Soul Cake: A Winter Playlist

”Only Lovers Left Alive”, 2013 | Recorded Picture Company, Pandora Filmproduktion, Snow Wolf Produktion

 
 
Winter-themed, but not necessarily so, and eschewing the traditional Christmas carols and everything that boasts of the holiday cheer and saccharine sentiment. The Classiq Journal December soundtrack is a mix of some great indie, rock, blues and jazz music, some of the songs with an underlayer that is very much in tune with the bittersweet feeling of the end of the year. And because we are also at the end of a decade, I had to refer to one of my favourite films of the 2010s, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, where music plays an even more important role than usually in the filmmaker’s works. If I were to explain my choices, Sting’s words about his album “If on a Winter’s Night…” (one of its songs, Soul Cake, gives the title of this playlist) resonate to me the most – I liked the inspiration behind it so much that I may very well quote it year after year:

Like many people, I have an ambivalent attitude towards the celebration of Christmas. For many, it is a period of intense loneliness and alienation. I intentionally avoided the jolly, almost triumphalist, strain in many of the Christian carols. I make a musical reference to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” only as a dramatic counterpoint to the words in “Soul Cake”, for example. This was a song sung at Halloween by children who go from door to door asking for pennies and “soul cakes” (the latter not originally intended for the living). I was also keen to avoid the domestic cosines of many of the secular songs, recognizing that, for many, winter is a time of darkness and introspection.

[…]

Walking amid the snows of winter, or sitting entranced in a darkened room gazing at the firelight, usually evokes in me a mood of reflection, a mood that can be at times philosophical, at others wildly irrational; I find myself haunted by memories. For winter is the season of ghosts, and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in this season of frosts and in this long hours of darkness. We must treat with them calmly and civilly, before the snows melt and the cycle of the seasons begins once more.”
 
 

 

1. Soul Cake, Sting / 2. Comes Love, Joni Mitchell / 3. Smile, Jimmy Durante / 4. Nutcracker Suite: Sugar Rum Cherry, Duke Ellington / 5. Venus in Furs, The Velvet Underground / 6. Personal Jesus, Johnny Cash / 7. Layla, Derek and the Dominos / 8. Tangled up in Blue, Bob Dylan / 9. Ocean of Night, Editors / 10. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones / 11. My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen / 12. Somebody to Love, Jefferson Airplane / 13. My Way, Frank Sinatra / 14. Going Back Home, Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey / 15. Landslide, Fleetwood Mac / 16. Ode to My Family, The Cranberries / 17. Loveblood, Sundara Karma / 18. The Man Who Sold the World, Nirvana / 19. No Sound but the Wind, Editors

 

Posted by classiq in Sounds & Crafts | | Leave a comment

The Taste Makers: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

1. Photograph: Classiq Journal | 2. Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

On Corso Umberto I, 159, tucked away on a quaint little alley in the heart of the city of Modica, Sicilia, is the place where you will find the best chocolate in the world. The oldest chocolate factory in Sicilia, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, has been producing archetypal chocolate for six generations and for more than 150 years. La Dolceria is still in the same place where its founder, Francesco Bonajuto, opened his small confectionary in 1880. Crafted through an old cold-processing method of cocoa used by the Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico (straight from cacao beans, with no cocoa butter or other additives you’ll typically find in chocolate), the Bonajuto chocolate is made exclusively from cocoa mass and sugar and sometimes a little spice or natural essence, each variety having no more than four ingredients in composition. It is the most singular chocolate taste (not too sweet, but extremely rich), with a unique grainy texture that derives from the fact that the added sugar doesn’t completely melt, because the cocoa is processed at a relatively low temperature. Simply put, this is how chocolate should taste like. And, from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that once you have tasted the Bonajuto chocolate, you can forget everything you thought you knew about chocolate.

Tradition is one of the core values of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And how could it not be? Its place of birth is Sicilia, a place where man’s main purpose in life is preserving the land, their traditions and values, and where many mainland Italians are turning to in search of that almost forgotten back-to-the-land ideal, a place that has all the history of Rome, but also where lots of Arabic and Greek influences remain, a place that brightens your eyes and enlivens your senses, your spirit and your tastes. And Modica, where Bonajuto was established, is one of the most atmospheric and most historically- and culturally-rich cities in Sicilia, a place La Dolceria is committed to giving back to, as one of its most valuable ambassadors around the world. Culture brings knowledge, which brings consciousness and a sense of responsibility.

