Saturday 24 August 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/8/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Jake Gyllenhaal made me cry

Just beyond these walls, the streets are full of tourists pushing through the soupy New York heat. There’s a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse who has to pull up her fluffy rodent head so that she can catch her breath; there are a pair of mounted policemen who are trying to ignore the endless procession of passers-by who are taking pictures of them and their meaty-buttocked steeds.

But here, here in the Hudson Theatre, here in the muddle of Times Square and the flashing vulgarity of Broadway – here it is silent. That strange silence that happens in a theatre when, somehow, you never feel more alone and never more connected.

New York, this week. Three days off, staying at the Crosby Street Hotel. Three days of trying to forget that the pound has tanked and that your favourite cheap haunts are no longer so cheap. And three days seeing as many galleries and performances as you can squeeze in around the daily email regime.

On my final day in the city it’s a matinee performance of Sea Wall / A Life. Two monologues written by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, delivered by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal. But look, if you are after a theatre review stop reading now; that’s not my forte. This is about something else.

However, first I need to reveal something about both monologues. In Sea Wall Sturridge is Alex, a father who talks about his young daughter and how much he loves her. There’s a point, however, where you guess that something terrible has happened. It has: she died, just a few weeks ago, in a freak accident while on a family holiday.

Then Gyllenhaal is Abe, who offers the story of his daughter’s birth and his father’s death; incidents that seem to have happened moments apart. It’s raw and it’s funny.

Each monologue is delivered with a naturalism that makes you believe that both men are simply recounting real-life events. They break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audience; they see you. It feels very un-acted. And while they are two different pieces by two different writers, there are links and overlaps, and a common thread: life and loss.

A good playwright is like a clairvoyant. They can fashion something that is big and broad but also talk in a way that – to you – feels sharp and personal. With some playwrights it’s as if they knew that you were coming to the theatre today and have included a few lines just to wrap a tendril around your emotions.

Of course, these are two great actors. And, yes, the writing, the production and the set all conspire to make something special. But there is something else at work. That link is being made: people are seeing their lives up on stage. That’s why, in the shadows around me, people are smudging away fat tears. That’s why as Alex talks about a dead child, I think of my parents coping with a son killed at 10. And as Abe recounts the final moments of his father’s life, I think of my dad’s last day.

I don’t get it when people say that the theatre’s not for them. We are sitting in a room, feet away from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge and, for what really is a few dollars, they are telling us stories; telling us our stories. This is a rare kind of magic. But be warned: Jake Gyllenhaal can make you cry.

Report / Retail

Spine of the city

Last year it was announced that Manhattan’s beloved McNally Jackson bookshop would be ousted from its Prince Street home due to sky-rocketing rent. It appeared just the latest casualty in an all-too-familiar tale of retail decline. Not only has the shop stayed put but McNally Jackson has expanded with new shops in Williamsburg, LaGuardia Airport and inside the city’s new cultural centre, The Shed.

Last week McNally Jackson’s latest outpost – a 7,000 sq m palace of books and reading nooks housed inside an 1811 building – had its soft opening in the city’s cobblestoned Seaport District.

“I’m not being modest: the literature section was almost in complete darkness,” says owner Sarah McNally. Everything, including a bar, will be in tip-top condition next week, she says. While McNally has long wanted to open a bar inside one of her shops, it had never made sense to do so until now. “This old building has a rambling feeling of room after room, with old windows and window seats. We could create a bar that felt very discreet,” she says. “There’s something magical about this place and you just can’t help but be seduced by it.”

