Editor’s letter: the places that earth us

Jo Ellison dreams of coastal sanctuaries and the beauty of brutalism

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

Thinking of this week’s Aesthete, I am reminded of the feeling one gets when one talks to the coolest girl in school. Or Beyoncé. As soon as I was made aware of Nadia Rosenthal via my colleague Clara Baldock (who happens to be her niece), I wanted to brag about her brilliance to everyone I know. A scientist who specialises in heart development-related research at the JAX institute in Maine, Nadia is currently working with a global team of experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Montana, Imperial College London and the Crick Institute to find treatment strategies for Covid-19. It’s an effort she describes via a series of questions they are trying to answer as a group: “What are the genetic differences that protect some of us from infection? Which genes are involved? Are our immune systems different? And why do some people get so sick?”  

The Barbican Centre in London
The Barbican Centre in London | Image: Justyna Szymańska

Impressive stuff. Yet, if you thought that working at the forefront of medical advancement would allow Nadia little creative energy to spare, you would be most mistaken. As evidenced by her answers to our questions, her prolific other interests put us mere mortals in the shade: she creates the artwork for her medical publications, plays the accordion on the rocks, lives in and conserves a historical landmark with a romantic social history and, in her former life as a student of George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet, visited none other than Joseph Pilates to fix her “aches and pains”. Reading about her private passions and personal taste in this week’s column unveils a life that becomes richer and more impressive with each incredible response.

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I felt the same aspirational wonder, mixed with envy, while reading about Adam Brown and Tom Konig’s Cornish home. The couple bought their coastal sanctuary shortly after Adam sold his phenomenally successful vacation label Orlebar Brown to Chanel, and the house is now a sun-gilded retreat that looks out over Constantine Bay. Adam’s fondness for the area, however, belies a bittersweet narrative. Separated from his expatriate parents when he was sent from Malaysia to boarding school, he came to know Cornwall via his grandmother, whom he would stay with, first in a caravan and later in a cottage, during his school holidays. “I believe everyone holds a place within them that has a meaning,” he says of Cornwall’s significance. “Here I have an understanding of where I am earthed in the world.” 

Nadia Rosenthal with her accordion, outside her house in Maine
Nadia Rosenthal with her accordion, outside her house in Maine | Image: Greta Rybus

Like Nadia’s connection with Maine or Adam’s to Trevose Headland, I often think of those places in which I, too, have felt so earthed. Sometimes it has been in an area of such spectacular natural beauty – New Mexico, the Peak District, an Icelandic fjord – that I have felt a transcendent happiness just looking at the view. And yet far more prosaic landscapes can also flutter something in the psyche. The Barbican Centre, a vast housing development and arts hub owned by the City of London, and the location for our pre-fall accessory shoot, is somewhere that I always feel the charge of ownership – even though I’ve only ever sat in its theatre spaces, or drunk wine in its bars. Immediately familiar, and yet utterly unique in architectural form, the Barbican is a touchstone for many Londoners, even though for decades its brutalist features were reviled. It’s certainly very grounding, something that must have been identified also by the photographer Kenny Whittle and stylist Brian Conway, who have used the building’s rough-hewn textures and industrial palette to guide them on their shoot. 

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But that’s enough reverie. Let’s talk about ribs, of the type dished up by Ajesh Patalay in his food column this week. As the world has started to embrace some semblance of a social life in earnest, gatherings have swiftly focused on the garden and our outdoor cooking skills. Ajesh has provided the main course. Alice Lascelles, in charge of drinks, is serving up Mint Juleps, perfect for Independence Day and most other summer evening entertainments, while Tim Auld has rung around our favourite chefs to track down the best – and most foolproof – barbecues. I probably won’t have the courage to tackle an entire turbot, à la Clare Smyth, but if you fancy a wood-smoked veggie sausage, you know where to come… 

@jellison22 

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