Saturday 29 February 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 29/2/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Keep a cool head

Monocle launched in 2007. We started with a March issue that began to arrive on newsstands around the world in February of that year. There was a pilot from the Japanese Self-Defense Force on the cover. Over the following months we started to find our voice; articulate the things that we thought should be considered if you were going to build a better city, a business that would last, a home that could endure – even improve – with the patina of time. There were some bumps along the way and a lot of fine-tuning. But things were feeling good.

At that moment, I am not sure that I was taking a huge amount of interest in the subprime mortgage market in the US. Not sure I even knew what it meant (they sell nice basements?). But by the summer of 2008 it was a topic that many people, including me, knew about only too well. This seemingly small, hard-to-fathom-from-far-away issue started a chain of events that would lead to the financial crisis. I remember sitting in our old office in Zürich with Tyler and some of our investors. It must have been the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed. Let’s just say that some people were a little concerned but, and this is one of the many reasons I admire our chairman, he saw both a journalistic imperative to keep doing what we do and also an economic one (and he had a plan).

Over the coming months we went out into the world as never before and reported the challenges but also tried to be a measured voice that was heard when we had something useful to add and, as importantly, gave people some simple ideas about what they should do next.

This morning as you turn on your radios, log on to news sites and perhaps reacquaint yourself with the nightly news on television (it’s still there) there’s going to be a lot to digest. But? Well, there are a few buts. First, even from so called “quality media” the coverage of the coronavirus seems designed to create unease and often lacks context (well here’s some: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US alone, the flu has accounted for 12,000 to 61,000 deaths per year since 2010). Then there’s a whole gamut of yarns speculating about what might happen, written by journalists short of a questioning mind.

So what do we do this morning? Well, do the things that the World Health Organization has advised – keep our hands clean, take notice of travel advisories. But as both a health and economic story merge, Monocle will be out in the world covering this story but also making sure that we continue to give airtime and page space to people doing all sorts of extraordinary things. Because if there is one thing we know from past economic shakes and pandemics, this too will pass.

This week in London I have been out to dinner (restaurant packed), been to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, met CEOs and bankers, interviewed the team set to revitalise London’s Grosvenor Square, met Clare Wood, the chief executive of Re-Form Heritage who helps to make down-on-their-luck landmark buildings vibrant community anchors and been to see a potential new company HQ. All this has been the best antidote to the unease, although I have noticed that whiff of hand sanitiser wherever I go. That’s a scent that is set to be part of the world’s olfactory history. The most important thing is that we keep offering a helping hand – just make sure it's a clean one.


Uniting his flock

In the spring of 2016, Bernie Sanders, who was then, as now, the insurgent candidate for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, was rallying his supporters in Portland, Oregon, when he was interrupted mid-speech. A small bird had fluttered bewildered onto the stage and into the limelight.

“Now, you see, this little bird doesn’t know it,” Sanders began to say before he was interrupted again by the bird as it hopped from the ground onto the podium, as though it, too, wanted a front-row glimpse of the man of the political moment. “I think,” Sanders said into the din of the rally as the bird flew away into the rafters, “there may be some symbolism here.” There was

The bird’s cameo – fleeting but profound – imbued Sanders with a transcendent, perhaps even a divine, quality for some; as if he were the Dr Doolittle of democratic socialism. The silhouette of a small songbird became a fixture of Sanders’s merchandise in 2016, and is a recognisable totem in his campaign this time around too. T-shirts, placards and even the page-tabs of his official campaign website all bear the outline of a small bird. Other political-product peddlers are capitalising on the image too – some have replaced the dot of the “i” in “Bernie” with a stylised avian outline, while others have switched out the candidate’s name entirely – replacing it with the word “Birdie”, printed in the same recognisable font used in Sanders’s official campaign material.

But the image of the sweet bird seems out of place these days given that many Sanders supporters guard him so aggressively. If Sanders does secure the Democrats’ nomination for president, he will need to quell that vitriol far more explicitly than he has done so far. There is much that needs reconciling in the US. And if Bernie wants to be president, his job must be to lead that effort.


