Flashbacks: Zadie Smith on being a hermit, Alan Rickman appreciation, and a nude whalewatch

5 Years Ago
July 18, 2003 | In an interview with Zadie Smith, Camille Dodero asked the author about her anti-social tendencies.

Q: After those periods of isolation [spent writing her books], do you find it hard to relate to people?

A: Yes. If I'm let out to go to a party, say, and I haven't been out for three or four weeks, I don't realize that most people have colleagues and they know how to smooth things over [in conversation]. You don't always have to tell the truth, for instance, about how you're feeling every second of the day.

"When I first finished White Teeth and had to start doing press, I would always say the wrong thing. I didn't know how to be a person with other people. And there's all kinds of linguistic things, tics, to make a conversation smooth and natural, and I really didn't know what I was doing because I never saw anybody.... I think [writing] sometimes has a bad effect on your social skills." Read Full Article

20 Years Ago
July 15, 1988 | While watching Die Hard, Charles Taylor found himself wishing the film’s lead baddie would take the day.
"Whatever appeal Bruce Willis's wiseguy-prole routine once had is gone. What's left is a smug, smart-ass muscle flexer. He also has a gloppy, regular-Joe side; at one point he radios his cop buddy to tell his wife, 'She's the best thing to ever happen to a bum like me.' When the head of the gang (Alan Rickman) tells Willis he's 'just another American who's seen too many movies...a product of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne or Rambo,' the screenwriters don't know how right they are. Rickman performs the nifty feat of upstaging the star throughout the movie, and he does it without trying. Complimenting a victim on his choice of tailor, announcing to the hostages that one of their number has been murdered (as he calmly picks at some grapes), he has a cultured, diffident air that's removed from all the macho histrionics; I even found myself rooting for him. And you've got to love a hood with the temperament of an artist. When a hostage calls him a 'common thief,' he corrects her: 'I'm an exceptional thief.' Rickman shows enough flair to earn that line."

25 Years Ago
July 19, 1983 | Felice J. Freyer covered a “nude whale watch.”

"Among the 100-odd people aboard the Cape Cod Princess, which sailed from Plymouth on June 26, a flawlessly sunny day, were a 44-year-old roofer from South Boston, a 29-year-old engineer from Windsor, Connecticut, and a 40-year-old data processor from Marshfield. There were contingents from greater New York City, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachussetts. The group's age range was from the 20s to the 60s. The individuals defied typecasting; they seemed to have little in common besides a desire to soak up rays, smell the ocean, see some whales romping, and share the company of people who were, well, stripped of all pretension.
"Compared with bathing suits, nudity allows a few more inches of knowledge about the bumps and curves of your fellow humans' physiques. That's not what the naturists say they're interested in, though: they enjoy what you don't know about a naked person. For example, you don't know -- and can't guess-- his occupation, how much money he makes, or his favorite color. You start a conversation with fewer preconceptions and prejudices. 'Everybody's the same here. There's no class distinction,' explained Carolyn Elson, 38, a social worker from Watertown."

30 Years Ago
July 18, 1978 | D.C. Denison profiled two artist colonies — New York’s Yaddo and New Hampshire’s MacDowell -- and found that some artists reacted differently to their surroundings than others.

“ one knows (or, presumably, cares) what the artist does with his or her time in the studio: neither colony demands progress reports or finished projects at the end of a stay, and there is an unwritten rule in both dining halls that the question ‘How is your work going?’ is never asked. Not surprisingly, all this freedom has an effect on the artistic temperament. Some colonists have been know to sit for days in their studio, watching the grass grow. Others start drinking; at MacDowell, one well-known artist had to be dried out every week.

“Even the most industrious artists, in fact, sometimes have trouble adjusting to the colony experience. ‘It was stark at first,’ Bobbie Carrey, a Cambridge photographer who was a Yaddo guest last fall, tells me. ‘I had thought I was a hermit, a recluse — but when I got to Yaddo and confronted the silence, I was surprised by my reaction. The walls were bare and unfamiliar, there was no mail, no phone calls — nothing to bounce off, so to speak. For the first few weeks I spent a lot of time taking self-portraits just to confirm that I was still there...’ ”

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