Saturday 20 April 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/4/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Playing it safe

There were some teething issues setting up our home-security system. It comes with cameras indoors and out, and mics so that you can hear what’s happening in your house. The trickiest issue was that it was supposed to recognise familiar faces that flashed past the cameras but, early on, the phone app was constantly alerting me to the fact that my partner was just getting home or daring to go to bed. Although this did have its joyous moments.

When I was in Tokyo for work, just back from a morning gym moment (ie feeling virtuous), the app alerted me to a potential intruder. And sure enough, there was a live stream of my other half getting home from a black-tie dinner after, let’s say, a few glasses of something refreshing. I clicked on the mic symbol in time to hear him stare at the dog and declare, “I love you!” At this point I jolted him sober with a broadcast live from Tokyo to London: a loud greeting of “Are you tipsy?” It scared him but it entertained me.

There’s also a small camera above our front door which, over the past few months, has been a Miss Marple in miniature. When a neighbour mentions that something odd has happened in the street, a quick scan of the day’s footage usually reveals the culprit.

Missing branches from an ornamental tree? Oh, there’s another neighbour’s cleaner, armed with secateurs, collecting various shrubbery from the road for a flower arrangement. Missing rose bush? Watch as a man arrives with a shopping trolley to remove the potted beauty. Brick through an office window? Kids on bikes. The contents of a stolen bag tipped in the road? Another hoodie with a passion for cycling.

The strange thing about even modest acts of vandalism are that they leave you wondering, “What sort of person would ever do this?” But when that riddle is solved, the annoyance mostly evaporates. It’s not a mysterious vendetta after all, just a bored kid. So while creeping CCTV in our public realm may concern some, it’s oddly comforting on a domestic scale. And even if it fails to be a wired-up detective, a home-security system is very good for making your partner feel just a little jumpy when they get home late.


Cellar sellers

Georgian wines made the biggest splash at this year’s Wine & Gourmet Fair in Tokyo (writes Fiona Wilson); curious buyers were encouraged to try from dozens of bottles – such as Château Mukhrani – that are little known on the Japanese market. Also competing hard were the Germans, eager to show Japanese retailers that a new generation of German winemakers (including award-winner Kühling-Gillot) have moved on from the sweet wine of old. Spanish, Italian, Australian and natural wine was well represented; smaller stands introduced makers from Tunisia, Belgium and Portugal. France clearly felt secure enough in its position in Japan to not attend. But the most fun was being had at the Japanese pavilion, where a new diversity in the country’s winemaking was on show.

Novelty was also in demand on the gourmet front, whether that was mozzarella from Langkawi or Greek pomegranate-flavoured balsamic vinegar. Halal foods were big news this year too – and will continue to be with the growing number of tourists coming to Japan. Though while there was no shortage of food samples and fancy wine to try, many were happy to join the long queue for a free slug of premium Yebisu beer at the Noodles Industry Fair in the adjacent hall.


Retail resurrection

If you pay much attention to the commercial promotions that hit your inbox or the business pages you’ll be well aware that it’s a difficult trading period for many retailers, both on the street and in the clouds. A favourite menswear retailer from the US west coast is already offering 40 per cent off his summer collection (great news if you want some sharp pieces for your first summer weekenders; not so great for margins) and the UK high street is full of woe, as businesses slash outlets and new high-profile developments struggle to keep tenants from shuttering.

Given retail is in flux and players big and small are figuring out how they fit into the metabolism of consumers, three ideas come to mind. First, landlords and developers need to get busy right-sizing their stores – and fast. For too long we’ve been hearing about the need for workable shop spaces but little is being done to overhaul existing real estate, while new developments are stuck in the trap of offering far too many spaces that are difficult to fill with both shoppers and goods that people might want to buy. When it comes to new developments, virtually all façades suffer from being little more than a sheet of plate glass with a door inserted. This makes most malls and outdoor developments monotonous for the shopper; it’s also costly to stand out when there’s little in the way of differentiation. This is where retailers need to demand more from their landlords and architecture firms need to propose solutions that create more surprising shopfronts. That would give shopkeepers the chance to create engaging visual merchandising solutions and customers some punctuation points that give reason to pause – and hopefully purchase.

Second, we need to thank Jesus – part two. As Christmas continues to work retail wonders in most corners of the world, isn’t it time to do something with Easter? Valentine’s Day has become highly politicised: heaven forbid you attempt to show affection to anyone by offering something with vaguely romantic associations. So Easter needs a fresh look to help flog summery dresses, breezy fragrances and, of course, all types of sweeties. For example, Japan has become the most Christmassy country in the world (has there ever been a nation that has sold more copies of the Carpenters’ Christmas album?) but they’ve totally missed out on Easter. Think about it: pastel everything, fluffy chicks, Swiss chocolates, bunnies and bonnets. Easter has kawaii written all over it and could easily spark a craze in other Asian nations. That might even mean that China would stop serving up naff shopping spectacles such as “singles day”.

