Saturday 25 May 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/5/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Yoga? Too many planks

Imagine a small house perilously close to a cliff edge. A cliff edge that’s pounded daily by bullying waves that threaten to tip that little house into the ocean. That’s how I see my relationship with fitness: I am the little house, the waves are late nights, the tug of age. And one of those waves is definitely made of white wine.

Like the cottage’s owner, I am keen to build some defences to try and prevent a too-rapid descent. So, long gone are most things that taste delicious and I make sure that I get to the gym, run, cycle. But wow, those waves are persistent.

So I have added another seawall: yoga. And I am not alone: the proliferation of yoga classes and kit-makers shows that this union of mind and body is having another moment. In an age of mindfulness and stress awareness, it’s the exercise that promises it all. It’s certainly become a key part of my weekends.

But I am not buying into all the serenity nonsense. As far as I can see, yoga is as mean, competitive and likely to leave you feeling annoyed as any other sport.

This isn’t just because I struggle to deliver the moves with the “elegance” the teacher requests (my diving eagle definitely looks more like “sparrow shot in the rump with an air rifle”). No, even the first five minutes is normally enough to kill my mood.

Now, if I was in charge, I would bolt the doors once the class started. But the teacher just lets people keep drifting in – while simultaneously trying to get you to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. The laggards loudly dispose of coats and bags and then they try to insert their mats right at the front. (I have one contemptuous eye open; my breathing now resembles that of a wolf. A very bite-y one.) A certain attendee does this trick every week. I admit it, I have wished her ill. If I was the teacher, I would also ban anyone with a persistent cough or a tendency to sneeze. Sorry.

There is also a category of (usually male) student who is convinced that they – not me – should be in charge. From your downward dog you spy them going adventurously freestyle or guessing every next move just to stay one step ahead of you, the unenlightened. Or how about standing on your head while everyone else is packing up to go home? (“Topple, topple,” you chant in your mind.)

Then there’s the social danger. Tell anyone that you go to yoga and if they are similarly inclined they will want to know what type, how hot the room is, how long the class is and what mental state you reach. They dig into their inner Serena Williams to thrash you: “You should come to my three-hour class when you feel you’ve improved.”

I worried that I was the only one getting hardened and attitude-y from yoga. But then a few weeks ago my views were ratified when one teacher rocked up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Namaste Bitches” (there’s an online TV show of the same name). I loved her straight away.

It’s good exercise and I can easily cope with some meanness with my stretches – but I have not booked the ashram just yet. And there is always hope – no, not of improvement. Mine is that Mr Headstand will befall the fate of another yoga show-off, as told to me by a good friend. The fellow got into a tricky move, let out an extended windy blast and was never seen in class again. Ha! Namaste bitches, indeed.

My Saturday morning / Routine 01

Street cleaning

Unless you’re an early riser (writes Fiona Wilson) you won’t even notice them. But pass by Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing – think London’s Piccadilly Circus – first thing in the morning and you might just catch a volunteer clean-up team at work, picking up litter and sweeping the streets before the bin men do their rounds. I was unaware of their existence until I was given Saturday street cleaning as my (obligatory) PTA duty by my children’s primary school. It’s a bracing start: we gather at 07.30 sharp in front of Shibuya Station, a chatty crew of children, parents and pensioners. The police dish out bin bags and tongs – the well-organised bring their own gloves – and then we head out.

Shibuya is party central on a Friday night and, as such, it doesn’t look its best on Saturday mornings. After half an hour our bags are bulging with cans, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and mountains of junk-food wrapping. We deposit the spoils, drink some green tea and go about the rest of our day.

Street cleaning is unexpectedly rewarding: there’s a satisfaction in seeing the impact a determined team can make in just 30 minutes, while kids learn to respect their neighbourhood. Plus there’s something wonderful about seeing teeming Shibuya Crossing at its most deserted.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

Writing in the mall

For the past three years, everyone close to the worlds of property development, retail and big infrastructure has been hearing about Jewel, a new shopping centre smack in the middle of Singapore’s Changi Airport. In fact anyone flying close to Singaporean airspace over the past 24 months would have been alerted, in some way, to the fact that the island nation was about to reinvent airport shopping and make five-hour flight connections something to look forward to. Jewel opened with much fanfare last month and, as I had a few spare hours on Tuesday, I decided to head out to the airport to see what all the fuss was about.

“Are you sure you want to go to Jewel today, sir?” said the driver. “I was there with the family yesterday and it was crazy.”

“Really? I thought it would have died down by now,” I said. “Who’s visiting, locals or tourists?”

“It’s a place for locals, sir, but I’m sure they want customers like you too.”

