At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year.
We run these through this holiday period, with today’s first contribution from Illuminations’ partner and MD Linda Zuck. As with most of these offerings, her ten is in no particular order.
1. Stoner by John Williams
A rediscovered neglected classic, an American novel about an unassuming literary scholar first published in 1965 and re-issued in 2006. It’s so beautifully written and profoundly moving and utterly compelling. A work of quiet perfection.
2. The Lowlife by Alexander Baron
Like Stoner, this is another forgotten classic and now Amazon bestseller, written just a couple of years earlier than Stoner in 1963, and set in Hackney. Harryboy Boas is an unapologetic ‘lowlife’ Jewish gambler, an anti-hero with a love of Zola novels, whose nefarious exploits get him, and others, in no end of trouble. A great novel about north east London and its changing communities in the early ’60s, about the British class system, guilt and redemption.
3. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen
Is this the most beautiful art museum in the world? It must come pretty high up the list. Just a short trip from Copenhagen on the shore of the Oresund Sound that separates Denmark from Sweden – yes people, the very same strait that is spanned by THE Bridge – the entrance to the museum is an old house that has been extended as three separate buildings linked by glass corridors. It’s a triumph of Danish moderrnist architecture.
Aside from its impressive permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, and its special exhibitions, there is a landscaped sculpture garden dominated by huge ancient trees and sweeping vistas of the sea (above), not to mention a great cafe.
4. Fiskebar, Copenhagen
Forget Noma (too expensive and too hyped – how can a meal ever be worth that much money?). The best meal I had all year was at Fiskebar in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district. New Nordic cuisine at its best.
Check out my deconstructed apple crumble below. Why doesn’t London have anywhere as good ?
5. Abbey of Sant’Antimo
Rievaulx Abbey in north Yorkshire is one of the greatest of England’s abbey ruins – I can’t think of anywhere more peaceful and atmospheric. The Abbey of Sant’Antimo is not exactly the southern Tuscan equivalent, but its remote setting in a beautiful valley about 10km from Montalcino has allowed it to preserve a sense of beauty and timelessness. It’s hard to imagine how the place has changed since the foundation of the original Benedictine monastery a thousand or so years ago. What’s more, it’s also little visited, despite being one of Italy’s great Romanesque treasures. For even a diehard atheist like myself, spending time here is enough to make you feel spiritually reborn.
6. La Bandita Townhouse, Pienza
As we’re allowed hotels this year, let me say what a pleasure to stay a couple of nights here. A small hotel and restaurantjust past the Cathedral in Pienza, this was formerly a Renaissance palazzo. It was converted only very recently by a New Yorker formerly in the music business and his Italian wife who was born locally.
7. Politics and Prose
We’re allowed hotels, then surely bookshops too? If you’re ever in Washington, this has to be one of the best independent bookshops in the world. Politics and Prose, run by former Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine (she worked for both Bill and Hillary for several years) and her ex-Washington Post journalist husband, this is a landmark institution with a thriving event calendar throughout the year. If nothing else, check out their website to get a sense of what a bookshop can be.
8. Peter Doig/No Foreign Lands exhibition, Scottish National Gallery
Peter Doig’s first major exhibition drew together some twenty major large paintings, along with many smaller pieces, all made over the last 10 years, much of which was spent in Trinidad. Beautiful, enigmatic works and to quote Adrian Searle, there is ‘a pervasive sense of something withheld, a narrative stalled or kept within abeyance, a world suspended and waiting to happen. This is the painting’s invitation.’
9. The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Lush Fellini-esque decadence, a Dolce Vita for the Berlusconi era. Haunting imagery in scenes that will stay with you long afterwards. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino; go here for Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review.
and last but by no means least…
10. Richard II, Royal Shakespeare Company
A highlight of the year without any doubt was seeing the wonderful RSC Richard II production at Stratford and the inaugural RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon screening the following day. What a triumph on every count.