Saturday. 1/6/2019

Monocle
Weekend Edition

Opener / Andrew Tuck

You’ve made your bed, now lie in it

This is a column the size of a cotton sheet. And a warning – it’s going to cost you this week. How much? Only €15 each – you can leave the money on the kitchen table as you leave.

It’s a few days before a wedding in sunny rural Provence. Hotels are few and far between so we have booked a couple of houses via you know who. A few days before we depart my phone pings. It’s a message from the host. “What time do you arrive?” she asks. Then adds, “We do not provide sheets. Do you bring yours?”

Now, while I have been thinking about an outfit that might make me look almost dashing, I have not been contemplating decanting the contents of the linen cupboard into my suitcase. To start with, I don’t even have a linen cupboard.

So begins an exchange of messages with our host where I try to ascertain the size of the beds and whether there are pillows. Towels? Perhaps I should check if there are four legs on the bed. Before I can ask – PING! A new message. Would I be interested in renting sheets? Oh and check out is 09.00.

Most people have wised up to this sharing economy, where amateur landlords rebadge themselves as hosts (do you remember when a host would approach with the offer of a drink, perhaps a canapé or two?). Madame’s version of being a host is a bill for a sheet, an early-morning boot up the backside and an anonymous key exchange at the village kebab shop.

The house turns out to be OK, decorated with the cheapest version of everything you can imagine and a fondness for rag-rolled walls not seen since the 1980s. The pillows are firmer than a weightlifter’s buttock. When tense. The pillowcases are boudoir-red and the glass-topped kitchen table is wrapped in a thick layer of plastic, like it might be used in a mortuary. The shower is so ill fitted that, as you exit, you realise the water has made a dash for it and filled a neighbouring utility room. Cue frantic (naked) mopping.

OK, I get it. The deal you are entering into is one where cheapness and simplicity trump cost and complexity. But that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If a hotel messaged you to say your room will be sans sheets, you’d presume some prankster had hacked their computer. But in share-y world you just shrug and pay up.

The interesting thing about revolutions is that they often don’t stop where the rebels want. And as fissures show around the sharing economy – and especially how property sites are bending local economies and devouring city cores – you have to hope that there are more, and better, changes to come.

Or, as we regularly champion here at Monocle, a world of possibility for a new generation of modest inns and hotels that don’t resemble an Ikea showroom and don’t charge extra for sheets. We’ll do our bit to make sure this happens – it’s central to the debate at our forthcoming Quality of Life Conference. But before you move on today, don’t forget to leave the money.

Report / / Night trains

The reawakening

There’s a challenge to waking up at 04.00 for a bleak early-morning flight. Seeing Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) make sleeper trains profitable again has encouraged other European countries to consider bringing back the night train. Fifteen years ago Switzerland had an expansive sleeper-train network but that crumbled with the rise of low-cost flights. But a renewed commitment to more environmentally friendly travel – and less hassle – has made their reintroduction a viable option for Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). The ÖBB’s success is reassuring: 1.4 million passengers board its Nightjet services every year. “We are seeing the demand in the market and are checking whether we can expand our night-train traffic again,” says Armin Weber, SBB’s director of international passenger traffic. An expansion would take place in partnership with ÖBB but it won’t happen overnight: it would take two to three years to acquire the necessary rolling stock. Germany’s Green political party is also eager to develop a Europe-wide night-train network by 2030; after all, switching from plane to train cuts CO2 emissions by more than half. And it’s a revival we are happy to endorse.

For more on ÖBB’s sleeper trains, check out our Travel Top 50 in The Escapist.

Report / Hospitality

Raising the Standard

Anyone with a keen eye who’s passed London’s King’s Cross Station regularly over the past six months (writes Josh Fehnert) will have seen a subtle change. The brutalist concrete hulk of a building opposite the station, which once housed the borough’s town hall annexe, is suddenly as fresh as it was when it was built in the 1970s. It’s scrub-down is part of the preparation for its reopening as the Standard London (who share an investor with Monocle) in summer. But while the outside has been polished and preened – crowned with a glass extension that raises its storey count from eight to 10 – the inside has been transformed entirely.

We donned a hard hat for a first look at the fit out of the 266-room behemoth masterminded by Shawn Hausman Design. The rooms that are ready have shades of Stanley Kubrick with the panache of Verner Panton. The downstairs lobby is a mêlée of tiles, marquetry and mid-century furniture; there’s even a recording studio of sorts alongside the bar and restaurant. The pod-like upstairs rooms are a tasteful tumble of reds, blues, tweed banquettes and flush finishes that mirror and embellish the 1970s thread that runs through the impressive fit out. A first look at the suites on the top floors reveals a more upmarket – dare we say, more refined – take on the Standard’s punchier offerings. Roll on opening day.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Home is where the heart is

It’s summer 1977 and your parents make a snap decision that it’s time to go to summer camp. This comes as a bit of a shock but the offer sounds interesting: a woodland setting, plenty of sports and singing, hikes and campfires, and 100 or so other kids from similar ethnic stock. To sell the idea you’re bundled into the car (a Cherokee Chief with Levi’s denim interior no less) and driven to a small town in the middle of southwestern Ontario. After a couple of lefts and rights onto a gravel track you eventually pass some flags and pull up in front of a modernist 1960s structure.

