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A Month in 10 Stories: October & November 2015

Emilia Leigh - Monday, November 30, 2015

Illustration by Louise at Amalfi White Living

I have a feeling this is going to be a very autumnal post. A few days ago, I reread my October and November entries from last year, reminding myself, yet again, how much I love everything about autumn. It inspires me to think great thoughts and write great writings and generally feel great about the world, my life and everybody in it. Well... sort of. Actually, none of this happened this year. Or if it did, it was because I had to make myself look up, look around. In September I started a new job, and it’s taking me some time to get used to it. Did I say what the job was? You see, I’m a clinical nurse specialist now, which doesn’t tell you a lot, I know. I work very closely with cancer patients, and I found myself lost in this complex dynamic, which at times could be truly overwhelming.

My only mission statement for 2015 was to pay attention more. Every year, with arrival of autumn, I tend to become a bit more contemplative. Not because I’m trying to do any sort of life audit, but because I want time to slow down. A few months ago, I came across a fascinating article in The New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger (originally published on 25.04.2011). The article discusses the life and work of the American neuroscientist David Eagleman, who believes that “time is this rubbery thing” and “the more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass."

Familiarity not only breeds contempt, but it also obscures the small changes that occur around us, so we end up not noticing them at all. As a consequence, time doesn’t only rush towards us, but away from us, gently brushing our shoulders as it does. You know how we always say the autumn days grow shorter? Well, that’s the fact. But our own personal perception of an autumn day could stretch to luxurious infinity, if we only just looked closer. So, that’s what I’ve been doing, and here are a few things worth noticing.

1. World Ballet Day
October started with the second ever World Ballet Day, streaming live for 23 hours from behind the scenes of five of the biggest companies – The Australian Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada and The San Francisco Ballet. I was surprised that, once again, New York City Ballet has shrugged off the opportunity to participate, but many smaller companies from Europe, New Zealand, even China had a small YouTube spot. I didn’t get to see the live stream until much later in the day, but over the following few weeks I slowly caught up on all the recordings, and there was so much to love and enjoy. Without a doubt, ballet class is a fascinating thing to watch, but two of my favourite moments were these two, very unconventional ballet pieces, short and visceral choreographies, challenging the dancers not only physically but emotionally.

Czárdás performed by the Royal Ballet’s principal Steven McRae, with violinist Vasko Vassilev, the Royal Opera concertmaster and very precious Bulgarian export;


• And below is the English National Ballet's lead principal Erina Takahashi and soloist James Streeter (husband and wife in real life) working on the final pas de deux of Akram Khan's Dust, under the direction of ENB ballet mistress Hua Fang Zhang.


2. Meeting Lisa Eldridge
I sent the email not expecting anything, soon receiving a reply that I’ve been added to the event’s waiting list. And that was all. I even forgot about it until the day of the book signing when a very official, instructional email landed in my Inbox. Lisa Eldridge isn’t a writer; she’s a famous makeup artist, and I’ve been watching her videos for years. When she made the announcement she was writing a book, it made sense: Lisa’s online content has always showcased not only her passion, but her immense knowledge about makeup, about natural beauty, and how the two shouldn't be exclusive. And when I heard her chat candidly about the editing process of her first book Face Paint – The Story of Makeup, I knew I’ve met a kindred spirit (she did confess that the most difficult thing was cutting down the word count). 

The private event was held in Liberty’s dark, wood-panelled Heritage Suite, furnished with a few statement pieces (I fell in love with that incredible teal-blue high back sofa) replicating Lisa’s own living room. On display were also several, very precious, vintage makeup trinkets from Lisa’s own collection. We sipped champagne and chatted about makeup and books and writing, and time flew. Liberty’s team – tall, high-heeled, efficient – ran everything to a very tight schedule, but Lisa was very kind and generous with her time – she made sure to sign every book, thanking each and every one of us personally for coming along.

3. Autumn in the City
Autumn came and my weekends were suddenly packed with stuff to do – work projects, planning for Christmas, travelling. And then, on the last Saturday in October, I decided to spend the whole day out. I remember nearing one of Hyde Park’s gates, just off Bayswater Road, and as I waited at the traffic light to cross, I knew it was going to be one of those perfect days for a walk.

Have you noticed how the autumn light seems to linger low amongst the trees, as if it's been trapped there for the season? How it glides along golden paths and reflects off wet pavements with this cinematic, hazy quality, that no Instagram filter can reproduce? It was a sombre afternoon, and people strolled along the park lanes, pausing to take pictures or to make bouquets of fallen leaves. And as the sun edged to the west, the afternoon grew colder, the shadows deeper, the steps quicker. 

The thing is, I didn’t have a chance to go back to the park the following weekend, or the next, and then it was the middle of November, the trees were bare of leaves, and winter was almost here. Almost.

4. The Booker Prize
I was certain Yanagihara’s A Little Life will scoop the prize, but many people predicted, and quite insightfully, that Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings might overtake it in the final sprint. And they were right. I was fascinated to discover that James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil was rejected about 80 times before it was finally published in 2005 (now that’s inspiring, right) and listening to the author talking about his literary journey, it’s apparent that his third novel’s success is a significant moment not only for James himself, but for the publishing industry as well.

I came across this video of the author in discussion with a small audience in Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington. This is in October 2014, about a year before his Booker Prize achievement. James shares here some great advice about his writing process, citing Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf amongst others as inspiration. I’m still to read A Brief History of Seven Killings, but a good friend recommended the audiobook for the authentic accents (seven different narrators are portraying as many as fifteen characters) and I’m very much looking forward to it.

