In my own time
I first read Primo Levi's beautifully-crafted novel The Periodic Table as a student in the mid-1980s. A series of short connected stories, named after the elements from the periodic table, it blends fiction and personal memoir, allegory and realism. The central metaphor - the table itself - let Levi distil an autobiography of heart-breaking beauty. The elements become a way of exploring events in his life: capture by Italian fascists (gold), imprisonment in Auschwitz (cerium), unrequited love (phosphorus). A truly beautiful book.
Following the recent death of Joe Morello, virtuoso drummer for The Dave Brubeck Quartet, the unforgettable Take Five seems a fitting choice. I first heard it as a teenager, and was captivated by the haunting opening bars with piano and drums. Its lopsided time signature, 54, was odd then and is still unusual. It seemed effortlessly cool, with Paul Desmond's lilting, plangent saxophone, over the rhythmic pulse of Brubeck's piano (which I spent hours trying to emulate). And then, there is Morello's drumming. Smooth, soft and understated. The piece is still high in my all- time favourites.
I've always been a fan of French cinema, and Diva, directed by Jean- Jacques Beineix, is right up there. Its great narrative involves murder, corrupt gendarmes, an international prostitution racket, and an opera- obsessed, moped-riding postman. The score is tremendous, if bewilderingly eclectic. It features the beautful aria from Catalani's opera La Wally sung by Wilhelmenia Fernandez, and Vladimir Cosma's Satie-inspired Sentimental Walk. Perhaps the main star is Paris itself. Shot in saturated technicolour by Philippe Rousselot, Diva is a beautiful paean to a beautiful city.