Mom jumps out and is greeted by tanned men and women who wave in my direction and I’m encouraged to join them. In the background, kids in blue shorts, white T-shirts and clogs rowdily exit the building and somewhere in the distance are the sounds of splashing, squealing and someone blowing a whistle. You’re introduced to the group of counsellors and your mom explains they’re going to give you a tour. If you like the look of the camp you can stay the night and then return at the weekend for a seven-day trial run. If not, it’ll be summer in the city. This was my introduction to Seedrioru: a post-war invention by Estonians from across southern Ontario keen to keep traditions alive and ensure their children were aware of their occupied homeland’s history.

I waved mom off and was shown to my dorm. To my left was a kid from Montréal, to the right a boy from Washington. I was quickly informed that I was in the young boys’ dorm and that I should be on watch for raids from the older boys next door, as well as the girls across the compound. As the house rules were being explained I heard the ding of a bell outside and a scramble of clogs and sneakers on gravel. My counsellor explained that it was time to head for dinner and lower the flag. He hustled me down the stairs and I joined in with my other dorm mates in a single rank at the top of the compound.

In front, the head counsellor was standing alongside a pair of older kids holding a drum and sticks. When everyone was assembled, the counsellor said a few commands in Estonian and started a forward march to the beat of the drum. In single file we walked to a manicured stretch of grass and gathered around a flagpole where the blue, black and white Estonian flag was fluttering. When the last stragglers pulled into position the drumming stopped and, without a cue, everyone broke into song. I’d never heard Estonia’s national anthem but immediately found it haunting, somehow familiar and wonderfully uplifting.

As the flag was lowered and delicately folded, I started to recall my grandmother’s stories about our family’s flight from Estonia, those left behind, the property and possessions abandoned, and the trials of starting over in Canada. As we marched up to dinner I knew I already wanted to return and over the days that followed I was hooked by the woodworking classes, track and field, folk dancing and early-evening sauna sessions and lake dips. I continued the Seedrioru tradition well into my junior high years and, as I graduated into the older boys’ dorm, would engage in deeper discussions about Estonian liberation, the value of freedom and how we might keep our identity alive. Would our family ever return? Would the flag be restored? Would the language endure?

On Thursday, with little fanfare but much excitement, I paid a visit to the Estonian Embassy in London and with a smile and a wink the diplomat behind the glass handed over a freshly printed Estonian passport with my name on it. “I’m officially Estonian,” I confirmed to the woman in charge.

“Official? Not really,” she explained. “You’ve always been Estonian, now you just have the paperwork.”

The interrogator / Edition 14

Javier Moreno Barber

Spanish journalist Javier Moreno Barber’s career at El País has seen him cover myriad roles – from business editor to Berlin correspondent – until he became the title’s editor between 2006 and 2014. Nowadays he heads up the paper’s Americas edition and will be joining Monocle in Madrid for our Quality of Life Conference to tell us how you can transport a media brand across an ocean. In the latest instalment of our series dedicated to exploring publishing types’ media habits, he reveals what magazines are his cup of tea.

What news source do you wake up to? Radio: early in the morning, still in bed, as soon as I open my eyes. When I’m in Mexico City it’s W Radio; I turn to Caracol Radio Bogotá for my evening news.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Tea. When in Europe, Sachermischung, which I love. I usually buy it in Vienna. In America I make do with Earl Grey.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I have my own playlists.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? No humming in the shower. I go blank for a few minutes.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? Delivered. Mexican papers and El País daily, plus the FT Weekend on Saturdays and The New York Times on Sundays.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?Icon, Architectural Digest, Monocle, El País Semanal and T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? El Péndulo in Mexico City and La Central in Madrid.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?Güeros, a small-budget Mexican black-and-white film. It oozes authenticity.

Sunday brunch routine? When sunny – terrace, tea, toast, fruit and newspapers.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No, I stopped years ago.

Culture / Watch / Read / Listen

Monster tales

‘Thunder Road’. Jim Cummings’ debut feature-length film is a personal tour de force: he wrote it, directed it and stars in it. His character, Texan cop Jim Arnaud, is struggling to cope with his mother’s death. Public breakdowns and failures create a tragic, tender and ferociously funny tale.

‘Frankissstein’, Jeanette Winterson. There’s an awful lot at play in Winterson’s latest novel: transgender doctors, AI visionaries, sex-toy entrepreneurs and Mary Shelley herself. This smart reimagining of the 19th-century classic is a poignant reminder of what happens when technology takes over.

