Culture: 381 posts

Art, travel, books, history

10 Books on The Art of Science

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time revealed to me how fascinating and beautiful physics can be. Whether he was talking about black holes and explaining that if the universe had a beginning then it was likely to have an end, page after page Hawking was inspiring me to see the world in a new way and to follow him in asking big questions. How does time flow? How did our universe come together? What is matter? What is the spirit? I had by then received a thorough science oriented education, but I had no idea that science could be discussed in such a creative and beguiling manner.

Hawking (January 8, 1942-March 14, 2018) had many achievements in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. One was his famous Hawking radiation discovery. Black holes were long predicted to swallow everything that crossed the surface that surrounded them, event horizons, but Hawking showed that they emit radiation and even glow because of the energy they radiate. It was a revolutionary discovery, because in the process of explaining it Hawking connected two seemingly incompatible domains, that of quantum mechanics and relativity.

Even more important, however, was Hawking’s drive to make scientific subjects, even complex ones like theoretical physics, part of popular culture. He found it a loss that with the increasingly technical nature of science and the overspecialization of academia as a whole, few people, other than specialists could understand it. In his books like A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design or The Universe in a Nutshell he set out to show the general public why science can enchant with its ability to answer complex questions or ponder the mysteries of life.

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The Colorful World of Japanese Kutani Ceramics

The first time I made my own clay pot, I must have been six or seven years old. My mother’s family comes from Poltava, the central region of Ukraine famous for its arts and crafts, and ceramics in the town of Opishnya have a long tradition. My great-grandmother Asya visited the town every summer to select new dishes and pots and she must have taken me along. My memories of that visit are fragmentary, but I recall the softness of the clay, the brilliance of the green glaze, and a slight disappointment that my pot didn’t come out as symmetrical as I thought it should have been. However, that experience made me fascinated with ceramics and the way rough soil can assume the most exquisite of forms.

I rekindled my passion for ceramics while working and traveling in Asia. In Japan, the ceramic arts have a strong reputation and many different styles of pottery and porcelain exist, from the natural-looking Bizen ware to the ornate Imari ware. One could travel from the north of the country to the south and discover ceramics studios in every region, each showcasing a specific style of pottery. During one such trip, I discovered the colorful charm of Kutani ware.

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Perfume Industry, Diversity, and Becoming a Perfumer

I continue the topic of perfume industry professions. I receive many questions and most of them are similar, so I decided to record a follow-up video. This episode addresses questions from people interested to become perfumers but worried about diversity and not being able to fit in. I’ll explain based on my own experiences and offer several practical suggestions.

This topic is certainly vast, but I hope to touch upon a few key issues. The main idea I would like to reinforce is that the fragrance industry is open to anyone who is passionate, curious, and motivated. I don’t come from a perfumery background. I don’t even come from a country where perfumery is a viable profession. I had no connections to the industry. Yet, I managed to enter it, learn, and create my own niche in it.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. I also recommend taking a look at Things to Consider if You Want to Become a Perfumer.

Anton Chekhov’s Gooseberries: On Happiness

Anton Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” tells a story–two friends, Ivan and Bourkin, shelter from the rain at another friend’s house. They take a swim in a pond and then Ivan tells about his brother, a civil servant, who had a dream of owning a house and a gooseberry patch. This idea so possessed him that he married a wealthy widow, starved his wife to death trying to save money, and finally bought an estate. When Ivan visited his brother in his new home, he found him not the meek civil servant that he once was but a pompous man who oppressed his peasants and took offense over not being saluted properly. A plate of gooseberries harvested from his patch was brought in during dinner. Though they were hard and sour, Ivan’s brother ate them with relish, delighting in every bite.

As Ivan tells the story, he turns to his friends and makes the speech that forms the climax of “Gooseberries.” He says that happiness doesn’t exist, that it shouldn’t exist. He urges his friends, younger men, to do good. “Obviously the happy man is at ease only because the unhappy ones bear their burdens in silence, and if there were not this silence, happiness would be impossible,” Ivan says in agitation. “Behind the door of every contented, happy man there ought to be someone standing with a little hammer and continually reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show him its claws, and trouble will come to him — illness, poverty, losses, and then no one will see or hear him, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.”

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Corsican Eucalyptus and the Scent of the Maquis

A few years ago I met a woman who talked about her fiendishly complex emigration from Russia to Israel in the ’80s and how instead of Jerusalem she ended up living for a year in Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica. I asked what Corsica was like, my own mental image comprised mostly of Napoleon, the French Foreign Legion, and Laetitia Casta. She reflected for a moment and then said that it smelled heavenly. She meant the smell of the maquis. Since then I’ve been obsessed with the maquis, or as it’s known in Corsican, machja.

In Corsica, the maquis is ever-present–this wild scrubland vegetation covers nearly 20% of the island. Even when you don’t see it, it fleets before you in bits of folklore and stories. For instance, the guerilla fighters of the French Resistance in World War II were called maquisards, from the maquis (pronounced in French as ​[maˈki]) that reach up to 10 feet and make for an ideal hiding place. The maquis provides food, medicine, and lore. The scrubland starts at the sea coast–le maquis bas, climbs higher–le maquis moyen, and clings to the mountains–le maquis haut. These low, middle, and high maquis are woven of more than 2,500 varieties of wild plants, and their aromas build up slowly like a pyramid of a perfectly constructed perfume.

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