Saturday 3 October 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 3/10/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Stranger than fiction

  1. My trip to Monocle’s The Chiefs conference in St Moritz came with one downside: a period of quarantine back in the UK that is thankfully drawing to a close. But to get through the evenings there has been a film every night and, for the past few days, we’ve been having a Hitchcock festival. Vertigo might be regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made but it has not aged as well as, say, North by Northwest (Cary Grant has you rethinking your wardrobe: he is a triumphant symphony of marled and tactile grey fabrics and, even in the final scenes where the baddies are scrambling over Mount Rushmore, they do so in suits and nice loafers that never get scuffed).

However, Rear Window is, so far, in the top spot. It’s a movie for the times: James Stewart stuck in his apartment with his broken leg, observing the lives unfolding through neighbours’ rear windows. And although there’s a murder, it’s the passing frames of love lives, loneliness and creativity that make up most of the film. I am sure that there could be a good coronavirus-lockdown remake – except this time you wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house to investigate the murder unless you were also buying essential food, and most of the snatched scenes would be of bread being baked, people struggling with their wi-fi router, and, perhaps, someone watching yet another Hitchcock movie.

  1. And clearly I need to watch the Toy Story movies too. Last week I wrote about the high-speed, schnitzel-loving hedgehog that we spotted at a Bavarian Biergarten during our team meet-up in that quarantine-free nation. I wondered whether he had any lederhosen. Well, a reader – let’s call her Verity (because that’s her name and to call her anything else would be most confusing) – wrote to say that in Toy Story there’s a lederhosen-sporting hedgehog called Mr Pricklepants! She even sent me his picture: his super-short lederhosen are perhaps more male stripper than traditional Tracht. But now I am wondering, was that Mr Pricklepants in Munich? Perhaps he was back home in Bavaria having been furloughed from his acting career. I feel bad for not recognising him.

  2. Sometimes when you get talking to readers at events, they quiz you about how a tight team manages to run so many projects, produce content for radio, books, magazines and more and still have time to look so dashing (OK, the last bit is what I’m sure they will ask when I get my Cary Grant makeover). At The Chiefs, someone asked me what software I use to track everything and whether I would be willing to reveal its name? I seem to remember looking around the room for a way of diverting the conversation – where’s old Pricklepants when you need him? Truth is that I have Post-it note dependency. Big time. Lists are made and redrafted with a pecking order of tasks and missions from immediate to long-term that has a logic only I can decipher – and I can leave them anywhere without fear of snooping as my handwriting would mystify a hieroglyph-cracking Egyptologist.

This week supplies ran low. Very low. I knew that there must have been some in the house. Drawers were rummaged through. Pockets searched. Finally, after turning the place upside down, there in my Chiefs bag I found a pack. I hope that nobody was watching the scene of panic and mayhem through my rear window – they would have imagined that something really, really bad was unfolding. Perhaps we should leave the Hitchcock remake to one side for now. I am not sure these modern stresses and stationery scares would make for great viewing. Unless we renamed it Thriller in Manila.


Squaring off

Decorum wasn’t a word that featured prominently in the reaction to Tuesday night’s fractious presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio (writes Tomos Lewis). But there was a subtle attempt at it before the chaos unfolded, courtesy of a clothing choice made by two of the three men involved in the encounter: the pocket square.

Biden (pictured) and Fox News’s Chris Wallace, the debate moderator, each sported a white square. Both men have made the accessory something of a sartorial trademark during the long course of their respective careers. Biden’s was folded into three small, sharp peaks (a visual foreshadowing of the spiked encounters to come, perhaps). Wallace’s, meanwhile, billowed in an arc from his breast pocket and was made, seemingly, of enough silky white fabric to have doubled as a flag of surrender – which most of us watching at home would have forgiven him for unfurling during his multiple attempts to quell the turmoil.

A pocket square can offer a flash of the personality of the person wearing it. But it still evokes a sense of formality, an awareness of traditions (sartorial or otherwise) that were forged in the past and the idea that the wearer cares about the details. Trump – who has since tested positive for coronavirus – demonstrated a disregard for all of those qualities on Tuesday evening. And he doesn’t wear pocket squares either.


All in good time

When growing up, I wished that my sleepy hometown was more of a 24-hour city (writes Nic Monisse). Over time I’ve seen some laws and policies enacted to try to make it so. Coffee shops began to open at the crack of dawn and stayed buzzing until late. Supermarkets shifted to 24-7 rotas and shops began to welcome customers all day, even on Sundays.

