The Abundance of Less

The Abundance of Less Andy Couturier
 
The abundance of less. How beautiful, how true, how striking. I am so glad that Andy Couturier changed the title of his book, which was first published in 2009 under the name A Different Kind of Luxury. That was a good title, too, because, yes, I believe living simply is the new luxury, that having time (to do what pleases you the most) is the real luxury, but it is the abundance of less that, in just four words, best captures the essence of this extraordinary book.

Andy Couturier, who spent four years studying sustainable living in rural Japan, tells the stories of ten men and women who left behind mainstream existences in urban Japan to create new lives deep in the countryside and rural mountains. He relates the ways they found to live simply and sustainably, in harmony with their environment, surrounded by the luxuries of nature, art, friends, delicious food, and most important, an abundance of time in which to enjoy it all. The ten people describe the profound personal transformations they underwent as they escaped the stress, consumerism, busyness, and dependence on technology of modern life to establish fulfilling lives as farmers and artists who rely on themselves for happiness and sustenance.
 

“Don’t imitate our life. Please learn from our life.
Build up your own new life.
Just be as much like yourself as you can be.”

Koichi Yamashita

 
The beauty of The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan is not about showing us how to live a simple life. Firstly, it’s not that simple to live simply. One of my favourite quotes from the book is “It takes time to be poor”. This is so true. For example, it takes time to nurture your life through cultivating the land yourself. These people mostly eat what they grow themselves (and live on less than $4,000 a year). It takes months from cultivating the land, to harvesting it and finally being able to cook the food they’ve grown. Not everyone could do it, nor does everyone has to go all the way to find a more authentic kind of satisfaction. But you can make the choice of not eating fruit or vegetables out of season, or from far away.

Secondly, you have to be true to yourself. Many of us may not fit into the wold we were given, but each one of us finds happiness in something different. “In the end you have to be honest to what really feels best to you,” says Wakako Oe, one of the interviewees in the book.
 
The abundance of less Andy Couturier 
So, the beauty of this book is that is has made me ask myself, “What changes can I make to lead a more fulfilled life?” The Abundance of Less is about showing us there is another way. About discovering true success by having a life that matters. It is about showing us that we can find beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary. That we don’t need all the things we buy. That we can shut out much or part of the unnecessary information we are fed every single day. That change and modernization are not always good. That we should preserve the good things of the past, not change everything just for the sake of change. That so many beautiful things in the world are disappearing and that we should at least take our time to stop and gaze at something magnificent when we see it. It is about showing us how simple life could really be… if we really wanted it to be. That making things with your own hands is enriching and enlivening.

But what probably has truck me the most is that it shows us that practicality and simple living do not by any means foreclose a rich life of the mind at all. The women and men in this book may grow their own food and live isolated, but they have reached a level of freedom and of freedom of the mind that many of us can not even comprehend or think possible in our modern world. Furthermore, they are all artists, teachers, writers, philosophers; intelligent, cultured, well-read people and who have, above all, reached an extraordinary level of understanding with the inner self. These are also people who have all travelled extensively and even lived abroad in their youth, and who could have lived a well-off life (by the standards modern society) if they wanted to. But they have chosen to live this way from one point on. Because this is what makes them happy.

I would like to leave you with a few more of my favourite quotes from the book (there so many), but, before that, I would like to take the liberty of forwarding Andy’s advice to his readers to take their time with reading this book (which took the author fifteen years to write). Consider this the first step towards a slower, more enjoyable, more meaningful way of living. As someone who admittedly often rushes to finish a book, and usually at night, eager to cram into the day one more meaningful thing (I do love books), but which usually feels more like a duty than something that relaxes me, brings me joy and lets my imagination run free, I can tell you it’s enlivening to read it slowly (it’s taken me a month to read it, carefully choosing the time of day or week to delve into its pages), to let it all sink in, to enjoy a good read and its many good lessons in finding your own path to living well.
 
The abundance of less Andy Couturier
 

“I’d like to get my life back to just the simple things:
a picture, a plate and a pot, a flute, some vegetables,
cooking a meal, reading a story.”
Koichi Yamashita

 

“The best art is rough, simple, and artless.
The idea is that nature itself is good.”
Akira Ito

 

“If you make too many things,
even if they are good things,
they become garbage.”
Gufu Watanabe

 
photos: 1-by me / 2,3-Andy Couturier, theabundanceofless.com

Posted by classiq in Beauty & Beautiful Living, Books | | 2 Comments

The Beguiled: I’d Take the Original Any Time

The Beguiled 1971 
I watched The Beguiled (1971) the evening before I went to Sofia Coppola’s remake, presented as part of the film festival Les Films de Cannes à Bucarest – already at its 8th edition, the event brings each fall to Bucharest the best films that premiered and won prizes earlier the same year at Cannes, along with previous winners.

