Saturday 10 October 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 10/10/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Talk to me

  1. A stern grey sky; waves of rain. So we find a corner in the Chiltern Firehouse’s bar. “How are you?” seems inadequate. But it’s what I have as a starter. And then she tells me about the blast. How a hair appointment meant that she wasn’t in the shop when the explosion happened. She tells me about her child being hit by glass. She tells how the next day she joined a demonstration and soldiers started shooting. She tells me of the banks that refuse to give you your money. Of the heavy sadness that sits in your stomach. And why she had to leave. “But how are you?” she then asks with genuine interest. How do you have the bandwidth to listen to anyone else’s story when you have lived through the Beirut blast? We talk; we laugh even. And we embrace when we say goodbye. No flapping-chicken arms today. As always I am struck by how moved I am just hearing someone tell their story with searing honesty.

  2. It’s nice seeing a magazine come together (especially when you are not in the driving seat – at best perhaps a spare tyre in the trunk). Sophie Grove is editing our new title that’s mostly aimed at women. She has been part of the Monocle family for many years, being variously business editor, Istanbul bureau chief, a Paris correspondent and, most recently, senior correspondent. Her next badge says: “Editor, Konfekt”. There are hurdles to the process of making a new title when the pandemic is determined to be a party pooper. But somehow the Konfekt team has navigated travel bans, shuttered cities and the need to find models who live only a tram or train ride away from the shoot. What has also helped is being in the office and just talking about who the reader is; how to shape a narrative arc across disparate pages; to think of what beauty is, what luxury is, what home is, what food you want, what taste is – in every sense.

I worry how many businesses – creative businesses – think that all is fine in the land of remote chats and wobbly video calls. The same with the media: you listen to the TV news and radio interviews on some stations, and the failure to break out of the news cycle, find fresh perspectives, for the journalist to challenge their own preconceptions or to get presenters out of their kitchens leaves you feeling underserved. It’s another moment where you hanker after a better conversation. But that’s for another time. Konfekt is out on 18 November, will be quarterly and has the power of face-to-face conversations stitched as a leitmotif throughout. So there.

  1. Georgina Godwin, one of our anchors on Monocle 24, invited me to her home this week for dinner. Her apartment has a compact garden at the back but open the gate at its rear, cross a gravel path and in the dark you make out that you are in a vast, secret communal garden, encircled by, I guess, some 100 houses. They were clever, the Victorians, when it came to urban design. Now, if you pictured Monocle as a person, they might be riding a bicycle or reading a political thriller – but they are just as likely to be having a glass of wine and a good conversation. There’s something very social about Monocle; something at its core that’s about the power of meeting in real spaces; that’s why we organised The Chiefs in St Moritz a few weeks ago and have already pencilled in a series of events for 2021; someone has to remain positive. Well, our radio anchor and I lingered in the damp air, glasses in hands (and throwing whatever her easily entertained dog Bella dropped at our feet, including a green tomato and soggy leaf). But a secret garden is also a good place to find some time to catch up after months of fleeting early-morning-shift “hellos”. Not video conference-style mind; red wine-style.


Fine prints

Traditionally dressed African women – whose bold, beautifully patterned dresses noticeably brighten the streets of London – are adding another layer of accessorising to their ensembles (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). Headwraps are often made from the same fabric as dresses and now facemasks are following suit.

The cotton fabrics are inspired by a wax-resist dyeing technique called batik, which was picked up by 19th-century Dutch colonisers in Indonesia and taken back to Europe. There, where the industrial revolution was transforming production processes, wax-print textiles were manufactured in factories en masse and shipped across the world. West Africans, familiar with similar patterns that were already worn by groups such as the Yoruba, bought the fabrics at lengths of six or 12 yards (5.5m-11m) from Dutch, French and British traders, and tailored them to size.

