Saturday. 3/8/2019

Monocle
Weekend Edition

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Picture perfect

It is a balmy night. A breeze is edging through the open-to-the-elements restaurant. Tables are humming happily with conversation. Tears of condensation are meandering down the sides of cold beer glasses. Fans whirr overhead.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a young woman standing by a balcony, the glittering lights of the restaurant behind her. Every now and then she spins around, shakes her hair and her face contorts. Has a lizard fallen from the rattan roof into her hair? Or perhaps a cockroach has scuttled up her leg and she is urgently trying to dislodge it? Is a mongoose nibbling at her toe? It can happen in these parts.

And then it sinks in. Standing almost out of view, in the gloom, is that special breed of boyfriend whose main task on any holiday is to photograph his girlfriend giving come-hither looks to the camera and the world beyond the lens, but certainly not to him. They are part of a class of invisible people called Nits – those Never In The Shot. There are Nits parents, Nits brothers and even a few Nits girlfriends.

But back to the balcony.

We watch as the boyfriend takes a series of photographs of his girlfriend looking surprised, yearning and also one where she looks like she’s just received a very big phone bill. She asks to see the images. Then follows a very different series of facial expressions that reveal her dismay at her boyfriend’s inability to capture just how gorgeous she is tonight (I thought the phone-bill one had potential). And so the shoot happens again. And again. Except now she’s getting furious. Suddenly she rams the phone in her bag and they are off.

If you stay in a hotel with a nice pool, it’s even worse. The hotel on this trip had a cute, if small, infinity pool with lush forest just beyond. An amazing setting. But throughout the day you had to endure one person after another perching on the pool’s edge and hoicking up their bikini’s gusset for maximum butt exposure. Then you would be forced to listen as they loudly directed their drained-looking Nits boyfriends in pursuit of the ultimate shot. As one person left, the next would arrive, coconut drink in hand.

Towards the end of the day I suggested to my partner that I swim across and recreate some of the splendid looks we had witnessed. He firmly suggested that I stop drinking so many cocktails and get back to my book.

But there is a new variety of Nits that I am more concerned for: mother Nits. This week I watched as a girl stood in the middle of a road near London’s Regent’s Park and began to contort herself into those same weird sexualised poses. But instead of her not-good-enough boyfriend being in charge of the camera, it was her mother. And not some hipster mother but a regular mother who looked like she would be far happier if her daughter was on a geography field trip rather than standing there looking like a pole-dancing apprentice.

In years to come, when people look back at pictures of their holidays and day trips to London, what will they make of this time in their lives where they seemingly did everything alone? When I see the holiday snaps my parents took when they were young, they are full of smiling faces. Picnics and days at the seaside are brimming with life and togetherness. Everyone seems to have got in on the picture.

But Nits boyfriends may one day have their revenge. A friend was recently at dinner and sat next to a handsome guy who was complaining about the difficulty of finding someone with one thing he needed in a partner. When asked what that was, he said, “I want someone who is ‘Instagram ready’.” Asked what he meant, he explained: “You know, a girlfriend who looks good in every picture so that you don’t have to waste time cropping and filtering.” Well, it would certainly help speed up those Nits shoots and declutter the world’s infinity pools.

Report / Architecture

Big shop of horrors

The Brits can be a tad unobliging when it comes to celebrating modern architecture (writes Josh Fehnert) and many eyebrows were raised when it was announced that a supermarket in north London had received listed status from charity English Heritage. Architect Nicholas Grimshaw’s grimy Sainsbury’s superstore on Camden Road – like Colin St John Wilson’s British Library and James Stirling’s Poultry buildings before it – has overcome the public’s disdain and threats of demolition to garner Grade II protection.

It’s a good time to acknowledge that the most important buildings aren’t always the popular, pretty or prim ones. This supermarket, which was completed in 1988 and looks like a giant steam engine plonked onto a traffic-choked thoroughfare, is unsightly. However, according to the charity, is also an important marker of hi-tech architecture.

Sometimes buildings are important because they show what the architect got wrong, as well as what they got right. So rather than getting grumpy about how hideous this supermarket is, we could ask ourselves another question that will serve us better in the future: what do we need from the shop?

