Sunday 12 July 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 12/7/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Independence movement

If you’re not a regular to pages five or six of Switzerland’s German-language dailies you will have missed the domestically significant report about a government plan that will soon allow unaccompanied six-year-olds to travel for free on public transport. The background to this was the front-page story a few months earlier about a youngster who was issued a hefty fine for not having a ticket for her school commute. While it didn’t cause a huge stir, it did seem a bit heavy-handed and fiddly to issue a 100 Swiss-franc fine to an unwitting five-year-old. This being Switzerland, rules are rules and after a small fuss the regional transport operator dropped the fine to 50 francs. This being Switzerland, it’s also the norm that children as young as five or six navigate their way around cities and the countryside to travel to school, the shops or to visit friends. When a visiting colleague recently asked about this phenomena (“I couldn’t believe I saw these tiny kids crossing in front of trams and walking down busy streets!”) someone in our Zürich office explained that going it alone at a young age is part of the education system: you learn to be independent early on and finding your way to school and around your neighbourhood is very much a part of Swiss society.

On Friday public schools wrapped up for the year and they will resume in mid-August. As I did my morning circuit students were walking, cycling and scootering to schoolyards around the district – not a parent or chaperone in sight. While many Swiss cities are enjoying a boom in expat arrivals with their various talents and tax contributions there’s increasing tension around the bad habits many bring with them – particularly driving or escorting kids to school. As the Swissies see it, neighbourhoods shouldn’t be clogged with SUV shuttles and children should learn to think for themselves and function independently.

Also on Friday UK prime minister Boris Johnson decided that social media might be a good platform for a digital version of a town hall to take questions from the public and push across some key points that are nagging No 10 and many of the nation’s business leaders. Thanks to a combination of legislation, scare tactics and homegrown nannying, UK Inc is struggling to kick into gear as millions of people are either too scared or comfortable to go back to work. With some polite coaxing Boris used his Q&A format to suggest it was time his countrymen got back to their workplaces and resumed normal life. Unfortunately his message lacked much in the way of force (or support for working parents whose childcare arrangements have been scuppered by the pandemic) and rather than interrupting regular programming to make a proper appeal it was wedged in between myriad other topics posed by the public.

Make no mistake – the UK has a serious problem with getting its workforce back to office, shop, factory and studio floors. Over the past week the topic of getting people into the office has come up with business leaders of enterprises large and small. The founder of one of the UK’s most respected design businesses told me less than 10 per cent of his staff had returned to their London office while his offices in other countries are functioning with anywhere from 70 to 100 per cent of employees back on site. An advisor to one of Europe’s biggest retail groups said his client had just conducted an HR survey and they found 21 to 28-year olds were the most worried about their safety and the most resistant to going back to an office environment. And a woman in communications said her Asia teams were functioning just fine but the London team were scared of the office and didn’t want to travel for client meetings.

All of this brings us back to those six-year-olds making their own way to school and thinking for themselves. If you can function on your own from a young age, chances are that you’ll become reasonably resilient and know not only how to act responsibly but also to take appropriate action when things go wrong. What we’re witnessing in the UK and other pockets of the Anglosphere is the result of too much coddling of not just a younger generation but also grown-up citizens. Should anyone be all that surprised that millions are paralysed when they’ve lost the ability to think for themselves and are spoken to like children? Societies are looking for quick fixes and silver linings from this pandemic – one simple solution might be allowing for a bit more risk in daily life and letting the kids find their own way back to class come autumn.


Staying the course

Critics have been contemplating the future of the restaurant industry of late (writes Ed Stocker). And while it’s true that there will be post-pandemic casualties – and some favourite spots won’t reopen – a recent visit to a neighbourhood staple in Milan was proof of restaurants’ ability to nurture our need for assembly and sate our tastebuds’ demands. And it’s the old timers that could hold the advantage.

Trattoria del Pescatore, in the Porta Romana neighbourhood, has been around since 1976. Service is lethargic and there only seem to be two waiters serving the entire space. But no matter. A bottle of vermentino is plonked on the table (it seems impertinent not to have a lunchtime drink here) and charged on the basis of how much has been consumed by the time you leave. Steaming plates of pasta and grilled seafood are funnelled to tables.

Here you really have to have the house speciality. Indeed, the restaurant bills itself as a spot that knows how to do lobster better than anyone else. A huge and colourful shared plate of Catalan lobster salad or lobster spaghetti is the way to go. The latter might have been aggressively al dente but the rich, thick tomato sauce combined with the lobster was an absolute winner. Old timers really do stick around for a reason.


Living legend

Architect Marcio Kogan has built some of the nation’s most impressive modernist homes and buildings. He’s represented Brazil at the Venice Architecture Biennale and his work is characterised by simple forms and rooms that tip occupants into the tropical spaces outside. Here he tells us what’s more important than architecture, why he loves his pressure washer and the unusual way he unwinds on a Sunday evening.