Many factories have since started up across Africa – though Holland’s Vlisco, one of the material’s original manufacturers, continues to be among West Africa’s dominant suppliers – but the way the fabric is sold in set lengths and fashioned to fit remains, for the most part, the same. A culture of made-to-measure styles has persisted with women across the African diaspora, even through the heights of fast fashion; almost 2 billion metres are sold across sub-saharan Africa every year at a retail value of $4bn (€3.4bn). It’s a small piece of fashion history that means that tailoring a mask to match a dress is a new riff on a long-standing tradition.


Frieze frame

Here’s a sentence that I haven’t uttered in a while: I went to an art fair this week. It was the first such event that I’ve attended this year (writes Chiara Rimella). London’s Frieze Week normally feels like the beginning of the home straight on the fair circuit. But this year – as Neil Wenman, partner of the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Mayfair (plus countless other locations), aptly put it – it had more of a “back to school” feel.

This wasn’t Frieze in the sense that we’re used to: no tent in Regent’s Park; no parade of the eccentrically dressed; no smooching and greeting and “How’s the week going?” In a hybrid format, Frieze moved many of its operations online but several galleries decided to maintain a presence on the ground in the only way that they could. It’s true that some galleries have always put on shows in their own spaces as a side programme to the main event. But, as everyone usually gravitates towards the official fair, their showcases have often felt like pleasant diversions (frequently attended in the evening with a glass of wine in hand). Not so this year: these well-curated, coherent exhibitions are taking centre stage and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Like many others in the industry, I will take home some lessons in fair attendance from everything that’s happened this year. First, I will be disciplined and stick to the schedule, which will be a test of time-management for an ambler like me. Second, I will never skip the off-site shows and smaller side-fairs. The 1:54 African Art Fair went ahead in its physical format at Somerset House and it was manageable, poignant, approachable and satisfying. Finally – and this might be the most difficult resolution to uphold – I will never again complain that my feet are sore after a day spent pounding pavilions and halls. I promise. I really do...


Roast assured

As Canadians mark their Thanksgiving holiday this weekend, spare a thought for the country’s turkey farmers, butchers and meatpackers, for the lead-up to this year’s festivities has left them in a twizzle (writes Tomos Lewis). Demand for large turkeys has reportedly dwindled, as new coronavirus restrictions in many parts of the country mean that the holiday’s traditional family feasts are having to be trimmed back. Despite this, Canadians aren’t going entirely cold turkey on their Thanksgiving meat of choice: sales of smaller birds, as well as turkey legs and breasts, are reportedly brisk.

This is part of a wider shift in annual traditions, with distanced outdoor turkey barbecues taking place in lieu of indoor gatherings, and some restaurants in Calgary even offering fully plated turkey dinners to take away. In all, it seems that Canadian Thanksgiving will be a pared-back affair this year. However, a sigh of relief for the turkeys themselves, perhaps, that a smaller-scale Thanksgiving will spare them to gobble another day.


Key concerns

Paul Geertman is the owner of Aedes Real Estate, an independent investment and development firm focused on hotel, residential and office properties. Since founding the company in 1995, Geertman has overseen the radical transformations of Amsterdam’s Andaz, and projects for Hyatt Regency and Hoxton hotels, as well as Soho House. Here he offers a gentle reminder that you should never judge a TV show by its cover art and offers his tip for Amsterdam’s best bookshop.

What news source do you wake up to?
More reflection and action than news for me in the morning. After my early meditation, I have an 07.00 private pilates session with Cheryl – my teacher for more than 10 years. This morning ritual is sacred as it has kept me on my feet even in times when I was working around the clock.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
It changes. Currently a cup of white tea with jasmine from [Dutch company] Simon Lévelt, after taking my children to school. Another morning ritual is a Buscaglione espresso on arrival at the office. Still no news though.

