Saturday 12 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 12/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Kicking back

1. Was it just a coincidence? A reader of this column wrote to me a few weeks ago after I mentioned that I was hoping, quarantine rules permitting, to go to Greece. He asked which island I was heading to and when I told him that the plan was to visit the petite Folegandros, he sent some excellent suggestions of places to eat and bays to visit on my sunny sojourn. Last Saturday, back in Athens for the final day, I go to scout out a lunch stop recommended by another friend. As I approach the chosen spot, up stands a man with a sunny face (and a copy of The Entrepreneurs who is eating here. “Hello,” he says. “You’re Andrew? I’m Dimitris, who wrote to you.”

Then this week we were recording The Urbanist for which I interviewed Amira el Solh, a cultural-heritage and urban-planning consultant in Beirut (she’s an amazing interviewee). Except that she isn’t in Lebanon; she is in Greece and, in our conversation before we go on air, we chat about our trips. Where has she been? As it turns out, Folegandros – and she was there at the same time as me. I look up her photo and I am sure I saw her on the island. Indeed, this week, when I have mentioned what I had thought was a lesser-known spot, the response has often been, “I’ve been there” (Fiona Wilson, our Tokyo head honcho, for one). It seems that all ferries lead to Folegandros.

2. Fear of embarrassment is a funny and debilitating emotion but one that strikes most people with an ounce of humility in at least some situations. Yet because it’s often accompanied by a tinge of panic, it can lead to some mayhem as well.

At weekends the park where I walk the dog is packed with strapping youths playing football, and yelling commands to each other as though they are Premier League champions. Football is a sport that I hated as a kid. I still associate it with cold, muddy playing fields, the sting of leather as it smacked me in the face or, worse, being left on the substitute’s bench to chat to my friend Martin about the pop charts. And, even now, I always start sweating if someone in the park whacks the ball off the pitch and it starts heading in my direction.

It happened this week. My brain spins. Do I kick it back and watch as it flies off in entirely the wrong direction? Do I act out a quick mime to indicate that I have some rare foot condition? (It’s quite a tricky mime to do when you also have a dog on a lead and a coffee-to-go in the other hand.) This time there is no escape – and I heroically kick the ball back. It lifts off the ground, glides in the right direction and I even get a, “Thanks, mate” as it lands. For the rest of the day, I walk with a new confidence – and a dirty mark on my white trainers.

But it doesn’t always work out well. Here’s another holiday scene. We are by a pool, people relaxing around us, and we watch as a man in high spirits suddenly scoops up his wife in his arms and runs towards the water so that he can throw her into its chilly depths. He gets to the pool’s edge, prepares to launch her Apollo-rocket-style but stumbles at the last second and, instead of splashing into the water, she falls on her back – like a felled tree – onto the pool’s cement edge. But look who has just arrived: it’s Captain Embarrassment! More concerned with all the people looking at him than his wife’s pitiful groaning, we watch as the man bends down and, rather than enquiring about her medical status, rolls her the final few centimetres into the pool. Surprisingly, she did walk again – although words best suited to a rambunctious football match were heard emanating from her mouth. But, as I said, embarrassment is not the most useful of emotions.


Good things come in threes

Here are a few things that you need to know about. First, the new October issue of Monocle is out next week with reports on the Beirut blast, a visit to retail outposts that are thriving even now, a survey of Italian innovation and profiles of cinemas that are stars in their own right. And, if you cannot get to a newsstand, you can now read the magazine via our new Digital Editions. All you have to do is subscribe at

Second, don’t forget to order a copy of The Monocle Book of Gentle Living. As the strapline says, it is a “guide to slowing down, enjoying more and being happy”. The book is a peachy-covered treat that will help you find some calm in these choppy times. Buy yours at; it will make you feel nicely at ease.

And, finally, this week we launch Monocle Minute On Design, a newsletter that will hit inboxes on Wednesday evenings with reports on new products, smart residences and good bits of urbanism. It’s going to be a sharp primer on the sector’s new moves and some classic hits too. Sign up at


Joint effort

The young might be castigated as “super spreaders” – please take us back to a time when that simply meant a breakfast guest who was a little slap-happy applying butter to their toast – but they are also the pioneers of making the surgical mask into a cool streetwear accessory. One problem: it’s not necessarily sported over their honkers. Instead, in cities around the world we have witnessed the mushrooming trend for those pale-blue masks to be worn over an elbow. Athens, Paris, London, New York – it’s the same hip demographic in every city that prefers this method of mask-carrying.

You can bet that riffs on this street look are being added to runway fashion collections – how about a nice cashmere sweater with detachable baby-blue elbow patches? Louis Vuitton’s street-inspired Virgil Abloh is bound to have this one well and truly covered. Wearing a mask as a sort of cool bangle might be a bit silly – and we’d be happy to discuss this. But first we’re off for a ride on our new Monocle skateboard.