Where do we find you this weekend?
In my home. My apartment in São Paulo, close to the city centre, is now my universe.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
It’s OK. In Brazil, we now have two viruses: the real one and another one that is more dangerous – a president who, since day one, has threatened democracy in the country.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
At the moment, every day is the same. But on Saturdays I have my breakfast and then I clean my terrace with my new pressure washer – it’s my new routine. I spend a lot of time in my small garden. It has become my meditation place in recent months and I have a new relationship with the flowers and trees.

Soundtrack of choice?
I’ve produced a Spotify playlist called MK27 [also the name of Kogan’s studio], which has 3,000 songs on it. It has jazz and Brazilian music that I like very much.

What’s for breakfast?
Last weekend I made some chorizo shrimp. My wife prefers things to be organic and light – lots of salads. But now, during the pandemic, I’ve returned to my favourite rich, fatty foods.

News or not?
I’m super addicted to newspapers, I have been since I was a kid. When I was nine years old I would read the papers and the adults thought it was funny, so would ask me for opinions about politics. I like Folha de São Paulo, O Globo and Valor Econômico, which is similar to the Financial Times. Outside of Brazil I like Monocle, Wallpaper**, *The Guardian, FT, The New York Times and El País.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Probably yoga because I don’t have a dog. Though the only time I’ve practiced yoga it was a disaster.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I usually swim in a pool or in the ocean three times a week. I also recently bought weights, so at night I do some gym workouts in my apartment.

What’s for lunch?
Every meal needs to be good – I like to eat very, very well. There’s a famous quote from Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, which goes something like: “Architecture is not important, life and friends are.” I’d like to add one more to that list: food. It’s more important than architecture.

Larder essentials that you can’t do without?
We have a very good fish market that delivers. The same with organic vegetables and fruits, and very good meat, which come directly from farms. I work a lot in Italy so I always buy the best olive oil, balsamic, pasta and truffles.

Sunday culture essentials?
I’ve subscribed to a lot of streaming services: Netflix, Criterion – which has very good films – Amazon Prime, HBO, everything. I can survive one more year here. After television, I read. I need this to get into bed; it’s my sleeping pill.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Coca-Cola with ice and lime. I love it. I’m not a big drinker but I go to Japan every year – it’s the only place I go for vacations – and when I’m there I like to drink Japanese whisky.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
There’s a Japanese restaurant called Nagayama, a few blocks from my apartment, that I like very much. In São Paulo there are a lot of very good Japanese restaurants because it has one of the biggest Japanese populations outside Japan.

Who would join?
My family, my wife, my son and his girlfriend. Maybe some close friends.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
I’ve begun to do sound healing on Sunday and Thursday evenings. I’ll stop everything for an hour, lie down on the sofa and play sound-healing meditations, which are rhythms played on chimes. Usually I’m asleep after 15 minutes.

Would you usually lay out your look for Monday? What would you wear?
I have a formula. If you open my closet there are Issey Miyake trousers and black T-shirts by the Brazilian brand Basico. Everything is 100 per cent cotton. It has to be because São Paulo is very hot.


My mother’s apple cinnamon swirls

Our Swiss chef whips up a fragrant Sunday morning treat that reminds him of his mother’s cooking. Apples keep the buns moist while adding sugar into the dough helps the yeast to dissolve quickly and the swirls to rise promptly. Allow two hours from start to finish.

Makes 15 buns


For the buns:
200ml milk
60g butter
40g yeast
60g sugar
500g flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg

For the filling:
2 sour apples
250g ground hazelnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
100g sugar
200ml single cream

For the glaze:
4 tbsps fresh lemon juice
100g icing sugar


  1. Heat milk in a pan until lukewarm. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the milk with yeast and sugar. Pour into a mixing bowl and add the flour, salt and egg and knead until the ingredients are incorporated and a thick dough forms.
  2. Set it aside to rise in a warm place for one hour, or until it’s doubled in volume. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  3. For the filling, grate the apples and mix them with the hazelnuts, cinnamon, sugar and coffee cream.
  4. Roll out the dough into a rectangle (roughly 5mm thick), then evenly spread it with the filling. Roll up the dough into a single sausage shape and cut into about 15 equal-sized portions with a sharp knife. Place the “snails” flat on a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes.
  5. Mix the lemon juice with the icing sugar into a thick glaze and spread it on the still-hot swirls before serving warm.


Port of call

Some cities have it all. So which ones are places that you never need leave? This week we drop anchor in Piraeus for a preview of a report in our out-now July/August issue.

The salty afternoon air on the rooftop of The Alex hotel is a breezy break from the hot streets of Piraeus, a lively port city south of Athens. Known since ancient times as the Greek capital’s key maritime trading post, the city has always been more than just a place to catch a ferry. Below Kastella Hill, on which the hotel is perched, the picturesque harbour of Mikrolimano is dotted with fish restaurants and tavernas. “Mikrolimano is the seafood capital of Attica, if not the whole of Greece,” says 33-year-old Konstantinos Santikos, managing director of the Santikos Collection of hotels, which includes The Alex. “If Athenians want fresh fish, this is where they come.”

