Saturday. 12/10/2019

Monocle
Weekend Edition

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Chance is a fine thing

Fifteen years ago my partner and I were looking to move house. We’d seen lots of places but none had clicked (although when your other half has taken against a house because they “don’t like the look of the skirting boards” you wonder if anything short of a palazzo will ever pass muster). Then, one morning, we went to view a house in London’s Islington and, after about one minute and seeing just one room, we both turned to the agent and said, “This is ours.” There was just something about the place that felt right: simple, sunny, a good garden. A feeling. And then? We lost it.

So, back on the hunt. A year passes. And then it happens again. It’s a smaller house in a different ’hood that has been empty for some time following the death of the owner. I see it alone the first time. But I know it’s right and make the call: “I’ve found it,” I say excitedly. And then? We get it.

Another year passes and we have some money to start changing things, to make it ours. The builders pull away a kitchen cupboard and discover that some letters have fallen down the back, via the narrowest of cracks. One of the letters is addressed to the former owner but has been forwarded from his previous address (said letter has been lost in this dark gap for a good decade by now). And his old address? The house we lost the first time.

Coincidence? Of course. I can whittle down the seemingly huge odds: we are talking about two houses in London, similar in style. And perhaps we responded to his taste in both places? But even so, when I tell people the story, they are convinced that “this is a sign”. And perhaps I am too.

I am writing this while on holiday in Chile. I landed last Sunday morning, checked into the hotel and needed coffee. The dining room was open and there were only two other people in there. I tuned in to them speaking Portuguese but there was something else about their voices that stood out. I stared: it was two friends from São Paulo. We got over the shock and then discovered that we had the exact same travel plans for the coming days, right down to the same hotels. Coincidence.

I can go on: a conversation with a man at another table in a New York café who says that, one day, he’d like to go to London. He has a friend there. Perhaps I know him? I explain that London is a big place. He tells me his friend’s name – it’s someone I know very well.

How, in a world with so many millions of people, are these coincidences so common? Well, lots of genius statisticians have looked at the world of coincidence and come to the conclusion that so many millions of people is precisely why these events happen. So perhaps a better question is why these moments of coincidence have such impact and resonate with us in a way that seems to matter. Now I promise it’s not the pisco sours at play, or the thin air up here in the Atacama desert, but perhaps – in what feels like a world where faith is diminished – these events make us see meaning in the everyday. They hint at things we can’t explain away with our usual cynicism. And beyond all that? Well, they make bloody good stories.

A real footnote: Last week I took a passing pop at slippers and have spent the past few days responding to the outcry. Next week, I will be back with more on the sins of the slipper sect.

Report / Media

Sweet prints

Earlier this week, leading figures in media, public policy and all things digital gathered in Paris for the Médias en Seine conference. Much of the discussion was focused on some of the classic topics of the day: monetising digital, audience growth, data this and that, how to deal with the big technology beasts et al. But one topic that didn’t get nearly enough airtime is this: France still launches magazines. Very good ones, in fact.

Having resurrected the mid-century classic Holiday some years ago as a luxurious, large-format volume, a bit of clever media buying made it nearly unmissable on the city’s streets this week. With the current issue devoted to Egypt, the editors have delivered their best issue yet, with some exceptional reportage and one of the best fashion stories we’ve seen in years. They also had the courage to commission Bruce Weber as well.

Keeping things large, the editors from Le Monde have stolen a page or two from Zeit Magazin and launched a “best of” English language edition of their supplement M. Priced at €30, it’s a worthwhile investment; it brings together fine writing, indulgent layouts and the thinking of one of Europe’s best weekend magazines to a broader audience.

The look 02 / Prambos

Runs in the family

They are easily spotted in parks and have distinctive markings that will help you with their swift identification. The female of the species sports mesh-panel leggings and a trim Lululemon or Outdoor Voices jacket. The male is also fond of a black running legging, paired with black Nike shorts, and wears a jacket from a sports-tech brand such as Arcteryx. Both like a trainer – box fresh – that’s just a bit too bright and over-specced for their age. But who cares? They look great.

These nesters also have one other key accessory that binds them: an infant in a pushchair, such as the Bugaboo Runner, which can be taken out with you when running. Where once having a hatchling would have been a good excuse to eat chocolate, put on a few kilos and purchase a smock, now it’s a trigger to regain a perfect stomach, pretend that nothing has changed in your life and hit the park for intense jogging sprees. These, you see, are the Prambos: parents who see a baby as an excuse to put on expensive running wear.

But the reality is that having a kid is tiring. As such, many of these sporty mamas and papas are also to be found standing outside coffee shops mainlining flat whites and talking frantically with other new parents. Even Prambos have their limits.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

Fingers on buzzers

It’s time for another instalment of The Faster Lane’s occasional Saturday morning quiz series. As ever, the rules are the same: I pose a series of questions about topics, situations and incidents that demand answers or solutions, and you respond with some inspired insight to share with the global Monocle audience. To keep it fresh, we’re going to give this a travel theme that starts on the rails heading westbound from Zürich to Paris, takes us through the streets of the French capital and heads eastbound again back to Zürich Hauptbahnhof. You can send your answers directly to me at tb@monocle.com. But be warned: the best answers might well appear in next weekend’s edition of this column. Fingers on keyboards, ladies and gentlemen – here we go.