The Seaport district is also now home to the New York outpost of 10 Corso Como, Carla Sozzani’s Milan concept store. Here’s hoping that the two women – both alumni of Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference – can help add life to the neighbourhood.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

Learn your lesson

In case you missed last week’s instalment of The Faster Lane, I left off with a bit of a cliffhanger about a significant discovery I’ve made concerning humankind, resilience, social order and child-rearing. Today it’s time to present my findings.
To put all of this in context, we’re going to have to do a bit of time travelling: let’s head all the way back to the mid-1970s and touch down in Kitchener, Ontario. To give you a more precise fix on things, it’s a small-ish city about an hour south of Toronto and the snappily dressed kid in the desert boots, brown cords and navy zip-up sweater standing in front of Suddaby Public School is me. As it’s lunch hour, I’m waiting for a couple of friends to come out of class and we’re going to walk home for lunch. After sandwiches and cartoons we’ll walk back to class. Then at 16.00, when the bell rings, we’ll bolt outside, dig into our backpacks for coins and go to the corner shop to buy candies, gum and comics.

As it’s 1976 I’m doing all of this under my own steam and without supervision. I’m wearing a chunky wristwatch and know I need to be home by 17.00 to let the dogs out and make an effort to help set the table for dinner. Most of my friends have a similar regime – they can roam around tiny Kitchener (population circa 130,000) by bike or on foot and their parents are pretty relaxed about their comings and goings. Up the highway in Toronto, across the border in Detroit and over the Atlantic in London, kids are doing the same as us. They’re on the loose in parks, on trams, in malls and all points in between – cities are theirs to explore.

If you’re of a similar vintage to me then you might recognise yourself in this little tableau and remember a time when you roared around in a big station wagon not wearing a seatbelt, sat in airplanes where people puffed away across the aisle and parents didn’t walk or drive their kids to school. Do you sometimes look back on those easy, breezy years and wonder where we took a wrong turn and allowed health-and-safety hysteria to take over? Do you also feel that society is now divided into those who grew up with limited supervision and safety restraints versus those who were swaddled in an electric-orange hi-vis vest before they exited the maternity ward? Is Google Maps what you end up with when a generation of kids across much of the English-speaking world have never had to find their own way from home to classroom?

On Monday it was back to class for students across parts of Germany and most of Switzerland. In Zürich, the city was jolted out of its summer slumber as kids piled onto trams, jumped on their bikes or made their way on foot to school. The back-to-school scene in Zürich is much the same as you might find in the UK, Australia or Canada (fresh sneakers, new backpacks, experimental haircuts) but for one exception: most children go it alone. Where streets around schools in Manchester or Vancouver are clogged with parents dropping off their kids, in Switzerland it could be deemed that it’s part of the curriculum that youngsters learn how to navigate their way to school without the help of a parent or guardian. Indeed, it could be argued that going solo is a fundamental feature of Swiss society. So much so that expat parents (Brits, Americans, Aussies) in many Swiss cities are warned not to accompany their children to school as it’s expected that little Emma and Edward can find their own way on the tram, bus or on foot.

Iconic red-and-white flags aside, it’s perhaps one of the reasons I have a fondness for both Switzerland and Japan, as they have created societies with a high level of social capital that allows children to wander cityscapes without parents hovering overhead. This approach to child-rearing and education might be the answer to creating more resilient and less neurotic societies.

Image: Getty Images

The interrogator / Edition 26

Kristie Lu Stout

US-born journalist Kristie Lu Stout is based in Hong Kong where, until recently, she anchored CNN’s evening news show News Stream. Now she is reporting from the ground for the US broadcaster. Known for her insight on everything China and technology-related, she reveals that she’s partial to baroque music and Keanu Reeves.

