Saturday 9 May 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 9/5/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Noises off in the city

There are lots of people talking about how, even in the city, they are hearing sounds that they have never really tuned in to before. The dawn chorus seems to come top of most people’s lists. Although in London, where a chatter of ring-necked parakeets regularly perches on a tree outside my bedroom window, it would be hard to always call this a “chorus”: my feathered alarm clocks are louder and more out of tune than a posse of drunks and even sway from one side to the other on their perch as though inebriated.

But, actually, it’s more the sounds that you don’t hear that will define this time. Key among these: wheelie suitcases being dragged down residential streets by Airbnb guests.

Until recently we had a painful Airbnb on our road. It was rented by someone who told the landlord that they were going to live in it, then put it on Airbnb, moved abroad and took the cash. She hired it out for all-night parties, Chinese New Year celebrations and hen dos. Finally, after one night that spun out of control, we decided to act. Airbnb was contacted – and never replied. In the end it was the determination of one resident dealing with the council and tracking down the aghast landlord that brought the saga to a conclusion. And now the apartment is let long-term to a young couple who have changed the atmosphere; made everyone feel at ease again; become neighbours.

So it was interesting to read the letter that Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky sent to his staff this week, letting them know that 1,900 of the team would be losing their jobs and that the company would be going back to basics – delivering real experiences where “everyday people” will, once again, host guests in their homes. If this leads to a decline in Airbnb landlords then it will be a correction that offers the potential to revive neighbourhoods; help apartment blocks be reborn as communities. Many mayors may even have done a merry jig around their offices at the news. And, when Airbnb does edge back, hopefully it will reply to its emails.

Table for Two – the restaurant of the future?
Thank you for calling Table for Two. If you would like a reservation, please leave your name and number at the end of this message.

But first you need to understand how we chose our name: we have one large dining room which, at the centre, has a lone table for two. But please don’t think that this will be a moment to play footsie with your companion or to clink glasses in celebration of your birthday. You see, the table is two metres long and each diner must sit at the opposite end – well, at least you can wave.

To ensure that corona remains simply an entry on our beer list, patrons are kindly requested to bring their own napkins and cutlery. The restaurant will provide you with plates and drinking vessels – disposable plastic ones.

And please do not ask to use the washrooms; they were padlocked weeks ago.

There’s an app that provides the day’s menu, lets you place your order and pay without ever having to talk to a waiter. Indeed there is no waiter. Please make sure you have downloaded the app in advance.

When your dishes are ready, they will be placed in the glass box that sits between the kitchen and dining room – the chef will close their side, then you can open yours. And remember to put all used plates in the large black bin provided.

Diners must complete their meal within one hour – otherwise they will be sprayed by the disinfectant machine that is on a set timer.

Tips? Eat at home next time?

If you would still like a booking, speak now. We may get back to you.*

**For more like this, listen to this week’s The Urbanist, Monocle 24’s weekly show about the cities we live in.*


Happy returns

“Flat white, please.” If you live in London and you’ve missed a good cup of coffee, or perhaps the latest copy of Monocle, then we have some good news. The Monocle Café, at 18 Chiltern Street in Marylebone, is open for takeaway orders – plus important provisions such as milk, butter and good bread. It will operate from 08.00 to 14.00 every day and the hours will expand in the coming weeks. And don’t forget, if you want to make sure that you get every issue of the magazine, then it would be great to have you as a subscriber – head to And a huge thank you.


Beauty of the beasts

In my east London apartment, lions roar, elephants trumpet and zebras bray (writes Jamie Waters). No, these sounds are not in my head (I haven’t totally lost the plot just yet) and I’m not bingeing on Tiger King on Netflix either. I’m watching live-cam footage of a game reserve in South Africa on my computer – and I’m not the only one. Around the world, housebound folk are streaming live footage of the Big Five congregating around waterholes, penguins swimming in zoo enclosures or eagles nesting in trees. Some are favouring David Attenborough masterpieces on TV. Others are getting active: birdwatching is soaring in the US, where there are reports of booming sales in binoculars and birdseed, and a flurry of downloads of bird-identification apps. And let’s not forget the torrent of doctored images of majestic mammals enjoying towns that have been rendered desolate by the pandemic.

I can see why. There is something supremely soothing about watching footage of sharp-toothed, fleet-footed creatures going about their day. Yes, they look gorgeous but it’s about more than that. These animals couldn’t give a fig about coronavirus; all they care about is finding their dinner and not becoming someone else’s. For those of us who are sitting at home feeling restless, bored or anxious, it snaps things into perspective and reminds us of the smallness of humans in the face of the power – and cruel indifference – of the natural world.


