The Culture Edit: September Newsletter

The Classiq Journal monthly newsletter goes out every first Sunday of the month, taking you on a culture trip: a first-hand round-up of books, films, music, podcasts, talks and adventure stories. This is September.

“The world reveals itself
to those who travel on foot.”

Werner Herzog

The mountain is my reality check. It makes me present. That fleeting, savour-every-minute-of-it summer is best felt and lived up there. To reach the peak and have an open sight line, so much space, so much freedom, above the Alpine meadows, a visual and mental reset. It does not last long because you have to climb down again. But the memory of that feeling remains and it draws you back again and again, just like the magic of summer.

Maybe it’s because I love nature and the mountain so much that the stories of those who spend their lives freely, not only mountain adventurers, but all those who live in communion with nature, be it the sea, the desert, the great outdoors, the travellers who discover the world on foot, are the ones I find most inspiring and inspirational. And when someone like Tommy Caldwell speaks about other issues, I listen. “In a world of fake news and science denial it’s sometimes hard to know which stories to listen to. So I like to occasionally conduct my own experiments.” Tommy Caldwell sets an example. Each of us can make a difference.

In the last three months I have seen people rushing to go back to their “old”, “normal” life, to bigger, better, more, always more, of everything, in denial of the present, in denial of (maybe long due) change. I have also seen people who have continued to keep their distance as much as they could, maybe even in a different place, maybe even in what seems a different life, and found solace and freedom in it, taking this as an opportunity to change themselves, to grow personally, and professionally, in more meaningful ways. Because the world is changing and so are we. Who do you choose to be?



If you are as stubborn as me to let summer go, consider these recommendations from filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt (I have recently talked to costume designer Vicki Farrell about the making of Reichardt’s western Meek’s Cutoff), Adam McKay and Barry Jenkins an extension of your summer reading list. The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, which I recommended in my March newsletter and then earlier this week wrote about at large in the journal, because it is that good a book, is mentioned twice, and Lillian Ross’ Picture is also among the ones listed. “Beautiful journalism”, is how John Huston described Picture. No stylistic flourishing, no gratuitous metaphors, no speculation or gossip, just clarity and simplicity, a probing insight into filmmaking – you can read my complete book review here.

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. “Like the generation that first dismissed it as just another Hollywood western, we think we know what it is about, but its relentless ambiguity defeats us. We honor its ambition and its artistry. But we have no firm sense of what it means nor how truly great and disturbing it is.” The book is part true story on which the film was based and part making of the movie, and I wish it were more about the film, because the author writes beautifully about it. “But the silent grace notes – the coat, the gentle farewell, Clayton’s noble discretion – were improvised on the set. The result is classic Ford – understated, ambiguous, bathed in silent emotion.”

I wish I had read How to Raise Successful People, by educator and journalist Esther Wojcicki, from the day it was published last year (I would have said from the moment my son was born, but the book came four years after). Not because the book must be taken ad litteram (I am not the biggest fan of parenting books), but because “you’re the one who truly knows what works for your family. You might find, as I did, that the parenting philosophy in your culture isn’t a good fit. Nor is what your pediatrician tells you to do, or what everyone in your neighborhood is doing. You are the foremost expert on your family, which means you know better than any other parenting experts, including me.” It aligns with my own philosophy, speaks from experience yet allows and encourages the reader to make their own judgment (my idea of success, for example, is not part of the general dictum, and, in all honesty, each one is the measure of their own success), to trust and believe in themselves and their children. It’s simply that the author’s way of thinking, and the way she has successfully applied it in her life and profession, makes sense. It makes sense for having independent, healthy, kind children, it makes sense for a better education, society and world, it makes sense for the 21st century.

A travel writer’s dream dinner party: Who makes the cut?

Issimo, the online publication that explores Italian culture, philosophy and taste, writes about the costumes of Piero Tosi for Luchino Visconti’s 1963 epic Il gattopardo: “He was an obsessive perfectionist said to have slept with pieces of fabrics to “listen” to them at night, before deciding which one to choose and how to shape the costume.”

Two of the few newsletters I have a subscription to are Craig Mod’s. Ridgeline is sent out weekly and is about walking and Japan (how about that for out of the box thinking?), and Roden is a monthly letter, a little broader in scope than Ridgeline, and covers writing, photography, books and travel.