And third, to get the word on retail there’s also our new book – released yesterday. The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets is our latest look at a specific sector from front to back, tackling everything from creating better shopping precincts to charting out the best places to travel for inspiration – or, for some, a kick in the pants. Follow this link to assist you with your purchase, or you can pop into one of our 10 shops or cafés around the world. If this sounds overly salesy, it is – I’ve long believed that good journalists are also outstanding sales folk. Happy Easter, bunnies!


Marc Beaugé

New French magazine L’Etiquette has adopted a fresh take on men’s fashion. Co-founder Marc Beaugé and his well-dressed editorial team offer styling tips that are realistic and, importantly, useful. Here, in the latest instalment of our series dedicated to the reading, listening and watching habits of media types, he reveals he’s an early riser who enjoys venting about how little he sleeps.

What news source do you wake up to?
I wake up very early, usually 4am, and the first thing I do is look at Twitter.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Usually nothing until I get to work; I will then grab a double espresso from the coffee shop next door.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Sadly, I must admit that I almost don’t listen to music anymore. I used to listen a lot and even wrote about music but it has gone out of my daily life. I hear stuff through my girlfriend or kids but I don’t even have a Spotify account. The only playlist that I still have is one I made for running about five years ago – but I stopped running almost immediately after starting.

What’s that you're humming in the shower?
I do shower but I don’t hum much. And it’s probably for the best given my singing skills.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
I read Le Monde on my phone and I get the magazines I like to read delivered to the office – most weekly magazines like L’Obs and Les Inrocks.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Can I mention magazines I work for? Society, L’Etiquette, Holiday and M Le Magazine du Monde. One more? Monocle, obviously!

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Clearly newsstand.

Sofa or cinema for the evening?
Sofa. Computer. Coke Zero. Work. Twitter. Instagram. Work. Early to bed. Very early wake-up. What a life!

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late?
Sopranos. But I fear I am a bit late on this one.

Sunday brunch routine?
Every Sunday we go to a little café and have family breakfast at the same table. Coffee, bread, croissants and complaining about not having slept enough. A routine.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out around among the viennoiserie?
Le Monde, L’Équipe, Libération, Le Parisien. And I usually wonder at how good Le Monde is compared to the rest.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
No. Not for the past 10 years. Even though I do like watching the news show Quotidien on TMC – and not just because I appear on it once a week.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Nothing, to be honest.


Easter-weekend treats

‘Medellín’, Madonna feat. Maluma. The first single from Madonna's much-anticipated album Madame X was heavily influenced by the singer’s experience in Lisbon – but it is, above all, a celebration of her love affair with Latin music. “Medellín”, the hometown of Maluma (who also sings here) is an infectious, dreamy pop track mixing Spanish verses from the Colombian superstar with some of the best vocals by Madonna in years. Her longing tone does justice to the evocative opening lyrics: “I took a sip and had a dream / And I woke up in Medellín / The sun was caressing my skin / Another me could now begin”.

‘Ramy’, Ramy Youssef. In real life, Ramy Youssef is a caustic stand-up comedian. In this series, which he co-created, co-produced and co-wrote, he plays a version of himself that borrows heavily from his past. The Ramy of the show’s title is a first-generation Egyptian-American in suburban New Jersey, a Muslim who struggles to reconcile his faith with his daily life. And that’s not because he’s trapped in a traditionalist family who forces him to believe – he prays, observes Ramadan and doesn’t drink – but finds it difficult to explain to the women he dates. The result is a string of ethical crises that are as hilarious as they are insightful.

‘Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World’, Steinunn Sigurdardottir (non-fiction). In her early twenties, Heida Asgeirsdottir was a model strutting around New York; a few years later the young Icelandic woman finds herself in sole charge of a flock of 500 sheep on the remote family farm. But this is no city-girl-turned-awkward-farmhand fable: Heida is a strong-willed figure who knows how to ride the rhythm of the seasons. She’s protective of her way of life too. When a private energy company decides to build a power station on her land she becomes an environmental campaigner and local councillor to fight her cause. This account of a year in her life has the poise of a book about nature and the vigour of a call to arms.


‘Telemóveis’ (Portugal)

Every week in the run-up to Eurovision, which will be held in May in Tel Aviv, Monocle 24’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco is highlighting the tracks to listen out for. This week it’s Portugal’s Conan Osíris with his track “Telemóveis”.

It’s good to see that Portugal is not resting on its laurels after winning the competition for the first time two years ago with the ballad “Amar Pelos Dois” by Salvador Sobral. This year its entry is one of the most original in the competition; “Telemóveis” (“Mobile Phones”) mixes arty pop with traditional Portuguese rhythms, such as fado. Wearing an outfit that involves a golden mask and claw, Osíris will be a performer to look forward to. Absurdist touches might scare some viewers away but it’s good to see Eurovision celebrating a bit of camp.


