Saturday 15 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 15/8/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Image: Shutterstock


Stoking the fires

1. My partner has been lent an electric bicycle so we head out for an evening ride – me on my lovely but solely leg-powered model, him all charged up. Usually he is happy to pootle in my wake but today he moves with the sort of effortless regal pomp you’d associate with a maharaja aloft a magnificent elephant. A very determined elephant, mind. He glides past me again and again, waiting for me at the top of every incline with a weary look on his face that makes me feel like his ancient emissary given, as transport, a donkey that has little passion for movement and dodgy knees to boot. I keep saying things like, “That looks fun.” But he’s not biting. “It’s so much fun,” he simply concurs as he disappears from view yet again.

2. My neighbour has her phone snatched from her hand by a thief on a bicycle (not electric). He takes one look at her ancient device and throws it back at her. She looks oddly insulted telling the story, torn about what offended her most about the incident.

3. I am allowed to borrow the electric bike for the day. I have always been sniffy about such things and scorned the look of the giant batteries they come with. But this one is different: the battery is hidden in the frame and it has no buzzing sound. Nobody knows you are cheating. It’s like being Lance Armstrong.

4. If I had to choose one thing that summed up the year it would be a box of frozen scampi. Back in April we placed a food order with our delivery service and there was no fish of any kind available. Not even a fish finger. The only thing in this category was a box of frozen scampi – to the hopefully uninitiated, it’s something sort of prawn-like but disguised in a breadcrumb covering. Each one looks like a deer dropping. We bought the scampi. But they have remained frozen since their arrival. Perhaps the fact that I think of them as the “Bambi poop” has not helped their oft-suggested journey to plate.

5. Matt and Frank, two cycling passionate neighbours look over the electric bike with a certain clippy-cloppy cycle-shoe disdain. I might have had a sundowner by this point and, suddenly a little offended, challenge them and my partner to a time-trial on the bike around an agreed course of neighbouring streets. Turns out that everyone is a little taken with the whizzy wonder. I come in last, mind, just missing a podium position.

6. We’ve been watching Cardinal, a Canadian TV show about a sad-faced detective called John Cardinal. It’s based in Algonquin Bay, a fictional town in Canada where the weather is either mosquito-riddled heat or frostbite-inducing cold. But, yikes, the crimes – torturing perverts and messianic maniacs are more prevalent than moose. The town’s filled with bad ’uns. People talked about how Nordic noir thrillers packed out Copenhagen’s hotels with the genre’s fans but this will make you look at Canadians afresh. Let’s just say that if you see one holding pliers and walking towards you, run for it.

7. It’s like trading futures. Everyone around me seems to have taken bets on summer holidays with little idea whether they will happen. I lost Spain to new quarantine rules a couple of weeks ago and now have to see if Greece works out in two weeks’ time. To even think about it seems set to jinx it.

8. Actually another item that has lingered in our house since lockdown is a pack of loo rolls from a brand called Panda. We found them in a local shop at a low point (for hygienic paper products). They are diminutive, about half the size of a standard roll – better used as Christmas streamers perhaps. Plus, I am not sure that a panda strikes me as much of a bathroom pal. I have a feeling that, like Canadians, they have a sinister side. But I see that many museums are now collecting pandemic artefacts and I feel I have two good contributions.

9. According to headlines, Simon Cowell, he of TV talent-show formats, has fallen off his electric bike and broken his back. Will people never learn?

10. I forget to charge the electric bike. I cycle home using traditional leg power, the bike now free of all its old grace. Not elephant, not donkey, more pot-bellied pig with a wooden leg. I am very pleased to see my trusty old bike awaiting me at home. I promise to be more faithful.

I’m not a bag person: when I’m not working, I only carry what my pockets can hold (writes Junichi Toyofuku). But one thing I always have with me in summer is a sensu, a Japanese folding fan. This slim device made from bamboo ribs covered with paper, cloth or silk is said to have been invented in Kyoto in the eighth century; the design was a twist on a sashiba, a fan that had arrived from China a century earlier. Unlike the original, a sensu is foldable and so compact enough to be put in a pocket. It has long been a feature of traditional ceremonies and is still used by men and women, young and old, every summer.

Now, as the heat kicks in after the rainy season, is the time for this analogue accessory. The other day on Tokyo’s Aoyama crossing, however, I spotted two young women “fanning” without moving their hands. Rather than a sensu, they were using a battery-powered creation that is like a miniature version of the floor fan you’d find in an office. These electric gadgets come in many colours; visit shops such as Tokyu Hands or Franfranc and you’ll see an army of them). And they’re certainly handy, especially if you are, for example, holding a small child or walking a dog.

