Saturday 13 March 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/3/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Shelf life

Before we start: this is the third part of a story about the big things: life, death and underwear. And about saying goodbye to Meg, a 92-year old woman who died two weeks ago. Next week will be the last instalment. If you missed the previous columns, it might help to click here and here. Thank you to everyone who has stayed the course.

During the coming days Meg’s house will have to be readied for sale and then, in a few months’ time, completely emptied and the keys handed to a new owner. But how do you start packing up a life when everything you catch sight of suddenly seems so imbued with meaning? As we stand there looking around, wondering which cupboard to open first, we imagine avoiding all of the looming decisions by simply keeping everything as it is.

The house is in Stratford-upon-Avon, just a short walk from Shakespeare’s birthplace, so perhaps we could turn it into lodgings for tourists who are after a full-on hey-nonny-nonny experience. David says that we could promote our inn as offering “bard and breakfast” but, of course, people would first have to decide if they wanted to B&B or not to B&B. I suggest that for breakfast I could serve my speciality egg dish of ham-let and toast and that we could even push to doing dinner: Julius Caesar salads and mac-beth burgers, as well as staples such as cod-piece and chips.

We start in the kitchen. A good measure of how old you are seems to be your increasing willingness to ignore the best-before dates on food. It’s as though the closer you personally get to perishing, the more determined you are to brush such irksome information away – to literally and metaphorically shove the issue to the back of the cupboard. It is agreed that packets of spices stamped “best by 2010” can go. I show David a tin of syrup marked 2008. “No, you can keep that,” he says. “That will be fine.”

Also cast out are several figurines with heads badly reattached after long-distant dusting incidents. But then there are things that you don’t want to tackle. I finally unpack the bag she took to hospital; take out her washbag, her nightdress. David has to look in his aunt’s handbag to find the credit cards that need cancelling but opening a woman’s handbag, even a dead woman’s, feels like an intrusion too far.

There are other tasks. The undertaker wants to know if we would like Meg to be dressed when cremated and we are confident that she would want to look her best for this moment. We find a bright-red jacket, a cream silk blouse that ties with the flourish of a pussy bow at the neck, and some black sequinned trousers. She’ll be disappointed that shoes are not allowed – she might have been 92 but there are some serious heels in the wardrobe. Ann, a neighbour, thankfully comes to select the underwear and congratulates us on our skills as stylists. It’s a look that works from cocktail party to casket.

As the weekend passes we find, peering out of a carrier bag, a teddy bear kept since childhood, as well as her first job contract at the BBC and so many photos. Here she is on a ski slope, turned to camera, perhaps in her twenties, a face full of anticipation. There are theatre programmes and guidebooks annotated on holidays years ago. There are so many baking trays and cut-glass tumblers. Slowly a few more things enter the bin bags but not much. These things need custodians, or at least to be lingered over a final time.

Faced with all these cupboards, all these things with meanings and histories that are often opaque to us, you soon reflect on your own possessions. How many of the things that you have kept and cherished will end up in a rubbish sack one day? Should you start the edit yourself now to save them time?

The answer is no. While it can be slow and melancholic, in this sifting and sorting you get to take stock of a life up close. See the person in rich detail. It’s another step in the long goodbye. Although you could perhaps have a bash at the spice rack before you go.


Top secrets

“Vaxxies” – that’s vaccine selfies, of course – have prompted a spike in sales of women’s one-shoulder and off-the-shoulder tops, as well as those with cut-outs, as worn by Dolly Parton (writes Genevieve Bates). The country star deserves much applause for encouraging people to get vaccinated with a new version of her 1974 hit “Jolene” (“vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate…”). But I can’t endorse her penchant for revealing strategic slivers of skin.

Clothing that exposes odd windows of arm or cleavage is akin to labelling the bits of your body that you think are hot and which ones make you feel self-conscious. Also such styles – such as the controversial “cold-shoulder” Donna Karan dress worn by Hillary Clinton in 1993 or the Bardot top that was recently trendy – always require some sort of bodily scaffolding: a halter strap, underwire or internal silicone gripper tape. Surely such underpinnings negate the sultry suggestiveness a peek of skin is intended to create?

But perhaps right now you simply want to give access to your upper arm without exposing your whole chest to the world, as Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did in his jab photo? Then wear a short-sleeved T-shirt. And a smile – because the privilege of getting vaccinated and the freedom it brings is something worth shouting about, photographing and sharing.


