to Heaven in nocturnal errance...

If only you whisked me along.

Bloomers Flowers & Decor

How I care to imagine living a day without you and still carry it through, whether my life will be whole again despite the hole that you left...

How what mattered yesterday has come to pass and lies at our feet in its irrelevant, insignificant splendour...

And whether I seek to explain to the rest of you here - or not,

I shall never cease to love you.

When words lack a word and words fail your hurt, elude or go astray, laced into the atemporality of the present hurt...

You have to forget the words and forgive them too.

And let flowers do the talking for you.

© Nathalie Hachet Kuntz, 11-Apr-2018

16 Feb 2018

The Deconstruction of the West: A Warning

Turbulent times afoot! Is our fast-changing world changing for the better? Does your past suddenly embody 'the good old days' and you're starting to sound like your grandparents while your kids haven't even started high school yet?! You are not alone on this. It is getting increasingly clear that the deconstruction of our modern Western civilisation has been masterminded from way above, by the nameless, faceless upper echelons of the multi-layered cake that symbolises the intricate hierarchical global governance nerve centre whose scope of influence and decision-making via institutions, institutes and foundations criss-cross regions, nations, continents, faiths and cultures in ways unfathomable by us the commoners. Yet it appears that a warning of things to come had been intimated as far back as 1969.

Minotaur, gypsum sculpture by Emil Alzamora (2006) (pict source)

If you are in your forties like I, you will have enough scope to be able to draw up a rough comparative study between what you remember from your childhood years in terms of societal environment and the way society has turned out to be. Your elders will probably have brought enough food for thought to you through observations of their own. Compared to my early experience of it, I do not recognise the West - and this I say without exaggerating.

I had noticed a shift (although I couldn't formulate it at the time) as far as the early 1980s, when disindustrialisation became prominent, and the textile, steel and coal industries were blitzed out of existence from their production centres. I witnessed it first hand in my French northern textile hometown of Saint-Quentin. And it became increasingly apparent that political figures all the way up to the President had been complicit in the demise and let those production towns down like a bad memory: they saw them as an embarrassment. We were silenced, urged to get used to it sooner rather than later, there was no turning back. And when I say let down, I mean a total collapse of the local economy and high unemployment rates (20%+) as a direct consequence, that shot up almost overnight. The powers-that-be coined a word, a magic word, that would explain it all and reassure us, and most importantly which we could blame for all our misfortunes: 'recession', the new normal.

Model: Cloud, sculpture by Maggie Casey (2006)

Oh, the governmental bureaucrats, business analysts, poncey economists, know-it-all journalists - and even your own boss or auntie Céleste after hearing their lecturing speech on the telly - wouldn't leave it at that. They shifted the goalpost. They pointed the finger at the unemployed and the soon-to-bes. Those were the culprits! They were criticised for having been too greedy, for demanding less working hours, better working conditions and higher standards of living. Can you believe that it was ultimately their fault if the factory had to close down altogether or relocate its operations to the Far East?! They had to pay the price and fellow countrymen became divided over the hot topic. And the bureaucrats nailed their despise for the Labour Force further by accusing the French of shunning factory work like it was beneath them. That only foreign, emigrant workforce were willing to work on the assembly lines now. Another fallacy and a sure dividing point that would fracture further the nation. 

Rule of Thumb No.1: Divide and conquer.
if you seek to rule, create division and chaos.

During the 'recession', swathes of working- and middle-class took a hit and lost their jobs before they could even save for a rainy day. Those who yesterday (i.e. after WWII) had rebuilt the country up now found themselves in forced redundancy. They became redundant from work and from life. They were forced to exchange their usefulness, their skills, their craft, their trade, their experience, their diligence, their dedication, their pride, for a cheque from the government. Forced to leave their neat little semi-detached whose mortgage they could afford no more for the 'joys' of subsidised housing, stacked up like unwanted goods on shelves. They had become unwanted goods. Now they had to learn to become invisible.

Public-private partnership agencies mushroomed out of the woodwork. Those were supposed to come to the rescue of the unemployed. All they did was skewer the job statistics by shunting them from one category to another, through retraining schemes more akin to a brainwashing session to realign their psyches so they became acceptant of their fate, and live by on governmental aid and be thankful for it. The industrial West was becoming a thing of the past. The skilled guipure operative was urged to retrain as a supermarket shelf stacker. And her husband, formerly a steelworker, to do part-time pizza delivery. That's where the demand was at.

