Saturday 26 October 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 26/10/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Talk of Turin

Last weekend was spent in Turin. A very soggy Turin. Low-slung clouds smudged the view and the rain was as persistent as a debt collector. But to hell with the weather – what a nice city Turin is. And one at odds with its reputation. Turin is always cast as a grim industrial outpost; somewhere, you imagine, that has smokestacks and mineshafts to be found in the heart of the city. But the home of Fiat and Lavazza, Pininfarina and Superga – yes, this is an industrial city – is also handsome, cultured and packed with great architecture and numerous universities. And, with about 880,000 people, it’s right-sized. It’s of a scale that does an interesting thing. People have a passion for the place they call home but also an outward modesty – “You like it here? Really?”

I was in town because I was giving a talk at Utopian Hours, an event run by Torino Stratosferica and – more importantly – Luca Ballarini and Giacomo Biraghi, two bearded passionate city enthusiasts who look like brothers but insist that they are not.

Perhaps I hadn’t quite focused on all the details before I arrived: when I asked Luca some time ago how many people were coming, he definitely said, “We have 50 guests.” It turns out that what he and I class as “guests” is a different thing. He meant speakers; I meant in the audience. It soon transpired that this was less a conference, more a festival. They had 4,000 people registered and many more just turned up on the day of the event, which was held at the gleaming Lavazza HQ. At least I had until Sunday evening for my slot; time to make any quick changes to the presentation – or dash back to the airport.

I am lucky to be invited to speak at, and moderate, events (Monocle’s included, of course, where I often appear as part of the Brûlé & Tuck double act). And most times I am happy with the outcome. But sometimes I can feel the nerves, especially before I start. So I have learned how to increase my chances of success: handheld mic not a Madonna headset, find a few warm faces in the audience and never look twice at the guy texting, wear nice socks, never use notes, slow down and remember that everyone is on your side – they want to have a good time too.

And I have also come to realise that super polished Ted Talk-style speakers are a bit annoying. The talks that I remember are where people are happy to show a little vulnerability or humility; where they have a personal experience that they can share in simple words; when their slideshows or films feel chosen to illuminate not brag; where they allow their passion off the leash; where they don’t pretend to be a saviour, just a witness; where they make you laugh once or twice; where they take their time but keep it succinct; where there’s a story arc and also a belief that this is their chance to shift your vision by a degree and change your outlook. If I can steal an ounce of these people’s skills then I know it should be OK.

On the Saturday afternoon, Patrik Gustavsson, managing director of Fonden Amager Bakke, talked about pulling together the team that built Copenhill, the new Big architects waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen with a ski slope on its roof. Elsewhere, Jan Rudkiewicz of design agency Werklig unpacked the making of a city brand for Helsinki, Bethan Harris explained her work with The Loneliness Lab and Matus Vallo, mayor of Bratislava, told the unlikely story of how he became the guy in charge. All were great, no-hype performances; just honest stories well told.

By the time my slot came, a support network had developed among the speakers and so standing up in front of 350 people was less daunting. But the other thing that made you feel that this was going to be OK was Turin. It turned out there was no guy in the audience texting (let alone someone having a nap – that’s happened) and a lot of warm faces, including many engaged students. I didn’t do a mic drop at the end of my session but did leave the stage smiling and might have had a drink or three. They were all locally made, mind; I simply wanted to add my support to this industrial city.


Flash some flesh

The rules about summer and winter dress codes were once carved in stone. In the US this has famously included the tenet that one must not wear white after Labor Day (the first Monday of September), although this seems to suggest that everyone is an East Coast Wasp and that it’s 1967. Today many items of summer clothing persist long after the frost has arrived and the snow has begun to fall. Key among the winter retirement refuseniks is the low-rise sock. This is entirely due to the Winkles: the proponents of a winter ankle. You spy a man dressed in puffa jacket, a scarf coiled serpent-like around his throat – and then glance down to see a tract of bare ankle below an aggressively rolled jean. We salute these fashion bravehearts, even if we will stick with something woolly and knee-length ourselves.

How we live / London

Caught in the act

London’s Soho has a reputation. From the Swinging Sixties onwards, this thatch of narrow streets with low-rise shops in the UK capital’s West End has been known for seedy bars, strip clubs, cruisers and a sense of the licentious, as well as being the centre of a bubbling film, advertising and art industry (or, more accurately, where those employed in such industries drink). But how much has changed? Well today you’re as likely to encounter children on a school trip as you are to glimpse the theatre crowd, a strung-out artist’s muse or anything much more bohemian than a chain sandwich shop. Or are you?

To cure your cynicism we’re prescribing a visit to The Photographers’ Gallery: a small but seemly gem on a one-way lane off Oxford Street. Current exhibition Shot in Soho, which runs until 9 February, brings together the work of a handful of shutterbugs who’ve turned their lenses on this village in a city, from a seedy clutch of suits leaving a massage parlour in the 1960s to raucous clubbing in the 1990s and pre-show strippers reading the tabloids (sans outfits).

