Culture is a Comfort | 25 Local Creators Share Their Quarantine Favorites

Here’s something that the high-minded intelligentsia of cultural gatekeeping will try desperately to obscure: the culture that we consume — in addition to all of its very impressive intellectual virtues — is, at its very base level, a distraction. A glorified pacifier. A comfort. The reason why humanity has been assembling around a fire to share stories since before the advent of the written word is to stave off the dread. It’s a needed diversion to take our minds off the terrifying darkness that looms menacingly at our backs.

And since we are currently in the midst of a whole lot of this aforementioned terrifying darkness, many of us been resorting to the 21st century equivalent of “telling stories around a fire”. This means movies, TV shows, books, albums, and even Youtube videos. We’re looking for comfort. We’re looking for connection. We’re looking for stories. So here at La La Lista, we asked an eclectic group of creators — musicians, artists, chefs and sundry — about the pieces of culture that they’ve discovered (or re-discovered) during this extended lockdown period. Below are their answers.

We kept the question very open-ended to let each participant tell their own story. Some folks went into a lot of detail, others kept it short and sweet; just like quarantine itself, we all deal with it in different ways. Also, the headline says there’s twenty-five of them, but eagle-eyed readers might notice that there’s actually slightly more than that. It doesn’t matter. Twenty-five is a nicer-sounding number.

Read on to learn where these members of the local cultural scene have been finding comfort and inspiration during this unspeakably strange period of collective trauma. You might just stumble onto a new favorite of your own.

Anabella Cartolano, lead singer and guitarist for Las Ligas Menores

A good movie to watch, which I’ve already seen several times, is Good Will Hunting directed by Gus Van Sant. I first caught it on TV, I’m not sure how I came about it. It’s from 1997 but I like it a lot. Not just the movie, but the director. I love that he puts Elliott Smith songs in almost all his movies.

Ayar Blasco, filmmaker and animator

There’s an American film called Panic in Year Zero. I don’t know where you can find it, probably somewhere on the internet. It’s about a family that flees after an atomic bomb, they go out to the country, they buy food, they buy guns, since they’re American. It’s just very relatable.

As far as music, I’ve been listening to devastating stuff like Aphex Twin and Brian Eno. That’s about it. I’m not really watching a lot of movies or TV shows or anything. Animation is one of the things that people consume most during quarantine, so I’ve been working on a lot of stuff for channels and platforms, which I can’t really talk about. I’ve been keeping busy. So I’m not really watching stuff. At some point it’ll die down a bit and I’ll be able to get bored and watch shows and all that. 

Camila Nebbia, saxophonist and composer

So far, quarantine has led me to a lot of introspection. I’ve been very much in sync with different branches of art. This helps me feel less locked down, and helps me connect artistically. An album that I found truly beautiful is Distant Radio Transmission by Roscoe Mitchell. He’s one of the boldest and most creative musicians I know. I admire him deeply, and he is a true inspiration. I also recommend Olga Orozco’s poetry collection Cantos a Berenice. Someone sent it to me recently and I became totally obsessed with the book. They’re poems she wrote for her cat Berenice after her death. I’m currently reading I Had Nowhere to Go by artist Jonas Mekas, which I recommend thoroughly, as well as his film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty.

Photo by Melissa Restrepo Berrio

Candelaria Zamar, singer and songwriter

The Beaches of Agnès, by Agnès Varda. It’s an autobiographical documentary film where Agnès, a French/Belgian artist and filmmaker who was 80 years old when it was filmed, discusses her artistic journey. My sister had told me about this film a long time ago and I hadn’t been able to find the time to see it up until now. It’s the first and only thing I’ve seen by this director so far, and it serves as a good introduction to understanding what Agnès’s universe and her vision are all about. To me, it was inspiring to see how an artist lives and works, and the poetic way in which she observes and narrates life and the world around her.

Photo by @violemorano

Carola Zelaschi, drummer and composer, member of Blanco Teta

There are two books I’ve gotten a lot from. One of them is the biography of Ennio Morricone. As a kid, I used to go through my books and magazines and find as much information I could about the musicians mentioned. I’d find their names and download the albums. It’s been a long time since I did that, and I started doing it again during quarantine with this Morricone biography. It led me to a lot of great Italian music. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I think it’s funny that I’ve returned to that old “researcher” role.

