Saturday 16 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 16/1/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Shot in the arm

  1. When talking about the vaccine roll-out, government officials, including the UK’s prime minister and especially our health secretary, Matt Hancock, make it oddly clear exactly where the jab has been given. I don’t mean geographically as in, say, Thurrock, but rather the spot on the recipient’s body. Hancock was at it again this week, telling TV viewers: “The good news is we are managing to get it out into arms as quickly as the two companies are delivering to us.” Is he signalling that it won’t be injected into Britons’ prized bottoms? Judging by how often he says it, I wonder if a market research group warned him that old folk are nervous of being asked to drop their bloomers for the good cause and so might refuse to respond to the call up? Something’s afoot – or at least abuttock – because the man can’t stop himself.

  2. Although, personally, I’d prefer it in a buttock. The sight of a needle – even on a TV show – makes me feel faint. As a child I had terrible hay fever and every spring, in a bid to prevent the annual sneezeathon, I would have to submit to a series of eight weekly injections of increasing intensity to supposedly give me some resistance. But if my arm swelled I would have to repeat the dose, which meant that some years I would end up having as many as 15 injections and by the time summer finally rolled around I was as perforated as an Aertex vest that’s been eaten by moths. It’s left me with needle issues. When it’s eventually my turn to be vaccinated I might claim that Hancock has been saying “in the arse”. Anything to look away and not see the needle.

  3. The UK vaccine programme is seemingly almost going to plan and those in the most at-risk groups, some 15 million people, should have all been offered a jab by mid-February (certainly my senior neighbours and relatives have all had the initial injections). But the odd thing is that, for now, the messaging says that it offers no freedom. Even if you cannot catch coronavirus, perhaps you might pass it on, they claim. But that’s a tricky line of argument and it’s another reason why people just aren’t shutting themselves away so strictly in this lockdown – when the young know that their grandparents are probably safe, it changes how they feel too. Meanwhile, I have an inkling that underground raves for the inoculated over-eighties could be a growth market.

  4. A friend tells me that the builder on their project – a successful Polish entrepreneur – is obsessed with the anti-vaccination story, saying that the whole thing is a ruse so that Bill Gates can insert a microchip into everyone’s arm. The builder says that he will refuse the invite to be vaccinated as he does not want to be tracked by big tech. He forwards a bonkers video of some doomster’s rant – from his app-laden smartphone that supplies more data on him than anyone needs, tracks his every move and knows all about his penchant for pierogi. But, apparently, while his logic might be flawed, his plastering is faultless.

  5. If you thought that the Brexit debate was over, bad luck. Everything is now filtered through the deal and its consequences. Successful vaccine programme? It’s because we left the EU! And it certainly seems to be the ambition of Boris and the gang to beat our neighbours in this particular race. This week there was a kerfuffle over whether the hoi polloi could be told how many doses were in the UK. The reason? We were scared that other countries might steal our orders. “It’s partly a matter of security,” an official told one paper. “But it’s also to protect manufacturers from pressure from other countries to deliver more to them, once they know how much we are getting.” So, yes, the vaccine programme is about protecting our health but it’s also geared to burnishing the government’s bruised reputation.

  6. I did have a jab though: for flu. As the doctor guided me into his office, he said, “I hope you don’t mind, I have a trainee with me today who will be giving you the injection.” It was hard to make a dash for it at that point. The trainee explained that my arm might hurt afterwards, that I could feel ill for a few days and that there was a risk of going into anaphylactic shock. I assured him that potential death was really not an issue but seeing the injection most definitely was. A manoeuvre was agreed upon in which I would look away and he would alert me when it was over. I even got a little plaster. But I really hope that there are not too many people like me in the world, or it will never be my turn to get the coronavirus jab – in my arm or anywhere else.


Hard cover

Vogue magazine’s cover shot of US vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, for the print edition of its February issue, attracted controversy this week (writes Tomos Lewis). Standing in front of a messy backdrop of unstyled swathes of pink taffeta and green damask, Harris is wearing clothes that she reportedly chose for the shoot herself: a dark brown blazer, some comfortable-looking black trousers and a pair of Converse trainers, which became her trademark footwear during her own bid for the presidency. She looks at ease, smiling, hands clasped loosely in front of her, her stance suggesting movement, as though she has just arrived from somewhere or is about to step away to somewhere else. All of these qualities make the image starkly different from the familiar tropes of political portraiture.

And it’s this breaking of the mould that appears to have irked so many. Commentators (and Harris’s own team) have said that the image is too casual and does not capture Harris’s historic accomplishments, nor the gravity or turbulence of the moment in which she was elected. A more serious allegation – that the tone of Harris’s skin was lightened in the photograph – has been strongly refuted by Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour. It feels somewhat unfair to express disappointment at the magazine for showing Harris wearing clothes that she chose herself; the look was very much part of her political persona when she was running for president. No doubt the magazine would still have drawn criticism had she been photographed looking like any other politician.