In my life journey, I have come across much wasted talent, countless wasted lives, lives that could have accomplished but whose talents were stunted out of existence or side-tracked. Graduates like I who didn't want to end up on the dole had to export themselves overseas for work and not be choosy. Is this the way for a nation to operate? Waste its homegrown talent away or force it out of its borders?

Encyclopédie de la Vitesse, Editions Hachette (1956)

In the Western society model, strong precepts had prevailed until the 1960s/ 1970s. In France we had a glorious moniker for it: les Trente Glorieuses, three decades of full employment and buoyant economic activity (approx. 1945-1975), boosted by the aftermath of WWII (reconstruction) and the move into the consumer-centric technology-savvy model, a boon!

This was held together by an unshakable moral, socio-economic code of conduct. Back then, our society structure would put strong emphasis upon the Nation State: civil rights and civil duties, undefected pride in one's nation. Patriotism was embraced unconditionally, not derided.

No knees were taken when the national anthem played: 
you stood up and honored the fallen and the living 
under one flag!

Respect for Law and Order was tantamount to a functioning society, where the State ensured the protection of its people and the people paid their respect through national identity and pride, and served their Nation when national security was threatened (war). Rights and obligations of the people towards their Nation and of the Nation towards its people, a strong economy and buoyant industry sector, with wares manufactured locally/ nationally. All of these concepts, still prevalent in the 1960s, incrementally deliquesced to the point that they have now been turned on their heads.

Family and religion were still strong in the 1960s/ 1970s but the communist, marxist, trotskyist, socialist, atheist, feminist and other activist movements did not help the cause; if anything, they fragilised it. In fact, neither do they unify nor pacify: they instead harbour division and disfunction. Bingo, all that the elites want!

As we are getting more enlightened to what really is happening to us and refute the mainstream media's fabricated truths, we come to the realisation that the economic decline of the West as we view it today had been orchestrated all along. And some of the evidence points out as far back as 1969 with Dr Richard L. Day's infamous speech. His 'predictions' turned out to be accurate.

5 Feb 2018

Dressing the Part

Albert Einstein reportedly used to keep a panoply of identical suits in his wardrobe so that he didn't have to think about what to wear. The wardrobe dilemma was instantly solved. The ingenious hack is employed today - in reverse - by a host of entrepreneurs, CEOs and other influencers in the public eye, to various degrees. Mark Zuckerberg is a prime example - and exception to the rule at the same time. As the product of a generation where social codes, rules and etiquette have been questioned and shunned and 'anything goes', he might consider dressing down as a positive, which indeed hasn't been as detrimental to him as it could have. Yet for anyone else this ultimately is a disservice, especially if aiming high in the career stakes. The social code the hierarchy commands plays the safe card of tradition rather than sloppiness (or eccentricity!) in order to achieve and sustain respectability, credibility, trustworthiness and integrity, the very cogs in the wheels of professionalism. Personal brand image is thus everything: it defines you in a way that either enhances your career and persona or damages them.

Soundsuit #2 by Nick Cave, via ArtSpace

When you resemble a forever teenage dirt bag stuck in the middle of a video game, with a smile like the dork encountered a unicorn on his way to the donut stash, you cannot expect to be taken seriously. Call me old-fashioned and a conservative, but nothing will ever beat an attire that matches the occasion. And in doubt, dress up rather than down. You can always dress down if you are too dressed up: remove that tie, undo that collar, take off that jacket... How can you dress up when all you are wearing is jeans, tees and plimsols?

Jeans, tees and plims are Zuckerberg's trademark. He believes this is all he needs to wear, in a fluid environment that has blurred home, the workplace and the after-hours of socialising. He travels light yet don't be fooled! His bank account is heavy. Those who view Donald Trump as part of the elite (based on his fortune alone) should cast a long hard look at Zuckerberg, worth $76.7b. This rates him 4th on Forbes 400 and the world's 5th richest billionaire. Get the calculator out: he's 25 times wealthier than the US President (#248 on Forbes 400)!

Now I agree that basing an opinion upon looks alone is misleading: looks are superficial and deceptive, and clothing fashion fickle and skin-deep. What truly matters is what is under the hood, the engine (value system, ethics, beliefs, accomplishments, ambition). Though it remains that appearances are the first port of call when meeting somebody. Look at it as a book cover. Is it enticing enough for you to find out more... or do you just walk past in search of something more appealing, more interesting? Or worse, do you run in the opposite direction? Jeans and tees might define a certain segment of fashion but a suit will always defy the vagaries and fickleness of fashion always, and remain a staple that every wardrobe should have - mostly if you are a manager, director, CEO. This includes Zuckerberg.