“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”

Twenty minutes later we pulled up in front of Jewel, a large circular affair with a latticework of beams and girders that form something resembling a matcha-flavoured doughnut. Developed by Changi Airport and Singapore developer CapitaLand, it isn’t the most welcoming structure if you approach it head on. I could have entered via the adjacent terminal but instead I opted to walk across the street and go through a set of sliding doors. This felt more natural than passing through an air terminal – but it was clear that this is not how the landlords want visitors to use the space. Instead of an entrance with tropical greenery and a generous canopy for sun and rain, there is a ho-hum door and little in the way of a welcome or signs for navigation inside. It was certainly busy for mid-afternoon on a Tuesday but not in a way that demanded extra security or controlled entry into shops and restaurants. As consumption is done race-track style in the round, I opted to go left and take a clockwise tour.

Architecturally, Jewel is unremarkable and follows the language of any mall that might have been built in the 1980s: shops on the right, shops on the left. There’s little in the way of smart details or imaginative wayfinding and retailers clearly weren’t challenged to think about creating arresting façades. A large-ish branch of Tokyu Hands was the only positive surprise in an otherwise dull line-up of shops that can be found in suburban Melbourne, Toronto and Chicago. I popped into Adidas because their Ultra Boost window looked inviting but after that I kicked my stride up a gear and went in search of a bookshop to pick up something for the flight to Tokyo. I circled the level linked to departures, went up another floor, did a circuit, then went up again – and couldn’t find much in the way of books. In fact there was nothing.

I tried to consult one of the directory screens but it was impossible to use; what happened to a good old map with a list of stores on a backlit screen? Why do I need to swipe and swoosh when I just need to find a bookshop? I decided that the bookshop must be on the lower level so I made my descent all the way to the basement – and found myself in food-court hell. I went up another level. I thought I was getting warm when I spotted a shop called Typo but it wasn’t meant to be.

I did a quick count and Jewel boasts more than 150 stores but there isn’t a single place to buy a book or magazine, or browse an interesting collection of cards. Likewise, there’s very little in the way of original, homegrown retail. In short, Jewel is at once a cultural wasteland and missing more than a few opportunities. For Brand Singapore it reveals a lack of literary curiosity.

What does it say about you as a nation when your newest, shiniest temple of commerce does little to support the arts, information or local creative talent? A lot. It could be that a sprawling bookshop is being planned and is yet to open but I didn’t see any hoardings that offered much promise. If Singapore wants to come good on becoming a hub for creative talent and innovative start-ups, a proper place to browse and buy fine print should be part of the line-up at a place where first – and lasting – impressions are made.

The interrogator / Edition 13

Nacho Alegre

With its sun-bleached, colourful aesthetic, Spanish magazine Apartamento has raised the bar for interiors titles around the world. Its creative director and co-founder, Nacho Alegre, will join us this June at our Quality of Life Conference to discuss how his magazine came to life. In this latest instalment of our series dedicated to publishing types’ media habits, he admits to not being a morning person (and the resulting coffee intake).

What news source do you wake up to? I start with Catalan media, such as Ara online, then move on to Spanish newspapers like Avanguardia, El País and El Mundo, and finish with The Guardian.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines? Coffee and nothing else. Just black coffee; no milk, no sugar. I normally have one after I shower. And then maybe a second one.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I listen to podcasts mostly but for music I use Spotify. I follow people’s lists rather than listening to albums.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I never sing anywhere – especially not in the shower.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I would read World of Interiors, The Gentlewoman and then System. I also like The Real Review and The New Yorker – but I only use the app, I stopped buying it.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Both. I subscribe to some magazines but sometimes it’s about compulsive buying at the airport.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? A nice plan is to walk to La Central del Raval in Barcelona, have a coffee and do some book and magazine shopping.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Sofa. I love watching movies but going to the cinema is a cultural activity – I need energy for it. It’s not something I do when I don’t want to do anything.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late? I think my favourite was The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s an absolute masterpiece. It is beautiful, the photography was different and fantastic; I have watched it a few times already. I also liked Border – I was quite shocked.

Sunday brunch routine?
No, never. I’m not a breakfast guy, I tend not to eat anything until lunch. I’m not a big morning guy – I try to skip the morning as much as possible.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out among the viennoiserie?
I try to read a little longer in bed, maybe the Financial Times or The Economist – stuff that’s more lasting than pure news. Sometimes I read the Spanish newspapers with the supplements.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
No, never. I haven’t done so in 10 years.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Sometimes I listen to This American Life. I often listen to it on the plane but if I can’t sleep at home, sometimes I listen to it then as well.

Culture / Watch / Listen / Read

Are you ready for love?

‘Rocketman’. We finally have a musical biopic in which we can rejoice, one where we don’t have to wince along with the hits. Director Dexter Fletcher styles the film as a charming stage musical on screen; he is equally good at conveying the hollow cosiness of the London suburb from which Reginald Dwight emerged – and the pomp, circumstance, camp and cocaine of Elton John’s roaring 1970s. There are gold discs and white powder, and a refreshing way of grabbing sex scenes by the balls. They might just have to make a sequel; there are songs aplenty to sustain it.

‘Love Builders’, Heavenstamp. Tokyo-based duo Heavenstamp’s third effort is a triumph that moves the band towards pop while maintaining their varied influences: shoegaze mixes with electronica on an album that flits from one genre to another. The minimal opening track, “Abnormal Cell”, is impossibly catchy but for a highlight, look no further than the infectious “Love, right?”

