Saturday 4 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 4/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Status dough

  1. Yesterday we completed the second magazine of the year produced with everyone working from home. It’s The Entrepreneurs special. We’ve spoken to a lot of people about how they’re trying to maintain their precious company culture, keep a business hunkered down until the storm passes, or retooling and refocusing to do good in times of need. And also making big plans for when this is over. It’s overwhelming how so many business people have this resolve, this belief, that in the end it will be OK. Monocle started in 2007 just before the global crash and our business coverage has often had a biographical edge – we have been living through the challenges we are reporting on. And so it is again.

  2. It’s reported that in our absence from Midori House, some mice have been spotted on the editorial floor. Perhaps they are taking over in our absence and running a fledgling shadow title, Mousocle. I imagine one fashioning a little outfit from the clothes left by our fashion editor’s desk so that it looks the part of a style writer. Another writing about how to furnish a mouse hole from our design editor’s perch and a mouse-y culture editor writing about the new Rat Pack. Maybe one is right now having a swivel in my chair. We call pest control.

  3. Mostly I buy it – that people have become kinder during the lockdowns. You certainly see neighbourhoods pulling together. In my small street we are now doing the shopping for our octogenarian neighbour (don’t let the number fool you, in normal times he has a busier social and cultural life than me), people are hanging out their windows at the end of the day to catch up with each other from afar and there’s a lot of distance waving. But you wonder if everyone is so generous. Walking the dog around the block with my partner we bump into two people we know, who stop to say hello. Now, in the UK, “gatherings” of more than two people who do not live in your household are banned. We stand many metres apart and speak for mere seconds, but already I spot someone spying on us from behind a curtain. Are they about to take our picture? Call the police? You can see how the Stasi found so many helpers. And indeed British police officers have been inundated with people calling to tell them they spotted a neighbour taking more than the one prescribed moment of outdoor exercise a day. “Officer, a gentleman has just left his house in Lycra leggings and earlier today he was definitely on a bicycle.” Well, perhaps the leggings are an offence.

  4. Another fork in the road. Are we going to be more or less of a sharing community after this? I cannot imagine how risky shared living spaces must feel just now. Who would want to go in an UberPool? Or have a floating space in a WeWork? Privacy and distance look set to become new benchmarks.

  5. How’s your meal planning going? I seem to have slipped into French picnic mode. The local bakery – that I never normally go to – is still open and I have, in two weeks, developed a craving for sourdough that is alarming. You can be sat working away and suddenly Mr Sourdough starts calling your name from the pantry. There’s something about his soothing accent that is impossible to ignore – “Monsieur, wouldn’t you like a little slice of me? I’ll let you butter me up. Perhaps you’d like to pop a little cheese on me?” He’s broken through my crusty exterior and snared my doughy heart. I may have to find an Addicted to Loaf support group.


Domestic product

Later this month we have a new issue out that picks up on an important theme: home. Across its pages we look at the role of the home guard, the tough job of a local newspaper editor in Italy, how to make a home that leaves you feeling secure and how the fitness market is targeting us in our bedrooms. There’s also a wealth of cultural recommendations for the lockdown and simple recipes to cook at home too. If your local newsstand is out of reach, join us as a subscriber at Thank you.


Brand new secondhand

We all have different ways of coping with these trying times: some are reading the works of Proust, others mastering the ukulele (writes Fiona Wilson). My reaction has been to go full Marie Kondo and rid my Tokyo apartment of all the unwanted stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. Inspired by a colleague here who flogged his Hoka One One trainers in a matter of hours, I’ve turned to Mercari, Japan’s answer to eBay. Unlike eBay, which I haven’t dared get involved with, Mercari is designed for the privacy-conscious Japanese shopper. You can buy, sell, pay and ship without knowing a single thing about the other person involved in the transaction.

Along with the need for anonymity, I’ve learned just how much Japanese shoppers love a discount, no matter how tiny. They also like to know exactly what they’re getting, so items have to be photographed from every conceivable angle. Then there are the endless, detailed questions. Which season was that bag? Can you tell me the precise width of that coat? I was even asked how it “felt” to wear a particular jacket. Tough one to answer. I’ve also learned that Japan really loves Uniqlo, which turns out to be the easiest label to shift. My brief flirtation with Mercari has been a cathartic process and mildly addictive too. I know I should do something sensible with my earnings but instead I’ve reserved a print I’ve been eyeing up in a gallery. Kidding myself that I haven’t paid a penny for it will make me enjoy it all the more.


On the fringes

Unkempt. Ruffled. Permanent bedhead. These are some of the words to describe my unruly mop over the past couple of weeks (writes Ed Stocker). Perhaps you too were on the cusp of getting that much-needed tidy-up snip from the barber or hairdresser and then your corner of the world went into lockdown. The good news? Well, all that social distancing means that only a few will see it (except via video chat, that is). And perhaps it’s an opportunity to experiment with something new: that facial hair or man-bun you’ve always been scared to reveal in public. But the reality is that partners, wives and husbands around the world are being asked to wield a pair of wholly inadequate scissors and learn a new skill. It happened to me last week and, although the results aren’t disastrous, I now have a look that’s best described as “developing mohican”.

