Saturday 16 November 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 16/11/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Mistaken identity

Things were racing along as smoothly as a professional cyclist’s shaven calves at our Monocle Cities Series conference in Chengdu (read more about our time in China in Tyler Brûlé’s The Faster Lane below). The discussion on stage had been sharp, wise and revealing. And, if I say so myself, I had done a pretty good job as moderator. All that was left to do was to take a couple questions from the audience and I would be free – and straight back to the afternoon cake buffet. First I threw to the “woman at the back” and then “the man in the second row”.

If life was a video, this is the point at which I would quickly leap from the sofa to press the stop button and then delete the upcoming minute of tape – perhaps two, to be safe. The gentleman started to ask his question and, from the first word, it was clear I had done some unintentional gender reassignment without as much as a hormone injection being required. The woman – yes, the woman – paused as a few people laughed out loud at my stupidity. Then she calmly pressed on. When the mic came back to me, I admitted to the audience that it was probably wise if I spent more time in the company of my spectacles.

After the talks there were drinks and canapés and, just as I raised my champagne glass, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a figure weaving purposefully through the crowd. This person was definitely headed in my direction. Suddenly, there she was. In front of me. With a slight steeliness in her eye.

“So what do I say to you?” she asked, coolly. I apologised for my blunder and promised to both invest in a guide dog and head into exile on some remote island. She paused. I gulped. Then she laughed.

She took my arm and said, “If you dress like me it happens every day. Wait until you see me covered up in my winter coat – then you can’t even see my boobs.” We then proceeded to have the best conversation of the day about everything from media to global politics. Cards were swapped and promises to meet again were made.

Afterwards I wondered if I should have just said “the person in the second row”, or described anyone I was calling on by some other detail: “The person with the shirt – or is that a dress?” But that struck me as a miserable route to take and not without inherent dangers either: “Apologies, I thought that was a hat, now I can clearly see that you’ve brought your cat.”

We are in a time of worry when it comes to describing people; apparently folk are primed for offence if you fail to grasp the nuances of their identity from the get-go. But really? I have a feeling most of us have been in this spot and, unless there’s clearly some malice at play, do like my new best friend: explain there’s been a mistake, laugh and perhaps delight in the power shift (or wonder if the other person is as myopic as a certain Monocle editor).

A couple of months ago I took a cab into Manhattan from JFK. A conversation started up between me and the driver. Being a journalist, I asked him a lot of questions. He’d come to the city from India – Uttar Pradesh – 20 years ago. His two brothers had followed. His kids were at college. About five minutes from the hotel, in a small clearing in the conversation, he asked, “And you – are you from Japan?” That was a curveball. What had thrown him, I wondered. While I’d be very happy to hail from Japan, I explained that, no, I was actually from the UK. He then asked me where that was. Perhaps he’d napped a lot during his geography lessons.

I have asked a lot of people this week whether they are upset by accidental moments of mistaken identity and it seems that we are actually rather good at just dealing with these incidents. For example, Tom, our managing editor, has a nice new chequered winter coat. On Halloween he was asked by a supermarket checkout assistant if he was off to a party – “No, I’m just going home,” he said. “Oh, I thought you were dressed as Sherlock Holmes.”

Josh, our executive editor, is regularly mistaken for a waiter – just this week the actor Steve Coogan asked him for the bill in a London dining spot. Meanwhile Tomos, our Toronto bureau chief, claims that people regularly mistake him for Leonardo DiCaprio or Jude Law (the jury is still out on that one).

Just before I left the drinks reception – and at this point I was finally back at ease with the world – another woman came bounding up to me. “Tyler!” she said with a beaming smile. “Er, no, I’m Andrew,” I explained gently. The smile faded like a dying summer sun sliding behind the horizon. “Goodbye!” she replied, a little too fast for my liking. Then, just like that, she vanished. Bloody cheek of it.

How we live / Coconuts

Breakfast goes tropical

At brunch in east London last week, my toast came slathered in a grass-green concoction (writes Jamie Waters). Of course it did, you say: you were eating smashed avo, just like everyone else in every café everywhere ever. Wrong. The chartreuse culprit was coconut jam (its colour comes from pandan leaves), which was combined with wodges of cold butter and wedged between slices of white toast at Snackbar, a new ​global-cuisine​ café in Dalston. Kaya toast, as it’s called, is a traditional Singaporean and Malaysian dish that’s usually served with soft-boiled eggs and soy sauce for dipping; now it seems to be migrating into cafés in London and New York, among others. Most notably it’s on the menu at Nopi, Yottam Ottolenghi’s Soho joint, which means it’s practically mainstream already. As an Aussie I will defend the deliciousness of avocado toast until I die – but its ubiquity is beyond parody. Meanwhile, in addition to kaya toast, co-yo and coconut milk are appearing in fruit salads and lattes as more urbanites ditch dairy. Could it be that a different tropical fruit – a slightly hairier and more rotund little guy – is ready to become king of the breakfast table?