What news source do you wake up to? Something for the eyes and something for the ears: CNN Today and Economist Radio. It’s an instant morning download before I delve into the papers, social-media feeds, emails and the constant intravenous drip of newswires.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee. Always. I have a dark roast, French-pressed and poured into a vintage Noritake cup with a mismatched saucer. Add a splash of cold almond milk and I’m ready to rumble.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Apple Music for pop, rock and electronica. But when I prefer classical, I pop an old-fashioned CD into the Bose. Right now I’m listening to baroque music from Orpheus Britannicus.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? My vote for 2019 pop song of the summer: “Juice” by Lizzo. And I’m not humming it. I’m singing it and dancing at my own personal risk.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? Delivered: Financial Times because – I kid you not – my husband likes to clip his letters when they are published. Online: Financial Times, New York Times, South China Morning Post.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?Wired and Stanford Magazine. I interned at the former and graduated from the latter so I have grown older and wiser with them. Monocle and Porter: lifestyle, photography and that brutal kick in the pants to elevate my style game. The Economist: it is the original purveyor of explanatory journalism – and their headline writers rule.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Both. Cathay Pacific lounges, Paris kiosks and Target stores are all great places to browse and buy.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? In Hong Kong, Kelly & Walsh; in Kuala Lumpur, Kinokuniya; and in Pacific Grove, California, Bookworks.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Cinema for film – arthouse, Pixar and anything with Keanu Reeves. Sofa for TV – news, documentaries and anything with Keanu Reeves. At the Mobile World Congress a few years ago I told Netflix boss Reed Hastings that my new year’s resolution was to watch less Netflix. He thought I was kidding.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? Season two of Fleabag. Because Phoebe Waller-Bridge is not only an heir apparent to Woody Allen, she is his better.

Sunday brunch routine? Lunch in Shek O [beachside village in Hong Kong] with family and friends.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out around among the viennoiserie? The FT Weekend along with my husband’s Spectator, my Kindle loaded with a novel and my daughter’s latest issue of Aquila.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Well I anchored the nightly news but I get my news blast in the morning these days.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? Judy Woodruff. When she helms a broadcast it is always about the news and never about her.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Lately, Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte because I probably can’t make it to Copenhagen this autumn to see my friend Paul Goodwin conduct it at the Royal Danish Opera.

Culture / Listen / Watch / Read

Harmonious selection

‘Anak Ko’, Jay Som. Los Angeles-based songstress Jay Som’s debut album Everybody Works was a shoegazy affair but her sophomore record takes a more straightforward approach to dream pop. The result is considered and warm. There’s a bewitching intimacy to tracks “Nighttime Drive” and “Tenderness”. Anak Ko means “my child” in Tagalog; it’s a nickname given to Som by her mother and a clear sign of how close to home these songs strike.

‘Pain and Glory’, Pedro Almodóvar. Almodóvar’s latest film might bask in the glory of the Spanish director’s beloved tropes but it also treads new ground. Muses Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas move in sunbaked, vividly coloured surroundings as usual. But this is Almodóvar’s most self-reflective film to date: Banderas plays ageing film-maker Salvador Mallo, who’s coming to terms with the past – and prodding at the painful power of memory.

‘Wie Geht’s Dir, Deutschland?’, Christoph Amend. Every week, Zeit Magazin intelligently chronicles German goings-on and the many ways in which the country is changing. So who better than its editor in chief to ask the direct and all-important question: how are you, Germany? To understand the state of the nation (and how divided it might really be) Christoph Amend spoke to a plethora of people, including teenagers and 95-year-olds, cabinet ministers and singer-songwriters – and his own parents.

Outpost Q&A / Faroe Islands

Dawn chorus

Dimmalaetting, which translates to “when darkness lifts in the morning”, is the oldest newspaper on the Faroe Islands. The Tórshavn-based paper only missed publishing one issue (due to a fire in 1943) between its founding in 1878 and 2013, when it went bankrupt. Thankfully it didn’t stay down for long. In 2014, four of the newspaper’s former employees revived the one-time daily, transforming it into a weekly tabloid. While today’s print run of 2,500 copies is a far cry from its peak as the islands’ most read newspaper, it appears that the darkness has lifted. Editor Emil Lisberg Jacobsen tells us what’s making headlines.

What’s the big story making the news? For some time there has been a pattern of women moving away from the Faroe Islands – but it seems the tide is turning. In the latest issue we have three long articles about women who are moving back.

Best headline? We have a saying here in the Faroes that when “someone is heavy to dance with” it means they’re difficult. We have a portrait of a Faroese-South American dancer who is giving Latin dance classes here. I’m not sure how to explain the joke in English but it’s not easy to teach Faroese people how to Latin dance!