This also happened with another book by Mariana Enriquez called La Hermana Menor, a biography of Silvina Ocampo which I found incredible. It really brought me into Silvina’s world, her novels and poems. And I’m also rewatching a documentary called One Strange Rock, which is about astronauts who spent a long time in space, going into detail about how the Earth works.

Photo by Andrea Romio

Damsel Talk, singer and songwriter

Now is the time to swim in Twin Peaks season 3. Like most people the first time round, I gave up on it, finding it too slow. However now that we have all the time in the world, I gave it a second opportunity and it was a treat. Must watch this at night to lose yourself in the Lynch mystique — no sneaky daytime binging.

Here are the books that I have read during quarantine that will make you weep and burn: Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively. Los Posnucleares, Lola Arias. La Mujer Habitada, Gioconda Belli. As far as music, I’m listening to a lot of zamba. Good for the soul and very uplifting in these times. Recommend checking out “Zamba de mi Esperanza” and “Que Seas Vos” by Jorge Cafrune. Wow! What a voice! I am melting.

Daniela Zahra, singer and bassist for Mujercitas Terror

As Marce mentioned [see entry for Marcelo Moreyra below], when quarantine started we had to cancel our tour and future plans and return to an apartment that we, thankfully, hadn’t rented out yet. However, it was still completely empty; for the first two weeks we weren’t even allowed to go grocery shopping, so Claudio the doorman as well as one of our neighbors would bring food to us. Those days were extremely difficult, and I felt a strong urge to be close to nature. I started buying plants online and slowly growing a little garden that saved me from completely losing my mind. I also started researching and learning about each plant. My friend Cata sent me a gift of a carnivorous plant; another friend, Susana, brought me plants from her own garden.

All of this brought me to re-listening to a beautiful album by Mort Garson titled Plantasia, from 1977. It is an electronic album composed for plants. It’s completely out there. I also watched this documentary about plants, which is wonderfully psychedelic.

Delfín, singer and songwriter

Coinciding with the start of the mandatory quarantine, I found Carol K. Anthony’s book A Guide to the I Ching. They are interpretations of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching (ancient Chinese book) that help decipher that ancestral wisdom that at times seems almost encrypted in the original text. I read it for pleasure and also as a consultation whenever I need advice or a new perspective about a specific situation.

Elisa Carricajo, film and theater actress, member of Piel de Lava

I’d like to recommend Vickinga Bonsai, a novel by Ana Ojeda. It was a joy to read it and to discover it, like reading a book by a friend I didn’t know. It goes from a hyper-realism that I found very moving (it takes place in Boedo, the neighborhood where I’ve lived for over a decade) to a surreal and lysergic comedic tone. What better to face these lockdown days than seeing everyday life through new eyes?

Ivan Riskin, comic book author and editor

From the ton of media I’ve consumed these days, I loved these two documentaries: Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists is about the art scene of Chicago in the early 70s, and how it went unnoticed by the artistic mainstream. The documentary is very well made, they mention around 30 artist and 5 different groups or movements and it’s easy to keep track of all that. They include original footage of the time, as well as photos, interviews with the artists and some other outside the movement like Chris Ware, Gary Panter and Jeff Koons, as well as short animated cartoons. What interested me about them was how they used the comics, surrealism or advertising as opposed to Pop Art (they were contemporaries). You get the felling that the Chicago Imagists approached that in a more personal way. Streaming link

The other documentary is The Illumination of Jim Woodring. Jim describes himself as a cartoonist; he’s aware of the negative social connotations of the word, but he considers it an honor. Jim’s work is astonishing in every sense. His drawings seem to be projections from another dimension, from another astral plane. During his childhood, he suffered from hallucinations, and he was scarred as shit, but he learned to laugh about it! Isn’t that great? Of course, that caused him a lot of problems, like his mom begging him to stop that “nonsense”. As the title may suggest, the documentary is very spiritual, really digging into the soul of Jim and his style, and as both a comic artist and a neurotic (more neurotic than artist), it hit me really hard.