Untitled (Soundsuits) by ibid, via LA Times

Multi-billionaire Zuckerberg is only fooling himself and his copycat teen lookalikes when pretending to be 'one of us' the populace, wearing slacks day in day out like he has no care in the world and only a few dollars tucked in his pocket. The only reason he has been able to get away with it is because he is putty in the hands of the governing elites. They saw potential in his Facebook creation and dictate to him how he should fine-tune his algorithms in order to skewer free speech into a tool of surveillance, propaganda and subversion - a topic for some other time.

Look at rapper Jay Z: he understood long ago that the three-piece suits, crisp white shirts and a bow-tie would take him places within the corporate music arena that the ghetto-fabulous diamond-encrusted sneakers and the massive gold chain dangling over a pair of low-cut baggy jeans would not...

In The Godfather series, the mafia bosses and their underdogs are all dressed up in suits when they conduct business. They understand that in order to gain credibility, no matter how dubious and downright criminal your motives - businessman or con artist - you must look the part. Indeed the dress-up code works at both ends of the respectability paradigm. In both cases they help you get things done.

Soundsuit #6 by ibid, via Artspace

Dressing up sharpens your attitude: it lends you poise, and gives you presence and clout. What applies to meanswear applies to womenswear. By dressing up, you will instantly behave in a more professional, more restrained, manner. It fine-tunes your mindset, tweaks your general frame of mind. It sharpens your thought and your word. Try this blind test: conduct one business phonecall (from home) wearing casualwear, and one dressed up. You will notice that when dressed up, your body holds a certain way, your voice projects more and you come across as more assertive and focused. Now translate that to a face-to-face situation. You are on to a winner.

You need to know when to push your affairs in terms of dress code. Classic, conservative attire will always be a winner. It will not let you down: it will serve you right.

25 Jan 2018

Rush Hour

What does your rush hour look like? Mine looks like this:

The long and winding road...

At first glance, it tells you that I live in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the maddening crowds, the urban pollution, the sprawling suburbs, and the stress of modern life. It implies a certain quality of life that I am able to enjoy around the rural environment: oodles of space, no crowds, little to no noise, panoramic views, closeness to nature - not to mention low crime figures.

But a rush hour like this comes at a cost.

It means either I live far from the town and city, and still endure long commutes to work - not an enviable option. Or my work is land-based: farming, agricultural - and what should be an a labour of love has turned out to be hardship because this is how the State rewards those who feed the nation: crazy legislation (especially under the EU), heavy taxation, red tape, long unforgiving hours, and low pay - because the food distribution channels have squeezed out your profit margins. That means added pressure on your land for it to yield more (using fertilisers and hybrid GMO-ready seeds) and for your livestock to yield more (demanding more milk from the dairy cows to make up for your losses, expanding your chattel, taking up loans and moving the farm under an industrial model, while pumping your animals full with antibiotics and growth hormones). On your side of the game, there is no winner: your land wears itself out, your livestock wears itself out and you eventually wear yourself out. You'll consider yourself lucky when the State finally catches up with you with a cash lump sum for your farm, rase it down and have a motorway built through it.

With a rush hour like mine, one might assume that I am a stay-at-home mum or I work from home, maybe as a freelancer? Would money be no object? Either because I am financially secure... or I parted ways with the rat race!

Tickle is up for it!

I parted ways with the rat race years ago. A rush hour like mine comes at a cost maybe more to you than it does to me. Firstly I gave up on the lure of the materialistic way of life I used to enjoy. A carefully thought-out and wise decision because those material mirages were taking me nowhere down the road to happiness and fulfillment. In many ways, I feel happier now: no longer a slave to the wage, to the mortgage, to the loans, to the designer apparel.

This doesn't mean I am now living the life of an ascete or I am destitute. It doesn't mean I do not treat myself or my husband, or buy things for the home. It just means I do not follow the whims and craves and fads and trends of the market that influence life all the way to the check-out. This is a lifestyle choice.

It means I do not keep up with the Joneses either. What Joneses? We are the only residents in the hamlet for virtually half the year. What Joneses anyways? We live on a flipping island!

How about feeling deprived? Because no matter how much I sugar-coat it, a rush hour like ours comes at a cost. We live in an old family house where comfort is rustic and certain modcons like gas central heating and a fitted kitchen are lacking. This is the price to pay when you come off the rat race: it depends upon what you can now afford and adjustments inevitably have to be made.

