Saturday 6 March 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 6/3/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


After life

This will get a bit meta but stick with me because I just want to say thank you – yes, to you. Last week I wrote this column (if you missed it, perhaps click here as otherwise what follows might make even less sense than usual) sitting at a dining table in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the very spot where a borrowed hospital bed had been sitting just two days before and in which an amazing woman had just died. As every week, I then sent my copy to the sub editors and, later in the day, I even suggested how to illuminate in image a topic that, for once, had stumped our wonderful illustrator. Although why he couldn’t have thought of depicting the spirit of a deceased aunt rising to the next life as a sardine inside a seagull I cannot fathom.

On Friday evening I saw the final proof and, as this was about his aunt, Meg, I asked my partner David to make sure that I wasn’t being disrespectful by adding the odd garland of humour to a painfully fresh obituary. He said it was all good and that he particularly loved the touching illustration of the dove soaring to heaven. I kept quiet at this point, banking on his clipped-winged ornithological knowledge never revealing the seafaring truth.

Finally, that night, the Weekend Edition headed off into the ether to hopefully arrive in your inboxes in time for breakfast. This is where the thank you bit comes in because, as the dispatch started landing in one time zone after another, so came the correspondence. Yes, condolences and, wonderfully, a connection to a woman whom readers had never met, but also powerfully their – your – stories of loss, of not being there for the final moment, of reflections on ageing and personal fears for the future. Perhaps it will prove fleeting but something happened this week: a crackle of connection across email. I dropped my guard and perhaps a hundred readers did too. So to Bruce in Florida, Sally in Melbourne, Emil in Lima, Chai in Malaysia, Erik in Amsterdam, João in Lisbon and everyone else who did or didn’t write – thank you.

Now, before we start holding hands and dancing in a circle, the wise words of Monocle readers should be set against the card that we received from a lovely neighbour. What you need to know as background is that she is religious and if you do her even the most modest of favours, she promises to pray for you (I hope she comes good on this because I am going to need all the help I can get).

So I was expecting a card with perhaps a heavenly vision (none of that seagull-and-sardine nonsense) and some solemn words. However, she had selected one with a photograph of an all-white dog, lying on its back, wrapped in a white towel and with a slice of cucumber over each eye. At first I thought they were coins and that this was a dead hound; did she think it was our dog that had passed away? Anyway, that vision was trumped by the printed message inside the card – a very to the point “Oh dear”. Anyway, it has brought me untold joy all week. Although if that’s the depth of her religious thought then I am not sure how far those prayers are going to get me.

So how about this for a deal. The funeral is in a couple of weeks – that’s two more potential columns, maximum, after this week as far as you are concerned. If I promise to strike the right balance, how about we continue to talk about some of the big stuff? I’ll tell you a few things that I think are important and I will also reveal whether it turns out to be a wise or truly terrible idea for me to read last week’s column at the commitment. (I have raised my concerns; can you really say “incontinence pads” in a church?)

And to keep things nice and Monocle, perhaps we can also have a word about legacy – how we can do something that leaves a positive mark, however small? Because that’s the one bit that has me worried.


Uncommon ground

For reasons requiring no reiteration, we are living through something of a boom period for leisurewear (writes Andrew Mueller). There are people who have barely changed out of their zebra-print velour onesies for a year or more. Such items remain, nevertheless, stereotyped as the uniform of those resigned to – if not outright revelling in – a certain nihilist inertia.

It’s a strange sartorial choice, then, for a chancellor of the exchequer – the UK cabinet minister charged with stewarding the nation’s finances. If there’s one figure in public life who you don’t want to see looking like they’re slouching home from another dispiriting afternoon at the betting shop, the chancellor it surely is.

Yet the current occupant of the role, Rishi Sunak, who delivered his latest budget this week, has made something of a motif of that leisurewear staple, the hoodie. However, Sunak’s hoodies are said to be cashmere. He also often wears them over a crisp collar and firmly knotted tie, undoing the comfort which is surely the point of wearing a hoodie in the first place.

Sunak’s more natural costume is what he was photographed in this week en route to deliver his budget: a dress shirt trimmed so tight that breathing in risks its seams, and Henry Herbert suits cut high and trendily above the ankle.

The hoodie affectation therefore suggests over-compensation and Sunak does, in fairness, have a bit to over-compensate about. The former Winchester head boy made a tidy stack in banking and hedge funds before entering politics, and his father-in-law is NR Narayana Murthy, multibillionaire co-founder of Infosys. If this is an attempt to reach out to the riff-raff, Sunak looks not so much like a man of the people as a man trying rather too hard to look as though he’s ever actually met any.


