Saturday 17 August 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 17/8/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Space invaders

Oh, you’re one of those people are you. Trying to retire by the time you are 30 by making someone else pay for your electricity bills. We’ve seen you in our local café: headphones on, staring with bitter determination at your laptop screen, anxious to avoid any eye-contact with the waiter and his nicely composed menu. You’ve been here for four hours now and have guarded that empty coffee cup with more vigour than Gollum puts into keeping people away from his infamous ring.

There’s an unwritten contract at play here and you, dear sir, are in breach of the conditions. Sure, you can hang out all day working on your never-to-be-finished novel or genius business idea but, in return, you have to spend at least some money on that Monzo card you keep talking about. And, no, one extra oat-milk latte is not enough to win you a reprieve.

Please don’t claim that you are not hungry, we’ve seen you scrabbling around for the nut box in your bag and did you just sneak a mouthful of homemade sandwich from the depths of your Herschel backpack? You might want to remove the smear of avocado from your lips, it’s making you look like some peculiar tropical frog.

We get it: you’re a New Nomad but even an old-school one would have coughed up for a yak-milk flat white and a Mongolian muffin at this point. Your being modern and taking up squatters’ rights is costing the owner of this café a small fortune.

And didn’t you notice when the nice woman with her grandchildren came and sat at the same table as you? Perhaps at that point you could have put away some of your paperwork? And why have you chosen here to do your annual accounts? And how have you managed to make it look more complicated than Ernst & Young auditing an entire nation?

We know what will happen next. You’ll be off to our favourite bar where you will install your mobile HQ on a table for six. As the bar fills up you will remain in screen-stare-y mode, refusing to relinquish any territory. Your empty coffee cup will have been replaced by a glass of water.

It’s at this point that diners and drinkers will notice your annoyingly aggressive typing style. The way you hit each key was last seen in the TV series Chernobyl as the power station operatives banged buttons trying to avoid a nuclear meltdown (is that what’s happening to you?). Your typing is the sort of noise that you cannot tune out – and people who came here to relax are mentally transported back to work.

Eventually a brave barman will try and catch your eye. You’ll lift one headphone and stare at him. He’ll politely ask if you would mind stopping work? You shut your computer. Then once he’s out of sight you open it again. Don’t people understand that you have deadlines to meet?

Finally you do stop. And as you leave feeling smug about your day, about your life living at the new frontiers of work, about your ability to survive on so little money in this city (even if, by the way, you earn more than the café owner and the waiter), the door will close behind you and a crowded bar will be at ease. It’s like everyone just got a neck massage from Amazing Bertha (I’ll introduce you another day). A hard-to-explain collective stress will evaporate and people will start enjoying a bar that’s a bar and not a “third space”.

And one of these drinkers will conclude that there’s a place for people who fail to understand the ethics and rules of the new world of work. It’s called an office, you should try it one day.


Making it

“We wanted to see if smaller-scale producers could make money from their side projects,” says Stacey Price, ahead of the opening of the third outpost of her Shop Made In DC franchise in the city’s Georgetown. “It turns out they can.” Whereas “Made In…” concept stores can often feel worthy, Shop Made In DC has, largely, elevated the idea that homemade goods must inevitably be cutesy trinkets, destined for some forgotten corner of a cupboard. Linen shirts, hand-stitched leather wallets, cooking sauces and hand-thrown ceramic bowls – all made in DC – are a sample of the goods for sale. Shop Made In DC, founded two years ago, was born from a fund established by the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, to encourage entrepreneurs to make things in Washington. It’s bearing fruit and has also demonstrated that the appetite for bricks-and-mortar shops, in DC at least, is far from waning.


Naked truth

Have you been feeling a little bit naked this August? I know I have – and not always in a wholesome or fun way. While I’m all for a fresh morning plunge (something I do all year in fact), I’m not talking about being nude by design. It’s more the sense of feeling a bit exposed by lacking the necessary accessories and not being fully equipped to spend an evening (or many) in the company of others who function at a different level.