Calling the tune

Investment strategist and economist Dirk Effenberger heads up the investment-risk arm of UBS. His team publishes the Swiss bank’s Global Risk Radar, analysing the affect of risks on financial markets and assets. He’ll be joining Monocle’s team of editors at The Chiefs conference in St Moritz next week. He tells us how to stay up to date on the financial news and more.

What news source do you wake up to?
I actually prefer a short run to wake up, before getting into the world of news. Then it is usually the Financial Times and Bloomberg as a warm-up, followed by more in-depth analysis and coverage of any news relevant to financial markets, such as Politico, broker research and academic studies.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Definitely a homemade cappuccino, with beans from our favourite local roastery.

How have you stayed connected with colleagues in recent months?
I actually found myself picking up the phone more often, preferring it over email in recent months; it just makes a less personal home-office world more personal.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
New music releases on French streaming service Qobuz, Radio Swiss Jazz, Antenne Bayern Chillout and WDR Essen, which is a German local radio station that helps me feel connected to my hometown via its traffic news. And I listen to Monocle 24 frequently.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
No humming, no singing; just enjoying absence from what seems like thousands of daily interferences.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
FT Weekend, The Economist, the German political magazine Cicero and, most importantly, Hifi and Records, a magazine for musical hardware and software.

A favourite bookshop?
If you visit Zürich, I recommend the bookshop Beer. Finding it is as enjoyable as discovering the books on its shelves.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I wish I could say that it was Borussia Dortmund winning the Champions League – but that’s not true. I guess it is reserved for next year.

Sunday brunch routine?
This is family time. My brunch package consists of a short breakfast followed by some form of outdoor activity with the kids.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table at the weekend?
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Swiss financial newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft, and any investment research from a variety of sources that I didn’t find time to read.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
As a typical day is quite occupied by reading news and research, I try to step aside from it during the evening, which usually ends in me watching BBC news or Heute Journal.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off to sleep?
Whenever possible, jazz from vinyl records – everything from Keith Jarrett to something less traditional, such as Tingvall Trio.


Written in the stars

‘Babyteeth’, Shannon Murphy. Australian director Shannon Murphy’s debut feature Babyteeth is adapted from writer Rita Kalnejais’s play of the same name. It contains challenging themes but there’s a lightness to the on-screen dealings too. Set in Sydney, the story follows Milla, a high-school student undergoing treatment for cancer, and her relationship with Moses, a drug addict. Their infatuation is frowned upon by Milla’s parents but it sets the scene for a coming-of-age story that is both heartbreaking and sweet; it’s a portrait of a dysfunctional courtship and family doing their best to navigate the difficult hand they’ve been dealt.

‘L’Ère du Verseau’, Yelle.L’Ère du Verseau, the first album by Yelle in six years, reminds us that there is always room for another well-appointed French electro-pop record – especially one with the swag and self-confidence of this veteran trio. Opening track “Emancipense” is a bold tone-setter and there are lighter ballads in the mix too – but none can match the chops of hypnotic single “Karaté”.

‘Black Bottom Saints’, Alice Randall. For the first half of the 20th century, the prosperous, working-class Detroit neighbourhood of Black Bottom was as central to African-American culture as Harlem. Alice Randall’s fifth novel pays tribute to the largely forgotten characters of that municipality, which was systematically demolished in the 1960s. Randall writes this genre-bending story of black achievement with all the zing and fizz of the cocktail recipes sprinkled among the prose profiles of the community’s “saint” figures – all of whom, including the narrator, are fictionalised versions of real people.


Maine events

Mount Desert Island – MDI to locals – is the largest island off the coast of the US state of Maine. It has been served since 2001 by the Mount Desert Islander (writes Henry Rees-Sheridan). The newspaper maintains an office in Bar Harbor, MDI’s biggest town and a bustling summer colony that was patronised by some of the richest families in America until a 1947 wildfire razed a strand of their residences, known as Millionaire’s Row.

MDI has a year-round population of about 10,000. But, in a normal year, 3.5 million tourists descend on the island to enjoy the natural beauty and abundant recreational opportunities of Acadia National Park. The local economy is built around this influx, which has shrunk during 2020’s summer of restrictions. We speak to Faith DeAmbrose, the paper’s managing editor since January, about tourism, tennis and postal votes.

What’s the big news this week?
The big news of the summer has been the intersection of tourism and coronavirus. Mount Desert Island relies heavily on tourism, with most of the businesses here running from May to October. So the drop off in tourism has been very hard for a lot of those businesses, which rely on this period to make their money for the rest of the year.

Do you have a favourite headline?
This week our copy editor knocked it out of the park with a tennis metaphor in the police news, of all places. A refurbished tennis court was set to open and a group of wannabe first participants broke in the night before for a game. Our headline was: “Ace fence climbers take advantage for the love of tennis”. The intruders apparently left things in good order.