The interview
Werner Herzog talks to Peter Gwin about his new documentary, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, his singular friendship with Chatwin, the beauty of traveling on foot (it “forced us to connect to the world”) and why he makes such a good villain on camera. When asked what he thought Bruce Chatwin would have made of this moment in history when travel’s been almost completely curtailed, Herzog answers: “I don’t know. He probably would have welcomed it, because he was against tourism and tourism is destroying so many cultures. I have a dictum: “Tourism is sin and traveling on foot virtue.” He liked it. And now tourism is severely curtailed.” His answer says it all.


What I’ve been watching:
Cutter’s Way (1981): I would call this a forgotten classic. A film of its time, but whose relevance is felt to this very day. Constructed as a thriller but with emphasis on characters, anti-heroes with a damaged psyche living in a damaged American society. Jeff Bridges, John Heard, in a tour-of-force of a performance, probably his best, which just shows what a great but underrated actor he was, but the role that stood out for me was Lisa Eichhorn’s Mo. Luminous, understated, when you watch her on screen you just want to follow her around, to know what happens to her, what she does, what she thinks, her power of connection with the viewer is incredible. You can watch the film on Amazon Prime.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985): the 1980s, New York City, and Madonna (who was emerging as an international pop star when the film was released) as Susan in punk subculture looks in a fine role that fit her like a glove: streetwise, daring, original and subversively feminine. You can watch the film on Amazon Prime.

Toni (1935): Jean Renoir’s film still impresses at this second viewing for me. I went into detail about it in this interview. The film is available in a new, restored edition from The Criterion Collection or you can watch it on the Criterion Channel.

Werner Herzog’s new documentary mentioned above, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, is available online right now and you can see where it’s playing here.

Eight tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island? Guests share the soundtrack of their lives on Desert Island Discs. The intro music alone soothes the soul.

In this episode of Pieces of Me: My Life in Seven Garments, costume designer Arianne Phillips (A Single Man, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), who calls herself a “people’s detective”, tells her story through seven key wardrobe pieces, while talking about honing her creativity on the scene of 1980s downtown New York City, movies and dressing Madonna.

Alec Baldwin talks to Woody Allen on Here’s The Thing (thank you for this one, Alec Baldwin, how I love people who can think by themselves), and if you haven’t tuned in to listen to Roger Deakins’ Team Deakins podcast, please do and enjoy that archive rich in all those great names, from actors and directors to editors and cinematographers.

Edith Bowman is hosting a new podcast and that’s all I needed to know. Play Next delves into the future of music, uncovering pioneering, innovative and groundbreaking new music.

Right now I am making my way through Taylor Jenkins Reed’s transfixing rock novel Daisy Jones & The Six (I will probably write about it in my next newsletter) and because the audiobook (narrated by a full cast, among whom Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer, Robinne Lee) has come with the highest praises to me, I am passing the word forward.


“I have never considered myself a survivalist.
But I have found that one of the most liberating aspects of adventure
climbing is how it disconnects us from the rest of the world.”

Tommy Caldwell


Which iconic person would you ask for a tour of their city? “Salvador Dali in Spain, or Peter Pan for a night tour of London.” I like the questions Le Kasha ask and their guests’ answers take you away.

Apparently I am not the only one who thinks that this was the summer of road trips, and I appreciate those who have taken their responsibility seriously towards themselves, their families and the others, and understood that now it is best to travel locally, inside their country of residence.

Each month I highlight one fashion/lifestyle brand I believe in 100%. This September, it’s Obakki. Made by humans. A purpose-led lifestyle brand connecting you to world-class artisans.

In celebration of George Michael’s 30th anniversary of Freedom! ‘90, Mr. Feelgood co-founder and one of the video’s stars (and the first male supermodel), John Pearson, catches up with Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Tatjana Patitz, the five original supermodels he shared the screen with, as they talk about the making of the video, those great times in modeling and pop culture and their journeys since.
On an end note

Learning from the past: Teaching in the great outdoors to keep kids safe. When tuberculosis plagued the United States and Europe at the turn of the 20th century, health expert S. Adolphus Knopf argued that “open-air schools and as much open-air instruction as possible in kindergarten, school and college should be the rule.” Lacking a vaccine and medicines to treat the disease, health professionals and urbanists focused their energies on reforming personal behavior – social distancing guidelines in diverse social contexts were put into practice – and the environment, crusading for fresh air, sunlight and exercise, demanded reductions in housing density, and called for the construction of playgrounds and parks to serve as the “lungs” of the city. In an age when screen time has eclipsed outdoor play (and I am not talking just about these last six months), we should all crusade for a reconnection with nature.


“Parents and teachers have to know that one word, sentence, or phrase
can build a kid up, can save his life – or shatter his confidence.”

Esther Wojcicki

Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing houses. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore we will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

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