Leisurely reads. Quirky tips. Meet your weekend BFF with the lowdown on the coolest art, culture, food, travel, TV shows, music and more.
Sep 18, 2021
Recently, I went for a walk along the lake that frames the southern edge of Kolkata, my hometown in India. Guarded by gnarly old trees with plaques displaying their scientific names, its calm is only interrupted by the odd waterfowl or canoer. I came back coursing with good energy, wondering why I don’t do this more often. That’s when it hit me: Quality time with nature may be easier to come by than we tell ourselves — even in big cities. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate escapade. You can start with a walk in the park, a cloud-watching sesh from your balcony or that meditative nature playlist on Spotify you dismissed as too new age. Today’s Weekender takes you through some bucket-list topographies, enthralling nature documentaries worthy of your Sunday afternoon and inspired organic decor you can bring into your home right now! Reach out to nature and be rewarded in return.
With all due respect to the Bolivian salt flats and Machu Picchus of the world, there are less-Instagrammed landscapes that are equally breathtaking and come without the crowds. One of them, Plitvice Lakes National Park, occupies pride of place in Croatia’s Adriatic hinterland. The wilderness area is a study in turquoise, with a system of 16 lakes interwoven by countless waterfalls across almost 74,000 acres. Gin-clear water, natural dams, tangled forests, dolomite reliefs, limestone canyons, lagoons and underground watercourses — the UNESCO World Heritage Site was created by millennia-old geological processes that continue today. Long wooden footbridges frame parts of this tapestry, the kaleidoscope also colored by rainbows of butterflies that flutter into view as if by magic.
2 - Terraced Rice Fields, Northern Vietnam
In the right months, Vietnam’s terraced rice fields glisten green and gold under the tropical sun. One could attribute the vista to the locals’ zeal for sustenance, made possible by unique irrigation techniques. But it is also the country’s natural landscape — especially in the undulating north — that lends itself to this life-sustaining practice . . . a man-nature collaboration worth witnessing. Your rice field experience can be marvelous or mucky, depending on the region and season, so time your trip right.There’s screensaver-pretty Sapa in the northwest, a backpacker magnet best admired in September and October, but be prepared to jostle fellow panorama-seekers. Close to the Chinese border, the Ha Giang loop offers tribal villages, rivers, sunsets and the serene paddy pockets of Hoang Su Phi. Ninh Binh, although popular, packs a punch with its field hikes, bike rides, UNESCO caves and proximity to Hanoi. Also close to the capital and relatively untreaded is Pu Luong. Want nothing but sweet green isolation? You’re meant for Mu Cang Chai.
3 - Hole in the Wall, South Africa
Off South Africa’s rugged Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape lies yet another vista full of natural drama. Found near the hippie haunt of Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall is a rock archway that stands sentinel amid the waters of the Indian Ocean, like a gateway to another realm. And that is exactly what the local Xhosa people believe it to be: a portal leading to the world of their ancestors.In fact, one of its many monickers is izi Khaleni, which means “place of thunder.”Legend has it that a Xhosa maiden fell in love with one of the semi-deities from a mythical group known as the “sea people.” To help the lovers escape the wrath of her father, a giant fish rammed headfirst into the rock wall, creating the hole through which the couple could flee. However geologists, a largely unromantic lot, claim that the hole was carved millions of years ago by waves pummeling against the sandstone and shale structure.
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As the pandemic forced us inside, an obsession with houseplants sprang up all over the internet. But if you, like me, lack green thumbs, you’re better off investing in some nonperishable, plant-based decor. Forget grandma’s potpourri: A great way to bring plant-based products into your home, while also supporting local artisans, is handmade baskets. Woven out of sturdy but delicate grasses, plants or bark in distinct Indigenous patterns, there is a plethora of options from which to choose. From the trusty, round bolga baskets of Ghana to the hot-on-social-media rattan ones from Vietnam, there’s something from almostevery country. Whether you’re into baskets from Mexico, Bolivia and Morocco, or wall hangings and furniture made of Indiansabai grass, natural handwoven decor can be stylish, durable and vibrant. Why not start a boho travel wall of global baskets? Just remember to source locally, or buy from a trusted merchant collaborating with artisans.