Piraeus might be a short drive from Athens but its seafaring past gives the city a distinct feel. Whereas central Athens developed with the Acropolis as its focus, here it’s all about the Aegean. It’s also always been a place of business. And now the port is attracting a new wave of residents, who are setting up shop in its industrial buildings. “One of the charms of Piraeus is how new communities co-exist with the old,” says sommelier Yannis Kaimenakis, who founded wine shop and restaurant Paleo in a warehouse near the main port in 2016.

A few doors down from Paleo, The Intermission is an airy exhibition space that was opened in 2019 by art advisor Artemis Baltoyanni. “I wanted to give more Greeks the opportunity to see international artists,” says Baltoyanni, who splits her time between Los Angeles and Athens. “I didn’t know much about Piraeus but the buildings and their history captured me,” she says. “It’s not an obvious neighbourhood to be in when it comes to art but it means we don”t get random walk-ins. Visitors come especially for us.”

Buy Monocle’s July/August issue here


Reef encounter

My first experience of kayaking in Hong Kong got off to a choppy start (writes James Chambers). Paddling alongside Dave, my guide for the afternoon, we wasted no time in getting into a heated discussion about the Chinese Communist party, almost clashing oars as we left the Hong Kong (ahem) mainland behind us. He’s a fan; let’s leave it at that. As we steered our crafts, and our conversation, into calmer waters, Dave was certainly right about one thing: once we’d reached our destination it honestly did feel as though we could have been somewhere in the Philippines. In the short time it took us to paddle 1.2km, we’d swapped Sai Kung Town for Sharp Island and an area of Hong Kong formed by an almighty volcanic eruption some 140 million years ago.

Guides are by no means necessary – plenty of Hong Kongers hire kayaks from Sai Kung to reach these uninhabited islands, which are only accessible by boat. But, as is often the case, Dave turned out to be a treasure trove of Hong Kong trivia, from historical data about oyster catching to salty yarns about the one time he saved a boat-dwelling fisherman from drowning during a storm. The biggest surprise of all came when we disembarked on an unnamed secret beach and Dave whipped out a dry bag full of snorkelling gear. Hong Kong has real coral reefs home to actual fish (even clown fish, according to Dave) and these delicate underwater ecosystems have apparently been blooming in its busy waters. Sadly, I can’t tell you the exact location, Dave swore me to secrecy. But what I can say is that the coral is closer than you think and you don’t need Popeye’s arms to reach there by kayak.


Making it stick

Temporary architecture is a bit like the furry upper lip that I’ve been cultivating recently (writes Nic Monisse) – a playful break from the norm that only lasts a limited time. Unless, of course, it turns out to strike a chord, in which case it might just stick around. Stranger things have happened. The Eiffel Tower and the London Eye were originally erected as temporary installations (for the World’s Fair and the millennium, respectively) but proved so popular that they stayed.

In my home country, Melbourne’s M Pavilion is a popular annual programme in which a temporary structure is erected in the city’s Queen Victoria Gardens over the summer. Last month it was announced that the 2019 iteration by Glenn Murcutt is to become a permanent addition on the University of Melbourne’s campus. And, in lieu of an event this year, would-be visitors are invited to see the winged structure in its new location, while visits to previous pavilions at their new sites are also on the cards. These are more examples of works that are making a successful shift from temporary to permanent.

It’s given me hope. Perhaps all I’m missing is a Pritzker prize-winning equivalent of a barber to whip my facial hair into shape. At the time of writing my partner’s approval of the moustache is still pending.


Shut the fox up

“Animals!” I thought to myself as the pub across from my house disgorged the last noisy punters into the warm summer air. “What on earth is all that screeching?” I wondered, listening to an ungodly caterwauling of which I’d become depressingly familiar (writes Josh Fehnert). Now for the embarrassing bit. I’ve since found out that some of the sound in question wasn’t coming from the pub at all. What I’d heard this time was the late-night cavorting of a pair (maybe more – it was all rather boisterous) of fornicating foxes. “Animals!” I thought again, before researching how I could try to keep them out of earshot…

There’s a lot of affection (and some anger) out there for our vulpine pals. Some people enjoy the idea that their gardens are home to a bushy-tailed critter or two – they leave out food and adoringly set up camera traps to spot the nocturnal sport. Others less so. They have questions about what put a hole in the lawn, dug up the bulbs, shat on the doorstep and tossed a brimming bin bag around the garden. Oh, and then spent the wee hours romping volubly at the window as the household was trying to sleep. I’m on the fence – but I’m considering investing in an airhorn and a peashooter while I’m here.

So all this is to say, can you fox-proof the garden? They’re too canny to be contained by netting or discouraged by fences (a fact that you’ll know well if you keep chickens) but if you want to put them off, you can fill in their holes before they become established, you can stop using animal-derived fertilisers and you can invest in some plants that are trample-resistant: try thyme, sedum or scotch moss. Now for the bad news. If that cunning fox you heard howling has cubs, there could soon be more of them – and that means more holes in the lawn. Animals! Have a good weekend.


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