Saturday 9 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 9/1/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Flock together

  1. Well, let’s start with big news: the bird-feeders are back in full winter use on our roof terrace. Hey, it’s important – it’s often the closest I get to hanging out with anyone in a lockdown. Over several winters this modest dining spot has built up quite the clientele (and several mentions in this column) and now there’s often a queue to secure a place for a nut or seed experience.

And, over the years, the nature of my guests has changed. In the early days a flutter of goldfinches with their geisha-red cheeks would cause some excitement, as would the occasional darting visit of a long-tailed tit. Oh, yes, I know everyone by name, that’s the burden of a maître d’. The next year, a woodpecker dropped in – this felt like an LA restaurant cracking the Hollywood crowd and, while he has lost favour in some quarters, my partner would alert me to a sighting with a, “Mr Woody Allen is here!” Also pulling up was a popping-pink jay – yes, we unimaginatively nicknamed him Jay-Z.

And, finally, the ring-necked parakeets. At first they were timid, flying away when they spied me through the window. Now? They are their own little fashion gang, landing en masse to squawk, dine and preen in all their emerald-feathered fabulousness and to generally rule the roost. They are the influencers of the avian world – noisy, self-obsessed and quite ready to eat you out of house and home without ever wondering whether anyone else needs a bang on the nuts. It means that the catering plans have suddenly had to be revised and, this week, a giant sack of peanuts was delivered (well, I guess the airlines no longer need them) and another bag containing enough seeds to plant a wildflower meadow.

But it seems I should be grateful. This week a little bird in Zürich, who knows a thing or three about quality of life, sent me details of a report that says that having birds in your ’hood can increase life satisfaction as effectively as a rise in wages. A group of German scientists interviewed 26,000 people in 26 European countries and discovered that the more birds there were in a given region, the happier people were with their lot. (There are a few caveats but let’s not allow troublesome facts to waylay us on a Saturday.) You’ll have to read the Ecological Economics journal to get the full lowdown but it throws up some interesting possibilities. Could cash-strapped businesses sidestep any mention of an annual pay rise and just offer bird feeders instead? Perhaps a budgerigar to particularly high performers? Or a turkey that escaped the butcher’s block this year? Would an ostrich be a good replacement for the company car?

  1. While I am mostly sunny, the dismantling of neighbourhoods continues at a pace and hits you. If you stand still and just look you can see it all over London. On Monday our neighbours got into their car and left the street for the last time – a new chapter to be started in rural Devon. Her job as a hairdresser had vanished again and his company had become wedded to staff working from home. So why would they stay paying city rents? The landlord of a nearby pub, meanwhile, is very busy – selling off his beer glasses and furniture. He’s handed back the lease. When I head into Midori House, I cycle past more and more boarded-up premises. Yet, even now, I am confident that the city’s power endures below the surface. If every club, bar and theatre could open tomorrow, this place would go nuts. We just have to wait patiently, like a chaffinch behind a parakeet at the birdfeeder of existence.

  2. The new lockdown has also seen the relaunch of the Alfred Hitchcock festival chez Tuck and – I cannot imagine why – we watched The Birds this week. Now there’s a film that makes you wonder if your nut order was so wise after all.


Disc drive

Few places command as much nostalgia of a truly bygone era than Blockbuster (writes Chiara Rimella). The blue-and-yellow film-rental chain is often used as an example of what is left behind by the ruthless march of progress. And yet, a surprising player that is still fighting its corner in the small-screen fray echoes none other than that very model. Cinema Paradiso (named after Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore’s ode to going to the movies) is a DVD-subscription website founded in 2003 that has surprisingly endured, all the while expanding its portfolio.

Today it comprises 100,000 titles between films and TV series, which makes its catalogue quite a lot wider than those of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Granted, you can’t just slump on the sofa and take your pick for the evening: DVDs are shipped out priority post and must be returned via pre-paid envelope. But given that current (or impending) lockdowns across Europe and beyond have shuttered cinemas again, there might be something to deliberating over a film choice and eagerly awaiting a disc’s arrival through the letterbox. Is this the time for an analogue comeback? And more importantly, where have I put my old DVD player?


