Feb 21, 2020
1. Festivals galore in Melbourne.
Autumn down under sees the Aussie cultural capital overflow with things to do. Kicking off the season is Melbourne Fashion Festival (vamff.com.au), from March 4 to 14. Aside from runway shows, there are fashion pop-ups, parties and workshops, the action centered around “the Reb”—the Victorian-era Royal Exhibition Building in the middle of Carlton Gardens. Or rev things up at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix (grandprix.com.au), from March 12 to 15 in Albert Park, with races, EDM parties, and a Robbie Williams concert on the 14th. Next, fatten up for the Antipodean winter at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (melbournefoodandwine.com.au), from March 19 to 29, based out of the 414-year-old Queen Victoria Market, and with restaurant events scattered all over the city. There’s the World’s Longest Lunch; there are chef talks and demos; there are culinary trips through Lebanon, Peru and even the dark side of the moon; and there’s Maximum Chips, a Friday-night party with all-you-can-eat fries(!). To burn those excess calories, enjoy a few belly laughs at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (comedyfestival.com.au), running from March 25 to April 19. The program features scores of local and overseas comedians, plus family and children’s shows and, if you’re brave, an open-mic competition. Or you might want to head outdoors and enjoy Melbourne’s autumn sunshine (or wind and rain, as the case may be), at the 25th annual Melbourne Flower and Garden Show (melbflowershow.com.au), from March 25 to 29. Staged at the Reb, it’s your chance to see fantastical floral displays, sip flowery high teas and take prosecco-infused twilight strolls through the ‘lightscaped’ Carlton Gardens.
— BEK VAN VLIET OWEN
2. Songs from Siberia.
Its name alone conjures up a stern image of exile, but the
vast expanse that is Siberia is also home to countless stories
as yet untold, of people whose voices have to be heard. Using the piano as a key to unlock this region that extends from the Urals to the Pacific, Sophy Roberts’ The Lost Pianos of Siberia (Penguin Random House UK) ventures to far corners of this wild, often-overlooked land. Tracing a musical instrument’s provenance not only reveals intriguing tales of its own history but also uncovers the times we live in and have endured. The book offers innumerable tales of hope, frustration and, perhaps unsurprisingly, anger. As one woman on the Yamal Peninsula in the far north of Siberia tells Roberts, “The only music you will hear in the tundra is the kettle whistling on the fire.”
Tracking a particular instrument might sound a bit mad in one of the least inhabited regions of the world, but each set of 88 keys—some painstakingly built for the grand concert halls of Europe, others merely for the appetites of casual tinklers— uncovers a history of the place and its people that would otherwise be forgotten. One tuner outside of Novosibirsk, who hails from a family of restorers, breaks out in tears at Roberts’ queries. He cannot believe anyone from afar is interested in his life’s work. An interpreter explains, “It’s as if he is sensitive to different vibrations than those which you and I feel.”
Roberts’ ventures across Siberia uncover countless such tales. One woman, an accomplished pianist, who followed her husband into exile and was imprisoned for eight-odd years as a result, underscores this more than anyone. Upon her release, after years of seclusion, the music that had been locked inside her head flowed out when she sought out a music school, and for hours played Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven. Teachers and students stopped to listen; this pianist had survived.
— CHRISTOPHER KUCWAY
3. Thailands most famous market…in Singapore.
It might not be as big—or as hot and hectic—as the original, but Bangkok’s epic Chatuchak Market has branched out to Singapore, bringing with it all manner of street-food, bargain-priced clothing and random ephemera. Through May 3, Chatuchak Night Market Singapore (chatuchak.sg) is in the south carpark of The Grandstand mall with more than 200 stalls, including real “JJ” vendors. Fuel up at King Octopus or Sukhothai Roasted Pork, browse the wares of fashion designers and artisans, then relax with such classic Thai beverages as Chang beer or a Thai milk tea. Access the markets from Sixth Avenue MRT or take a free shuttle from the Botanic Gardens, Clementi or Toa Payoh. The markets are open from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
4. Garden by the Bay.
In San Francisco, the Presidio—a park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—is just the spot to escape the fray. Jason Sheeler finds chic hotels and close encounters with nature.
Last fall, I moved to San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood, but after several months, I was embarrassed to admit that I knew little about the reserve next door. A decommissioned army base, the Presidio is home to eucalyptus groves, foggy beaches, and panoramic views. “Don’t feel bad,” San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins told me. “A lot of locals don’t know what’s going on here. It’s changed so much, even in the last five years.”
