Saturday 27 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 27/2/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Image: Mathieu De Muizon


Way of life

Three weeks ago today, my partner got a call from his aunt, Meg. She was in hospital because her right leg was numb. After an MRI scan, the consultant confirmed that she had had a small stroke. Over the next few days, she made a rapid recovery and plans were made for her return home. But then, another problem: a blood clot had developed deep in her leg. There were two choices: an operation that would probably involve amputation of one or both legs, or she would start on her “end of life pathway”. It’s not a piece of wayfinding anyone likes to encounter.

She phoned friends, took counsel from my partner, and decided it was time to go. “Yes, I know what this means,” she said. None of us wanted this last stretch to be in hospital, so we agreed that she would return home and my partner (her closest relative) and I would take care of her. The doctors said that we could perhaps have two weeks; it turned out to be just four days. On Wednesday morning, as the dawn was breaking, she died.

Now when I say “we” took care of her, there was thankfully also a team of incredible nurses: a district nurse who came in once a day to ensure all was OK, as well as a duo who dropped in three times a day to wash and clean her. You also have a telephone number for “rapid response” if you are in trouble – we used that number. Unfortunately, despite playing a pivotal role, we did not get uniforms, stethoscopes or even any bandages to play with. I thought that unfair and will be raising the issue.

On the first day we gave her morphine orally when the pain was too much but even that was administered on a drip by the end. But dying is a quite hands-on experience – applying cold flannels when temperatures soar; moistening lips with a piece of gauze. And holding hands and talking.

A neighbour came round with little vials of essential oils which she massaged into Meg’s hands and which brought calm to her pained face. Not wanting to be upstaged in our nursing roles, we were subsequently quick on the oil whenever she looked pained – I think we may have literally allowed her to slip away to the next life like a sardine down a gull’s throat. I also hope that Meg didn’t mind her elegant house smelling like a massage parlour.

The nurses did occasionally ask us to get in supplies. One day they needed us to purchase underwear. The next, a stack of incontinence pads. On these occasions I told David that I thought it best that I sit alone with Meg. I am sure that he’s got the townsfolk here talking with his ad-hoc purchases. The pads were not needed in the end but, so far, he’s refused to return them for a refund.

One of the good things about having some time together is that you can ask about the funeral and find out where the will is (and rewrite it if necessary). Meg was precise in her final instructions. Yes, there should be a notice in the local paper – but only if we did not use any banalities. “Will be sadly missed” was not to appear next to her name.

So while this is not going to have the same cachet for her as a note in the Stratford Herald, I’ll give you just a few sentences of obit. Meg was 92 and never lost any mental capacity or struggled with memory. She was as fit as a fiddle until three weeks ago, but did have sight problems. She was fun, had a vast network of friends, liked sharing a bottle of red, always looked glamorous, enjoyed a long lunch with us at Soho Farmhouse and, in short, was not defined by age but spirit. And to the end she was a Monocle 24 listener – see, I told you she was great. She has also been our Christmas Day date every year, until coronavirus kept us apart. She was a blast.

The very end was silent. David spent the nights sleeping on a camp bed next to her. She was here at 5.00am on Tuesday but, when he touched her at 6.30, he knew she was gone. I came and checked (me and the dog). It was over. We called the nurse who came and confirmed our prognosis. Perhaps we could have stethoscopes after all?

At the moment of death you perhaps look for signs and, as the dawn unfolded, sun shone through the house. I found myself opening the patio doors to let her leave (I realise my religious understanding is shaky if I believe that double-glazing might encumber you soaring to heaven but it seemed appropriate). But her life is not over, she will be part of us, and we will raise a glass of malbec to her every Christmas. Godspeed Meg.

And a final sign of the miracles of life. An hour after Meg’s death, a message from my colleague and friend Tom Reynolds. His wife Ianthe has given birth to their first child. And so, on this day, one story ends and that of young Fenner Wright-Reynolds begins. I wish you well, young man. May life be an adventure.

Image: Getty Images


Blessing in disguise

Masks are fun (writes Lewis Huxley). Not the scratchy surgical kind that have been ubiquitous for the past year, of course, but honest-to-goodness, face-concealing, enigma-creating masks. Don’t believe me? Picture Daft Punk in their robot headgear. From the moment the French electro duo, who announced their split this week, burst into the public consciousness with Michel Gondry’s mesmerising video for “Around the World”, they were all about fun. Electronic music too cerebral? Inject a bit of disco and turn everything up to 10. Don’t fancy showing your face in public? Fine. Top off that metallic suit with a futuristic motorcycle helmet. Stop being Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and start being Daft Punk.