Cap in hand

Queuing at my local café in Hackney, east London the other week, I saw an excellent hat (writes Jamie Waters). It belonged to a twentysomething guy who paired a big coat with just-rolled-out-of-bed swag. Perched atop his shoulder-length mane was a denim cap with a neatly arcing brim resembling a duck’s bill. It was faded and fraying and, I think, Ralph Lauren.

It was a perfect specimen of a “dad hat”, a term that originally referred to a baseball cap but now encompasses most sports caps with a curved brim. Often slightly oversized and usually logoed, dad hats were so named to differentiate them from the younger, cooler caps popular among the streetwear crowd, such as snapbacks and flat-brims. Over the years they have just sort of been around, donned by finance bros, jocks, politicians, dorky fathers, Jerry Seinfeld and, at times, the fashion crowd (they had a moment in 2016 thanks to French brand Vetements).

Yet lately they’ve come to the rescue as folks have tried to conceal their unkempt ’dos. As well as classic brands such as Ebbets Field, plenty of cool labels now sell them: New York’s Rowing Blazers does a natty corduroy version embroidered with Babar the Elephant or a dodo. The best dad hats, though, aren’t new but slightly tattered. That’s because unlike most other hats, which can look overly fussy and contrived, these caps should be symbols of comfort and insouciance. They’re one of the enduring symbols of the “normcore” plain-dressing movement and, whether worn forwards or backwards, they suggest that you haven’t given a second thought to what’s on your head. That, in itself, is appealing – and a mark of the time.


Breaking news

Though Martin Kotynek graduated with a Master’s in neuroscience, he’s no brain surgeon. He is, however, one of the most remarkable journalists working today. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, an investigative journalist and award-winning reporter for German weekly Die Zeit before becoming deputy editor in chief of its digital arm. Today he edits Austrian daily Der Standard. It’s a career path seemingly designed to make you gulp. Oh, and he’s a talented theatre actor. Here he tells us about how much news he reads – and how he winds down by watching US chat shows.

What news source do you wake up to?
Push notifications, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts and then the papers.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
It always has to be a cup of tea.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Humming? I’m singing, of course!

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
Always delivered, with subscriptions to three. Since lockdown I’ve often also read them online. But I love to spend time at newsstands, especially abroad, to discover new magazines with interesting layouts, pictures and story angles.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I love to read the FT, Die Zeit and Süddeutsche Zeitung with their magazines on the weekend. I read The Economist and The New Yorker online.

Sofa or cinema for the evening?
Sofa – either for reading, streaming or chatting. Or all three at once.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I wish we had more journalistic comedy similar to [US talk shows] The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight in Europe. I watch those a lot on Youtube. Death to 2020 on Netflix is great.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
Other than the talk shows, not in a long time.

A favourite newsreader?
Though not in the classical sense a “newsreader”, it has to be John Oliver [of Last Week Tonight].

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Bedtime is podcast time: Today Explained, The Ezra Klein Show or The Daily, depending on the topic.


Pride of place

‘Pretend It’s a City’, Netflix. Eminent New York writer Fran Lebowitz talks to director Martin Scorsese in a documentary about how she really feels about her city. Predictably, she holds nothing back. There’s plenty of sarcasm in her biting observations and laugh-out-loud-funny critiques but her love for the place, despite its flaws, shines through.

‘COR’, Anavitoria. The fourth album by Brazilian duo Anavitória (Ana Caetano and Vitória Falcão) is a charming low-key affair. It has some delectable pop moments but the vocal harmonies accompanied by soft piano and guitar lend it an elegant tone. Formed in 2015, the duo also starred in Ana e Vitória. The documentary, which is available on Netflix, details how they met at school in the small northern town of Araguaína and how their relationship grew into the strong bond it is today.

