Sunday 21 June 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 21/6/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


High praise

Do you ever have fantasies about disappearing? Daydreams about quietly slipping out of your current routine and re-emerging somewhere else? I’m not talking rolling the car into the ditch, petrol canisters, fireballs, forensic cordons and faked death territory. I’m thinking something gentler, less dramatic and in a setting that’s soothing, remote, wholesome, green but not New Zealand or the tip of Vancouver Island.

On Monday I took advantage of (most of) Schengen’s borders reopening and hit the road – destination: the Bregenzerwald. If you’re not familiar with this little patch of paradise, worry not; I certainly wasn’t. While Monocle has covered the Austrian state of Vorarlberg on many occasions (see issue 131, which was devoted to the republic) and I’ve been to Lech and passed through Bregenz, I’ve never made the short detour to the uplands around Lake Constance.

Just across the Swiss border, the motorway leads you to a 4km-longtunnel that climbs steeply and steadily up to the Bregenzerwald. As Monday was a bit drizzly and misty, we left the damp lowlands and suddenly emerged in a crisp, sharply defined wonderland of rolling hills, dense forests, roaring streams, immaculate farms and outstanding architecture.

After 10 minutes of winding roads, curious cows and one boxy, modern wood farmhouse after another, I remarked to my navigator, Mats, that we definitely weren’t in Switzerland; it didn’t feel like Austria and had very little to do with Bavaria – but somehow it felt comfortably familiar. After another 10 minutes we entered the town of Bezau and followed the winding road that took us past handsome carpentry studios, well appointed shops, little food stands and welcoming cake shops. In the town centre we pulled up at the Hotel Post, parked the car and checked in. In a woody dining room we grabbed a quick lunch and then donned rain jackets and headgear for a wander around the town.

“There’s something very Japan about this place, no?” I said to Mats. “The use of wood everywhere; the scale; the river running through the town centre; the cleanliness; the silence and the style of carpentry – it all reminds you of being in a nice little onsen town in Fukuoka, perhaps.” Mats agreed and, as is always the case in these situations, we started thinking about what life could be like in the Bregenzerwald. Was this the place to buy a farm and write books and raise donkeys? Didn’t the village need a little kiosk and bookshop?

Before dinner we were joined by the property’s owner, Susanne Kaufmann (also of skin- and personal-care fame). We enjoyed a round of drinks, a quick tutorial on the region and a gentle scolding about the shortness of our stay.

“Next time we’re doing a proper tour to visit some of my favourite places but let’s catch up at my son’s new little coffee shop in the morning for a few tips,” she said.

Over coffee at about 10.00, Frau Kaufmann teased us with more ideas about the things we’d be missing. As I listened to her list of the wine and clothing shops we should visit in Bregenz and Dornbirn, I was distracted by the comfort of the chair I was sitting in.

“Are these vintage and reupholstered?” I said, interrupting. “Or are they new?”

“They’re from a little carpentry shop down the road,” she said. “One brother does the woodwork at Tischlerei Mohr and, a bit further down, the other brother does the upholstery at Mohr Polster.”

Thirty minutes later I was already at the second brother’s shop choosing loden fabrics for the four chairs I had just ordered; any regional wood you’d like, an array of fabrics and five weeks manufacturing and delivery time to Zürich.

Outside, a large rooster was pacing around my car, the clouds were lifting, the stream was chattering over the rocks and I felt as though I might be in Yufuin or another small town in Kyushu. As I drove back to Bezau to collect Mats, I tried to recall the last time I felt properly removed from all that’s familiar and expected – particularly in the heart of Europe. I drew a blank.

Should you want to escape for a weekend – or for good – take a journey through that magic little tunnel just across the Swiss and German frontiers.


Off the rack

Vienna’s Zeitungshalter, or newspaper holders, are as integral to Viennese café culture as a slice of Sachertorte. In 2018, however, the firm that supplied the city’s stately frames for the past 150 years shut its doors, when its proprietor turned 90. In a bid to keep production at home, Viennese designer Thomas Poganitsch took over some of the company’s tools and machinery and taught himself the craft of making them in the time-honoured fashion. “I fell in love with the product and feel proud to keep this piece of history alive,” says Poganitsch, who now supplies cafés, restaurants and hotels all over the Austrian capital. Talk about turning the page.


Common ground

Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan, together with brother Varatt, founded The Commons in Bangkok’s bustling Thonglor neighbourhood in 2015 (writes Nic Monisse). In doing so, the pair reimagined a Thai shopping centre, creating a space that mixed retail and dining with urban parkland and community activity. It shows that there’s still space in the market for canny retail options with fresh air, natural materials and smart shops. Here she tells Monocle about the best pasta and pesto dish, Thai coffee and why her daughter’s newfound love of baking has Vichit-Vadakan working out more than ever.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Still at home mostly, with a visit to Allure hand and nail spa at The Commons for a much-needed manicure.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
We’ve been adapting pretty well. I’m exercising a lot and in many different formats: yoga, HIIT, spinning classes. I’m trying my best to stay fit as my nine-year-old daughter has picked up a wonderful new hobby: baking and making treats for us every night.

How has this affected the hospitality industry? Have there been any benefits?
The one benefit I believe we will see – not just for the hospitality industry but overall – is the need for everyone to rethink their business and try their best to adapt and adjust.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Gentle start, please.

Soundtrack of choice?
I’ve been loving the new playlist that our friends at Sweets Records made for The Commons.