We are cut off from quality services and conveniences that we took for granted back in UK or USA or mainland France. We live in a system that is politicised. And living as virtual hermits is in no way healthy. Humans are naturally gregarious. Birdsong is divine, and silence is golden - but too much of it rusts your spirits away.

A rush hour like ours may be a blessing to stressed-out urbanites seeking refuge from their urban shortcomings but beyond the eye-pleasing scenery, the reclusive life we live sooner or later takes its toll. A change of scenery would be most welcome.

What does your rush hour look like?

Lisbon, Portugal

31 Dec 2017

Happy New Year & Happy Sale

Happy New Year you all! Three Line Studio and TLB Games are extending their Christmas Special Sale! Some call it Christmas every day, we call it starting 2018 on a high note, especially if you have gamers in your circles! RPG (Role Playing Games), D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), game theory, we have it all covered for those special occasions in the year ahead! TLS is no random shop: it is the publishing house and agency of one of the original D&D members, American author and game designer Robert J. Kuntz!

🎄 🎄 🎄

You really want to check out our range of competitively-priced quality original products, you will not find them elsewhere!


Here is a short item selection:

El Raja Key Archive, NOW FROM ONLY $14.95
Dave Arneson's True Genius treatise, NOW ONLY $14.95
Sunken City adventure module, NOW ONLY $6.99

12 Nov 2017

History of the Great War and the Stories Behind It

Yesterday was the 99th anniversary of the end of the Great War: Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, Veterans Day. Whichever name and vernacular we apply to it, it remains that the ending of WWI summons questions around whether WWI should ever have been started in the first place. Does the official story not center around the assassination in Sarajevo of a mysterious Archduke nobody amongst the populace had ever heard of: Franz Ferdinand? Did we have to escalate this into a World War and sacrifice 41 million people in the process as some form of retaliation? Or was there actually more than meets the eye?

War journal of French soldier Louis Barthas (1879-1952)

Those four years stood as the biggest wipe-out humanity had ever experienced in its entire History. August, 22nd, 1914 was the bloodiest day in French History, with 27,000 French soldiers killed. WWI tolled the end of times and destroyed the courageous, patriotic, hard-working young able men and their families, neighbourhoods and countries at large. Those who survived would never be the same again.

WWI is no shrinking violet territory. It is utter brutality. The scope of its horrors defy the imagination of even the most seasoned amongst us.

Hell on earth in a way we, 3-4 generations later, find hard to fathom in our relatively cocooned existence. The Great War was a bloodshed beyond comprehension that the French poilus (WWI soldiers) described laconically as grande boucherie.

Journal of Jean Galpin (1892-1915), lieutenant at the 119e French Infantry Regiment

Holocaust on the battlefields, in the trenches, across the blitzed-out towns, out at sea and up in the skies. It was the first all-encompassing war: on land, off-shore, underwater and airborne. WWI catapulted the West into the XXth century and heralded the rise of the nefarious military industrial complex and the coming of age of ruthless dynasties which have been calling the shots in the shadows of world governments and banking institutions ever since: the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers.

One year short of the centenary, we can safely argue from the comfort of our homes whether we can find 99 reasons why there shouldn't have been a war. In no way though would this resurrect the dead and heal the injured. The best we can do is to keep on honouring the brave and hold a flower in our hearts for the fallen. Pledge not to forget them and draw lessons out of the meaninglessness of war and the abject cruelty it inflicts upon the innocent that the elites summoned to fight their game of chess out for real.

Illustrated science lesson on sea mines by school teacher Aimé Vincent (1867-1933)

It serves to have at least a rough understanding of the war, its battles and key dates, from a historical perspective. But what is of greater service, in my book, is the collective of individual, personal stories and snippets of insightful information gleaned out of those who lived and/ or survived the War, soldiers and civilians alike, and which they passed down. Our duty today is to ensure those accounts, anecdotes, letters and other memorabilia are preserved and shared amongst us, and especially to the younger generations. By doing so, we keep alive the memory of those ordinary folks with ordinary lives who extraordinarily got thrusted onto the geopolitical scene and put their lives on the line for all of us.
Their patriotism, nationalism, the pride they held in the Nation State, means we stand here today in pacified nations which we can still call our own.