2 - Terrific Terra-Cotta
As a child, I remember sifting through my mother’s enviable collection of terra-cottajewelry — earrings, necklaces and bangles molded in delicate designs. Surprisingly, the earthenware pieces are anything but delicate. The pottery, which means “baked earth” in Italian, is actually extremely durable and eco-friendly. The process of firing clay at a high temperature and slow baking brings out its characteristic color. In India, terra-cotta art is abundant and ancient, going back thousands of years to the Indus Valley civilization, which produced the enigmaticfemale figurines found at the Harappa archaeological site. Then there’s China’s stunning Terra-Cotta Army, a collection of more than 8,000 painstakingly sculpted warriors and horses dating back to the Qin dynasty. Today, terra cotta is used to make everything from tiles to kitchenware and flowerpots, and adding it to any home will conjure memories of exotic summers past.
3 - Rustic and Repurposed
Sustainability is the buzzword in interior design circles these days. Whether you’re looking at a big investment like laying down wood flooring and installing recycled paper countertops and exposed brick walls, or considering small accents like rugs, throws and cushions made of natural fiber, eco-friendly decor is right on trend. But welcoming nature into your home doesn’t have to come at a premium. Enter, DIY! Salvage driftwood on your next visit to the beach to create an abstract centerpiece for your coffee table; go cottagecore with foraged twigs fashioned into lamps, wind chimes or rustic photo frames; learn the art of macramé knotting by upcycling old rope to make new plant hangers. Here’s an easy project: Grab an old glass bottle and some textured cloth to make this pretty tealight candle holder. Not everything will turn out perfectly, but I promise the process can be remarkably rewarding.
If you don’t want to spend your Saturday working on DIY projects, take a foray into the wilderness with Sir David as he decodes the reasons behind the carnival of colors in the animal kingdom. Animals can use colors for all kinds of purposes, the veteran natural historian reminds us in this 2021 Netflix miniseries, “whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one.” Learn why the blue moon butterfly is prettier than you think, how the strawberry poison dart frog uses his coloring to avoid predators and why the Bengal tiger’s orange stripes actually help it to sneak up on its prey. At a time when our focus has been on cautionary documentaries about climate change and the perilous future of the Earth, celebrating its little wonders will remind you just how much humanity has to lose. Digging the subject? You might also enjoy the Tom Hiddleston-narrated Earth at Night in Color.
2 - ‘March of the Penguins’
Time for a classic. Chill out with emperor penguins in icy Antarctica as they embark on their annual migration. Driven by a desire for companionship, these resilient creatures swim and waddle to impossible lengths, through landscapes fraught with mortal danger, to find the perfect mate. It’ll certainly make you more appreciative of how easy you have it scrolling on Bumble at home. Will love survive the season . . . and the seals? Watch in amazement as the ebony and ivory power couples co-parent against the backdrop of a hostile geography and climate. French director Luc Jacquet’s Oscar-winning, feature-length documentary is at once funny, sad, sincere and educational without being preachy. And if you can’t get enough of Morgan Freeman’s narration, you can always queue up the sequel on Sunday.
3 - ‘The Year Earth Changed’
Tiny World, a 2020 gem about, well, tiny wildlife critters, was a strong contender for this section, as was My Octopus Teacher, the Oscar-winning tale of South African free diver Craig Foster and his unlikely bond with a curious cephalopod. Both are beautiful and highly recommended, but fresh on the heels of our lockdown lives, I found myself instead picking the 2021 film The Year Earth Changed, a timely recap of some of the unlikely good that came out of the pandemic. We’ve all read about it: When COVID-19 brought the human world to a standstill, nature quietly thrived in spaces previously overrun by our aggressive hustle. Skies and waters cleared up, turtles nested on unpopulated beaches, whales vocalized freely and deer pranced around on city streets. But actually watching the transformation is a humbling experience, one that might make you a little less bitter about the ravages of the virus.
You know that beautiful monstera or fiddle-leaf fig plant that you’ve proudly managed to keep alive but don’t have an attractive display for? Show off your potted green babies in these raised bamboo baskets, which can also double as easy and stylish storage for clothes, books or toys.
2 - Breaking Bread
Your dinner guests will never be bored if you serve charcuterie and other hors d’oeuvre on this elegant bread board. From the Wisteria Gold collection at Saks, the product deftly combines nature and luxury, with its twisted brass handles inspired by tangled vines. Load it up with cheeses, figs and grapes for the party platter to beat all others!
3 - Plan to Plant
If you’re not up for following our DIY macrame tips, this bohemian macrame planter with a terra-cotta Aztec ceramic pot is just a click away. The hanger is handwoven with a ceiling mount that makes it the perfect way to display your indoor greenery. Not only that, it’s made by artisans. Create your own little floating oasis!
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