Saturday 13 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/2/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


For the record

We are making an episode of our podcast The Urbanist about London to mark one year since we went into full lockdown, on 20 March 2020. In a completely vainglorious move, it’s going to be based on these columns and the personal diary that I diligently write every day. The show will be one (hopefully reliable) witness’s take on how the city has fared, from the shuttering of shops to the blossoming of community spirit, via the sourdough boom and industrious mice who moved into Midori House in our absence.

Making the programme has required me to read through my diaries from the past year and, while I thought I knew the shifts of the coronavirus story pretty well, it’s strange how much I had actually forgotten. The unease started much earlier than I remembered – the closing down of the city began well ahead of government announcements to stay home – and how complete and strange the silence was when the lockdown first took hold. I knew that I had recorded the scary death tolls and the twists in the political saga but I seem to have been just as obsessed with that blanket of quiet, the endless spring heat.

Writing a diary is a strange commitment because it’s hard to explain precisely why you do it. Sure, if you are a politician hoping to make a buck on retirement with the inside scoop then it pays to get the dirt down on paper; or if your love life could be the basis of some steamy page-turner then indiscretions need noting. But for most people the habit bites for harder-to-define reasons. For some it’s therapeutic; for others it’s an aide memoire to be reread again and again. For me it’s about organising thoughts: slowly, over the days, you draw lines between dots and give shape to things that seem to be unending and hard to fathom. It’s good to get the funny stuff down too.

And yes, perhaps I will need that aide memoire in the future because memory, for most people, is patchy and not the quickest of retrieval devices. Tyler Brûlé – you know, the fine gentleman who occupies this spot tomorrow – has impeccable recall for names and details. Sometimes he will have a rare blank and ask me about someone we met at an event a decade ago and, as I reach for my phone to see if Google will come to my rescue, he’ll insist that I desist. “Come on, we need to remember this.” Occasionally from the murk a name will rise to the surface – well, for him anyway.

My partner is even more annoying. You can say, “Where were we in May 2007?” and he’ll say, “Well, that’s easy, because that’s the year we moved house in the February and I remember that in the May we had to go and collect a new dining table and on the way we stopped for lunch at a pub and I ordered the chicken and the waiter was wearing this funny shirt and he said…” At moments like this I think of him less as a partner, more as cloud storage paid for with the occasional glass of champagne. But I am now backing him up on paper in case he runs off with a younger model.

Going back through a year of sometimes banal, sometimes amusing, sometimes slightly stressed diary entries, I have also been struck by how much we have been through – some of it has been pretty unrelenting. There has been so much news, so many false moves and triumphs too, that it’s not surprising that it’s too much to recall all the twists in this tale.

But, for all sorts of reasons, we do need to remember this past year. Not least because it will continue to shape us for many more to come. And that’s why a small pile of pocketbooks have provided some solace this week (well, when I can make out my own handwriting). It might take some effort but diary-writing is a habit worth encouraging. It may make no sense at the time but it will help you make sense of time.


Sign language

A salute is not something you see every day (writes James Chambers). Can you remember the last time you saw one? These rigid hand gestures usually identify members of a regimental club, from army soldiers to cub scouts. As an alumnus of the latter, I can still remember holding up my hand in a three-fingered salute, looking up at a hoisted Union Jack and pledging allegiance to do my best. In Southeast Asia, however, this same deferential salute is being subverted (via Hollywood) by those who want to stick it to the authorities.

Protesters in Myanmar have been using it as a symbol of defiance against their oppressive military rulers, who are once again trampling on democratic freedoms and abusing all of the tools of the state. There are no uniforms in this inclusive club of demonstrators, other than hospital scrubs and traditional Burmese skirts or longyi. The three fingers are also a show of solidarity with peers in neighbouring Thailand, who face a similar struggle for democracy.

Thais began using the salute on the streets after the military coup d’état in 2014, inspired by scenes from The Hunger Games. In the film, the downtrodden masses of District 11 use the silent gesture as a show of unity before they eventually overthrow the tyrannical President Snow. Real life might not promise the same happy ending but, nonetheless, we can all try placing our thumbs on the tips of our little fingers and raising three fingers to the sky.


Public issues

A couple of weeks ago, The Newsroom, a longstanding, no-fuss newsagent in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighbourhood, had a visit from a surprise shopper: First Lady Jill Biden. Wearing a dusty-blue velvet face covering, Biden popped in to buy a stack of magazines, perhaps for guests to leaf through at the White House, or even to dive into herself, before posing for a photograph with the staff.

Not only was the encounter refreshing to many who found it difficult to imagine Biden’s predecessor, Melania Trump, popping into a local shop to say “hello” during her time in the White House, but it also reinforced the importance of the neighbourhood newsagent.

