Saturday 24 October 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/10/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


We’ll always have Paris

I don’t know where it came from but among my parents’ shockingly bad record collection (think every TV crooner blandifying a once great song and even the lovely Greek diva Nana Mouskouri unaccountably warbling a version of the Scottish classic “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond”) was a single by Françoise Hardy, the quintessential 1960s French pop star. On “All over the World”, Hardy retains that voice so evocative of 1960s Paris but, as a favour to her fans over the Channel – who at this stage would still have been taken by surprise if they saw a baguette pop up at the breakfast table – she sings in English.

It’s a little soppy – “All over the world, others are sad tonight. There’s someone like me. Watching the sun’s fading light” – but for a boy growing up on a housing estate in the new town of Bracknell it felt like a siren call. Paris! Glamour! Well, I had no need, aged nine, to invest in a beret, iron my cravat or take up smoking Gitanes because my parents rarely strayed beyond the B&Bs of England on our holidays and a smoking child would have been a liability with all the nylon furnishings. All that would have to wait.

This is all to forewarn you that there’s something about France, the French, Paris, that I find appealing. This happens to Brits. Just listen to Malcolm McLaren and Catherine Deneuve “singing” on his track “Paris Paris” and it’s hard to tell which he is more smitten with, the woman or the city.

Perhaps this weakness is why I have allowed myself to become encircled by French TV shows. The latest to take over our home’s entertainment schedule is Call My Agent!, known in France as Dix pour cent, which is set in a talent agency in Paris and follows the attempts of the team to hold the company together after the sudden death of its founder. And in each episode, real French stars appear as themselves – Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Adjani, Béatrice Dalle.

Look, I can’t claim to have discovered anything here – the first show aired back in 2015 and the fourth series is on French TV screens now. I didn’t even discover Call My Agent! while mining the depths of Netflix – my colleague Tom Edwards gave me the tip-off and he, in turn, got the nod from Monocle 24’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco. But here’s the thing, I keep recommending the programme to people and they just say, “Oh, how funny, I have started watching that.”

Earlier this year, when the world started going mad, the Tiger King docu-series went viral as people saw in its anti-hero Joe Exotic a man as crazy as the times we were living in. Now? Well, people need TV shows that offer some humanity, humour, glamour and narratives about tricky moments averted, talent recognised. And if it can all be set against a background of the Paris of our dreams, then what’s not to love? It’s just a shame that Françoise Hardy doesn’t get a walk-on part.


Street smarts

Have you ever met a dandy in the Congo? No, this isn’t the setup for a joke – the Central African countries of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo have gained their place on the fashion map as home of the sapeurs (or sapeuses, for the women), a subculture of snappy dressers who don hats, shades, canes, sharply tailored three-piece suits and hefty Cuban cigars. Tariq Zaidi’s recently published book, Sapeurs: Ladies & Gentlemen of the Congo, showcases the style in all its glory.

The dress has its origins in Belgian and French colonisers, whose oppression of the region prompted Congolese groups to co-opt the Europeans’ attire in the 1930s, embellishing the style with colourful hues and eye-catching patterns to make it their own. Debonair dress is matched with a dedication to good manners and pacifism – a stance that found them ostracised for some years through the 1980s, when sapeurs were barred from public places.

In recent years though, the way of life and mode of dress has been better looked upon and in 2017 the president of the Republic of the Congo raised the practice of La Sape to the status of “cultural heritage”. Their garments make for an expensive wardrobe on working-class Congolese salaries and the fashion acolytes admit to spending about 20 per cent of their income on clothes such as a new Kenzo suit or a pair of John Fosters. After all, on the streets of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, in dapper dress from head to toe, they are treated like royalty.


Appetite for knowledge

The adage that “you are what you eat”, could do with a slight tweak (writes Nic Monisse). Perhaps “kids become what they eat” is more fitting? That’s the thinking behind Chefs in Schools, a UK non-profit that aims to – you guessed it – bring chefs into school kitchens to help students develop an appreciation for healthy, freshly made food. Its latest venture is a community kitchen in the former caretaker’s cottage of a primary school in east London. Designed by architects Surman Weston, the space will accommodate 30 students or adults thanks to height-adjustable cooking and washing stations. Produce will be harvested from onsite orchards, vegetable patches, greenhouses and beehives.