What does Aedes and the hospitality industry’s future look like?
On one hand the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit industries on the planet. It is tough to see young entrepreneurs get in trouble and all the people that work in hospitality having to fear for their jobs. On the other hand, we just set up a new hotel brand and plan to open the first three hotels in Amsterdam, Durgerdam and Spain. We would not do this without having confidence that things will go back to normal sooner or later. There are definitely going to be big changes in the hospitality world and we love exploring what could be next.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
My taste for music is quite eclectic. It ranges from classical to hip-hop and includes music that I listened to in my youth through to current house music. I use Spotify, of course, but for the less commercial stuff I’m considering reinstalling my CD player. Sometimes when I’m in the car I listen to news channels too.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
It’s another point of concentration and reflection, so no humming. I could not carry a tune if my life depended on it.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
More books than magazines when I have the time. The repertoire is, again, quite varied: from art to wine and novels to spirituality books. I’m currently reading Met Lichte Tred by Ton Lemaire, who is an anthropologist, philosopher, radical ecologist and an avid hiker. The book is about the history of hiking and is really interesting. When it comes to magazines, Monocle, Condé Nast Traveller and The Future Laboratory help me to stay in touch with the trends and understand where things are going in the short and long term. I read those from a professional interest but otherwise I prefer a book.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
More of a subscriber. I’m subscribed to four newspapers on my iPad. I scan the headlines in the evening and read an article here and there. There are some interesting columnists such as Bas Heijne [at NRC Handelsblad] and reporters that give you new insights like Caroline de Gruyter [also NRC]. I’m always keen to see what they bring next.

A favourite bookshop?
My favourite in Amsterdam is the Athenaeum at the Spui. It’s a classic bookshop and has a very broad selection with all sorts of hidden corners where you can browse for books. You’ll also find friendly staff.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
A few years ago one of my best friends gave me the DVD box of [History Channel series] Vikings. I was not attracted to the cover so I put it aside and forgot about it. It recently popped up on Netflix and I gave it a try. I have to say it is far from what the cover suggested to me; the series is extremely entertaining – although a bit violent – well written, well-made and has an interesting historical element. After all those years I had to apologise to my friend.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table at the weekend?
The weekend is for the family. My boys are aged four and eight so they absorb most of the time available. In the rare cases when there is any energy and time left, I will try to catch up with my wife, who runs a company of her own.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
No, I gave that one up. I sometimes watch [Dutch daily current affairs programme] Nieuwsuur when they have interesting background stories or interviews.

What’s on the airwaves before you drift off to sleep?
The sound of silence.


Trading places

‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’, Netflix. Writer, director and producer Radha Blank also stars in this part-autobiographical film about a black playwright pushing 40 who hasn’t quite managed to achieve the success that she had wanted. So she tries to reinvent herself as a hip-hop artist. Cue plenty of comedic – and razor-sharp – vignettes on race, creativity and leaving one’s youth behind.

‘Shamir’, Shamir. If you like the kind of anthemic pop (and crushing heartbreak tunes) produced by the likes of Annie Lennox or Robyn, Shamir is your man. With his swelling, goosebump-inducing vocal range laid against dramatic, thick beats and guitar riffs, he’s an emotional-pop force to be reckoned with. The Las Vegas-born musician’s self-titled seventh album is a wonderfully earnest yet empowering punch in the gut.

‘Earthlings’, Sayaka Murata. From the author of the bestselling novel Convenience Store Woman comes another story about a woman who refuses to bend to societal convention. Fleeing the “factory” life of the suburbs in Japan, Natsuki seeks a new existence in the mountains she remembers fondly from her childhood. Sometimes tender, sometimes violent, this is one of the weirdest, wildest books you’ll read this year; it will unsettle and beguile you in equal measure.


Keeping the flame alive

High up in California’s San Jacinto mountains is Idyllwild, a town of more than 3,000 people. Since 1946, its newspaper of record has been the Idyllwild Town Crier, although the collapse of advertising revenue following the financial crash of 2008 led the newspaper’s then owner, Tindle Newspapers, to sell. “Tindle was going to sell the paper to an outfit that wasn’t going to run it like a real newspaper,” says current co-publisher Jack Clark. “The reason that was important for us was, at that time, was that we had nine public agencies here that were monitored by nobody but the Town Crier. We go to all the meetings, report on everything that’s done and do investigative work. Without this paper, that wasn’t going to happen any more.” In 2013, Clark and his partner Becky, who joined the paper as a typesetter in 1984, bought the paper, saving it from an undesirable fate.