‘Saltwater’, Jessica Andrews. This excellent debut novel by 25-year-old Andrews is a story that speaks to anybody who’s left home to try and reinvent themselves somewhere else. Protagonist Lucy moves from the northern English city of Sunderland to London’s bright lights but living in the capital (with its long shifts and raucous parties) is more difficult than she thought – and ultimately prompts a lucid reflection on whether, and where, we can really belong.

Outpost news / Orkney

Highland fling

Orkney, an archipelago just off the northern tip of Scotland, is home to about 22,000 people. The Orcadian, established by James Urquhart Anderson in 1854 in Kirkwall, the capital, offers islanders a dose of news every Thursday, selling about 7,000 copies per week. Urquhart’s descendants remain closely affiliated with the paper. Current editor Leah Seator earned the publication the Highlands and Islands Newspaper of the Year award in 2018; she tells us what’s causing a stir among the isles.

What’s making headlines this week? We are looking at efforts to tackle drug dealing in public toilets near a youth café. There is also an ongoing 5G trial in Orkney and on one of the smaller islands, where a mast has been attached to a school. There are mixed feelings and some unrest that there might be public health risks associated with 5G. Last week one couple protested by taking their children out of school.

Describe your favourite photograph. A brilliant aerial shot of our new hospital, taken by The Orcadian’s staff photographer. The hospital marks a significant milestone for healthcare in Orkney and the picture shows the full scale of a major development that is very much in need in our community.

What’s your down-page treat? Last year we launched a monthly magazine for children called The Peedie Orcadian – peedie means small here. We were looking for ways to broaden our readership and I would always read the paper with my child on the weekend; I thought it would be good to bring that to more families. We run workshops with schools to promote writing as well; we have one young girl with severe autism who is an incredible writer. It’s good to be able to provide her with the platform.

What’s the next big event? This weekend is the Orkney folk-music festival, a four-day event that brings the small town of Stromness to life. We have a large arts section in the paper, reflecting the talents of a hugely creative community. We’ll have an eight-page pullout for coverage of the festival, which attracts visitors from all over the world.

Report / Hospitality

New Pig on the block

Nothing cleans the slate after a stressful week like an English country getaway. A walk through meadows with the hound and a good pub lunch? Just what the doctor ordered. You’ll need a place to call home for the weekend so hop on the high-speed train from London St Pancras and check in at the recently opened Pig at Bridge Place in Kent. It’s the latest chapter in the county’s bourgeoning hospitality scene: Michelin-starred pubs The Fordwich Arms and The Sportsman draw Londoners in droves.

This 17th-century red-brick manor – set in a tranquil patch of woodland by the sleepy village of Bridge – is The Pig’s sixth outpost. But this is no cookie-cutter job. As they did with the other piggies in the litter, such as those in Devon and Somerset, the owners have won plaudits for their conscientious approach: restoring a unique, historic building, decking it out in a singular manner and stocking the kitchen with local ingredients. The result? A hotel that feels distinctly of its place.

Image: Rendez Vous Store

Wardrobe update 07 / Câbleami

Hats off

So the sun’s coming out and you’re toying with the idea of a hat – but hats are notoriously tricky things to wear. How to not look contrived, as though you’ve spent hours placing it just so on your head? Your salvation could be Câbleami, a small brand from Kobe in central Japan that makes simple designs with a slight fashion flair. We’d suggest avoiding felt fedoras and plumping for a straw panama or seersucker cap (striped, checked or in plain navy). Alternatively, bucket hats have been taking over catwalks lately and they can be surprisingly wearable: Câbleami does a nice sensible version in olive cotton or, if you’re feeling a bit daring, a fun option emblazoned with watermelon-style patterns.

Modern etiquette / Edition 07

How does a meeting work?

Here’s the scene. You have flown halfway around the world for a meeting. This is a get-together of equals; a chance to do some business together, no powerplay needed. But it seems that Sarah and Jake are running late, so we’ll have to wait. And yes, in this glass box of an office you can actually see Sarah chatting away, laughing, acting out some funny scene. Finally she arrives. “I’m sorry,” she says. “We were just having a dull planning session.” OK, this is going to be interesting.

Next it transpires that Jake is working from home and will be “dialling in” and Sarah is sorry but she’s lost the original email and could we just bring her up to speed? She pauses to slurp coffee from her keepcup as she tries to locate Jake. Do we leave? No but we make a note to never treat people like this. A good meeting needs people who care, some simple hospitality and everyone ready and prepared. You are “meeting” people with all that involves; it’s not a sloppy sleepover. And when it’s all finished, make sure you don’t leave your guests wandering around looking for the exit. Oh, and Sarah, no need for any follow up.

Monocle Films / Italy

Venice biennale: best in show

We sit down with Ralph Rugoff, the artistic director of 2019’s Venice Biennale, to round up the highlights of this year’s event.


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