With some deprived parts of the UK designated as “food deserts”, and children’s relationships with nourishment in these areas limited to takeaway chains, such an initiative will hopefully transform diets and help a new generation of youngsters get a healthier start.


Editor’s cut

First published in 1861, The Press is the largest daily newspaper in Christchurch, the biggest city on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s also the hometown of the paper’s current editor, Kamala Hayman. In a career spanning 30 years, Hayman has worked in the UK and New Zealand, picking up numerous accolades for her reporting as well as the production of a true-crime podcast, Black Hands. Here she tells us how trekking in Nepal informed her palate and why a Dolly Parton podcast makes for addictive listening.

What news source do you wake up to?
RNZ, formerly Radio New Zealand, is my constant companion in the mornings. It’s much like the BBC’s Radio 4. It was such a joy when it launched a 05.00 show called First Up – I no longer have to wait until 06.00 for my news fix.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Both. I love black or herbal tea, and even developed a taste for the sweet, milky brew served in Nepalese tea houses while I was trekking there with my family. But I also have a serious caffeine addiction so most mornings start with a badly made espresso at home, which I follow up with something a little classier once I’m at work. Caffeine is a vice that I have tried and failed to overcome many times.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
This is such a tricky one. I have never been much of a magazine reader with the exception of a couple of New Zealand current-affairs magazines, The Listener and North & South. Both closed in a shock decision by Bauer Media in April, citing the pandemic’s impact on revenue. But both now have new owners and I will treasure every new edition. We cannot take print for granted.

Newspaper that you turn to?
The Press, of course. It is the only daily newspaper in Christchurch. But the internet is a wonderful thing so I read The Guardian for news from the UK, where I lived for a decade and still have friends and family there. I also read the major US papers online and can highly recommend The New York Times for its fabulous food section.

Favourite bookshop?
Scorpio Books, an independent Christchurch bookshop that has weathered many storms, including the loss of its original store in the Canterbury earthquakes. It has remained relevant in the face of global economic challenges and its shelf of staff picks are must-reads.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Dirt Church Radio, a trail-running podcast, is my inspiration for longer runs. I’ve also binged Dolly Parton’s America, which sensitively explores ideas of feminism, religion and politics. It reveals the singer’s unique ability to reach across social boundaries in a divided US. My latest fix is Wind of Change, which investigates the CIA’s rumoured involvement in a song that some say helped end the cold war.

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched on TV recently?
Mrs America. It’s an excellent drama about Phyllis Schlafly, a strong-willed mother-of-six who led an influential campaign in the 1970s against equal rights for women. It makes for eerie watching as many of her campaign techniques are echoed in the approach by today’s US president. Interestingly she endorsed Donald Trump for president shortly before her death in 2016.

What’s your movie genre of choice?
To my husband’s frustration I cannot do thrillers or violent-crime dramas. I adored the Irish drama Normal People and unexpectedly found myself enjoying the French farce Call My Agent! [see Opener].

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I admit I rarely watch TV news when it first screens but might catch up on specific items later. New Zealand has some excellent broadcasters including John Campbell, Patrick Gower and Hilary Barry. I was also a fan of Anita McNaught, who worked in New Zealand for more than a decade before joining the BBC and Al Jazeera.


Living memory

‘Summer of 85’, François Ozon. A highlight from Ozon’s extensive filmography, Summer of 85 starts as a breezy love story between two boys in seaside France but packs an emotional punch by the end. Based on the novel Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, it’s a powerful story. The two lead roles, taken by Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin, are excellent, making this one of the best coming-of-age films of the year.

