Tourist trap - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 10/8/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Tourist trap

There are too many people going on holiday, clogging up the piazzas, museums, canals and ice-cream parlours of the world’s greatest cities. And the locals are getting ructious. They don’t want their neighbourhoods taken over by cheapskates staying in Airbnbs and failing to put money into the economy. They don’t want people posing for photos on their picturesque doorsteps. They don’t want late-night stag-party people with their willy inflatables. They want all of these people gone and now. So buy your Colosseum snow globe, get back on your bus and bugger off. Oh and take your cruise ships too.

One small problem. Who is going to stay at home? Which one of you is going to stop travelling?

It’s at this point everyone seems to come up with a solution that miraculously leaves them out of the no-holiday equation. They will tell you how backpackers are the menace because of their penny-pinching tendencies (Helga and Johann living off crackers and sleeping on the beach are hardly going to keep a city’s restaurants busy, they reason). Next to have their passports snatched away will be those who get around by coach. And placed on permanent house arrest will be anyone who has a cruise-ship predilection – who needs people who spend eight hours frantically Instagramming every tourist site and barely have the time to suck a lolly before they are back on board? These, to be clear, are the bad tourists.

And the good ones? Well, wealthy people because they do put money into the economy. And perhaps the odd visiting professor who will spend her whole trip out of sight in a miserable museum and bother nobody. Oh, and also in the good books will be the person giving you their tourist vision – “Oh me? I am more of a traveller. I always get to know the locals. And I do speak French you know.”

Let’s be clear, mass tourism can buckle cities, distort economies and make it frustrating to get to the bar. But it also works rather well.

Take Venice. This week the Italian government said that it would restrict cruise-ship access and make boats drop anchor at neighbouring ports instead (let’s see). I get it. The ships are too big and have banged into canal sides and caused anguish. But the idea that the city cannot cope with all the visitors is debatable. Last summer we sent a team to the Architecture Biennale in the heat of summer and, yes, St Mark’s Square was like a theme park and the Grand Canal was dotted with gondoliers efficiently helping tourists to part with their life savings. But away from here you could walk for 15 minutes and be totally alone. I did and I was. You could even find a good restaurant in need of a customer. Same in grumpy Barcelona where you’d be mad to go on a Gaudí pilgrimage in the summer. So don’t. Instead just go in the other direction and you’ll be fine.

In London I would never think of going for drinks in Leicester Square. Tourists want to. I hope they have a lovely time. But it means none of the neighbourhoods where most Londoners head to feel frazzled by tourists. Mass tourism pulls people into a few small pockets and then sends them home again. It’s efficient.

In the battle of the good and bad tourist there’s another problem: the whiff of snobbery. Actually some people need to travel by coach. And there are plenty of very nice, cultured people who like a cruise, so leave them alone.

When I was 16, a friend and I somehow convinced our parents to let us buy a one-month Interrail card to use in the summer holidays. I had been abroad a handful of times and spoke no languages. And this was pre-mobile phone. Looking back I am unsure that I would have let me go but over the coming weeks we headed as far north as Oslo, as far east as Vienna and all the way down to Nice. We slept in a tent or used our European rail timetable to find overnight trains to sleep on for free. Our diet was bread and cheese. I wasn’t the good tourist scattering wealth but that journey (and two more Interrails in following summers) opened up the world and kept me coming back.

So, yes, cruise ships should get smaller and we should legislate to let people clamp down on Airbnb, but let’s keep our cities open and welcoming because the desire to travel is instinctive. There should be no wealth bar to entry. So if you want to stay at home, do, but I am going to keep on exploring.

Report / Cinemas

Bigger picture

Once Upon a Time in… Hong Kong. Quentin Tarantino’s latest flick features Brad Pitt’s ageing stunt man throwing Bruce Lee around like a rag doll. While the director plays fast and loose with 1960s Hollywood history, the kung fu star’s appearance is a reminder of Hong Kong’s movie heyday. The contemporary Cantonese film industry has seen better days but the big screen is still kicking ass with local audiences. Box-office takings were up last year and, later this month, the city’s soon-to-be largest cinema – a 12-screen multiplex with more than 1,700 seats – will open inside swanky shopping mall K11 Musea.

