These months aren’t the same for all of us. These pages might have been written in the cold clear snap of a northern European winter but they’ll be read with sandy feet in beach houses and under ceiling fans in warmer climes too. Lucky old both of us. The idea’s the same wherever you sit, though: gently does it. Short days encourage reflection but long, warm ones can be lived at a similar pace so this month we’d like to take stock a little. We’ve spent weekends looking for the places where the crowds thin and the paths narrow. We’ve walked the scenic route to work or taken the old notebook and easel out to some pleasant pasture, despite the chill (we don’t really have an easel but we’re thinking of getting one). We’ve looked at the things we really like, the things we truly need, those moments from which we properly derive pleasure. We have looked toward constancy, consistency, solidity, fidelity and things that stand the test of time. A call to arms isn’t so soft, though, is it? So we’re calling our findings a Gentle Manifesto.
From the pleasure of building an archive to the notion of investing in a pair of shoes that, sure, require a little TLC to stay tickety-boo – our ideas point toward the slow burn of real satisfaction. That pair of JM Weston’s, stout yet puppy-soft, will last long enough to be able to tell some stories about you, while your quarterly stroll to the cobbler keeps a business running – and a conversation too. Likewise, we’re not suggesting that you hurl your smartphone in the river and become an anchorite but buying a film camera means that every shot requires a little preparation, set-up and thought. Instagram? It’s a microwave dinner for the eyes.
Talking of which, food obviously stars in our list: cultivation is its own reward. Whether it’s playing with a first packet of seeds so you can pick parsley, basil and thyme from the kitchen windowsill or a full-blown attempt at The Good Life, setting a leafy agenda is just heartening for the palate, the pocket and the soul. When you eat out, there are few greater pleasures than finding that perfect restaurant nearby; a homely treat at the end of your street is worth a host of grand dining rooms.
So we’d encourage an eye on the other side of the platform on the morning commute; or drive the other way once in a while. Take time, take stock, take a deep breath and, we hope, mop up some soft guiding light from our manifesto. We hope you enjoy it. Gently does it.
Here’s an idea to get you off on the right foot: invest in a pair of shoes that can be resoled, ideally from John Lobb, Ludwig Reiter or Fracap. Sound too simple to be much of a fix? That’s where you’re wrong. The people who thunder on about the wasteful world in which we live are sometimes the same souls who buy cheaply and often. You know the type: they don’t use plastic bags at supermarkets but happily offset that puny penance by having drawers full of free tote bags at home. At monocle we prefer the idea of paying fairly for the craft that goes into things and caring about the provenance of materials used: after all, buying things that last is a branch of sustainability. We don’t all need to live in houses made of solar panels nor crucify people who use plastic straws; we need to have a conversation about the meaningful changes we can make. And who’s to say that valuing the things we have and keeping them in good nick isn’t the first step? The Gabriele Gmeiner atelier (pictured) in Venice’s San Polo is a gatekeeper for the craft of being a courteous cordonnier.
Building an archive is a lovely, long-winded, never-ending affair. You can’t just ram-raid your favourite bookseller and ask for the latest 100 titles and expect it to mean anything as a collection. Each title added is done so with reference to, and in memory of, the last book bought. Collections can be made and expanded by subject, genre, author or artist (or however you like). It’s a personal process; no two archives are the same. It’s a reflection of your taste and mindset, both of which can change. Consider a good archive as a map of your interests that charts time spent and spaces travelled. And because it’s personal it also offers a better point of reference than an online-search algorithm. Google Leonardo da Vinci and you’ll see the “Mona Lisa”; buy the book and you’ll see the drawings, colour tests, oil daubs and sanguine renders of light and shade. A far richer offering. Also, an archive is private, only accessible to those you deem worthy – the opposite to the millions of scrolling Instagramers. Start collecting slowly then don’t stop. Here are a few tips to help fill those shelves and furnish your home handsomely.
1. Always visit the gallery or museum bookshop after seeing an exhibition. There will be a different selection of books than bigger stores, such as artist monograms with short print runs, which can appreciate in value.
2. Choose carefully and don’t be afraid to spend. An expensive book is less damaging to your wallet than another pair of sneakers. It will also last a lot longer.
3. Shop often. Always look for new additions; you never know what you’ll miss and buying out-of-print titles can be expensive.
