Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In Other Words...

"For words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the Soul within." – A.T. Tennyson

The old adage "Speak and thou shalt reveal thyself" in our media age is never truer when preconceived ideas about public figures are somewhat modified or completely shattered when they speak their mind.

I was flipping channels Sunday night while waiting for Guillermo to come home from chess; BBC World was airing an interview of Martina Navratilova. I was never a big fan of hers but everyone of my generation knew who she was and had some idea what she stood for.

Ms. Navratilova was asked, in this interview, about the various projects she is now involved in to help underprivileged children in gaining self-confidence, a sense of self-worth through sports, or young girls in rough neighbourhoods to learn self-defence skills to protect themselves from attackers, etc. She came across as someone passionate about her causes and spoke with intelligence and integrity.

She said she was thankful that her success in tennis has given her a platform to contribute to society. One day, she may even consider participating in politics. From her comments on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the devastation it has caused and left behind, she was certainly not afraid to air her views, take a stance, despite the possibility of alienating some of the U.S. population.

The interviewer then asked Ms. Navratilova to comment on the modern phenomenon of sport stars that are ambivalent about what they stand for as individuals. Ms. Navratilova responded by saying these stars are empowered, outside of the sport arena, by numerous sponsorship deals and they would rather be everyone's man/ woman than voice their thoughts and risk offending anyone and harm their bank balance. I must say hats off to her frankness!

I have recently come across articles in which two very different women spoke through print media; the pieces have changed how I perceive them completely.

The first one is about Ms. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, a publication in the Condé Nast stable; more importantly, she is the rain-maker in the fashion industry and the publishing world. Her nick-name is "Nuclear" Wintour; a book written by an ex-summer intern at Vogue and a recent movie "The Devil Wears Prada" are purportedly about her.

Meryl Streep who plays the high-power and immaculately groomed editor in the movie did not hesitate in voicing her low regard for the book deeming it one bitter account of a disgruntled and uninterested employee who couldn't understand the big machinery, of which she was part of, at work.

Ms. Wintour is often written about in the most unflattering light; however, less sensationalised articles reveal someone who is a consummate professional who just wants to get the job done with no fuss or whinging from her staff.

This interview with The Wall Street Journal some years ago certainly fits into the latter group of reporting. She came across as a pro-active professional who has a broader vision of the industry with which hers is intrinsically linked. It is not her fault if she doesn't suffer fools gladly. Besides, this woman has a sense of humour – she wore Prada* to the New York Premiere of the movie.

The second article is about a much younger woman, Reese Witherspoon. I never had much time for Hollywood actresses and Ms. Witherspoon was one of my least favourite. However, her lesser known work perked my interest – Election, a dark comedy about an American high school which is a clever parody of the country at large was respectable work.

Ms. Witherspoon is an intelligent actress who is juggling many roles in real life while staying down to earth. She may not be very interesting but she is a clearly solid being. I like that; however, what made a lasting impression on me was her explanation of why she hasn't used her celebrity status to voice her political beliefs – a popular pursuit of Hollywood inhabitants. She said "Truthfully, my opinion is not more important than anyone else's. I'm just an actor, and if I had some really strong political conviction I'd run for office. We all have the right to have a voice, but it's mixed messages when you're selling movies and politics." Bravo! Humility is a rare commodity; and her clarity of self is admirable.

*The photo today captures the modern architecture of Prada's flagship store on Omotesando in Tokyo. The store is designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss firm behind the transformation of a London power station into the Tate Modern.

Speaking of revealing oneself, this chocolate cake speaks for itself; when you get sick of the budines in this city which tend to resemble tightly packed sawdust, give this recipe a try. It tastes densely of chocolate and is very moist. I leave it plain most of the time, but you can add another dimension with spices or orange zest mixed in the batter.

Very Dense & Moist Chocolate Pound Cake
145g soft butter
145g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum)
145g dark muscovado sugar
100ml boiling water
2 large eggs
30g cocoa powder
145g SR flour

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a medium size loaf tin or a 20cm cake tin.

Melt butter and chocolate. Stir in sugar and water. Sift flour and cocoa together and then stir them into the wet mixture. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix well.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 35min. Cool in the tin for 10min before turning out onto a wire rack.

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