Saturday 12 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 12/12/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Live by your wicks

What gift do you give to someone who you don’t know very well? Or know well enough to realise that there’s really nothing that they need? Or a person who you want to surprise with a present that looks considered but doesn’t cost you too much shoe leather to track down? In the past it would perhaps have been a box of chocolates or a nice bottle of wine. But nowadays? Well, it will turn out that the chocolates aren’t vegan while the recipient now is, or that they haven’t been drinking for a year since their “holiday rosé moment of shame”. So the safe default gift du jour is now a scented candle. Believe me, if in doubt, buy a candle.

As it happens, I fall into the “he’d love a scented-candle” category for a lot of people I know. There was a point earlier this year when I realised that there was more wax jammed in our cupboards than in the blocked ear of an under-the-weather elephant. I had to make a mental note to start firing up their wicks as soon as the evenings got even moderately dark. Either that or melt them all down and fashion a life-sized model of some popular culture hero that I could then donate to Madame Tussauds, which luckily happens to be a short skip from Monocle’s London HQ. I honestly had enough wax to make Adele both before and after the dramatic weight loss – although the two of her might end up stinking the place out in a swirl of cedarwood and jasmine.

How did candle domination come to pass? Well, according to the National Candle Association (NCA), the US organisation for all wick-dipping geniuses, “Both men and women consider candles to be an always-acceptable and highly appreciated gift for a wide variety of occasions.” And I agree with them. I am, you see, both receiver and giver of the candle.

While we are at this juncture, the people at the NCA also point out that the candle market in the US is worth $3.14bn (€2.5bn) a year, there are 400 candle-making companies in the US alone and the sector employs 7,000 people in America. There’s even a World Candle Month – inexplicably in bright, sunny September.

That’s a lot of candles. A lot of houses smelling like “a Bali beach at sunset”, “a pine forest dappled with sunshine” or “Napoleon’s socks”. Believe me, some of these candle-makers imagine themselves to be the Ferran Adriàs of scent and go all out for nasal impact. It makes you think that if all the lights went off in the US and Europe, everyone would be fine and dandy for illumination for some months. And can you imagine what the offices of the NCA look like? Lots of people hunched at desks lit only by candles. Well, I would be disappointed if that’s not the case; they need to be leading by example here.

With winter in full swing, I have finally been blazing my way through the candle mountain. One day the house smells of Alpine meadows, the next like “wet jumpers on radiators”. My home is a dizzying olfactory funhouse; a place where your nose twitches this way and that as you move from room to room trying to unmask the unusual odours – or is that really a wet jumper on a radiator?

But beyond the whiff, what catches you more is the pleasure that’s gained from seeing a flickering wick, a warm glow, a spot of alluring siren light in the corner of the room. It’s a bit of hope in a jar. It’s entrancing. The fact that its maker claims that the product conjures up the smell of Bismarck’s ashtray is neither here nor there; we are all moths to a flame’s attraction. And that’s why, in this cosy light, I know that one thing is true: if in doubt, give them a candle.


Deck the malls

The Halloween decorations hadn’t even been taken down when Hong Kong started getting ready for Christmas (writes Nina Milhaud). It felt as though the whole city was gearing up for a big one. Building façades in the popular shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui were dressed up with their usual Christmas lights, a tradition that dates back to the 1950s and a firm favourite among Hong Kong’s families.

But with travelling still a no-no, most residents will spend Christmas here, including travel-savvy locals and expats who usually fly back home for the holiday. So this year’s celebrations had to be larger and louder than usual, the city seemingly stepping up its decoration game to console those who can’t travel.

Leading the charge are Hong Kong’s countless malls. On the island side, evening strollers can enjoy a 4,000-square-metre, dance-machine-themed LED light show created by Sino Group, one of Hong Kong’s major property and real-estate developers. On the other side of Victoria Harbour, seasonal treats are being served at an indoor and outdoor Christmas village in K11, Hong Kong’s “art mall”. The venue also features a glamorous large-scale dynamic light installation and even a Christmas parade show. It seems there’s no doing things by halves this year, and Hong Kong is going all-out.