Pooch perfect

Toronto has been in a bit of a tangle in recent weeks over whether one specific type of business counts as essential: dog grooming (writes Tomos Lewis). It comes after the province of Ontario announced that dog-beautifying and dog-walking services would be allowed to reopen much earlier than the rest of Toronto’s economy. Some businesses cried foul – particularly those salons that provide trims and new ’dos to humans, which remain closed. The city backtracked and removed dog services from the list, only to reverse once more after an outcry from Toronto’s large population of dog owners (Toronto is home to 230,000 dogs, according to city data).

The long and short of it is that dog groomers in Ontario are now allowed to open to undertake certain services that have been deemed essential. Many dog owners have long argued this case, saying that a lack of upkeep can pose tangible risks to the wellbeing of several breeds. For those non-canine barbers eager to get the clippers whirring again, an opportunity has arisen: a handful have turned their salons into temporary pooch-pampering venues. Even though their owners still can’t get a trim, Toronto’s dogs can bask in the singular joy of a fresh cut.


Real to reel

Once a relatively obscure name in the world of film direction, Frías de la Parra is now a national hero in his native Mexico. Since the release of the artfully shot I’m No Longer Here, the young talent has been Academy Award-shortlisted and received the full-throated support of his country’s film establishment, picking up 10 Ariel Awards – Mexico’s most prestigious honour in the movie-making industry – and backing from Mexican Oscar-winners Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. Here, he discusses book shopping across the Americas, keen podcast listening and the somnolent properties of feline acoustics.

What news source do you wake up to?
Democracy Now!, an independent programme that’s a change from mainstream news. It often touches on issues that I’m interested in, such as immigration reform, and it has a lot of very different points of view, which I respect. Even when talking about something that maybe I don’t understand – like politics in the Sahrawi conflict – it will put a great song between news items, which is definitely a bonus.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
I’m a big coffee drinker – always espresso.

Something on the FM dial or Spotify for your music?
I love FM; Spotify, not so much. I like to listen to a radio station in Mexico City, Aire Libre.

Can you name a few magazines on your sofa-side stack?
I have The Paris Review and The Atlantic next to me right now; I also read The New Yorker. And I have another magazine beside me called Queue – it featured me, so I’ve been leafing through it. It’s good!

A newspaper you turn to?
In the US I read The New York Times. In Mexico, I read [Mexico City broadsheet] Reforma.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Oh, yes! In New York, Three Lives. My favourite city for book shopping is definitely Buenos Aires though; Eterna Cadencia there is fantastic.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Recently I’ve been listening to one called The Horror of Dolores Roach, which is good. I’ve also been following Retrato Narrado [“narrated portrait”], a Brazilian podcast about Jair Bolsonaro by a journalist who worked on the Netflix documentary, The Edge of Democracy.

What is the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
Episode four of a show called Little America with Mélanie Laurent. It’s about a character who comes from abroad to the US and it all takes place in complete silence. I love it.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Rihanna – but maybe that’s not the answer you’re looking for.

What about a favourite genre or director of films?
I don’t have much of a preference for genre. I can tell you that I’m very much influenced by the likes of Costa-Gavras and Edward Yang.

What’s on the airwaves as you drift off?
My therapist recently suggested that I should listen to the sound of a cat purring – it’s meant to have a calming effect. So that’s how I get to sleep now.


Making scents

‘Nose’, Dior. A perfumer’s talent is notoriously ineffable, which is why this documentary on Dior’s perfume-maker François Demachy feels like being let in on a closely guarded secret. But more than a simple fashion-industry tell-all, this film is an uplifting, glorious celebration of nature, often bathed in golden sunshine. Travelling from the fields of Grasse to Sri Lanka, it’s also a story about the importance of human connection and, of course, the mystery and evocative power of scent. It’s just a shame you can’t quite lose yourself in the smell of the flowers as you watch.

‘Yol’, Altin Gün. The members of this Amsterdam-based band hail from the Netherlands, Indonesia and Turkey but it’s the latter country’s influence that’s felt most starkly in their music – and not just because the lyrics are in Turkish. While the outfit’s previous albums (including the Grammy-nominated Gece) had more of a psychedelic tinge, this third effort brings a lot of 1980s synth-pop to the table. The genre-bending result is catchy and pleasingly original.