But I am not persuaded. Is it the sense of fast fashion and mass-produced plastic that puts me off or am I just old-fashioned? I think about the small, centuries-old sensu-makers in Japan that are still going strong, such as Kyoto’s Miyawaki Baisenan, which collaborated with Berlin-based Japanese artist Ryu Itadani to handcraft fans with colourful drawings of flowers and fireworks. It’s companies like this that I would like to thrive. Plus, for me, sensu is part of the quintessential look and feel of the summer, even if it requires a constant flicking of the wrist.


Silver fox

Coronavirus might have brought about a spike in contactless transactions in much of the world but cash remains king in Brazil (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). Since the pandemic began, Brazilians have taken to hoarding the hard stuff. The increased demand for cash will see the country’s Central Bank release a new R$200 (€31) banknote, the country’s highest denomination, at the end of August. An estimated 450 million will be printed.

Keeping with tradition, Brazil’s new note will feature the head of an animal rather than a head of state. The lobo-guara (maned wolf) was chosen following public consultations, which revealed that the vulnerable species – and largest canid in South America – was a favourite beast. It joins a variety of other beloved animals gracing Brazilian currency, including the hawksbill sea turtle, golden lion tamarin and the unusual dusky grouper fish, which swims across the R$100 note.

While plenty of commentators have written hasty obituaries for since the pandemic began, hard currency – at least in Brazil – doesn’t appear to be going extinct.


Susan Goldberg

First published in October 1888, National Geographic magazine has had only 10 editors. In 2014, Susan Goldberg became the first woman to assume the role. Now she’s both editor-in-chief of the magazine and editorial director of National Geographic Partners, heading up the journalism output across the brand’s digital and print platforms. Here she tells us how her sleeping patterns ensure that she’s always on top of the news and what makes a Washington bookshop her favourite.

What news source do you wake up to?
I’m embarrassed to say that I sleep with my phone. I wake up during the night quite a bit and I’ll read for a little while – newsletters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN – and then fall back asleep. By the time I wake up in the morning, I feel as though I have a pretty good sense of what’s happened. I’m not suggesting this for anybody else, mind you.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Earl grey tea.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
We turn on [US music-streaming station] Pandora radio quite a bit. I’m a big country-music fan too; for the first time in a long time we’ve started playing country-music CDs.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I’m not a big hummer – and that’s a good thing for all concerned.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
National Geographic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic. I always read The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post Magazine too.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
There is a wonderful bookshop on Connecticut Avenue here in Washington called Politics and Prose. It almost makes you feel smarter just walking through the doors. It has excellent taste, a great speaker series and little tchotchkes and gifts. It’s the classiest bookshop in the world.

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched lately and why?
We’re in the middle of watching the new series of Perry Mason, which I am really enjoying. We’re also watching a kind of trashy, low-rent version of Succession, called Yellowstone. It’s about a dysfunctional family that lives out in Montana.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining-room table?
Normally I read my papers on my iPad but we still get The Washington Post in print every day and we get The New York Times in print on Sundays. I love the physical act of holding a newspaper.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
We have CNN on in the background all day, every day. I just want to make sure I don’t miss any huge, huge headlines. I really like [CNN’s lead political anchor] Wolf Blitzer.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?


In tune with the times

Majida el Roumi, a 63-year-old singer of popular and patriotic songs, is a national treasure in Lebanon (writes Tomos Lewis). Her fame was cemented when her songs were played on television during the country’s civil war. Breaking up the coverage of the fighting, these were love songs to a country ravaged by conflict that served as promises of better days to come. El Roumi’s potency lies in the fact that she is apolitical; thanks to her universal appeal, she was appointed as a UN goodwill ambassador in 2001.

But that changed two weeks ago. El Roumi took a stance when a lyric in one of her songs, “Ya Beirut”, was overdubbed during a live broadcast to conceal the words, “Revolution is born from the womb of sadness.” The following day, the singer retorted by sharing an uncensored version of the song online, garnering widespread praise from Lebanon’s anti-government movements. Then, two days later, the explosion tore through Beirut, elevating the song to the status of a rallying cry. El Roumi has since visited the city’s worst-hit areas, consoling those affected, listening to them and joining the legions of people from across the country who have taken it upon themselves to help in the aftermath. For many, El Roumi is not just singing for them during this moment of upheaval but with them too.


Covering the ground

Despite being home to just 36,000 people, Yukon – Canada’s westernmost territory – spans nearly 475,000 sq km (double the size of the UK). Covering such a vast province is no easy task but that’s the job of the Yukon News. Founded in 1960, the Whitehorse-based publication is the only newspaper to cover the entire territory, with 8,000 copies sent from the capital to its far-flung communities every Wednesday and Friday.

After graduating from journalism school, editor John Hopkins-Hill made his way west from southern Ontario to Yukon, completing a one-year stint at a one-man newsroom in Alberta along the way. Although his first role at the Yukon News was sports reporter, he now occupies the editor’s desk, from where he tells Monocle about what’s breaking in Whitehorse and beyond.

