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You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

ISSUE 15

NOVEMBER 2022

Dear Reader,

 

 

There’s something understated and thus quietly magical about November. It’s sandwiched between two ‘big’ months — autumnal October and Christmassy December — but still has its own story to tell. And that story is: death. Yep. November hosts three cultural holidays that were either born out of death or look towards death (Day of the Dead, Guy Fawkes Night, and Thanksgiving). While the details of some of these historic dates might be tragic and morbid, this annual nod to death is far from it. In fact, it gives us a moment to reflect (on our ancestors, life and death, the season, the past year, how we’re doing as human beings in this mad world, etc.) and express gratitude before we leap into the next set of festivities.

 

Yours,

Fellow humans

Cover image: Hong Kong, being

Cover quote: Eleanor Brown

G O O D   S T U F F

Read

For a short but powerful read, try Galatea by Madeleine Miller. The American author (known for the fantastic Circe and Song of Achilles) retells the Greek story of Galatea, a sculpture come to life. The story explores what it means to be a woman, a feminist, a wife, and the obsessive focus of someone else. At 62 pages, this brilliant, bold tale can be read in one short sitting, and is perhaps all the better for it. (Also, if you’re a fan of beautiful-looking books, Galatea certainly ticks that box…)

Pick and cook
 

Rosehips are everywhere in the autumn. Once the pink flowers of the rosehip shrub (known as the ‘dog rose’) have died off, red, oval-shaped hips appear. They’re similar in taste to crab apples and packed with vitamin C. They make a great seasonal jam (on their own or paired with any kind of apple). Make sure to completely de-seed them and wash them before eating or cooking, though — the fluffy white seeds inside can irritate the throat (the fluff was once used in itching powder!).

Watch

Modern Love is a two-season TV series on Amazon Prime based on the beloved New York Times column of the same name. Each episode is inspired by one of the column’s published essays. Raw, interesting, light, touching, intense; each episode serves up a bevy of different emotions, but there is a common thread: love. Expect to have a warmed heart and a moved mind (and to see a few familiar faces).

N O T E S   O N

Edward Hopper

 

There’s no specific season in which Edward Hopper’s paintings are meant to be enjoyed, but there’s something about viewing them in the darker, colder months that feels right. The American is hailed as one of the most important realist painters of the twentieth century, favouring oil as his medium and isolated people in desolate places as his muse. His most famous work, Nighthawks, depicts four people sat at a diner counter at night-time, and was particularly revered for the way it captured the contrast between the indoor lights and the darkness outside. Hopper denied that he purposely portrayed emptiness in any of his works but did admit that in Nighthawks ‘unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.’ The work was sold for $3,000 to the Art Institute of Chicago a few months after it was completed in the 1940s and has remained there ever since.

 

Hopper’s most commercially successful paintings show characters deep in thought in empty, everyday places, evoking a sense of solitude and, in the words of the MET’s Jessica Murphy, ‘eerie stillness’. Other notable works of this type include Hotel RoomAutomat, and Gas. His wife, Jo, often posed as a model for his paintings (alongside organising places in which he could paint and trying to forge her own painting career).

 

Hopper also painted American landscapes but is best known for his realist reflections of lonesome people in urban worlds. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many articles sprung up on the Internet declaring that ‘we are all Edward Hopper paintings now’, due to the loneliness and social disconnection many of us experienced.

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A L B U M S   F O R   W H E N E V E R

Album

Volume Two

 

Artist

She & Him

 

Released
2010

 

Standout tracks

“In the Sun

“Lingering Still”

“Im Gonna Make It Better”

 

Volume Two by She & Him (made up of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) has all the makings of a sound you know but have never actually heard. Drawing from old country, folksy rock, and ‘60s pop, the album evokes a sunny nostalgia that you can’t place but enjoy all the same. Deschanel writes and sings, while Ward works away in the background. The songs themselves are quite simple but her rosy, lilting vocals, his guitar playing, and the overall production give them an air of complexity and polish. The lyrics explore charming, smart women and imperfect romantic situations, and the songs range from cheery (“Don’t Look Back”) to languid (“Me and You”). There’s a glistening sweetness throughout this record that’s endearing rather than saccharine, especially in their take on American rock band NRBQ’s “Ridin in My Car”.

 

This offering is a continuation of She & Him’s debut album, Volume One, released in 2007. Volume Two was followed by (you guessed it) Volume Three, released in 2013.

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D I V E   I N

Seasons (Part Two)

 

 

 

 

Following on from our ode to seasons last November (issue 3), here’s another because, well, seasons.

Autumn

 

The autumn equinox happens every September. It’s linked with the Harvest Moon which is observed on the day of whichever full moon (either in September or October) is closest to the equinox that year. Traditionally, on the Sunday closest to the Harvest Moon, people celebrated Harvest Home, a time to bid farewell to the summer, enjoy its rewards, and get ready for the colder months. Scientifically, the autumn equinox refers to the earth’s tilt being side-on to the sun, meaning that for a moment, the hemispheres are ‘balanced’ and day and night are almost equal. The last time it was in this position was in March, on the spring equinox. The exact moment of equinox happens when the sun is directly above the equator. In autumn, it shifts a bit further south (in spring, it moves further north), and people in the northern hemisphere experience slightly longer days than nights until December’s winter solstice.