‘Who the Baer’, Fondazione Prada. The fluffy protagonist of Simon Fujiwara’s sprawling exhibition of drawings, collages, sculptures and animations struggles to pinpoint its identity. Not surprising, perhaps, since it is portrayed learning about the world exclusively through digital images that it finds online. Transforming the floor of Milan’s Fondazione Prada into a giant, bear-shaped labyrinth, this site-specific set of works evokes a character-building journey.


Isle away

Great Barrier is Auckland’s farthest-flung suburb. Not to be confused with Australia’s reef of the same name, it’s an island about the size of Edinburgh, 90km from the mainland and home to 930 people who are reliant on solar panels and diesel generators for electricity. Few shops exist between the fjords and broad beaches flanking the island. Residents turn to the sea, bounteous gardens and their own livestock for dinner.

“We’ve got no reticulated anything,” says Kevin Burke, 81, owner and editor of the island’s fortnightly community newspaper, The Barrier Bulletin. “You have to be very self-dependent to live here and the island attracts people like that. It’s a freedom thing.”

Burke, from Australia, has lived on Great Barrier since the 1970s, in the house that his wife was raised in. He maintained the island’s roads before taking over the paper in 2003. His plan had been to buy a fuel-reselling station but that fell through. “The only other business going was the bulletin,” he says.

What’s the big news this week?
The local learning hub ran a two-day course on how to use a chainsaw. It was well attended. About 20 people turned up. We don’t have a secondary school on the island, so older students study by written correspondence. The learning hub began as a way to support them but has started extending its offerings.

What’s the paper’s most notable success?
About 14 years ago the government was keen to introduce a marine reserve around the island. I think the Bulletin can take a fair amount of credit for stopping that from happening. The reserve wasn’t supported by locals because it would have made it almost impossible for them to fish. We got one of the top ministers over to the island to attend public meetings, to listen. And he went back and voted against the proposal.

Any issues that you’re planning to tackle next?
There’s a groundswell developing for the eradication of feral cats. Which straight up sounds like a heck of an idea but is really rather problematic. On the island we’ve got cats, rats and rabbits – all introduced species. When you take the cats out, the populations of the other two explode. A past cat cull has coincided with a large drop in native duck numbers, likely due to increasing rats.

How is the ‘Bulletin’ made?
It’s more “community” than most community newspapers because we rely so heavily on the islanders for input. Then I pull it all together on my computer and print it at home. This is not always a smooth process. We could get it printed more professionally on the mainland but you’d never know whether the hard copies would get back on time. You’ve always got to consider that vast stretch of water between us and the mainland – and the weather.


Another’s treasure

As a child, I used to beg my parents to pull over and let me rifle through other people’s unwanted possessions at garage sales (writes Nic Monisse). Understandably, they very rarely gave in, not wanting their home to be filled with board games that had missing pieces, or unlistenable records (although a 1980s German deep-house album I purchased as a child does get the occasional rotation at home).

But now, anyone who has found themselves as their family’s bargain-hunting outsider might feel some vindication after news broke that a savvy yard-sale shopper in New Haven, Connecticut, unknowingly picked up a Ming dynasty-era porcelain bowl for $35 (€29). The cobalt-blue and titanium-white dish, ornately decorated with lotuses, peonies, chrysanthemums and pomegranate blossoms, is now going under the hammer at Sotheby’s Highlights from Important Chinese Art sale (lot 130) on 17 March. It’s expected to sell for more than $300,000 (€251,000).

Dating back to the reign of the Yongle Emperor, the piece was likely produced in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen in the 15th century, which makes it difficult to explain how it ended up for sale in a front garden some 12,000km away. For a lucky bidder, the auction presents a chance to join a club that includes Taipei’s National Palace Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as owner of one of these exclusive pieces of porcelain: only six comparable dishes are known to exist today. And for bargain hunters such as myself, it’s a chance to finally justify some tacky garage-sale purchases.


Star power

Founded in St Gallen, Switzerland, in 1922, Akris started out as a modest clothing brand making polka-dot aprons. Cut to today and the label is behind lines of womenswear that strike a balance between art and fashion.

Take its latest collection, due for release on International Women’s Day this coming Monday. Akris’s creative director, Albert Kriemler, worked closely with German abstract artist Imi Knoebel, reproducing artworks from his colourful Kinderstern (“children’s star”) project onto cotton double-face blazers, canvas bags, and silk-blend sweaters.

As with all of Knoebel’s works featuring Kinderstern, proceeds from sales will be donated to children’s charities; it has raised €4m to date.


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