Jake Eichenbaum-Pikser, owner and cook at Sheikob’s Bagels

Right around quarantine began I found out my roommate hadn’t seen The Sopranos, which I hadn’t seen since it came out. So we started watching it from the beginning. It has only reaffirmed for me that it is the best TV show ever made by a long shot. Like, nothing else even comes close. Of the books I’ve read in quarantine my favorite was Mao II by Don Delillo. All of his books have this subtle tinge of a dystopic near future, without really being sci-fi, in a way that really compliments the dystopic sci-nonfiction we’re currently living.

For music I’ve been listening to a record by NY based producer Space People called SHMM. It’s weird, kind of jarring, and super funky. Great music for cleaning, or drawing.

Jazmín Esquivel, singer and songwriter, member of Mugre

When quarantine was announced, I had just started reading the latest book by Mariana Enriquez, Nuestra Parte de Noche. She’s a writer and journalist that I really admire. I was taking my time with the book, but then when quarantine started all I could do was read it obsessively. I finished it very quickly. Interestingly, it’s 666 pages long. It’s about a mysterious sect belonging to a group of incredibly wealthy, connected Argentine-English families. It takes place during Argentina’s military dictatorship. It explores a world that is horror-tinged and esoteric. Not only did I enjoy reading it, but it really influenced me in the many worlds it explores. I recommend it, as well as the book it’s based on, which is La Invención de Morel by Bioy Casares.

Juliana Gattas, singer and songwriter, member of Miranda!

During quarantine, a friend introduced me to a Spanish artist called Sen Senra. It was like a musical dagger, especially the song “Ya No Te Hago Falta,” which is as heart-wrenching as it is sweet, honest, and visceral. I listen to it both physically and mentally quite often, and I also play it on the guitar. It is accompanied by a very beautiful music video that is somewhat in the vein of Pink Flamingoes or Tim Burton. That’s my recommendation: listen to this song to do your heart some good.

Maca Mona Mu, singer and songwriter

A lot has happened during quarantine. I recommend Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch, a beautiful book that reminds us that music is to play, that improvisation is life itself, and that creativity can be found in every detail! I also recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Zen en el Arte del Tiro con Arco by Eugen Herrigel.

Marcelo Moreyra, singer and guitarist for Mujercitas Terror, Envidia

Since we had to interrupt a tour where we were meant to leave the country for a year, upon our return home we were faced with the reality of an empty apartment. Not only that, but we weren’t allowed to leave the house. I just had a book of poems by Walter de la Mare, which withstands multiple readings. After the two-week isolation passed, my friend German sent me The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, one by Jim Thompson, and oh! A story by Truman Capote titled Children on Their Birthdays which I hadn’t read and quite enjoyed. Then I fell into impatience and started to download some stuff by Montaigne. I wanted something to that would calm my anxiety and it worked. Watching rock-related content or documentaries about extremely active lives didn’t help much, though I did watch the PIL documentary

I listened to the blues, to singers like Nick Drake, and got to know Jimmy Scott a little. I watched live shows by The Fall, read some Baudelaire, Xavier Valarrutia. I started to record the Envidia album with a portable studio, which I intended to do in Mexico. Then I came upon a book by Pizanik, Extracción de la Piedra de la Locura, as well as Supernatural Horror in Literature by Lovecraft. 

I didn’t watch a lot of movies. I did enjoy the show After Life. I learned how to play a few tangos on the guitar. I just received a collection of stories by Phillip Dick from my friend Gustavo that were all published in literary magazines, and that’s what I’m working through right now.

Mariana Michi, singer and songwriter, member of Mugre and Miau Trio

During quarantine, I feel like I read and watched fewer things than I’d like, because I’ve been busy recording my new album. As far as books, La Novela Luminosa and El Discurso Vacío by Mario Levrero are two great books that feel like intimate diaries by the author. I recommend reading them in order — first El Discurso, then La Novela — because there are elements that reoccur throughout. I read them in the opposite order, which was still fun to do, identifying the things that are better developed later. 

