It’s a truism that you are what you eat. But, equally, you are what you read, listen to, and watch. Art brings vibrancy to our days and helps shape our moods. The book that you’re reading, the movie tickets that you buy, the playlist that you’re listening to whilst strolling about downtown, none of these are insignificant choices. Like the turning leaves, they bring colour to our days. I think it’s important, then, to mindfully make some choices, to put some thought into curating rather than just stumbling upon what we consume, just as we might carefully plan a meal or a social occasion. In that spirit, here are a few more personal offerings.
In the Bedside Bookshelf: Fer-De-Lance, by Rex Stout
It’s hard for me to think of Autumn without picturing New York city streets and the turning of the leaves in Central Park, even though I’ve only ever visited it in the summer and winter. Written in the 40s and 50s, these detective stories perfectly capture my old fashioned and hopelessly romantic image of the place that used to be called New Amsterdam. This is one of my favourites, but I’ve read them all many times, and could have chosen any of them. They feature the brilliant, reclusive, somewhat snobbish Nero Wolfe. He is a private detective who doesn’t like to work, preferring to stay at home, read books, eat gourmet food prepared by his personal chef, and tend the orchids he grows in a hothouse on the roof of his Manhattan brownstone. He is only ever reluctantly goaded into work by Archie Goodwin, his wisecracking, sarcastic factotum, who handles all the physical aspects of the job. These stories are classics, with smooth writing and sly wit. A bit like what you might expect if P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie joined forces to write a hardboiled detective story. Perfect old chestnuts to cheer the soul whilst the rain is pelting down.
On the Turntable: Studio Trieste, by Chet Baker (1982)
Elegant, lyrical music that is perfectly accompanied by a crackling log fire and a glass of cognac or wine. Backed by a crew of master jazz musicians, the trumpet wizard covers tasteful selections by composers from Tchaikovsky to Miles Davis. His liquid and soulful rendition of the theme from Swan Lake is like a little glimpse of heaven.
On the Screen: Babette’s Feast (1987), dir. by Gabriel Axel
Can we really speak of Autumnal treats without thinking about food? Having worked for several years in the restaurant business, and liking nothing better in my spare time than slicing, dicing, seasoning, and sauteing, I have a special fondness for films about restaurants and food. Big Night, Chocolat, Ratatouille, Eat Drink Man Woman, Dinner Rush, Boiling Point, The Menu, and many others. There have been so many great ones. Two pious, repressed spinster sisters and the Danish village community they live in are awakened to the sensuous delights of food by the enigmatic Babette, a mysterious visitor from France. This film is pure poetry, and an eloquent argument for the transcendence of fleshly pleasures.
So, there you go. With these seasonal choices, I have tried to avoid being too “on the nose,” going instead for a certain elusive mood, sensation, frisson. I know they are idiosyncratic, but for me they are a perfect accompaniment to the season. If you have any personal suggestions along these lines, I dearly love to hear them. Either way, I hope you wrap up warm, and enjoy all the best that the fall has to offer.