Saturday 18 July 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 18/7/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Mice to see you

Boarding planes just got a lot more entertaining. Until Captain Coronavirus jumped into the pilot seat of life, there was a simple display of pecking order that played out when it was time to take your place. You would be called by group number, with those in group one, frequent fliers and the holders of the most expensive tickets called forward first. In the name of physical distancing, however, this has been turned on its head.

Flying to Zürich on Monday, I watched as a couple of opulently dressed women started a queue, well ahead of any announcements to board. And then I witnessed the confusion that struck when they heard that the plane was being boarded starting with the rear row numbers. What!? They looked at their boarding passes; they looked at each other; they explained to the ground crew their status – with some passion. And then, gently rebuffed, they edged away back through the gathering cloud of rear-seat passengers.

Don’t worry about them – or others facing this terrible revolution. It will only take a short time for people to rewire their brains and I am sure that next time they fly you’ll be able to overhear them declaring, “How awful having to board so early. I am so glad we are always the last people called. It’s so much nicer.”

The virus is still here in Zürich but has been at such low levels for months that life feels pretty relaxed. But even here people are at different stages of returning to their usual routines. And there’s a simple test of where they are on that journey.

First, however, you need to know that Swissies have always played a trick on outsiders. Along with the Dutch and the Belgians, they do a triple-kiss greeting. Being a Brit, two seems more than adequate – to be honest, the whole kissing thing feels worryingly continental for many of my fellow country folk. So with Swiss friends you invariably leave them stranded on the third peck with their necks extended like a chick in a nest hoping to be given a caterpillar snack. Then, just as you realise your faux pas and hurriedly return for the third, they pull back, this time leaving you doing the hungry-bird face.

Well, this also just became more complicated. Now people you thought were the kissing type come at you for an elbow bump; former handshakers hold back and just give you a cheery smile; and others who you thought would definitely be standoffish dive in for man hugs. There are now so many potential moves available in those first few seconds that when we went to the opening of a new bar, I wondered whether during lockdown the whole nation had learned a new dance number and was in the midst of a flash-mob display.

Good news! The restaurant buffet is alive and well in Zürich. Near the Monocle offices there’s an abundant vegetarian one, to which my Swiss colleague Carlo took us for a quick lunch. I have been worried about the buffet’s threatened extinction but here there were no signs of alarm, no panic that someone might have accidentally touched your falafel and, in no time, plates were piled with Alpine-high mountains of hummus and peppers.

During the peak of lockdown in London, a group of mice took residence in the offices of Monocle. I wrote a column about their takeover and how they were secretly using our HQ to publish a rival magazine: Mousocle. If you don’t have contacts in that world you might have missed their output – reports on why they are opposed to catwalk fashion, the lives of the rich and famous in the Hampstertons and their very negative review of The Mousetrap. Well, some time ago they had the cheek to send me an Instagram friend request but this week, while at dinner at Rimini Bar, a contact from Hamburg claimed to have been the real creator of the account (thankfully with just one post). I wonder. Anyway, with the human team back at Midori House, Mousocle has been forced to find new offices, although with their new title, Mouse and Home, about to hit the smaller newsstands, they needed the extra space.


Constructive criticism

How do you tell someone that their work is rubbish? As a child whose trophy cabinet was filled with pandering participation awards (writes Nic Monisse), I know that a trophy can certainly soften the blow. And that’s the approach that San Diego’s architectural foundation has taken with nominations for its Orchids and Onions prize, which closed last week. The annual awards recognise the city’s best buildings, interiors and landscapes (the orchids) and, significantly, its worst (the onions).

While judged by a panel of professionals, potential winners can be nominated by anyone. This gives residents of southern California a means of expressing their distaste for certain built forms without derailing another dinnertime conversation (“I’m telling you, that pink neo-Victorian new build detracts from our neighbourhood’s historic mission revival homes.”)

John Martinez, co-chair of Orchids and Onions, explains that the prizes help architects to “find out what truly brings people value, so that design can continue to evolve and serve those needs”. Unlike my continued sporting efforts, here’s hoping that the “winners” of the onions take the hint (with some humour) and reconsider their future work.


Slow wrap

Bright printed-cotton kimono – known as yukata – are as much a feature of the Japanese summer as the tinkle of a wind chime or the chirrup of a cicada (writes Fiona Wilson). Festival-goers wear them on hot summer evenings, the bolder and more floral the better. But if you’ve tried to wear one, you’ll quickly discover that this is no simple robe. A proper yukata is an investment piece that comes with a full-length undergarment and a DVD to help the uninitiated get the thing on. And don’t even try to tie the obi (belt) unless you know what you’re doing: one wrong move and the whole thing collapses. Another hazard is ensuring that you put the left side over the right to avoid looking like a corpse (that’s right over left in Japan). Young people, who love the look but can’t be bothered with the cost of the real thing or the palaver of putting it on, buy cheap versions that send shivers down the spines of kimono purists. But now there is an option that should keep both camps happy: Yukata Zero.