Novel ideas

As the bookseller for Athenaeum, now one of Amsterdam’s largest bookshops, Reny van der Kamp is charged with keeping an eye on its most recent titles. But even she admits to not knowing every book in the collection. Outside of work, Van der Kamp keeps herself busy designing with wool for homegrown Dutch fashion brands. She points us in the direction of her favourite fashion magazines, documentary series and fellow bookshops.

What news source do you wake up to?
Either NPO Radio 1, the Dutch public-service radio or the BBC World Service, while making my breakfast and packed lunch. I also check my phone for the morning briefing from The Guardian.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
First a glass of water, then organic herbal tea in a glass. Coffee is for later in the morning. I make it on the stove with a percolator and some hot whisked milk.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
My professional interest outside of bookselling is design and textiles, so Elle Decoration and The World of Interiors are here right now, as well as a new mag about colour, Command+i. The Passenger is also great, as are Paris Review and More Or Less, a magazine about sustainable fashion.

Newspaper that you turn to?
Definitely the FT’s weekend supplements, one or two Dutch papers: Trouw is very good and Parool is the local paper.

Favourite bookshop?
Well, Athenaeum, of course. When I’m in London, I love the London Review Bookshop.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
There’s a new one here, De Mulisch-Tapes, about the great Dutch writer Harry Mulisch, who passed away 10 years ago.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
The short BBC documentary series Black Is The New Black is great – serious but with a light touch. And yes, I too like The Crown.

What’s your cultural obsession?
I’m currently reading Circles and Squares by Caroline Maclean, about the lives and art of the British modernists. They were such an inspiring group. I’ve loved the work of Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson for years, especially after I saw a brilliant exhibition of it all at Tate Britain.

What’s on your mind before drifting off?
I read before I go to sleep, always a novel. I can’t sleep if I don’t read. I need that other world to move away from what kept me busy during the day.

What are your Christmas plans?
In the past I would host an evening with as many of my friends around the table as I could fit. But this year it will be a day with the family to relax, watch a film and cook a simple dinner.


Modern diversions

‘Wonder’, Shawn Mendes. This is an honest, heartfelt collection of soaring pop ballads in which the astronomically successful pop artist questions his sense of self. Lifting the veil on his creative process, Mendes has also treated his fans to an interactive behind-the-scenes website on which they can find out more about his possessions – something you can be sure they’ll be fighting to do.

‘There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job’, Kikuko Tsumura. A young woman who has reluctantly moved back in with her parents after suffering a burnout looks to get back into the job market. She wants something undemanding, a job that requires as little effort and intellectual engagement as possible. Tsumura’s novel is a strange and slightly surreal employment odyssey during which she discovers not only that there is no such thing as an easy job but also that perhaps that’s not what she needs after all. Recommended reading for anyone struggling with their work-life balance – or missing time in an actual office.

‘Ari Eldjárn: Pardon My Icelandic’, Netflix. The cultural differences between Nordic countries make for delightfully amusing fodder in this Netflix special. Icelandic stand-up Ari Eldjárn reveals to us why Norwegians “ski-jump” while they talk and why Iceland is the Italy of the North, in this show that pokes fun at all manner of Scandi stereotypes.


Pacific standards

Once a Japanese colony and today a US commonwealth territory, the Northern Mariana Islands in the East Pacific are a cultural melting pot. With a population of about 57,000, its sandy shores and mountainous terrain draw people from all over Asia, the US and the Pacific region. Its largest island, Saipan, attracts tourists to its luxurious resorts.