Cinemas provide a much-needed escape in Hong Kong, both as a source of entertainment and as generously sized alternatives to pokey apartments. Films have also become a form of protest. As civil unrest fills the streets, anti-government posters and placards make unfavourable movie references to this year’s blockbuster releases, such as Avengers: Infinity War. One day someone will make a film about current events in this city and, however it ends, it is likely to be worth watching on the big screen.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

Good enough to eat?

Wanted: a tidy, organised couple to look after a lakehouse on the shores of Lake Zürich.

We are looking for a considerate couple or extremely respectful small family to tend to our small garden house for three weeks. The candidates should appreciate the simple life and have a love for the outdoors. Our tiny house is from the 1960s and is not bigger than 30 square metres. There’s a fully equipped galley kitchen, small bathroom shower, an ample bedroom and a living area with a pair of Swiss stackable single beds. Outside you have a beautiful lawn stretching down to the lake, a grape-vine-covered pergola with seating for eight and a small outdoor kitchen area with gas grills and a Weber barbecue. At the water’s edge there’s another grill, seating for 12 people and three steps directly into the lake. Given the modest set-up, we are offering the house for free in exchange for some light garden maintenance (watering the tomatoes and cucumbers) and keeping things looking tidy. Situated 15 minutes from Zürich (train or car is the same), this can be a perfect retreat from the city. If you’re interested, please let us know.

I was alerted to the above offer about a month ago and instantly saw myself taking up this post: what could be better than a little modernist box on the lake with all the trimmings? In the spirit of full disclosure I had already visited the house and had an in with the owners but I knew interest would be heavy so I pressed my case early on and did my best to show my tidy credentials. After some light lobbying, I was happy to receive an email from the owner saying that I’d been selected for one of the available windows to babysit the house and, if the dates worked out, I should consult the attached list of house quirks and codes. This was a smartly arranged PDF that read more like a pre-flight checklist, complete with photos, character profiles of the neighbours and relevant info for working various appliances and systems. I hit reply immediately and within hours the owner responded and wished me best of luck with life am See.

Last Saturday we pulled up beside the house for the handover. The graphic and industrial designer couple who’d been in charge offered a few pointers and then left us to figure the rest out. As everything had been left in a perfect state, there was little to do aside from pull on our trunks, lay out the towels and open the rosé. With perfect skies and all the weekend papers to hand, we spent a full afternoon napping, reading and marvelling at how strange it was to be so disconnected just 15 minutes from our city set-up. An SMS mid-afternoon from our friend Philippe proposed an afternoon pick-up in his boat for a spin around the lake. On arrival, he also produced waterskis so the late afternoon became a bit more active and fun than planned. Back ashore, the barbecue was fired up and friends from Zürich arrived to join an easy evening under the pergola. “Who needs a holiday on the Med?” someone asked. How true.

The following morning we woke up to the fresh smell of the lake and got ready for a quick swim before heading into town. As I stepped out onto the terrace I noticed something on the lawn. Was that a Birkenstock? Was it mine? How did it move in the night? And where was its mate? I glanced down to see there’d been a footwear massacre. The suede Birk’s straps had disappeared and a navy Havaianas flip-flop had its toe strap bitten through. I recovered the other Birk on the lawn and all that was left was the footbed and the metal bits. I started my forensics work to see how cleanly the straps had been torn (or cut?) off. Was this the work of the neighbours I’d read about? Were they trying to scare us off on our first night? Or was this a more simple case of hungry wildlife? Then again, who – or what – would eat Brazilian rubber?