What’s for breakfast?
Homemade pancakes by my daughter, Varissa. Some freshly brewed Roots coffee too; they work closely with many farming families in the northern region of Thailand. The one I’m drinking now is from p’Sopa, a farmer in Omkoi, Chiang Mai. It has really wonderful fruity notes.

News or not?
Yes, a quick scan before I start the day.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Downward dog for me. I don’t have a class on Sundays, so I usually do my own morning yoga for 30 minutes after I check the news.

What’s for lunch?
I always try to support our vendors, if we are getting delivery or takeaway at home. We’ll mix and match some burgers from Bun Meat and Cheese for the kids, and some dim sum from Yumcha for the adults.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I cannot live without Home Space Market’s lemony pistachio pesto. Combine that with smoked tomatoes: it’s the easiest and best pasta that can impress anyone in minutes.

Sunday culture must?
My kids have been loving the series Somebody Feed Phil (with Philip Rosenthal) on Netflix, so we have been binge-watching that.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Natural wine from my favourite two suppliers: Wine Garage and Naturalista. I love them because I can tell them I need a restock and I can trust them to curate a wonderful selection of interesting natural wines from small producers around the world and get it delivered in no time.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
I’m really enjoying having dinner at friends’ homes again; casual, relaxing times over a good home-cooked meal, drinks and then some board games.

Who would join you?
Close friends, which we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks – it has been wonderful.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Just getting in bed at a decent time for some beauty sleep.

Will you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing?
I’ll lay out what I need for my morning Flow class: an Alo mat and leggings from Thai activewear brand Waking Bee.


Persian omelette with spinach and dill

Here’s a tempting herby Middle Eastern mingling of an omelette and a crêpe. It’s good when served in strips to garnish a soup and also works served cold with cream cheese as an inventive starter.

Makes three.

200g spring spinach
25g fresh dill
1 bunch of spring onions
6 eggs
130g flour
Pepper 2 tbsps olive oil

1. Chop the spinach, dill and spring onions coarsely and then mix them all together with three of the eggs.
2. Add the remaining three eggs then stir in the flour.
3. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the mixture in three portions – your omelette should be slightly thicker than a pancake – on both sides for about 2 minutes, then serve.


Crowd teaser

I’d be lying if I said that I cared for football (writes Jamie Waters). But my housemate has been keenly watching the Bundesliga (Germany’s top league), which restarted in May, and AFL (Australian rules football), which kicked off earlier this month. The other day he was watching on a laptop and something seemed awry. It was all very... understated. Was he streaming a raucous, blood-sweat-and-tears, body-on-the-line battle? Or a polite silent film from the 1920s? It turns out that it was something in between. For physical-distancing reasons, no spectators are allowed at most sports fixtures around the world, so athletes are playing to empty stadiums. “Yeah it’s pretty weird – and nowhere near as much fun to watch,” my friend admits.

While I don’t care for football (did I mention that?), the subdued situation reveals something about what constitutes entertainment. Do we watch sport for the match or for the atmosphere? Do we watch comedy shows for the gags or to chuckle along with the audience? Clearly it’s both: the performance matters but so does feeling part of something bigger. The English Premier League returned this week and is trying to address this by working with EA Sports (makers of the Fifa video-game franchise) to broadcast simulated, team-specific crowd noise alongside its games – yes, that’s someone’s job (they must really like football). This also seems odd but, hell, canned laughter worked for Friends so maybe canned cheering is worth a shout? Anything but the deafening silence.


Heart of the city

Housed within a 19th-century building (the birthplace of influential photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo), Círculo Mexicano in Mexico City blends spare, modern design with regional culture and history.

The ground floor is occupied by a market while its 25 guestrooms ring a central open-air courtyard above. Opened by Mexican hospitality firm Grupo Habita and designed by local architecture studio Ambrosi Etchegaray, the rooms combine cement walls and red-brick ceilings with wooden furniture from Mexico City-based makers La Metropolitana. There are plenty of nods to the hotel’s past too, including the Álvarez Bravo photographs that dot its walls.

A roof terrace offers a pool, a sauna, a restaurant and sweeping views. Within sight is the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio Nacional and the Templo Mayor (a historic Aztec temple). “We’re right in the middle of all these powers that make Mexico what it is today,” says Grupo Habita co-founder Carlos Couturier. “We’re at the epicentre of not only our city but Mexican culture.”


Gimme shelter

Not sure why your lavender’s limp or your rosemary’s rubbish? Don’t blame yourself. Remember that the health of your garden depends as much on wind, rain, sun and shade as your dedication to cultivation (writes Josh Fehnert). So which plants thrive in the shadowy corners of our plots?

“There are lots of things that actually love shade and do really well there,” says Peter Milne of the Nunhead Gardener in southeast London. “Without much sun, it’s difficult to create a colourful garden but it is possible to nurture a tranquil, Zen-like space instead. I would always suggest to customers [in less sunny spots] that they look for an evergreen fern rather than deciduous ones, which lose their fronds at the end of the season, or semi-deciduous ones, which can look a bit tatty in winter.” Hostas (sometimes known as plantain lilies) also come highly recommended – just watch those slugs and snails. And a rather fetching, flowering number called dicentra is a good option too. Known to some as Asian bleeding-heart, it’s available with either pink or white flowers and tender green leaves.

As a rule of thumb, the morning sun is much less intense than the rays cast in the afternoon. So when working out which parts of your garden are shady, take note of the hot spots for plants that thrive undercover. Whether you’re sheltering this weekend or out soaking up the summer sun, have a relaxing Sunday.


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