Made by Yamato, a pukka Tokyo kimono-maker since 1917, this ingenious garment comes as a separate top and bottom with snap fasteners and a ready-tied obi. There is also a dress-style option, which is secured with buttons and again finished with the obi. The result is remarkably convincing. Top marks to Yamato, whose mission is to make the kimono a garment that can be worn anywhere and not only for special occasions. At ¥34,900 (€285), the Yamato Zero isn’t cheap but it looks the part and cuts the hours of preparation. And no DVD required.


Patricia Urquiola

Architect and product-designer Patricia Urquiola is one of Spain’s most celebrated creative exports. From her studio in Milan she’s overseen the revival of countless hotels and residences and had her industrial designs exhibited at New York’s Moma and London’s V&A. She’s also the art director of esteemed Italian furniture brand Cassina. Here she tells us about her favourite restaurant in Lombardy and shares her extensive list of favoured film directors.

What news source do you wake up to?
I like to read the digital version of Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and Il Sole 24 Ore. I’ll also check the online versions of The New York Times, El País, The Guardian and CNN. At the weekend I’ll read the Financial Times and The New York Times weekend edition.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee and a cold-press juice.

How have the past few months affected your work?
I’m lucky to live above the studio in Milan so I still had access to materials, samples and prototypes throughout the lockdown. [This period] has allowed me to work in new ways, to rethink the home and the working space – how to make the house more flexible, divide personal and communal spaces, change functions during the same day or the seasons, and bring nature inside.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Spotify mostly.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Some of the latest songs I’ve heard by US musicians Cat Power and Joan As Police Woman.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Monocle, The Economist and Apartamento. Plus the news magazine Internazionale and weekly geopolitical title Limes.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Both. I’m a newsstand browser during the weekend and at airports.

Favourite bookshop?
La Toletta in Venice, because when I’m there I’m in a different mood. There’s no rush and I can spend more time than usual.

Are there any cultural gems that you have rediscovered over the past few months?
I’ve had the chance to read more books for both pleasure and research. I’ve also watched many movies from my favourite directors again, including Bertolucci, Fellini, Antonioni, Buñuel, Malick and Kubrick.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
Unorthodox on Netflix, which is about a woman fleeing an arranged marriage. We all have a breaking point and it is interesting to understand how we react to it and how we use our inner strength.

Sunday brunch routine?
It’s the time when we bring all the family together: my daughters, my husband and the dogs. If we are in Milan, we’ll go to one of our favourite family restaurants such as Piero e Pia. There’s no rush, no stress and no phones.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the table at home?
The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, T Magazine, National Geographic, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wired, Fast Company, IL, D, Il Venerdì, Robinson, La Lettura and IO Donna.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
No. I watch extracts of news that interest me on the iPad. I prefer to have a relaxing dinner and evening.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Just relaxing music.


Audacious action

‘You Exist Too Much’, Zaina Arafat. This story of a bisexual, Palestinian-American young woman hops between locations in the US and the Middle East, tracing sexual encounters, fears and desire. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s wrapped up in a constant attempt at finding a way to be true to oneself and a place where slotting in feels natural. It’s not an easy search, especially if opposed by one’s own intolerant family, but one where fleeting moments of human connection can offer welcome respite.

‘Brave New World’, Peacock. One of the lead titles on NBC’s brand-new streaming platform Peacock, Brave New World is a sleek adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic. The TV show might not delve into the philosophical backstory of New London as much as its source but it’s an aesthetic pleasure to watch. And its titillating scenes in many ways embody the kind of constant entertainment and distraction that the inhabitants of this shiny city have made their way of life.

‘Song of the Sirens’, GFriend. GFriend’s ninth EP has been hailed as a creative breakthrough for the six-strong girl band – the group’s singers had an increased influence in the release’s melodies and lyrics – but this remains reliable K-pop that’s beat-heavy and ultra-energetic. Some tracks deal with grown-up themes, such as temptation and the stars’ complicated relationship with their own success – and there’s space for some bittersweet ballads too.


Oil change

Northwestern North Dakota is home to Williston: a boom-and-bust town that’s seen its population ebb and flow with oil prices since 1951, when the substance was discovered nearby and spurred western North Dakota’s first oil heyday. A second boom came in the late 1970s but, again, the good times didn’t last. During the decades that followed, Williston’s population hovered between 8,000 and 12,000. That was until 2009, when the advent of fracking – an oil-extraction technique that’s controversial because of its damage to the environment – revived North Dakota’s oil sector, transforming Williston once again into “Boomtown, USA” (those very words are emblazoned across the town’s welcome sign). By 2014, the peak of Williston’s latest boom, the town’s population had exploded from 12,000 to 45,000 in just five years.

