Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life and style / Elisabeth Moss / I tend to fall in love a little bit too easily

 Elisabeth Moss: 'My work is the love of my life.' Photograph: Richard Saker


Q&A: Elisabeth Moss

'I tend to fall in love a little bit too easily'

Rosanna Greenstreet
Saturday 31 March 2012 00.10 BST

Elisabeth Moss, 29, was born in California and began acting as a child. Between 1999 and 2006, she played Zoey Bartlet in the television drama The West Wing. In 2007, she was cast as Peggy Olson in the first series of Mad Men, a role for which she has since been nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards. In 2008, she made her Broadway debut in Speed-The-Plough, and last year she starred in the West End in The Children's Hour. Mad Men Season 5 airs on Tuesdays on Sky Atlantic.

Elisabeth Moss

When were you happiest? 

Whenever I'm with my mum and brother. We have family dinners every Sunday – it's become quite the tradition.

What is your greatest fear? 

I am lucky enough to have a job I am passionate about, so my greatest fear would be not being able to do that.

What is your earliest memory? 

Going out into the backyard of my home in LA and pretending to build a vegetable garden with sticks and rocks. I must have been five.

Which living person do you most admire? 

This is kind of cheesy, but my mum.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 

I can be a bit quick to anger.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? 

A lack of a sense of humour.

Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought? 


What makes you unhappy? 

Not getting enough sleep.

What is your most unappealing habit? 

One that I can't tell you about.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? 

To a really good girlfriend with whom I lost touch when I was little. I would love to see her again.

What is your favourite smell? 

Jasmine. I grew up in Los Angeles, in the hills, and there was always jasmine growing, so I love the smell.

What is your favourite word? 

It has always been "coconut".

What is your favourite book? 

Anything by Salinger.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? 

Chocolate, sweets, candy, ice-cream.

What or who is the love of your life? 

My work.

Which living person do you most despise, and why? 

I will not say his name.

What has been your biggest disappointment? 

I don't dwell on disappointments.

If you could go back in time, where would you go? 

I love the art deco period – the jewellery, the clothes, the music – so I would go back to some 1930s jazz club in New York City.

How do you relax? 
I am big fan of getting a box set and watching the entire show in two or three weeks. I am watching The Sopranos at the moment.

What is the closest you've come to death? 

When I was little, I was on a lake and got caught underneath a rowing boat. That was pretty scary.

What song would you like played at your funeral? 

Whatever the person who loves me most wants to hear.

Where would you most like to be right now? 

I am filming a Jane Campion mini-series called Top Of The Lake in New Zealand and I am sitting on a balcony in Queenstown, looking out at a stunning lake with mountains surrounding me. So I don't want to be anywhere but here.

Tell us a secret. 

I tend to fall in love a little bit too easily sometimes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alex Preston / Top 10 Literary Believers

Alex Preston
Photo by Lucy Preston

Alex Preston's

top 10 literary believers

From Dostoevsky to Zadie Smith, the novelist picks his favourite portrayals of characters struggling with faith

Oscar and Lucinda
Gillian Armstrong's 1997 film version of Oscar and Lucinda.

Alex Preston was born in 1979. He lives in London with his wife and two children. His first novel, This Bleeding City, was published in 2010. His second, The Revelations, is published this month by Faber and Faber. He also writes reviews for the Observer and the New Statesman and a regular panellist on the BBC Review. He tweets as @ahmpreston.

" Steady, plodding relationships are not the stuff of great literature. As we all know, happiness writes white. Friction, fissures, flaws – love stories take their energy from impediments, they thrive under the heat of conflict. The same goes for belief. Quiet, placid faith fails to stir us. It's the dark night of the soul that we want in our fiction, the adolescent torment of Salinger's Franny or the guilt-ravaged Bendrix coming reluctantly to God in The End of the Affair.
"In previous centuries authors would have presupposed both faith and familiarity with the scriptures in their audience, but now religion has withered in the bright glare of science (at least in Britain), and our churches are increasingly Larkin's 'accoutred frowsty barn[s]'. Yet we still, some of us, feel the God-shaped hole, and courses and cults have sprung up to cater to those looking for meaning disenchanted world.
"I have always been fascinated by the outer reaches of religious experience, by the titanium-plated smiles of the born-again, by the visitations and mass-hysteria of Christian evangelicals. It's not only the secrecy and intrigue of those closed worlds; it's the way their members seem to have found an answer to so many of life's great questions. Frankly I'm envious. So when I read and write about believers, it's partly that I'm trying to find an authentic way into what they've got. So far I've not had much luck. Perhaps this is why it's characters in books who struggle with, rather than revel in, their faith who attract me.
"The four young friends in The Revelations all believe, but their conviction is tested to breaking point by the tragedy that unfolds over the course of a weekend religious retreat. Doubt stalks their every footstep, the charismatic priest who leads them suffers his own crisis of faith; that some of them are still believers at the end of the book is a kind of miracle."

