Saturday 26 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 26/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Stein of the times

  1. Germany is a neutral nation: a place where Swiss and UK residents can meet without going into quarantine afterwards. So this week we chose Munich to host a gathering of staff from Monocle and Winkreative’s London and Zürich HQs. And what a backdrop. Schumann’s Bar on Odeonsplatz is an institution, known for committed late-night revelry and its owner, Charles Schumann, who modelled for the likes of Comme des Garçons and, now in his seventies, still turns heads – and tables too. His bar and restaurant set-up backs on to the Hofgarten, a vast formal garden first planted in the 1600s and where the bar places tables to make the most of any sunny days. So we established a sort of alfresco boardroom here and, over two days, ran through every project, ambition and potential wrinkle on the horizon. The sun shone throughout but it was that strange, glorious and slightly melancholic time of year when you sense the season shifting at pace – the rich light looks like a fading flame, the afternoon shadows stretch with extravagant exaggeration and, as you read financial updates and look at office redesign blueprints, a scurry of autumn-ready leaves falls from the trees. Is this the beginning or the end? What awaits us? It’s a moment of change.

  2. Around the perimeter of the park, the ground is covered with fine grit, making this the ideal spot to play boules. And on both days nicely turned-out men and women arrived on their bicycles, parked and then proceeded to retrieve from Goyard bags and well-loved satchels their gleaming boules. I didn’t know it was such a German thing – I thought the French had this to themselves. What’s more, it turns out that in Munich there are hipster boules too. A group of four cool men, all twenty-somethings, rocked up sporting the sort of pudding bowl haircuts that look to the uninitiated like a terrible tonsorial accident (“I’ll sue!”) but which are actually deliberate (“I love it!”) and proceeded to play a barefoot version of the game with insouciance. I bet they’ll have their eyes on curling next – the sport, not the hair tongs. Although…

  3. It would normally be full-on Oktoberfest at this time of year in Munich, a highlight in the social calendar. While outsiders see it as an opportunity to drink a lot of beer, for the locals it’s a cultural festival, an occasion for corporate hospitality and also a time to whack on the old lederhosen, twirl one’s dirndl and, yes, drink a lot of beer. This year there’s a more modest take, with distancing measures in place, that’s unfolding in smaller beer gardens. Yet the streets are still full of men and women of every age in the full, elaborate and often costly look. It’s wonderful, perhaps because there’s no hint of this being costume or fancy dress. To almost join in, we took the team to the Schwabinger Osterwaldgarten, a neighbourhood beer spot where they also serve schnitzels not much smaller than Bavaria. During dinner we had one unusual visitor. Darting at some speed under the tables was a hedgehog looking for schnitzel crumbs to take back, I imagine, to his pals hiding in the bushes. I thought hedgehogs were supposed to be slow but this one had the pace of a BMW and a passion for German cuisine that stirred respect in your heart. I wondered whether his pals also had miniature steins filled with leftover beer? And lederhosen? Although perhaps it would be a little tricky to pull tiny snug leather breeches over all those prickles. But he was having a good night, even if he did have to sleep off the consequences in the bushes. Or was that me? More on Munich in tomorrow’s Weekend Edition.


Dressing to frill

Judicial robes – somber, heavy and uniform – don't usually allow room to evoke much of the person wearing them (writes Tomos Lewis). But Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the influential Supreme Court Justice who died last week aged 87, interrupted the dark monolith of her black, judicial drape during her long career with the jabot, a collar that rings the robe’s neck.

Her neckwear became her visual trademark, often symbolising her judicial decisions; she preferred an intricate gold and pink crocheted jabot (a gift from her clerks) when issuing a majority verdict, while a large, dark, scallop-edged necklace was worn on days she dissented. Jabot-themed ephemera, made by the craftier members of her fanbase, has followed: brooches, posters, toys, T-shirts, pin badges and necklaces all bear iterations of the famous fringe in Bader Ginsberg’s honour. An image of NBA players wearing Photoshopped jabots has even gone viral, with some news outlets failing to spot the satire.

And while Bader Ginsberg’s jabots will remain a defining image, both of her and her career on the bench, this ruffly neck piece – which originated in 19th-century France, was a hallmark of the New Romantics in the 1980s and is a staple of fancy-dress costumes – is undergoing a revival, particularly among men. Popstar Harry Styles, actor Jeremy Strong and TV host RuPaul are among the male celebrities to have sported pussy-bow iterations of the jabot recently – a jovial jab at the expectations of what men and women can and should wear.

The jabot, in all its decorative diversity, was, at its inception, an elaborate statement of sartorial conformity. It now evokes the opposite: in all its frilly fun, it can say much about how we see ourselves or hint at who we would like to be.


Photo realism

Japan’s largest international photography festival, Kyotographie, is on until 18 October (writes Junichi Toyofuku). Under the theme of “Vision”, the eighth edition showcases a strong selection of 10 photographers from Japan and abroad at different venues across the city. Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop’s portraits of business owners in Kyoto’s Demachi Masugata shotengai shopping street are hung along the arcade, while Ryosuke Toyama chose Japanese craftsmen as his subject to shed light on the traditional industry at Kennin-ji temple. Don’t miss the tearoom in a garden that he turned into a giant pinhole camera.

