Saturday 16 May 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 16/5/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Lost and blonde

I have been on a strict news diet this week. I had been gorging on rolling news and it was taking its toll; nobody could have mistaken me for Mr Jolly on Monday. Sometimes it all just feels a bit overwhelming: so much pontificating from no-fact columnists and a sense that there’s little you can do about any of it. But I have discovered a news antidote and it’s brought everything back into perspective.

On my phone I have an app called Nextdoor. It’s available in lots of countries and offers a community noticeboard, just for your specific neighbourhood. It’s not anonymous, so people tend to be polite, helpful and generous of spirit and, over recent weeks, I’ve been able to see a community pulling together with thoughtful offers of assistance. Even the biggest alerts are never that terrifying: maybe a shady-looking character has been spotted stealing pot plants.

This week the most commented-on post ran, “Help! I tried to bleach my roots tonight and my hair has turned completely orange. Are there any hairdressers out there? Tell me what to do?” Now, with London still dormant, I would have thought that this was a wonderful opportunity to try out the orange – perhaps it might be just the thing to add a bit of zip to your week, give you a little extra standout in the queue at the supermarket. But the author was not happy with her handiwork.

Despite the clear instruction in her post that she wanted to hear from professional hairdressers, this did not deter others. There were a lot of replies that began along the lines of “While I am not a hairdresser...” or “I have no expert knowledge but...” It seemed that everyone felt entitled to chip in; I was tempted to add my embrace-the-orange advice as I was clearly just as well informed as everyone else.

One person advised to dye it purple as the two colours would apparently cancel each other out (surely this was a joker at play?). Someone else – a real hairdresser – said that more bleach was needed but if you did this yourself your hair might all fall out. Suddenly my go-orange campaign seemed to have the potential both to push the fashion boundaries and to be wise. I was just about to dive in when the woman posted to say that a hairdresser had called her and all was at peace again in the follicle world. I was a little disappointed – no new baldies, no orange delights.

You can also depend on there being a post about a lost cat. But if you are hoping for any drama – a daring rescue mission or the cat found living a life of luxury on the proceeds of its mouse-catching – prepare to be disappointed. The kitty in question usually saunters back into the owner’s life of its own accord after a maximum of two days (“I was just away with my friend Tom for a few days. Stayed in a nice little shed.”) and a long chain of messages ends with “He’s home!”

Then there are numerous pictures uploaded of cats just going about their feline business but which are headlined, “Have you lost this cat?” There’s another one today: “Is anyone missing a tail-less cat?” It even includes a picture of said animal looking rather relaxed about its life. (It would have been more fun if the cat had posted, “Has anyone seen a cat’s tail? Lost in park. Can offer dead mouse as reward.”)

I am thinking of spicing things up by posting a picture of a Bengal tiger with the caption, “Has anyone seen Timmy? He weighs 250kg, will be scared on his own and is fond of eating limbs.” Or perhaps a missing emu would keep people on their toes but a little less terrified. Then, hopefully after some hullabaloo, I could add a final note. “Good news! Timmy the tiger came home last night!” Or “Edna the emu is back in her nest – thanks for all the help!”

And people are funny too. How about: “Hello, I’m looking for help with garden clearance, does anyone have a pig I can borrow? Failing that, a strong teenager? I can’t pay much but can donate homemade cake, savoury stuff and/or art.” I am desperate to know how you get away with paying a teenager in savoury snacks and a vague art offer – a watercolour? An embroidered tableau? A reclining nude?

In short, sign up to Nextdoor. It will bring back focus, make you cat-aware and you might even end up with some nice art. Oh, and if you do see my emu…


Was it something I read?

This week we start dispatching the June issue of Monocle to subscribers and newsstands around the world. It’s a thought-provoking edition packed with essays, columns and interviews. There’s Gianni Riotta on the next Italian renaissance, Alain de Botton on stoicism, Ilse Crawford on the home and Mona Lisa on being alone (and on a wall). Make sure you get your issue by joining us as a subscriber for the coming year. Simply head to


Logo flexing

This week my housemates and I made our first lockdown fashion purchases: long-sleeved tops from Minor Figures, a company that makes coffee drinks, pods and oat milk in east London, near where we live (writes Jamie Waters). We found out about its merchandise – in yellow or pink and stamped with a logo of crossed fingers – when we saw folk at a nearby grocery shop wearing it with swagger.

Over in the US, design agency R/GA has launched Merch Aid, a platform in which it teams up with artists to create kit linked to New York businesses that have been forced to temporarily shutter (it’s expanding to Austin and Los Angeles). There are T-shirts decorated with graphics related to neighbourhood barber shops, nail salons, bagel joints and cinemas; the menu of an Indian deli in the East Village, for instance, has been scrawled across a white T-shirt and matching tote. All proceeds go to the businesses.