Mark Rabago arrived there from the Philippines in 2001. Having worked for The Manila Times as a beat reporter, he sniffed out an opportunity with the Saipan Tribune – one of two newspapers on the Northern Mariana Islands – and decided to up sticks and leave the southeast Asian metropolis. Now with close to 20 years of experience on the tropical island, he serves as the paper’s associate editor, overseeing some 6,000 issues produced five times a week. Here he fills us in on the island’s Trump supporters, its last DVD shop and some low-key plans for Christmas.

What’s the big story this week?
We have a cliff called Banzai Cliff – it’s where many Japanese committed suicide when the US invaded at the end of the Second World War. This week a youth drove his pickup truck off the same cliff; we’re still awaiting details on this. The story struck a note with people here.

Do you have a favourite recent headline?
A couple of weeks back we published a story under “Biden wins”. Pretty straightforward. But there were a lot of Trump supporters on the island who reacted pretty negatively, some even cancelling their subscriptions with us in response. They argued that Biden hadn’t been certified yet and we couldn’t claim that he’d won. That really stood out.

What’s your down-page treat?
I often write quite light pieces on businesses here. There’s one on a DVD-rental company that I wrote recently – it’s actually the last DVD-rental place on the island. For the summary at the end I quoted Highlander, the 1986 Sean Connery film, saying, “There can only be one”. That got a few laughs.

How are you covering Christmas?
We don’t have any community transmission of coronavirus here but people are still trying to be safe. That means it’s mostly small-scale events. Last week we covered the switching on of the Saipan Christmas lights and for the Japanese population here there’s going to be a small mochi festival, where they come together to pound rice cakes.


State of the art

Back in May, Swedish photographer Gustav Almestål and art director Hedvig Myhrman began working on a new initiative called Support Your Local Artist, or Syla for short (writes Hester Underhill). Syla is a not-for-profit platform aiming to help emerging creatives by offering them a means to auction their work and receive 100 per cent of the final sale price. There are 21 lots available to browse on the website, two of which are put on sale each week via Syla’s social media accounts. The initiative will continue until February and customers can bid on lots including ceramic animals by Oscar Andersson (€150), a glass torso sculpture by Tone Linghult (pictured) or a handwoven rug by Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg.

Even if it’s no substitute for a real art auction it is a novel sales model and one that Myhrman believes is working well to extend their reach. “People send us a message to express their interest for a particular piece then we add them to a group chat where they have an hour to bid,” says Myhrman. “It works particularly well in today’s world where it’s much harder to go to galleries.”

While we eagerly await being able to attend exhibitions and galleries in the new year, Syla is helping to tide over an art-starved public with a novel way to make new purchases – all the while propping up the work of local talents.


Styling it out

Every year, Chanel heads to a different city to pay tribute to the ateliers it employs to craft its creations. The Métiers d’art show puts the spotlight on artisan workshops specialising in everything from embroidery to millinery. This year’s edition took place earlier this month in the Loire Valley’s historic Château de Chenonceau. Restrictions meant that models paraded past an audience of one – actress Kristen Stewart – but the show was also broadcast to viewers around the world online. To capture the occasion, the French fashion house enlisted the help of German photographer Juergen Teller, who shot the looks for new book D’une Renaissance à l’autre, which also features an essay by literary historian Fanny Arama about the history of the château. Those looking for some styling inspiration heading into 2021 – or a history lesson – would be wise to pick up a copy.


Can I kiss someone under the mistletoe?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, not least for those who are partial to locking lips. Yes, for some, the appearance of mistletoe above doorways is seen as the perfect opportunity to play tonsil-hockey with a love interest. But Mr Etiquette for one isn’t particularly interested in seeing his doorways turned into festive kissing booths.

He has unfortunately learned from experience that mistletoe can lead to some awkward exchanges (Mr Tiddly is no longer allowed to bring up the uncomfortable interaction with Aunt Mildred last December) and no doubt some unwanted advances too. So, what to do if caught beneath a doorway adorned with such greenery? Put simply – nothing. Oh, and if you do still feel the need to pucker up, perhaps best to only do so with your partner.


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