But in recent years I’ve come to find all these endless options a little exhausting. And it’s particularly punishing for many of the people working in these always-open businesses. On a personal note, I still want 24-hour options. But a recent trip to Milan showed me that it’s possible to have them without the stress and burnout.

In Lombardy the service industry caters sensibly to different pursuits at different hours: cafés open at 08.00 and close in the early afternoon; most shops operate from midday until 19.00; and when they close the restaurants welcome diners and remain open until late. The result is 24 hours’ worth of options without everything being open for the whole time – and I like that. In Milan, I can have my cake and eat it (just not from a 24-hour bakery).


Green inspiration

Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom has been working to transform public spaces in Southeast Asian cities. She is founder and CEO of the Porous City Network, a green urbanism initiative that develops inner-city green spaces in Bangkok, and her work on the Thai pavilion at the Milan Expo in 2015 earned her plaudits in the design community. Here she talks about the wisdom of King Rama IX, her love of biopics and the joys of fresh coconut water.

What news source do you wake up to?
My morning energy determines my entire day so rather than getting caught up on good or bad news right away, I begin with some offline time before letting the news gently attack me.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I started my career in the US, where I saw how my colleagues consumed coffee and how coffee consumed them. I prefer fresh coconut water, ideally blended with coconut meat.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I don’t have a regular channel or artist I tune in to but I do have the sound of birds from my garden all day long.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Usually some 1990s playlist will be in the back of my mind. Or else some catchy Blackpink song that my daughter put in my head.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I mainly read online articles from various sources, especially design and architecture websites such as Architizer, Arch Daily or The Dirt [American Society of Landscape Architects].

Newspaper that you turn to?
I read about politics, coronavirus and climate change, mainly in The Guardian, Nikkei Asian Review or The New York Times to balance out the outsider perspectives. And, of course, Thai newspapers.

Favourite bookshop?
I enjoy visiting the public library of the university where I teach. The books seem to have this good, silent energy.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I actually created my own podcast called Green Dai Green Dee. In it I invite guest speakers to talk about food security, agriculture and health-related topics.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
I just watched The Social Dilemma and I think it’s something that everyone should watch. It shows how any free service actually comes with a cost. As they say, “If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.”

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I’ve always looked up to the late Thai king Rama IX. He understood how deeply rooted and intertwined Thais are with the land. Models like him are good obsessions to have.

What’s your movie genre of choice?
I enjoy watching biopics such as Frida and Bohemian Rhapsody. They portray real characters and explain why these people become the way they are.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
Jomquan Laopetch is a Thai newsreader I admire because she doesn’t just read the news, she digs deep and analyses and critically questions the information she shares with the public.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I often listen to Dharma talks [Buddhist sermons] before bed.


Inner strength

‘Roger Turesson, Passage’, Kerber Verlag. A photographer for Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter since he was a teenager, 64-year-old Roger Turesson has released a book that – like much of his best photojournalism – focuses on the everyday stories behind the headlines. From Chechnya to Iraq, Syria to Kashmir, Turesson’s work has led him to warzones around the world but his shots are just as impressive when he turns his lens on subjects much closer to home.

‘Róisín Machine’, Róisín Murphy. Ten years in the making, Róisín Murphy’s latest album has finally been released. Every track would work well as a lead single; all are brilliant expressions of Murphy’s trademark electro-disco. “Narcissus” is a feat of explosive joy – its promo video is a tribute to Italian diva Raffaella Carrà. The house beats of “Simulation” are hypnotic, while “We Got Together” is on the funky end of the scale. It seems that Murphy is at the peak of her talent. The album’s title is appropriate – in Murphy’s own words: “I am a machine. I never stop.”

‘All In: The Fight for Democracy’, Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus. The 2020 US election cycle might seem like a particularly unusual one but the issue of voter suppression remains firmly in the spotlight. This timely documentary explains how this phenomenon can happen in myriad ways: from forcing eligible voters to provide identification (which many poorer voters are unable to display), to making them queue for hours outside on election day. As questions mount about the logistical feat of polling, this documentary makes a stark show of the fact that even small practical issues can have a huge impact on democracy.


Welcome to the jungle

No roads lead to Mitú. The town, home to 30,000, is buried deep in the Colombian Amazon and can only be reached by plane or by boating along rivers that twist through the thick wooded reaches of the rainforest. Though it is the capital of the department of Vaupés, there are no radio towers nearby and few means of communication with the outside world. The 27 indigenous ethnic groups that are scattered throughout more than 50,000km of jungle in the rest of Vaupés go largely forgotten.