Breaking the boundary

Few countries venerate their sportspeople as intensely as Australia – its cricket players especially (writes Andrew Mueller). If you grow up there, as I did, you grow up indoctrinated with a notion of the Test cricketer as Australian virtue incarnate. If you grew up male in Australia, as I also did, you may not have paused to note that this ideal wasn’t as inclusive as it might have been.

If there’s a physical cricketing pantheon as well as a spiritual one, it manifests in the 73 statues that Australians have raised in honour of cricketers, likely more than the country has built of prime ministers (one of whom, John Howard, described his job as Australia’s “second most important”, deferring to the captain of the national cricket team). All those statues are of men.

That is about to change. A sculpture of a female cricketer will be installed at the Sydney Cricket Ground, alongside homages to such folk totems as Stan McCabe, Steve Waugh and Richie Benaud.

This is decades overdue. Women have been playing cricket in Australia since the 19th century. In more recent times, Australian women have undertaken foreign conquests with a mercilessness similar to that associated with the men’s national team. The women’s team has won more World Cups than all the other countries combined.

It has not yet been decided which female cricketer will be immortalised at the SCG. It is a clever question to leave open: Australians enjoy little more than arguing about sport and the debate might do more to raise the profile of the women’s game than any eventual monument.


Note perfect

Montréal-born singer-songwriter Béatrice Martin (better known by her stage name, Coeur de Pirate) has been playing piano since the age of three. But it wasn’t until she was 18 that the French-speaking artist earned her place on the musical map with her 2008 debut album, also titled Coeur de Pirate. She’s since picked up a spate of national and international awards.

More recently, Martin has turned her hand to management: she bought out her label Dare to Care Records in January, following allegations that the founder encouraged a toxic, sexist workplace culture. She has renamed it Bravo Musique and plans to foster a more inclusive atmosphere. Here Martin speaks of her love of cooking magazines, thriller movies and Michael Barbaro’s clipped tones on The Daily.

What news source do you wake up to?
I usually read La Presse, which is our Francophone Montréal newspaper. We have a couple of worthy news outlets here but I prefer local news – it makes more sense with the cultural differences, which are specific to Québec.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Always coffee. I’ll never drink it through the day but it’s vital that I have at least two cups in the morning.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I tend to listen to demos in the morning. I go through everything that’s sent my way by artists, or I work on updating rough mixes and tunes.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
My vocal warm-ups.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Kinfolk, Martha Stewart Living, Apartamento, Dwell, Dînette. I love cooking magazines; they soothe me and give me ideas. I don’t like intense reads when it comes to magazines, just stuff that’s visually pleasing. The rest I can find in books.

Favourite bookshop?
Drawn & Quarterly, a little independent bookstore in Montréal’s Mile End that specialises in graphic novels and niche titles.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
[The New York Times’s] The Daily. Michael Barbaro soothes me no end. I wish I could hear him while I sleep, creepy as it might sound.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Unfortunately I’ve been rewatching Friends for the fifth time this year. I’m not proud of it.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Zoë Buckman – I love everything she is about. She has a way of speaking about femininity through her art and poetry in such vivid ways. I can relate to what she’s created.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
Thrillers. If I could re-watch Zodiac every day, I would. When they’re done well, it’s the best kind of entertainment.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
I don’t, but if there’s major news taking place, I’ll watch CNN. During the US elections I had it on constantly and I doubt I was the only one outside of the States that did so.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
My dog snoring. It’s the best ASMR.


Outsider art

‘Stray’, Elizabeth Lo. This documentary about the stray dogs of Istanbul – ostensibly the story of three hounds – manages to be so much more than that. Stray is a parable of creating connection, even when you live outside the structures of society. It also offers a compassionate look at dogs’ talent for empathy and a fresh view of the city with all its problems – all done with a joy-inducing lightness of touch.

‘My Mamma’, La Rappresentante di Lista. The minimal electro-pop of Italian band La Rappresentante di Lista didn’t manage to claim the top spot in the country’s Sanremo song contest, which means that the group won’t make it to Eurovision after all. It’s a shame, because this album is full of sultry, suggestive songs that would have worked a treat on stage in Rotterdam. Still, we’re sure that the band’s fourth album will inspire theatrical dance routines nonetheless.

‘I am here because you were there’ / ‘(Re)Pose’, Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam. This pair of exhibitions explores and challenges narratives around race. In Esiri Erheriene-Essi’s I am here because you were there we get to see the faces of the African diaspora from the 1950s to the 1980s, whose lives and stories are largely untold. Meanwhile, in (Re)Pose, the paintings of WonderBuhle and Eniwaye Oluwaseyi present a version of blackness that’s about neither success nor struggle but rather the equally important everyday.