Cameras are fun: to load, to wind, to click, turn and handle. They also make you think. Analogue snaps are precious because they limit the taker to a set number of frames. If you’re restricted to 36, 15 or even nine shots of your holiday (or wedding or offspring’s nativity play) then you have to plan. You edit in your mind and need to recall what you’ve already documented. There is a pleasant pressure and emphasis on choosing what to record for posterity. This little consideration makes you take your time, think about composition and anticipate the results. Digital by contrast is continuous, live and never-ending. It’s amazing to have a video and photo studio on your hip 24/7 but that “poke the screen 50 times” process lacks personality, procedure and care. Load a roll of medium-format Kodak Portra 160 into an old camera, shoot 15 shots of your favourite people and places, wind it back and send it to the lab. Then wait. When you get the results there will be surprises (call it personality): an out-of-focus shot here, the edge of a thumb there. But there will also be a few perfect ones, of moments suddenly remembered and now not to be forgotten. A record of sunlight and time and colour. There’s something alluring about how film captures life; it fits the picture in your mind of how something was. Oh, and it’s fun.
Our camera of choice:
The Contax G2 is a 35mm rangefinder camera that has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since its demise in 2005. This is partly due to prominent fashion photographers, such as Juergen Teller, championing it but mostly because of its exceptionally sharp Carl Zeiss lenses, build quality and iconic design.
The great digital revolution promised we might work from loungers in Rio – caipirinha in hand – with the saltwater tickling our toes. While we wait for that to actually happen, pallid and preoccupied, we should talk about the offices that we do work in. Ping-pong tables, slides and basketball hoops are great for student common rooms, or perhaps the recreational areas of young-offender institutes, but maybe less so in workplaces, right? So many offices are alienating, too-hot glassy towers. Those tall windows that architects said would sell the idea of the company’s “transparency” act more like a sinister panopticon from which staff can be surveyed at all times. Hot-desking?
A money-saver employed by companies that can’t even supply a decent desk to call your own, which has also been shown to add to people’s sense of loneliness. Instead, invest in natural materials, ensure that there’s daylight, fresh air and spaces where people can meet in privacy and discuss delicate details. Also, build places where people can eat together – not at their desks either, there’s nothing worse than quinoa in the laptop keyboard.
When, exactly, did booking a restaurant table cross the invisible boundary from treat to chore? Roughly the time that online booking platforms saved all the spaces for people who then regularly failed to show up. The result? You, me and anyone else foolhardy enough not to have booked weeks ago are left out in the cold, queueing. Here’s a gentle fix for 2020 that we’re backing with relish: find a restaurant close to home with enough covers for faithful walk-ins. Take just one friend. Then: don’t blab about it to anyone. It feels good to have a secret that’s not subjected to “likes”, isn’t it? Enjoy a conspiratorial communion with one person. Pa&Co in Stockholm, Ciao Bella in London or 10 William Street in Sydney; these places are built for the ages – and all ages. A visit to your neighbourhood restaurant is preferable to a taxi into town to join the noisy crowds. Anyway, that fancy new opening probably won’t be there come next month, or even missed when it’s gone. Pignon (pictured) in Kamiyama-cho, Tokyo, a short hop from Omotesando and Shibuya and a couple of blocks from Yoyogi Park, never misses the mark.
That feeling you get when you look to the west? That feeling is space and rolling against the grind: no suit jacket on a hanger on a hook in the rear window, no being bunched up tight in cars. No jam. Take a day and drive the other way; maybe that’s where you should be headed after all. Standing on a railway platform, there is a feeling like a little Damascene conversion, an interior drum roll, that comes from boarding a train going the other way. The freedom of the empty carriage, exchanging pleasantries with the guard, drinking in the view.
Disappear for a bit. Not necessarily to the Sahara or anywhere too wild. It could be as simple as a neighbourhood stroll. But do it without your phone and without telling everyone you have ever met exactly what you’re up to. The global financial markets will manage just fine if you pop off to a museum on your own, or find a shady spot in which to read a book one lunchtime a week. Being busy has become mistaken as a status symbol, worn by people to imply that they’re indispensable, important and instrumental within their work. But here’s a gentle rethink: doesn’t being too busy reek of being bad at your job rather than good at it? Question: are the most fulfilled people the ones who post every movement for the gratification and scrutiny of others? There’s no need to tweet us your answers; take some time for yourself and get lost (once in a while).
Does your vocation still thrill? We’ve all met people who do what sounds like a dream job – and do so for its own rewards. Why not gently recalibrate? Do you really want to join the grey suits who are desperate to flip their unloved business and start yet another venture? It’s better to take a little time and consider a job that makes you feel like getting up in the morning. Dare you follow the dream? Consider this a friendly nudge in a more fulfilling direction.
What kind of city do you want to call home? It’s a head-scratcher that when it comes to a plot of land being piled high with offices, shops and flats, there is often little joined-up thinking from planners and architects. So consider Turin: the Piedmont capital boasts 18km of colonnades that shade pavements from the elements and offer a glimpse of how our buildings can coddle us while keeping the people outside happy. The vernacular was intended for the nobility’s benefit but the idea of urbanism that is as generous for a pauper as it is for a prince is worth another look. As for those developers, architects and planners, they need telling too. Throw some shade, won’t you?
