The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, November 20th 2014

    Homer called salt a “divine substance”, but nowadays it’s the culinary bogeyman. Countless studies and stats warn us about eating too much, or eating too little, but there’s no denying that in the right proportion it’s essential for our survival—and it makes food taste great. I recently ate a scallop cooked on a heated Himalayan pink salt block, and it was the best scallop I’d ever tasted. The salt block seasoned and seared it so delicately that the spectrum of flavour slowly revealed itself, from clear light juiciness to deep caramelly crispiness.

    Salt-block cooking is a new trick in the kitchen. The marble-like slabs have a curious beauty, but they’re robust pieces of kit: by firing them up or freezing them down, food can be grilled, cured, cooled, frozen, or just served, all with that subtle, rounded hint of seasoning. Mark Bitterman (above) is an expert on culinary salt—the natural kind, not the fortified white stuff. Founder of The Meadow, a store specialising in salt in Portland, Oregon and New York, he has also written two books on his favourite mineral: the award-winning “Salted” and the recently published “Salt Block Cooking”. I spoke to him about his obsession with salt, and the taste, nutrition and sustainability of salt-block cooking.

    read more » cookingFoodhealthLucy Farmer

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, November 20th 2014

    For each issue of Intelligent Life, we ask a selection of contributors to record their pieces for our digital editions and website. Below you can listen to Rebecca Willis on how touch, sound and smell influence our fashion sense, Ed Smith on whether cricket is better than baseball, Kieron Long on a design that has stood the test of time, Oliver Morton on geoengineering, and Robert Macfarlane on Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".

    read more » audionovember/december 2014Simon Willis

    ~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, November 19th 2014

    Our pick of the best new songs to slip into your pocket. Hear a selection on our player below, or find the playlist on Spotify by searching for IntLifeMag. All songs available on iTunes, unless otherwise stated.

    read more » intelligent tunesMusicTim de Lisle

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 18th 2014

    If you’re a boxer, a gangster, a soldier or a globetrotting super-spy, you must get used to seeing your own profession portrayed in films. Certain types of journalists—crime reporters, gossip columnists—must be accustomed to it, too. But I had never seen a film devoted to a film critic until I saw “Life Itself”, Steve James’s superb documentary about the late Roger Ebert.

    Admittedly, one reason why the film is so whirlingly entertaining is that Ebert wasn’t just a critic. He reviewed several new releases every week for the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years, but he was also a Falstaffian bon viveur who used to prop up the same bar as the author and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel and the rest of Chicago’s newspapermen. He was a motor-mouthed television star, with a long-running, sometimes hilariously fractious onscreen partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel. He wrote a science-fiction novel, a screenplay for Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, and a political blog with a fervent following.

    read more » DocumentaryFilmMemoirmoviesNicholas Barber

    ~ Posted by Matthew Engel, November 14th 2014

    It was nearly 25 years ago, shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and just before the failed state of East Germany officially died of shame. A contact took me to visit a small flat on the far side of the fast-disappearing wall. Someone, I was told, wanted to meet me. It all sounded excitingly cold war-ish.

    read more » BerlinCold WarGermanyMatthew EngelMemoir

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 13th 2014

    Early on in “The Imitation Game”, a new drama about Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park codebreakers, Turing tells his superior officer, Commander Denniston, that he has a plan to outsmart the Germans’ Enigma machine. However, he adds, it’s too technical for a layman to understand. When Denniston (Charles Dance) presses him, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) explains that a person can’t beat Enigma: it will take a machine to defeat the machine. “That doesn’t sound very technical,” bristles Denniston. And he’s quite right. It doesn’t. Despite being a film about a clever, complicated man doing clever, complicated things, “The Imitation Game” is simplified to the point of banality, as if its producers were terrified of confusing the audience for a single moment.

    read more » FilmHISTORYNicholas Barbertechnology

    ~ Posted by Simon Garfield, November 12th 2014

    As an author, there’s always one interview question you can never answer well enough. For me, after writing a book about the history of maps two years ago, the question was always a variation on, “What have you got against Google Maps?” The correct answer was, “Nothing, I use them all the time,” but I tried to offer fuller explanations of the beauty and romance of paper maps, and the ability to find one’s way home when the mobile runs out of charge. I always wished I could show rather than tell.

    read more » BooksCartographygeographyHISTORYmapsSimon Garfield

    ~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, November 10th 2014

    Standing outside a Baroque church in Rome recently, I realised with a shock that I had spent two days in the city without giving a thought to its religious monuments. Instead, my mind had been full of expatriate English poets.

    I’d come for a meeting of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, which cares for the house beside the Spanish Steps where Keats died. It’s now a museum of the younger Romantic poets, and as I approached it I remembered my first visit on an InterRailing trip in my student days. The sight of the plaque to the young English poet—“mente meravigliosa quanto precoce mori in questa casa” (“a mind as fine as it was precocious died in this house”)—had moved me to tears. It can still do so in middle age.

    read more » BooksItalyPoetryrereading

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, November 11th 2014

    It is perhaps the quintessential image of Wall Street. The five shadowy hollows of the J.P. Morgan building stand like solid monoliths. Beneath them scurry tiny, indistinct figures fuzzed to a light blur by motion, their own shadows spooling behind them in a thin smear of humanity—an insubstantial imprint next to the heft of the darkness above them. The photograph is the perfect play of light and shade, of the transient and the solid, of the little man and the giant forces that are lined up to crush him.

    “Wall Street” (1915, above) is just one of many images in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Paul Strand retrospective that depict both Strand's immense ambition and the way he always kept one eye on the little man. Consisting of nearly 250 images arranged in chronological order, the exhibition showcases Strand's restless pursuit of new ways to utilise the camera, not only for artistic aims but for social reform. Born in 1890, he started out in photography by aping the prevailing school of pictorialism, a movement of softly focused images and high artificiality. This changed when, as a student, he visited Alfred Stieglitz’s New York art gallery, 291. Stieglitz, the bewhiskered lodestone of American photography, exposed the young Strand not only to cutting-edge photographers but also to the paintings of the European avant-garde, particularly the cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Strand was besotted and turned photography to the creed, ditching pictorialism’s hazy forms and instead emphasising sharp shapes and geometric patterns.

    read more » AmericaArtExhibitionsgeorge pendlePhotography

    ~ Posted by Andreas Kluth, November 10th 2014

    What a beautiful concept: to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th with a temporary recreation of that wall, in the form of 8,000 lit helium balloons where it once stood. This “light border” went up last Friday, before the Sunday climax of the celebrations. All through the weekend, day and night, it drew Berliners and tourists. Many needed reminding where exactly the hated wall once stood, as it snaked improbably through streets, along the walls of buildings and over bridges. Now the balloons were like a promenade guiding young and old on a memory tour, aided in many places by video footage of the old wall’s horrors.

    read more » Andreas KluthBerlinGermany