In recent years “location merch” signalled that you had been to a particular spot and were a knowing member of a club. In the lockdown climate, though, such products have acquired a new meaning. It’s no longer about exclusivity but about proudly supporting your community. If you can’t dine at your favourite restaurant, at least you can wear its logo across your chest.


Lucas Zwirner

Lucas Zwirner is the head of content at David Zwirner gallery – the heavyweight, multi-location commercial gallery founded by and named after his father. Over the past few months, he’s been leading the charge in the gallery’s transition to digital, be it with online viewing rooms or podcasts (which he hosts). While staying at home in upstate New York, however, he has rediscovered the joys of philosophical texts and Nabokov’s novels – and found himself humming an endearing little tune.

What news source do you wake up to?
Certainly The New York Times but we do also sometimes have mornings where we listen to BBC Radio 4 through the app. I often find that to be the best morning news source. It’s the least aggressive and it’s often the most playful.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Always Darjeeling tea. That’s been the same since I was 10 years old. I drink it with milk. I think those are inherited things: German families drink a lot of tea; it’s not just the English.

How are you handling working from home?
The same as everybody else: lots of video-conferencing. Of course, one starts to get a little stir crazy. We’ve started all these online franchises but we’re also thinking about all the different kinds of stories we can tell that are non-commercial. We’ve increased the frequency of our podcast to weekly, excerpted our own books and made them available in a weekly newsletter.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your music?
I like Spotify and Apple Music. When I’m driving around locally, I will also listen to a radio station here: 106.7, which is a sort of an oldies station. At the beginning of the outbreak, my good friend, the novelist Josh Cohen, made a great Spotify coronavirus playlist, which had a lot of blues and jazz on it that I hadn’t listened to in a long time. He found songs about the Spanish influenza; there’s “Solitude” by Billie Holiday; a lot of Ella Fitzgerald; “Corona” by the Minutemen; “Isolation” by John Lennon; “Chest Fever” by The Band; “The Pneumonia Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson… you get the sense.

Do you sing in the shower?
I don’t typically. There’s been more bathing actually: in these times you can afford yourself that luxury if possible. Throughout the day, I’ve been humming a song from the early-1990s Tom and Jerry movie, called “Friends to the End”. It feels a little bit like revisiting childhood.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books. I like The Atlantic. I always like The Paris Review. And then The New Yorker.

Is there any cultural gem that you’ve rediscovered now that you have more time?
I’ve been reading more books that I wanted to re-read, such as Ada by Nabokov; I’ve always wanted to see what kind of impression it continued to make on me. And then a lot of the denser philosophical stuff, whether that’s parts from Schopenhauer or some of the debates around minimalism by critics like Clement Greenberg. It’s what you might call heavier reading, which my regular routine doesn’t always permit.

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched recently?
We recently watched Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson and that’s an amazing piece of art; no question about it. I was blown away by it. On the other side, like everybody else in the world right now, Tiger King made its way into my living room.

Sunday brunch routine?
Ours is a sort of half-English household, so we do a Sunday roast; we do lamb or roast chicken in the early afternoon. And we drink red wine in the afternoon, which, of course, Americans will find scandalous.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
I have the CNN app and we do tune in in the evenings; we watch the recaps of the day.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
It’s mostly reading in the evenings.


Love and justice

‘Trial by Media’, Netflix. Any good litigator knows that public perception can make or break a case; Netflix’s Trial by Media demonstrates just that. From Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial to the case of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed west African immigrant shot 19 times by New York police, this new six-part documentary series looks at the ways that storytelling and showmanship have as much sway as guilt and innocence on outcomes in the courtroom.

‘The Glass Hotel’, Emily St John Mandel.The Glass Hotel is Emily St John Mandel’s first release since 2014’s award-winning Station Eleven. Her new novel weaves together the lives of a New York businessman, his lover and a maritime executive. Bouncing between ships, luxury hotels, Manhattan skyscrapers and the wilderness of British Columbia, the book paints a stark picture of greed, guilt and the ghosts of one’s past.

‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’, Perfume Genius. The fifth album by Mike Hadreas – aka Perfume Genius – was recorded in Los Angeles, where he lives with his partner and musical collaborator Alan Wyffels. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is a mesmerising, shape-shifting thing; influences range from ecstatic 1980s pop to fuzzy shoegaze. A dance project Hadreas worked on with choreographer Kate Wallich and her troupe, the YC, also had an influence on his musical output: these are songs about the body and how to move it – be it on the dancefloor or in the bedroom.


Mixtape it up

The first thing I did when lockdown started was to create a playlist for my friends and me called Sunny: a mix of French electronica, Brazilian beats, Yacht Rock classics and some forgotten EuroDance tracks, music that makes me happy (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). To create a compilation is an art and thankfully there are many great curators out there. Take French duo Polo & Pan for example, last week they released an hour-long mixtape titled Home Sweet Home, a dreamy sequence of songs.