Architects often channel their considerable skills to doing more with less: extra apartments and shops in fewer square metres. But what about that lofty ambition for buildings to exist in harmony with their surroundings? The ones that embellish nature for its occupants. Before we literally pave paradise for that promising parking-lot development, we should also look around at the environment we’re bulldozing and reflect. Where better than an escape away from it all? Successful examples of such architecture include New Zealand’s bach houses, Olson Kundig’s Pacific Northwestern homes, Peter Zumthor’s cabins and artefacts as simple of John Pawson’s white-marble picnic bench for Salvatori. Sublime. At some point builders began to rebuff and overshadow nature with their work, rather than to complement and add to it. A more balanced approach in 2020 would be a subtle way of reframing the much bigger debate about how we can all live better alongside nature.
Look at the glass high-rises creeping skyward from Seoul to San Francisco and you’ll see that cheap materials such as plastic, glass and steel (which don’t age well) are on the up. In 2020 we’d like to see a few more timber towers in the vein of those made in Stockholm by Folkhem, plus residential spaces that look and feel accommodating, human-scale and generous. What about brick and stone? New York’s brownstones and London’s Victorian terraces offer dense housing solutions in the form of covetable homes that have lasted longer and remained more desirable than most skyscrapers. Architects talk a good game about sustainability but shouldn’t we also gently push for houses that will still look good in a century’s time?
Back on that subject of the overlooked space between buildings, we’ve had a seed of an idea: grow something. Not only is the discipline of cultivating rather pleasant, it also pays other dividends: growing things beautifies streets, borders and the uglier bits of cities. Start with a herby window box or some hardy evergreens outside; if you have space try fostering a few vegetables. We guarantee that you won’t bin carrots if you’ve grown them yourself. Paris has offered admirable incentives to help residents green-up wasted spaces – but there is a catch. There’s a slim but definite possibility that your urban generosity might be undermined by bad actors: when an amateur tree surgeon drunkenly snaps the silver birch outside your door, or the local pooches take to peeing on your peonies. Don’t be disheartened. As a sage once said: wise men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Generosity and a bit of pride in your patch is its own reward.
monocle’s editors have met countless chefs and restaurateurs over the years; more than anything else these food folk tend to value the dining table as the most important single item in any home. It’s a place of reflection and sustenance, where meals and reliable routines are ritually performed but also where moments of connection and contemplation can unfold on frantic days. We could have picked a welcoming table from Bassam Fellows but we chose instead to go further and advise prioritising the pantry given that it stores the very food that you’ll be serving. A well-stocked pantry will help you plan for impromptu meetings, meals (or a knees-up) with seasonings, sauces, pasta and pesto that can be transformed into a meal in minutes. A good dining table is great but, at the end of the day, you can’t eat an Ercol.
Like aspiring to be relentlessly busy, being too focused on the narrow range of skills that inform your work can make you deeply dull. Even if you love your vocation, it’s worth fostering a hobby, joining a club or learning some new skills. A pottery course might not profit your property portfolio but that’s the point. All that time with technology has left us feeling isolated and yearning for practical skills and face-to-face interaction. Join a carpentry course, learn how to screen- print, draw or cook a little better. What about learning a few phrases in another language? Push beyond the known and it might yet lead to new ideas – or at the very least you’ll find a novel way to unwind.
The perfect life-affirming film makes you remember that it’s always worth pursuing what you believe in and trusting yourself, even if you fail. It also has to make you laugh and cry. Sure, you could line up one on Netflix but it will hit home far more meaningfully in the cinema: only when the room is dark and your phone switched off can you really suspend your disbelief. But what life-affirming message to choose? You can’t go wrong with the courage of Little Miss Sunshine, the resilience in Pride or the strength to fight in Hidden Figures.
Rubbing sweaty elbows against Lycra-clad commuting cyclists is not our idea of a gentle ride and often amid the bleary-eyed bustle of an early urban commute we forget the simple joys that two wheels can provide. Let’s escape the city on a pedal-powered path through leafy lanes. Here we can reminisce on those giddy childhood days when cycling was just for fun. Isen Workshop’s hand-built British cycles (pictured, below) are as sturdy as they are stylish and will take you well beyond the urban grid with luggage carriers for long weekends. Vanmoof’s beautifully designed e-bikes (pictured, bottom) provide pleasure without so much pressure on the pedal (or those knees).
Top 100 restaurants lists, televised cookery, farmers’ markets, food trucks and plant-based diets have placed food high on our agendas, whether we like it or not. Overhearing colleagues or friends extol about how few calories they’ve eaten or how many vitamins are in their smoothies has become far too familiar. The bumper harvest of culinary offerings can leave you bloated before you’ve even started. Time to restart and return to your kitchen to learn – and practise – a favourite. No need to rush. Executing something with a touch of skill is its own satisfaction. Why not start with something slow and simple? Make fresh bread or pasta, or crack a classic like potato rösti. Grated potato, squeezed dry of its moisture, fried and then roasted in a buttery skillet. Sprinkled with chives and served with a salad or a spoon of crème fraîche. Easy enough to crack, enticing enough to perfect. If you succeed, flex those skills for the next one: Pommes Anna, potato dauphinoise or pomme purée. Just make sure to apply the same simple and slow method.