Each one of my four great-grandads, Louis, Marcel, Antoine and Joseph, fought in the Great War. I do not hold a personal detailed account of their whereabouts during the Great War as such but I remember a number of anecdotes. Those stick in the mind. For instance, Antoine and his comrades being out of drinking water in the trenches at some point had no other option than resort to drinking their own wee... On the Chemin des Dames front, Louis and his comrades were forced to imbibe strong potato liquor as way of Dutch courage when they could no longer fight their way across trenches and minefields, a desolate landscape that resembled nothing more than the death planes of the afterlife.

Illustrated war account by Marius Astier, accomplished in 1927

To stop indulging in our self-importance is paramount. We owe our WWI elders the respect and remembrance they deserve. We owe it to them to have honoured and served our nation the way they did, with infallible pride and bravery. We must make it our mission to not allow for our history to be edited by the Ministry of Propaganda. Oppose the deriding of national pride and its bizarre amagalmation with fascism and white supremacy. Support those who seek the truth and fight corruption on our behalf, whether as private entities, public figures or members of the Alternative media.

Now caught as we are in our First World problems (sic), the European Union Ponzi Scheme and DC Deep State, Cultural Marxism and its institutions engineering the hostile take-over of our society through globalisation stealth of our once-sovereign, Christian, economically-solvent, industrial powerhouse Nation States — would we be able at this point to regain enough bravery and nobility of heart to stand up to a horde of flag-burning millennial brats, and serve our emperiled nations should a call to arms be deemed necessary tomorrow in order to save them? This is no chess game: the ball is in our court.

Further Reading: 

2 Nov 2017

All Saints' Day Survivor

In the Christian calendar, November 1st is a celebration of the dead, All Saints' Day, a bank holiday in France. Traditionally families purchase chrysanthemums, heather or cyclamens (usually impressive potted displays) and take them down to cemeteries in order to fleurir les tombes, flower their (loved ones) graves. Needless to say, florists and garden centres make a tidy profit that gears them up into the festive season, by then less than 8 weeks away!

Mum's the word! (June 2017)

You guessed it, All Saints' Day has been co-opted into a consumerist feat, with a sea of floral displays that pours out of the flower shops onto the pavements and inflates in volume by the day, in the run-up to November 1st. Then plants migrate from flower shops to car boots and from car boots to the tombs, and before Christmas most will have migrated from the tombs to the cemetery bins - in heaps! Incredibly wasteful and downright ridiculous but this is the way it has been programmed into the French.

Because sadly family values in France are not as sacred as they once were and catholic religion has taken a nosedive, graves are rarely visited, although All Saints' Day remains the one and only yearly reminder still anchored in the collective psyche that encourages the modern busy Christian to pay graves a visit - and leave a proof of their visit behind, in the shape of a big fat chrysanthemum that battles it out for space with other relatives' mums! Don't you bother watering your offering because par une opération du Saint-Esprit, by the Holy Spirit intervention, pots will somewhat self-water or at least absorb little morning dew they can in order to survive the run-up to Winter if they don't get knocked off the tomb by the competition and the elements and roll down the alleyway like a poor cosplay version of Jackie Chan to end up wedged between the tool shed and a bench.

Chrysanthemum to the left, nasturtium to the right, under the watchful eye of Némo! (Sept. 2017)

Life as an All Saints' Day chrysanthemum is all about survival: it's mean out there. Tampered with genetically in order to yield all sorts of crazy colours and patterns, chemically fattened up in order to grow fat and fast like a Christmas turkey of the floral kind, produce blooms ten a zillion that will magically burst open in time for the Day of the Dead. Showtime in the graveyard but by November 2nd there is no-one left around to admire the flowers! Then the draughty unforgiving graveyards take a toll on their petals into a crumpled-up, dried-out worn-out affair. Lack of care its toll, and the trip to the bin is a short, disdainful and unceremonious whack and go.

Through this tale of doom and gloom interspersed by a brief showtime stint and casting couch moment on the florist's shelf, one of those mums I saved from the basket of deplorables. Now it takes pride of place on my south-facing terrace, pampered and watered and whispered to! I saved it from my village's overflowing cemetery bin last December as I was gingerly walking past with Tickle, casting a sideways glance in search of a discarded, unloved, unrequited empty flower pot container (or filled with a dead plant) which I could save from trash and call my own and take home to repurpose into a pot for my Winter seedlings.