‘Memorial’, Bryan Washington. This debut novel by this young American writer examines how a family’s history can affect the present. A gay couple in Houston sees their humdrum routine disrupted when one of the two men visits his dying father in Osaka. His mother, meanwhile, stays with his boyfriend at the couple’s home in the US. Exploring the pair’s relationship via different perspectives, we inhabit their respective pains and come to understand the potential effects of race, class and sexuality.


People power

Michael Waite has led a busy life. From his years in high finance to his run for US congress, the Australian has rarely paused for breath before finding the next challenge to overcome. That is, until he returned from the US to his home nation in late 2019 to hear that his mother had been diagnosed with stage-four cancer. Last April, in the wake of the pandemic, the newspaper she had worked on for 30 years, The Naracoorte Herald, suspended operations.

Waite and his mother saw the moment as a call to action and set out to save Naracoorte’s print industry. Within a month the pair had founded a new weekly paper in The Herald’s stead, The Naracoorte Community News. It sold out its first print run within 36 hours and in the months since has picked up swathes of its predecessor’s former subscribers thanks to strong, community-focused journalism and smart marketing. “It was incredible to see,” says Waite, who explains that business has remained steady. “This is about bringing community news back to basics.”

What’s the big news this week?
The construction of a new high-density workers’ housing development was approved just before Christmas. It’s going to be put up right in the heart of town. There’s a lot of opposition to it in the community: the council has not had much consultation with the developers and townspeople worry that the standards of the construction and living standards for the workers won’t be up to scratch.

Favourite image?
Our paper runs a programme called The News Gives Back, meaning that AU$0.25 [€0.16] of every paper sold goes to a local group. That means that every week or two, we always run a fun picture of some people receiving something like AU$210 [€131]. The last one was for a kids’ cricket club. AU$16,287 [€10,192] has gone to groups like this since we launched.

Do you have a down-page treat?
It’s not necessarily a treat but we have a column called Farm Hand. It’s about the local stock-trading in the area, covering sheep and cattle sales and the like. The writer always does a great job summarising what’s going on and he always shares a bit of perspective. It keeps it real.

What’s the next big event you’re covering?
The council has to open its budget for community input from March through to June. But this council will try to hide it; they don’t like people knowing what they’re doing. We’ll be making sure that we cover the state of our community’s education, health and transport services and infrastructure. I’ve been in politics; I understand that these things don’t change overnight. But hopefully we can make a difference.

Look out for the February issue of Monocle, which features Michael Waite in an essay on the value of community news.


House of cards

On Wednesday, Republicans lost control of the US senate and saw the party name dragged through the mud as pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). For many, the events cast a heavy shadow over Trump’s time as president and party leader. But they are far from the final blow to his legacy. New Jersey-based Bodnar’s auction house is now offering bidders the chance to press the button that will demolish Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.

The 906-room hotel and casino development has lain empty since filing for bankruptcy in 2014, serving as a constant reminder of Trump’s abandonment of the long-time home of his casino empire. The tycoon’s real-estate investment contributed to Atlantic City’s then-booming economy, which has devolved over the past decade as casinos shuttered. Four more of Trump’s megacomplexes in the city are vacant.

Bidding is underway and set to conclude on 19 January, with detonation due days after Trump is sworn out of office. It will belatedly allow the winner to “start the new year with a bang”, according to the auctioneers’ website. The sellers expect the lot to go for more than $1m (€800,000), with all proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City. For those who remain bitter about Trump’s tenure, this might just be the best shot at closure.


National treasures

For those of us in Europe, travel is a little trickier than usual and we find ourselves increasingly appreciative of our surroundings. Which makes the new exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich all the more salient. Showcasing more than 50 contemporary Swiss fashion designers, Wild Things gives visitors a chance to get to know their national style a little better.

From Freitag’s famous bags – cleverly made from repurposed tarpaulin – to the vibrantly patterned clothes of the little-known Poplin Project, the show touches on Swiss fashion in all its forms – all of which are, according to the show’s curator Karin Grimm, reliably atypical. “This is what makes the scene so wild,” she says. The exhibition is temporarily closed but reopening in February, so book now before tickets sell out. Have a nice weekend.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00