The most consequential shots of Harris, however, will be captured on Wednesday – inauguration day. They will show a woman of colour, one hand raised in the air, another on a copy of the Bible, taking her oath for an office that no one who looked like her has ever assumed before. And they will speak for themselves, no matter what Harris chooses to wear.


Scene on screen

After audiences were deprived of live events throughout 2020, this year’s fashion weeks in both Berlin (which starts 18 January) and Milan (from 23 February) have opted for a strength-in-numbers approach, aligning the stylish goings-on with the cities’ film festivals.

The events have not previously joined forces but the decision makes a lot of sense: many brands now unveil collections through film, such as Gucci’s recent Gus Van Sant-directed flick and Miu Miu’s In My Room series. We’re curious to see how this alliance will unfold in future and whether there will be more crossover than just shared dates; perhaps we will see pick and mix and buckets of popcorn appear in the front rows of 2022’s runways.


Right hand man

Given that most celebrities now willingly upload snippets of their daily life to social media every couple of hours, gossip rags and paparazzi no longer hold the monopoly of the inside eye on VIPs’ lives (writes Chiara Rimella). Still, some people are allowed a closer look than most. Sébastien Jondeau, the late Karl Lagerfeld’s bodyguard is one such person. And, from 27 January, we can read all about it in his memoirs of a relationship with someone he considered almost a father, not just a boss.

Published by Flammarion, Ça va, cher Karl? might not be the first book in the canon – titles by Winston Churchill’s and Princess Diana’s respective chaperones are also available. But it is the most high-profile recent proponent of the genre. Interestingly, it’s also one of the first books published about the famously inscrutable creative director since his death in 2019. We know that the muscular, silent and ruthless bodyguard figure has had considerable cinematic fortune, with Kevin Costner’s role in 1992’s The Bodyguard perhaps being the most successful. Now that we’re thirsty for whatever mystique remains behind brands and celebrities, could their stone-cold expressions be the gateway to a new slew of tell-all biographies?


Inside scoop

As editor in chief of Il Foglio, Claudio Cerasa is part of a young guard of journalists shaking things up in Italy’s media scene. Founded in 1996 as a centre-right, analysis-led daily, the svelte paper has freshened up considerably under his leadership. These days it attracts opinionated readers with a wry sense of wit. Cerasa’s approach has led to newsstand success and as he explains, there are a fair few new supplements set to join the text-heavy broadsheet soon. Here we find out his choice of salty breakfast treat and the series he watches just before bedtime.

What news source do you wake up to?
I wake up to my social media timelines – primarily Twitter. And then I look at all the Italian front pages and the main international ones: The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times and Le Monde.

Any new projects that you’re working on?
At the moment we’re realising a project focused on agriculture and the innovation within it, telling stories of people and of excellence. And in the next few weeks we’ll be launching a fashion special, with a different angle to other publications: talking about the business of it and the lesser-known brands. And then, on 31 January, we’re celebrating 25 years of Il Foglio, so we’ll release a 180-page magazine exploring 25 years of Italy through past editions of the newspaper.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
In the morning I read the papers while I’m running on my treadmill for about 20 minutes. Then I drink a cappuccino and eat toasted bread with olive oil and salt.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I listen to Spotify and Youtube Music; I rely on my nine-year-old son’s playlist. He finds beautiful songs that I then adopt as mine.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I sing the songs I listen to on Spotify – recently it’s been BTS.

What magazines are on your weekend sofa-side stack?
I read weekend inserts from the international newspapers – The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times and The Economist – and Monocle.

Newspaper of choice?
Aside from Il Foglio, The Wall Street Journal.

A favourite bookshop?
It’s on Via Nazionale in Rome: Libreria Libraccio. It’s a shop that’s not too confused and full of ideas – ideal for those who like to be advised and not just follow bestseller lists.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I don’t really listen to podcasts; I don’t find the time. Though we are thinking up ways of producing one.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
From the point of view of entertainment, a programme on Raiplay called Paese Reale: comedian Edoardo Ferrario has made a satirical talk show that mocks the Italian talk shows – it’s very funny. In terms of series, I’m also watching Tehran and SanPa, a docuseries shot in Italy about a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, which is currently part of the public discourse in Italy.

A favourite film?
Inside Man: I rewatched it recently and it is really well made: great dialogue and a captivating plot.

What’s on before drifting off?
I watch the TV series Suits before going to bed – at the moment it’s season nine on Netflix.