As soon as quarantine started, I watched every single Harry Potter and Batman movie. I’d never seen them. I highly recommend them, I had no idea they were this good. It’s like jumping into a world and growing fond of these characters, getting to know them as friends. It was crazy, I’m 32 years old and I jumped into that. As far as music, the latest Fiona Apple album which is uncontrollably beautiful. I’ve also been listening to the new Beck album, which came out before quarantine but is very bright and beautiful and conducive to dance.

I’ve been dancing a lot during quarantine too, which I never really did a lot of before. Go to my terrace, strap on my headphones, cue up a playlist and just go for it. It’s so fun. I recommend it to everyone. I’ve also been meditating a lot, which is something I do sometimes but is unfortunately constantly postponed in my life. I recommend this a lot. Looking at the sky, growing some plants, spending time with my cat. Connecting with what I have.

Photo: Josefina Chevalier

María Pien, singer and songwriter, member of Ruiseñora

I want to recommend this documentary film Fantastic Fungi, which you can watch for free through this link. I came upon this link through Loli Molina, who shared it on her social media. I think it’s a spectacular film with a lot of incredible information; not only is it very enriching to the mind and soul, but it also contains some truly gorgeous images of the fungi kingdom. It is educational but also deeply inspiring. One of my greatest sources of inspirations and insight is nature. The soil, animals, plants. So I found the subterranean world of fungi to be tremendously inspiring. I recommend everyone watch this film and follow Paul Stamets, who is the main person being interviewed, the fungi guru who serves as the guide through this film.

I also want to recommend a book. It’s one that a lot of people have found use for, especially during quarantine. It’s The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve been reading it during quarantine, taking it at my own pace. It has a lot of useful information and exercises for any creative person, regardless of whether they identify as an “artist” themselves (and what even is an artist, anyway?). It’s very useful for anybody who embarks on any creative process, contains a lot of interesting info.

Manuela Donnet, owner and cook at Donnet

I don’t know if it’s out of cowardice, hedonism, vanity, or narcissism, but I’ve escaped from the pandemic by running straight into the arms of art. These arms are strong and loyal, especially now as I’ve been snatched from the routine I’d been perfecting day by day.  The first piece of good news is that we won’t go back to how things used to be. The other is that I’ve been able to find contentment in film, which I’d all but abandoned; TV series, which I’m generally not a huge fan of; books, which I always read and re-read; in music, and in artists.

Thank you cinema!: The Wicker Man (Roben Hardy, 1973), Who Can Kill a Child (Narciso Ibáñez, 1976), Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018), Altered States (Ken Russell, 1981), and the entire body of work of the Coen Brothers. Thank you literature!: Prophetic Drawings (Parravincini), Jung and Tarot (Sallie Nichols), A Day at ElBulli (Ferran Adria), Fierro magazine, Lule Le Lele magazine. Thank you music!: Los Reynols, Death in June, Último Bondi a Finisterre by Patricio Rey y Sus Redonditos de Ricota.

Paula Sosa Holt, comic book author and illustrator

This is an ideal moment to lose oneself in shows and movies, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid the anxiety that such a wealth of options inevitably brings. This is why I bring you a list to delve into at your own leisure during however long is left of quarantine. A movie: VFW (2019, Joe Begos). The director of Bliss (what do you mean you haven’t watched Bliss?) surprises us this time with a movie that is full of 80s nostalgia, with a lot of blood and homages but still carrying his signature style. With a cast of unknowns from the action genre, this movie is pure enjoyment. A comic book: I Am Not Okay With This (Charles Forsman, Fantagraphics, 2017). A teenage girl discovers she has superpowers. That’s it. Go read it and then you can dive into the Netflix adaptation (known in Spanish as Esta Mierda Me Supera, which translates to “this shit is beyond me”; yes, it handily beats the original title) so you can tell all your friends that the comic book is much better.

A TV show: Devs (2020), just eight episodes of science fiction made by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, 2015). A synopsis might spoil the first episode. Don’t read anything. Just jump in, you’ll be hooked. A podcast: Las Invitadas, literature and pop culture in the correct measure and without snobbery. A documentary: Inside Björk (2002), released by her own label, looks back on the artist’s career in a way that is very entertaining to established fans and also serves as a gateway for those who never gave this space alien a chance (it is available on Youtube, along with subtitles). Soundtrack: “Needles and Pins,” originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1963.