  1. You might have noticed that there’s considerable attention being paid to the rise of the night train – we like to count ourselves among the first – and how clever the Austrians are for building on the concept. Here’s a question for you: if you happen to live on a route well served by night-rail services but you’re not using them, why not? What’s stopping you? What needs to improve?

  2. Why do most TGV rail carriages have a very distinct – unpleasant – smell? Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s a mix of cheese and sweaty socks and I’m wondering why they haven’t been able to invent a better system to improve the air quality in the carriages. France is one of Europe’s engineering powerhouses so a solution shouldn’t be all that difficult? Ou? Until that great day of innovation comes, however, might you have a short-term fix?

  3. Time spent on a train means a few hours to catch up with the news. I read all kinds of stories about upcoming technology IPOs and various pieces about digital innovation at the turn of almost every page. Having recently returned from the US West Coast, I’m constantly left wondering about why so many of the world’s wealthiest, most celebrated, newest billionaires spend so much time worrying about outer-space travel and Hyperloops, and not solving some of the very acute social problems literally on their front door. How can it be that the homelessness situation is allowed to balloon in so many wealthy US cities and yet the social focus seems to be about how a couple of major companies are more concerned with one day colonising Mars?

  4. On the topic of silly people, technology and transport, has Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tried to cross her city’s streets lately? If you’re not run down by cyclists going in the wrong direction, you have a good chance of getting clipped or knocked over by someone on an e-scooter. Is the e-scooter a transport trend that’s doomed to fail? Do we need a few more fatalities to get some proper legislation around them? Maybe people need to be introduced to better, more comfortable footwear and invest in a good pair of chunky brogues by John Lobb for the walk from the metro to the office? Or are there even better solutions to get them off our roads and sidewalks?

  5. The French really know how to do radio, especially morning drive-time shows. If you have an ear for the language and enjoy fast-paced discussion, good jingles and smart talk, tune in. Why haven’t we seen more French broadcasters go global in other languages? (And no, France24 does not count.)

The Interrogator / Edition 33

Ruth Rogers

The River Café’s Ruth Rogers is the doyenne of London cooking. From her wonderful spot on the banks of the Thames she heads a kitchen that’s great at simple but sophisticated Italian classics. Born in upstate New York, she moved to the UK in the 1960s but still keeps a connection with her country of birth through some of her media intake. We find out more.

What news source do you wake up to? I wake up to The New York Times, then I read The Guardian and the Financial Times.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee – espresso. Then another one and another one and another one.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Spotify: I have a playlist but I also search. Recently I’ve been going back to the old stuff, like an old group called Pink Martini, as well as Bryan Ferry, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Robbie Robertson and The Band, and Cisco Houston – I grew up with his depression-era folk.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Whatever comes into my mind.

Papers delivered or a trip to the kiosk? Delivered. Financial Times and The New York Times.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I’m looking forward to Cloakroom, a new magazine by Claudia Donaldson. She’s a smart, intelligent and curious woman so it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. Then Monocle. I skim The New Yorker. I don’t read any food magazines – I read online about restaurants and what they’re cooking. I used to read Gourmet.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? I subscribe to The New Yorker online. I buy Private Eye when I go to the newsstand.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? John Sandoe on Blacklands Terrace [in west London]. They just have very interesting non-fiction, which I read a lot of. The people who work there really know what they’re talking about and there’s no queue – people aren’t there to buy pens or records. It’s a store just for books.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Cinema. I like going to the movies. I often go to a Curzon on Sunday night.

What's the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? I picked up a TV series called Top Boy, by Ronan Bennett. It’s so completely contemporary and compelling about what’s going on in London.

Sunday brunch routine? No – I’m usually here [at the restaurant]. If not, it’s pretty random.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out among the viennoiserie? None. I read the FT on Saturday, cover to cover. I don’t read any of the Sunday papers.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? I used to, less so now. But if I do it’ll be Channel 4 News and Newsnight on the BBC.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? Christiane Amanpour on CNN. She’s a very serious journalist and pundit. She’s excellent.

What’s on the airwaves before you drift off? I listen to podcasts: Pod Save America and The Daily from The New York Times. I listen to Trevor Noah most nights. It’s not relaxing – it’s very topical and gets me wound up!

Culture / Read / Listen / Visit

Picture this

‘Magnum Streetwise’, edited by Stephen McLaren. Since Magnum’s inception, members of the photo agency have been grabbing street shots wherever they go – often in between jobs reporting on conflicts around the world. They realised that high drama can be found on people’s doorstep as well as on the battlefield. This book delves into the archive and presents us with unparalleled works by photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gilden and Christopher Anderson.