Here in New York, casual workers in the grooming industry have suddenly found themselves out of jobs as their places of work close. Spare a thought for them as you look in the mirror and, if you have their contact number, send a message of support. Because let’s face it: we need them. I for one am looking forward to once again shaking the hand of my silver-haired Torinese barber, Franco, and making small talk. I get a hot towel at the end. And he really does know what he’s doing.


Daniel Libeskind

Polish-born American architect Daniel Libeskind rose to prominence after winning an international competition to design the Jewish Museum in Berlin in 1989. More significant commissions followed, including designing the master plan for the site of One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Libeskind’s architectural work often takes inspiration from music, philosophy, literature and poetry. Here, he tells Monocle why he never hums in the shower and explains the connection between a Japanese author, an Austrian composer and his hi-fi system.

What news source do you wake up to?
To my wife, she’s my newscaster. I actually don’t listen to or read the news but my wife compensates. She’s in tune 24 hours with the news; I totally trust her and she’s very articulate, so I’m actually in a privileged position of having her filter it for me.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I start my day with a cup of coffee and listening to my favourite classical music. Lately, I’ve got even more time to do this as I’m working from home and don’t have to show up in my studio so I can enjoy it for even longer.

How are you handling working from home and staying in touch with colleagues?
We have projects which continue and we are responsible to our clients. Our team has group meetings online, where we can see everybody and show drawings on the computer. We can actually create as we are discussing and various partners’ abilities are brought together. It’s miraculous how the work has been able to be transposed from the desk to our computers at home. At the moment, we’re working on a large masterplan. It’s a complex project but having everyone discussing it in the moment – which I didn’t think would be possible – has actually been working very well for us; it’s an amazing tool.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I have a favourite app for classical music called Idagio, which plays my favourite composers as well as new music coming out, so I’m up to date with young performers too.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I learned not to do it after seeing those 1960s movies with Marcello Mastroianni humming in the shower! Instead, at the moment, I’m always thinking about the present reality, how this event has given people a question mark: who are you? What are you here for? What is your daily life about?

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I actually have an incredible number of books lying around my bed and my desk. At the moment, I’m obsessed with reading the works of Charles Fourier – I’m reading his book The World War of Small Pastries. He was an amazing thinker who thought the entire system of capitalism was based on fiction.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
The truth is, and I’m embarrassed to say it, but I do buy most of my books online. Many of the books I want are obscure, which makes it hard to find them in bookshops.

Is there any media you have rediscovered now you have more time for cultural pursuits?
I was reading a wonderful little book by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami called Absolutely on Music, which is a conversation with the great conductor Seiji Ozawa. In the book, there is a discussion on Gustav Mahler, whose recordings I have, but I haven’t listened to in a very long time. I was inspired to take out his dusty box sets, rediscovering something that I would probably never have come across again. It was this wonderful connection between a book and a 24-disc set, which turned out to be a wonderful voyage into my own home.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I’m addicted to the Criterion Collection. They’ve got the complete expression of cinema, from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to Metropolis. All these amazing films which I now have a little more time to watch than I normally would.

Sunday brunch routine?
Currently, it’s FaceTiming with my grandchildren in Berlin and Brooklyn, and that’s happening a lot at the moment. It makes me think of this quotation from Picasso, “When I became an artist, I threw away my watch.” Our routine has really changed in the sense that we’re not constrained to watch time and I think we’re all becoming more artistic as a result.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table?
My wife Nina reads newspapers from all around the world online, from China to Singapore and Israel. She’s a voracious consumer of global news.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
The radio. We’ll listen to NPR, the BBC and New York’s classical music station WQXR. We’ve started watching the series The Plot Against America on TV too and have just finished the entire two seasons of Jack Ryan. We did that in about two days – it was wonderful and entertaining.


Keep the door open to ace talent

With unprecedented numbers of people losing their jobs, the last thing on the minds of companies is scouting new talent. But as Pip Jamieson points out on our refreshed version of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs this week, it depends on the industry. Jamieson is the CEO and founder of creative talent network The Dots and the first guest on our new expert panel format.

Her advice: don’t close the door to the possibility of finding the perfect fit to join your team at this time. Jamieson says there are companies that are still thriving, particularly in technology, where businesses often have large cash reserves. “Here in the UK we have been working under full employment for a long time now, where it’s really been a seller’s market, where individuals have had the choice of where they go and companies are fighting for the best talent.