What’s the big story?
The government recently announced that there is a case of coronavirus here in the Yukon. We haven’t had a case locally for a number of months, so that was on everybody’s tongue last weekend. But this week the big story was about a dust devil in Haines Junction that destroyed a fruit stand. It was like something out of a bad movie. It destroyed the stand and all the fruits – and all of the money in the cashbox was blown away too. We never get tornadoes here so to have that happen was very unusual.

Do you have a favourite recent headline?
“Lack of lawn liaison looking for leak” was a headline on a story about the city of Whitehorse tearing up a front lawn to fix a water leak without giving the homeowner any notice. The kicker was that the leak wasn’t on the guy’s property.

What about a favourite picture?
For our front page last Friday, our photographer visited the local arena because the figure-skating club just got clearance from the health department to begin training again. She managed to get a photo of one of the skaters doing a spin.

What’s the next big event that you’re covering?
Monday is Discovery Day, which is typically a very big deal for Yukoners. It’s a public holiday that commemorates the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896 [which prompted the Klondike Gold Rush]. Most of the activity is in Dawson City. Usually there’s a parade, street events and the area’s athletic associations run softball tournaments, races and those sorts of things. But this year it’s going to look pretty different. I don’t know how it’s going to manifest this year but that’s definitely the next big event for us.


Breaking stories

‘Lake Life’, David James Poissant. Family holidays by a lake can be an idyllic affair but they also have the potential to go catastrophically wrong. David James Poissant’s novel takes us on a trip that’s firmly in the latter category. As their family home in North Carolina is set to be sold, the Starlings head there to spend one last weekend together for the sake of nostalgia – but things take a turn for the worse pretty quickly. The ugliest part of it all, as usual, are the secrets that the siblings hold from one another.

‘A Thousand Cuts’, Ramona S Diaz. Previous documentaries directed by Ramona S Diaz have chronicled topics as disparate as life in a Manila maternity ward and the adventures of Pinoy singer Arnel Pineda, as well as a biography of former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos. Now the award-winning film-maker turns her camera on president Rodrigo Duterte and the woman who decided to hold him to account during his war on drugs. The story of journalist Maria Ressa is an exploration of how political systems protect themselves with misinformation and how courageous reporters are necessary in the Philippines – and beyond.

‘Aries’, Alice Chater. Everything about Chater’s vocals, style and on-stage antics speaks to her self-confessed ambition to reach “pop stardom” – and her tactics might just work. The British singer can deliver catchy belters with confidence and an impressive range. This five-song EP is a refreshing, easy-listening morsel of shiny pop that’s just the ticket for a balmy August. There’s space in there for heart-wrenching pop ballads too.


Know what type of office you need

This week’s guest on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs says that interest in new office space is rebounding. Tushar Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of London-based HubbleHQ, a platform that has helped 50,000 companies to find office space, says that knowing exactly what you are looking for before you start your search is key to finding value for money and the ideal space.

“What we’re finding is that a lot of businesses don’t actually know what to search for because they don’t know what their employees want,” says Agarwal. “The first thing you should do is survey your staff, then when you go to the market you can say, ‘I think we need some form of part-time space’; or, ‘Actually all of our employees want to go back as soon as possible. So let’s go get a full-time office.’”

Agarwal adds that some companies are opting to rent shared spaces. “Previously, you used to have everything under one roof: meeting rooms, desk space, event space, a rooftop bar to meet your clients. What we believe is going to happen now is that you’re going to have specific spaces for specific activities.” He also says that trying flexible-working arrangements now is more attractive to many companies than signing a long-term lease.


Scented trail

New York-based perfumer DS & Durga has a flagship shop on Mulberry Street (and a soon-to-open outpost in Williamsburg) but it’s taking its wares on the road this summer in what appears to be an all-black ice-cream truck. The brand’s “Fumetruck” will begin travelling across Manhattan and Brooklyn this month, setting up shop near parks and beaches to sell chilled perfumes, candles and even car air-fresheners in scents such as Big Sur After Rain, Holy Ficus and Portable Fireplace.

Although trucks have long been utilised by food vendors, ice-cream sellers and knife sharpeners, unusual times call for creative measures from other retailers. DS & Durga’s mobile venture is a clever move at a moment when not every New Yorker is ready to enter shops again – although it’ll surely disappoint plenty of ice-cream-hungry children in the process.


Can I ignore the mask rules?

No. Mr Etiquette is not a fan of the mask – who is? It’s a sign of fear and a constant reminder that danger might lurk around the corner; plus they make one’s spectacles very steamy (although they can amusingly be refashioned into a bonnet for the long-suffering Mr Tiddly).

But wearing a mask is a sign that you will play your part by keeping your breath concealed to protect people whose stress levels are peaking or who are worried about their health. It’s about being part of something bigger; throwing your lot in with science and society. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a pious convert or that you can’t dream of their passing. But, just for now, please do as you are told.


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