‘LAHS’, Allah-Las. There’s always been a particularly sun-bleached quality to this Californian quartet’s garage rock. For their fourth album, Allah Lahs drew inspiration from even sunnier climes: the Brazilian influence is loud and clear in single “Prazer Em Te Conhecer”. The resulting rock-bossa hybrid is laid-back and dreamy – the sound of a perennial summer – like something from the 1960s.

‘Journey Through Asian Art’, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Fukuoka Asian Art Museum’s extensive new exhibition marks the museum’s 20th anniversary and takes visitors on a cultural tour de force around Asia, displaying high and low art side by side. The latter often steals the show. Standouts include Bangladeshi rickshaw art, Taiwanese photography and Mao-era Chinese propaganda.

Outpost News / Ohsweken, Ontario

Building bridges

Lynda Powless started Turtle Island News, Canada’s largest Indigenous newspaper, 25 years ago in Ohsweken, Ontario. Today 20,000 weekly copies are shipped to First Nations communities across Canada. Its first edition sold out almost instantly but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Local governance wasn’t accustomed to ongoing media coverage and Powless, a CBC veteran, was barred from council meetings after publishing an unflattering story.

“For those first two years, whenever I’d go cover a meeting I’d leave a lawyer’s phone number with my children in case they needed to get me out of jail,” she says. Eventually she won her press-freedom fight and Turtle Island News has since inspired other First Nations communities to fight for greater transparency. And her children? One is the newspaper’s photographer, another handles operations and the third – currently sports editor – is being trained up to helm the newspaper one day.

What’s the big story? We just covered Orange Shirt Days. It’s about residential schools [a now defunct government-sponsored boarding-school system that removed First Nations children from their homes and communities]. Everybody wears an orange shirt that day in honour of the children who didn’t come home.

Your favourite headline? “The question is: what’s going to happen with the Indigenous vote?” First Nations people tend not to vote [in outside elections] but the last federal election in 2015 saw the largest number of First Nations voters in recent history. Some people are very disappointed with the Liberals; some are disappointed overall. The big question is: will they vote? I think turnout might go up slightly because the youth might get involved.

What’s your down-page treat? We have an interesting story on Curt Styres, the coach of the Knighthawks, a professional lacrosse team that just moved from Rochester, New York, to Halifax. To mark the occasion he decided to canoe all the way to Halifax – a three-month journey – with a lacrosse stick.

What’s the next big event? We’re very much in election mode. But we’re also organising the annual Turtle Island News Chiefs Debate. The candidates will face the community, who have a chance to ask questions through our panel of journalists. It’s huge: we pack the community hall and have a huge online audience, which in 2015 was between 20,000 and 30,000. We anticipate that it’s going to be three to four times that this year. Other First Nations communities will watch and be inspired to try and hold their own community leaders accountable.

Report / Postcards

Something to write home about

According to this week’s German papers, postcards are celebrating their 150th anniversary in October (writes Josh Fehnert). But how have these flimsy, easy-to-intercept paper missives survived in a world of inboxes and instant messaging? Rather well, says Tom Jackson, a collector and compiler who wrote Postcard from the Past, published by HarperCollins. “There are still millions of postcards around from over 100 years ago,” he says. “Our digital chat is already lost in the ether.”

Good point. In an age when we worry about the privacy of our dull daily emails and posts, it’s endearing (maybe frightening?) to think of these cultural totems bearing all to anyone; their bulletins captured for posterity. “The messages I’m drawn to are the ones where, in just a few words, we either learn a huge amount about the writer – ‘Jackie got stung by a wasp and didn’t we know it’ – or the ones that paint a vivid picture – ‘Jean couldn’t get her trousers on’,” says Jackson. “Or the ones that present a puzzle that can’t be solved or hint at an untold story: ‘Life here is full of tomorrows’.” Although postcard sales have slumped and their heyday is behind them, there’s something durable and delightful about the medium and the message – even in an increasingly post-post world.

Modern etiquette / Edition 27

How do I say no to office treats?

Office camaraderie can be established in a number of ways: coffee rounds, lunch dates, one drink too many at the end of the week. The partaking of sweet things handed around a desk mid-afternoon is one such traditional community-building exercise. Yet it’s a treacherous one if overdone – or if, like Mr Tiddly, you’ve had to cut down on the croquettes recently to maintain feline agility. Refuse too sternly and you’ll risk upsetting your peers: nobody wants to feel guilty for indulging in a chocolate cookie. For a handy excuse, have a stash of mints ready to keep your mouth busy; that breezy breath couldn’t possibly be spoilt. But remember: if the treat in question was made lovingly by whoever’s offering, you might just have to balance the calorie count elsewhere.

Monocle films / Porto

Making it in Porto

Portugal’s second city is close to the country’s manufacturing heart and that’s why so many designers have made it their home. We meet some of the bright minds in town.

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