Pride of place! (Nov. 2017)

The mum was totally dried out, a browned-out crispy sorry sight! I took it home, disposed of the dead twigs and stored the pot with the soil in it in the cellar for a good month, almost forgetting about it. Then one day I noticed a shoot on the surface of the soil and then another one! I took the pot out onto the terrace, took a long hard look at those incredible green shoots battling for survival. I watered them and witnessed the gradual resurrection of the mum! It has since rewarded me with several flowerings. It is currently a feast of multicoloured blooms of white, canary yellow, orange and magenta red, a rainbow of delight! Let me tell you: I am the proud mum of one proud mum!

The moral of the story: when everything looks dead and done, give it another go, it might surprise you!

5 Oct 2017

Autumn Menu with a Hint of Halloween

Delved into my bookmarks and consulted good old oracle Pinterest in order to compile an Autumn menu with recipes slightly out of the ordinary, without obsessing about it - and a hint of the unexpected. It had to be a poetic menu to spell out loud, with each dish almost akin to a verse by Edgar Allan Poe...

Think velvety monochrome textures, smoked flavours, dark syrupy fruit, gooey sauces, messy blends, unusual colours and rare alcohols, to keep you warm inside and chill you out at the same time! Red splatters to keep you on your toes... All in all, a grown-up Autumn menu without the hearty pumpkin chowders, versatile enough to celebrate not only Halloween but also All Saints' Day (Catholic calendar, 1st November) and Guy Fawkes Night (Great Britain, 5th November) without stating the obvious!

So let's get those taste buds into overdrive and that kitchen ready to sizzle!

A P É R I T I F 

The Black Heart by Julep
Cranberry & Pomegranate Spritz by Donna Hay
Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) Margarita by Muy Bueno
Cocktail Snow Cones by HonestlyYUM
Palomitas de Curcúma by La Baguette Magique


Beet-Pickled Curry Deviled Eggs by Viktoria's Table
Fig and Goat's Cheese Tart by Donna Hay
Spicy Corn Bisque by Bakers Royale
Roasted Red Pepper Tortilla Soup by Cookie & Kate

M A I N     C O U R S E

Vegan Winter Harvest Hummus Bowl by Heather Christo


Roasted Carrots Cooked in a Pomegranate Syrup by Un Déjeuner de Soleil


Blood Orange Granita by Cook Republic
Pomegranate and Greek Yoghurt Panna Cotta, via Cooked


Beer-Laced Sticky Toffee and Ginger Pudding by Delicious

S W E E T     A F T E R S

Raspberry Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches by The Bojon Gourmet
Juniper + Smoke Marshmallows by Local Milk

Further Resources:
  • For a little otherwordliness that remains firmly on the safe side, visit my K ° Mystique Pinterest board.
  • Ideas to ease you into the Halloween spirit with a little chill and none of the tack.
  • Robert Doisneau photography: black and white, atmospheric and - if you are looking for it - spooky.
  • Cocktails that are odd beyond the odds, The Gibson's Cocktail Menu has it by the muddler! Their cocktail list flirts with the quirk and the bizarre in equal doses, if not the borderline bootleg (Scandal in Bohemia, a mixology 'high' of Sweet Grass Steeped Woodford Rye Absinthe + Hemp Cannabis Poppy 'Opium' Oil + Preserved Oriental Lemon Brine + French Confetti Candy Syrup + Forbidden Jelly Ice + Smoking Wood Mushroom)! You couldn't make this one up if you wanted to! For a cocktail slightly less far fetched in terms of ingredients, the Way of the Dragon might persuade an enlightened Classic D&D gamer to give it a try, if only for the rambunctious dragon that is served with the drink: 8 years old Bacardi + Gibson's Seabuckthorn Liqueur + Madeira Wine + Lime + Fresh Rambutan & Mangosteen + Butternut Squash & Walnut Conserve + Galia Melon. Good grief! I'll have a simple G&T anytime!

Way of the Dragon cocktail by The Gibson Bar, Shoreditch, London

24 Sept 2017

Paul Gauguin: Painter in Paradise

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti lands upon our shores as a compelling welcome distraction to an otherwise calamitous September of hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest and threats of WWIII. Despite its languorous title, it promises no Tropical bliss or frangipani blossoms as it whisks us away from our daily contrivance and the Autumn chill for the Paradise atolls of French Polynesia, the backdrop to the last decade in the life of anti-conformist 19th century French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) who had fled modern civilisation in order to live the simple life, immersed in nature.