1. Franny in Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

Marcus and Abby Glass, two of the heroes of The Revelations, take their surname from Salinger's precocious family. Franny's breakdown in the second story perfectly captures the headrush of adolescent spirituality (and its resultant comedown). I have always been a little bit in love with her which is, I suppose, creepy, now I'm over 30 and she's still at college.

2. Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alyosha is a novitiate Russian Orthodox monk, Jesus-like, compassionate but totally powerless. He clashes with his brother Ivan, a rationalist and an atheist. Alyosha isn't divorced from the real world, though; he is a realist. As Dostoevsky says: "Faith, in the realist, does not spring from the miracle. But the miracle from faith."

3. Samad Iqbal in White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Literary grandees from Updike to DeLillo tried (and mostly failed) to represent the east/west cultural clash in the post-9/11 years. The most nuanced and sympathetic portrait of the experience of British Muslims comes earlier, in the form of Samad Iqbal, a devout believer attempting to fit his faith to his adopted nation. When tempted by his children's music teacher "he felt a cold thing land on his heart and knew it was the fear of his God". A character funny, touching and tragic in equal measure, through Samad Iqbal we understand the burden of the comfort of faith.

4. Sir William Gull in From Hell by Alan Moore

A high-ranking Freemason who suffers an extraordinary theophanic episode when the god Jahbulon is revealed to him in a vision, Sir William Gull uses the prostitutes he kills in the East End of London to satisfy an ancient religious blood rite. The image of the future in which a vast City skyscraper rears up above the crazed royal physician seems strikingly relevant as we survey the wreckage of the post-crash financial system: Gull's mystical cult seeks to perpetuate male dominance of society. Written at the start of the bubble that just burst, testosterone-fuelled derivatives traders were the offspring of Sir William Gull's gruesome satanic rituals.

5. Herr Naphtha in The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

A Marxist Jesuit practicing a kind of religious fascism, Naphtha is one half of the dialectic duo that will bring Hans Castorp to his Bildung. The dark mirror of Settembrini's rational humanism, for Naphtha piety and cruelty are inseparable. Naphtha struggles with his inability to achieve the "graveyard peace" which he sees on the faces of his fellow believers. His death, like his life, is shockingly uncompromising.

6. Oscar in Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Brought up by a fundamentalist father from the Plymouth Brethren, Oscar sees "God's hand everywhere about", whether in gambling dens, at the racecourse or in the fate that brings him to Lucinda. "Our whole faith is a wager," he tells her. "We bet that there is a God. We bet our life on it."

7. Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix in By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño

A Chilean priest and member of Opus Dei, Lacroix is the narrator of this deathbed novella of religious compromise and hypocrisy. A priest for the ease of lifestyle it offers, Lacroix's real calling is literature. He meets Pablo Neruda and Ernst Jünger, gives lessons in Marxist theory to General Pinochet, and then, in a brutal final scene, realises that Santiago's principal literary salon has been held above a torture chamber. As he slips towards death, a hesitant truth begins to reveal itself …

8. Esti Kuperman in Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Esti is the barren, lesbian wife of an Orthodox Jew, Dovid. Although only a foil (and lover) to the ballsy heroine, Ronit, this frail, silent character carries the heart of the novel with her. Esti is trapped with a paunchy, neurotic husband she doesn't love by her devotion to her religious belief. A book about a world that is at once bafflingly alien and surprisingly familiar.

9. Maurice Bendrix in The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

While his lover Sarah's faith is stronger, Bendrix's tentative, stumbling epiphany brings the novel to its breathtaking end. Greene pits the jealous lover against a jealous God; there will only ever be one winner. Bendrix's lament of "I hate You as though You exist" finally, reluctantly, becomes a prayer: "O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever."