Leïla Slimani

After her provocative novels Lullaby and Adéle brought her international fame, French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani is now seeing her first work of non-fiction released in English. Sex and Lies is a series of hard-hitting essays and interviews on the sexual lives of Moroccan women: to hear Slimani discuss the book and how she came to collect all her subjects’ stories, tune in to The Monocle Weekly tomorrow. Here, she reveals her favourite jazz musicians and explains why her family knows her weekend newspaper ritual requires perfect quiet.

What news source do you wake up to? I listen to radio France Inter and then I read every newspaper. Every Friday, I buy all the newspapers and I read them on Saturday morning. My children know that they shouldn’t bother their mother when she’s reading the newspaper; my husband also. Everyone is very quiet in the house.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee – black.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? On Spotify, I listen to jazz – maybe John Coltrane or Sarah Vaughan.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? I go to the tabac [newsagents].

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? M Le magazine du Monde, Paris Match, Elle and The New Yorker. And maybe another one called Les Inrockuptibles, a music magazine.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? I like to browse and buy different magazines. I’m attracted by covers – if I like the [cover] actress or writer, I’m going to buy that magazine, and maybe I won’t buy it the week after.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? The big Librairie Gallimard. I can go with my kids because there is a big section for children. They stay there for hours and they can read and I go upstairs to read myself.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Sofa, because with my children it is so complicated to find a babysitter. I like to watch old movies with my son. He loves musicals with Gene Kelly.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? Parasite. I think it’s a masterpiece. I love that movie – extraordinary. I also watched Judy and I loved it. But at the end of the film I just wanted to drink whiskey and take Valium. I was so depressed.

Sunday brunch routine? On Sundays I work. I wake up very early – around six or seven – and I work all morning, because my son goes horse riding and my husband takes care of my daughter. So I write.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Not on Sunday. I want to just do very nice and quiet things and stick with novels and fiction. I don't want to know about the rest of the world.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? No listening, just reading.


Something for the weekend

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’, Céline Sciamma. Hidden under a beguiling period-drama disguise, Portait of a Young Lady on Fire is an intense lesbian love story making powerful points with soft cinematic brushstrokes. Painter Marianne is commissioned to draw the likeness of reclusive heiress Hèloïse – as she is to marry a Milanese gentleman. The two end up developing a fascination for each other, built on intimacy and companionship. But destiny awaits and their romance has to burn fast: this is a film about what it means to be able to make your own choices.

‘Here we Are’, Graham Swift. Booker-winning author Graham Swift’s new novel opens in the wings of a theatre at the end of Brighton Pier in 1959. About to go on stage is the brilliant young magician Pablo the Great and his dazzling assistant Evie. Introducing the town’s most popular act is everyone’s favourite compère, Jack Robbins. Offstage the trio are ordinary people but in front of crowds they’re the dream team. With a sleight of hand reminiscent of the best illusionists, Swift’s narrative moves between past, present and future.

‘Nosso Ritmo’, Yuksek. Yuksek may be a French producer and DJ but this album is pure Brazil: with abundant lashings of 1970s disco, his tunes are uplifting, failsafe dancefloor-fillers. Earlier in his career Yuksek has collaborated with the likes of Lana del Rey, Moby and Gorillaz. Here he pulls together some of France’s most interesting acts (including Polo & Pan and Isaac Delusion) for an album that sounds like it was a lot of fun to make – not just to listen to.


North by northwest

Yukon – Canada’s westernmost northern territory – is the country’s third most bilingual region with French the mother tongue of some five per cent of its population. And while that amounts to just 1,693 people, they’re lucky to have the Whitehorse-based L’Aurore Boréale to rely on for a dose of local news in their first language. The territory’s only Francophone newspaper, L’Aurore Boréale was founded in 1983. It’s since grown from a one-page newsletter into a fully fledged newspaper that’s published twice a month. Today, each edition prints 2,000 copies and while most stay close to home, the newspaper has subscribers across the globe. Paris-born editor in chief Maryne Dumaine tells us what she's covering.