Scrubbing up well

We’ve often dissected politicians’ calculated fashion choices in this space but we’ve experienced something of a reprieve from our cynicism in recent weeks (writes Will Kitchens). We’ve turned our attention away from politicians – just slightly – to the medical officials who deliver daily TV briefings. The public’s fascination with these new heroes has spawned love songs and even a cheeky campaign to name Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, People magazine’s sexiest man of the year. While we wouldn't go that far, there is plenty to be gleaned from the garments donned by the world’s scientific advisers.

Here in Toronto, city health official Eileen de Villa’s rotating roster of scarves has spawned its own internet fan-club. And when Alberta’s own provincial chief medical officer, Deena Hinshaw, donned a dress bearing the periodic table, its designer had to resurrect the out-of-production design due to demand. Is it haute couture? No. Is it endearing? Definitely.

The director-general of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-Kyeong, appeared one day on television sporting a new, dramatically cropped hairdo. Although Jung is said to rarely sleep, her new hairdo was practical. She reportedly lopped it off to make getting ready in the mornings quicker. In Greece, scientific adviser Sotirios Tsiodras takes to his daily TV briefings wearing thin, wire-framed glasses and a suit that limply hangs off of his shoulders. He might not appear suave but nobody cares. A recent poll branded him Greece’s most popular figure, with 95 per cent of respondents thinking favourably of him.

Clothing, whether thrown on in haste or the result of hours of deliberation, always reveals something about its wearer. That is something politicians know a bit too well: some spend so long considering their image that they end up appearing coldly calculating. But for many of our new heroes, their less polished appearances – messy coifs and oversized lapels included – cannot be untangled from a life devoted to pursuing the facts, rather than image and ambition. They appear relatable. And while I don’t expect to see G7 leaders, in a bid to appear genuine and trustworthy, sporting roughly hewn bangs, I bet they’re taking notes.


Focus on what makes you different

In the world of fashion, larger brands with a global reach have, in many cases, weathered this storm thanks to online sales. But for smaller brands and manufacturers relying on retail and wholesale partnerships, business has come to a standstill. And with the news that many trade shows and fashion weeks will only be taking place online for now, the owners of smaller brands are left wondering how they will compete with companies that have the resources to really stand out.

Having made her own way in the highly competitive world of Paris fashion, Déborah Sitbon Neuberg, founder of Parisian menswear label De Bonne Facture, says that now is the time to remember your original proposition for what makes your company or product truly different. “All of the trade shows are putting systems in place so that collections can be presented digitally,” said Neuberg, speaking on this week’s episode on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs. “We have to then innovate and be creative in the way that we show the collections,” she adds, citing the example of sending a video of new collections directly to buyers to start one-to-one conversations.

Neuberg also advises to harvest from the strongest relationships you already have. “It’s a time where the closest to us stick around,” she says. “During a crisis period I feel like a gust of wind is taking away all the bad leaves and leaving only healthy trees.”

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


Adam Moss

After 15 years at the helm of New York magazine, which made him the longest-serving editor in the publication’s history, Adam Moss stepped down from his role last year – but he still has a passion for his old title. Moss, who’s also worked for Rolling Stone, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine, reveals here how he developed a taste for iced coffee and why he thinks the obituary is an art form.

What news source do you wake up to? I bombard myself with news when I wake up. The core would be the paper version of The New York Times, which I’m devoted to. I have it delivered (and, right now, wash my hands). Then I pore through it, even though I’ve read much of it digitally already. I spend a lot of time on the obituaries at the moment – not because of any morbid interest but because they’re such incredible stories of lives. I also read The Washington Post religiously but that I do digitally. I am devoted to my old employer, New York magazine, and particularly Intelligencer, which is one of the sites that deals with news – it’s been doing an incredible job lately. Then The Atlantic. One incredible source of news is a Slack channel run by the political team of New York magazine in which they just drop bits of news. It’s like a curated social-media feed. It’s just for people who work there or still have some relationship to it as I do but it’s fantastic.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
For some crazy reason I’ve actually developed a taste for iced coffee, which I have every day, no matter how cold it is. I never thought I’d do something like this as I’m not that kind of guy. I have it with oat milk.

How are you handling working from home?
I am liking it. I mean, I miss people but I do find that Zoom does a pretty good job of giving me a sense of community spirit. I’m an introvert anyway. I’m sort of dubious of all these predictions about the way the world is going to change after [the pandemic] because one thing that I’ve noticed is how, unbelievably, people have a strong urge to return to some sense of before. But I do think that, specifically in terms of working remotely, we’ve learned that technology actually works. I think that when companies decide to get office space, they’ll get less of it. It’s cheaper for them. And they know now that they can do without it.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your music.
I listen to a tremendous amount of Spotify. I’m a lazy listener: I’ll go to the radio channels on there, like This is The National. I’ll wake up in the morning and think, today’s Dylan day, so I’ll start with Bob Dylan.

Do you sing on the shower and if so what?
I don’t sing under any circumstances.

