The editors' blog
~ Posted by Jeremy Duns, March 14th 2013
I fell in love with pop music as a teenager in the 1980s. While some of my schoolmates were fans of prog-rock, the Rolling Stones or Prince, my passion was for the likes of Prefab Sprout, The Lilac Time, Frazier Chorus and other obscure-sounding but in fact just-slightly-off-mainstream bands. From the age of 17 on, I shunned most "chart music", which I dismissed as being, in that very 80s phrase, "naff". The likes of a-Ha, Hall and Oates and Simple Minds were too unfashionable for me at that age, and for many years later.read more »
~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, March 14th 2013
Today we launch The Photo Album, a special tablet edition of Intelligent Life, bringing together 75 of the best pictures from our first 25 issues. Most magazines are made up of words and pictures, yet it's strangely rare to find the two treated as equals. The glossies hurl money and energy into the pictures, while the more cerebral titles turn out dense grey pages as if it was still 1955. The newsstand ends up being rather like a bad party, with lots of models drifting around with nothing to say, and a few intellectuals standing in a corner in ill-fitting jackets, arguing with each other. Which makes it less fun for the real guests—the readers.
In 2007 Intelligent Life, under its then editor Edward Carr, came along and broke this mould. From the start, it was both beautiful and thoughtful, with a photo essay in every issue. The cover is always a portrait, for reasons both internal (we make a point of running long-form profiles) and external (our nearest neighbours on the shelves tend to go with impersonal forces and illustrations). The palette is subtle, because so many mainstream covers lean towards the lurid. The background is darkish, because our logo is white. Practical considerations meet creative preferences, and the consequence is a visual style that rings out as clearly as a tone of voice.read more »
~ Posted by Charles Nevin, March 14th 2013
Romance, generally, is not something London does well. Paris, Rome and New York, yes: the boulevards, the ruins, the fountains, the cafés, the autumn leaves: even, for heaven's sake, rude waiters and the steam from the manhole covers. But, London: the river's too wide, the parks uninspired, the weather too grey: where is there in London to weep and linger over, memory pricked? Oh, it has a certain grandeur, and, even sometimes, a rough charm, a brusque wink in the bustle; but where is the love?
Or so it seemed until the recent revelations about one of the announcements at Embankment underground station. In the unfathomable ways of transport authorities, the northbound Northern Line platform at Embankment had become the last place on the entire system where the spoken version of the famous warning—"Mind the Gap"—could be heard. And so it was that the widow of the man who made the recording began to make special journeys to listen to it, and remember; until, inevitably, it was replaced by a digitised announcement, leaving the widow to write and ask for a recording.read more »
~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 12th 2013
You often don't know what's missing in the world until you try and google it. Take paintings. There's a slice of life, it appears, that has simply not been represented by the great artists.
We only discovered this putting the Big Question online. In the current issue we ask "what is the best smell?" There are three illustrations in the magazine: one is a painting of wild roses, one of newly mown hay and one of freshly baked loaves. But since we put each of the six articles from the series online separately, we also needed illustrations for the other three smells: the platform of an Indian railway station, rain and bacon.
The first two weren't hard to find, but the third has proved surprisingly tricky. We searched the picture agencies and the art libraries. We searched "BBC Your Paintings" and Google Images. There are countless still lifes of oranges, apples, and lemons, garlic and onions, lobsters and oysters, pheasants, partridges and pigeons. Chardin painted a rib of beef. Manet painted a ham. Pieter Claesz-—I now know—did a breakfast with ham (getting close).read more »
~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, March 7th 2013read more »
The fact that Manet did not throw in his lot with the Impressionists—he refused to take part in the 1874 show that later became known as the "First Impressionist Exhibition"—has not stopped a constant rumble of debate about whether he was one or not. Having just seen the exhibition "Manet: Portraying Life" at the Royal Academy, I am tempted to conclude for once and for all that he was not, and the reason for that is his use of black paint.
Black was anathema to Impressionists with a capital "I", who believed that light was broken up into colours and achieved greys and dark tones by mixing complementary colours. Manet used black—which is actually the absence of colour—as a colour in its own right. A striking number of Manet's works have large, flat areas of black, which take on an almost abstract quality, like the graphic darkness of women's elaborate hairstyles in the Japanese paintings he admired: Leon's coat, for example, in "Luncheon in the Studio"; the riding habits worn by some of his sitters; the men's frock coats in "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" and (with top hats) in "Music in the Tuileries". The black notes chime through these and a huge number of the other paintings in this show.
