Sunday 19 January 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 19/1/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Rules of thumb

Over the coming days you’re likely to read your fill about future conflicts, next-gen warfare, national fractures and the general implosion of civilisation. As politicians and pundits take to the stage at Davos there’ll be many views about artificial intelligence (AI) reshaping frontline battalions and defence spending, and how technology will create a host of surreptitious superpowers. On the sidelines there’ll be voices lobbying for treaties and controls over lethal robots.

And there’ll be creators and investors singing the praises of drone fighters and human-cost savings. Amid all of this chatter about automated weaponry and a new robotic arms race, it’s likely that most commentators and policy-makers will miss the cultural conflict that’s glaring them in the face.

As much as we might fret about AI-enhanced armies going rogue, it would be useful to think about the daily conflicts being caused by all the “intelligent” devices in our midst – there’s an urgent need to resolve the complete lack of digital decency. CEOs have made much about their journeys of digital transformation but I’ve yet to see a company take a leading role in setting standards for how society should behave with phones, tablets, cameras and other bits of technology that people have bought.

Is it not somewhat odd that a Panasonic shaver comes with more safety instructions than a smartphone? My apartment building has a set of house rules that encourage residents to abide by certain codes but the same can’t be said for my laptop. And what about how devices should be used in private or semi-public environments? Airline CEOs love to talk up their digitisation but who’s going to tell the lady three rows up that she needs to stop filming me and my colleagues? Is there an established code for the senior flight attendant to follow? Does he or she feel empowered to tell the man in 2A that he needs to stop using the loudspeaker on his phone for his conference call? Or has someone on the “customer experience” team deemed it out of bounds to curb how passengers use technology?

At levels ranging from federal to municipal, much time is spent on legislation for creating quieter cities (I’m not sure whether cities are meant to be hushed but we’ll save that discussion for another day), such as more soundproofed buildings and less drinking and chatter after 23.00. At the same time there’s a lot of posturing and PR surrounding data protection that might be well-intentioned but does little in the way of ensuring privacy in practice when virtually every device is also an audio and video recorder.

Countries with a strong sense of social capital (Japan, Switzerland and corners of Germany) have it best, as deep-rooted social codes help govern how people behave in public settings. The screaming child is taken out of the restaurant rather than engaged in a negotiation, the phone is placed in a pocket and not on the table, meetings start with a firm handshake and women are greeted first, food is not scooped into one’s mouth while walking down the street. You get the idea. If you step out of line with your mobile device in Switzerland there’s a good chance that a fellow commuter, shopkeeper or manager will tell you how to behave or ask you to watch your Youtube clips at home. The result is that most tram or train journeys don’t have the added din of tinny speakers amid all the other daily noise, and travelling from A to B can be a civilised experience for citizens who respect codes of the public realm. Try asking a fellow passenger to turn down their headphones on public transport in London or Toronto and at best you’ll be told to piss off; at worst you’ll find yourself in the back of an ambulance bloodied and humiliated.

At a recent dinner in Zürich, friends from the legal and medical worlds agreed that the next hotbed of litigation is going to be around digital devices and their unchecked impact on society and mental health. “A smart company would either take the lead and slap a warning on their boxes or, better yet, take an active role in curbing behaviours,” said a medical doctor. “Just as the tobacco industry has had to pay out, technology companies will soon have to account for their harmful, addictive impact on daily life.”


Earning its spurs

Institutions are a funny old thing (writes Robert Bound). When it comes to bars, the inevitable tipping point at which naturally sprung places of revelry become holy relics happens soon after the stories have done the rounds. And lo! The institution is born – and the party dies. Not so the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa, Texas, which somehow became a doggone house of holy revelry and an institution almost instantly (helped along by the underperforming bar at the otherwise-lovely Hotel Paisano).

The vibe is that of a spit’n’sawdust Western honky-tonk with low-lit pool tables, live music and Texans with Stetsons pushed back so that they can better negotiate their sippin’ whiskey. The landlord is Ty Mitchell and he sets the scene, looking, as he does, like all of the Magnificent Seven rolled into one long, lean dude – eyepatch and all. You’ll probably start with a beer and a whiskey chaser but don’t ride on out yonder without some tequila on your tab or an Old Fashioned or two to your name. That’d be a crying shame. The Lost Horse, then, is the exception to the rule of the institution.


Christoph Niemann

The German artist and illustrator on Bach, being alone with his thoughts and why the headlines can wait until Monday.

Where do we find you this weekend? I’ll be at home in Berlin. I like the idea of resetting and recharging. I love Monday through Friday but I’m slowly starting to realise that to get more out of those days I need to put myself in a different mindset on Sunday. I try to keep it commitment free – even if we have one thing scheduled I find that it occupies the whole day. I love having a day when I have no commitments and the only thing I have to worry about is when to have my next coffee.

What’s your ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt? Gentle. I’ll make coffee, then stay upstairs in the living room playing the piano, looking out of the window and trying to stay away from my phone. I know the family is at home but they’re all still asleep. So I’m by myself but surrounded by the people I love. It’s time off in the most ideal sense.

Soundtrack of choice? I don’t listen to music in the morning because it’s too much information. The only music I listen to is when I play the piano, as a hobby, with ambition but not talent – I’m not good at it. I’ll play simple jazz standards or beginner’s classical music. Bach, even if you play badly, is still Bach.

What’s for breakfast? I’m from the south of Germany so I need a pretzel, or we have a fantastic French bakery on the corner near our house. Baguettes or pretzels.

News or not? I often get sucked into it but I try to consciously avoid the news on a weekend. Right now I’m working on political projects so I spend all week looking at it. As interesting as it is, it can also be poison for your mind. I don’t need the latest take on Boris Johnson or Donald Trump – it’s interesting but it’s pointless. Nothing will get solved until Monday morning, certainly not by an opinion piece. So for 24 hours I’ll try to leave it.

Walk the dog or downward dog? We travel too much for animals. We have a ping-pong table in the basement, which is fantastic. In the past month my kids have become absolutely crazy about it, so there will definitely be an hour or two of ping-pong. There’s something about ping-pong that’s very social. It’s like a metaphor for a conversation – you’re playing against each other but still playing together. You don’t walk away with anything tangible, all you did was spend an hour bouncing a ball back and forth – I think that’s really fantastic.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping? I try to go for a big run – about 15km. It has to rain pretty hard for me not to go. I have a couple of routes but my favourite is through Tiergarten, the central park in Berlin. You go through the Brandenburg Gate by the parliament building. I love the feeling of running in a city: there are people and lots going on even in bad weather, which makes you feel like you’re really a part of the place.

Lunch in or out? A really light lunch after my run. Often an omelette, vegetables, salads.

Larder essentials you can’t do without? If somebody told me that for the rest of my life I have to have pasta every night for dinner, I’d say, “OK.” I just love it.

A glass of something you’d recommend? At night, some red wine. I like the idea of a glass of champagne for breakfast but the prospect of drinking and getting tired in the afternoon – during weekend hours that are so precious – means that it no longer appeals to me.

Your ideal dinner venue? We have so many good restaurants around us that if I want something that I can’t make at home, such as grilled fish, I’ll just go out and have it. It’s something I love about living in the middle of the city. We have five go-to places in our neighbourhood and if you venture out a few more blocks there’s another 15. There are certain restaurants that we always go to, including a pizza place with my kids. I love knowing a restaurant and the people who work there – you get the feeling that you’re coming home to a family.

Who’s joining? My family, definitely. My wife is an editor of an arts magazine so she works a lot and I work a lot, so the one thing we try to do every single day is have breakfast and dinner together with the kids. We go out of our way to make that happen. When I’m in New York – I go there a lot for work – I have zero family obligations so I go out for dinner at a different restaurant every night with some of my friends.

Will you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing? I’ll worry about that on Monday. If I can, I try to sneak over to the studio and clean up a little bit and take care of some paperwork because I love the idea of working on a clean slate on Monday. Mentally, I love to get ready for the next week but it’s not like I put my favourite pair of pants out – that I can do on Monday morning.


Bread soup with chicory and egg

Writer Meredith Erickson picked up this tasty recipe at El Brite de Larieto in Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo. In the Bel Paese it is often served with puccia, a kind of sandwich bread similar in consistency to a pizza crust. You can substitute ciabatta or panini and make the croutons from a country-style loaf. If wild chicory is hard to find then swap in endive, radicchio or dandelion leaves for a welcome hint of bitterness.

Serves 4

5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 1 onion, diced 200g pancetta, diced 1.4 litres low-sodium vegetable stock 1 bun puccia bread, cut into 5cm pieces, plus 50g puccia croutons Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 bunch wild chicory, chopped into ribbons 4 eggs 1 tbsp minced chives 1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted


  1. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and pancetta and sauté until they brown lightly, say 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the bread, lower the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Allow the soup to cool then ladle it into a blender or food processor and process on high speed until it’s smooth and creamy. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Return it to the Dutch oven and keep warm over a low heat.
  3. While the soup simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice water. Add the chicory to the boiling water and blanch until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Lift it out of the boiling water, plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking, then drain.
  4. Place a wide saucepan filled with water over high heat.
  5. While the water is heating, line a plate with a layer of paper towels.
  6. In a medium frying pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicory and sauté until it’s starting to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. When the water has started boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Crack an egg into a small bowl, then gently pour it into the hot water to poach, swirling the water around it with a spatula or wooden spoon first to encourage the egg to take a nice shape. Repeat with the remaining three eggs. When the water returns to a simmer, set a timer and poach the eggs for 2 minutes, until the whites have just set. Carefully transfer the eggs to the paper towel-covered plate without breaking.
  8. Ladle the soup into bowls. Gently place an egg in the center of each bowl, then lay some wilted chicory next to it, add croutons and sprinkle each bowl with chives and fennel seeds. Add a splash of olive oil, then serve. Meredith Erickson’s book ‘Alpine Cooking’ is out now and published by Ten Speed Press.


Ear to the ground

A petite battalion of staffers from Monocle and Winkreative (our sibling branding and design agency) descended on Paris on Thursday for reporting assignments, real-estate scouting, product development and a bit of socialising with subscribers, contributors and brand partners. Demonstrations aside (who’s the lucky company that gets to supply blue flashing lights to the French security services?), things got under way at the Le Petit Célestin at 19.30 sharp and went on well past midnight – inside and out. If you can manage to secure a table (the restaurant is very of the moment), go straight for the boeuf bourguignon – if it’s on the menu. The gents in the kitchen do a good job with desserts too – and understand the finer points of lighting and easy-going service.

As we did the rounds meeting and greeting, we managed to pick up the following intelligence. A communications director for a large fashion maison told us that the soon-to-open Cheval Blanc hotel (part of the Samirataine redevelopment; it opens in April) is causing headaches for many grand hotels because they’ve gone on a serious poaching spree to ensure that they have the best front-of-house talent. The brand manager for Lafuma (the sturdy French outdoor-furniture company) was excited to be invited to the Elysée Palace as part of the Macron government’s push to support “Made in France” products rather than low-grade tat from points east of the frontier. And another source parked at the edge of the bar mentioned that there’ll be a new French-flavoured twist to the Carlos Ghosn story in the coming days. Watch this space.


Dodging the raindrops

Distance: 1.4km . Terrain: Flat . Notes: Singapore’s sticky climate demands a slow meander so we’ve kept this week’s walk short. Showers happen daily and pass quickly but can be biblical in proportions; take a brolly and be prepared to skip into an art deco porch for cover.

Just east of the high-rise CBD and tracing the southern bank of the Alexandra Canal sits one of Singapore’s most unlikely enclaves of pre-war housing: Tiong Bahru. Built in the 1920s and 1930s, the hood has since become home to some of the city-state’s finest independent shops and cafés. Start off at Yong Siak Street’s Plain Vanilla bakery with a flat white and something flaky to go. Head down Chay Yan Street then take a right then a left onto Tiong Poh Road for a view of the white-washed art deco apartments that have made the area so alluring. At 44 Eng Hoon Street you’ll spy Qi Tian Gong Temple (more entertainingly known as the “Monkey God Temple”) for a slice of ancient mythical tradition devoted to the Chinese character Sun Wu Kong. Double back on Eng Hoon Street past the French bakery (number 56) and bar Tiong Bahru Club (number 57) and make for the neighbourhood hawker centre Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre. Downstairs is a vast wet market and stalls selling plants, and upstairs is a cornucopia of street-food stalls selling kueh (glutinous rice sweets) or chicken rice (the national dish). Head down Seng Poh Road, past the leafy garden, for a gawk at the deco delights of the Horseshoe Block, a housing estate on Moh Guan Terrace. Round out your trip with stops at Books Actually for its peerless paperbacks and Sing-Lit selection plus neighbouring Woods in the Books for Singapore-made and sourced products, a few steps from where your stroll began.


Reassembling the rules

Industrial designers love a challenge (writes Nolan Giles) and this decade they’re being tasked with a big one – that of re-engineering the way we live. This was the dialogue that we decoded at IMM Cologne, the furniture industry’s first major global fair of 2020, which wraps up today. So what’s changing? Well, if young designers such as New Zealand’s Will Cook and Hong Kong’s Studio Ryte (which impressed at the fair’s Pure Talents contest) are right, then the chairs, tables, beds and benches of the future will arrive flat-packed. Ikea has its work cut out in competing with designers such as Cook (look out for his chair) and bigger names including Germany’s Müller Small Living (engineers of a neat fold-flat bed), which form furniture that disassembles and assembles simply – something that the Swedish giant tends to struggle with. So our furniture could be portable, easily stored and, if all goes well, it might be more sustainably made too. Updating the decades-old manufacturing systems that make furniture is a costly process but, bit by bit, an industry built on tradition is evolving. While Copenhagen’s pioneering Muuto experiments with water-based paints in its wares, Italian furniture giant Cassina is focused on forming fine fabrics that don’t (literally) cost the earth.


On the agenda

Although it’s known for indie flicks, deals and distribution agreements are still struck at Sundance Film festival, which runs from Thursday until 2 February in Utah. Last year the heartrending (and at times humorous) drama The Farewell and Late Night, starring Emma Thompson, were among the features picked up: the latter by Amazon Studios for a cool $13m (€11.7m). For a flavour of this year’s films, screenings of The Assistant, Bombshell and Promising Young Woman hint that Hollywood might still nursing the wounds of the Weinstein years. Many are also looking to Sundance for some good news; film-award nods for the Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes have been pilloried for a lack of diversity.

Craft Today is the last day of a packed Paris Fashion Week Men’s (though you could still catch Lanvin, Acne Studios or Dunhill’s shows). And, despite the strike-choked streets and a spot of rain here and there, there’s a palpably positive mood in Paris. Monday, however, marks the beginning of four days of haute couture shows. The excitement is somewhat front-loaded on the first two days; our editors have earmarked the Maison Rabih Kayrouz and Dior shows special attention on day one, alongside Chanel’s display on Tuesday. Despite lingering questions over the continued relevance of such shows we’re still sold on the craft, pageantry and creativity of the carnival. Vive la France!

Chips Thursday marks the announcement of the UK’s National Fish and Chip Awards 2020. Really. The annual competition shortlists the finest fryers and batterers, and the best places at which to eat the UK seaside staple. Organised by Seafish – a public body that supports the £10bn (€11.7bn) a year UK seafood industry – the award is both a bit of fun and an attempt to recognise independent businesses using sustainable and traceable fish stocks (and, presumably, a little salt and vinegar). Food headlines are normally dominated by new takes on dishes from afar or “innovation” in creations as mundane as a cronut (don’t get us started on Michelin stars, either), so there’s something comforting about bringing fish-and-chip shops into the fold and fight against unsuitable practices. A reason, if you will, to be chipper.


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