‘Yes & No’, Xylø. Despite her brother Chase leaving Xylø last year, LA-born singer Paige Duddy has kept the duo’s moniker for herself and taken the project in an interesting direction. Her latest venture displays a canny approach to pop: bubblegum beats marry underlying melancholy. Try “The End” for proof. It worked wonders with Robyn; it may for Xylø too.

Outpost news / Bowen Island

Current affairs

Bowen Island – a 20-minute ferry ride west of Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay – might be peaceful but its only newspaper, the Bowen Island Undercurrent, was born out of conflict. In 1975, islander Pat Weaver had her recurring column axed from a now defunct local rag following a dispute with a senior member of the island’s government. The Undercurrent began as Weaver’s “free-speech project”; it’s since grown from a mimeographed newsletter to a weekly tabloid. Published every Thursday, the Undercurrent has a circulation of about 1,200 on an island with barely more than 3,600 residents. We spoke to its editor Bronwyn Beairsto (pictured) – who is the sole occupant of the newsroom.

What’s the big story this week? As you might expect for an island, it’s the ferry. There was a ferry advisory committee meeting this week, which takes place every six months. It’s the island’s opportunity to speak with BC Ferries. Bowen Island wants an electric ferry. We get all our stuff by diesel ferry so we have a really high carbon footprint per capita. The islanders are pretty environmentally conscious.

Best headline? There was a cat who just strode into a council meeting the other night and walked around. So the headline is going to be, “Cat has opinion on electric-vehicle-charging stations,” or something along those lines. On this island, a cat crossing the street is big news.

Best picture? I went to an exhibition at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology that was all about puppets. One of our locals – a costume designer – had designed a puppet-inspired dress for the curator of the exhibit, who is also a former islander. I have a photo of one dressing the other. It’s really fun to profile residents like that. Because we’re so small, I can really let somebody shine on the front page.

Next big event? We have the Round Bowen Race coming up in two weeks. It’s one of the largest mass-start yacht races on the North American Pacific coastline. In the past up to 200 boats have competed. I think it’s probably fewer than 150 this year but they’ll race around the island. That’s always big news.

Get out / Hong Kong

Festive feasting

Hong Kong celebrates a lot of holidays (writes our Hong Kong bureau chief James Chambers). We light it up for east and west, Jesus and Buddha. Sure, you won’t hear me complaining but it’s handy to have a food marker for each festival. Mooncakes for mid-autumn, mince pies at Christmas and hot cross buns during Easter. Right now it’s the turn of zongzi: fist-sized triangular pork and sticky-rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with twine. Delicious to eat fresh and a doddle to steam at home. Fresh zongzi are produced to coincide with next Friday’s Tuen Ng (dragon boat festival), a Chinese celebration that floats around the lunar calendar.

Feasting on dumplings apparently evolved from the frankly more wasteful tradition of lobbing balls of rice into the sea to ward off evil sea creatures. While local superstition and ancestor worship are often lost on me, I wholeheartedly tuck into these (genuinely) seasonal cuisines and try to get my fill of buns, pies and dumplings before the festive ship has sailed (sorry mooncakes – one a year is quite enough). Scarcity is something to be savoured in an age when most food is available all year around.

Report / Mobility

Pedal power

Uber’s Jump electric bicycle (e-bike) hire scheme, already established in some US and European cities, rolled out in London last week. While the US technology giant struggles to figure out its mobility business model, its bet on e-bikes aligns with a significant gear shift in the cycle market. E-bike sales are rocketing, especially in bike-friendly cities such as Zürich and Amsterdam. Jump’s introduction in London should rustle up some interest in this zippy and eco-friendly commuting device, encouraging an upward tick in private sales. For those in the market, UK biking stalwart Brompton’s foldable electric number is a practical choice. Our favourite, now stocked in Monocle shops, is Leaos’s sleek aluminium-pressed e-bike, designed by Merano’s Harry Thaler and handmade in Italy.

Modern etiquette / Edition 08

How do I behave in a theatre?

OK, now you’ve really asked for it. Here goes. You will not try to sneakily record your favourite show number on your phone or check your messages while the leading man makes his soliloquy (a flashlight and some disco glowsticks would emanate the same amount of luminescence). You will not clap just because someone you recognise from TV has walked on stage (or give a standing ovation just because you managed to get to the end of the play). You will not wear stovepipe hats or your hair in a precipitously complex bun that blocks the view of anyone not on a stepladder. You will not make sandwiches in your seat or devour jumbo packs of crisps. You will save your theatre criticism for after the show. Understood? Great. Encore.

Monocle Films / Italy

Venice Biennale: art of nationhood

In our second report from this year’s Venice Biennale, we head to the national pavilions to meet the artists and curators who are raising their countries’ profiles on the world stage.

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