The Look 07 / Common People

Rare devotion

The enduring appeal of Common Projects’ trainers is remarkable – especially as a pair of the classic Achilles style comes in at about €350. And if you, as one of the Common People, are addicted to pristine white ones, you are likely to be pressing the repeat-order button at least once a year.

To the uninitiated, these leather or suede sneakers look as common as their name implies – but they have inspired a dedication in their purchasers which borders on the religious. They may be more comfortable than some of their rivals – and they are definitely less fashion tricksy than the clunkier arrivistes in their category – but perhaps their winning move is simply a bit of branding. Stamped on the heel of each shoe you’ll find a series of digits that refer to its style number, European size and colour. It’s discreet enough to go almost unnoticed but prominent enough to, in fact, be noticed.

If CPs were a house it would be one designed by John Pawson. If a tin of paint, something painfully unannounced by Farrow & Ball. A dish? Definitely something involving a piece of unadorned cod. To own is to know; to own is to belong. And as Pulp (sort of) declared, we wanna live with Common Projects like you.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Chengdu attitude

If you caught last Saturday’s Weekend Edition you will have registered that much of the Monocle team was in western China – Chengdu, to be exact. I was there well before Andrew Tuck was getting a lesson on the finer points of panda porn (read his dispatch from last week) and almost being detained (read his dispatch above), I was part of the advance party that, on a Sunday afternoon, found itself in a basement conference room to see if the space measured up for our inaugural Cities Series conference (a slimmed-down, half-day version of our Quality of Life Conference).

At first glance it all looked fine: good-sized room, some organically shaped skylights, efficient airflow and easy access to outdoor space. The only problem was the lighting (a bit flat) and the front projection screen, which was going to cause a problem for presenters as they’d be blocking the images they’d be speaking about. Or worse, as our Tokyo bureau chief Fiona Wilson pointed out: “The black silhouettes that’ll be cast will make it look like the opening of a Bond film.” What to do late on a Sunday afternoon when conference kick-off is just 18 hours away? Do you just go with it and hope for the best? Or do you remind yourself that you’re in China and anything might be possible?

“Jojo! Jojo!” I called to my Chinese colleague, who was standing at the back of the room. “Crazy question but do you think it’s possible to get a pair of lighting stands and a pair of LED screens by tomorrow morning?”

“OK, OK! Let me see,” said Jojo. “It should be possible. I’ll get the best price.”

Three minutes later, Jojo was holding her phone at her side and telling me that they’d be able to install everything later that evening. “They can do it for HK$1,200. Is that OK?”

“Can they do it for $900?” I asked.

Jojo yelled at the supplier for about 45 seconds and then hung up. “OK. Deal.”

Feeling a sense of relief that we had a solution, I went for a little retail tour. Before setting out we agreed that we’d reconvene in two hours to do a technical run-through, then return late in the evening to (hopefully) check out the installed screens and lights.

Luxury analysts will tell you that Chengdu is China’s third most important market for premium goods but, judging by the Sunday trade I witnessed, they must have underestimated. In Goyard there were crowds packed around vitrines choosing monogram patterns for tote bags; Chanel was full of young women trying on winter boots; the watch shops had multiple browsers and buyers; and just when you thought the ugly, chunky trainer boom couldn’t get any more hideous, there were fresh styles being snapped up everywhere.

I walked back over to Temple House – the smart venue for our event – descended the stairs to the conference room and was floored by what had become of the space. What had been a nice enough room for a seminar about supply-chain management had been transformed into a dazzling set-up fit for the launch of the world’s first electric flying car – or maybe even a Monocle cities conference. I’m still not sure how they managed to install a massive LED wall and lighting rig in less than two hours but they did, and we were most thankful. We did our technical walk-through, checked the mics, made sure the tote bags were properly stuffed and adjusted the lights so that they were warm without blinding those on stage too much. Or so we thought. (Please return to Andrew’s column above where, I might add, the woman he mistook for a bloke also happens to work with the comms department of Beijing’s higher-ups.)

The following day the conference got off to a solid start, the sessions zipped past, hundreds of business cards flew back and forth over the breaks, Andrew managed to recover from his gender gaffe by the time drinks rolled around and everyone from our team received a “high quality” panda that can also hang from a shelf. But as we made our way to dinner I was left with a lingering East vs West question. Would a company in, say, Geneva or San Francisco have been willing, or even able, to magic up a full presentation set-up late on a Sunday afternoon? Would they have cared to solve the problem?

And as China matures, will it become more decadent and comfy like the West? (Don’t you dare disturb my day off – even if there’s money to be made.) Or does the West move China’s way to become snappier, less regulated and ready to seize every opportunity?


Peter Wolodarski

Dagens Nyheter is Sweden’s leading daily paper, setting the national agenda with a focus on economics, business and culture. Peter Wolodarski has been running the Stockholm-based publication since 2013, after previously serving as its political editor. He’s helped it retain its enormous subscriber base and thousands of copies hit doorsteps across the country most mornings. Wolodarski has also hosted his own news-review show, Wolodarski, on Swedish channel TV8.