The pair tried everything to turn a profit in the ensuing years, from offering discounted advertising space to handing out the weekly newspaper for free, but it wasn’t until they penned an editorial asking for their readers’ help that the tide turned. The newspaper now operates on a membership programme – and with a healthy base of 750 members, things are looking up for the Town Crier. “It has been very successful,” says Clark. He tells us the latest.

What’s the big story?
Recently we had six people go missing at once. There was concern that there could be some connection between them – it is still being investigated by authorities. We’ve also had controversies with some of the public agencies that we’re monitoring. One of them has put out budgets with seven-figure entries on them for the past two years but the columns don’t add up. What’s going on with the accounting there? It's off by about $200,000 [€170,000]. I think our most serious ongoing task is to monitor these public agencies because nobody else does – no other newspaper; no other media at all.

Best headline?
“We’re still here”. That was first used in about 1996 when we had a big fire up here on the hill and the town had to be evacuated. Since then we’ve had two more evacuations and when we come back, that’s the headline we go to. The story that goes with that usually emphasises what a diverse community we are. We’re redneck conservatives, we’re bleeding-heart liberals, we’re old people, young people, active people, retired people. All together we make a community – and we’re still here.

Favourite photo?
The one that really stands out is from when we had the last fire here. We have a photographer named Jenny Kirchner who is particularly good at covering fire issues. She has had some training with the fire department; she goes out wearing the same clothes that they wear and she’s allowed to do things and go places where ordinary people aren’t because they know that she knows what she’s doing. She took a photograph of a plane coming right at her. It was dropping flame retardant, which is pink. It looks like a big pink flood coming out of a plane.

What’s the next big event?
The elections, of course. We don’t do editorials but we cover the local elections in ways that the bigger papers can’t.


Star billing

Rome in the 1950s and 1960s was the place for European film-making (writes Nic Monisse). Dubbed “Hollywood on the Tiber”, it had a burgeoning industry and was a favoured destination for US production companies. Blockbusters such as Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn, and Ben-Hur, with Charlton Heston, were shot here. Actor Leonardo Botta, who died last year, had a foot in both camps, featuring in Italian and English-language flicks.

Following roles in La Dolce Vita and Gidget Goes to Rome, among others, Botta retired early from show business, focusing his efforts on interior decoration and antique collecting. He set up a shop in Rome’s Via del Babuino and restored a villa on the city’s outskirts, where he hosted grand parties for the key players in Italian entertainment. Furnished with a riot of Empire style furniture and works of art, the villa’s contents are set to go under the hammer this Thursday. The 565 lots, to be auctioned by Cambiaste, are sure to be a hit for both antiquarians and film enthusiasts.

So if you fancy sitting around the same table as Italy’s top directors did, pick up lot 409 (pictured), an elegant piece with a circular top in semi-precious stone – it’s expected to sell for more than €8,000. Or, if you’ve always fancied slipping into the bed of a film star, then lot 533, a European double with timber inlays, might be a better fit.


Can I claim more than one armrest on a plane?

Although Mr Etiquette prefers the more comfortable seats nearer to the nose of the plane than the tail, sometimes the less salubrious berths have to do. As bad luck would have it, these situations often seem to land him in a middle seat and an ensuing battle for the armrests. And while everyone is entitled to at least one perch for their elbow, a fair distribution of seating perks should mean that the window enjoys a view, the aisle a little extra legroom – and the middle seat? Two armrests.

But what to do if another passenger by the aisle or window doesn’t see it in the same way? Mr Etiquette has found that a polite question might be just the ticket. Simply ask, “If you’re enjoying the centre armrests so much, why don’t you switch to the middle seat?” If they answer “yes”, well, you’re in luck. If not, just be thankful you’re not with Mr Tiddly in the cargo hold.


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