10. Margery Kempe in The Book of Margery Kempe

Kempe's autobiography, dictated to an amanuensis, is the occasionally hilarious record of her attempts to relive Jesus's life. Her visions are full of male genitalia and gore, but they are also surprisingly touching (particularly the scene in which she makes a hot drink for the Virgin Mary to comfort her after the crucifixion). We read of Kempe's meeting with that other great medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich. Julian's Revelation of Divine Love is more spiritual and pious; The Book of Margery Kempe is more fun.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dayna Evans / Response System

Response System
When I was in third grade and had just moved to America from England, I used to sit by this big brick wall every day at lunch and read. I didn't have any friends because all the kids thought my accent was weird, so I took solace in sitting by that wall and reading for an hour. There were many times that kids would come up to me and taunt me with "Say something, let's hear your voice, say something" and that scarred me and made me really shy. Maybe part of the reason I can't remember a lot about what I read or what I favored in books when I was little is because I associate it with a really awful time in my life when I was constantly picked on by American children.
I got over being shy, but I never dropped the habit of reading books. In a way, I think it was the books that helped me not be shy. Original, I know. I saw in them characters who were smart, interesting, weird, and somewhat manic like me, and I knew that I could take charge of my life like they had. It’s probably not surprising that I also wanted to be an actress for several years. “Hey, change yourself. Just pretend.” My experience with reading as a shy, heavily freckled and portly child was the same as when someone sees those Thor movies or The Hulk and immediately gets P90x delivered to their homes. I would read Matilda or The Secret Garden or A Wrinkle In Time and they were my P90X. I didn’t have to be a shy weird girl with a British accent anymore. There were people in this world for me and I could just pretend to be them. And if I couldn’t, there would be a Miss Honey to help me through.
Weirdly enough, I did sort of have a Miss Honey when I was in third grade. I had this teacher named Miss Rose (all third grade teachers had names taken from an Anthropologie catalog) who really took a liking to me because I knew what the word “vicissitudes” meant. I don’t know how I knew it, but it was pretty symbolic that of all words above my age bracket that I could know, it was one that represented an unfortunate change in circumstance, exactly what I saw as my falling out of favor with children my age once I moved from the UK to America. Anyway, Miss Rose tried to give me free therapy when she should have been teaching me cursive, and I shunned her much as I did my real therapist. All I needed to get me by was a dose of truth from an empowered girl character between the pages of a library book. And lucky for me, I’d found my soulmate.
by sandro castelli
Anne Frank and I had a lot in common. We had both been exiled, felt weird, and were highly perceptive while also being dumb and a little too big for our britches. She understood what I was going through, even as far as not knowing about sexuality, which I didn’t formally discover until my sophomore year in college. Her diary was my greatest inspiration to begin writing, and I can’t erase this thought from my mind fast enough, but basically as a child I thought, “Well, if that girl wrote and got famous off of it, so should I.” Yeah, I know. Now you have to deal with it, too.
In England in third grade, you study the Holocaust because the British don’t make allowances for sensitivity. We also would memorialize May Day every year by dressing up in traditional WWII garb, standing on chairs in a line outside of my primary school, and singing “You Are My Sunshine” to the tilt. The British treat their children like miniature adults with fully formed emotional response systems. When we learned about the Holocaust, I started naming my journals. I tried for “Missy” but thought that sounded too similar to “Kitty,” Anne Frank’s diary, so I changed it to “Kat.” I was a genius.
After moving to America and realizing that not only had no one in my age group heard of Anne Frank, they did not know about the Holocaust (I grew up in a very Irish/Italian neighborhood), I was distraught. But also secretly pleased. Anne Frank represented the “vicissitudes” of my cultural collateral. I not only knew big words, I knew big ideas, and my accent could no longer hold me back.
Well, it turns out it could. I continued to be mocked and disliked, especially because I grew boobs and got my period at ten, making me a verifiable leper. In times of trouble, I turned to Anne (who overcame the largest adversity I could imagine) and Mary Lennox inThe Secret Garden, who despite her awful brattiness, actually sort of healed people. I used their successes as not only an example of what my successes should be like, but I think I started to believe that I’d also done those things. Like all horribly insecure and self-aware children, I acted smarter, more together, and more aloof than I really was, but it got me through years of turmoil with the underlings of the American school system. Unfortunately, I still haven’t grown out of it.
Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Delia Hamish / Universal Love

