Sunday 6 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 6/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Seen but not heard

“Look! Look! Look at the man in the phone booth,” said Mats, with a mix of surprise and disbelief.

I was more concerned with my coffee and Brezel Brot at that point in my Saturday morning but I was nevertheless able to process the “look, look-man-phone booth” to know that an ugly scene was about to come into view. Was I about to witness a man slumped against glass with a phone cord wrapped around his neck? Or maybe it was a gentleman who’d read about the transparent toilets recently launched in Tokyo’s Shibuya district and thought that something similar had been installed in Zürich’s Seefeld? Or was it just a performance and I was about to see a street artist doing a handstand with upside-down genitalia pressed against the glass? Oh how the mind can wander in a split second!

When I focused on the cylindrical Swisscom phone booth ahead, the scene was both shocking but wonderfully familiar: a neatly dressed man in his sixties chatting away in the privacy of a reasonably soundproof glass-structure. For a brief moment he caught my stare but then went back to his conversation. The gestures and facial expressions suggested that this wasn’t a panic call or a man who was in some sort of distress. He was smiling, raising his hands in a friendly way and shifting back and forth in a pleasant, relaxed manner. It didn’t seem as though he’d rushed to the phone booth because he’d lost his Galaxy, hadn’t paid his bill or was attempting to avoid leaving a digital footprint.

By the time I passed the booth I was reminded how wonderful Swisscom booths were to use back in the 1990s. They had a special sound signature when the doors slid open, moody lighting and keyboards for sending messages – as though the dream of pocket-size communications was one for people in the 22nd century. They were also impeccably maintained and never reeked of urine nor were covered with stickers for escort services.

While we’re all well aware why the phone booth disappeared, isn’t it time they made a comeback? If Samsung was smart, wouldn’t they have conversations with telecoms operators the world over and suggest that they take over the maintenance of such amenities and turn them into places not only for recharging or a full signal but also zones of “digital decency”, where phone users can behave responsibly. Just as smokers are shunted into corrals and corners where they can puff away, surely we must be getting close to a point where a smart lobby group is going to demand that all that conference-call pacing and chattering and speaker-phone pollution needs to be curbed. Or?

I took great delight in seeing but not hearing that gentleman make his phone call in the middle of the city. No doubt the person at the other end of the line felt the same; privacy, no rumbling trams or urban din.

If we’re really facing a new era of digital nomads (lumbering, swaying workers with no desk to call their own, dressed in clothing far too young for their hair colour or style) or home-workers (not thrilled to be there after six months, a year or a lifetime but still arguing that, “It’s great!”) then the phone booth needs to make a comeback to save our society from potentially millions of people wandering streets, lanes and parks seeking the privacy they can’t find in the apartment, café or gym locker room. It could be Samsung or another smart company who spots the opportunity to offer privacy in exchange for selling a bit of out-of-home ad space. Which city will be first?


Slice of the action

I’ve never been that impressed by watermelons (writes Ed Stocker in Verona). They were, I thought, the world’s most boring fruit, along with apples. They sit sliced, diced and often tasteless in supermarket fridges, or either cling-filmed or fly-covered outside grocery shops. But since moving to Italy earlier this year and experiencing my first summer here in its blistering entirety, my attitude towards this seedy fruit has softened. Here in the Bel Paese, watermelon is an integral part of the fruity fabric of summer. You’ll spy people ambling down streets, struggling and sweaty under the strain of carrying home these sought-after orbs, while summer-only stalls spring up hawking hunks of deep-pink sweetness. At one particular pool on the fringes of Lake Garda, watermelon is sliced with religious precision at 16.00 on weekends to much excitement and with a splash of sambuca for an added kick.

It’s still a surprise to me that many people seem to order watermelon in a restaurant after their secondi. Even the most inept of “cooks” could prepare it at home, after all. But, after some deliberation, I’ve decided that the watermelon proves something rather profound about the Italian attitude to food. The best dishes here aren’t composed of thousands of far-flung ingredients, flown in then primed to look perfect for social media. Instead, they’re about having the freshest produce prepared simply – or in this case not at all.


Top draw

Japanese illustrator Noritake’s playful compositions will be familiar to regular Monocle readers: he daubed a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles on the cover of our first ever issue of The Forecast magazine back in 2015, and has contributed plenty more besides. Now the monochrome maestro’s work – including signage, products, prints, publications and much more – has been amassed in a single 400-plus-page volume from Tokyo publisher Graphic-sha.

Works is mainly written in Japanese, though there’s English text throughout, including an interview that sheds light on the time that Noritake spent working at Tokyo bookshop Utrecht after moving to the capital in 1999. Naturally, though, the flesh and bones of the work are the universally charming forms, faces and characters that he’s created for shops, brands and products. So what’s his secret? Well, if there is one, then Noritake isn’t telling. “I just sat at my desk and did what I had to do,” he says of his process.


Better by design

After graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins art school, Brazilian-born designer Paula Gerbase plied her trade on Savile Row. This set her up to run her eponymous label and become artistic director for UK bootmaker John Lobb. An avid rock climber, Gerbase tells us about the heights she plans to scale this year, which works of literature she holds in the highest regard and how to dispense a tasty smoothie.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Tackling the repotting of the largest of my agaves. I’ve lost count of the number and have been collecting them for nearly 10 years.

How are you handling the extra time at home?
The extra time saved from incessant travel has given me the freedom to think and develop new ideas without interruptions, which has been a rare gift amid the chaos of what’s going on outside.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
An early morning run, rain or shine. I’ll spend the rest of the day reading or cooking.

Soundtrack of choice?
US artist and musician Laurie Anderson.

What’s for breakfast?
A smoothie of frozen blueberries, coconut water, chia seed and almond butter. And then a cappuccino or two.