His famous portrait of Berthe Morisot (above) is juxtaposed with another powerful one of her in mourning. The backdrop, the brushwork, the sitter's complexion and the emotional impact of these two images are very different. But her clothing is not. Manet's people seemed to wear a lot of black.
~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 6th 2013
Giovanni makes ice-cream, but he doesn't have a sweet tooth. "If I did, I'd eat my business," he says. We're in a little room above his ice-cream shop in Brixton. There's a stove, a sink, lots of bowls and spoons on a draining board, a fridge and, in the corner, an ice-cream machine. To us it's whirring, but to Giovanni it speaks. "The ice-cream says five minutes," he tells us. He can hear it getting thicker inside the machine's drum. When it's done he opens a valve, and golden salted-caramel gelato flops into a deep tray.read more »
I was on a food walk last weekend around Brixton market in south London. Our guide was an ex-chef who lives nearby, buys all his groceries there and knows most of the stall-holders. It was the first sunny day for weeks—bright but freezing—so it was a good day for food with a kick of spice. We started with coffee from Ethiopia, roasted over coals with cinnamon and ginger and served with popcorn. Then we headed to Las Americas, a Colombian butcher where they do delicious things with pork, pig skin and hot salsa. Next up were Ghanaian shops, which sold dried fish and palm-nut oil as well as airline tickets and Nollywood DVDs. At a long table outside a Caribbean café we tucked in to curry-goat roti with scotch-bonnet hot sauce, before cooling our palates again in Giovanni's shop.
He's in his mid-30s, whippet-thin, and his dreadlocks are coming along nicely. Before he opened Laboratoria Artigianale del Buon Gelato—Lab G for short—he'd never made ice-cream. He'd worked in Italian restaurants, and when he needed to find a new job he looked for a gap in the market. Brixton, it turned out, had no gelato. He showed us up a narrow flight of stairs, into a room which now serves as the shop's kitchen. First he melted sugar into caramel on the hob—"It has to burn a little for flavour. Otherwise it just tastes of sugar." Then he added salt (how much he wouldn't say), dropped in a whole pat of butter, which bubbled and spat in the 160-degree caramel, and added his ice-cream base: milk, sugar and a secret mix of stabilisers instead of cream. Less cream means less fat, and less fat means less worry. Finally he pours in egg yolk.
~ Posted by Ian Leslie, March 4th 2013
On Sunday I took part in a performance of Bach's marathon masterwork, the "St Matthew Passion", with the London Concert Choir, at Cadogan Hall in Chelsea.read more »
~ Posted by Jasper Rees, March 1st 2013
It being St David’s Day, let’s sing hymns and arias to Rhossili Bay. This strip of coastline in southwest Wales has finished in the top ten of Trip Advisor’s survey of the world’s 25 best beaches. The same list includes just a single Australian strand. Down Under, where in a word-association game they naturally link sand to sunned, temperatures are rising. A beach, of all things, has kicked up a sandstorm.read more »
~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, February 27th 2013
In the brouhaha stirred up by Hilary Mantel’s "Royal Bodies" talk, controversy focused so intensely on Mantel’s comments about Kate Middleton’s physique ("designed by committee", "perfect plastic smile") that gems were overlooked.
Take, for example, Mantel’s confessions about the violent confusion she's experienced when she has met members of the royal family in the flesh. The first time she saw Prince Charles, at an awards ceremony, she was knocked sideways by his "sublime tailoring", and by the flawless orchestration of the evening. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a pile of stacking chairs. The mundane overwhelmed the magnificent. This was just a charade, she realised, played out on a cardboard stage-set.
Perhaps what Mantel needs to counter her disillusionment is a spell in the royal archives. Earlier this week, Jane Ridley and William Shawcross appeared "in conversation" at the Royal Society of Literature to discuss the writing of royal biography. Ridley, quick-witted and irreverent, presented Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as bullying monsters in "Bertie", her riveting new biography (right) of Edward VII. Shawcross, hand-picked by the Queen as the official biographer of the Queen Mother, is a self-confessed royalist who struggled to find any fault in his subject at all. Very different authors, then. Yet they agreed that the royal archive at Windsor is an enchanted world.
After passing through security checks at the Henry VIII gate, and climbing 89 steps to the Round Tower, researchers are settled at mahogany desks in rooms of understated grandeur, and given one-to-one supervision. A bell rings for coffee at 11am, and simultaneously the guard changes to the stirring music of a military band in the Lower Ward below. Once a week, a man comes to wind the clocks. And once a manuscript is in draft form, archive staff work through it as if with nit-combs, checking every quotation and reference and date.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, February 25th 2013read more »