Saturday 1 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 1/8/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Image: Alamy


Face the music

  1. A well-seasoned restaurant designer or the talented owner of a jumping city dining room shares the skill set of a good choreographer. They each know how to create magical drama from the swinging open of a kitchen door, the scurry of waiters transporting plates of eagerly awaited food, and the conducting arm of the maître d’.

And they also understand how to cast you, the diner, in the performance. They engineer your entrance, they get you to weave your way to the table, they use lighting to create some mystery along the way. And if it’s the sort of joint that welcomes starry guests, they make sure that any starlets, singers and players can only make it to what are considered the best tables by easing their way across the entire restaurant, leaving a mist of whispers in their wake – “Oh, look, it’s that woman from the movie we just saw.” “Isn’t that, you know, the man who just went out with what’s her name?” So just as much as a memorable white wine or delicious fish direct from the market, choreography is what makes you fall in love with a restaurant.

But now? Well, a good old-school joint used by Monocle in London has decided to halve the number of tables to make sure that everyone has enough space for physical distancing. Waiting there for a lunch guest, I missed not being able to pick up on the tendrils of wafting conversation from other tables and, worse, on my marooned table I felt oddly exposed – like being a forgotten guest at an under-attended wedding supper. And there’s no chance of any choreographed dancing.

And then I went with Tyler for lunch at the River Café this week, in part to mark many years of friendship. Yes, the waiting team wear masks and, yes, they take your temperature as you arrive but somehow the drama, the choreography of the place, has remained intact. On the sunny terrace you still move between the packed tables to find your spot; the staff play their roles to synchronised perfection; and co-founder, chef and host – Ruth Rogers – is there keeping everything tight. But none of the lunchtime diners miss a beat either – there are a lot of seemingly nonchalant, but actually super aware, arrivals and departures. This is not the moment to trip up on the way to the loo. And, of course, the food is sublime. The dance goes on.

  1. Gyms reopened in England last weekend. I have been back twice – on the first occasion there were three other people, the next time five. Half the running machines and exercise contraptions are now decorated with giant “do not use” signs and you find yourself doing a lot of cleaning with disinfectant wipes. But actually, for me, this is no hardship as I’m rather content when doing any cleaning. Indeed I can see the potential for a workout class that would help both the gym-goer and the gym – a mix of dusting, mopping and vacuuming done to a sunny disco soundtrack. It could be called “Buffing to Get Buff” or “Pecs and Polish”.

But where have all the gym bunnies gone? I can hear the answer as I write this on my roof terrace to the dawn chorus of two neighbours skipping in the street and the passing patter of numerous lockdown running converts. People want to be in the sun. Life has been pushed outdoors and it is reluctant to come back in again. It’s another part of life that’s dancing to a different tune.


Beeping hell

You can tell that lockdown in Toronto is easing, thanks to the return of one familiar sound in particular: the car horn (writes Tomos Lewis). Honking horns are, of course, a staple in many big, traffic-clogged cities. But for me there is something particularly Torontonian about the horn chorus, to coin a phrase. Many drivers here love to toot their horns at anything, everything and sometimes at nothing at all. A wobbly cyclist? Honk! A pedestrian lingering too long at a crosswalk? Honk! Turning a corner in a parking garage? Honk! Another car slowing the flow of traffic? Honk, honk, honk!

Maybe I am overreacting. My colleague Will Kitchens, a Torontonian born and raised, is convinced that I am. But others who, like me, have moved here from somewhere else often remark that the ferocity of the honking seems wildly disproportionate to the alleged misdemeanour. According to a 2018 study by a motoring comparison site, many Torontonians use their horns frequently as an expression of frustration. Others stated that the prevalence of car horns increased their overall sense of unease and anxiety. Eight per cent of those surveyed at the time, however, said that they resorted to their car horns for another, less combative, act entirely: to say hello. Let’s hope, then, as the city gets on the move again after months indoors, that honk-happy Toronto embraces the cheerier side of its horns of plenty.


Under-age thinking

For teenagers, like everyone else, lockdown has been tougher for some than others (writes Genevieve Bates). But there’s a sense of urgency for teenagers that older folks won’t feel so keenly: this is their only summer being the age they are now. Remember that feeling? Wanting to do everything now as if your capacity for fun would dry up by the age of 20. I can just about recall it, which is why I agreed to chaperone my 15-year-old son and five friends – a total of three boys and three girls – for a stay at a seaside Airbnb last weekend.

Regardless of the pandemic, public spaces in cities are highly regulated and inhospitable to teenagers. They meet in parks for “motives” (that’s a noun meaning party – go to Urban Dictionary if you want the etymology), but those gatherings come with pressure to “flex” (show off) that they’re drinking and doing drugs. There’s nowhere for them just to hang out; perhaps that’s why multi-player computer games are so appealing. They’re social and interactive – exactly what kids have missed while schools were shut.