I didn’t even want to consider going to see the remake without having viewed the original. Let me be clear. I almost never watch a remake, and if I do, I never watch it before seeing the original version. And I wouldn’t have gone to see Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled at all if she had not won the Palme d’Or for directing. Why did she win the prize, anyway? It’s the question I’ve kept asking myself since I watched it.

But let’s start with Don Siegel’s movie. I was immediately won over by it, not in the least thanks to Clint Eastwood’s role as Union soldier John McBurney, too, which is among his best (and most atypical) roles. It is a dark psychological thriller with an underlying tension that you feel from the very beginning to the very end of the film, and the characters are beautifully built up – the great cast and their performances are largely responsible for the well-rounded characters. Each one of them seems to have something to hide or an ulterior motive, adding to the suspense – McBurney, wounded in a battle during the Civil War, is found by a little girl and brought to the seminary for young ladies in the Confederate South where she lives, and after he is initially kept under watch and locked in the school’s music room, he starts to bond with each of the women in the house.

Siegel’s film is placed entirely at an isolated girls’ school, but the weariness and ruination of the war are depicted through period photographs at the beginning of the movie. And the war permeates the entire film, through the conversations of the characters, as well as through the occasional passings-through of the soldiers. Oh, right, and in the 1971 film, there is also a slave, Hallie (Mae Mercer), with whom McBurney seeks common cause, saying: “You and I ought to be friends. We’re both kind of prisoners here.” Mae Mercer’s moments are very powerful, just as Clint’s. In other words, Don Siegel’s film is realistic, has a story to tell, and a heavy word at that. The over-all effect is startling, beguiling; the film stays with you.

Now, on to Coppola’s version. I would lie if I said I didn’t like anything at all about it. It has beautiful cinematography and great light, but this works both in its favour and against it. Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but it looks more like a fairy tale than like a story taking place during the war. It just doesn’t make sense. I also liked the director’s choice not to use a score almost at all, and, in turn, relying on the natural sounds, which amplifies the feeling of isolation of the characters. But that’s about it I’m afraid.

All performances are below those in the 1971 film. There is no trace of Geraldine Page’s matriarchal vigour in Nicole Kidman; Colin Farrell lacks Eastwood’s malice, duplicity, and, well, yes, charm; Kirsten Dunst fails to transmit the innocent yet impetuous drive of Elizabeth Hartman; and Elle Fanning, unlike Jo Ann Harris, is more of an ethereal being than an expert in flirting. In fact, all dressed in white, Coppola’s girls all seem otherworldly, and when they do dress up for a dinner having the corporal as guest of honour, they truly go over the top with fancy clothes and jewellery. In Don Siegel’s film, the idea of dressing up (in order to capture the soldier’s attention) is merely a little more than a suggestion and resumes only to putting on a brooch to the dresses they wear daily. And, believe me, the impact is much more profound. Siegel’s girls go barefoot, working and digging in the garden alongside Hallie so that they can eat. Coppola’s are neatly dressed at all times and don’t seem to make any effort to provide for their food (there is no sign of the hardships of war), especially that they don’t have a slave either to do that for them. Yes, that’s right, Coppola got rid of that character, one of the most important and thought-provoking elements of the story. There is not much else related to the war either, so why she wanted to do a remake of this particular story when the effect she’s after is clearly far off such theme, I can not understand. In Coppola’s film, character and plot are swallowed up in mood and I am afraid that after the film ends, there is nothing you can take away from it.

photo: movie still from The Beguiled (1971) | Malpaso Company, Universal Pictures

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Cinema’s Most Stylish Tribes

Cinema's most stylish tribes John Huston
 
As the saying goes, style runs in the family. In some cases, talent runs in the family, too. And there are those rare times when talent and style go together. And because here on Classiq we like to talk about films all day, every day, let’s turn our attention to my two favourite tribes in the film world.

I love the idea of cinema royalty. A family of talented directors/writers/actors stretching on at least two generations, who achieved greatness on screen. But I believe it was the real life foundations of those I talk about today that paved the way towards attempting to achieve perfection in their profession. Personal bearing and dressing well are part of that foundation. That said, I am going to mostly resume my writing to their lives and work, and let the images do most of the style talk.
 