But Bonajuto has always been defined by another quality: pushing boundaries and looking into the future. It is not important just to know where they come from, but to always have their own vision and evolve tradition. La Dolceria, under the supervision of the present owner, Pierpaolo Ruta, not only constantly innovates and creates new and unique products, but has committed to being a taste maker, not just a chocolate maker. Educating the public on its very distinctive, raw taste has not been the easy way to find the place it deserves among customers and connoisseurs from all over the world, but the fact that, through patience, perseverance and passion, they have succeeded makes their accomplishment all the more special.

To start off December, a month of storytelling, childlike joys, thoughtfulness and giving, I have invited Alessandra Scucces of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto to walk us through the inspiring journey of la più antica fabbrica di cioccolato di Sicilia.
 

The city of Modica, Sicilia | Photograph: Classiq Journal

 
What makes the Bonajuto chocolate exceptional?
It’s long history always focused on local tradition, vision of future goals and the highest quality possible for each product.

Where do you source the cacao beans and what is the secret to the best quality cacao for chocolate?
We source cocoa beans from Perù and Venezuela plantations, also we select cocoa mass coming from West Africa and single origin varieties such as Madagascar, Tanzania etc. We select cocoa that has several certifications not only about chemical properties, but also about workers conditions in cocoa plantations.

You are artisans, you create chocolate. With more than 159 years of activity, Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily and one of the oldest in Italy. Tradition is clearly one of Bonajuto’s cornerstones, but innovation and research are also important. It’s like an evolution of tradition. Is it necessary to learn the rules before you can break them?
Cocoa is a very complex and delicate product with a centuries-old history; knowing its characteristics and fineness is unavoidable to create a good chocolate. Furthermore, our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.

In the 1990s, you launched a revolutionary process of cultural recovery of old Hyblean recipes, and of the cold-processed chocolate, a real gastronomic “fossil” that was doomed to disappear. Can you tell me a little more about it?
In 1992, Franco and Pierpaolo Ruta leaded a great change in the family’s company, as they decided to focus on chocolate and few others products. It really was a hazard and the beginnings were not so easy: people didn’t know anything about this product, nor was the common taste ready for this rough, simple bar. “Internet” and “food” blew up ten years later so it was a patience work of dedication and love for this chocolate, besides the family history, that allowed the Dolceria to create a new life and value for this ancient chocolate.
 

Fattojo, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto’s Bean to Bar laboratory, Modica | Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Corso Umberto I, Modica | 2. Bonajuto single origins chocolate
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 
 
I think you describe so well the taste of the Bonajuto chocolate as rough and simple. And when I first tasted your chocolate, the first thing that came to my mind was: “This is what chocolate should taste like.” How have people learned to appreciate the singular taste of your chocolate?
Communication and storytelling have been key points to “prepare” people for this special taste. We know it’s very different from the commercial chocolate that almost everybody is used to, but our experience also proves that once you try this simple, rough bar, you’ll keep choosing it.

Sicily is well known for the way it values land and tradition. The traditional cold-processing method that has been managed to be preserved to this day in Modica is an example of that. But how challenging is it to resist technology?
Technology is an amazing ally, if used in a proper manner. For instance, the last laboratory we opened is the “Fattojo” where we are able to produce Bean to Bar chocolate: the technological and artisan sides surely go together.

Your chocolate sortiments have very few ingredients, but they are very varied. And I presume your process for selecting ingredients is one that is deeply personal and important. How do you find inspiration for the different flavours?
Sicily is of course a treasure trove of flavours, thanks to its rich gastronomic history and all the different people that have lived here through the centuries. Also, we love to experiment with tasting and spices from different countries and traditions.
 

”Our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material
and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.” Alessandra Scucces
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

 

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto: 159, Corso Umberto I, Modica, Sicilia
bonajuto.it

 

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Photography Is a Feeling: An Interview with Richard Gaston

The Highlands of Scotland | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 
There is a quiet beauty in Richard Gaston’s photographs. They are like a quiet place in themselves. Relieved of any unnecessary detail. What remains is the emotion of the adventure, of the moment, of the element. Isn’t this why we travel? Why we connect with nature? Why we set out in search of places and of the self? Even if I look at hundreds of photos, good or bad, each one of them more staged than the other, the minute I lay my eyes on one of Richard’s photographs, it has the ability to block all the noise of everything else I’ve seen before. Maybe it’s his subject matter of choice, landscape, that focuses your attention on the now and on reality flowing, or the majestic beauty of Scotland, where he often shoots, that commands you to stay still and just be, or his preference for the colder months which naturally invite to reflection, but there is also a man-made quality and the eye of an artist that truly makes them unique.