So during the trip I tried to stay out of their way – going for long walks on the beach or retreating to my attic bedroom like the first Mrs Rochester (minus the madness) – while maintaining a light supervisory presence. At one point, I overheard: “I can’t feel anything yet,” “I’m starting to feel it,” and “I think I’m going to throw up.” Oh no, I thought, what drugs have they taken? I rushed downstairs. They were doing plank and wall-sit competitions.

And that’s the thing about teenagers: they often defy stereotypes. The girls did do more of the tidying up yet it was the boys who I overheard discussing whether or not they could “pull off” a tank top. They all overuse the word “bro” but then one casually referred to Žižek when defending their use of a controversial Chinese social-media app. But more admirable to me than that ability to apply cultural theory is the sheer joy they took from being together, which is something that we could all focus on this summer.


Carry on regardless

A high-end shopping mall close to our Hong Kong bureau recently unveiled a huge site-specific artwork by UK artist Julian Opie (writes James Chambers). “Parade” stretches the entire length of a covered pedestrian walkway and features the side-on profiles of 60 shoppers, commuters, cyclists and men in suits, all going about their daily business, from listening to music to pushing prams. Pretty universal behaviour, you might think; almost all are using their phones. However, this particular parade was certainly not based on the streets of Hong Kong or any other city in Asia for that matter. The giveaway is how the figures carry their possessions. Although there are plenty of bags on display, no one is wearing a “front pack”.

On any given day, thousands of Hong Kong adults carry a conventional backpack or rucksack the “wrong way” around, covering their chests, just like a new parent would wear a baby carrier. Security in crowded places is a concern (even in a low-crime city with few pickpockets); carrying a “front pack” also makes it easier to get easy access to fiddly zipped pockets and to be considerate to fellow passengers on busy subway cars. But British artists are not the only ones ignoring this detail, designers are too. Hong Kong is bag crazy and yet no one has created a front pack to meet this obvious consumer demand.

It reminds me of growing up in the UK when school kids would be bullied (at least in Wales) for wearing “two straps” rather than the accepted practice of slinging a bag full of heavy books over only one shoulder. Back then we would have killed for a specially designed backpack with one strap that wouldn't cause lasting postural damage. Watching cool kids on US TV wearing their Eastpaks and Jansports the right way just made the whole experience all the more confusing. The world might be a far smaller place these days but there are still plenty of things that distinguish us – starting with how we carry our stuff.


Gabriela Hearst

Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst launched her eponymous label in 2015 – the same year that she took the reins of her family’s ranch in Paysandu. Her rural upbringing informs her garments’ aesthetics as well as her environmentally conscious approach to production and packaging. Nowadays she lives in New York with her family. Here she shares her weekend (and media) habits in her adopted city.

What news source do you wake up to?
I decided to only read the Financial Times during the weekend. So I look forward to reading the weekend paper because if I follow the news cycle I’m going to go crazy. And I like the perspective of the FT because it is less sensationalist [than other publications].

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Espresso, cappuccino, latte. Anything with caffeine.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Streaming. I’ve been listening to Fiona Apple’s new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Right now, I’m singing “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
National Geographic, The Paris Review, Lapham’s Quarterly, Monocle and WSJ Magazine.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
The Japanese bookshop, Kinokuniya. It’s basically a bookstore that specialises in all Japanese stationery on one side but it also has Japanese books and magazines. There are English books but it’s a very edited [selection]. You feel like you’re in Japan but in New York.

Sunday brunch routine?
Café Altro Paradiso. Thank God it opened for brunch on the weekends with outdoor seating. It gives us hope!

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
Nope – but I do like watching BBC World News on the weekend.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
That’s a time for silence – and to look at images in my brain.


Mix and match

‘Bad Vacation’, Liza Anne. US songstress Liza Anne’s sardonically named fourth album is a gem of irony. It’s a mishmash of genres, all eminently listenable. “I Shouldn’t Ghost My Therapist” is an upbeat standout tinged with a bit of surf rock, while the title track brings in ’80s beats for a very head-bopping result. For those forced into a bad stay-at-home holiday, this album will provide the right kind of light relief.

‘City Dreamers’, Joseph Hillel. Charting the life and work of four groundbreaking female architects – Phyllis Lambert, Denise Scott Brown, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel – this documentary explores the way that people with a daring vision can have tangible effects on how our cities are built. After the Second World War, these women wrestled for a chance to rethink urban ideas. Debuted in 2018, this documentary received a wide digital release this week. It’s perfectly timed for a moment when many are toying with utopian ideas on what the future of our streets, buildings and public spaces should be.