John Huston Anjelica Huston on set 

The Hustons

“If there’s one thing I can say about my family, it’s they are genuinely who they are and are unapologetic about that. And they have a kind of ferocious love of life,” said Anjelica Huston in an interview. If you have read her memoir, this is exactly what her storytelling reflects. She shares straightforwardly who she is with a fair lack of awareness that her life growing up wasn’t like almost anyone else’s. She may indeed have had a privileged start in life, but she didn’t take this for granted and had to fight her way up. There was a long and rough journey from an aspiring, insecure actress in her twenties, to the reassuring one that she is now – Watch Me, the name of the second part of Anjelica’s autobiography, is, in fact, a dare: it comes from a story in the book, where somebody tells her that she is never going to do anything with herself. It must have been very satisfying, and rightfully so, for the one often referred to as John Huston’s daughter and Jack Nicholson’s lover at that time, to win the Oscar for best supporting actress for Prizzi’s Honour, the only one of the total number of eight the movie was nominated for, including Nicholson for best actor and John Huston for directing.
 
Anjelica Huston and Wes Anderson 
I’d like to continue to refer to the first part of the Anjelica Huston’s memoir, A Story Lately Told, because her irreverence, unconventional beauty, wit and sensitivity are reflected so well in her writing style. Her storytelling is charming in a quirky kind of way, and comes from a real and honest heart, from someone who has always shown true grit and never dwelled on her problems. And I also think the book is a father-daughter story: whether when describing how the house would come alive whenever John Huston was there or any other mention of their many a time turbulent relationship, those depictions of her father often seem to transcend the rest.
 
John and Walter Huston 1940 

The son of the noted stage and screen actor Walter Huston, whom he directed in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which both father and son won the Academy Award for supporting role and directing/screenwriting, respectively, John Huston remains one of the most intellingent and influential filmmakers in history. His creative output was impressive. He became an expert sportsman after he had spent much of his childhood as an invalid because he suffered from a weak heart. He did not finish high school, but he was a man of true genius. Playwright, stage and screen actor, director of plays on Broadway and an opera at La Scala, autobiographer and political activist who crusaded against McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts in Hollywood, discerning collector of art and connoisseur of literature, food and wine.

But, of course, this eccentric rebel of epic proportions reigned supreme as screenwriter (including for films not directed by him, like High Sierra, Jezebel, The Stranger and The Killers, for which he compressed Hemingway’s story to about 12 minutes and brilliantly used it as the jumping-off point for the invented backstory, told in flashback, and turned by Robert Siodmak into a landmark of film noir) and director (The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen). Huston was a storyteller whose films were always both well conceived and strongly character-driven. Possibly best described as the Ernest Hemingway of directors, John Huston was a man whose “persona, ethos, prose style and virile code had a powerful influence on his life and work” (Jeffrey Meyers in the book John Huston: Courage and Art).

Walter, John and Anjelica are not the only ones in the Huston clan working in film. Tony Huston, Anjelica’s brother, is an actor, writer and assistant director, and Danny, Anjelica’s half-brother, is also an actor, writer and director.
 
Cinema's most stylish tribes the Hustons 
John Huston and Kirk Douglas on the set
 
The Fondas

Henry Fonda remains one of the greatest actors in history, and one of my favourites, and his Tom Joad in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of the great American movie characters. Fonda was one of the most natural actors, with the rare ability to exist on the screen without seeming to try, his silences reaching out to the viewer with the same force as his spoken words – in The Grapes of Wrath it is, in fact, his body language, so disturbingly and unforgettably precise, that seems to have a more arresting impact than his lines. In Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Henry Fonda was “perfect, very natural and as authentic as any man on the street” (the film was inspired from real events and used people involved in the story or unprofessional actors whenever possible), as Truffaut himself says in his book, Hitchcock/Truffaut. But it was also Fonda’s role in Once Upon A Time in the West that I took particular joy in, because he was cast against type. He had never played a villain before. He raised to and surpassed the challenge.
 
Jane Fonda and Henry Fonda by Leonard McCombe 1959 
Jane Fonda Henry Fonda 
Henry and Jane Fonda did not have the best father-daughter relationship, which Jane reportedly often called distant. Somehow, you find it hard to believe when you see how much Jane resembles her father physically. “My father was a loner. He was not a Hollywood insider and he never talked about the business with us, so I never learned or understood that this business is built on relationships,” she was explaining in a Hollywood Reporter interview. She added that the only actor who ever taught her much about life, more than acting, was Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. “Even though I did the movie for my dad, I produced it, who I learned from was Hepburn. I was 45 when I made that movie, and it was she who taught me to be self-conscious. I used to think that was a bad thing, but that means being conscious of the self you project to the public; having a persona, a style, a presence. I had none of that. I didn’t know how to dress! When I went onstage for my father at the Oscars, because he was too sick, I couldn’t believe how I looked and how I was dressed. I never paid attention. Hepburn taught me to pay attention and that style is important.”
 