In the delicate times we are living, when our planet is fast approaching the place of no return in environmental equilibrium, photography plays a contrasting double role. On the one hand, it can contribute to conservation by shedding light on important topics with relevant images. But we don’t think very often at the other side of the medal, that travel photography can also and does lead to increased travel, therefore to an unsustainable impact on our world. Richard Gaston unselfishly acknowledges the photographer’s responsibility and makes it part of the conversation, not necessarily in words, although he does bring it into discussion in our interview, but, most importantly, on a much more subtle level. I sense that he is sparing, in the best possible way, with sharing his visual stories, like each and every one of them are to be part of an exhibition. It is not about the more, but about the better, about making the best of each experience, not checking as many as possible off your list, about how to best capture and transmit a feeling. Because every photograph is unrepeatable and endless.

It is a great pleasure to have Richard Gaston as my guest today, talking about photography and why passion and persistence go together, about appreciating the simpler things, about one of the special hidden places from the wonderlands of Scotland, and about his dream photograph.
 

Bergen | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 
Richard, what does it take to go there, to want to tell a story through your photographs?
Passion and persistence is the key. First of all, passion builds motivation and without passion there wouldn’t be persistence. It’s a long game, but those who power through will come out on top. For me, photography is a feeling. Learn the basics independently and go with what feels right (focus on the subject that one desires) and get out and take photos. You won’t take any good images sitting at home (in relation to landscape photography).

What led you to photography?
A passionate hobby, turned into a profession. A self taught, organic development really; years of fiddling with a camera and spending time in the outdoors achieved a large archive of images. The jobs trickled through and became more and more prominent as I became more experienced. I’ve undertaken internships abroad, assisted photographers and taught myself the skills that were required but, most importantly, focussed on personal projects.

Do you always carry a camera with you?
Not always a DSLR as my subject of choice is landscapes and I live in the city, but I guess nowadays you could say everyone carries a camera, the mobile cameras are so good and do a great job as a backup.
 

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston

 
 


“Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below
to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always.”

 
 
Photography has become ubiquitous. Everyone seems to take and view insane amounts of images every single day. But that does not make everyone a photographer. Which is why I appreciate your photography even more. It is uniquely distinct, it stays with you, it invites to reflection, you sense that it connects the viewer with the world in a very tangible way. Do you see your photography as a much-needed response to social-media generated images?
That’s very kind of you, thank you. I think it’s important to appreciate beautiful places and capture them in a way which isn’t selfish; by that I mean not just a photo of oneself standing in-front of beauty just to show they were there, but instead compliment the landscape with a beautiful image. Personally, I like to focus on the micro, more abstract details of the land.

Are there moments when you simply witness a moment without shooting any picture? Is it true that even photographers keep some of the most special moments they experience to themselves?
I’m often asked a predicament, where I’m on a boat, my camera is below deck and a whale comes to the surface. Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always. I know I would regret not capturing it for myself.

Your project Glas-allt-Shiel documents the landscape of the Balmoral Estate bothy in the Scottish Highlands over the four seasons. You returned to the same location once a season, choosing the same shooting spot. Is it take or make a photograph?
A bit of both really. The majority of my photos are spontaneous and not planned. Just simple moments I have witnessed on my travels. However, I do plan a small amount of my photos. Take “Glas-allt-Shiel”, I planned that series after I had taken the first images in autumn. I thought it would make an interesting project to see the changes in landscape at that one particular place. It was ideal as trees convey the seasonal changes so vividly.
 

Glas-allt-Shiel. Autumn. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Winter. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Spring | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Summer. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

 


“It is important to do this responsibly.”

 
 
Your photography often documents the magnificent Scottish landscape. It’s autumn. What is the most scenic road trip in Scotland?
In autumn, a trip to Glen Torridon is a must. The vast array of trees, stunning lochs backed by grand mountains and deep glens.

Your book, Wild Guide Scotland, is a compendium of hidden places, outdoor adventures, artisanal food and inspiring places from the wonderlands of Scotland. Would you be so kind to share one of those places with us?
Kearvaig bothy (a free and open refuge for anyone to use) is a special hidden gem. Located out in the northwesternmost point of mainland Scotland, in the middle of moorland and ocean front views.