When it comes to sport, remember that it’s not purely about exercise. Sure, a spinning class will get your heart rate up but there’s more to life than that. Take a lead from seniors who appreciate that half the fun of sport is the camaraderie and chat. That doesn’t mean it can’t be competitive: the members of Mosman Park Bowling Club in Perth (pictured) take their weekly matches seriously. So instead of an impersonal experience where you barely exchange a word with your fellow athletes, you can enjoy a sense of community that has health benefits that your Fitbit can’t measure.
You were told not to put your hands in your pockets, weren’t you? Well, it’s OK now – unless you’re entertaining dignitaries or pitching for business. It’s just fine to be cosy, comfortable and to gravitate toward the coat with the pockets just the right height for your posture and just the right size to ferry essentials. Your keys and some cash; your phone if you must. We’d recommend you stretch your soft, warm pocket linings just a little – be they shearling, moleskin, fleece, cashmere or silk – with something rewarding in paperback too. We’ve plumped for the pockets on Weber 1 Weber Sartoria’s tasteful travel jacket. A purchase that will comfortably outlast the trends.
Our pockets are full of:
The sort of authors to put in your pocket are the sort of authors that put you in theirs and take you around the world. The slightly seedy France of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels is more beguiling than the grand boulevards. Graham Greene’s perfect sketches of an imperfect world mix grit and glamour in Hanoi and Havana, while Lawrence Osborne is the contemporary novelist most at home telling a tall story somewhere dark and stormy.
Look, we’re not suggesting that you drop hundreds of thousands of euros on a flashy yacht. Go for something more basic, something you can repaint yourself once a year and keep in a boatyard rather than a marina. Even a canoe will do. This is about getting out onto the water and enjoying the rare serenity that comes with stepping off terra firma. If you’re adventurous and live near the coast, the sea is ideal but lakes, rivers and bays provide plenty of scope for a gentler day’s sailing (or paddling) around. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere such as Venice, like Luca Mulder (pictured), you can even enjoy the spectacular views that go with it.
One of the underrated luxuries of living in a city is being able to use it sparingly, seeking the best bits and enjoying their specific rewards. The joy of visiting a gallery to look at just one or two paintings is one such singular pleasure. At London’s National Gallery we sat in front of George Seurat’s “Bathers at Asnières” for long enough to go for a dip and dry off under that suburban Parisian sun. And really see the painting too. Really look.
Getting dressed needn’t be stressful or involve many decisions (unless you like to get creative). Owning a handful of nice things that will last for years means that you can find your look and stick with it. Let’s start from the feet and work up. Solid shoes are essential – not big ugly trainers but black or brown lace-ups with a sturdy base; think Church’s (pictured) or French masters Paraboot. For comfy socks, the sort that you can pad about the house in, turn to Germany’s Falke or Japan’s Rototo. Best of all: a coat. It should be big and enveloping, ending up somewhere around the knees, with sleeves that cover up to half your hands. Navy is safest. Mackintosh, Acne Studios, A Kind of Guise or Italian maestro Valstar are best.
The late art critic, broadcaster and polymath John Berger’s finest essay looks into the eyes of other species and finds sentience and reflection. Berger shrugged off the art-world rat race and moved to the remote French countryside, where he found the bond between man and beast unbroken in traditional agriculture and the peasant life. We don’t all need to go fully pastoral to savour the gently philosophical; as with his treatises on art, Berger encourages looking and taking time to see. This Penguin edition might well be a book to put in that warm pocket of yours as you stroll off on a field trip to the countryside.
The great pianist and composer Bill Evans never let his virtuosity get in the way of making perfect jazz records. Evans didn’t let his genius become tricky; he was generous and gentle with it. If you play his LP You Must Believe in Spring on a Saturday morning then you’re simply more likely to have a wonderful weekend than if you don’t. What a sentiment in the title: we can hear the birds singing already. And buy it on vinyl; why not? Everyone loves a little sonic sacrament.
Who you wake up with is your own business but how you stir is almost as important and just as intimate. Dodge the alarm clock and keep the smartphone safely downstairs where it belongs. What you really require to rise and shine is the sound of a friendly voice, some smooth tunes and a friendly time check or two to ease you into the day. You’re all set.
Shonan Beach FM, Hayama. The sound of the beach, Japanese-style.
Radio Swiss Jazz, Basel. Just as easy as eins, zwei, drei.
KDAY, Los Angeles. Hip-hop happily stuck in the 1990s, its finest decade.