Universal Love
Images by Sophie Calle

It was easier to like people immediately after sex. There was something agreeable about the way they lay there half under the rumpled sheets.
I was softer then, too. Even if I hadn’t been fond of them before, I could have agreed to marry anyone in the five minutes after sleeping with them.
It turned out if you told someone you’d like them more after sleeping with them, they’d often sleep with you just to see if you were bluffing. No one’s called my bluff so far, but I haven’t tried as hard as I might have. There are better places to route your energy, even if I haven’t found all of them yet.
Earlier, when I was young enough to get away with it, my line had been, “I don’t know whether to punch you or kiss you right now,”  although I always went with the latter, mainly because my small stature made the former unwise. Eventually word of this got around and the hint of a threat, which among the boys I favored often seemed to be an aphrodisiac, lost its powers.
Here’s a conversation I had after sex once.
“You looked like you were getting stabbed.”
"But in a good way?"
"Is there a good way to get stabbed?"
“Don’t make it easy for them,” I was told, but resisting the impulse to make it easy was the hard part for me. “Sometimes you know what you want…” I’d counter, but determining what exactly you want can be more difficult than simply aligning your desires with someone else’s.
I don’t mean to imply that isn’t pleasurable in its own way.
by sophie calle
Here’s a different conversation I had after sex once.
“I prefer men who hate all women a little bit to those who love them universally.”
I guess it wasn’t a conversation because he didn’t reply.
Up until a certain point, when they asked something it was never just a question, it was also a request, and the answer always had to be a performance: an audience-targeted rendering of who you were. Performative people enjoy this part, but they can’t bring themselves to move on from it. Non-performative people also enjoy this part, but usually can’t wait to move on from it. For a long time I was deeply mistaken as to which of these types I was.
Someone asked me not to talk about my boyfriend while we were in bed together, which seemed like a fair request. Months later I made the same error with the same person and quickly apologized, although by then I felt that since they now had me in common, it didn’t seem so crazy to mention one to the other, to associate the two out loud as I did in my head. But even the most detached people want to feel, in that one moment, the opposite of who they are, which is the appeal of sex in the first place.
You can lose touch, but you can’t un-know someone. Even if you never speak again, they’re somewhere up there, their faces after, during, before: crinkles around their eyes, a fold above their lip, a pattern of perspiration on their forehead. People sometimes talk about a physical memory that lies deep in your own muscles, your own bones. But what I think of when I hear the phrase is the impressions that remain within you of someone else’s muscles.
Delia Hamish is a writer living in Chicago.
Images by Sophie Calle.
"Titan" - Clockwork (mp3)
"BBBS" - Clockwork (mp3)

Aretha Franklin stops to think / A classic interview from the vaults

Life and soul … Aretha Franklin in 1968.
 Life and soul … Aretha Franklin in 1968. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

Aretha Franklin stops to think – a classic interview from the vaults

The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, turns 70 on Sunday and to celebrate we've raided the archives of Rock's Backpages – the world's leading archive of vintage music journalism – to bring you this interview. It was written by Norman Jopling and first published in Record Mirror on 18 May 1968

Norman Jopling
Tuesday 20 March 2012

Some people are going around saying that Aretha Franklin is the Queen oOf Soul, many people are buying her records, and one person (show compere Johnnie Walker) even said that she was the best coloured girl singer ever to make records.
Now it isn't every girl singer who is fortunate enough to have these things said about her or happen to her, whether you go along with them or not. After chasing around and about the metropolis, I tracked Aretha down to her hotel (in the penthouse suite) and asked her a few questions, some of which she answered in length and detail, others which received a mere smile of reply.
As her voice is her fortune, does she do anything to protect it?

"I do vocalistics, if that's what you mean. I was afraid that when I came to Europe I'd end up with laryngitis for the whole trip, but I've been lucky this time. My voice changes as I change climate – it goes down about two octaves when I come to a climate like this." (Aretha had been not too happy about our weather. In fact, she was welcoming quitting our shores to go back to the USA).