What news source do you wake up to? I open Twitter, the Dagens Nyheter app and the Financial Times. I’ll get alerts from The New York Times and our own briefing. I do most of the reading of the newspaper [the digital versions] late in the evening.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Nothing. There’s no time to read anything or drink coffee between getting them breakfast, getting them dressed, brushing teeth.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Spotify. I listen to a lot to classical music.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I'll have The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The Economist. A magazine that I appreciate more and more is The Atlantic: it has found a voice in this digital landscape.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? In Stockholm there is a bookstore called Hedengrens Bokhandel that is very good.

What’s the best thing you've watched of late and why? The HBO series that Johan Renck directed on Chernobyl. That was brilliant. It’s a story about the times we're living in now, although it’s about an accident that happened in 1986.

Sunday brunch routine? On a weekend morning it’s a bit calmer for me and my wife. So we usually have a nice breakfast, read the papers and take our time.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps? Less and less. If I don’t catch it at 7.30pm, I can go to an app and watch it later.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? I read the papers in bed and then I try to read a book. I think it’s so important to spend some time on a deeper subject.


Plenty of material

‘The Report’, Scott Z Burns. You may think that watching a member of the US Select Committee go through 6.3 million pages of documents to investigate “enhanced interrogation techniques” would not make for the most riveting cinema. Not so. Scott Z Burns’ debut feature as director is smart and gripping – helped by Adam Driver’s excellent performance.

EFG London Jazz Festival. In the 1990s Camden Jazz Week relaunched as London Jazz Festival, a London-wide event showcasing trad, cool and tricksy time signatures. This year the organisers have gone large with Iggy Pop and Chrissie Hynde, while keeping it real with Herbie Hancock and Jan Garbarek. It’s tough to make urban festivals gel as events (the Tube, after all, is a vibe-kill) but small venues and local talent always keep the LJF smoking.

‘The Eighth Life’, Nino Haratischwili. Coming in at more than 900 pages, this epic family saga will keep readers enthralled well into the holidays. Haratischwili masterfully weaves the lives of eight members of a Georgian family, from imperial Russia through the revolution and all the way to present day. This is a story of love and loss – and the chronicle of a century.

OUTPOST NEWS / Flin Flon, Manitoba

Drilling down

“Being born in the small town that you work in is almost like a journalistic cheat code: whether you knew it or not, you’ve been working on getting these sources all your life,” says Eric Westhaver, senior reporter at The Reminder. Since 1946 the newspaper has served Flin Flon, a mining town on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Despite the town’s population of 5,000, the paper has a weekly circulation of 1,500. “Up here, the death of print journalism is highly overstated,” says Westhaver.

What’s the big story this week? The fate of the mine in Flin Flon, which is the economy’s prime mover. It employs hundreds and a lot of tertiary industries rely on it. But the company that owns the mine has announced that it will cease most of its operations in 2022. The idea that hundreds of jobs might be lost is frightening. Everyone has a theory about why it’s not being mined. It's a crucial part of our job to cut through the gossip.

Favourite photo? Our latest issue has a photo spread of the recent Remembrance Day ceremonies. The community hall was packed.

Down-page treat? One of my favourite things is to profile an artist on Flin Flon’s art scene. It goes back to old mining-company hiring practices, where playing an instrument or doing something that contributes to the community would increase your chances of getting hired.

Next big event? A year ago, birth-care was suspended from Flin Flon General Hospital. Since November, as far as we can tell, there have been no births here. Young women and families have to travel out of town to the nearest maternity ward. A group in Flin Flon has organised a march to raise awareness.

Wardrobe update / Barena Archivo 1993

Pick of the litter

Barena is feeling thrifty. The Venetian workwear and tailoring brand has launched a collection of patchwork jackets, double-breasted blazers and finely checked trousers, all made from finepezza (deadstock) fabrics. The line’s name, Archivio 1993, references the year Barena was founded but the materials used – pulled from the brand’s extensive archives – date from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

“I launched the collection because I want to talk about who we are, and who we have been in these 26 years, through a product,” says Massimo Pigozzo, Barena’s creative director of menswear. “I tried to give [the range] a contemporary cut: classic fabrics of sartorial heritage with modern shapes.” At a time when the fashion industry is grappling with how to minimise waste, it’s a fine example of turning discarded swatches into fresh, covetable clothes. Browse the collection at 18 Montrose in London, The Next Door in Paris, Vancouver’s Roden Gray and Beaker Seoul.


Can I tell my hipster friends I loathe natural wine and artisanal gin?

You’re not alone, dear reader. Mr Etiquette has politely sat through his share of sour saison and carafes of farty, fizzy natural wine. It’s high time we spoke up when the product – as often happens – falls short of the story we’re told (or sold?) about it. But it can be hard. The buzzwords all sound so alluring: wouldn’t it be nice to only consume things labelled small-batch, low-intervention, locally made or unicorn-picked (or whatever)? We’re all in agreement that fewer fertilisers, better farming practices and fresh ingredients are great – but that doesn’t mean that food and drink produced this way always tastes nice. We shouldn’t swallow it any more. Make mine a Gordons and tonic – and something for Mr Tiddly while you’re at it.


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