Five magazines for your weekend stack. New York because I’m still loyal. The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic and any number of magazines that are made mostly of pictures, such as W magazine. And Monocle, of course.

Are you more of a subscriber or a newsstand browser?
Definitely more of a subscriber – I would say also a digital partaker.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
I'll give a plug to Three Lives & Company because it’s great. It’s a very small bookshop in the West Village. It’s micro-sized – and lovely.

Now that you have more time to watch, listen or read, have you rediscovered any cultural gem from the past?
Chinatown by Roman Polanski. It’s such an amazing movie. I’m reading Anna Karenina, though, I am embarrassed to say, it’s actually for the first time – so that’s not a rediscovery.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
I discovered this Australian TV series called Please Like Me by this super smart and funny guy named Josh Thomas. It’s about this misfit bunch of 20-year-olds someplace in Australia. These little light fragments are absolutely perfect for coronavirus diversion. I’m watching Babylon Berlin but the latest season is not as good as the previous ones. I’ve watched Tiger King, of course, but I’m finding the whole thing tawdry. I’m also watching the second season of My Brilliant Friend.

Sunday brunch routine?
I don’t have Sunday brunch. Plus, the other thing that’s really noticeable about this period is that I don’t even know when Sunday is… every day seems exactly the same.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
No podcasts – but there’s the reading, there are the TV series.


Inside knowledge

‘The Eddy’, Netflix. Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land and the striking Whiplash, has joined forces with Jack Thorne, the genius playwright behind National Treasure and the BBC’s adaptation of His Dark Materials. The result? A musical that’s set in modern-day Paris, focusing on the life and various relationships of a pianist at a failing jazz club. The vibe of this series is very sophisticated but The Eddy also shows us a side to Paris that we don’t often see on TV.

‘No-Signal Area’, Robert Perisic. Moments of crisis are often catalysts for major change – for better or worse. In No-Signal Area, Perisic shines a tragicomic light on a rural village in postwar Croatia to explore the impact of unchecked, money-grabbing rapacity on a community and country. Protagonists Oleg and Nikola decide to reopen an old turbine factory in town but things do not go to plan.

‘Regresa’, Buscabulla. With two sultry rock-pop EPs under their belts, Puerto Rican-born, Brooklyn-based boyfriend-girlfriend duo Buscabulla are now releasing their first full-length album. Its title, Regresa, is Spanish for “return” – a reference to the duo’s island homecoming, where they wrote and recorded all the tracks in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Backed by a funk band, Buscabulla’s singles are tropical-sounding and hypnotic; frontwoman Raquel Berrios’s seductive crooning on “NTE” sets the tone for a captivating album.


On the beach

Watrous, Saskatchewan, is home to 2,000 people and an economy built on agriculture and mining. There’s tourism too, owing to the town’s proximity to Manitou Beach, Canada’s equivalent to the Dead Sea and a historic holiday destination. Residents claim that Danceland, a dance hall in Watrous, has been graced by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and even Al Capone. The truth? Nobody seems to know.

Despite the area’s pull for tourists thanks to the beach and a summer car show (pictured), Daniel Bushman never expected to return home to Watrous after leaving to study radio broadcasting in Saskatoon. But that’s what happened after Bushman’s father, who owns a hardware shop in Watrous, sent him an advert for a job opening: reporter at local paper The Watrous Manitou.

In 2014, following five years as a reporter covering daily life in his hometown, Bushman – then just 29 – and his wife Kim bought the paper. The husband-and-wife team (something of a pattern among the newspaper’s various owners) have since steered it to plenty of Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association trophies, all while enjoying a weekly circulation of 1,300 readers. Bushman tells Monocle what they’re writing about this week.

What’s the big story?

The front-page story was about phase one of Saskatchewan’s plan to reopen [after lockdown], which came into effect last week. Some of the businesses that were closed can now open. As summer starts to get closer, the golf courses and campgrounds are getting ready to reopen; people are tired of the long winters here in Saskatchewan and are eager to get outside. We are all taking precautions but, at the same time, we’re hoping that things are getting back to normal.

Your favourite picture?
On this week’s front page we have a picture of crocus flowers, which grow in Saskatchewan. I found some when my family went for a drive one evening. For a lot of people, finding crocuses out in the pastures is a sign that spring is here.

Down-page treat?
A group called The Ukulele Friends recently gathered, while social distancing, in a friend’s front garden to wish her a happy birthday. It’s stories like that – the positive, feelgood stories – which I enjoy covering. Being able to feature community is important to me.

What’s the next event you’ll cover?
In Watrous we usually have graduations in May. In a small town, graduation [ceremonies] bring a community together; not having them this year is a bummer for everybody. But what we’re doing as a paper is producing an annual graduation issue that features all the children from our area. We feel that it’s important to recognise them and their achievements. It’s a big day for them and their families – and the community too.


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