Bear necessities

Last month, when a woman went to relieve herself in her outhouse in Haines, Alaska, she received more than she had wagered for: a grizzly bear that had wandered into town accosted her bare behind. Attention-grabbing headlines ensued around the world: “Something bit my butt”, ran The Guardian; USA Today went with “Bear bites woman’s bottom during bizarre outhouse encounter”; and CBC in Canada po-facedly published “Alaska woman using outhouse attacked by bear, from below”.

But rather than pay homage to the international press, might we instead point you towards the first newspaper on the scene: the Chilkat Valley News. Run from a cabin in Haines – a west Alaskan town of 2,500, set along an ocean inlet – the weekly paper circulates 1,200 issues and employs two full-time members of staff: editor and owner Kyle Clayton, and reporter Ceri Godinez. Founded in 1966, it is one of a handful of independently owned newssheets in Alaska. Here, Clayton helps us get to the bottom of the butt-biting affair and tells us about the town’s troubles with landslides.

What was a grizzly bear doing in town?
These stories have been pretty common this past year – bear activity in town has blown up. It’s tied to food: there were poor salmon returns last summer and the berries weren’t so robust, meaning the bears didn’t have as much to eat. Because they’ve been hungry, they’ve been trying to get into people’s garbage, into their houses and their cars. It’s a problem.

What’s the big story this week?
In December we had record rainfall and that’s since brought on a lot of landslides round these parts. There have been more than 50 landslides across the borough in recent months; two people have been killed and five houses destroyed. We’re in aftermath-recovery mode now.

Do you have a down-page treat?
During the slides we ran a story on a woman in her seventies who was in town when they happened. But she was adamant that she would go up the mountain to rescue her dog, an Alaskan malamute called Gooch. She went into the police station and was like, “I’m going to get my dog if I have to hike up Mount Rally myself!” To stop her from going ahead with it, they ordered a search party which was eventually able to locate and return the 165lb [75kg] creature. It was a bit of light during it all.


Making waves

WHAT AM I BID? / BONHAMS ART DECO RADIOS Making waves For a long time, radios were the preserve of soldiers and scientists; they were ugly, expensive devices that were unwieldy and too complicated for domestic use. But as the 1920s rolled around and the US economy picked up pace, smart wooden radio receivers began adorning the homes of the nation’s middle classes, providing them with news and entertainment. But it was in the 1930s, when plastic models started to grace shop shelves, that manufacturers were the most inventive with their designs.

Bonhams’ forthcoming Modern Design auction in Los Angeles features a series of 81 vintage radios in experimental art deco styles that pop with colour. A standout among them is the Harold van Doren-designed Skyscraper model from 1933 (pictured), which takes its visual cues from the towering modernist buildings that were going up in the US around the time. Every model of the Skyscraper radio comes with different brass details, including clocks, maps and engravings. The mint-green Air King 66 is said to be among the most coveted and is estimated to go for between $15,000 and $25,000 (€12,500 to €20,900).

More affordable options include the quirky Piano, which was made in 1941 by early radio manufacturer Fada and resembles its namesake instrument. It’s expected to go for $400 to $600 (€330 to €400). And to finish off the sale? “We wanted to bookend this with the Sparton,” says the auction’s specialist, Jason Stein. Created by the fêted American industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague, these colourful numbers are priced between $2,000 and $8,000 (€1,700 to €6,700). The sale goes live online on 25 March and to a select in-person crowd in LA on 20 March. Those with an interest in good design and radio history should tune in.


Changing rooms

Renowned multibrand retail space Dover Street Market has built a reputation for striking visual merchandising thanks to its twice-annual tachiagari (or “new beginning”), whereby shop interiors are completely reimagined to celebrate the changing seasons. Now it seems that its presence in Paris is enjoying a tachiagari of its own, with the opening of a second location in the city.

Tucked away in a courtyard in the eighth arrondissement, the small boutique – called the “Little Market” – is replete with mirrored surfaces, well-dressed mannequins and an art installation centred around a bed. Although, given that the shop is stocked with the designs of seven up-and-coming labels, we doubt you’ll want to stop for a rest. Instead, you’ll likely be browsing the clothes rails and trying on colourful garments from the likes of Californian brand ERL or Singapore’s collective Youths in Balaclava.


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