Paula Trama, singer and songwriter, member of Los Besos

An album: the 1983 Joan Armatrading compilation Track Record. A black lesbian musician whose personal life we know very little about: born in the Caribbean, she lived with her grandmother in the island of Antigua for a few years, and then at age seven she moved with her family to Birmingham. She was kicked out of her job as a typist for taking long breaks along with her guitar. On the album cover we see Joan wearing sneakers and white socks, with a digital glare on her back, in a runner’s pose atop a grand piano. The album includes a series of songs of very disparate spirits, from the breakthrough hit “Love and Affection” through a series of wild, sophisticated, ragged songs, each with extremely catchy choruses, like “Frustration” and “When Will I Get it Right”. Luckily, and thanks to Joan, it’s impossible to come out unscathed after a play-through of this album.

Paulo Soria, filmmaker

Las Veredas de Saturno (Hugo Santiago, 1986). While I’m a fan of Invasión, the 1969 epic that Santiago wrote along with Borges and Bioy Casares, I still hadn’t watched the follow-up Las Veredas de Saturno. I settled that debt during quarantine. I expected to find a great movie, but not such a staggering piece of work. It is a look at Aquilea (the mythical Buenos Aires from Invasión, now expanded into the entire Argentine, as the master Ángel Faretta once pointed out) which still remains universal despite the decades that have passed. Exiles that can’t return to their homes because it only exists in their memories, frustrated euro-philia, contradiction as the only way to understand ourselves as Alquileans, and the constant tension of not knowing whether we’re in a fantastical story or a never-ending tango.

Even from all the way in Paris, Santiago created a thoroughly Argentine piece of work, a brilliant piece of end-of-the-world science fiction.

Renzo Montalbano, singer and songwriter, member of Gativideo

My recommendation is the album Lugar Comum by João Donato. He is a Brazilian musician who plays with the combination of jazz and latin rhythms, and was one of the godfathers of Bossa Nova. This album is from 1975 and is made up of 12 tracks. I stumbled onto it in 2019 after accidentally downloading it onto my phone. I started listening to it on the bus and was immediately captured by the compositions, which were breathtakingly beautiful. They really transport you to a beautiful, relaxed, joyful vibe with a slight tinge of nostalgia. His voice transmits a delicate tranquility, even though most of the songs are more or less upbeat party tunes. I recommend listening to this album while cooking during quarantine, or perhaps while drinking a nice mate.

Roberto Peloni, film, theater and television actor

During the first week of quarantine, I finally read El Eternauta by Oesterheld and Solano López. It felt like the right time to pick up a reading that I’d never finished. I found it extremely interesting and somewhat chilling to read during these times. Aside from that, I’ve been watching some filmed plays. This isn’t my favorite way to watch theater, but the Teatro San Martín made some iconic works available through their website. Among them, Copenhague and Mein Kampf, which I’d seen as a student, when I first got into acting. Both plays feature some incredible acting. And though they’re captured on film, they’re both still vibrant and relevant. They’re gems in the national registry, which the San Martín video library very generously opened up access to. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to see some of the great plays that have passed through our boards.

Copenhague features the acting of Juan Carlos Gené, Alicia Berdaxagar and Alberto Segado, and it is directed by Carlos Gandolfo. It depicts the encounter between two scientists working for the German and US governments who, through this meeting, apparently set the plans in motion for the creation of the atomic bomb. And Mein Kampf is a farce written by George Tabori and directed by Jorge Lavelli, starring Alejandro Urdapilleta as Hitler and Jorge Suarez as a Jewish man. I remember seeing it from the last row of the theater as a young man and feeling Urdapilleta’s voice and presence was so powerful that it was pinning me to the wall. Both plays are highly recommended, even just as written texts.

