Saturday 8 February 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 8/2/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Happy snaps

On my phone there are 28,749 photos. A quick dive into the search function tells me there are 1,330 of dogs (it’s safe to say that at least 1,000 are of one particular fox terrier). There are 383 of Beirut, 477 of New York, 11 of the town where I was born (that’s enough). Although there are some accuracy issues. It says, for example, that I have eight pictures of birds of prey but, when I just clicked on that category, it pulled up a series of images of the Monocle owl mascot, Monochan, who can be spotted at events such as the Monocle Christmas Market yet can only flap its stunted wings because there’s one of our shorter colleagues sweating away inside.

Most of us end up chronicling a lot of our lives on our phones. And, yes, if I drop dead today, then people could discover that in recent years I have taken 1,600 pictures in which a chair appears (39 that, apparently, you can go swivel on). However, I only allowed bananas into my pictorial life on three occasions (and, sorry Mr Search, one of those pictures is actually of a very big – you’ve guessed it – corn on the cob).

Yet here’s the rub. It’s the overabundance of pictures that we now take and store that makes them valueless. A nuisance. You would be insane to trawl through even your dear departed partner’s visual catalogue – it would be dull. Well, unless you discovered, say, a secret second family. Or that they were taking pole-dancing lessons, unbeknownst to you.

And pity the historians. We met with one of the founders of Airbnb who pointed out that they have, in effect, the world’s largest photographic archive of domestic life today. But any academic would be wary of clicking through that library (pictures featuring Ikea beds: 83 million).

But I also have another set of pictures. Total closer to 500. They sit in 10 photo albums. The very first picture is dated 1987 and is taken in the Museum Ludwig in Köln. The next few are of a trip to Hungary by car with a lover who’s still a friend, and a friend who’s still a friend. Hungary is communist; the streets filled with Trabants. We are at the Gellért baths; now staying by Lake Balaton. They are so few in number because I went to a good printer; it was expensive, so I was mean with my order. But that parsimonious selection process became a discipline. Often I would only print a handful of images in a year and I am still just as mean.

There are some ghosts in there but the albums tell a good story that makes me happy when I look at them again. And it’s a story that’s richer than the hurried moments snapped on my phone. A summer trip to New York – I can feel the heat; hear the traffic. Venice in late summer with long evening shadows. You look into your own face and see yourself back then all over again. Come on, you have nothing to worry about.

And, sure, when I shuffle off perhaps someone might just hoick the whole damn lot into a skip but I hope not. A couple of years ago I took ownership of another set of albums of black and white photos, shot by an aunt during the Second World War and its aftermath. She went into Europe as a signaller as the war came to an end. There she is in Belgium – bombed buildings, makeshift encampments. Here she is with her friends swimming on a beach looking beautiful; handsome soldier colleagues stripped for the water. I look at these albums again and again; read the notes from admirers hidden on the reverse of many images. Realise that I wish I knew more. But it’s because they are so scarce that they entice. If she’d left me 20,000 pictures of plates of food, I am not sure that I would be interested.

So now a new mission. Can the world of digital and print collide nicely in my personal life? Can I find a few images on my phone that deserve an appearance on paper? I have a plan; I’ll report back. It’s just for fun. Oh, and to make sure some relative in the future has to pause and look before they press down their foot to open the hungry mouth of the pedal bin.


Rose-tinted sunglasses

Amid the hubbub of Joe Biden’s caucus-night party in Des Moines, Iowa, last Monday evening, there was one image that pervaded the festivities: that of a pair of classic Aviator sunglasses. They weren’t installed on the presidential candidate himself (they regularly are, as his accessory of choice) but their famous silhouette was still inescapable. The image could be seen on staffers’ lapel-pins and supporters were also supplied with oversized cardboard cutouts of the sunglasses to wield in the air as Biden arrived on stage. You can buy campaign T-shirts printed with the classic profile to show your support for Biden’s bid for the White House. This is the Joe Biden that his campaign wants voters to see: fun, cool, an American classic.

Aviators were conceived in 1936 and are now most-famously made by Ray-Ban. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that Biden goes through six pairs every year. This is largely due to the light fingers of his fans, for whom a pair of Biden’s Aviators represent the Holy Grail of memorabilia. Imagery in politics can, arguably, be as potent as the message itself. And given that Biden’s presidential campaign has wobbled, his team wants to remind voters that he, like his favourite sunglasses, is enduring, recognisable and an American icon. Whether voters buy that will be tested by New Hampshire’s voters on Tuesday.


Alex Lavelle

Published in Melbourne since 1854, The Age is an Australian daily newspaper that’s known for its independent political and economic coverage (writes Nic Monisse). Editor Alex Lavelle joined the paper in 1999 and assumed the editorship in 2017, having previously worked as deputy news director and sports editor. Since then he has helped to grow the paper’s audience to more than four million monthly readers. He tells Monocle why Spotify is good for newspapers and why he likes reading about golf.