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, co-founders Lucille Reyboz and Yusuke Nakanishi were keen to go ahead. “We wanted to keep this festival to reconnect life and people,” says Reyboz. “We cannot see artworks on the screen all the time. And artists are struggling now; we have to support them.”

The festival also serves a meaningful social purpose. We were struck by Atsushi Fukushima’s exhibition “Bento is Ready”, a series of powerful photos of the Japanese elderly living alone. He shot thousands of snaps, including some shocking images, when he worked as a lunchbox delivery man over the course of 10 years. “We want to make people think for themselves about what’s happening in the world and in this country,” says Nakanishi. Rent a bike and explore: the satellite event KG+ is showing the work of 200 up-and-coming talents across the city.

Image: Lea Meienberg


War and peace

Peter Maurer is president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He took up the role in 2012 after serving as Swiss secretary of state for foreign affairs and representative of Switzerland to the UN. It’s a job that sees him meet with heads of state and travel to countries in conflict in order to find solutions to humanitarian concerns. Here, he tells us the secret to waking up at 04.00 and about a bookshop in a medieval clock tower.

What news source do you wake up to?
I usually start my day at about 04.00, checking on developments on ICRC’s global operations, and with a scan of The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Xinhua, BBC and Swiss media. Twitter and Linkedin help me pick up trends and conversations too.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
In the early hours, several double espressos are the secret to getting the day kick-started.

How have you stayed connected with colleagues this year?
A multitude of platforms: Skype, Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, old-fashioned phone calls. Nothing compares to face-to-face contact and I appreciated being able to see colleagues and authorities in Libya, Brussels and the Sahel this summer.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Swiss pop while driving. Piano concertos to wind down.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? I’m a longstanding subscriber to The New Yorker and National Geographic*. Still unbeatable for new perspectives on the world.

A favourite bookshop?
A hidden gem tucked away in a medieval clock tower in my home town of Bern: the Zytglogge. It’s a tiny bookshop with an excellent curation of international books across literature, politics and philosophy.

Is there any media you have rediscovered in recent months?
It’s hard to go past the comedic talents of the Coen brothers. Other constant companions are the Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by Barrington Moore and The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi.

Sunday brunch routine?
Coffee, cheese and a croissant with my family – often after a long walk with our ageing dog Kaya, who joined us from the shelter 11 years ago.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
Sometimes. My favourite reporters are those who unfailingly report the human stories of those living under conflict. They have my full respect.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off to sleep?
My day ends with updates from colleagues in the field or digging deeper into analysis of conflicts and the humanitarian work of ICRC – for example, from The New Humanitarian or global think-tanks.

Image: Sufjan Stevens


Getting creative

‘The Ascension’, Sufjan Stevens
This is one of Sufjan Stevens’ most urgent albums, dealing as it does with profound questions about human existence. Yet the record, which is influenced by music from the 1980s and the early 1990s, is undeniably catchy. Among the highlights are “Video Game”, a retro-pop gem, where Stevens makes clever use of his trademark refrains. The epic, 12-minute long “America” also stands out: it’s a critique of the country embellished by lush beats.

‘Tehran’, AppleTV+
Like many of its competitors, AppleTV+ has also had to fill the pandemic-related gap in its programming. That’s why Apple has made a series of acquisitions including Tehran, an eight-part espionage thriller. Originally aired on Israeli television, it is written by the head writer of Fauda, Moshe Zonder. Expect it to satisfy fans of Homeland, especially as it also features one of that show’s stars, Shaun Toub.

‘Red Pill’, Hari Kunzru
A writer’s residency on the shores of Berlin’s Lake Wannsee isn’t exactly the creative idyll that the narrator of Red Pill, a middle-aged Brooklynite, expects it to be in this tale of obsession, violence, conspiracy theories and fake news. The novel is a thrilling deep dive into the darkest corners of history, online culture and the fine line between sanity and madness.


Cruise control

Speaking to Leigh Armstrong of The Skagway News for Outpost News last year, we realised the importance of the newssheet’s role in the Alaskan town’s community of 1,000. In early 2020, Armstrong sold the paper to Melinda Munson and Gretchen Wehmhoff for $20 (€17). That’s it. The sale price wasn’t reflective of its standing but Armstrong wanted to leave it in good hands.

The fortnightly publication, originally launched in 1978, has fallen on hard times in recent months. The Skagway economy is reliant on the tourist dollars from cruises that would regularly dock at the small town; it has taken a beating. More than just dedicated publishers and editors, Munson and Wehmhoff are even teaching high-school classes to prop up the costs of running the paper. And though the Canadian border’s closure has prevented the pair from driving to Whitehorse to collect the paper from the printer twice a month, it hasn’t stymied their news coverage. Instead, The Skagway News has temporally shifted online, with plans to revive its print edition once the world allows. Munson and Wehmhoff tell us the latest from Skagway.