News or not?
In moderation.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Both. Losing my German Shepherd, Roxy, two years ago left a huge void in my daily routine. But yoga takes its place – for now.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
When I’m in London it’s always running, cycling, tennis and yoga. When back home in Switzerland I do a lot of climbing. The mountains are where I feel most at ease. Next stop is scaling the Breithorn in September, weather permitting.

What’s for lunch?
Hopefully some freshly homemade pasta, either with a walnut pesto or a braised oxtail ragù.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Medjool dates are my unhealthy addiction.

Sunday culture essential?
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. And I’m re-reading Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Claus Preisinger’s Dope rosé is always a winner.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Westerns Laundry in north London.

Who would join?
My boyfriend Kim, sitting by the bar at our usual spot.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Good food, good wine, good friends.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Head-to-toe Gerbase to take on a new world.


Sausage ragù with pappardelle

Few dishes are as comforting or as sure-fire as a sausage ragù flecked with fennel seeds and a lick of chilli. Our recipe writer turns her hand to an Italian favourite with tasty results.

Serves 2


3 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
Handful of fresh oregano or ½ tsp good quality dried oregano
400g good quality Italian chopped tomato (tinned works)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sausage mixture:
1 tsp fennel seeds
200g sausage meat (bought from a butcher or sausages with casing removed)
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp chilli flakes
Large pinch of crushed black pepper

200g pappardelle

Parmesan to serve (optional)


  1. Place both tsps fennel seeds in a small, dry frying pan and toast until you sense the aroma of fennel, then crush lightly and set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, place sausage meat, half of the toasted fennel seed, paprika, chilli flakes, and crushed black pepper and mix well.

  3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pot then add the sausage meat. Use a wooden spoon to roughly cut the lumps of meat into small pieces and fry until lightly golden. Scoop out the meat and place in a bowl, then set it aside. Quickly pour a small glass of water into the pan and scrape off the burnt bits, pour into a small bowl and set it aside.

  4. Place 3 tbsp olive oil and garlic in a large pot and heat over medium low heat. Once the garlic starts to release its aroma, add the onion and the rest of the fennel seeds and oregano, cook until the onion becomes translucent. Add the tin of tomatoes, tomato paste, sausage cooking water and cooked sausage meat and bring it to a boil. Once the sauce is boiled, turn down the heat and add sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Boil water with salt in another big pot and cook the pappardelle until al dente (a minute or two less than the packet instructions). Once the pasta is cooked, drain and divide into two deep bowls and pour the sauce over. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and enjoy.


Mail drops

Alfredo Lopez joined forces with the team behind cult interiors magazine Apartamento to launch The Natural Wine Company this June. The Barcelona-based business posts quirkily designed boxes of four to six bottles of offbeat natural wines to its international subscribers every month. “There’s no typical wine that we choose,” says Lopez. “The mood is very much exploratory – we’ll include anything from grüner veltliners from Slovakia to full-bodied organic Spanish tempranillos.”

The company’s customer base already stretches across nine European countries, including Spain, the UK, Sweden and Switzerland, and has proved particularly popular with people in rural areas who don’t have easy access to lesser-known vintages or the independents that stock them. “We want anyone, no matter where they are, to be able to find a wine that’s interesting or unique,” says Lopez. We’ll drink to that.


Coast is clear

Mykonos’s livelier hotspots seem a world away from Paraga Beach, where the latest addition to the Soho House portfolio opened its doors in July. “It’s great to see that members and guests still connect with each other in an organic way, as they would in our city houses,” says manager Nikitas Toulias. The décor at Soho Roc is inspired by laid-back beach life, with a muted colour palette, kilim floor cushions, wicker lampshades and reclaimed wooden furniture. A restored Cycladic chapel sits in the olive-tree-shaded courtyard; many of the 45 bedrooms offer balconies with rattan loungers for afternoon siestas.

Executive chef Athinagoras Kostakos has dreamed up a sunny dinner menu, featuring dishes from across southern Europe. Yet the poolside breakfast is a surprisingly non-Mediterranean affair – the Shoreditch Grind coffee, porridge and bacon sandwiches all hint at the group’s UK roots.


Plough a new furrow

The idea behind dispensing a few cuttings of gardening wisdom in our Sunday dispatch was a hopeful one but not all outdoor experiments have happy endings (writes Josh Fehnert). There comes a time when every one of us – from green-fingered veterans to dilettantes – must confront a sad fact: not all plants blossom into leafy, lovely life. It might be a lack of sunlight, drought of water, an unseen pest or personal oversight but some of our green friends don’t last the season. This said, a failure needn’t make our enthusiasm wither with it.

I recently returned home from a few days away to find my crop of sunflowers – once hale, waist-height and proud – looking scorched and bare after a balmy weekend in direct sunlight (plants in smaller pots dry out rather quicker than large ones or those planted in the ground). As I cut the dry husks out of the soil and planned my moves for autumn, I felt a pang of regret at my negligence before a surge of resolve that I’d do better next time and keep at the cultivation.

September marks the beginning of cooler climes and the onset of autumn in the northern hemisphere, not to mention that instinctive “back-to-school” sense of industry and things to be done. If you find yourself with space to plant, no matter the sad circumstances that gave rise to that bare patch, then now is the time to consider sowing some hardy annuals, such as calendula, poppies or sweet peas, for an early spring showing. Later in autumn it will be time to plant the other perennials – sage, hollyhock or agapanthus – while the soil is damp and before it gets too chilly. You’ll also find a wealth of spring-flowering bulbs popping up in your local garden centre. Some won’t last the winter but that’s OK too: you might need the space to try something new anyway. Perhaps that’s the happy ending, after all. Have a good Sunday.


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