Report / Fashion

The Dane event

We associate Scandinavians with a certain type of chicness but, when it comes to fashion brands, Sweden tends to rank first in people’s minds thanks to the H&M Group and Acne Studios (writes Jamie Waters). But the Danes are challenging the sartorial hegemony. Copenhagen Fashion Week, which kicks off on Tuesday, is the premier fashion event in Scandinavia and arguably the leading fashion week outside the Big Four (buyers from top US and European department stores count Copenhagen as a crucial pit-stop). Over the past decade it has built its reputation off the back of runway shows and solid trade fairs featuring promising brands from across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Increasingly, however, it’s the Danish designers who are standing out. The nation’s big success, Ganni, will close this year’s proceedings and has become a global hit with its easy, affordable women’s designs. Meanwhile younger designers are bringing excitement to the schedule: menswear brands Sunflower and Mfpen are nailing the minimalist silhouette, while womenswear star Cecilie Bahnsen is upending stereotypes about pared-back Scandi style with her voluminous ruffled dresses (now sold in the likes of Dover Street Market). This is the new Danish wave.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Assault on the senses

What on earth is that racket? Can you hear it? We’re in a hotel lobby, we’re seated at an otherwise peaceful café, we’re relaxing in the living room of your elegant apartment, we’re in seats 3A and C on a Lufthansa Airbus A320 and the noise is raw, tinny and simply awful. It’s hard to pinpoint the source – it might be coming from behind you, the next cabin or maybe it’s in the room opposite. It’s a bit echo-y and high-pitched. At certain levels it becomes a bit distorted and scratchy. It’s also very insistent and doesn’t want to go away. Have you identified where it’s coming from and who owns the responsible device? Have you decided how you’re going to shut this down and save your fellow citizens from societal collapse?

I’ve become quite good at asking conference callers/YouTube viewers/FaceTimers who use their speakers instead of the earpiece or headphones that they might want to be more considerate of others and either take their call/viewing somewhere else, lower the volume or insert earbuds. Most of the time this approach proves successful and I get nods of thanks from fellow diners/guests/passengers. Sure, I’ve had a few eye-rolls and one snarl but the end result has always been the same – near total noise cancellation.

As effective as the interventions have been, they only solve one part of a bigger problem – poor sound quality and what passes for acceptable audio these days. We might like to get all romantic about young-ish people buying vinyl and dusting down turntables found in family basements but the fact is we’re living in a world of inferior sound and most of us seem completely happy with it. I recently asked a radio and podcast-loving acquaintance how he consumed all of the programmes he so enjoyed. Do you listen to them on radio? “No,” he replied and left it at that. “Do you own a radio?” I asked. “No,” he answered. At this point I tried to sell him on a special-edition Monocle radio but he muttered something about having to save up for it and pedalled off in the direction of Portugal, no doubt content with the sound emitting from his headphones.

And therein lies the problem: we’re content with something that’ll do, when it should be outstanding. We’re talking about one of the most important senses and yet we don’t mind if the experience is sub-par as long as it’s convenient and comes in a neatly designed package. Could the same be said for other senses? I spend a lot of time concerning myself with light quality. I’m the one who won’t go into a restaurant if it’s overlit, no matter how good the food is. I’m also the one who passed the hardware store two weeks ago and noticed a bin full of 20-watt incandescent bulbs on special and not only bought the lot but also took everything they had in storage. (I now have enough 15, 20 and 25-watt bulbs to get me through the next decade under a perfect glow.)

How did legislators and big corporations allow us to get to a place where we had to endure poor-quality light that we’re told is better for the environment but perhaps not so good for our health? If we had more time on this Saturday morning we could go into the narrowing range of acceptable smells in society or the challenges facing human touch but I think I might have spotted another shop offering proper old-school lightbulbs – time to load up.

The interrogator / Edition 23

Sarah Fulford

Toronto Life has been the Canadian city’s flagship monthly since 1966. Sarah Fulford joined the magazine in 1999 and, less than a decade later, became the first female editor. Under her stewardship it has been elegantly redesigned and amassed a legion of national awards. A monthly circulation of about 90,000 readers means Fulford is among the busiest figures in Canadian media. She explains the presence of percolated coffee, croissants and cryptic crosswords in her cultural life.

What news source do you wake up to? I scroll through my Twitter feed, scan The New York Times Morning Briefing newsletter and then usually check The Globe and Mail.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Ordinary percolated coffee with almond milk. If I’m in a rush I make a cup of instant with Elite, an Israeli brand I discovered the year I lived in Jerusalem.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I’m an Apple Music subscriber but in the morning I listen to Metro Morning on CBC Radio, CBC’s podcast Front Burner or The Daily podcast from The New York Times.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I don’t sing in the shower but I often play Janelle Monae’s “Make me Feel” on my walk to work – and occasionally find myself singing along.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I get the Sunday New York Times and the Saturday Globe and Mail delivered. My husband is religious about the cryptic crossword so the Saturday Globe and Mail is a must.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?The New Yorker, Bon Appetit, New York Magazine, BBC Music Magazine (for the reviews of new classical recordings), The Atlantic and Runner’s World. Sorry, that’s six!