What’s the big story?
Melinda Munson: In the last assembly meeting, our mayor recommended that the assembly consider a seven-day quarantine when people come back into town. Juneau, which is pretty much the closest city to us, is seeing a rise in cases associated with bar-hopping. People here have to take the ferry to go to the doctor in Juneau. They have to fly to Juneau for necessities. So there is a lot of travel between us and Juneau – and that’s difficult. Right now, whether we’re going to institute another quarantine is a hot-button issue.

Gretchen Wehmhoff: Another story is that the communities [along Alaskan cruise routes] are looking ahead to 2021. The cruise ships will have protocols but there are concerns about how we are going to protect both the economy and residents. Southeastern Alaskan communities are starting to talk about how we can work together and have a unified system for handling next year’s cruise season.

Favourite headline?
MM: “Flying fish: salmon from Skagway School flown home”. Salmon fry [young fish] raised and studied by Skagway School students were flown on Alaska Seaplanes back to Juneau and released. They couldn’t be released locally because they weren’t obtained locally. Normally, the fry from school projects are destroyed but Skagway Traditional Council hatched a plan to return the fish.

What’s your down-page treat?
MM: One of my favourite columns, which we get once a month, is written by our mayor. It’s called Fish This! He’s an avid fisher and hiker, so he writes a fishing column for us. But it’s not really just about fishing. It’s about life in Skagway. They’re always beautiful and touching.

Next big event?
GW: We are covering elections: city, school board and assembly. Then obviously we have state and national elections going on. We’re covering those – that’s our job!

Image: Amoako Boafo


Shake it up

After a turbulent year when socialising over a drink with friends has been limited, it is refreshing to see some cities and countries slowly start to open up. In New York, the build-up to a contemporary art sale this Wednesday has even offered the chance to toast this change. Auction house Phillips invited potential buyers to browse lots in its New Now sale over cocktails inspired by three of the auction’s pieces. Bit cheesy? Perhaps. But people are desperate for a drink and a natter and some fun.

So for those struggling to choose between the 190 lots, we would suggest turning to the inspirational drinks list that was created by Nomad Hotel alumnus Will Wyatt to help you make a decision. Fans of absinthe will find the spirit in the cocktail that Wyatt has created to match Amoako Boafo’s self-portrait “Lighter” (lot 39) (pictured). More a campari character? Try the drink inspired by Genieve Figgis’s “Boat House” (lot 23) – both lots have estimates starting from $40,000.

For teetotallers there are a few pieces without a corresponding cocktail, including Ai Weiwei’s sculpture of a security camera (lot 46, from $100,000), a timely critique of China’s authoritarian regime. But this is an event that will tempt New Yorkers to venture out for a boozy night, so the prize catch could end up being lot 83, Andy Warhol’s “Piss Painting”. Yours for an estimated €50,000. Bottoms up!


Pivot points

For business leaders who are seeking to pivot their offerings or explore a new venture, the story of this week’s guest on Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs is proof that you never know where your next great idea will come from. But Oliver Ripley, co-founder and CEO of hotel group Habitas, says to remember the key ingredient for success: authenticity.

Habitas is based on Ripley’s experience in designing camps at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, where an entire city is built and later taken down to leave no trace. Launched in 2014, Habitas began as an events company then later moved into hotels after the success of a pop-up concept in Tulum, Mexico.

“When we travel, a growing group of people is looking for different experiences,” says Ripley, noting that the company’s focus on sustainability and philanthropy was also inspired by Burning Man.

Habitas now has permanent hotels in Tulum and Namibia. Elements for its hotels are 3D-printed, before being flat-packed and assembled on site, so that hotels can be built with little impact on the land. They have also focused on showcasing local artisans and investing in the communities where they operate.

“Passion and authenticity are something which you really can’t fake,” says Ripley. Our mission is to create greater human connection and understanding between people and it is something that really resonates.” To that end, earlier this year the company secured the funding needed to expand its concept to Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica and across Mexico.


What to do with bad gifts?

It’s the thought that counts, right? That’s what Mr Etiquette reminds himself whenever a present from one of his relatives lands in his lap. The problem? Well, cousin Susan is generous but not tuned into Mr Etiquette’s taste. As a considerate gifter himself – much to the frustration of Mr Tiddly, who spends countless weekends being walked around the shops in search of the perfect present – Mr Etiquette knows that genuine thought needs to be put into what the recipient could actually use.

Which begs the question: can gifts that miss the mark be rejected? And on what grounds? Saving the planet seems to be as good a reason as any. These days we’re all putting effort into reducing the amount of waste we create and acquire. So it stands to reason that we should also start being more selective in the types of gifts and corporate freebies that we accept. A word of caution though: no matter how you dress it up, rejecting a gift is still rude. A polite “thanks but no thanks” might even cause irreparable damage in gift-giving cultures, such as Asia. It’s far better to accept the gift and spend the rest of the year dropping not-so-subtle hints that you’re trying to conquer clutter and that edible goods (maybe a nice tuna steak for Mr Tiddly) would be welcome next time around. And if you do regift, well, be discreet and always make sure that the recipient will actually use it.


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