Jane Fonda on the set of Les Felins 
I believe however that the foundation for style had, maybe unawaringly, already been laid. Not only had Jane already established herself as a talented and authentic actress, opiniated woman and human rights activist, but as a woman of innate elegance, too. In 1978, Jane Fonda came to the Cannes Film Festival to champion Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. She was photographed by the Traverso family, the famous family of photographers who have documented the festival for decades, and whose work was published in the book Cannes Cinema: A visual history of the world’s greatest film festival. The book also captures one of the most apt descriptions of Jane: “Her unequivocal opinions against the war and in favour of the feminist movement were well known. But her appeal lay above all in her elegance and her smile. She had the authenticity of an actress completely in control of her art.”

The defiance that infused Jane’s persona clearly echoed with that of her brother, Peter, after he co-wrote (with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern) and starred in the legendary film Easy Rider., which depicts the role of the self-proclaimed rebel in a conformist society. The younger generation in the Fonda family includes Jane’s son, Troy Garrity, and Peter’s daughter, Bridget Fonda, one of cinema’s it-girl in the 1990s.
 
Henry Fonda The Grapes of Wrath  
Jane Fonda by Bob Willoughby
 
photos: 1-John Huston on the set, 1970s / 2-John and Anjelica Huston on the set of “Sinful Davey”, 1968 / 3-Anjelica Huston and Wes Anderson by Laura Wilson, on the set of “The Royal Tenenbaums / 4-John and Walter Huston on the set of “A Passenger to Bali”, 1940 / 5-John Huston on the set of “The Night of the Iguana”, 1964 / 6-John Huston and Kirk Douglas on the set of “The List of Adrian Messenger”, 1963 / 7,9-Jane and Henry Fonda by Leonard McCombe, 1959 / 8-Jane, Peter and Henry Fonda by Paul Slade, 1963 / 10-Jane Fonda on the set of “Les félins”, 1964 / 11-Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, 1940 / 12-Jane Fonda by Bob Willoughby, on the set of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, 1969 | special credit goes to The Red List, for their extensive, first rate archive of photographs

Posted by classiq in Film, Style | | Leave a comment

Zack Carr: One of Fashion’s Unsung Heroes

Zack Carr book 
Balenciaga and Chanel were his mentors. Among the women who inspired him, which he named “his girls” – including Romy Schneider, Isabella Rossellini, Audrey Hepburn, Tippi Hedren, Vivian Leigh, Jean Seberg, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grace Coddington – he mentioned his “imaginary women”, too. His favourite films were Jules et Jim, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, Cinema Paradiso, Blow Up, Vertigo, The Birds, Rear Window. All of the above are more than reason enough for me to like someone.

For nearly three decades, Zack Carr was the creative director of Calvin Klein. “For many years Zack Carr was inextricable in my mind from Calvin Klein. This gentle, industrious, and brilliantly creative man never searched for the limelight,” said Anna Wintour. He played a big part in the creation of the “Calvin Klein” style and his work there influenced a generation of designers and helped put America on the world fashion map. And he did all that from behind the scenes. As if I needed another reason to like the man.
 
Zack Carr book

Zack Carr book 
The book Zack Carr (by the way, this is one of those books you should not judge by its jacket, which I often do, and rightfully so I may add – I fail to understand the choice of a poor book jacket that hides a great cover, like in this case), authored by his brother, George Carr, with forward by Bruce Weber, sheds some light over the designer’s huge talent, his passion for and his importance in fashion. But, more than that, it is a personal scrapbook, a collection of sketches, personal writings and photographs that tell the story of a genuine artist and bigger than life person. I wish it went deeper into details, because Zack Carr’s life and accomplishments are worth telling, but I guess the author wanted to stay true to the concept of a sketchbook, which Zack considered a true expression of himself.
 

“Fashion, like every profession, has its unsung heroes: men and women who
create, inspire, and generally make the world a better place even if most people
have never heard of them. Zack Carr was one of those heroes. As the ultimate insider,
he had an incredible breadth of knowledge and history, which was reflected in the magnificent drawings he effortlessly produced on a daily basis. His work at Calvin
Klein influenced a generation of designers and helped give American fashion
the importance it now has. And he always conducted himself like the
Southern gentleman he was – with charm, wit, and an amazing generosity.”

Patrick McCarthy

 
Zack Carr book

Zack Carr book 

“I first met Zack in the very early days at Calvin Klein, where he was very much
part of that brilliant new design studio. Calvin and his team did all the clothes for me
for two films. I got to see Zack’s immense talent at work over and over again.
I think that he had a big part in the creation of the look that is “Calvin Klein”
– the elegance, the color sense, the timelessness, the modernity.
But what I think of above all, when I think of my friend Zack, is the quality
of human being he was: tremendously talented, of course, but kind and funny
and decent and humble. He was a shining star in a particular world that
so often produces ego and competitiveness before humanity.”
Ali MacGraw

photos by me from the book Zack Carr

Posted by classiq in Books, Fashion | | Leave a comment

Through the Lens of Nicolee Drake: Rome

Interview with photographer Nicolee Drake 
This past summer I started a series of collaborations with photographers to bring you exclusive stories behind the lens. Titled One Day That Summer, the project was designed to be a celebration of summer, an invitation to discovery, to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it. Given the great response I had from the wonderful photographers I have approached, for which I am very grateful, and having let summer (unwillingly) go in the meanwhile, I am extending the series year-long and will call it Through the Lens of… .

My guest today is photographer Nicolee Drake, a California girl living in Rome, the city that I love the most. The glowing light and the entire feel of Nicolee’s photograph shown above stir up memories from the time I spent in Rome in a way that does not often happen when I view images of the Eternal City, not even my own. It encompasses Rome’s magnificence and history, its intangible and timeless atmosphere, but also its living-in-the-moment attitude and approachable charm – there is no other place where ancient and contemporary work together in such perfect harmony. Therein lies the beauty of Nicolee’s photography: her visual stories go beyond the big picture, and remind us that the soul of a photograph is in the details, in the subtle meanings it is infused with, and in the emotions that go into making it. I talked to Nicolee about the place she has come to call home, the magical light of Rome, and the city’s creative force.
 
 

“I think it’s important to remember
to be in-the-moment sometimes
as not to miss out on the human experience.”

 
 
Why Rome? What inspired you to move to Rome? Would you do it all over again?
It all happened very fast. I bumped into a guy on a street corner and next thing I knew, I was living in Rome. Yes, I would do it all over again, only next time I’d ask for directions.

You are a California girl who has been living in Rome since 2009. Where have you felt most at home? Do you think it’s important to feel that you belong to one particular place?
I’ve considered many places home at one time or another, but I feel most content wherever I’ve planted my roots. I grew up traveling, so I’m comfortable being on the road and finding a sense of home wherever I am at a particular moment. Constant travel and moving around is equal parts exhilarating and disorienting, so I think it’s important to give a place significance. I can’t say that Rome is the one place above all others, but by now, it’s part of my DNA and where I belong. It’s home.

How has Rome influenced you creatively?
Rome is a collage of ancient and contemporary against a cinematic backdrop. Its meandering streets and alleyways lead you from one dramatic scene to another; from ruined fragments in hidden piazzas to the maelstrom of scooter traffic, to scenes of everyday life amid imposing architecture. It has a rhythm in which every element works together in aesthetic harmony to form an exquisite, timeless beauty. It’s hard not to find inspiration here.

If you could capture the essence of Rome in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Rome is unpredictable; it’s where beauty and tradition meet chaos and contradiction.

What led you to photography?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in photography. My first camera was an old Nikkormat FT film camera that I used to carry around with me everywhere, documenting everything. I can vividly picture my first photographs with that camera. I eventually came back to photography when I moved to Rome, using it as a way of exploring and learning about my new city, and I’ve been photographing full-time ever since.

Do you always carry a camera with you?
I always have my iPhone handy, so when I don’t have my camera with me, I still seldom miss a moment.

Take or make a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? Are there times when you simply witness the moment without taking/making any picture?
Make. As the saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.” Sometimes a photograph comes to you, and sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for it. And, yes, I think it’s important to remember to be in-the-moment sometimes as not to miss out on the human experience.

Does Italy have the best light? What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the golden hour?
Italy has beautiful light, but Rome’s light, in particular, is magical. I am especially fond of the light just before sunset, but I also enjoy the gaining light just after sunrise. Golden hour is, of course, ideal, but I don’t think one should be limited to photographing during a particular time of day. I believe that it’s important to be creative with any available light for any given scenario.

What do you never get tired of photographing in Rome?
By now, I’ve covered a lot of Rome, so I try to take new routes to see things from different perspectives. The frenetic pace of life keeps me on my toes anticipating new situations, but I also love visiting quiet familiar places like the bridge at Castel Sant’Angelo at sunset. Its splendor never gets old.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
Antarctica, Siberia, and Lapland. Can I pick all three? It might be worth mentioning that I dislike the cold.
 

Website: Cucina Digitale | Instagram: @cucinadigitale

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