Throughout the ups and downs, the Williston Herald has been the town’s newspaper of record since 1899. It’s printed three times a week with a circulation of just less than 3,000. Managing editor Jamie Kelly tells us what’s making its pages.

What’s the big story?
There is a countywide spike in coronavirus cases. “Spike” is relative; we’ve had 77 confirmed cases since the beginning of the outbreak but half of those are active right now. Another big story: last week a judge in the district court for Washington said that the Dakota Access Pipeline needed to shut down so that the US Army Corps of Engineers could do a full environmental-impact statement, instead of just the environmental assessment they did in 2015 to 2016. That is causing a lot of angst on this side of the state. They’re talking about tens of millions of dollars of immediate and longer-term impacts.

A favourite recent headline?
“Flashy July 4th”. It’s a photo of a lightning bolt striking in the distance but on the far right side of the frame is a fireworks explosion.

Do you have a favourite photograph from the newspaper?
Well, this one is old but it’s hanging on the wall above me. Three years ago an old department store – sort of a local landmark – caught fire. I wanted to get elevated for a better view of the fire so I persuaded a manager of the apartment building across the street to let me into an open rental unit. I took a photo of flames coming out of the building’s roof under its neon sign and there’s a rainbow through the middle of the frame. It won the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s photo of the year award. It’s on my wall and I use it to tell reporters two things: there were others there but I was the only one that managed to get that photo and that, even in the midst of this awful thing, there was a wonderful story to tell; you just have to find it.

What will you be covering in the near future?
There have been issues with school funding here. There’s going to be a lot of movement on that over the next two weeks. We’ll cover the possibility that two school districts might merge. The two have been rivals in the past so it’s a very curious situation to see them cooperate but not trust each other.


It’s good to talk

Many companies are in the midst of their greatest challenge to date – the drawn out coronavirus pandemic. But Dave Evans, this week’s expert on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, says that reframing your challenges can set you on your way to new growth. Evans is a best-selling author, former Apple designer and co-founder of the Life Design Lab at Stanford University. He believes that lessons from the design world can help you to make the most of a much-used word: disruption.

Discussing his new book Designing Your Work Life, Evans says that the key takeaway for entrepreneurs boils down to 10 words: get curious, talk to people, try stuff, tell your story. He believes that talking to people and testing new products or services are akin to prototyping. “If there was ever a time to be good at rapid prototyping, now’s the time,” he says.

Evans adds that you should also take advantage of the greater availability of people in your network. “This is a [opportunity] that you normally wouldn’t have to reach across boundaries: your vendors, your suppliers, your banker,” he says. “You have customers who, by the way, are also lonely.” He also suggests inviting them to a call or digital meeting to discuss your new ideas and to send them a bottle of wine as a thank you. “That’s not a hard party to start.”


Collar one’s view

Finding a summer shirt that’s not too “summer shirt” can be tricky – perhaps leave the Hawaiian number at home for now. But there’s one retro model that’s enjoyed a recent resurgence that we feel we can get behind (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Reintroducing: the Cuban-collar shirt.

Distinguished by short sleeves, a missing top button and an open lapel, this sunny-weather staple toes the line between smart and easy-going. Also known as camp- or notched-collar, the Cuban-collar shirt takes its name from its biggest proponent: in 2010 the eponymous Caribbean nation announced the shirt, known there as a guayabera, its formal garment of choice for men. More often, though, it’s 1950s America that springs to mind at first glance: think John F Kennedy off duty.

Pick it up in art deco prints from the Gio Ponti line of old-school US outfitters Gitman Vintage or, for a minimalist feel, opt for a cotton and linen blend in neutral tones from London-based Sirplus. Stripes work too but be careful how you play it: one creased collar can see mid-century chic topple into baby-boy pyjamas.;


Can you go naked on your balcony?

Mr Tiddly likes to sun himself on the balcony and it turns out Mr Etiquette’s next-door neighbour, Mr Bad Etiquette, does too. Unfortunately, the glass barrier of Mr Bad Etiquette’s balcony doesn’t leave much to the imagination. In fact, it leaves nothing at all to the imagination. Mr Bad Etiquette, much to the neighbourhood’s chagrin, bares it all while sunbathing.

Mr Etiquette likes to think of himself as an open-minded person but a nudist neighbour just isn’t a welcome sight during a morning coffee and glance through the newspaper. So how should one sun themselves on a balcony? The swimsuit that Mr Etiquette recommended you buy last week will certainly assist. But if you insist on sitting under the sun in your birthday suit, Mr Etiquette recommends – no, he implores – that you invest in a well-constructed, opaque balcony barrier.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00