(pict source)

Few of us will have been aware of Gauguin's life beyond his enchanting Polynesian portraits, and the film by Edouard Deluc attempts to remedy that. Be warned though that any hope for a smooth, fancy-free voyage across lush lands and ombré waters sprawled below heavenly Summer skies is 'compromised' as our voyage is in fact a tale of trouble in Paradise... and this means dark clouds!

Soon the landscapes of the island merge with the landscapes of a troubled mind. This is no blockbuster, no special effect in sight, no big budget, and no unnecessary pathos. It commands however a certain curiosity and sensitivity on the part of the viewer in order to appreciate such a movie. Here we have a painter's tale of Paradise lost.

'Haere Mai', oil on burlap by Paul Gauguin, via Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti depicts Gauguin the artist (Koké as the locals called him) entertwined with the man himself, who had rejected the French Establishment, relinquished wife and offspring who he could no longer financially support, only to get caught up by his demons and by Establishment again thousands of miles later. This is a tale of artistic genius, moral dilemma, financial destitution, a tale of redemption and disillusion, a quest for identity and authenticity, a depiction of mysticism and a rejection of the so-called civilised world.

Paul Gauguin could have enjoyed a comfortable existence should he had kept to the conformist route he had taken as a marine merchant and a stockbroker's assistant, but then there would be no Paul Gauguin the artist. He died a pauper instead, yet rich within from the life and travel experiences he acquired along the way. His frugal livelihood contrasts with his oeuvre dotted across the world in art places and private collections, testimonies to his posthumous glory and recognition. When he relinquished his privileged upbringing and financial stability in order to embrace the artist's lifestyle, Gauguin embarked upon the exciting, harsh, morose, unpredictable, temptation-laced, financially unstable existence at odds with the traditional family life, the picket fence and the prim and proper.

This poster features 'Tehamana Has Many Parents', oil on jute canvas by Paul Gauguin

Vincent Cassel wears Paul Gauguin's role like a glove. One of the most prolific, versatile, immersive French actors of my generation, he excels at playing troubled characters with heart and soul: the known and the unknown, the modern and the period, the suave and the slick, the affable and the utterly despicable. In a nutshell, he lives and breathes and inhabits each of his roles. Cassel took up art classes to get under the artist's skin and learn the ropes like how to hold a paintbrush properly and how to apply paint. He caught the bug and ended up painting for himself in his spare time!

From the outset, the film appears to incarnate French cinéma d'auteur in the manner in which it explores the life of its main character. The methodology is by way of a close-range character study, down to the minutiae of glance, heartbeat and sigh. It strives for detail, and an intimate - intimist - soul journey, a stark-naked biopic portrayal in its varied facets that distills the character with spirit and truth, no embellishment or happy ending for the sake of it. It soaks in the atmosphere and takes us on with it.

'Orana Maria (We Hail Thee Mary)', by Paul Gauguin, via WikiArt

The film hasn't been out a week that it is already being criticised for its lack of objectivity. It conveniently - controversially - glosses over the fact that Gauguin then aged 43 fell in love (in lust?) with a 13-year old local Tahitian girl called Tehura (also known as Teha’amana), whom he then married. The girl was a juvenile! A closer look at Gauguin's biography reveals that his private life was dissolute: a life-long philanderer who contracted syphillis along the way, which he then transmitted to his conquests. Some will wave it off as an element of Bohemian territory - oh lovely!

Yet not looking at discrediting the critics, it must be added that the History of France and the world at large demonstrates that however morally wrong it was (is), the mature man-young girl 'paradigm' was (is) no rare occurrence, especially in the Arts, the Royal courts and under certain ideologies!

'Tahitian Pastorale', by Paul Gauguin, via WikiArt

Digression aside, such straightforward revelations in the film would have dented an already morally-questionable complex, flawed character but a glossing over ends up as a disservice and as an unvoluntary form of complicity. Truth hurts, so does its misrepresentation by way of a lie.

Those of us who had been blissfully unaware of Gauguin's dirty little secrets until today, are likely to be left confused, tainted, unsure as to whether still respect the artist, or dissociate his paintings from the man: respect the oeuvre but dislike (repudiate?) the man. Artist and man being intrinsically entertwined, this is simply impossible. My only surety in this is that I will never look at the portraits of Teha'amana and her virginal, innocent girl friends in quite the unbiased way I used to.