The upshot? Londoners have been bemoaning the changes to this area for years but Soho hasn’t veered far from its fun-loving roots. The proof? The nuanced portrait painted by the exhibition – and perhaps even The Photographers’ Gallery itself.


Is night time the right time?

Today’s column comes to you from a Lufthansa A350, inbound to Munich from Seoul. For the past 10 hours I’ve slept, watched the new series of Will & Grace, caught up on some magazines and assessed the Tokyo tour I did with the Swissies last week. Headline: they almost killed me.

If Monocle’s going to move into this bespoke tour business then we’re going to have to have an advanced screening process to dig into the habits of potential clients. The first question I would pose is: how do you feel about sunlight? This is not because we might want to take them to the beach in Kamakura for a bit of surfing (they did claim this was of interest, I might add). It is because a negative answer would suggest that they’re creatures of the night and we’d need to pace ourselves accordingly.

In the case of our Swiss clients, the only time they saw daylight was the one morning I was able to coax them off a banquette in a Shinjuku bar and usher them into a taxi. No doubt my disposition has its advantages: it allowed me to be marginally more productive and do my “day job” as they slept off the Suntory fun times. It also meant that the clients were never jetlagged as they remained on their Zürich clock for the full six-day trip.

When I did manage to squeeze a shopping trip with them into a tight window between 18.00 and 20.00, it was a scramble across all corners of Ginza, Shibuya and Omotesando, with the odd pause to fill them in on cultural codes and Japanese curiosities. A few key questions and observations went like this:

Swissy 1: Why is it that Tokyo doesn’t have those stupid e-scooters like everywhere else?

Me: Funny, I was just wondering the same. One of the positives – and frustrations – about Japan is that it takes its time to implement things, particularly at a government level. I would imagine it’s being looked at but somehow I don’t see them working on the city’s crowded streets. And thank goodness for that.

In the newly refitted Orchid Bar at the Okura Hotel (see issue 128).Swissy 2: Can I smoke in here? Pained looking waiter (the same ones who worked in the old Orchid Bar): Ahhhhh, so sorry. No smoking because of the Olympics. You’ll have to smoke downstairs. So sorry. Monocle’s Bangkok correspondent: So no smoking because it’s an Olympic year? What happens after the Olympics? Back to smoking? More optimistic looking waiter: So, so. Ahhhh, maybe smoking again when the Olympics leaves.

Swissy 2, a young mum, spots a dad pushing a slimline stroller.Swissy 2: Now there’s a business idea. Good looking, small, sturdy prams instead of all those oversized buggies. It’s so weird that prams have become so oversized just when cars seem to be getting smaller. Where do we get one? Me: Business model, indeed. The brand you’re after is called AirBuggy. They also do special models for dogs.

From a banquette at a bar in Ginza.Swissy 1: Is it cool if I stand-up to sing? Me: No. Absolutely not.

In the foodhall of Isetan.Swissy 2: Is Christmas a big deal here? Me: From a retail point of view, yes. Also from the perspective of music sales, especially if you’re the label representing The Carpenters.

We said our farewells early on Sunday morning in the grand Monocle tradition of STP (straight to plane). I left them at the lobby of the Park Hyatt while I fetched my bags for my flight down to Singapore. We’ll continue to gauge whether such tours are a workable model. In the meantime I’m looking forward to this weekend and a bit of quiet time – no mics, no high-balls and no all-nighters.

Finally, we had a few stragglers for The Faster Lane quiz so winners will now be announced next week.

The Interrogator / Edition 35

Nahlah Ayed

In June the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) named veteran journalist Nahlah Ayed as the new host of longstanding CBC radio programme Ideas. First aired in 1965, the show explores wide-ranging topics, from the history of denim jeans to the roots of authoritarianism. As a CBC foreign correspondent, Winnipeg-born Ayed spent nearly a decade covering conflicts in the Middle East before being stationed in London. There she reported on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Brexit vote and Europe’s refugee crisis. With a wealth of international journalism awards to prove it, Ayed is among Canada’s most accomplished reporters.

What news source do you wake up to? I inevitably start with a Twitter scan. It’s a quick way to catch up on the parts of the world that have already woken up and the biggest headlines everywhere. I then listen to three newscasts: CBC News’s World Report; BBC Radio 4’s Today and the latest BBC World Service newscast.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? It’s always tea. Sweetened, no milk.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? My private library remains my go-to. Streaming service only for new music; FM for the rare occasions when I’m driving.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Every day definitely has a soundtrack. Today began with Cosmo Sheldrake’s “Come Along”. I saw him on stage recently.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?Foreign Affairs, New Philosopher, New Scientist, Monocle and The Walrus.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Online subscriber. It isn’t my preference – there is still far more joy in reading printed newspapers and magazines – but I’m used to it now.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? It used to be Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street in London. Now it’s Ben McNally Books in downtown Toronto.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? With a mountain of reading to do for work, it’s inevitably the sofa. Cinema is either a rare treat with family or reserved for the airplane seat.