 

It’s believed that on an equinox, day and night are precisely the same length — a fair assumption given the translation of the word: ‘equal night’ — but that isn’t quite true. There is a day when this occurs; the equilux (‘equal light’) happens a few days after the equinox. The equinox itself would show total equilibrium if our methods of measuring sunrise and sunset were different: we mark sunrise as the moment the first bit of sun appears and sunset as the moment the last bit of the sun vanishes, rather than the moment the centre of the sun, a single point, rises or falls below the horizon.

 
Winter

 

For many of us, winter often brings snow — or at least brings it to mind. In 1911, anthropologist Franz Boas published a study about his time with the Inuit (native to the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland) on Baffin Island, Canada. A particularly poignant observation was the amount of different words the Inuit had for snow (including aput for snow on the ground and piqsirpoq for drifting snow). This finding somehow led to a widespread claim that the Inuit have exactly 50 words for snow, provoking serious worldwide debate. The true number remains uncertain thanks to linguistic technicalities such as polysynthesis (when a base word is connected to many different suffixes and its meaning changes) and the fact that there is more than one Inuit language.

More certain, though, is the number of words Scottish people have for snow — 421. The 2015 study by the University of Glasgow was part of a larger project, the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots, which can be found online. Academics recorded 421 terms falling under different categories including ‘types of snow’, ‘snow & people and animals’, and ‘snow & weather’, and then further subcategories (e.g., ‘snowball/action of throwing snowballs’). The words range from basic definitions (e.g., skelf for a large snowflake) to more complex or colloquial expressions (katty-clean-doors as a child’s name for snow).

 

Moving from number of words to cultural significance of words — in Korean, the word for snow, nun, is also used as the word for ‘eye’. It’s believed that if you’re with someone you have eyes for during the first snow of the year (cheotnun), love will drift into your life.


Spring

 

In Thailand, spring equals Songkran, a festival celebrating the new year. Songkran, which means ‘to move’ in Thai (and derives from the Sanskrit word for ‘astrological passage’, meaning ‘change’), is linked to the nation’s Water Festival, which historically took place on the day when the sun changed its position in the zodiac. Culturally, water signifies spiritual purification; those sprayed with water are cleansed of any bad energy from the past year and bestowed with good luck for the year ahead. While Thailand’s New Year’s Day officially aligned with the western calendar in the ‘40s, Songkran, which occurs in April, is still celebrated as a new year’s festival and a time of renewal.

The festival began when villagers collected water that had been poured over statues of Buddha for the purpose of cleansing and then trickled it over family members as a blessing. Today, traditional celebrations include visiting Buddhist monasteries, spending time with elders, cleaning the home, and collecting and offering sand (a symbol of the dirt that has collected on their feet over the year) to the local monastery. On the livelier end of the spectrum, the occasion also sees thousands of people on the streets having water fights (huge water guns are a common sight), smearing coloured clay on each other’s cheeks (a nod to the act of monks giving their blessing), and dancing to music. Chiang Mai, the largest city in the north of Thailand, often hosts the biggest celebration of the festival, sometimes lasting up to six days (the holiday period itself is five days to account for travel). Conveniently, the aqueous festival occurs in the country’s hottest month.


Summer

 

When it comes to flowering fields, it doesn’t get more theatrical than Irodori Field in Japan. The rolling hill is meticulously spliced into seven columns of colourful flowers creating a striking rainbow effect. The blooms include white baby’s breath, orange California poppies, and lavender, as well as other red, pink, yellow, and blue flowers. Aptly named, the Japanese word irodori means ‘to colour’ or ‘to change a thing’s shape or appearance and make it more beautiful or more interesting’. The flowers bloom throughout July but are best viewed at the end of the month.

 

Irodori Field is just one flower-filled landscape of many at Farm Tomita. Others include Spring Field, Forest Field, and Hilltop Field, each of them planted with different flowers and thus best seen at different times of the year. 

 

Farm Tomita is in Furano, an expanse of gently undulating hills framed by Mount Tokachi and the Sorachi River. Furano lies right in the centre of Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island (and home to some of the healthiest old folks on Earth according to many studies!).
 

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R E A D S   F O R   W H E N E V E R

 

Reward System — Jem Calder

 

There’s something intriguing about the way this fictional offering is structured. Through short stories that feel like chapters — or chapters that feel like short stories? — we meet main character Julia and those around her. Written in first-person, we are privy to Julia’s thoughts as she navigates life as a cook, young woman, and city dweller. Her story is interwoven with chapters from the leading characters in her life, including her ex-boyfriend and her boss (who’s also at one point her lover). The connection between each chapter and person is clever; the timing is just right and the blanks aresubtly filled in. The book’s accessible, spare vibe makes this a satisfying and quietly memorable read.

R O O T S

 

November

 

In the original Roman calendar created by Romulus, Rome’s mythical founder (according to writers of the time), there were only nine months. ‘November’ derives from the Latin novem meaning ‘nine’. Their year began on the spring equinox in March. In 713 BC, some 40 years later, Numa Pompilius, Rome’s second king, made amendments to the calendar including adding January and February.

 

‘November’ made its way into Old French in the 1200s as novembre and then into English as november. In Old English, November was known as blotmonað which translates as ‘blood month’, referring to the Saxon tradition of sacrificing animals in preparation for winter.