What’s making news? We had a story about the housing shortage here, which is a significant issue. The shortage means housing prices are going up. If you’re on minimum wage it’s not only difficult to buy a house but even to rent one. It’s also making it difficult for newcomers. The main challenge for them isn’t finding a job or socialising here, it’s finding a place to stay.

Best headline? It would translate to something like “Hot topic hot spring”. There’s a hair-freezing contest here at the [local] hot springs. It’s so cold that you can be in the warmth of the water but have your hair frozen solid. The winners get prizes. It’s all very funny.

Best picture? We had pictures of two young people who did a “polar plunge”. They jumped into a lake to raise money for a good cause. They’re inspiring. It’s minus 20C here. I wouldn’t have jumped in.

What’s the next big event on your horizon? The Arctic Winter Games are coming to Whitehorse in mid-March. It’s an international competition between young athletes who come from across the north, so there are participants from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Greenland and also from different places in Canada. Some are competitions are common and well known, like skiing, but there are other games that are more specific to northern and indigenous cultures too.


Inland revels

Greece is normally associated with summer holidays but there’s plenty to do there in winter too. Skip the islands and instead drive a few hours north from Athens to the bewitching mountain town of Arachova, which offers the perfect mix of winter sports, world-class culture and cosy restaurants. Its location at the foot of Mount Parnassos means that there’s skiing, snowshoeing and hiking aplenty for active sorts, while just 10km away are the impressive ruins of Delphi, once the site of the omphalos artefact that made it the centre of the ancient Greek world. The town itself is tiny and walkable, centred around a high street peppered with independent shops selling cheese and wine, colourful woven carpets and Greek designer jewellery.

At the end of a busy day’s exploring, install yourself in one of the town’s many laidback tavernas – To Tsoukali and Kaplanis are great choices – and tuck into the region’s hearty traditional fare: think big hunks of grilled pork, stuffed lamb intestines and fried formaela cheese. Wash it all down with a glass of warm rakomelo or a bottle of full-bodied local red Mavroudi on Lakka Square, along with all the other visiting Athenians, and don’t be surprised if the party continues into the morning – Arachova is known for its nightlife too. Yamas!


Making the case

With its clickety-clackety combination lock and boxy leather body topped with arched handles, the briefcase telegraphs formality, masculinity with a capital “M” and an official aura. It is a thing that grown-up men would take to the office – as much a part of their uniform as a pressed shirt and polished Oxfords – and that youngsters would carry to their first day of work in a poor attempt to mimic their elders. It recalls archetypes as varied as dishevelled teachers (with sheets of graded papers poking out), slick bankers or baddies toting stacks of cash.

But all of these associations are from a past era, when more people worked in offices – and office dress codes were strict. So what of the briefcase today? Does it serve a role other than as a prop for a big reveal scene in a movie? Has it been relegated to workwear history along with affectations such as red braces, fedoras and tie pins? Not quite.

At the recent edition of the menswear trade show Pitti Uomo, the young London-based bag label Troubadour reported that briefcases were some of its top sellers (after backpacks and before totes). Troubadour makes versions in nylon and canvas as well as leather, and sells to corporate guys who want to look sharp but not stuffy. A scan on Mr Porter, meanwhile, reveals more than 50 options from brands including Gucci and Dunhill. Sometimes a backpack feels too studenty and a tote too flimsy; a briefcase, which conveys a sense of occasion, can be surprisingly refreshing in a sea of casualness.


How long is too long?

Now I am hoping that we are both focusing on the same problem here. Much to the chagrin of Mr Tiddly, the other day I abandoned him at home and went for lunch with friends at a posh café in an even posher garden centre. We stood in line for a table, finally were seated, ordered our food and waited. After 40 minutes we enquired as to the ETA of the dishes – “any second” we were assured. We asked again after an hour. After 90 minutes we just paid for our glasses of wine and left. Out on the street we looked back through the window and saw a waiter dashing through the dining room holding aloft the goods. It was too late. No diner should be punished for a badly run kitchen. Lunch service should be brisk, dinner service slower but always well paced or you will sense when things are going awry. And you should certainly abandon ship when they start serving people who arrived after you. And then you may, like us, discover a very good local deli.


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