While some countries, including the UK, have reported an overall decline in physical newspaper sales during the pandemic, specialist newsstands and news retailers have seen their customers rally to protect them. A campaign to bolster New York’s storied Casa Magazines raised $30,000 (€25,000) at the end of last year and retailers such as London’s Magculture have reported healthy sales during the past year.

It is similar to the experience of many independent bookshops, whose sales, in many cases, have soared in recent months. And it’s a welcome sign that many of us, not able to venture into the world for ourselves at the moment, can embark on as many voyages as we want – by delving into the printed page.


Reporting Hollywood

As co-president and chief creative officer of Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group, Janice Min is among the most storied names of US magazine publishing. She is credited with having transformed the fortunes of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard as editorial director for both. In January she was appointed as contributing editor at Time. Here she explains her media routine at home in Los Angeles.

What news source do you wake up to?
I read The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times on my phone before I even get out of bed. Then over breakfast I go through my morning newsletters: The Washington Post, Time, and The Wall Street Journal. Morning Brew is a new favourite – it’s so well done. Then I skim social media, the Axios newsletters and, of course, The Hollywood Reporter.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I have never been a coffee person but I am a tea addict. I went through a long English-breakfast phase through much of the pandemic, then iced green tea. But I’m currently in a matcha latte phase.

How are you handling working from home?
I have three children at home who have not spent a day in school or camp since March 2020. So I’ll let you assume what that might look like or what it does to one’s productivity.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Music in the house tends to be dominated by my youngest child, who is eight. There is lots of yelling at Alexa to play the Hamilton soundtrack, which is something we can both agree on.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
I’m a digital subscriber to a bunch of places. Any time a friend has that one story they want to read but don’t want to pay for, they ask me for my login. I know I should stop being an enabler and start telling them to pay up and support publishing.

The bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
In an absurd twist of life, Barnes & Noble became the underdog after being the villain for so long. I miss going there with the children and having everyone scatter, find something and then meet at the register. There is another walkable bookshop near my house, Diesel, a lovely independent, where you can leave your kids to browse and order chicken or tacos right outside.

Is there any media you have rediscovered now that you have more time?
I am watching One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest right now – I somehow missed that one during my life. Also believe it or not, I have never seen The Godfather. People at The Hollywood Reporter used to joke that they could hold a film festival showing all the films I have never seen.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I started the pandemic bingeing all three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, which bizarrely seemed like an escape, though into another dystopia. I later made the mistake of trying to watch Chernobyl; I stopped when people’s faces were melting in the reactor.

Sunday brunch routine?
No routine. I wake up earlier than anyone in my house and love being alone for several hours. After that it’s five people in the house doing five different things.

Do you make an appointment to watch the nightly news?

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
This week it is Ted Lasso. It’s a modern-day fantasy of goodness prevailing – a perfect bedtime story.


Pick up the pieces

Pablo Picasso ceramics in glass cases; arts-and-craft-movement furniture from pioneer Harry Napper; and towering paintings courtesy of Los Angeles-based artist Richard Hawkins. No, this isn’t a museum; it’s a Loewe boutique and, alongside the brand’s clothes, leather goods and accessories, almost every artefact on display is also for sale.

Designed by the Spanish label’s creative director Jonathan Anderson and its in-house architect Paula Aza Custodio, the two-storey space opened on Paris’s Rue Saint Honoré in December. Anderson reportedly intends for it to serve as a statement on the changing role of retail; with people now accustomed to staying home, shops must be more immersive and inviting than ever. We’re not so sure that people will stop shopping just like that – but it’s a canny move nonetheless. When retail in Paris returns to normal in the coming weeks, the gallery-slash-boutique’s unique offering means that Loewe will be at the top of the shopping list.


Making it personal

‘Confinement’, Prix Pictet. The organisers of the world’s most sought-after photography award, the Prix Pictet, have decided not to wait until the next event (slated for December) to offer a look back at 2020. They’ve gathered images from 43 of the best practitioners in the field for their photobook Confinement. There are portraits of boredom and longing by Istanbul-based Rena Effendi, the chilling stillness of Naoya Hatakeyama’s dark cityscapes and the stylised, physically distanced figurines of Nadav Kander. Pick up a copy for an array of surprising perspectives on the year that was.

‘En thérapie’, ArteTV. An adaptation of Israeli series BeTipul (which already spawned HBO’s In Treatment), this French drama is set in a therapist’s office just off Paris’s Place de la République. In the aftermath of the Bataclan attack of 2015, five clients drop in for their weekly sessions: we listen in as a surgeon, a policeman, a couple in crisis and a troubled teenager open up about their traumas. The result is cerebral and endlessly compelling.