5. Back to the Future Day
I was a teenager in the 80s, obsessed with Star Wars, Europe and Bon Jovi and acid-washed denim. I don’t remember ever obsessing over hover boards and self-lacing trainers, yet I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that by 21 October 2015 we’ll all be zipping back and forth in flying cars. 

A lot has been written about what Back to the Future Part II got right, almost right, or completely wrong. What’s interesting to me, however, is that a whole generation of scientists and inventors were inspired by the story. Over the years many versions of the future have captivated my imagination, especially as depicted in Total Recall, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix and Interstellar. Smart technology has offered us a world of countless possibilities, and who knows what this same world would look like in 30 years? We might be jetting off to the moon, to Mars, to another galaxy altogether. We might be living in bunkers, on trees, or underwater. No matter what happens, I know we’ll dream up even stranger versions of what it is to come. And right at this moment, there are thousands of people out there doing exactly that. 

6. Floating City Phenomenon
I’ll come back from the future for a moment, as this just caught my attention. A Floating City has been spotted in the sky (and caught on camera) by tens of spectators, first over Jiangxi in China, then over Hastings in the UK, and now in Orange, California. Fata Morgana (the complex optical phenomenon) may well be the simple explanation. Many conspiracy theorists, however, suggest that it was a mass experiment, although these days a mass experiment is hardly the cleverest thing to do. I ended up reading about "Project Blue Bean" and okay, it’s far fetched (I mean – crazy stuff) but then again, look at what the Kardashians and Donald Trump are doing to millions of people. If that’s not a mass experiment, I don’t know what is. 

But what if we really were allowed a glimpse into a parallel universe? What if the Floating City had existed all along but our senses were not evolved enough to perceive it? What if these sightings indicated the location of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge? What if this were Beijin, London or Los Angeles, not just 30 but 300 years in the future? But a social media hoax seems more likely, right? It's safer to believe that. At the end of the day a magic trick is just a trick. Or is it?

7. Staying In When Going Out
So, I take a lot of photos of, er... cups of coffee – I know, I have a problem. But I fear I'm not the only one. The coffeehouse culture has been around for centuries. “Let’s chat over coffee” is such an unassuming thing to say, and we say it to just about everybody: friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, business partners, even our fitness instructors. Yes, the modern coffeehouse is becoming less and less of a place of leisure and more of an extended office. In fact, in 2011 the Viennese coffeehouse culture was officially included in the UNESCO National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage for representing social life at its very best – it’s where life and business really happens.

Coffee reached Europe around the 17th century, and coffeehouses caught on quickly (by 1663 in London alone there were more than 83). Certain chains, however, (Star… cough) have brainwashed us into believing that this is a very American thing. For me, it all started with the TV shows Friends and Frasier. I binge-watched them in my twenties and thirties, and New York’s Central Perk and Seattle’s Café Nervosa became the gold standard. I'm still searching for the perfect coffee spot, so on my days off, you’d definitely find me in café, most likely reading, sometimes writing, always with a cup of a double-shot cappuccino. The following seven cafés are my current favourite.

• Miss Manon Patisserie / Boulangerie, Paris;
• Merci Used Book Café, Paris;
• Shakespeare and Company Café, Paris;
• Nordic Bakery, London;
• Monocle Café, London; 
• Cocomaya, London;
• The Social Café, Sofia.

8. Autumn Treats 
And just a few more things worth mentioning – autumn moods, delectable treats and good times, a famous book, a hidden water lily pond, my dream car.
• First, the many orange accents on my Instagram feed;

• Seeing the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time;
• A quick snack at the Member’s Bar (the salmon was delicious) before catching a film at Picturehouse Central;
• Coming across this unassuming water lily pond on the way to work;

• A stop at Jamie Oliver’s Diner for some of the best burgers in town;
• Curry night @ Cinnamon Soho;
• I wished this cheerful, yellow Mini Cooper was parked outside my flat.
• Catching up with friends @ Wahaca: ordering a tableful of tacos, tostadas, taquitos and quesadillas (which was just about everything off the street food menu). And we still had room for churros dipped in hot chocolate.

9. The Adele Factor
She’s an inspiration, she’s the ambassador for girl power, and she is back! There’s so much to say about Adele. At the same time, I wonder whether everything has already been said: about her famous laugh, about her heart-rending lyrics and sure, about that voice. But Adele’s influence is a lot more profound than that. Here, have a look at this:

So, I’m not going to talk about her Grammys, her Brit Awards or her Oscar. I’m not going to repeat that she’s been called The Artist of our generation. I’ll just mention this. Just before the release of her latest album 25, Adele tweeted a letter to her fans. Nothing ever real is achieved with a selfie. It has to come from an honest place, deep in your heart. It has to come from pain and sorrow, fear and insecurity, anger and frustration, and... from love.

10. The Artist Within
This is what made me smile this month. I hope you’ll enjoy his spirit and artistry just as much as I did.

Coming up next month – yes, the Force is growing stronger.

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Thank you for reading my blog and have a very happy December!

Emilia Leigh
Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink
Madie commented on 18-Feb-2016 08:43 PM
Adele is a star! Saw her live at the X-Factor and was amazing. Where do you watch this show SNL?
Emilia Leigh commented on 18-Feb-2016 10:28 PM
Hi Madie and thank you for your comment. You're so lucky to have seen Adele live, I'm jealous! Yes, she is amazing! I watch SNL online as they don't show it here in the UK. They have a particular brand of humour, perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I find some of their sketches hilarious. Have a great weekend.
Laura from London commented on 20-Feb-2016 07:05 PM
Gosh Emilia, where have you been?
Emilia Leigh commented on 21-Feb-2016 07:34 PM
Hi Laura, hope you're well. Always so nice to see a comment from you. I've had a few technical problems but it's all sorted now. I'm definitely back :-)

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