Best picture? The pictures of the dance teacher in action are great.

What’s the next big event you’ll be covering? We have a general election on 31 August. Most of the polls have predicted that the opposition is going to win so we may have a change in government. Our big industry here is fishing and a new government means we may see a change in how that industry is governed. It’s an important election.

Weekend plans / Santa Fe

Hit the road

Route 66, the legendary highway that connected Chicago to Santa Monica, has plenty of nicknames: The Great Diagonal Way, The Main Street of America and, as it was dubbed in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, The Mother Road. First built in 1926, the now-decommissioned highway spawned endless mid-century motels and motor-courts (the types with springy mattresses and floral bedspreads) to serve road-trippers travelling its length.

Among them was El Rey Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Pueblo-Revival inn – think flat roofs and white adobe walls – was built in 1936, before being revived in 2018 by hotelier Jeff Burns and husband and wife Jay and Allison Carroll. While the 86-room inn is, at times, painfully photogenic (bedside tables are topped with potted cacti), its character has been tastefully maintained; kiva fireplaces and traditional southwestern wooden ceilings mingle with modern sofas. Like any good roadside inn there’s a swimming pool (and mezcal bar) for when the southwestern sun is too much to bear.

While Route 66 met an unenviable demise, the lure of the great American roadtrip persists. And whoever said that the journey is the destination probably wasn’t headed to El Rey Court.

Image: ALAMY

Get out / Bruges

Join the republic

If I had to put Bruges in a weekend-escape category it would probably belong in the same class as Venice: very atmospheric, very historical and very touristy (writes Chiara Rimella). Should the latter put you off going? And if it doesn’t, could it at least put you off going at the height of summer? The assumption is that edgy things don’t happen in such pretty surroundings: surely you need scruffier, cement-heavy neighbourhoods for that? With Antwerp and its shops about an hour away on the train, is a Belgian break wasted on Bruges?

Places such as De Republiek prove it definitely isn’t. A five-minute walk from busy Markt (with its average cafés and plain awful fast-food chains), this restaurant-cum-cinema-cum-bar is the culture centre of every city’s dreams. For lunch the leafy inner courtyard is a joy, in the form of a chicken panes washed down with a cold Affligem. On Friday and Saturday evenings stick to the stripped-back interiors for apero and DJ sets. Cinema Lumière shows the best from the indie film calendar and there’s room for talks, workshops and events.

Nearby, The Box is a retail space temporarily available for businesses making their first steps; sister initiative Handmade in Brugge supports the town’s artisans doing the same. With a plan to create a Stadsrepubliek – a City Republic – by enticing more cultural players to get involved, De Republiek is quickly gathering democratic consensus.

Modern etiquette / Edition 20

Can I invite vegans and meat-eaters to the same dinner?

Mr Etiquette’s larder is full of delicacies (and a large stash of booze) gathered during reporting stints around the globe – but it is still a struggle to cater for dinner guests’ increasingly complex dietary requirements. One person cannot stomach spring onions, the next one looks faint if you approach offering an egg and then there’s the neighbour, Mrs Jenkins, whose antipathy to salt and anything even moderately piquant risks leaving everyone staring at a bowl of plain rice topped with a piece of boiled fish. What to do? Well, if people are accepting dinner invitations and also demanding menu adjustments to suit their needs, they have to be tolerant of other people’s food desires and strictures. So, yes, invite everyone and if either end of the table starts getting evangelical, break into some of the good stuff from the drinks cupboard. But Mr Tiddly has put his paw down on one issue: he will not be told to relinquish his sardines.

Image: COD Newsroom

M24 / Monocle on Design

Dana Thomas

Fashion and design writer Dana Thomas discusses her upcoming book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion – and the Future of Clothes. She explains what’s wrong with fast fashion and shares ideas for innovative and sustainable alternatives.


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