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Saturday, July 18, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we geek out with Benjamin Critton on modernist homes in popular films; prune our gardens with Felco shears; dig into the culinary culture of Marfa, Texas; groove to a rhythmic playlist from drummer turned architect Michel Rojkind; and catch a whiff of NASA’s new “Eau de Space” perfume.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with chef and fermentation expert David Zilber; futurist, designer, and ethicist Cynnydd Bowles; and activist, artist, M.C., and music educator Toni Blackman.

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See
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Modern World
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Courtesy Ben Critton
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Home is where the heart is—but, on the silver screen, it can be a bit forlorn. In his recently published broadside publication Sad People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films, Los Angeles–based designer and art director Benjamin Critton explores the much-maligned trope of the modernist home in popular culture, with contributing essays from writers Erik Benjamins, Andrew Romano, Adam Štěch, and Mimi Zeiger, that explore the topic with humor, a critical eye, and a winking irreverence. We recently caught up with Critton to chat about Sad People—the long-awaited follow-up to his 2010 edition, Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films—and what filmic mood may strike him next for volume three of the ongoing project.

Between Sad People and Evil People, when did you become interested in examining the recurring trope of modernist homes in film? 

When I put together Evil People, it was before I had ever even visited or developed a relationship with Los Angeles. Toward the end of putting together Evil People, the project didn’t yet have a number. And then I had read this interview with a designer, David Bennet, who used to do this publication called Tannin, and talks about this idea about numbering things—like, if you refer to something as “number one,” you set yourself up to do a “number two,” which keeps you accountable and culpable for making the next one. My research had led me to a lot of places, and I knew there were many instances of films that could fit into either this category, or adjacent categories. At the time, I was in grad school and had no money, so I set an arbitrary cap of ten examples in that first publication, just to sort of make it manageable at that point. Another rule I made for myself was that the houses couldn’t be movie sets, but built structures that had lives lived in them.

You’ve since moved from New York to Los Angeles. How has living in Southern California for several years now changed your reading of these spaces?

Being close to them definitely helps one understand how miscast they are, in a way. It was really interesting being in New York and on the East Coast—I grew up in Connecticut—where you’re sort of implicitly taught about the weariness of L.A., that it’s a place for movies, vice, plastic surgery, various types of crime, of seediness. It’s really twisted, and through that cultural lens it becomes really easy to understand how these homes might be cast as places and containers for that vice. The juxtaposition of a bad person in a modernist house sort of makes sense from that gaze. In movies, they’re often played down or blown up, or made to portray the depths of bad stuff. But when you come out here, you notice how unlikely it is because you start to visit and experience these famous homes, and the effect is so calming and peaceful. They’re so beautifully and elegantly incorporated into the landscape, with a sensitivity to the climate of Southern California, that it becomes so ludicrous that it could come to be associated with some kind of villainy.

What are you watching these days? Are you feeling out any moods for a potential volume three?

I haven’t quite thought about it yet, but think I’ll do one more and maybe have it be a trio. By the time I actually do volume three it might be, like, 2030. [Laughs] But ideally it’ll be sometime next year. I haven’t even started the viewing list for volume three yet. I’m still sort of catching up, because inevitably what happens, in a really happy way, when you put something like this out into the world, is that people will come to you with all these great examples that you weren’t able to include, and you think, Oh no, that would’ve been perfect. But you can’t catch them all—that’s part of the fun in all of this.

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Touch
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Shear Force
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Courtesy Felco
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A skilled gardener or houseplant parent is never without a good pair of quality shears. In addition to removing damaged or overgrown branches, regular pruning, when properly done, can improve a plant’s air circulation, stimulating its natural healing process to promote healthy growth and resistance against disease. The extremely durable, Swiss-made Felco shears have remained virtually unchanged for decades, and for good reason: They get the job done, and are a worthwhile addition to your gardening tool kit, featuring ergonomic, rubber-coated handles that provide grip and ease of movement. We’re also keen on these elegant Japanese gardening tools from the Beijing- and Hangzhou-based Fnji Furniture, made with solid-cast zinc-aluminum alloy that will accrue a pleasing, well-worn patina with use over time.