And it’s not just them. Producer Deadmau5 became a fixture of festivals the world over sporting his oversized mouse mask, while rapper MF Doom, who died in October, used the anonymity his “metal face” preserved to pepper his music with a web of dastardly comic-book characters. Last year the practice became a global Saturday-night TV phenomenon thanks to The Masked Singer. For one night only, Paul Anka was “masked” as a broccoli and Sarah Palin as a rapping bear. Ryan Reynolds even appeared on King of Mask Singer – the original, South Korean version of the show – as a caped unicorn singing “Tomorrow” from Annie. And why not?

Most fun of all are the masks worn at Venice Carnival, which historically allowed upper and lower classes to mingle and indulge in illicit activities, such as gambling, clandestine affairs and dancing into the early hours. One of its most recognisable disguises is the “plague doctor” mask with its huge bird-like beak, originally created in the 17th century by French physician Charles de Lorme to protect medical practitioners from airborne diseases. Sound familiar? The more elaborate carnival versions are a reminder that, by wearing a mask, you can become someone else and live a fantasy, if only for a night – or, in Daft Punk’s case, 28 years. So cover that face.

Image: Mathieu De Muizon


Face facts

That sales of make-up increase in an economic downturn is a long-standing nugget of economic lore (writes Genevieve Bates). The theory is that consumers rein in their spending on big-ticket items and instead treat themselves to morsels of extravagance, such as a richly pigmented, mood-lifting lipstick. Not so during this recession. But a Roaring Twenties approach is on the horizon according to L’Oréal boss Jean-Paul Agon, who says, “Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life.” Supporting his prediction is a rise in make-up and skincare purchases last year in Asia, where lockdowns were short-lived compared to the rest of the world.

As well as a swinging spirit of recovery, a sense of uncertainty is something that we might share with the 1920s, as historian Joshua Zeitz explains in Monocle’s latest edition of The Forecast. Looking back at other historic make-up moments – Mary Quant and Twiggy’s spider-leg lashes in the 1960s and the New Romantic era of the late 1970s and early 1980s – it’s clear that young people go big on boundary-breaking beauty when gender roles and social hierarchies are in flux. Now might be another such time. So start practicing some of the make-up trends heralded for 2021, such as colour-block lids and technicolour lashes, and let’s plan for our nightlife to come roaring back too.


Motion city soundtrack

American musician Emile Mosseri was born in New York and is now based in Los Angeles. A composer, producer, singer and pianist, Mosseri is a member of the band Human Love and has made his name in recent years scoring soundtracks for films, including Miranda July’s recent hit, Kajillionaire and Golden Globe-winning Minari. He sat down with Monocle to tell us about locking his phone in a safe, his love of Neil Young and why music doesn’t send him to sleep any more.

What news source do you wake up to?
I open up CNN on my phone. I don’t know if it’s healthy to look at any screen in the morning, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I do have a timed lockbox, however – I try to keep my phone in that for the two hours after I wake, so I don’t have access to it. I’m at war with myself.

Any new projects that you’re working on?
I’m working on a record. That’s my primary focus right now. This past year has allowed more time for me to work on my own stuff because the film industry has slowed down. It’s a creative silver lining of the pandemic.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I have a radio in my kitchen. There’s a classical station that I tune into; I’m not sure of the name. I grew up with my Dad listening to classical music; I’d wake up to the sound of him listening to it while drinking coffee.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Tea. I’m incredibly sensitive to caffeine. I used to work as a barista in New York but once I stopped working there, I stopped drinking coffee.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
In terms of new music, there are a few artists that I love: Creature of Doom, Hornsby and Spirit of the Beehive.

Newspaper of choice?
The New York Times. Growing up in New York means it’s sort of become my default.

A favourite bookshop?
The Strand in New York is the one I grew up with. There’s also an amazing one in downtown LA called The Last Bookstore. It was nextdoor to where we mixed the soundtrack for The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It’s in a gorgeous, three-storey building. I’d sneak off there during the intense mixing process so I could feel like a human being again.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I keep going back to Marc Maron. I listened to him interview Bootsy Collins recently, which I loved.

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched on TV recently?
I love Ramy [a comedy drama about an Egyptian-American]. My Dad’s name is Ramy and I keep trying to get him to watch but he can’t figure out how to use Hulu.

A favourite film?
The one that really gutted me this year was Sound of Metal. I was a mess after watching it. It was so beautiful, so powerful, so horrifying.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I have so many. I don’t know whether to say Larry David or Randy Newman or Tony Soprano. Neil Young is probably my favourite songwriter. His music cuts a layer deeper for me than anyone else. There’s a purity to it.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
TV. Usually. I used to listen to music as a kid to fall asleep. But I can’t do it now because I start thinking about the music.


Outside influence

‘Night of the Kings’, Neon. Director Philippe Lacôte takes us to La Maca, a prison in the forest of the Ivory Coast where the inmates rule the roost – and plenty of hierarchical regulations govern the place. The current master is ill and must nominate a successor; our protagonist is called in and ordained as a “Roman”, a narrator who can buy the boss time with his tales. But to escape a gruesome fate, he must make the story last as long as he can: this is a tense fable about the power of storytelling.