I immediately reported this to the owners and the doctor living in the house nearby, and was given a satisfactory – if vague – answer. “Ahhhh, yes. We should have told you about that.” One week on, I want to believe it was a fox or maybe a marten with a taste for footwear but I’m not entirely sure. I’m now in Tuscany, enjoying the Med but hoping I’ll make the cut to tend the little house am See next summer. Footwear will be sleeping indoors.

The interrogator / Edition 24

David Haskell

After 12 years at New York Magazine, David Haskell was named the title’s editor-in-chief earlier this year, succeeding Adam Moss. Haskell also wears two other hats: he co-founded whiskey brand Kings County Distillery and dabbles in ceramics-making too. Here he lifts the lid on what keeps him inspired. Hear more from him on this week’s episode of (The Stack).

What news source do you wake up to?The New York Times website. I open the “Today’s Paper” tab to make sure I digest the entire paper; otherwise you lose stories that aren't on the homepage. I also check our news-focused Slack channels.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines? Coffee and fruit.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I don’t listen to anything in the morning. I've tried to incorporate podcasts or radio shows but I'm too impatient; I want to digest information as quickly as possible and have time to talk with my husband about life beyond the news.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Stevie Wonder.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?The New Yorker, the Times Magazine, and then a rotating cluster of Vanity Fair, World of Interiors, Apartamento and The Atlantic.

Are you a subscriber or a newsstand browser? I love to browse magazines at McNally Jackson in Soho.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? TV in bed; movies in the theatre.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?Fleabag season two, of course.

Sunday brunch routine? I hate brunch; it makes me anxious.

What papers and periodicals will be spread around the dining table?The New York Times.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No!

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Instagram Stories on my husband's phone.

Outpost News / Reykjavík

Jón Trausti Reynisson, editor of ‘Stundin’

In 2014, DV – a newspaper known for its investigative work – underwent a hostile takeover and nearly half its employees quit, fearing new ownership would impinge on the paper’s impartiality. Among them was Jón Trausti Reynisson. In 2015, Reynisson and four colleagues crowdfunded a new media company, Reykjavík-based Stundin, which has since broken many of the country’s biggest stories. Today the bi-weekly newspaper is helmed by Reynisson and fellow editor Ingibjörg Dögg Kjartansdóttir. Reynisson tells Monocle what Stundin’s 7,000 subscribers are reading about.

What’s the big story making the news? It’s an ethics case involving five members of parliament. They were in a bar speaking inappropriately about other members of parliament, a disabled woman and using their positions of power for personal favours. Support for their party collapsed straight after we published the news – and it’s been news ever since.

Best headline? “In the end, we are all the same”. It’s an interview with a transgender woman who was bullied for much of her life. She did an interview to help others.

Best picture? We sent our photographer to a remote area of Iceland that is threatened by a hydroelectric dam. Right now a small, unpaved road is being widened to make it suitable for transporting heavy machinery. The photo is one of the residents proudly standing in front of the road, which is covered in muddy tyre tracks. He doesn’t want a better road.

Down-page treat? It’s a story about a family who moved from Reykjavík to a village in the countryside, in part due to rising property prices in the city. It’s a global story really. Since the 1950s we’ve seen people streaming from the countryside to the city but, in the past few years, there has been a huge increase in tourism in Iceland, so there are more opportunities.


You must remember this

‘The Memory Police’, Yōko Ogawa. Best-selling Japanese author Yoko Ogawa has constructed a dystopian narrative that’s got more than a touch of Fahrenheit 451 about it. On an imaginary island, objects start disappearing both from the physical world and from people’s memories. Those who hold on to reminders – or are able to remember – get arrested by the Memory Police. Who’s going to stop them?

‘Dollar’, Netflix. A welcome addition to the limited roster of Arab originals on Netflix, this series takes us to Lebanon where an advertising exec has to come up with a knock-out marketing plan for a bank. His idea involves creating a special dollar bill that’s in fact worth a million dollars. The hunt for the banknote is on.