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Taste
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Marfa Magic
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Photo: Douglas Friedman
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Marfa may be known as a site of pilgrimage for lovers of minimalist art—its expansive desert sky, open landscape, and off-the-beaten path locale, home to Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, continues to attract artists, musicians, and creatives. But for transplants, locals, and longtime residents of the small West Texas city, the isolated and unusual desert community is simply a way of life. “There is a certain vibration, a certain pitch small towns possess, especially this one,” write husband-and-wife duo Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette in their new book, Cooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (Phaidon). The collection of essays and recipes, featuring local ingredients and dishes, from prickly pear to chicharrón, served up at their celebrated restaurant, The Capri, offers a forward-looking take on flavors and tastes from the Texan border—and plenty of poetic musings that are sure to feed both your hunger and your wanderlust for the eccentric town.

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Hear
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Drum Dialogues
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Photo: Nelly N.
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Michel Rojkind, founder of the namesake firm Rojkind Arquitectos, is known as a leading figure of Mexico City’s contemporary architecture scene—all the more impressive considering that design is his second career. A literal rockstar architect, Rojkind was the drummer of the pop-rock band Aleks Syntek y la Gente Normal for much of his twenties, recording four albums and playing live stadium shows across North, South, and Latin America. He credits this formative chapter of his youth to his understanding of the built environment: “It wasn’t until I traveled and toured that I started paying attention to infrastructure, public spaces, streets, buildings, and that started becoming very powerful to me because I started to understand the power of a public plaza or the power of a public space, of an interstitial area where you can only walk and not use the car,” he says. 

Here, Rojkind (whom we recently interviewed on Ep. 45 of At a Distance) shares with us a playlist of songs, drawing from classic rock and jazz to funk and folk, featuring some of his all-time favorite drum parts.


“The Anxious Battle for Sanity,” Antonio Sánchez
“State of Emergence Suite–Movement One: Thesis,” Asher Gamedze
“Crack It Way Open,” Greg Howe, Victor Wooten, Dennis Chambers
“Moby Dick,” Led Zeppelin
“Chameleon,” Herbie Hancock
“Fool in the Rain,” Led Zeppelin
“YYZ,” Rush
“Duet,” Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa
“Doors and Distance,” Antonio Sánchez
“Flite,” The Cinematic Orchestra
“5,” Three Trapped Tigers
“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon
“Some Skunk Funk,” The Brecker Brothers
“Three of a Perfect Pair,” King Crimson
“Fast As You Can,” Fiona Apple
“Rapunzel,” Dave Matthews Band
“Teen Town,” Weather Report
“What Is Hip?” Tower of Power
“Bloodless,” Andrew Bird

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Smell
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Space Craft
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Courtesy Eau de Space Fragrances
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What do gun powder, seared steak, raspberries, and rum have in common? Hint: It’s not what’s for dinner. According to the chemist Steve Pearce, of Omega Ingredients, the makers of a new “Eau de Space” fragrance, the strange cocktail of earthly scents comes particularly close to approximating the otherworldly smell of outer space—and it’s got the NASA chops to prove it. NASA first developed a version of the peculiar aroma decades ago during the Space Race, using the scent as a training simulation tool to prepare astronauts before sending them into orbit. In 2008, NASA contracted Pearce to recreate the scent, based on various accounts from astronauts, to approximate the interior smell of the Mir Space Station, for an exhibition. 

Astronauts have long conveyed their olfactory impressions of space, at turns describing the scent as bitter, smoky, and burned, as well as strangely sulfurous, slightly metallic, and even a bit like burnt cookies. “To me, it’s sort of like brimstone—as if a witch has just been there,” retired astronaut Chris Hadfield told Wired, musing, “Maybe it’s not even coming from space. Maybe it’s just coming from space’s effect on our ship.” A recently launched Kickstarter campaign to bring “Eau de Space” to market, on through Aug. 17, has already raised half a million dollars from backers, and pledges to donate a bottle to a K-12 STEM program for every bottle sold. Until space travel becomes a possibility for us Earth-bound plebs, the strange fragrance, which promises to be “the next best thing to being there,” might just provide the momentary escape we could all use right now. 

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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