Yet for Emerson Castro, Mitú is a base. Born in Vaupés, Castro (pictured) has been working tirelessly as a journalist to provide a voice for those in the Amazon. Trained in reporting by the Mitú mayor’s office and Colombian government, he established the monthly newssheet La Marandúa in 2016, distributing copies among the region’s indigenous communities. Alongside one other colleague – a young indigenous journalist – Castro covers the cultural practices and social issues of the terra incognita. “We share the stories that have remained hidden in the jungle,” he says.

What’s the big news in this issue?
We work on many of the different social concerns here; drug trafficking and suicide are common problems. But a highlight is the story of Lieutenant Mayaritoma. He’s a young man who has become the first indigenous police officer in Vaupés. It’s a great story about how he overcame all of the social barriers that these people face in Colombia.

Tell us about a favourite image.
We published a piece on our two-day effort to climb to one of the sacred sites of the Desana [an Amazonian indigenous group], which is located at the peak of a hill. The summit gave us panoramic views of the region that look amazing on page, and we were privileged to be given access to such a special place.

Do you have a down-page treat?
My colleague, Jacque, was a cartoonist before he became a journalist. We always keep a space for him to feature one of his illustrations, often describing the creation myths of the different ethnic groups here.

And the next big event?
We are excited to run a story on a young [indigenous] Makuna man. He received the highest score in a formal education test, which offers scholarships for higher education. He studied under a learning model that combines western-style teaching with the traditional shamanic style.


Whisky galore

Collecting whisky is an addictive pursuit (writes Genevieve Bates). Pat, as he’s known by other connoisseurs of the spirit, can testify to that. He is the anonymous owner of the world’s largest private collection, comprising 9,000 bottles from more than 150 distilleries across the globe.

Originally a wine lover, Pat’s interest was piqued in 2005 by a colleague who gave him a beginner’s list of 10 whiskies, ranging from sweet and honey-flavoured to a peaty Ardbeg, with specific instructions about the order in which to drink them and what to look for. “I was mesmerised by the variety and depth,” says Pat. “There was so much room to learn and explore.” This process of discovery turned into a “historic, decade-long drinking game, making friends along the way”.

Fast-forward a few years and Pat’s wife forced him to admit that the diverse library of bottles he’d amassed for “pure pleasure” was beyond what they would ever have time to taste, even with the generous help of friends. Yet Pat had no desire to stop collecting. Recently, however, he came to a decision: he would sell the whole lot at auction. “It wasn’t feasible to keep going and I felt guilty about having these amazing liquids locked up,” he says. “With this sale, they’re being released back into the wild.”

So vast is the collection that it’s being sold in curated bundles over the next eight months; the auction for the first batch closes on Monday 5 October. Among the highlights are whiskies from sought-after Japanese distilleries Karuizawa and Hanyu, and some rare aged expressions of Bowmore, Port Ellen, Caperdonich and Highland Park from the Duncan Taylor Tantalus series. Pat’s advice for budding collectors? “Don’t obsess over classic and older releases. Focus on finding the stars of tomorrow from new distilleries, such as Fife’s Daftmill,” he says. “The best value comes from independent bottlers’ premium ranges. Brands are the least important thing about enjoying whisky.” We’ll drink to that.


Fashionably late

Fans of Japanese menswear brand Nanamica can finally visit its new shop in New York, the opening of which was delayed for four months because of the pandemic. Located on Wooster Street in Soho, the pioneering urban outdoor label’s first overseas store offers the full collection – versatile, durable coats and jackets – and a selection of the hard-to-find North Face Purple Label, a collaboration line with The North Face Japan. The soothing wooden interior, designed by young architect Taichi Kuma, showcases the clothes perfectly and reflects a Japanese aesthetic. It’s great to see such a strong commitment to New York and its retail scene at this tough time.


May I pet your dog?

An enthusiastic dog can be met with a variety of reactions, depending on a person’s inclinations toward the canine kind (and, perhaps, the amount of white clothing worn on that particular day). Still, the decision to pet a passer-by’s furry friend depends not only on your likes and dislikes but, sometimes, on the inclinations of the person who holds the lead. Most owners will attempt to keep a dog from cavalcading toward strangers on a pavement but it’s not always clear if they restrain their mut to stop it bothering you, or to stop you bothering it (particularly in these hand-sanitising times). A loose lead suggests that the dog is open to casual street-side affection. But if the owner is hoisting his companion close, it’s always better to preface everything with a brief, “May I?”.

As for Mr Tiddly, he’s not the type to agree to bridled walks around the neighbourhood: cuddles with him are a much more elusive and – dare we say it – private affair.


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