A world apart

‘A River Called Time’, Courttia Newland. Set in a world where colonialism and slavery never existed, and where African rather than European culture prevails, this audacious novel introduces us to a parallel London. Here the elite take refuge in an area called the Ark – built to protect them from pollution on a planet ravaged by climate change. Those on the outside, meanwhile, live in a city beset with inequality, where those in power have an aversion to truth-telling. Newland’s bold addition to Afrofuturism reads like the missing link between JG Ballard and NK Jemisin.

‘The Event’, HBO Max. Remember large soirées, with their clinking glasses and impeccable catering? Though the hook for this series is the big-name chef Wolfgang Puck, the real protagonists are the members of his team, who have to work together like an organised army for every evening to come off splendidly. Behind the scenes of some of Hollywood’s glitziest events, we watch the group navigate dramas and somersault to success when things inevitably go wrong.

‘Introducing…’, Aaron Frazer. Could any other title have been a better indication of the old-school nature of this album? Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based Frazer teamed up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys for his debut and the result is suitably warm and vintage-sounding. There are echoes of Motown and lashings of soul here: it’s a heart-filling record to start the year with.


Talk of the islands

With their turquoise waters and scenic coastlines, the Balearic Islands are a popular sunny retreat for many Spaniards and other Europeans alike (writes Julia Webster Ayuso). The archipelago is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions and home to a population of more than a million people, who speak in dialects of both Spanish and Catalan.

Based in Palma de Mallorca, Ara Balears is the sister publication of Ara (meaning “now”), which was founded in Barcelona in 2010, and it’s the sole Catalan-language print newspaper on the islands. “We are the only print publication that speaks to part of the population in their mother tongue. That gives us an advantage,” says editor Enric Borràs, who is from Barcelona but has spent a large part of his career working in Mallorca. He took over as editor in chief in 2018 to oversee the transition of the daily newspaper into a weekly, favouring longer formats that can stay relevant to its readers for longer. Here, Borràs tells us about the escalating pandemic, a historical anniversary, and Mallorca’s snowcapped mountains.

What’s the big news this week?
The biggest news is the pandemic. Restrictions have been tightened this week but each island is on a different tier specific to the local situation.

A favourite headline from a recent issue?
We ran a historical piece last week under the headline, “500 years since the Brotherhoods: revolt, civil war and repression”. The Germanies, or Brotherhoods, was a revolt that happened in Mallorca against the urban middle class and high nobility, sparked by similar revolts in Castile and Valencia. It’s an important event in our history; you can draw some parallels with the present day when it comes to centralism and some of the current issues we have in Spain.

What’s your down-page treat?
We have a column called Hàbitats Naturals (“natural habitats”) by a well-known writer from Mallorca called Sebastià Alzamora. He analyses island life from an outsider’s perspective and it’s a fun read. Last week’s was titled, “Mallorcans in the snow: the musical”, in which he talked about how everyone goes crazy when it snows here. During the snowstorm in Spain people flocked to the Serra de Tramuntana, the mountains on the north of the island, causing huge traffic jams despite the government’s restrictions and health warnings.

What’s the next big event on your radar?
The question is, when and how we will be able to welcome tourists again? That’s what we’ll all be monitoring very closely.


Heirloom of one’s own

Ever wanted to flick through the diary of your favourite writer to find out what they thought of their famous friends – who they think is supremely talented or who was a bit of a jerk? Well, fans of Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries now have the chance to (writes Hester Underhill). Gloucestershire-based auctioneers Dominic Winter will take offers on Really and Truly: A Book of Literary Confessions, an important log of British literary gossip from the 1920s, in which 10 writers have answered a set of questions about their opinions on everything from their favourite children’s book to the worst English playwright.

Aside from Woolf, who has written her answers in her signature purple ink, writers including Hilaire Belloc and Margaret Kennedy (whose grandson currently owns the book) have filled out the questionnaire. “It’s great fun and was created as a sort of parlour game,” says auctioneer Chris Albury. “The answers even show a bit of bitchiness and backstabbing. Woolf names Hilaire Belloc as the most overrated English writer, while Belloc – and this is probably tongue-in-cheek – names himself as his favourite living humourist and essayist.” The lot is expected to reach an estimated £4,000 (€4,500) when it goes on sale on 21 January.


Pitch perfect

Football might be known as the beautiful game but, let’s be honest, it doesn’t look great. The neon trainers, garish patterns and logo-heavy T-shirts can be a bit of an eyesore. Fortunately, French shoemaker JM Weston is making sure that some players are staying snappy.

As a 140th birthday gift to historic French team Girondins de Bordeaux, the cordwainer has crafted a set of smart leather shoes, including the brand’s classic 180 Moccasins, for the club’s top-tier players to don while they’re off the pitch. The shoe brand is celebrating its 130th anniversary in 2021 and, as a Limoges-based company, it seems to be sending a clear statement on the region’s heritage: effortless style, virtuosity and free kicks that look good.


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