‘L’Uomo Elettronico’, Piero Umiliani. A lesser-known maestro of film soundtracks (and originator of The Muppets’ Mah Nà Mah Nà), Umiliani’s work is a wonderful blend of jazz, bossanova and funk, with a sultry vibe. This collection of his early, pioneering electronic music has a futuristic atmosphere that gives it a Close Encounters of the Third Kind feel. It’s experimental stuff but also proof of his surprising versatility, which should inspire you to delve into the back-catalogue.


Pacific airwaves

Named after the British explorer James Cook, who is said to have “discovered” the islands in the 1700s, the Cook Islands is an archipelago scattered near the dateline in the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to 18,000 and has strong political links with New Zealand, whose government also handles islanders’ passports. And to give you some sense of its scale, know that it takes about an hour to drive the 32km circumference of its most populous island, Rarotonga but, by contrast, its 15 islands are spread across 2,000,000 sq km of sea.

The country’s national radio station is Radio Cook Islands. Though privately owned, the Rarotonga-based FM service acts as a public broadcaster and shares essential information with the community, from news regarding health and transport to updates on political affairs (as well as the occasional ditty on the ukulele). Here the station’s manager, Jeane Matenga (pictured), sails us through what’s on the airwaves this week from her speck of land in the South Pacific.

What’s the big story this week?
Our former prime minister, Henry Puna, has been appointed secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), which is a big achievement for the Cook Islands. He was voted in by representatives from 18 member countries. But Micronesian nations [comprising the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati] are upset: they argue that, according to a gentleman’s agreement, it is their turn to have someone lead the PIF. They have collectively announced that they will leave the bloc in protest.

Any lighter segments?
We have been airing a regular show on the myths and legends of the Cook Islands, which is proving successful. The stories are not taught in schools so much and, while the older generation holds a lot of that knowledge, it’s not often written down so it hasn’t been passed on as it used to be. This show is a way of reinvigorating that culture.

What sort of music do you play?
There’s a lot of ukulele and guitar – we’re the same ethnicity as Hawaiian people, so the music is very similar to theirs. As on many Pacific islands, our people are historically Māori.

And what’s the next big event?
That’s the Te Maeva Nui festival, which will be held for a week from the end of July into the beginning of August. It’s the anniversary of the Cook Islands achieving self-governance in 1965, so it’s our national celebration. This year we will also be celebrating 200 years since the arrival of Christianity – we are very Christian here now.


Safe bet

We’ve been reading about it for decades now: Scandinavian design goes up in value. Whether you’re investing in an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair, a lamp from Alvar Aalto or a desk by Finn Juhl, you can safely assume that prices aren’t going to fall any time soon. And you can also be sure that every item is going to last, thanks to timeless style and solid construction.

These simple assumptions have made the work of Lauritz straightforward. Established in 1885, Lauritz is Nordic Europe’s largest auction house and hosts an endless cycle of sales for all things covetable and Scandinavian, from home furnishings to art and jewellery, and antiques to contemporary design. It has outposts in Germany and Sweden, and is headquartered in Copenhagen, though all bidding now takes place online.

We like the furniture best and have our eyes on a Børge Mogensen-designed armchair (estimated to close at €268 on 18 February), as well as a Poul Henningsen copper pendant lamp (pictured, above right; estimated to close at €1,342 on the same date). And the Märta Måås-Fjetterström rug (pictured, above left), handwoven in Sweden in 1928, has also been calling out to us (estimated to close at €2,477 on 16 February). But those are the only tips you’ll be getting – we’d rather not find ourselves in a bidding war. And, be warned, these online auctions both are addictive and require poker-like skills to place your bid at the perfect moment. It’s shopping with adrenalin.


Chiller instinct

There was a rare meteorological treat in London this week: the city was painted white with a snowstorm from the east (writes Richard Spencer Powell). We were given a visual break from the grey gloom of winter. And with the change in landscape came a less-than-welcome change in attire, as Londoners seemingly raided their lofts for decades-out-of-date skiwear. Everyone was enthusiastically adorned in acidic fluorescent or polygonal camouflage jackets resembling an Ajax away strip. Skiwear should be confined to the piste, where the rules for style are different and a kaleidoscope of colour and kitsch is permitted.

But it wasn’t all bad. Those of us who have been influenced by the outdoors hiking trend of recent years were better prepared. And so I set off to work this week keen to test how weatherproof my Gore-tex was, to feel the crunch of ice under my hiking boots and to finally have a temperature low enough to wear my down-lined North Face Purple Label trousers. There are no fashion feuds in the Monocle office but if there were, I think I would have won this week’s battle. My combination of North Face, Klättermusen, Hestra and Adidas Terrex left the score: Art Department 1, Editors 0.


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