‘Must I Go’, Yiyun Li. How do you redress history? For Lilia Liska, an 81-year old who’s lived a long and eventful life (complete with three marriages, five children and 17 grandchildren) the occasion presents itself in the form of a diary belonging to a man she once had a brief affair with. Their versions of the same story differ. By writing in the diary’s margins, Lilia ends up revealing her own long-held secrets – and regaining control of her narrative.


Med alert

The Times of Malta is the 85-year-old newspaper of record for the rocky archipelago nation that’s tucked between Italy and north Africa in the Mediterranean Sea. The English-language daily, armed with an editorial team of 35, is the largest news organisation in the nation. At its helm is editor in chief Herman Grech. Although Grech never studied journalism, instead falling into the profession (in part at the behest of one particularly convincing sub-editor and a bottle of whiskey), he’s spent the past 23 years climbing the newspaper’s ranks. He tells Monocle what’s making headlines in Malta.

What’s the big news this week?
It’s definitely coronavirus. Malta had almost gone down to zero active cases until last week. There was a big pool party and [attendees] started falling sick. There was also a group of migrants on a boat fleeing Libya that arrived in Malta last week. Sixty-five people on board tested positive for Covid. So suddenly, we went from being the first country in Europe to have nearly zero active cases to having it back on the agenda.

A favourite image from a recent issue?
The opposition party [the Nationalist party, known as PN] is in disarray. Some party MPs have nominated their own leader but the actual Nationalist party leader refuses to go. On a front page we ran the faces of Adrian Delia, the current PN leader, and his opponent, Therese Comodini Cachia. It showed that the party is split right down the middle between this leader who refuses to go and the possibility of having the first woman leader of a party here in Malta.

What’s your down-page treat?
I have a soft spot for cartoonists and we have a fantastic cartoonist, Steve Bonello. He has created an arse – a human arse – replacing a head. It’s portraying the Maltese people who don’t really argue with their heads but talk out of their arse. There’s criticism that his drawings come across as crude but I think he really sums up the people who religiously follow their party leader and don’t care about basic decency and are out there spewing hatred and racism. Cartoonists are often the unsung heroes of journalism. What I like about the cartoonist is that there’s no way he’s going to take any advice or have me suggest something to him. I love that in a cartoonist.

What’s the next big event you’ll cover?
It’s the biggest story in Malta: the murder of [anti-corruption] journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. The prime suspect’s court case is now taking centre stage. There’s drama: you’ve got the murder of a journalist and you’ve got top politicians implicated in a murder investigation. It has all the hallmarks of a great TV series. In 23 years in journalism, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve actually ended up writing a play about it which is going to be staged in February. Theatre is a passion of mine. It often gives me an avenue to extract sentiments I can’t express in the media.


Crowdfund new investment

As the world gets back up and running, it is a make-or-break moment for many businesses, which are now busy putting game plans into action that were dreamt up during lockdown. And many business leaders will be looking for new investment to help them get back on their feet or to take them to the next level of growth.

Beyond trying to attract VCs and angels, this week’s guest on Monocle’s 24’s The Entrepreneurs advises business founders not to overlook their most loyal supporters for help. “I encourage you to look at crowdfunding because you’ve got a really engaged community that loves you for what you do,” says Tom Kay, founder of sustainable outdoor clothing brand Finisterre.

“I think it’s a very relevant mechanism to raise money at this period of time. We had a great crowd raise in October last year. People were putting in everything from £10 [€11] to north of £10,000 [€11,000].”

Kay says that he was blown away by the response from Finisterre customers – 17 years after he started the company. “That kind of validation was massive. It was a really good way for us to raise capital and I think it’s good for small brands that have got meaning and purpose. People love to be involved and to tell their friends about these businesses so it’s a very good advocacy route for the brand as well.”


Is it OK to look through people’s cupboards?

When house-sitting, there’s a dividing line between having a poke around the pantry and full-out excavating the back of the home-owners’ wardrobes (“Yikes, they’re into that?!”). A rummage among the granola is fine – you might even discover some culinary inspiration – after all, you are house-sitting and definitely deserve a snack. But be wary of uncorking a nice red because you are too lazy to go to the off-licence. It’s bound to be a rare vintage or a touching gift from a now-dead relative.

Bookshelves are definitely open season – idly flicking through their dusty old collection of Agatha Christie novels holds little risk. But do not allow your curiosity to lead you into the depths of the bathroom cabinet: bring your own bag of toiletries and leave any prescription medicines well alone. Nor, might I add, do you have need of anything that might be found in the top drawer of the bedside table. That, Mr Etiquette would venture, has every right to remain private. And if you are also taking care of their cat, be warned, if Mr Tiddly is anything to go by they see everything that you are up to.


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