Five years ago, Des Jardins opened two restaurants in the reserve, the Arguello (arguellosf.com; mains US$21–$31) and the Commissary (thecommissarysf.com; mains US$28–$40). Along with excellent hotels and cultural institutions—and pristine swatches of nature—her dynamite businesses help make the park one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures.
At the park’s Main Post, a parade ground that once hosted military exercises is now dotted with red lawn chairs. There you’ll find the Inn at the Presidio (presidiolodging.com; doubles from US$310) and its 18-month-old sibling hotel, the Lodge at the Presidio (from US$275), in former barracks with unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Walt Disney Family Museum (waltdisney.org) tells the story of the man behind the mouse, and the Officer’s Club (presidio.gov) exhibition space currently features a poignant show on the
Presidio’s role in the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The Presidio Theatre (presidiotheatre.org), closed for 25 years, now hosts music, film and dance.
In the Southern Wilds, British artist Andy Goldsworthy created four site-specific works, including the 30-meter Spire, made up of 37 slowly decaying cypress trees. It’s also the site of Immigrant Point Overlook, a golf course, and Rob Hill Campground (presidio.gov), San Francisco’s only public camping spot. Nearby is Baker Beach, the city’s best sliver of sand, where on a recent walk, my dog, Franky, and I passed several nude sunbathers (this is San Francisco, after all).
Across Highway 101 is Crissy Field, where athletic types find places for kitesurfing and indoor rock climbing before retiring to Fort Point Beer Co. (fortpointbeer.com) for IPAs. Construction is underway on the Tunnel Tops project, a six-hectare elevated park that will connect Crissy Field to the rest of the Presidio.
After a day of exploring, Franky and I checked in to the Inn. Later that evening, we set out for the parade ground. A coyote emerged from behind a chair and glared at us, his eyes making it clear which of us really belonged there. Then he trotted off toward the Southern Wilds, leaving no tracks.
The Lodge at the Presidio sits at the heart of San Francisco’s seaside park.
5. Chef David Thompson’s southern flavors.
“IT SEDUCED ME, I must tell you,” says David Thompson of Cape Fahn resort in Samui, or rather, the view from the terrace of his new restaurant there, Long Dtai. “It is so mesmerizing, so arresting, that you simply don’t want to leave.” And leave he didn’t. Roughly a year after launching Aaharn in Hong Kong, the Michelin-starred chef has now opened an ocean-front fine diner where the self-prescribed mandate is (very) local southern Thai cuisine. Long dtai is Thai for “going south.”
Thompson is not exaggerating about the view, which washes from the granite shores of the island over the gulf’s moody waters to the far edge of the world. A turquoise-tiled theater kitchen has just been installed on the terrace, so as evening falls and the view fades, the action at the grill takes over. Diners chatting over cocktails watch as each stoke of the coals sends embers flying into the night, then retreat to an intimate, open- walled dining room when the amuse-bouches come out. The marinated mussel skewers that were smoldering over the grill soon appear on our table, tasting of turmeric and smoke.
It’s southern-Thai cuisine, “but it’s even tighter than that,” Thompson says. He’s “rigorous” about provenance, he says, sticking to ingredients and recipes only from Samui and its closest neighboring provinces. The menu is further refined by the day’s market haul, and it’s the job of head chef “Ommo” Yingyod Raktham, formerly of Thompson’s Long Chim in Singapore, to adjust it accordingly. For the most part, you’ll find squid, shrimp, mackerel, lobster, garfish and mussels on your plate, alongside the odd line-caught fish too small for more formal kitchens.
Ommo brings out a dish of smoky bonito relish, kao
kling dai bplah, whose chili blindsides you three bites in.
Like other slow-burners on the table—the sweet braised
squid and the funky salted duck-egg relish—it signifies
Thompson’s commitment to authentic southern spice. To
put out the fire, Ommo presents a lemongrass soup filled
with big chunks of red bream, and suggests nibbling on
lotus stems, which come with a bunch of local greens.
A generous ladling of creamy coconut crab curry also does the trick.
There’s not really any room left for palm-sugar dumplings after mains, but we eat them anyway. Ommo is also insistent about the sago, which is made onsite from the pith of local palms. Its goopy pearls come steeped in fresh-from-the-husk coconut milk.
Never mind the million-dollar view at Long Dtai; it’s a belly full of intense southern flavors—and a few of the bar’s potent signature cocktails—that make words like “seductive,” “arresting” and “mesmerizing” so easily roll off the tongue.