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? When Trump started to denounce the media I made a point of subscribing to all my favourite publications. Now I’m hooked.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? Type Books in the Junction neighbourhood is a joy.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Sofa because there’s so much great TV. I go to the cinema for movies that demand to be seen on the big screen or anything during Toronto International Film Festival, which is the best time to see movies in Toronto.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? The second season of Fleabag is very original and wry. I also loved Netflix’s Russian Doll. Both shows centre on interesting, complicated women who don’t always make the best choices.

Sunday brunch routine? I have a 13-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl and we often have weekend breakfast together, rather than brunch. If we’re feeling celebratory we pick up croissants.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out around among the viennoiserie? Too many! The Sunday New York Times lasts all week, sometimes longer. My son reads cinema journals so those are mixed in too, along with a variety of magazines that my husband writes for.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Never. But I listen to podcasts in the evening while I’m pottering around the house, doing dishes and getting things ready for the morning. I listen to Slate podcasts, Tablet’s Unorthodox and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? The BBC World Service podcast. It’s hugely informative and the crisp British accent of the broadcaster is oddly reassuring, even when the news is bleak.

Culture / Watch / Listen / Read

Where you belong

‘Transit’. German auteur director Christian Petzold has put together a bewitching adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel for our times. Fascism is on the rise and raids are being carried out in Paris when refugee Georg is tasked with delivering a letter to a writer – whose identity he ends up stealing. The tense cat-and-mouse story turns into a compelling tale of belonging.

‘Immunity’, Clairo. Atlanta-born Clare Cottrill – aka Clairo – is finally releasing her much-awaited full-length debut. Two years after her self-released (and artfully goofy) video for ‘Pretty Girl’ shot her to fame in the US, this record maintains the softly spoken, intimate beauty of her lo-fi tracks – and has us anything but immune to her charm.

‘This is Not Propaganda’, Peter Pomerantsev. The author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible dives back into the shifting sands of distorted reality. Going beyond Russia – and visiting many countries in the world where disinformation is used for political gain – Pomerantsev charts the boundaries of a post-truth world (and teaches us a few coping mechanisms too).

Outpost news / Concrete, Washington

The hard stuff

Cement produced in the town of Concrete, Washington, can be found across the globe, from US airforce runways in the Philippines to dams slowing the fast-flowing Columbia River. It was also used to build huge swathes of Seattle. Beginning in 1909, the once-humming town was served by The Concrete Herald until the newspaper petered out in 1991. It sat dormant for 18 years until writer Jason Miller, having lost his job because of the global recession, resurrected it. While he toyed with the idea of relaunching it as an online-only publication, many of Concrete’s 760 residents dissuaded him. The older generations rarely had reliable internet while the younger ones valued holding a physical copy. Today Miller is a one-man newsroom and publisher overseeing a paper with a monthly print run of 5,000 copies.

What’s the big story making the news? The town has received $255,000 in the state budget to decommission an unused sewer lagoon. We built a new wastewater treatment plant 10 years ago and the Department of Ecology fears the lagoon could leach waste into Baker River. While they were willing to give loans, we’re a low-income town loathe to take on more debt so the appropriation is important.

Best picture? It’s a photo of the winners of the Mount Baker Ultra Marathon. The participants race 55 miles [90km] up to the peak of Mount Baker and then back to Concrete. First place came in at 11 hours and 50 minutes.

Down-page treat? It’s usually the sheriff’s “Blotter”. The Skagit county sergeant writes up brief descriptions of calls they’ve investigated. It’s an extremely popular column that never fails to entertain. They can be funny and wild but we don’t name the people involved.

Next big event? In August it’s Cascade Days, which is far and away the biggest event in Concrete. It’s two days of parades and competitions. Upwards of 4,000 people come through town, which is a tremendous influx. It’s the place to be.

Modern etiquette / Edition 17

How late can I cancel my plans?

If you’re planning on missing a humdrum work meeting or coffee then you’ll need to let people know the day before (the more notice the better). If you can’t make it for a drink with friends then a full 24 hours is best. For dinner – out or in – a solid 48 hours allows time for alternate plans to be made and seats swapped. Leave a week for reneging on a theatre ticket or ducking out of a gig. As for weddings or anything where someone is likely to have printed a place setting, then a calendar month should be plenty to keep your place at the table at future gatherings. Oh, and if you’re hosting rather than attending then you’d better give a little more notice – double it at least. (Although Mr Etiquette admits that sometimes when he gets blown out last minute, it comes as a nice treat. Means more time with Mr Tiddly. That’s the cat).

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Dishoom

Meet cousins Kavi and Shamil Thakrar, business partners and co-founders of Dishoom, the ever-popular chain of restaurants styled after the famed cafés of Mumbai.

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