Midwest mainstay

Art Cullen is editor in chief of The Storm Lake Times, the biweekly newspaper founded by his brother in rural Iowa in 1990. In 2017, Cullen won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting on corporate misconduct in Iowa’s agriculture sectors. Here we ask him what’s been making the news.

What’s the big story this week?
We’ve broken a story that farmland values are down and that’s having an impact on property-tax valuations; it’s going to be a big drain on government revenue. It speaks to the larger story of the difficulties in agriculture in the Midwest: we’re getting clobbered in this trade war with China and nothing is being done to solve the problem. The president is being blamed but a lot of farmers here voted Trump and they think that, in the long term, they can get better corn prices thanks to the trade war. But in the short term it’s been a disaster.

Best picture?
Storm Lake high school had its senior prom this week and the picture we’re running features a young Latino man and a young Anglo woman going to prom together. It kind of speaks to how Storm Lake has changed over the years. It’s the only rural county in the US that’s growing organically and that’s because of immigration.

Down-page treat?
We’re running a profile of a businessman who owns a massage parlour. He’s openly gay and was recently born again into Christianity after a period of religious disillusionment. Our story is how he’s supporting Pete Buttigieg for president – the first openly gay candidate for the Democratic party. The angle is, here’s a gay Christian who’s attracted to the politics of a gay Christian. Storm Lake is a dot of blue in a sea of red, politically, and because of the Iowa caucuses, presidential politics are always potent here.

Next big event?
A city council meeting. There might be a fight over how a park is used, for example. That’s pretty dramatic for us.

Eat / Los Angeles

Pizza the action

Driving north from West Hollywood into Laurel Canyon, you might need some help spotting Pace (pronounced Pah-che). This unassuming Italian bistro lurks unsignposted under an unprepossessing convenience store at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Kirkwood Drive (writes Josh Fehnert).

Take the steps down beneath the building (past the buddha statuette on your right) and you enter the din of a subterranean bar with red bricks and wooden beams illuminated by the flicker of candlelight. Let your eyes adjust. Consider the fact that dim lighting is a blessing to celebs beloved of dining incognito.

But we’re not here for all that flap – we’re here to eat. If it’s hot eat “outside”, a half-covered space that has a higher ceiling than within. Chef-patron Sandy Gendel opened the place 20 years ago and is a regular sight on the floor, greeting newcomers and ushering familiar faces towards favourite tables. Gendel’s menu errs on the Italian and turns out princely portions of pasta (pronounced pa-sta – you’re in the US, remember) including riffs on linguine alle vongole and pennette arrabbiata.

The little things are done well. The produce comes from one of the six farms listed on the menu and simple dishes, such as the cedar-smoked salmon, have achieved fame in a town where both swimming upstream and seeking recognition are civic pastimes. The pizzas are – for want of a better word – legendary, with names to match: Hercules’s pie is a meaty morsel while Zeus’s pie is comparably pious, with prosciutto and mozzarella. The wine list is also worthy of thirsty exploration.

In the bright light of day it turns out that you can just about read the word Pace on the wall outside in faded paint. Perhaps being a little less obvious is the very thing that helped Pace keep pace.


Saigon sojourn

The story of Vietnam opening up goes beyond the business pages of newspapers (writes Jamie Waters). To get your own view of just how much this Southeast Asian country is changing, head for a night out in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to those who live there. Tonight the self-styled “inclusive glitter disco funk revolution” GenderFunk is holding a pop art-themed drag night at The Observatory, a rooftop club and outdoor bar in District 1. Some of these glam guests have good reason to party. Sex changes have been legally recognised since 2017 and a draft law to protect their rights is in the works. But even on a regular night at The Obs, a less glittery crowd occupies the dance floor until morning. International DJs over breakfast is a far cry from the curfews of old when the communist country would close down at midnight. Many at The Obs are young French expatriates sent to Saigon for internships and early career postings. Come daybreak it’s still possible to spot a middle-aged man reading Graham Greene at The Hotel Continental but modern Saigon is far more loud French than quiet American.


Can I take my laptop to dinner?

This week we dropped into London’s Soho House to meet a fellow editor. Now Soho House has a tricky manoeuvre to pull off each day as it segues from co-working space to dinner-and-drinks venue. And that means, at a certain point in the evening, they start telling the solo headphoned workers furiously tapping away to kindly put their laptops away. It doesn’t go down well judging by the defiant looks the staff receive and the number of people who have to be told numerous times before complying. Perhaps Soho House is slightly to blame for increasingly resembling WeWork during the day but there is a growing problem of laptops in restaurants. Solo diners should learn to put their call-centre inclinations to one side come dark and instead turn to a book or magazine – or how about a friend?

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Hungry for success

Daniel Bach breaks bread with Big Mamma group’s Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux: French restaurateurs who opened their first Italian in Paris in 2013. Today they have nine venues, including a first outside France: a brand new trattoria in London’s Shoreditch.

Film / New Release

The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets

Retail, we’re told, is in big trouble. But shops and markets have been bringing people together for centuries and we resolutely believe that they are here to stay. Turn to our latest book to see why.


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