“What we’re suddenly seeing is a shift where there is a lot more available talent on the market. So the companies that do have the cash reserves and continue to have demand through this time have suddenly got amazing choices and are really looking at smart ways to build their brand as an employer and to keep hiring, even if they don’t necessarily need the talent right now. So, if you’re looking for ace talent and you have the available cash reserves… then it is a smart time to start hiring.”

Get your questions in now for next week’s panel:


Close scrutiny

‘Home Before Dark’, AppleTV+. Inspired by the true story of nine-year-old Hilde Lysiak, this series is co-directed and executive produced by Jon M Chu (also behind the very different Crazy Rich Asians). A little girl moves away from New York with her journalist father to the small, sleepy town of his youth. Determined to become a reporter herself, she starts asking uncomfortable questions – and digs out an old kidnapping case that nobody wants to revisit. Even the fact that the investigation might involve her own father doesn’t deter her from pursuing the scoop.

‘Womb’, Purity Ring. It’s tough striking a musical balance as delicate as Purity Ring’s: the Canadian duo make synth-based pop that’s experimental enough to be truly surprising but sufficiently straightforward to ensure listening remains an instinctual pleasure. This album – Megan James and Corin Roddick’s third, and their first in five years – revolves around the idea of finding a place of comfort in one’s home. It’s a sentiment that much of the world can get behind right now.

‘The Voice in My Ear’, Frances Leviston. In trying her hand at fiction for the first time, poet Frances Leviston brings her razor-sharp observations to prose too. A collection of short stories, The Voice in My Ear traces the struggles, big and small, of 10 women who all share the same name: Claire. Otherwise, in age, profession and psychological dramas, they are all different – except for the fact that all of them (be it the journalist, the librarian or the babysitter) have tough relationships with their mothers, which are never easy to resolve or comprehend.


Pressed into service

Set almost 1,900km from the nearest landmass, the British overseas territory of St Helena sits roughly equidistant between Africa and South America. Its population of 4,500 live in clusters where they can find flat ground on the island’s steep terrain. The capital, Jamestown, is home to most of the islanders and its 18th-century townhouses lie in a long strip at the bottom of a rocky valley that leads down to the South Atlantic.

Up the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder, above the town proper, Emma Weaver lives in the suburb of Half Tree Hollow. Weaver, whose mother is from St Helena and whose father was born in London, originally intended to visit the island for six months when she arrived as a freshly graduated journalist from Oklahoma. But one of the island’s two newspapers, The Sentinel, was facing liquidation unless it found new management. Weaver swiftly took on the role of editor. She’s now been on the island for three years. “I didn’t want to do desk reporting or something typical,” she says. “I wanted something niche.”

What’s the big news this week?
We had our first suspected cases of coronavirus over the weekend. Our isolation gives us some advantages but our population is very much an ageing one which puts us at risk. Also our resources and medical services are not prepared if there were to be an outbreak here: we have four ventilators on the island and no way of testing. We normally have one flight a week from Johannesburg but that’s been cancelled.

Do you have a favourite headline?
“I will marry the man who takes me to St Helena to meet Jonathan”. It’s a quote from an American couple who came to the island to meet Jonathan, our resident tortoise. He’s actually the oldest land animal in the world, at almost 200 years old. It was one of the happiest and oddest tales that I’ve so far had the pleasure of sharing on this island.

What’s your down-page treat?
In our lifestyle section we run interviews with “overseas saints” – we call ourselves saints in St Helena. The series is called “80 Saints” and it focuses on people who have moved from the island to different places around the world. One noteworthy one was Belinda Thomas, who went off to the Caribbean to become the world’s first black female cruise-ship captain.

What’s the next big event?
The biggest event in the year would have been the Napoleonic bicentennial events. St Helena is where Napoleon was exiled to by the British – he died here. It’s one of the main things that people will have actually heard about the island. His remains are back in France but we’re home to lots of relics and his now-empty tomb. The events were to be held in May, although we may have to wait until 2021.


Should I use an ‘out-of-office’ reply?

Earlier this week, Mr Etiquette was sending emails from his new home-office set-up when he received a curious auto-reply. “I’m out of office today,” read the message. Quite right: we’re glad you are and hope you’re keeping safe. But doesn’t specifying that sound odd when your whole company – and much of the world – is, of course, “out of office” anyway? In large companies, composing an email bounce-back for when you’re taking some time off work has often involved tiptoeing around the word “holiday” (as if even the mention of it means rubbing other people’s faces in it while they’re still toiling away). And for many entrepreneurial businesses, no bounce-back message is needed because you will still be answering clients even when reclined on a lounger.

But it feels that the messaging game needs to get even more creative now. OOP (out of play) might be an improvement, as is the generic “away from my desk”, although Mr Etiquette wonders where else you might be; OTS – on the sofa – instead? If in doubt, make like Mr Tiddly. When he’s out-of-catflap, he doesn’t let too many people know. Normal fur-grooming and fly-hunting duties can be resumed once he’s back.


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