One secret for a good compilation is to be as specific as you can. My recent favourites include Bubblegum Soul & Synth Boogie in 1980s South Africa and Synthesised Brazilian Hits That Never Were. My latest find was Yacht Disco Edits compiled by the excellent DJ Supermarkt.

Today was supposed to be the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, the live show is not going ahead because of Covid-19, although there will be a special TV show this evening. And to mark the occasion here is my compilation of the best songs (all to be found on YouTube).

  1. Iceland: “Think About Things” by Dadi og Gagnamagnio. Smart synth-pop and we hope they start selling their amazing sweaters.
  2. Lithuania: “On Fire” by The Roop. Could have been the first winner for Lithuania. Sleek choreography and addictive beats.
    Russia: “Uno” by Little Big. Fun: exactly what you would expect from an Eurovision entry. They describe themselves as punk-pop-rave.
  3. Armenia: “Chains on You” by Athena Manoukian. Armenia always has amazing divas on Eurovision. This year is no exception.
    Italy: “Fai Rumore” by Diodato. I’m not big into ballads on Eurovision but if I had to pick one, it would be the smooth-voiced Diodato’s.


Principality imprint

Headquartered near Golfe-Juan, a French resort near Monaco, the Riviera Insider has been covering the affairs and lifestyles of the principality for the best part of 20 years. Originally established as a newspaper, the periodical has since shifted format to a bi-monthly magazine and fills its glossy pages with the latest happenings in the area. For the Insider’s California-born editor Nicole Ruskell, the sunny microclimate is a plus. “It’s like I get to be at home,” says Ruskell. “But I’m on the French Riviera.”

What’s the big news?
Monaco has done well in handling the virus; it’s had several weeks of no new cases and ended confinement measures on 4 May, a week before France. Restaurants and bars are still closed at the moment but in the meantime the casino square has been completely redone. It was supposed to be ready for the Rolex Monte Carlo tennis masters last month but now we’re looking at possibly June instead for its grand inauguration.

Favourite image?
Monaco is small – as it runs out of land, one option is to build up. In the magazine, we ran a rendering of a futuristic new project that was green-lit recently. It’s going to be a multistorey structure in Fontvieille that uses a system of funicular rails to go up and down its different levels.

Favourite headline?
It was a while ago now, but we ran: “Space: Monaco’s final frontier”. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Nasa, Monaco hosted a conference with a panel of astronauts, rocket engineers and Space X representatives. Prince Albert II also announced that a Monaco resident would be chosen to go into space, after the city-state declared it was purchasing a wing of the international space station. When he wants something done, it happens quickly.

Down-page treat?
We cover the rest of the Italian and French Riviera as well as Monaco. We ran a story recently on the Côte d’Azur airport in Nice, which has some of the most frequently chartered private jets in the world. According to a survey by Private Fly – a private jet rental company – Nice ranked third as the city with the highest number of planes chartered, just below New York and London.


Get everything right

In taking the bold step to launch a business and set out into a world of uncertainty, entrepreneurs are very often hung up on what lies down the road. But on this week’s episode of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneur Julian Hearn says that, instead, the focus should be on getting everything in place before going to market, to ensure you’re on a path to success.

“You need to get the basics right first,” says Hearn, founder and chief marketing officer of plant-based nutrition brand Huel, which became one of the UK’s fastest growing companies after launching in 2015. Hearn managed to bootstrap the company to a £220m (€247m) valuation in four years because, he says, the product was different and exciting. “You want to try to solve a problem that people currently have that’s not being solved by somebody else,” he says. “If you can find that problem and give a unique spin on it, then it means you have a novel product and therefore will get more PR, which will get the ball rolling.

“As soon as you start selling, then customer service is the other key thing,” he adds. “If you focus on the first 1,000 people you can satisfy, and delight them by going above and beyond what normal customer service would provide, then hopefully they will be so amazed by your company that they will tell their friends and the word spreads from there. That’s how you grow.”

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


Can I send a present?

Oh, won’t it be nice when we can stop worrying so much. This week it was a friend’s birthday and we suddenly wondered, will they be happy getting a delivery of flowers? Or will the arrival of a bouquet send them off on a disinfecting spree? Will they eye the blooms with suspicion and wait hopefully for the petals to fall so that the barren stems can make their way to the bin? We dithered. Then we sent them. And the response was a phone call filled with thanks and joy. Flowers, cakes and chocolates should be dispatched. And if they don’t want them? They can decline at the door – and perhaps send any truffles to Mr Etiquette; I promise not to let Mr Tiddly have even a nibble.


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