How did she feel when her first record for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man, began to shoot up the US charts, after she had been singing so long without a hit

"To tell the truth, I never expected that song to be a hit. I was surprised. I could see more potential in Respect – in fact, I can say I knew that would be a hit song. Sometimes I can't get a song right in the recording studio, though. We usually work things out beforehand, not like the Memphis studio where they don't plan things like that, but can end up with a master. We usually know what we're going to do. I sing and the musicians kind of fit things around me. Two of my favourite songs incidentally are Rock-a-Bye, which was on Columbia, and Chain of Fools."
Accompanying Aretha was Ted White, her manager and husband. I asked Aretha if it helped to have Ted as a manager.

"Oh yes. I don't have to worry about the business side. As he's my husband I know I can trust him! I just worry about the singing."
Ted explained that, although Aretha had no hits when she was on Columbia, there was no question of Aretha's style being "suppressed" by that label.
"I'd call it more of an exploration by Columbia. They gave Aretha the chance to sing all sorts of things," he said.
"But it was more kind of 'easy listening', as they say in Cashbox [magazine]," said Aretha. "I started off there with more powerful material – very similar to the kind of thing I'm recording now with Atlantic – and went on to slower music. But I can say that my big records and my success have been due to the backing which Atlantic have put behind me. I can say that I wouldn't have had these hit records if it wasn't for Atlantic, and their organisation."
Aretha reads a lot of newspapers, not too many books, and likes mostly simple things and straightforward people. What did she think about British audiences and how do they compare with their US counterparts?
"I thought maybe they'd like me," she smiled. "But I never expected this, truly. It was so wonderful. My American audiences are pretty mixed. I get all sorts of people, old and young. It's nice. I don't record with my band, though – we use Atlantic musicians."
Did Aretha look back much on old times when she wasn't so successful? Did she enjoy them?
"Oh, we had good times right enough. I was in a group, a gospel group with my sisters Erma and Carolyn. Carolyn is with me here as part of my backing group. We split up and went our separate ways, to do different things. My big ambition later on, when I was with Columbia, was to have a big record. Ted and I have written quite a few songs – but the name on the label credits would be 'White' – we write under my married name. I like writing, and don't confine myself to just the words, or just the music. But I don't particularly write songs with myself in mind."
Ted White explained that they had recently founded the Aretha Franklin Foundation, which gave to charity, and this was an activity Aretha had long been interested in. Aretha's father still sings gospel and has recorded over thirty gospel albums for the Chess label. Aretha's favourite female vocalists are Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Clara Ward. And she digs Charles Aznavour – she even wants to cut an album of his songs when she gets the chance.
I asked Aretha that, as she'll undoubtedly be singing in many years time, would she still be doing numbers like Respect and Think (her latest single)?
"No, I shouldn't think so," she laughed. "Music changes, and I'm gonna change right along with it."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mark Brown / The real Mona Lisa?


The real Mona Lisa?

Prado museum finds

Leonardo da Vinci pupil's take

Prado says pupil painted remarkable portrait alongside Leonardo da Vinci, affording insight into how Mona Lisa actually looked

      Mona LisaView larger picture

      A detail of the nearly conserved Leonardo da Vinci pupil's take of the Mona Lisa. The Prado has yet to finish conservation work on the whole painting. Photograph: Museo Nacional del Pradio Click on magnifying glass for full image
                   A contemporaneous copy of the world's most famous painting has been discovered by conservators at the Prado in Madrid, allowing us to see the Mona Lisa as she would probably have looked at the time.
                 In art historical terms, the discovery is remarkable. The Prado painting had long been thought to be one of dozens of surviving replicas of Leonardo's masterpiece, made in the 16th and 17th centuries.
                But, The Art Newspaper reports, recent conservation reveals that the work was in fact painted by a pupil working alongside Leonardo.
                The original painting hangs behind glass and with enormous security at the Louvre, a gallery it is unlikely to ever leave. There is also no prospect of it being cleaned in the forseeable future, meaning crowds view a work that, although undeniably beautiful, has several layers of old, cracked varnish.
      This newly discovered work – found under black overpaint – allows the viewer to see a much fresher version of the captivating young woman, generally acknowledged to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo.
               The Prado said the restoration had been carried out over the past few months in preparation for an exhibition at the Louvre in March.
               Details of the discovery were revealed at a recent Leonardo symposium of experts at the National Gallery in London, which is how the story emerged, a spokeswoman said, adding that there was more conservation work needed and that the painting would not be revealed in its full glory for around three weeks.
              "There is much more to see. The process of conservation is still going on, we have not finished."