And a favourite photo?
It’s in the 30 July issue. It was probably the hottest week of the summer and one of our reporters was out swimming that day. She took a great photo of children emerging from the water with mountains in the background. Everything’s beautiful here, so getting great nature shots isn’t too hard.

What’s your down-page treat?
One of our most popular features is a nature column written by Ruth Grierson, an islander in her nineties. It’s her observations of the natural world – such as what kinds of birds are returning or leaving – which paints a picture of the island based on natural happenings. She interacts with readers quite a bit. I get tonnes of phone calls from people wanting to give their own observations or who have questions for Ruth about something that she’s mentioned.

What’s the next big event?
The run-up to the elections. This year there’s a real focus on voting. Maine has a very open absentee-ballot system but there have already been way more requests for mail-in votes than in normal years. We’ve been working to create larger adverts to put in the paper telling people where to vote, how to vote and the difference between the kinds of voting. That information right now is being pretty skewed in the national media.


Ride and tested

André Trigano’s CV reads like that of a secret agent-turned-diplomat in an Ian Fleming novel. A former French Resistance fighter (who was captured three times), he’s also an accomplished entrepreneur who made a small fortune supplying tents to Club Med in the 1950s and a competitive car-racer. To top it off, he’s held mayoral office in Pyrenees towns for some 49 years.

But why are we telling you this? Well, aside from being a great little biography, there’s also a chance to jump into Trigano’s driver’s seat: tomorrow you can snap up a ride from his extensive car collection, at an auction held by Artcurial.

Usually stored at his home in Gibel, southwest France – where the auction is taking place – the 270 lots on offer feature everything from toy cars, to caravans and limited-release sporting numbers. “He’s turning 95 on auction day and it seems to him that he’s reached the end of his collection,” says Camille Iparraguirre from Artcurial. “He wants his cars to go to enthusiasts, to live again in their hands.”

And there’s plenty of scope for those hands to be yours: the sale will accommodate budgets ranging from €500,000 (Are you looking at the Lamborghini 400 GT?) to €500 (The well-worn 1967 Mercedes-Benz 250 S Berline might be more your speed.). Whatever you bid on, we can’t promise that your new wheels will give you the same drive as Trigano – but they should at least get you off the starting grid. ​


Resoled and resold

Have you ever tried walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes? JM Weston is keen for everybody to give it go. In January the heritage French shoe-maker launched Weston Vintage, a scheme that now encourages proud owners of the brand’s shoes to bring in their tired kicks to a pop-up shop at Paris’s Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in return for a discount on their next pair (or cold, hard cash). The old shoes are then given a new lease of life by Weston’s “atelier of renovations” in the city of Limoges, which reconstructs the inners, replaces the sole, renovates the aged leather and swaps in a fresh set of laces. Then the shoes are sold on to another happy customer.

“It has been a huge success,” says the brand’s artistic director Olivier Saillard, describing how demand has soared thanks to punters, young and old, who are attracted to the lower price point, classic silhouettes and sustainable business model. The waiting list runs to some 300 people – only about five to 10 pairs a week are revived, so that’s quite the backlog.

The popularity of the scheme is good news for Saillard, who joined JM Weston in 2017 after a storied career as one of Paris’s premier fashion historians-cum-curators. “In some ways, these shoes are even more important to me than imagining a new collection,” he says. “I’m more concerned with the past than the present.” And the future? “We want to expand our renovation ateliers to every shop in Paris – and then Japan.”


How can I tell someone they are looking young?

Please don’t. Compliments of the, “You look so young for 21, 30, 40, 50 or 80” variety are rarely welcome. Why? Because so many of us have moments in life when we feel that our numeric accumulation of years is a bit out of step with our style of dress, professional status or the age of the person we’re dating.

Mr Etiquette was recently at a bar with his cousin, who, being slight of build and fresh of face, happens to look far younger than his 35 years. He groaned when the bartender asked to see ID before serving him an alcoholic beverage. “It happens a lot,” he said. “They’re embarrassed when they see my driver’s licence and realise how far off they were and then apologise or try to turn it into a compliment. It’s just awkward all round.”

And although women are expected to want to look forever young, being mistaken for an intern when you’re on the executive board isn’t much fun for anyone. While Mr Tiddly’s fur is in fine fettle and thus his age indeterminate, he has a female feline friend who for many years was told, “You look too young to have kittens! You must have had them very young…?” That is sort of flattering, except that it suggests that the “kittens” might be the result of teenage imprudence. Again: awkward.

So rather than telling anyone that they look younger than the age you presume them to be, stick with other compliments: “You look well.” “You look refreshed.” “You’re looking fit.” Or be specific: “I love your flea collar – you have great style.”


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