On a road trip across the Alps earlier in the week I explored this topic with a friend and fellow correspondent. While I managed the road and she managed part of the catering with Mats, we explored territory that, in our hyper-sensitive times, is best reserved for well-insulated vehicles or parts of the house without mobile reception. Why is it that the media has created a climate where too many people are seemingly forced to “self-identify” with traits that go rather wide of the basics? Are newsrooms and NGOs devoted to political correctness demanding that people ask a few too many questions of themselves? Is a climate where everyone is suddenly exceptional exhausting for the invitees to the dinner party, around the boardroom table or in charge of editing a daily news outlet?

As the orchards and vineyards blurred past, I returned to my sense of identity and attempted to challenge my profile. Was there room for me to start talking about how I “self-identified” with certain behaviours? More importantly, if I dug deep enough would these newfound identities make me a more interesting, modern person? And, if so, would this be a good thing? I started on my list but it was all a bit dull, basic and antiseptically factual: male and Canadian/Estonian/British. As for self-identifying, this was more complicated. Did I self-identify with being more of a Lufthansa customer than a British Airways one? For sure. Did that even count? Could I self-identify with being a runner even though I’ve discovered I really like to swim? And what about food and drink? That’s become a whole battlefield for identity and exceptionalism, so I must be able to claim some territory there. What do you call someone who doesn’t identify with melons?

To be honest, I’m not even sure what the term “self-identify” has come to stand for circa summer 2019; has it already been devalued by abuse and editorial mismanagement? As recently as five years ago, I think I could have (I repeat, could have) self-identified as a survivor of a sniper attack because I was shot twice, nearly died but, thanks to the snappy hands and instruments of a Swiss Red Cross delegation in Kabul, I survived. Today I no longer self-identify with the term “survivor” because it’s been co-opted as a catch-all for anyone who seems to have hit some headwinds in life. Sure, there are plenty of real survivors (car accidents, cancer, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, tsunamis) but many more who use the word in a lazy, short-hand manner that has moved far away from any sense of mortal danger. Am I being too literal? Too harsh? Too blinkered in my views? Perhaps. But there’s a good reason for this. Are you ready for it?

In my high-speed search for my own identity (more the velocity of the vehicle than my own mental mining), I made a much more significant and profound discovery about humankind that cuts to the core of what makes some of us more resilient, curious and socially aware than others. I’m going to save this grand revelation for next week but, until then, I’ll leave you with a hint. It has a back-to-school, mobility theme that will make you reconsider your own childhood and how you might be raising your own young ones.

Image: Getty Images


Margaret Brennan

Face the Nation is one of the big beasts of the Sunday-morning political-television schedule in the US. It debuted in 1954, making it one of the longest-running programmes in the history of TV news. In 2018, Margaret Brennan, CBS’s senior foreign correspondent and former White House correspondent, was named the show’s 10th moderator, becoming only the second woman to hold the position. A former news presenter at Bloomberg and MSNBC, she has interviewed global figures from across the political spectrum. Here she discusses her own media habits.

What news source do you wake up to? My CBS colleagues write updates on the overnight news shifts so I begin with those in-house readouts. Then Twitter is one of my first stops; I use it as a newsfeed. I follow a number of prominent reporters from a variety of publications there: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post, to name a few.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? That sounds like a very orderly morning! But I have an 11-month old son so, unfortunately, my mornings aren’t that orderly. There are some days when I’ll have to be at the office by 06.30 to do an interview so coffee is usually the first order of the day.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Not in the morning; I’m often up before the rest of the household. But I do ask Alexa to read me the headlines while I'm making my coffee, usually from The Washington Post and The Economist.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I don’t sing in the shower.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I read everything digitally these days. I grew up reading The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. I have always loved The Economist: it has a great summary of every major issue happening in the world and it’s often very good at connecting the dots, explaining why, say, a Washington story is really a world markets story. It can connect the social, political, economic and foreign-policy stories in a way that is often too regimented in your day-to-day news feed.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? What is everyone else’s weekend is still a workday for me: our show airs on Sunday mornings. I’m very much in the office on Saturdays and Sundays. So, again, it’s following the news, reading background briefings and, in particular, reading up on presidential candidates because we’re covering the 2020 elections here.