‘Mas’, Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18. Wales and Brazil may not be two countries that are often paired but this new album by songwriter Carwyn Ellis creates a mesmerising marriage of the two. With the help of band Rio 18, he has engineered a joyous multicultural hybrid that overlays his melodic language over the tropical sounds of bossa nova, samba and cumbia. These songs are an homage to nature, love and community – and they are an uplifting delight.

‘Shimabuku’, Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. Kobe-born, Naha-based artist Shimabuku is bringing his art to the gorgeous Villa Paloma in Monaco, with works influenced by his travels through Australia, Brazil and more. Centred around an installation consisting of a 165 metre-long rope (inspired by a medieval Japanese legend about a mermaid), this exhibition tackles topics from environmental consciousness to the importance of collective action via sculptures, photographs and film work.


Talk of the town

The hand of Michigan juts out, mitten-like, with two great lakes either side. To the west, the fingers curve along Lake Michigan; on the eastern side its thumb protrudes into Lake Huron, out towards Canada. “The thumb has always considered itself to be its own separate region,” says Nathan Marks from his office in Minden City, an inland town of fewer than 200 residents.

As editor of the town’s sole newspaper, The Minden City Herald, Marks knows a good deal about these parts. He’s the third generation of his family to own the weekly paper, which first went to press in 1889. As owner, he shoulders the burden of work with his wife Amber, the paper’s only other full-time employee. And, as other sheets from nearby towns have closed shop, the Herald’s remit has expanded. Its circulation is almost 1,400 – some seven times the population of the town. “We like to cover the more overlooked parts of nearby counties,” says Marks. Here he tells us about high-school sports, ice-cream theft and avoiding the parochial pitfalls of reporting on small-town concerns.

What’s the big news this week?
Well, right now it’s basketball: Michigan has had some pretty strict restrictions in place but we’ve recently got high-school basketball back. In a place as quiet as this, high-school sports are a big deal.

Do you have a favourite image from a recent issue?
One of our journalists spotted a snowy owl in a tree not far from our office. They’re not native to these parts and only pass by occasionally. He waited until the owl turned its head just the right amount and captured a beautiful shot of it – we ran it on the front page.

And a favourite headline?
You know, the only headline I can think of is one we couldn’t run – it was just too long. Five months ago there was a robbery at the Dairy Queen in Sandusky, a nearby town. The thief walked away with two large ice-cream cakes but left all of the money behind. We wanted to run with: “I scream, you scream, ice-cream bandit steals ice cream from Dairy Queen.”

What challenges come with being a news editor in such a small town?
It’s not so hard. But you do need to be mindful of what you say and how you say it. There are only two or three degrees of separation between people here – so if you’re not careful, you could publish something that upsets the person nextdoor. We try to avoid causing any small-town drama.


House proud

Entering Torrent Fals in Mallorca, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a residence by celebrated modernist maestro Luis Barragán. This is no accident – the four-bedroom house was built between 2018 and 2020 according to the vision of Mallorcan Pedro Rabassa, who modelled the open, light-filled rooms, angular walls and red-ochre hues on the late Mexican architect’s style. But the building does not look out of place in its surroundings. The scattered vineyards and pine trees that stretch toward the Serra de Tramuntana mountains and onwards to the glittering Mediterranean seem to be designed for the house, rather than the other way around.

Isla Architects, a firm based in Banyalbufar some 30km away, added the finishing touches last year. “Everything is made to specification,” says Marilí Pérez Urízar, the agent responsible for bringing the property to auction. “The tiles are handmade by Huguet in a town nearby and Mallorquín woodworkers handled the Iroko timber frames of the windows, which run from floor to ceiling.” A swimming pool is in the house’s back garden and an indoor garage provides room for cars to come from Palma, 20 minutes away, or from nearby Santa Maria del Camí, a town popular for its lively Sunday markets.

Bidding for the property is hosted by Concierge Auctions and is currently live online, concluding on 3 March with a reserve set at €1.95m. The package is completed with a patch of land bigger than a football pitch, which leaves us with just one more question: when can we move in?

Image: Kohei Take


On decks

Bonus Track is a bustling, five-building retail and residential development in Tokyo’s popular Shimokitazawa neighbourhood. It’s based on the idea of the shotengai, an old-fashioned Japanese shopping street lined with thin two-storey buildings where business owners live upstairs and run their ventures downstairs. And thanks in part to capped rents, the shophouses are thriving.

Our personal favourite shophouse at Bonus Track is Pianola Records. Here, you can find anything from German rock on 10-inch wax to contemporary Japanese pop CDs and cassettes by experimental Argentinian musicians. If you’re struggling to decide on what to buy, the shop’s owner Yohei Kunitomo would be happy to point you in the way of some of his favourites.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00