‘Serpentine Prison’, Matt Berninger. The National frontman Matt Berninger has temporarily stepped away from the band to team up with legendary producer Booker T Jones to create a new record, his first as a solo artist. Fans of The National scared of something wildly different coming out of Berninger should fear not. The impeccably produced title track features Berninger’s trademark maudlin vocals over gradually building instrumentals. Unexpected rhyming couplets and lyrics about picking up kids from school are wonderfully melancholy in the singer’s inimitable, hopeful way.

‘Farewell, Ghosts’, Nadia Terranova. Lucidly translated by Ann Goldstein (of Elena Ferrante fame), Nadia Terranova’s first novel to appear in English is an exact and intimate tale about identity and absence. Farewell, Ghosts tells the story of Ida, a 30-something woman who is plunged back into her painful past when her mother decides to sell the crumbling family home on the coast of Sicily. As Ida sifts through a jumble of old mementos and repressed memories of her father’s disappearance, fraught moments with her mother begin to resurface. But will she find the closure that she needs?


Creative accounting

Flick through a coffee-table book on art history and the chapters on European painters and movements are likely to take up a significant chunk of the text. To balance this out a bit the Asia Art Archive (AAA) was launched in 2000 in Hong Kong, collecting criticism, written material and other documents from across the region. A key part of the non-profit’s income is its annual fundraising auction, a dinner and sale (also open to online bidders); this year’s event is planned for Friday 30 October. The artists who work with the AAA are chipping in. “This auction is actually very personal,” says Claire Hsu, who co-founded the AAA. “These works come out of long-term relationships that we’ve had with these artists.”

One such artist is Nilima Sheikh, whose own archive – some 650 works, spanning four decades – was added to the AAA this year. In a show of appreciation the Indian visual artist has donated a new work called “Erasure” (lot 8), which has a starting price of HK$150,000 (€16,300). The work forms part of 31 lots that include pieces donated by the Korean artist Lee Bul and the Chinese painter Luis Chan, whose “Untitled” (pictured) is lot 18.

“If you look through the works this year there is a very strong Hong Kong collection; that was important to us for our 20th anniversary,” says Hsu. “You could almost tell a short history of Hong Kong art through the auction, thanks to younger, emerging artists such as Leelee Chan (who just won the BMW Art Journey Award), more established contemporary artists like Lee Kit and the Hong Kong masters: Irene Chou and Luis Chan.”


On the nose

Those walking along London’s Chiltern Street are met by a heady aroma of cardamom buns and coffee from the Monocle Café as well as the soothing smell of essential oils wafting from our new neighbour, Anatome. Founded by entrepreneur Brendan Murdock in 2018, the brand makes vitamins, supplements and therapeutic oils from botanical extracts and organic ingredients – all now sold from a tastefully appointed townhouse shop.

“A shop today has to do more than simply sell products,” says Murdock of the new premises, which consists of a dispensary, exhibition space and apothecary for blending oils. The hope is that it will become a destination for shopping and education (nutritionists and sleep experts are on hand).

“We want to be in strong neighbourhoods where we can see our customers on a day-to-day basis,” says Murdock. “Chiltern Street is very much about building relationships with our neighbours, seeing them regularly and understanding more about their needs.” Who doesn't fancy a better night's sleep and to see a nice shop open on their doorstep? Welcome to the neighbourhood.


Should you tell the tooth?

What to do when you’re out to dinner and notice a rogue piece of food lodged in an acquaintance’s front teeth? Let them continue through the evening hoping it will dislodge itself? Or wait until they go to the bathroom, where they’ll no doubt make the discovery on their own, leaving them to ruminate on how long it might have been there?

Although Mr Etiquette is not a fan of uncomfortable conversations (he’d much rather write a strongly worded letter to the editor), he knows that this is one worth having. And it’s one where it’s best to cut to the chase. Start by pointing to your own teeth and quietly saying, “Oh, I think you’ve got something there.” Discretion is of the utmost importance but if you do notice that your companion seems a little embarrassed, remind them that it happens to the best of us. Or perhaps it’s better to change the subject and bring up the time Mr Tiddly got that goldfish bowl caught on his head – that should spark some embarrassing stories for the table to get its teeth into.


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