What news source do you wake up to? News alerts on my phone. In terms of overnight stories, I have alerts from The New York Times and The Washington Post, and The Times and Telegraph in the UK. I’ll also check The Age website and then have a look at other Australian outlets such as the Herald Sun, The Australian, The Guardian Australia and ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]. But a lot of my news now is from alerts or social media.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines? I actually keep it pretty simple with a coffee and a bowl of cereal or muesli.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I’m a Spotify devotee. I think it’s one of the best recent additions to the modern world. Not only do I love Spotify in terms of its value for money and flexibility but I also feel, from a media perspective, that Spotify, Netflix, Stan [an Australian streaming service] and other similar services have been helpful in getting people into the habit of paying for a monthly subscription; quality is something you do have to pay for and, if it’s something worthwhile, you can’t get it for free.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I’ve got a terrible voice so I’m not humming much.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I get The Age and the Herald Sun delivered.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? To be honest, I read fewer hard-copy magazines now than I used to. A lot of it comes from social feeds that people send me. I’m generally reading an article on my phone on the weekend. Occasionally – in terms of hard copy – I might have a look at Golf World and, if someone tells me that a particular edition of The New Yorker is worth looking at, then I’ll take a look.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Subscriber. Both digital and paper.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? I’ll browse at the airport or pop into [Australian bookshop chain] Dymocks. I do love reading novels – I studied English literature at university and if I’m not reading a book, or haven’t read one for some time, then I feel like something’s missing.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Either or. I’m certainly in front of Netflix or Stan more than the movies. I don’t get to the cinema a huge amount but I always enjoy it when I do.

Sunday brunch routine? It revolves mostly around catching up on the news in the morning, maybe some exercise and then my family – I have four kids, who all play sport. I’ll hopefully switch off from work if possible too.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps? Not necessarily. I keep an eye on the news but, generally, everything on the nightly news is something that I’m aware of already. Occasionally there might be an interview or an exclusive that I want to be across.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
It’s probably not a great habit but I’ll have a final cruise through the phone to look at what’s making the news before I go to sleep. I do try to read a book as well.


Indecent exposure

Our February magazine, with its fetching salmon-pink front cover urging us all to lead a gentler life, has caused a bit of a stir in Hong Kong. Issue 130 is being sold inside a plastic bag and comes with a public-health warning about offensive material only suitable for readers aged 18 years and over. Curious Monocle regulars might be at a loss to spot the offending article. Spoiler alert: it’s a photo of an erect penis. This “obscenity” is part of a male mannequin in Charles Ray’s sculpture “Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley” that’s in a museum in Miami. Newsstands in Hong Kong can sell lads' mags with busty babes on the front cover but an artwork on page 82 could land us in prison. Anyway, should be good for sales.


Identity parade

‘Parasite’, Bong Joon-Ho. In every dream home is a heartache: the Parks are a handsome family living in a spotless, modernist marvel, impeccably aided by the help. Until, that is, they meet the close-knit Kims, a savvy family who nonetheless live on stolen wi-fi – a definition of South Korean poverty. Once the Kims have ingeniously inserted themselves into the Parks’ world, director Bong lets off his monstrous fireworks display. Parasite is a tense thriller, violent parable and very funny comedy that succeeds by sticking to its steely storytelling rails – and thanks to its perfect cast. This bug deserves to win best picture Oscar in Los Angeles tomorrow night.

‘Texas Sun’, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges. Fellow Texans Khruangbin and Leon Bridges, from Houston and Fort Worth respectively, have teamed up on this homage to the Lone Star State. Grown out of a single that the musicians worked on while on tour together, this four-track EP is a mellow, psych-tinged and funk-filled delight that just calls for a US road trip.

‘Swimming in the Dark’, Tomasz Jedrowski. Some might have dubbed this book, Jedrowski’s debut, Poland’s Call Me by Your Name but the two novels differ in more ways than their setting. Protagonists Ludwik and Janusz do meet during an idyllic, dream-like countryside summer camp in the 1980s but their story doesn’t end with the season. Once back in Warsaw, it’s the political context surrounding them that provides the most poignant and stark obstacle in their enthralling love story.


On the island

Guernsey, a small, grassy island in the English Channel that’s home to about 70,000 people, has served in many ways as a bridge between Europe and the UK. Though a crown dependency and part of the British Isles, the island is neither part of the UK nor the EU. Instead it is governed by a consensus of elected non-party representatives. Their niche status has allowed for easy fiscal rules; the financial sector accounts for almost half of the island’s GDP.