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
Simpler things. Spending time in the outdoors and camping really emphasises the appreciation for the basics: comfort, safety and food. Instead, we get caught up on insignificant issues, for instance, what other people think of one another instead of focusing on their own instincts. However, it’s great to see the current generations awareness for the environment increasing.

In that regard, do you feel, as a photographer, that you have a responsibility not only to reveal, but also to respond to world events and issues?
I think everyone has their part to play in environmental awareness. In regards to photography, the ideal tools exist to document and to share the issues that we are currently facing so they can be used in beneficial ways. This is not necessarily true for every photographer due to their subject matters not being relevant, however I think the downside to travel photography is the encouragement that leads to others venturing out to the same locations which increases the carbon footprint of the world, so it is important to do this responsibly, limiting the use of flying and reducing the use of plastic.

What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the “golden hour”?
Sunrise for me is just that little bit more special; the start of something new and often there alone. However, I would suggest that the golden hour offers a greater window for photography due to the optimal light lasting longer and it’s easier logistically (not having to get up so early, etc.). Summer, for me, is usually a write off and I wait for the darker, colder months.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
Svalbard. To photograph a polar bear on an ice berg is my dream photograph.
 

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston

 


richardgaston.com | Instagram: @richardgaston

 

Posted by classiq in Interviews, Photography | | Leave a comment

In Pieces: Life Lessons from Sally Field


 
Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the talent for it. Sally Field does. Not just that, but she peels off every layer of intimate feelings in doing so, and if with most autobiographies, regardless of how honest they are, you sense that some things remain hidden (and I completely agree with that), Sally Field seems to not hold anything back, and that’s one more reason to admire her and her book for. It’s a courageous act on her part, because she has not had a perfect life. I know, nobody does, but not everyone has the guts to lay it bare, from her lonely and challenging childhood and her on-going loneliness and struggles as a young actress and young mother (and being torn between the two), to the only thing and place that helped her finally find herself, the craft of acting, her lifeline.

I am a voracious reader of memoirs, exactly because, as I’ve said, there is something to learn from every single person. But Sally Field’s words (revelatory, haunting, candid) and life story truly make you dig deep into your own vulnerabilities, your own insecurities, your own mistakes, your own compromises, your own determination to finding your voice, and, most importantly, into your own fight to keep doing what you love and giving your all to do it well and be respected for it – because only that gives you the freedom to be yourself and the force to face your biggest fears and face everything life may throw your way.
 
 

“You can’t dance on the edge, whether emotionally or otherwise;
you had to drown in the character until it was without thought.
No longer acting. That to be excellent at anything,
it must cost you something.”

 
 
I have admired Sally’s acting for years, her naturalness, the way she fiercely yet effortlessly inhabits her roles, from Sybil, (1976), where Sally plays a woman with multiple personality disorder, to Norma Rae (1979) of which she confessed that it called on “skills I didn’t know I owned because I’d never had the opportunity to use them”, to the much-maligned, mentally challenged Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln (2012). And reading her book In Pieces made me aware that that does not come easy. I am not talking about talent, because every single person may have one talent or another but if you don’t work hard towards it, if you don’t foster it, all that talent is in vain. And there’s something else that another great actor I revere, Sissy Spacek, said in her own autobiography that fully applies to Sally as well – “To be an actor, you have to live a life. If you want your work to be real, you have to be a real person yourself.” One might have great achievements, but life comes in pieces, that’s what makes it real.
 
 

”There had been moments in my life when someone believed in me
enough to extend a hand: Madeline Sherwood, Lee Strasberg, and now
these three people. Joanne Woodward, Stewart Stern, and Jackie Babbin.”

 
 
Other stories from the world of film: Lubitsch Can’t Wait, so what are we waiting for? / For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond / Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words

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Film Noir Style: Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Film noir style Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

As the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre,
film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months.

 

Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy came after two other noir couple-on-the-run films, Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) and Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1949). Unlike the other two, that each presents its amour fou couple within a sentimental framework, Gun Crazy is much more ambiguous and anything but sentimental and rejects any romanticism and suggestion that its protagonists, Bart (John Dall) and Laurie (Peggy Cummins), have a constraining society hostile to the individual to blame for their crimes and destiny. In They Live By Night, Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) are an innocent couple in their early twenties. They are poor and they have few options for a better life, but they do hope to attain it in earnest only to find out that their young love is hopeless and that their attempt to escape from a cheap and insensitive reality is doomed. In You Only Live Once, Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is an ex-con about to marry Joan Graham (Sylvia Sidney). They are a decent couple and Eddie is determined to have a better shot at life as an honest man, but is forced back into an illicit life after a frame-up.
 