‘Now, Not Yet’, Half-Alive. They don’t make many boy bands like this Long Beach-based trio anymore, just look at the video for ‘Still Feel’: cheeky co-ordinated choreography at its best. Their debut album is just as energising and filled with funk. Much of the repertoire was created by singer Josh Taylor when he challenged himself to write 50 songs in seven months – the result feels coherent but never tired.

Get out / Dublin

Devlin, the details

Sorry Dublin but you’ve never shone in the hotel stakes (writes Josh Fehnert). Your five-star stays are overblown and the mid-market lags behind the pack in style – yet storms off into the distance when it comes to cost. But there’s hope. The Devlin, a smart opening in the leafy suburb of Ranelagh, is a sharp departure from what went before. The 40-key, five-floor affair from the Press Up Entertainment Group is a boxy, light-bathed new-build that hits all the right notes.

Walk to the reception (past the curvy coffee kiosk and the whiff of Arabica) and you’ll see that the hotel has been kitted out with reassuring touches, including herringbone parquet floors throughout and a downstairs bar skirted with plush banquettes. The rooms are comfy and have as standard the things you’d usually have to call down to reception for (clothes steamer anyone?) and the rooftop restaurant, with a view over the surrounding ’hood, delivers spot-on pasta dishes and pizzas. Stellar stuff. Speaking of which, Stella is the name of the art deco basement cinema that clinches the head-to-toe success of the opening. At last, a Dublin stop-off that’s as popular with the inn crowd as the in-crowd.


Leader of the packs

I have a difficult relationship with backpacks (writes fashion editor Jamie Waters). I'm sceptical of them: often they look naïve and schoolboyish; rarely do they convey professionalism. Yet I remain committed to them because they are functional.

Despite healthy demand, though, it remains tough to find a good-looking pack. The Scandis offer typical minimalist promise: Fjällräven, a pioneer since 1960, has received a recent injection of fashion credibility thanks to a collaboration with fellow Swedes Acne Studios, while Sandqvist does a tidy trade in navy canvas-and-leather carriers. Failsafe clothing brands Ami and APC offer sensible options, as does London label Ally Capellino. And longtime backpack experts Porter and Master-Piece from Japan, and Eastpack from the US, sell sturdy – and stylish – nylon models.

But it’s the outdoor fashion brands that are currently offering the most enticing backpacks. Eye Loewe Nature – launched this year as a mountain-friendly offshoot of luxury brand Loewe – has roomy rucksacks in smoky grey and pop orange. And Battenwear, the New York brand whose adventure gear is so attractive it almost has me researching campsites, does versions in red-clay-coloured nylon with leather trim or black. Schoolboyish? Unprofessional? With one of these handsome carriers strapped to your back, not a chance.


Can I wear shorts to work?

Even the cloudiest corners of the northern hemisphere have seen the mercury rising in recent weeks, which begs the question: do shorts in the office get short shrift? First, read the room: it’s safe to say that surgeons, expensive strategists on secondment to a client’s office and judges can’t get away with it. The house view at Monocle? Certain staffers – our native Paulistano, Fernando Augusto Pacheco, for one – show that, if worn right (above the knee, good cut, nice material), the humble short can work at work. But exercise caution: not everyone can pull it off and Mr Etiquette has decided that his thunderous thighs and meaty calves shall remain out of sight unless he’s having a rare day off by the sea or playing with Mr Tiddly in the garden.

Monocle Films / Retail

Thessaloniki revival

Greece’s second city is defiantly bouncing back from the economic crisis and welcoming an increasingly international crowd. We meet the brave residents who set up shop in the tough times and are now finding success – as well as offering reasons to be hopeful about the country’s future.


Perfecting hospitality

How the Asian lifestyle hospitality brand Potato Head is setting new milestones with its restaurants and the latest wave of tequila and mezcal in London. Plus: how a new British rum won over consumers in record time.


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