When Shaun Green returned home to the island after a stint at university in the UK, his father passed the nation’s only paper, The Guernsey Press, across the dinner table and suggested that he take up work as a journalist. Since then, Green has worked his way from business reporter to editor. “We regard ourselves as a critical friend of the government here,” he says.

What’s the big story this week?
We seem to be the first place affected by Brexit in terms of our relations with the French because the London Convention of Fisheries ended and we’ve had to move to a new system. Many French fishermen, due to some misinformation, were worried that they would lose their rights to fish nearby and have been threatening to blockade their harbours. Although it’s a small industry, it’s always a big political issue – as the UK will find in the coming months.

Can you name a favourite headline?
I have one on the wall here: “Rhodes Rage”. It’s ancient but it refers to a football match in the biennial Island Games – a competition between a collection of islands. Rhodes had five of their players sent off in a single match against Guernsey. We eventually had to call it off.

And a favourite picture? There was an armed incident at a hotel. We had a tip-off that police were taking action, so we sent a photographer down. We got this great sharp-focus image of a police officer’s hand on a gun pointing round the wall 90 degrees – at the photographer.

What’s your down-page treat? Sark [population: 500] is an island nearby, even smaller than Guernsey. As is often the case with the smaller island next door, sometimes Guernsey looks down on Sark as quaint and a little backward. Well recently, the speaker they elected to their house of commons was someone who had resigned from parliament just a year ago. This was allegedly so that he didn’t have to face an inquiry into his poor conduct.

Next big event? Guernsey lived under the Nazi heel for five years of occupation. News of the war ending came to us on 9 May [1945], so that became our V-Day – “the Channel Islands free again,” to paraphrase Churchill. Since then it’s been a national holiday. This year marks the 75th anniversary; there’ll be a cavalcade of military vehicles and a party atmosphere, where people will get together and think back, perhaps, to tougher times.


Brand awareness

Quaking from the onslaught of online shopping, fashion retailers are trying their best to fathom what it is that customers want these days. One brand that has consistently stuck to its guns is Visvim. The 20-year-old Tokyo label has a fanatical following that pounces on every fresh drop of its beautifully made Americana-meets-Japanese-craft denim, soft T-shirts, moccasins and trainers. Nobody wears Visvim better than its founder Hiroki Nakamura, a man with a singular vision and commitment to doing things properly. (If you don’t know who he is, hit up the internet immediately.)

Nakamura’s latest creation is a new women’s shop: WMV Visvim Tokyo. The shop, on the Meguro River, is a freestanding two-floor house from the 1970s that has been filleted to its bare wooden bones. The craftsmanship is next level: plaster walls by a craftsman who has worked on historic properties including Himeji Castle, a Japanese garden by famed designer Sadao Yasumoro, stencil-dyed screens, wooden carvings and a handmade paper pendant. It even smells good. What there isn’t too much of is clothes; just a couple of rails of sparsely hung garments and the odd pair of shoes. The overall effect is much like Visvim’s collections, effortless without being precious. And it works. Shoppers are intoxicated by the quality that runs through the brand and are more than happy to pay for it.


Lust for leather

On the streets of London and Manhattan, editors and stylists are sporting high heels and wraparound leather skirts whose square patterns recall giant blocks of chocolate. They squeeze oversized Pouch clutches in soft napa leather under their arms. The brand behind these seductively offbeat looks is, of course, Bottega Veneta. The Italian house’s creative director Daniel Lee, a flame-haired Englishman, has inspired a feverish following since he took the job in 2018. His designs bring an elegant-meets-awkward aesthetic to the brand’s signature intrecciato (woven-leather) products; they’ve proven to be just what women are after. Now even more shoppers can get their hands on the Kering-owned brand founded in Vicenza in 1966. Yesterday a Bottega Veneta pop-up shop opened at Harrods in London. It will sell its spring/summer 2020 collection and exclusive women’s accessories, such as the Curve mule in ice blue. Swing by before 1 March.


Can I ask for a duvet day?

Now, of a morning, Mr Tiddly can be hard to lure from the sunny windowsill or his perch atop a plumped cushion. Even he, however, arched an eyebrow when I told him the following story. A young gentleman came to my office for an interview this week; generous terms are being offered to help take care of the website for Mr Tiddly Fine Cat Treats Inc. I had tried not to focus on the fact that he was late and seemed unsure of where he actually was (the joys of finding people via a recruiter).

But then came the big question. “Do you offer people duvet days?” Being more a sheet-and-blanket man, I was unsure what he was on about and asked him to enlighten me. “Well, at my current company you can have five duvet days a year – you know, days when you don’t want to get up but don’t want to waste time booking holiday or going to the effort of pretending that you are sick.” Oh, dear. So the answer to the question is, “Yes”, you may ask for a duvet day – and a teddy bear too. But you won’t be getting the job.


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