It remains that Paul Gauguin was a creative genius, the precursor of Modern Art and a visionary in his own right. His Art navigated the troubled waters of his soul in a spellbinding way. To see and think of him as a painter solely is restrictive: he was an accomplished artist whose Art encompassed printmaking, engraving, sculpture, ceramics and decorating. His creations are showcased in the most prestigious modern art galleries of the world, including Guggenheim and the Art Institute of Chicago, as further testament to his worldwide recognition.

"Gauguin was radically creative throughout his career. He never stopped experimenting with new methods, and his art continues to fascinate because it remains unpredictable, contradictory, and enormously varied in medium, form, and content." - Artist as Alchemist, the Paul Gauguin exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (June 25 - Sept. 10, 2017)

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti, directed by Edouard Deluc, starring Vincent Cassel, Tuhei Adams, Malik Zidi and Pua-Tai Hikutini, out now in France.

P.S: There is an interesting parallel to be drawn between Paul Gauguin and Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894): both artist contemporaries from the second half of the 19th century, travellers and adventurers, who both died in Polynesia (Stevenson in Samoa), in middle age. Stevenson documented a particular segment of his journey to France as a short story, 'Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.' If Stevenson is still fondly remembered in the Cévennes to this day, it is because - according to a local politician and historian - 'he showed us the landscape that makes us who we are.' Such a statement may well apply to Gauguin too, in relation to Polynesia.

18 Sept 2017

Aerial Views of Bygone England

In order to visually grasp in one quick swoop the extent of Britain's heavy industrialisation during the 1920s (notwithstanding the fact that the bulk of its Industrial Revolution had already been through by then), seek no other evidence than photographic - and better still the aerial shots! Britain from Above has made this possible, not only for institutions and corporations but also for the general public, by releasing its impressive photographic archive collection (over 82,500 records for England alone!) which provides the tools for a spot of investigative geography and history, right from the comfort of your home. And fascinating it is bound to be to anyone with a connection to Britain and curious to discover the face of its past!

Beswick, Manchester (1927), via Britain from Above

Second to none, Manchester was once my second home; I spent 16 years of my life there. Naturally as soon as I came across Britain from Above, curiosity got the better off me and I sifted through Manchester's photographic records, seeking the familiar neighbourhoods I had lived in and semi-familiar environs which I had travelled through, worked in or visited for one reason or another. Needless to say that present-day Manchester bears little resemblance to its bygone self, bar for specific landmarks: town hall, churches, flagship stores (the Lewis's department store, now Primark), canals, railways, certain roads and playing fields, and the odd pub here and there that has survived the accelerated nationwide 'pub cull' of the last 20 years.

As shown in the Beswick ward above, like elsewhere throughout the working-class areas of the city radiating right out of its centre, row upon row of identikit 19th-century brick terraced and back-to-back factory houses used to be tightly laid out, taking up every inch of available space for cheap low-rise high-density working-class housing - which was turning to slums by the 1920s. Nineteen thirties Manchester was a crowded place; its population had peaked at 766,311 inhabitants in 1931 before steadily shrinking, in line with the collapse of the textile and affiliated machine tool industries, down to 404,861 by 1991, a massive 52% fall in numbers within 60 years! By 1991, the slum clearances and industrial wastelands were lending a surreal urban landscape, especially east (Ancoats to Ashton-under-Lyne axis) and northeast (Cheetham Hill to Oldham axis).

Ordsall Hall Paper Works, Pomona Docks and Manchester Ship Canal, Old Trafford (1929), ibid.

From such a bird's eye view, from such a height, with eveything appearing like distant patterns dotted upon a canvas, it is all too tempting to feel nostalgic and gloss over a time period that was actually anything but kind and sweet. Although full employment was on - except during the Great Depression, it still came at a price, even by 1920s standards: harsh working conditions, long working hours, low wages, poor health, cramped and unsanitary living conditions, not to mention the smog, a deadly combination of smoke pollution (from factory and domestic coal burning) and fog, creating pea soup, which plagued industrial cities with a thick yellowish toxic shroud, bringing asthma and other respiratory ailments and drastically reducing visibility.

Manchester Ship Canal and Partington Coal Basin (1929), ibid.

Furthermore, the nation was still recovering from the throes of WWI, where 23,792 men and women from Greater Manchester alone had lost their lives on the front! Extrapolate this to the number of households affected by loss, the mothers, widow(er)s and orphans, the harsh economic reality of daily life sharpened the grief some more. You can be certain that the photographed households you are looking at are testaments to pain and hardship.

Manchester's cityscape is industrial no more! Photography by Daniel Nisbet, 2008, via Flickr

Further Resources on Manchester and the British Industry: