Saturday 25 January 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/1/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Looking the part

Before: Monocle hosted a reception in Davos this week. The guestlist was heavy with professors, central bankers, familiar faces from various governments and the sort of business folk who talk of trillion-dollar investments.

Never having been anywhere near the World Economic Forum’s big event before, there was one pressing question I had for Mr Brûlé: “What should we wear?” I cornered him on this matter a week ago and he immediately dispensed the sort of advice that he is rightly celebrated for: pithy, accurate and a little unsettling. “It’s relaxed,” he said. “Alpine chic. No need for a tie. You can also wear jeans and trainers.”

I put down the phone and, over lunch that day, passed on this knowledge from the oracle to the rest of my Davos crew. It seemed that the enquiry had done little to assuage the sartorial angst simmering in their bellies – or maybe that was just the spicy lunch. “Does he mean a ski jacket would be wise?” “Do you think I need a hat with a bit of Tyrolean-style swagger?” “Trainers? Really? Won’t I fall over in the snow?” My intervention had clearly not helped.

So as I headed down to the hotel lobby on Tuesday to find part of the team – Robert Bound, Tom Edwards and Josh Fehnert – I was intrigued to see how they had interpreted the dress code. Turned out that there was a lot of layering, thick socks, sturdy winter shoes and some very good hats with a sort of mountain-trilby vibe. They looked good, although there was a suggestion that they could also be mistaken for well-dressed farmers heading to the Keller for a Stein or two while debating cow welfare. (Mr Bound, by the way, has a hat weakness – we sent him to Texas for a story and he came back dressed for a part in a spaghetti western, with a five-gallon hat at a jaunty angle. And, for a while, he wandered around London in a sort of Napoleonic bicorne by Vivienne Westwoood but such is his confidence that no one ever asked him where his parrot was.)

During: it turned out that the male Davos guests had abandoned their ties – well, mostly. And both the men and women at the party looked at ease. There were old political foes deep in conversation, bankers having some to and fro with cyptocurrency advocates, academics spreading their visions, TV anchors lining up interviews. But here’s the thing. While the headlines from Davos might have been dominated by the words and presence of Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg, and while the run-up to this year’s event was made red hot by the forest fires in Australia, there were lots of almost positive voices in the room. Nobody was saying that the climate crisis was not real or that the solution was in place but people talked of rapid disinvestment from companies not playing their part, of how the money folk saw future wealth coming from cleaner, greener technology and how science still might come to the rescue if we let it. It’s then that you see the value for the political and financial elites of being in a Swiss valley, penned in with all of their equals. Because it’s not only the conversations that take place in front of the cameras that will shape our lives but the ones that happen over a glass of white in an alpine-chic bar too.

After: there were stories about how Zürich Airport was being put on lockdown to cope with Trump’s needs and the arrival of Air Force One. Well I didn’t notice anything different. Except that as I waited for my flight, I saw a chopper come in to land and then just as I boarded my plane, I looked out onto the apron and saw the ground crew holding up their phones. And then along the runway came Air Force One. Whatever you think of the man onboard, a presidential plane is still a head-turning emblem of power. It’s impressive.

On the flight back to London, shortly before takeoff, half a dozen men came onboard. Next to me was a gentleman who had the demeanour of “protection” and next to him the UK’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown. I am happy to report that he was at the back of the bus and didn’t get taken off first; although there were two heavily armed policemen to greet him at the bottom of the stairs. Oh, and he definitely hadn’t got the memo: the tie was tightly in place.


You’re booked!

During the Seinfeld episode “The Library”, my partner noticeably stiffens at the sight of Mr Bookman (writes Will Kitchens). In the show the hard-nosed, trench-coat-clad library inspector admonishes Jerry for having borrowed Tropic of Cancer in 1971 only to never return it.

The reason? Five years ago she borrowed and promptly misplaced a book – a thick, heavy volume on French painter Jacques-Louis David – from the Toronto Public Library. How one loses a coffee-table book of that size, I’m not sure (neither is she). But when she eventually mustered the courage to confess, the librarian explained that she now owed CA$300 (€200) before she would be allowed re-entry. My partner, a student until recently, hasn’t returned to the Toronto Public Library since.

The logic behind library fines is clear: removing penalties would inevitably result in rampant book theft. It would reign chaos upon society and the Dewey Decimal System would be decimated. But fines also impede readers of all types – the forgetful and disorganised especially – from visiting their local libraries.

Now to be clear, I acknowledge that my partner has deprived some budding art historian an important resource on neoclassical painting but, for more innocuous offenders, even small fines can bar access to libraries, books, internet, shelter and the essential services that libraries increasingly provide, such as language classes for newcomers. For low-income residents, fines can prevent access to one of the few non-commercialised public spaces that exist in our cities.

Thankfully, the tide is turning against the late fine. Last month the Los Angeles Public Library announced that it would be scrapping fines come spring, noting that they account for less than 1 per cent of its budget. Rightfully, the city is instead focused on removing barriers to access. Phoenix and San Francisco have done the same. But does a sense of civic responsibility hinge solely on the prospect of punishment? In October the Chicago Public Library reported that book returns skyrocketed by 240 per cent during the first three weeks of its post-fine existence.

A few months ago my partner found the missing book hidden on a shelf at the back of her closet. That’s where it remains. She’s waiting for the day when Toronto Public Library assumes a stance of forgiveness and welcomes its stray sheep back into its fold. Only then will the book be returned to its rightful home. Only then, at long last, will she be able to relax at the sight of Mr Bookman.


In the studio

In Zürich this weekend? Well, why don’t you get yourself down to our HQ at 90 Dufourstrasse on Sunday to have a coffee in our fine café and watch the recording of our new radio show, Monocle on Sunday. Our very own Tyler Brûlé and a panel of special guests will be in the studio for this flagship programme. Expect a lively hour of good conversation and a different take on the comings and goings at Davos. The show airs from 10.00 and runs for an hour. For more details, go to


Bag it up

He’s got junk-free pockets and swag aplenty and everything he needs is held close to his heart (literally). He’s a slinger, proudly sporting a cross-body bag filled with cards, coins and keys. Many a luxury brand has tried to create an “it” bag for men but the task has proved tricky. Backpacks are too schoolboyish, briefcases too formal, totes too flimsy and larger versions of handbags perceived as overly feminine.

Yet bags slung across the chest have turned out to be just the thing for many bright young folk. In the past couple of years (nearly four decades after Harrison Ford donned a cross-body satchel in Raiders of the Lost Ark), slimmed-down nylon packs have ridden the streetwear wave. Now brands from Supreme and Jacquemus to Prada (which has always loved a nylon carrier) have put them on runways, rappers and ravers. They’re not exactly new but, judging by the crowds and catwalks at the recent European menswear shows, they’re not going away any time soon. And alongside the myriad shiny fashion versions you can find more subtle takes by outerwear brands such as Patagonia.

A slinger likes practicality: bulging pockets are a nuisance; a tote occupies your hands. But also he, or she, possesses a certain chutzpah. There’s something about the act of wearing a pack across your frame that telegraphs confidence. Just, for god’s sake, don’t refer to them as a “man bag” or “man purse”. We’re all grown-ups here.


Alexis Papahelas

Athens’s paper of record, Kathimerini, is a daily broadsheet that has been in print since 1919 (writes Nic Monisse); it’s published in both Greek and English and focuses on politics and finance. Alexis Papahelas was appointed executive editor of the paper in 2007. His journalistic career took off in Greece in the early 2000s, when he was a host on political talk show The Files – a role he took up after working as a correspondent for newspapers and television in the US. Here he tells us about singing in the bath and what’s on his weekend reading list.

What news source do you wake up to?
The paper editions of Kathimerini and The New York Times. They’re always read at the kitchen table.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Double espresso.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I try to have breakfast with my daughter every day so it’s usually songs from her Spotify.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Nothing in the shower. “Casta Diva” in a hot bath when it gets really cold.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
Delivered at home.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Kathimerini’s own food magazine called Gastronomos – it covers stories on Greek producers and chefs and has brilliant recipes. Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveller, The Spectator and Foreign Affairs too.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
I have subscriptions to almost all of the magazines above because they’re hard to find on newsstands in Athens.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon?
If I’m at home, then Free Thinking Zone in the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens. When abroad, I’ll visit Daunt Books in London and Kramerbooks in Washington.

Sofa or cinema for the evening?
You’ll find me on the sofa.

What's the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
Trump: an American Dream on Netflix. It really helped me understand what the heck is going on in the US.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
Yes. I watch Skai news for Greek stories and CNN. On Sundays, I try and watch one of the US talk shows, like This Week with George Stephanopoulos.


Ahead of the curve

‘Uncut Gems’, Joshua and Benjamin Safdie. Uncut Gems is a swirling maelstrom of a movie at the centre of which spins Adam Sandler (what do you mean he hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar?) as Howard Ratner: jewel dealer, naughty boy and optimist extraordinaire. Howard is in deep debt with bad people but might just be saved by a valuable opal that’s arrived from Ethiopia – but is it a blessing or a curse? Every scene is a deal, a negotiation, a crisis with scant resolution; it’s so “real” and Sandler so committedly loopy that it’s the sort of film you can’t imagine being filmed – in a good way. Uncut Gems will surely be one of the films of the decade – a Greek tragedy spoken in fluent wise guy; a seamy parable about need, greed and enchantment.

‘The Weight of a Piano’, Chris Cander. The lives of two women – one in 1960s Soviet Union, one in 2010s California – are linked in this novel by one very cumbersome object: a huge German Blüthner piano. While one woman loves the instrument for giving her a way to express herself, the other remains stuck with the piano as she’s trying to start a new life and cannot leave the burden of memory behind. This is a story of how the past comes to weigh on the present, told evocatively by Texan author Cander.

‘Hotspot’, Pet Shop Boys. Almost 40 years after they started recording together, the English duo sound as fresh as ever in this new release. The record carries on the Pet Shop Boys’ brand of smooth electro pop but this time there’s an added urgency to clever lyrics tackling themes such as immigration (“Dreamland”) and globalisation (“Happy People”). Produced by award-winning Stuart Price, the album was partially recorded in Berlin and the partying atmosphere of the city influences the tracks throughout, including in scintillating closer “Wedding in Berlin”.


Talk of the town

The Pacific waters around Kaikoura (population 2,200) are famed for the Hikurangi Trench, a 3km-deep underwater ravine with upwelling currents – perfect for surfing and spotting marine life. Alice French and her partner moved there from the UK last year. She now runs the Kaikoura Star from an office in the town centre overlooking the sea. “It sometimes feels surreal, how beautiful it is here,” she says.

Big news this week? The New Zealander of the year awards are in and one of our residents has won a “local hero” award. Among other things, she started a swimming programme in town and generations of people here have gone through it with her now. She’s in her eighties – although she’s as sprightly as someone in their twenties – and she received lots of nominations for all the work she’s done for the community throughout her life.

Favourite picture?
The oldest building here is Fyffe House – its foundations are built on whalebones. The lady who owns it puts on an annual music event there called Music on the Lawn. We ran a picture of a group of musicians playing there – they’re on an outdoor stage framed with flax, with these beautiful waves and bright blue skies behind the pink Fyffe House.

Favourite headline?
“Travelling Petition Deadly Serious.” There’s a couple cycling on a tandem bicycle across the length of the South Island to promote a petition for better funding for public healthcare. They’re carrying a coffin with a tiny medical skeleton inside to raise awareness. The plan is to leave the coffin and skeleton on the steps of parliament at the end of their trip.

Next big event?
There’s a developer here who has bought a section of land just outside town. Just before Christmas he announced that he wants to invest money in Kaikoura to make it the first off-grid town in the world – meaning that all of our energy would be created locally. He says he’s been in talks with people at Tesla and has lots of money to put behind it so that’s something we’re keeping an eye on.


Capital landmarks

London has just had a makeover. Well, Monocle’s guide to the city has, at least. The 2020 refresh of our book includes all the things we think you’ll need for a few days of exploration – or just hanging out – including recommendations for hotels and the key places to secure a dinner reservation. We also take time to discover the offbeat, the underground and the cool. One of the most intriguing chapters is “Design and Architecture”, in which Monocle’s design team nudge you towards the best in urbanism and handsome buildings spanning many ages.

Here are three structures they recommend. First up: Coal Drops Yard, part of the Kings Cross redevelopment that was overseen by designer Thomas Heatherwick. This mix of retail and restaurants is well worth seeing – and you can pass your own judgment as to its success. Second stop: the Riba building in Fitzrovia. The headquarters of British architecture was completed in 1934 by George Grey Wornum – it’s classically elegant on the outside and high art deco within (you can take a tour). Finally, make time to see 2 Willow Road in Hampstead, the home created in 1939 by Hungarian-born architect Ernö Goldfinger (who designed two celebrated postwar towers, Balfron and Trellick).

These three design outposts will help you to see the city with new eyes and give you a better insight into the people who shaped – and continue to shape – London. Buy your new guide here.


Can I tell them to leave?

Mr Tiddly and I sometimes decide to spend an evening apart – he gets a chance to chase shadows and scratch the sofa; I get a chance to spend a relaxing night at the theatre. Well, sometimes. Of late my dates with my thespian friends have been ruined by a new trend: people filming key moments on their phones. Even when there have been stern warnings not to do this over the tannoy, they still cannot stop themselves.

You see them playing with it, then suddenly there it is in full view. It’s not just the stupidity, it’s the way the light from their phone then breaks the soothing, enveloping blackness. Sometimes a member of staff does intervene – perhaps with a torch used to pick out the offender. But too often they get away with it. So can you tell them to leave? Perhaps not – but unless they are bigger than you, you can tell them to stop. And withering looks are definitely to be encouraged.


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