 

“We go together, Annie. I don’t know why.
Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.”

Bart Tare

 
 
There is nothing forced-upon or innocent about the couple in Gun Crazy. And there is no obvious explanation for Bart and Laurie’s violent behaviour. They left behind any sentimental theme that somehow often managed to permeate even the bleakest of classic American film, film noir, and instead looked towards Arthur Penn’s lethal couple in the neo-noir Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, a movie that would be so much appreciated for its antiestablishment politics, brutal realism and mesmerizing beauty, all in one. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway may form a more scintillating couple, but Laurie and Bart are the most blatantly sexual couple (“I saw the two of you, the way you were looking at each other tonight, like a couple of wild animals. Almost scared me,” says one of the characters, Packett, to which Laurie replies “It should. He’s a MAN.”), pushing the Production Code as far as it would go, and it is Peggy Cummins’ Annie who is not only more aggressive and venomous than Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie, but she is also, decidedly, one of the deadliest femmes fatales. “You can see the quiver in Laurie’s lips; and you know what this demon is about to do. This kid hasn’t got a chance,” the director, Joseph H. Lewis, said about his female character and her influence on her male counterpart.
 
Film noir style Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

”I want some action.
I want to do a little living.”

Annie Laurie Starr

 
Annie Laurie Starr is a sharpshooter in a traveling carnival. Bart Tare has had a love-hate relationship with guns since childhood. “For Bart Tare, the gun’s appeal is metaphysical and beyond rational explanation,” writes Geoff Mayer in the book Film Noir: The Directors. “Holding it makes him feel good. For Annie Laurie Starr, its appeal is direct and literal. The gun offers excitement and power.” Annie seduces Dall to marry her and join her in a life of crime – that seams to be her only reason for living. Laurie is certainly the dominant one in the couple, both emotionally and psychologically, and director Joseph H. Lewis makes that clear in every possible shot. From the opening scene, where she is filmed from a low angle as if exerting an inescapable power of attraction over a Bart that is watching her transfixed as she swirls two firing pistols over her head, to the motel scene, where Laurie, dressed in a bathrobe, sits on the bed putting on her stockings while Bart cleans his gun, and he once again succumbs to her desires and commits to an outlaw life to please her, and even when he becomes morally conflicted, not sure of what is real anymore, and she pulls him right back in (“You’re the only thing that is, Laurie. The rest is a nightmare!”) – she is always in command.

What drives her? Newly married, Laurie and Bart soon run out of money and, bored by ordinary life, she wants “things”. The desire for “money and all the things it will buy” is what motivates her and her addiction to violence. Money drives her, but also the means to get it. She is attracted to the danger of getting it because that’s the only way to get it. And she wants to go side by side with Bart to get it. They choose to be criminals. But what first is purely physical attraction, surprisingly evolves into a more deeply emotional connection, leading to one of the most thrilling scenes in the film. After deciding they must part, they drive off in opposite directions. But after going a short distance, they both simultaneously stop, look back at each other, turn around and rejoin each other, a sign that they will remain together against society, against all odds, and then drive off in one car, Bart behind the wheel, with Laurie clinging to him. Her love for him had only seemed less obvious. This condemns them to an early end, but, once again, there was nothing sentimental about them, from the very beginning.
 

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 

”Why are you wearing slacks?”

 
Peggy Cummins’ Laurie may be one of the definitive femme fatale characters, but her wardrobe is anything but, a far cry from the look of the classic film noir character and looking into the future, once again to Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie.

Faye Dunaway made her character synonymous with the beret, it was what gave Bonnie identity, confidence and sex appeal. But Arthur Penn actually put her in a beret in an homage to Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy. There is no silky gown in Laurie’s wardrobe (costume design by Norma Koch), but her trench-style coat, wrapped around and tightly belted, is all she needs to indispensably place her in film noir. All her clothes, from her plain sweater (a signature item of the 1940s and 1950s) and her trousers (which leads to her being asked “Why are you wearing slacks?”) are more function than glamour, yet another element that enhances the liberation and unconventionality of the character and the realistic feel of the film, proving that Gun Crazy was ahead of its time.
 
Film noir style - Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”, 1950 | United Artists

 
Related content: Film Noir Style: Ava Gardner in The Killers / Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and Her Star Image Making / Film Noir Style: Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice

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