Saturday 7 December 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 7/12/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Ready when you are

Morning. Big night? Or just off to practise your downward dogs? Or perhaps both apply? Either way, we will be waiting here for you with our morning mix of looks decoded (can you trust a man in a loafer?), culture ranked (including a murderous whodunnit), Mr Brûlé in full flow (that man delivers) and a Monocle tip suggestion. So get your coffee and take five – let’s get started. Oh, and don’t forget that it’s the Monocle Christmas Market this weekend in London. Come and join us.


One of many

I’m not free for duty: there are a lot of Andrew Tucks in the world. Rather too many for my liking. It means that when I log into my personal email I can be in for all sorts of surprises. In the summer I was repeatedly chased about my non-attendance at cricket practice. Then my help was solicited in getting rid of an unhelpful member of a church committee. And next it turned out there was a problem with the cottage I was trying to let.

After having a very thorough read to make sure that actually I’d rather not switch identities, I usually drop a polite reply pointing out the sender’s error and encouraging them to check the email address (although I was sorely tempted to keep up the confusion and share my thoughts about the bad apple on the church committee). But lately I have been getting emails about weekly marching-band classes – rather blunt ones about personal discipline, turning up on time and looking smarter. I sent my usual polite response but got a very swift reply telling me to stop messing about and make sure I was there on time this Saturday. I had hoped to be at the Monocle Christmas Market in London this weekend but if you don’t see me, it’s because I have had to fly to the US to get my baton-twirling up to speed. Wish me luck.

All together There’s something about a choir that gets you. We’re not talking polished public-school kids reaching prepubescent trilling highs in a cathedral or classical geniuses knocking out complex versions of what should be humble Christmas carols. No, this is about ordinary people singing in harmony.

The emotion that rises in the audience is down to an obvious fact: a good choir is a metaphor for how life should be. Individual weaknesses and struggles no longer matter because they are lost in the power of the many; people are encouraged to enjoy a moment in the spotlight but then happily fall back in with everyone else to lend support to the next person stepping up to shine; success comes from listening and carefully watching those around you.

Bill, a friend, was singing in London last weekend at a Christmas concert. There were 150 men on stage and the theme was “Home”. Between the songs were short films in which singers talked about why this choir was their home. One man spoke about how, as a child in Paris, his parents were taken by the French police and dispatched to their deaths in Auschwitz – his mother somehow finding a safe place to hide him and his brother at the last minute. Another man spoke of a childhood fractured by an abusive home life. Not only did the choir clearly provide these people a vast network of support, it also gave them joy.

And then there were the songs: Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” (“And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder, I had a feeling that I belonged, and I had a feeling I could be someone”); Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” (“I would choose to be with you, that’s if the choice were mine to make”); and other heartbreakers. Great songs – but they were different tonight: they echoed with 150 personal and very different stories. That’s what gets you about a choir. Oh, and there were lots of sequins and a bearded man in a dress to send you off with a smile.

We’re all Afghans now Someone who works in airport retail tells me that when his staff scan your boarding pass, they are told to ask you where you are travelling from and are then supposed to scroll down the list provided on their computers to find your nation. Trouble is that they get busy or perhaps fail to buy into the value of data-harvesting. So they just click on the country at the top of the list: Afghanistan. Back at HQ when the stats come through, Afghans are regularly ranked as the top customers, mystifying the data crunchers who never realised that Kabul had so many daily connections.


Raising the roof

Denmark is known for a lot of things that are great during winter: good shopping, hearty food and much-hyped hygge cafés. But anyone wishing to indulge in mountain sports needed to visit neighbouring Norway or fly to the Alps (writes Venetia Rainey). The opening of Copenhill has changed that. Boasting an impressive dry ski slope with runs that span from green to black, a half-kilometre-long hiking and running trail, and soon the tallest climbing wall in the world, the 85 metre-tall structure in Copenhagen is a veritable mountain compared with its surroundings. If that doesn’t sound unusual enough, what about the fact that the whole thing is built on top of a waste-to-energy powerplant?

“It’s one of the cleanest [powerplants] in the world so we thought, ‘How can we express this?’” says Bjarke Ingels, founder and creative director of Big, the architecture firm behind the project. “We turned it into a destination.” It worked. Since opening at the start of October, Copenhill has had about 30,000 visitors, from hikers to people who just want to enjoy the views stretching across the Öresund to Sweden. As for the skiing, a lot of people looked as if they were having fun but let’s just say that this reporter was glad there were some bushes to soften the falls along the way – and a café serving big cups of varm chokolade at the end.


Bottom line

There’s a look for young blades that speaks of international cash. It’s a dress code that works from the Mayfair restaurants popular with the hedgier of fund boys to the Upper East Side joints where the scions of modern industrial wealth can still be found talking into their phones and littering their conversations with big numbers. It’s about a good suit, with trousers cut modernly short in the leg; a shirt that has been pressed with precision and a winter coat with a rich collar. But it’s the feet that broadcast your membership of this style set. These boys love a loafer. They have numerous pairs: definitely a brown suede pair for weekday meetings and perhaps something in emerald or blue for loucher nights out.

In generations past, a pair or red braces or an outré sock might have spoken about the owner’s daring side. But now it’s a nice suede loafer. Everyone from Paul Smith to Grenson makes them. But they seem to come with an invisible barrier to ownership: they just don’t make it on to hipsters’ feet – not even in a display of irony. They belong to people who know money. Or who want you to think they do.


Fond farewell

What you’re about to read was meant to hit your screens last weekend but I couldn’t quite bring myself to put the words down. You see, I recently had a farewell party for a group of very dear friends and it’s been difficult facing up to the fact that I might not see them for a very long time – if ever. While I’m not terribly concerned that they’re going to reappear all tucked, botoxed and stretched (they all have good genes and will age well), I do know that I’m going to miss their company and our shared history. I’m already thinking about their new lives, how they’ll be spending Christmas and the new acquaintances who’ve been attracted to their charm and good looks.

As farewells go, this one wasn’t that elaborate or even emotional – at least not at the time. We opened a few bottles of red from Austria and Südtirol, cooked up some gulasch and spätzle and recounted stories about how we first met. Perhaps one of the most dramatic tales was from the mid-1990s, when the anchor of the group told us of how, after an earthquake, many of them had helped the people of a village in Umbria by providing comfortable places for families to sleep. Originally the group of seven were supposed to make their way to London but a humanitarian mission delayed their arrival by a few weeks: they were all assigned positions in a relief shelter.

A few glasses later, another told a harrowing story about their time in Lebanon: living in containers in Beirut’s port, their turbulent journey by sea to Genoa and the zigzag hike to their new home at the foot of the Alps. A newcomer to the group chipped in about his long-haul journey from Melbourne and how he arrived in Italy in tatters, his wool herringbone manteau shredded by rough airport handlers. As the evening progressed we recalled all the cocktail parties we’d enjoyed together; the late, late movie nights; living-room discos; and all the glittering people who’d been part of a tight inner circle. Everyone agreed that seeing Christy Turlington curled up in a corner by the fireplace was a heady high-point of the mid-1990s.

On Sunday morning we awoke, feeling remarkably fresh despite many bottles neatly lined up in the kitchen. We enjoyed a simple breakfast, a couple of coffees and then finished our packing. Along the way I became quite distracted as I’d come across box after box of fine 35mm snaps. Was I lost in a very overgrown, wonderfully verdant memory lane? In bundles and random groupings there were whole weekends captured in rich colour: big skies over Sweden with my Tokyo colleague Fiona perfectly framed sitting in the back of my old Zodiac, Mats barbecuing on the deck at the island house in Stockholm’s archipelago and all kinds of friends and random visitors stretched out in various stages of undress on Svenskt Tenn cushions on the jetty. Other snaps took me to slopes in the Engadine, ryokans in Kyushu, family weekends in Ottawa and much more. Throughout all of this, the friends all looked on as I packed away photos, trinkets, trophies and small mountains of books and periodicals. They might have wanted to cut in with comforting words or fun little anecdotes to ease our parting but they didn’t say a word – in no small part because none of them are able to speak. Instead, they all just sat there looking elegant and composed, relaxed and radiant – ready for the next soirée.

A few hours later I said goodbye to all of them: the pair of Florence Knoll sofas with matching ottomans and loden armchairs, the Lobmeyr chandelier and ice-block lamps rescued from a Swiss butcher’s shop, the Hans Wegner easy-chairs bought at a Bukowskis auction and a gallery’s worth of photography collected over a quarter of a century. All have been more than just scenery and trappings; they’ve been part of a life lived in London, Sweden, Beirut (I never moved into the apartment) and northern Italy. We decided that they should spend the rest of their years in a lovely villa in Merano, in an agreeable climate with warm sunshine to keep them looking their best. It will come as no surprise that some of the closest of the group are now in a little truck climbing over the Alps. They’ll be taking up residence in Switzerland – for safe keeping.


Robin Givhan

As The Washington Post’s fashion critic, Robin Givhan’s articles have been so influential that in 2006 she became the first fashion writer to win a Pulitzer prize. Her initial stint at the Post began in 1995. Although she took a break from the publication for a few years, she returned to the mothership in 2014. Training a keen eye on the social mores and the fashion choices of political figures is one of her specialities; most recently, she made headlines with her dislike of Melania Trump’s white coat. Here she reveals her go-to Christmas movie and her favourite bookshop in Washington.

What news source do you wake up to? I wake up to the dulcet tones of NPR’s Morning Edition.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee with cream, no sugar. I grind the beans myself.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Most likely something from Spotify, although I still harbour an affection for my old iTunes playlists.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I don’t hum or sing in the shower. It’s probably the only few minutes during the day when I’m not thinking about anything at all.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I have the print edition of The Washington Post delivered daily. And yes, I still read books in print form too.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? Do five back issues of The New Yorker count?

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? I love browsing through my neighbourhood shop Solid State Books [in Washington] and then getting proper coffee down the street.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why? The last thing that had me both obsessed and wrecked was the HBO miniseries Chernobyl.

Sunday brunch routine? I only occasionally do brunch. But when I do, the morning goes: take dog to the park, work out, shower, buy something insanely indulgent from a nearby bakery and wash it down with too much coffee.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No. I absorb too much news all day to make an appointment with television.

A favourite newsreader? There are many who I admire and respect but I especially enjoy Brian Williams’s [chief anchor at MSNBC] wry humour.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? I tend to fall asleep to some stand-up comedy on Netflix.

What’s your staple Christmas movie? I can’t resist a re-run of A Christmas Story.


In focus

‘Polar Night’, Mark Mahaney. Berkeley-based photographer (and Monocle regular) Mark Mahaney’s debut book is a frozen epic that was shot in Utqiagvik, Alaska. The location of the northernmost city in the US – almost 500km north of the Arctic Circle – practically guarantees two months of completely dark polar nights every year. Life goes on behind closed doors and heavy shutters; Mahaney’s ghostly street scenes look more like shipwrecks than deep winter. Dogs snarl out of the half-light, boats bide their time on icy beaches and graffiti in the snow proves that laughs don’t die in the cold. A bewitching study, beautifully bound by Texan publisher Trespasser.

‘Knives Out’, Rian Johnson. This joyous whodunnit crackles with energy, malice, great writing and performances pitched just below OTT (mostly). The body in the library is that of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), dead in suspicious circumstances as his odious family (Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette, Don Johnson and Chris Evans) gather for his 85th birthday. Cue an investigation by private dick Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig who brings to the party every last syllable of his doggone southern drawl. Genre films sometimes remind us that there are only seven ways to tell a story; Knives Out is good enough to nod to them all.

‘These Elements’, Låpsley. Calling Låpsley’s brand of pop “minimalist” makes it sound a lot more austere than it actually is. This young UK singer’s music is surely influenced by electronica but her soulful timbre adds warmth to proceedings, even to the melancholy “Ligne 3”. Her first release in three years, this EP is a self-conscious declaration of power, love lost and desire found – and of coming out stronger on the other side.


Northern exposure

“Do you have any dishes you need washed? Laundry done? Photos taken? Stories written?” says Darrell Greer, the editor of the Kivalliq News. “You’d be talking to me. Wait until I change my hat.” Based in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut – an Inuit hamlet of fewer than 3,000 people on the banks of Hudson Bay – the weekly serves the seven communities of the Kivalliq region in both English and Inuktitut. The newspaper’s hard-copy circulation is small but it also has a healthy online readership due to Rankin Inlet’s transient nature: people come to work here for a few years before heading back south but when they go, they remain keen to stay abreast of the community’s news. Greer tells Monocle the latest.

What’s the big story? The next will be the election for the Kivalliq Inuit Association, the governing Inuit body that serves the Kivalliq region. The elections are big news here.

Favourite photo? I’m particularly fond of our page-one photo, which is of a young child surrounded by hula hoops in a small community called Chesterfield Inlet. The local school held its first parents’ night, which was aimed at getting parents more involved with their children’s education. The child was lit up with a smile from ear to ear. The Kivalliq News strives to be a positive publication.

What’s your down-page treat? The grand opening of the new CA$26m [€18m] arena in Rankin Inlet, which is known as “Hockey Town”. The grand opening was incredible. It was a holiday and [in attendance were] territorial ministers, elders and a choir of kids who drum-danced and sang. Hockey is the lifeblood of this community in many ways.

What news will you be covering this Christmas? December in Kivalliq, which is the Bible Belt of Nunavut, is Christmas month. Here it’s still referred to as Christmas more so than “the holiday season”. All seven of our communities have Christmas games, community feasts and square dances. The biggest of the year is on New Year’s Eve. So it’s quite the month in the Kivalliq region – and news doesn’t sleep, right?


Is it OK to not ‘get’ a film, book or song?

After a recent trip to the cinema – and at length – Mr Etiquette came to the conclusion that it’s really OK to not “get” something just because it’s been recommended by a friend, colleague or lover. The film in question – a lengthy one with little in the way of plot or redeeming features – was the final straw. Critically acclaimed, maybe. Mr Etiquette’s cup of tea? Not so much.

Yes, often that difficult drama, onerous album or cult comedy that changed one person’s life is, to someone else, as dull as Mr Tiddly’s bathwater (he’s a cat before you get any ideas). And that’s OK. In a world where opinions are becoming increasingly siloed and everyone agrees about what’s good and bad, right and wrong, there’s fun to be had playing the contrarian with a few biddable buddies.


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