Best thing you’ve read recently? I did recently come back from vacation in Sag Harbor; I used to vacation there with family when I was young. I read A Good American Family by David Maraniss. I had already read parts of it because we interviewed him for the programme; it’s a very good book.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? I haven’t been to the cinema in I don't know how many years so it’s sofa. I watched Narcos recently; that is a great series.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Yes I do: CBS News.


A leaf through history

What comes to mind when you think of modernism? Concrete. Steel. Glass, surely. But what about bromeliads or philodendrons and elephant’s ears? Plants are an oft-forgotten piece of the modernist puzzle – but not so for Roberto Burle Marx. Born in 1909, the beloved Brazilian landscape architect is best known for co-designing Brasília – the country’s ultra-modern, ultra-idealistic capital – and the undulating mosaic pavements lining Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach.

Until the end of September, Burle Marx’s genius is on display at the New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG). Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx is the largest show in the Bronx-based garden’s history. Landscape architect Raymond Jungles – an aptly named Burle Marx-disciple – has transformed the NYBG’s lawns into a tropical garden of leafy plants and palms, many of which are native to Brazil. Pathways resemble Burle Marx’s iconic mosaics, while the gardens’ galleries exhibit his appetite for painting, drawing and working with textiles.

Burle Marx is celebrated as a designer but he was a dogged conservationist too. Under Brazil’s 20th-century dictatorship, he argued for the preservation of the rainforest as a key piece of the country’s cultural heritage. Now deforestation in the Amazon is taking place at an unprecedented rate under populist president Jair Bolsonaro. Brazilian Modern is a testament to the power of thoughtfully designed green spaces – but it’s also an unnerving reminder of what’s under attack.


All at sea

Malta lists its official languages as both Maltese and English. But in 1999 the English press (dominated by two papers) failed to provide a more liberal, pro-EU voice. Malta Today launched that year to fill the gap, espousing a radical new agenda that helped to lead the nation to European membership in 2004, while earning itself a reputation for fact-heavy critical reporting. We speak to the title’s editor, Matthew Vella, from his headquarters in San Gwann about the news making waves on this island nation.

What’s the big story this week? Last week all the Sunday newspapers were causing some noise about a video of men at a bachelor party pelting a woman with industrial quantities of eggs. The woman was paid for her consent so lots of people are saying it’s fine. But in the video she was visibly in pain and asked them to stop. There is a much bigger debate to be had surrounding toxic masculinity.

Favourite photo? There was a lot of fuss surrounding a photo of the new equality minister holding Malta’s red and white flag. But instead of the red half there are the colours of the rainbow. The photo was meant to symbolise the progress in gay rights but it kickstarted this silly debate, mainly from right-wing social-media users. They took issue that the flag was being “desecrated” by the rainbow.

What’s your down-page treat? Every month we conduct surveys on different things, such as who’s trusted in politics, or the most popular modes of transport. The latest one was on pet ownership. We found that pet owners in Malta overwhelmingly treat their pets like children, buying them cakes and throwing parties on their birthday. Nearly half of Maltese pet owners said they would have their pet cremated when it dies.

What’s the next big event? The downside of Malta’s recent economic growth Malta is that there is a lot more debate surrounding development. An established left-wing organisation, Moviment Graffitti, is hosting a national protest in Valletta on 7 September criticising planning permits and the impact that developers are having on the environment. It comes in the wake of a number of construction accidents we have had here.


Behind the scenes

‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’, Quentin Tarantino. Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the end of Hollywood’s golden era follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo di Caprio), a TV heavyweight whose star is fading, and his stunt man and quasi-PA Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). It’s a movie about the movies, with the Manson murders lurking dangerously close. While it builds to a classic bloody ending, the run up is two and a half hours of a sunkissed 1960s Hollywood: cocktails, cowboys, fast cars and a killer soundtrack.

‘–Ugh, Those Feels Again’, Snoh Aalegra. Born in Sweden to Persian parents, Snoh Alegra now lives in Los Angeles, where she makes textbook sultry R&B. Her velvety voice does most of the work on the record but the lyrics do wonders too. There are love stories of all types: dysfunctional, hopeful and steamy. All are equally seductive when they come accompanied by her mellow beats.