What’s the best thing you've watched of late and why? It’s been all audio all the time, especially after joining CBC radio’s Ideas. Most recently I’ve been listening to the show’s past Massey Lectures [an annual public talk headed by a prominent Canadian thinker], which are all online. Beyond that, CBC’s Front Burner.

Sunday brunch routine? Routines are rare, both when I was a foreign correspondent and now as host and producer of a daily one-hour show. But if I’m at home it’s eggs and CBC’s The Sunday Edition. On the odd occasion I have the luxury of a Sunday brunch out, smoked salmon is the ultimate treat.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No but I still watch, sometimes the following morning. I like the option of watching individual stories, just as you would in a newspaper.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Nothing. That’s time reserved for reading books.

Culture / Listen / Watch / Visit

On release

‘Bad Ideas’, Tessa Violet. There is something fascinating about pop that achieves a lot with very little. Tessa Violet’s secret is in almost minimal but enthralling background beats. Then there are the lyrics: Violet’s version of love is endearingly earnest and features more unrequited and unfulfilled emotions than anybody would enjoy. Like the “Bad Ideas” that Violet tries to fight off in the title track (making out, mainly), this is titillating and ultimately irresistible stuff.

‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’, Joe Talbot. The director’s acclaimed debut, written with his friend (and lead actor) Jimmie Fails, is freely inspired by the latter’s life and love for his hometown. When he finds out that the house of his childhood lies empty, Jimmie decides to occupy it with his friend, all the while realising that the city of his past no longer exists. Gentrification and the erosion of a community are clear focal points but at its heart this is a story of how and where people can belong.

‘Bridget Riley’, Hayward Gallery. “One of the great artists Britain has produced. Period.” That was the verdict of Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff as he introduced Bridget Riley at the opening of her retrospective on London’s South Bank. Proof positive of Rugoff’s assertion that Riley is “the key figure in our gallery’s history” is the virtuosity on display: the rarely seen evidence of her pre-abstraction beginnings; the wry disappearing act of “Continuum”; the vibrant diagonals of “High Sky”; the monumental “Composition with Circles”. This ideal marriage of artist and gallery delivers a show as impossibly perfect as a Riley canvas.


Sunny disposition

Since 1915 The Carmel Pine Cone has served Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Monterey Peninsula, a sun-soaked stretch of Californian coast (writes Will Kitchens). In 1997, when editor Paul Miller bought the then struggling paper, he arrived as a broadcasting veteran and former NBC News bureau chief in Israel; he also has two Emmys to his name for his coverage of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Pine Cone now employs 14 staff, despite Carmel’s modest population of 4,000, while it continues to expand its page count and advertising dollars. “It’s a myth that local news outlets can’t succeed,” says Miller. “I keep telling myself that all we have to do to be successful is be good.”

What’s the big story? Our lead was about the permit hearings coming up for a desal [water desalination] plant. If you follow news from California, everyone is talking about a housing shortage. But we went through about 20 years where resource protection was the only thing the powers that be in Sacramento seemed to care about. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a powerful environmental movement that curtailed development by cutting off the water supply. The state’s population is now booming but development has lagged behind and now we have a dire housing shortage. The state political powers, having reversed course, are pushing for the desal plant to protect against droughts while providing for necessary housing.

What’s your favourite image? In downtown Carmel there’s a steep street that [teenagers] used to roll pumpkins down and it would cause a mess. It was an illegal tradition but now it is a city event. The illicitness is gone so it’s not as fun as it might have been but people love participating. We had a front-page picture of a little baby tossing a pumpkin down the hill.

What’s your down-page treat? Every week we have an interview with a dog. We also have a column called “Great Lives”, about a person you’d see at the grocery store but have no idea about the amazing things that have happened to them. We combine this with a lot of really aggressive news coverage. That is part of the formula.

What’s the next big event? The next big event is the permit hearing for the desal plant on 14 November.


I’ve lent something that’s not been returned. How do I ask for it back?

If you’re owed something and want it then it’s always best to ask. Gently. The chances are it slipped your friend’s mind (a harmless mistake) so if you need to remind them then do so – and in good faith. A third time and you’re probably not getting it. Yes, it’s the simple advice that’s always the hardest to heed: neither a lender nor a borrower be. Mr Etiquette knows what it feels like to be on the other side of the equation too. Thinking back, I'm sure my dinner companion was more than happy to pay for that meal the time Mr Tiddly hid my wallet. But remember, fair’s fair, and no matter how bad-natured a controversial loan may become, it’s best to ask openly for your goods to be returned and not harbour silent, sullen grudges. These things normally come out in the wash – that was the case for my missing wallet anyway.


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