Samantha Nilson, owner and sommelier at Nilson

To try and pass the time, I’ve started cooking more. Ohh how beautiful it is to cook! And there I dove in, discovering the beautiful sensation of kneading my own food, making my own bread and pasta, playing music, helping myself to some wine (everything is better with wine), and getting utterly covered in flour. I highly recommend this! 

I became reacquainted with film, but somehow I don’t react well to being told what to watch. So I declared war on the opening suggestion screen of all streaming apps. Started looking for old films, the classics, black and white movies, those classics that I’d never watched for some reason. That’s a truly enriching feeling; from the selection down to actually witnessing the way things used to be done, it’s a great learning experience. I don’t know about that “the past was always better” thing, but it’s definitely true for movies. What did I watch? Twelve Angry Men, Full Metal Jacket, the Star Wars saga, Snow White, and a new one: The Lighthouse.

Sewing helps me. I used to do it a lot as a girl, and our current predicament led me to reconnect with the activity. I highly recommend doing things with your hands, whatever it may be. It’s relaxing and comforting. I’m already on my third sweater, and not only is it rewarding to see them once they’re complete, the process of making them is fantastic for anxiety.

Sergio Pángaro, singer and songwriter

My (re) discovery is the year-by-year historical record of Argentine TV that Néstor Montalvano is currently capturing on his Youtube channel. Aside from the comical nature of it (reminiscent of Tiranos Temblad), the series is highly enlightening and educational, providing us with an idea of our nation’s own idiosyncrasies as a group of humans. 

Solentina, singer and songwriter

In this quarantine, I’ve been going back and forth between more surface-level material and deeper stuff. That’s why I watched series such as Transparent and Brooklyn 99, or why I returned to The Nanny.  I also watched movies by Armando Bo and Isabel “Coca” Sarli. My favorite is Embrujada, which is on the CINE.AR platform. There I also watched the Valeria Bertucelli movie La Reina del Miedo. I became a fan of the show Caricias Significativas. I started studying Portuguese via Duolingo, which is extremely useful. Then I started reading texts about art in that language, such as Manual do Artista-etc by Ricardo Basbaum. Thanks to this, I started really connecting with Portuguese-language music for the first time. I recommend the great album Azul Moderno by Luiza Lian. 

Another album that was released during the pandemic is Beibi by Placard. It’s made up of instrumental versions of their songs, meant for young children. I think it fits the current moment well. I also read some essays from Cuerpos Sin Patrones compiled by Nico Cuello and Laura Contrera.  Another podcast I thoroughly recommend is Correspondencia Abierta, between Albertina Carri and Esther Diaz. Speaking of Esther, I recommend the beautiful movie about her, Mujer Nomade by Martin Farina. I was also able to attend the songwriting workshop by María Pien and Lucila Pivetta, La VOS Cantante. I highly recommend it! In June I’ll be attending two more virtual workshops, one by Guadalupe Arriegue titled Taller de Lecturas y Creación de Imágenes y Palabras, and  La Joya Cardiaca de Ser Performer by Leonx Speranza. They are fellow artists and friends whom I admire a great deal, so I’m sure it’ll be great.

Tomás Balmaceda, writer and journalist

There’s life beyond the “recent additions” section of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Flow: Youtube allows us to discover Argentine television from several decades ago, with all its high and low points. The historical archive Youtube channel RTA is filled to the brims with hours and hours of incredible content to amaze, amuse, and — why not — outrage you. 

Violenta Josefina, singer and songwriter

This quarantine has provided me the opportunity to reconnect with people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. Specifically, I’ve been reconnecting with Lia and Vanessa, my former bandmates from the band Skin back in Venezuela. Due to the country’s situation, each one of us took off to a different part of the world: Lia is in London, Vanessa is in California, and I’m here. So we’ve started hanging out a lot virtually, and that’s led me to listening to a lot of the bands I was heavily into at the time. A lot of Pixies, a lot of Breeders.

I’ve also returned to ballet, which I used to do in Venezuela. This has connected me back to that world of dance. Teatro Colón has released versions of some famous ballets, such as Swan Lake and Cinderella. Additionally, I’ve been doing a lot of meditation, which I cannot recommend enough. I do it every day and it’s kept me mentally, physically and spiritually healthy.