Annaleese Jochems, ‘Baby’. The half-eaten sandwich on the pink cover of young Kiwi writer Annaleese Jochems’ debut offers a first taste of the ominous tale within: this book and its characters are innocent only on the surface. Cynthia, the 21-year old protagonist, is interested in very little other than social media, reality TV and her gorgeous gym instructor Anahera. When the two escape on a boat in the North Island the story takes a Thelma and Louise turn – making for a delectable, disquieting thriller.


Home cooking

Come evening along Toronto's bustling Queen Street West (writes Will Kitchens) it’s a common sight to see chef Guy Rawlings – formerly of the esteemed Bar Isabel and Bar Raval – framed in the large street-facing windows of Montgomery’s, the restaurant he opened with his wife, Kim Montgomery, in 2016. Perched over a stove, Rawlings' short-sleeved white button-up jacket is somehow spotless, as he acts as chef and greets customers.

Past the kitchen is a quiet, windowless dining room. We sit at a round, vintage Danish table and opt for the chef’s sharing menu. Not far behind is Rawlings, armed with a basket of sourdough bread and an array of homemade butters, from dandylion to a delicious dollop of cultured butter that sits for three days before being churned. A hearty broth arrives next. Like all things at Montgomery’s, its flavour belies its deceptively simple appearance.

Montgomery’s menu is dictated by seasonality and the availability of Ontario-bred produce but Rawling’s inventive touch for fermenting, pickling and preserving allows him to use ingredients throughout the year. Unripened grapes are salted and served with tomette de chèvre as part of a standout endive salad, while fermented leeks are paired with fresh trout and rose-cider vinegar. Everything is harvested locally, while flour comes from nearby Mennonite farmers.

Toronto takes pride in its internationalism but its global outlook – and variety of cuisines – can make it easy to forget what’s found in our own backyard. Montgomery’s is a thoughtful reminder that good things can grow at home.


Comfy canvas

It’s the middle of August but, I’m sorry to tell you this, summer won’t last forever. The one bright spot of cooler temperatures is the return of layers and forgotten fabrics: fleece, towelling and, yes, canvas too – ideally from Ijji Co.

Since 2016 the brand, which moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles last month, has produced the perfect pair of wide-legged drawstring trousers made from tightly woven Japanese canvas. Understated and simple, they’re both office and street appropriate. “I was looking for something comfortable and ‘California’ but not messy,” says founder Nick Sugihara, whose mother and sister founded bag brand Baggu in 2007.

While Ijji’s name is a twist on the Japanese word for any loose-fitting drawstring trouser, Sugihara has since expanded his roster of California-made staples to include French-terry sweatshirts and workcoats with deep front pockets. “Our strategy is if we release a product and it does well, we’ll do it again; if it doesn’t, we’ll drop it,” says Sugihara. “That’s the beauty of manufacturing locally. You don’t have to take huge bets. It’s a lot of slow growth, making things we care about and filling holes in our wardrobes.”


Can I tell my partner they’re getting plump?

Mr Etiquette went to Beirut for a few days. When he came home and stepped on the scales, he was dismayed to acknowledge that there were not only Lebanese pounds in his wallet but also several Lebanese pounds on his hips. Even Mr Tiddly looked perplexed at the vision of his hummus-inflated owner. It was time for some huffing-and-puffing exercise. But Mr Tiddly would never have used the word plump, let alone “fat” (he’s hardly the slimmest cat himself). Here are some suggestions for breaking the news slightly more gently. Engage your partner in a conversation about the late Gloria Vanderbilt and her pioneering championing of stretch denim, and see if that plants a subliminal seed. Or be honest and say, “Darling, while I love you, I would rather not have to love even more of you.” Or introduce what seems to be an affectionate name but is, in fact, one that will strike home over time: “Mr Chunky” or “Podgkin”, for example. But don’t call them plump. Or fat. That would be mean.


September issue preview

How do you work? Yes, we know you put the hours in and have all the best ideas – but do you really need to work in that office? Is that commute necessary? Could you achieve more in fewer hours? Our latest issue will help you to answer those questions and a lot more besides. Job done.


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