Welcome to Down Time: a new series in which we ask our favourite artists for their cultural recommendations. This can be anything – but music.
Australian singer-songwriter-producer Carla dal Forno makes shadowy, spectral songs that marry together the sounds of post-punk and cold wave. Her dark, drifting sonics have landed her releases on Kiran Sande’s Blackest Ever Black label while her art rock, dream pop and industrial-informed shows on NTS have become must-listens in the Crack Magazine office. In April, she announced her next chapter – launching her very own label, Kallista Records.
We don’t suppose Carla dal Forno has a lot of free time right now, but we decided to interrogate her about how she spends it anyway. Expect pasta making YouTube channels, gardening tips and other unexpected diversions.
Transitby Rachel Cusk
I’ve just finished reading Rachel Cusk’s 2016 novel Transit, the second in a three-part series. It’s about a writer who moves back to London following a major life upheaval and starts to rebuild. I think it’s beautifully written in a style that seems quite distinct to the author. The book doesn’t focus on plot or the narrator’s personal psychology but rather shifts the focus to conversations the writer has with the people she encounters in her daily life. These people include an ex-lover, her builder, a hairdresser and a cousin, and revealed through these conversations are the events that have shaped each character’s life and outlook. The overall effect of the novel seems to demonstrate how we are all shaped by circumstance and the people around us, as well as acknowledging shared human experiences such as loss, loneliness, interdependence and personal strength.
Transit has been described as a work of autofiction as the protagonist of the novel shares a similar background to the writer. Recently I’ve also been reading other writers working in this style including Sheila Heti and Olivia Laing. Also Sally Rooney’s two novels, while not so clearly fitting this category, still felt as though they drew heavily on the lived experience of the writer and I thought they were brilliant.
At the moment I find myself drawn to literature that isn’t reliant so much on plot but rather those that explore deep and complex relationships and interactions. I’ve found it comforting to focus on writing that does away with extraneous fictitious detail in exchange for something that feels more real and relatable.
I discovered Pasta Grannies last year while looking for Italian recipes (I am one-quarter Italian after all) and it quickly became my favourite YouTube channel. It’s hosted by Vicky Bennison, a food writer based between London and central Italy, who travels to the furthest regions of Italy filming ‘pasta grannies’ making all sorts of amazing traditional pasta recipes by hand. The channel has been running for over four years and it posts a new video just about every week, so I’m still making my way through the archive.
The last video I watched demonstrated a traditional recipe from Liguria which uses wood stamps to emboss patterns on discs of pasta. There are more well-known forms of pasta, such as macaroni or tortellini but there are also some very bizarre and ancient recipes, which are very interesting to learn about. Also I am continually impressed by the sometimes 90-year-old-plus Nonnas’ skills with a rolling pin, it’s incredible!
Le BonheurDir. by Agnes Varda
I always meant to catch up on the work of filmmaker Agnes Varda and as is often the case it was her recent passing that prompted me to watch Le Bonheur, one of her early films from 1965.
It didn’t disappoint and throughout the film I felt like I was immersed in an impressionist painting as it was so beautifully shot. The atmosphere of the film is serene and it depicts what brings most people joy: good food, nature, meaningful work, love and sex. However the film also shows what happens when someone chooses to pursue what makes them happy no matter the cost or consequence, and the effect this can have on the people around them.
Varda’s approach treads lightly, not appearing to draw any concrete conclusions or moral judgments on her characters’ behaviour. Her almost naive style of storytelling leaves you to make up your own mind and I enjoyed that about this film. I was left wondering what I was supposed to take away about the themes of infidelity and gender roles that the film lays out, and given the year this was made, the decades that have passed and where we’re at in 2019 it definitely left me thinking.
I was recently offered an allotment garden 10 minutes from where I live in London. I’d signed on to a waiting list a bit over a year ago but was pretty surprised to receive an invite so quickly because, although anyone can sign up for a plot, the turnover usually take years. Perhaps it was some sort of administrative error (but I’m not complaining!)
An allotment is a strange concept coming from Australia where everywhere you live growing up, or even in shitty share houses, has a backyard of some description. But private green space in London is at a premium so I consider myself extremely lucky to have have access to some. Perfect timing too! I’m looking forward to growing tomatoes and zucchini, strawberries and basil. I’ve always loved getting my hands dirty and it’s a welcome break from the cabin fever of being in the studio.
In the past year I’ve also been learning more about gardening in small spaces by watching Charles Dowding’s channel on YouTube. He’s a proponent of the ‘no dig’ method of gardening and I find listening to him speak informative as well as being quite soothing, almost like ASMR.