Saturday. 27/3/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

OPENER / ANDREW TUCK

On the scene

By now everyone over 50 in the UK has been offered a vaccine but so too have quite a few people in their forties – even though, officially, they were supposedly going to be made to wait until supply chains were flowing more smoothly again. This week I have spoken to two friends in this latter category who, while delighted to be vaccinated, have clearly been troubled that people might think they have already hit the half-century mark. “I was so surprised to be called, I really didn’t think they would offer it to people in my age group,” said one. I had mine weeks ago. I was not called early.

We started watching the Israeli TV series Alice and, after about 10 minutes of listening to people speaking Hebrew, I asked he who is in charge of the remote whether he thought there might be subtitles. Menus were re-selected but this time it clicked into dubbed English. It was definitely better in Hebrew without subtitles. We did get there eventually. Then, last night, we watched the Sophia Loren film The Life Ahead and somehow it also launched into dubbed English. While that may be my language, you understand a film and its characters far better if you have to read the subtitles but can hear the real actors. Listening to anything dubbed into English is like ordering beans on toast in an Italian restaurant; it might seem simpler but it’s just not right. As a teenager, subtitles also seemed oddly glamorous. After a French movie at the local arts centre, you would leave determined to take up smoking Gitanes, only drive a Citroën (once you had a licence, mind) or at least persuade your parents to serve you croissants for breakfast.

The Life Ahead is filmed in Puglia in the city of Bari. It’s portrayed as a place of drug deals and prostitution, yet even with no desire to be employed in either trade (a bit late in the day for such a dramatic career switch), it makes you want to visit. The heat. The sounds. And I hope Sophia Loren.

Lee Issac Chung’s multiple-Oscar-nominated movie Minari has been my other film high of recent days but oddly I have no desire to move to Arkansas, become a vegetable farmer or live in a house on wheels. It is, however, moving (the film and potentially the house) and beautiful. I hope it cleans up.

Sophia Loren is 86 and a woman happy to reveal every crease and blemish that age has given her. A screen idol whose age and beauty continue to be intertwined.

On 12 April restaurants in England can reopen after months of being shuttered. Over the past year some of these companies have pivoted to home delivery with a dexterity that is impressive. Many have somehow created either ready-to-devour meals or dishes that you assemble at home that are true to their brand values, while never pretending to be the same offer that you would get while seated in their establishment (the London restaurant Luca has made me very happy, so too has Honey and Smoke and the chefs who operate the Cook and Thief service). They have found packaging solutions and ways of talking to their customers that win you over, keep you loyal and reveal their inventiveness. They should be hired as consultants by some of the big corporates who have allowed every touch point with their brands to evaporate, who warn you on every call that “due to coronavirus you are about to be messed around and abused” – or at least that’s what their holding messages might as well say.

We were talking in the office about Minari and The Life Ahead with Monocle 24’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco (Brazilian, penchant for a tropical shirt, the first in shorts at work every year, great on Latam politics). He told me that he applied to be on the TV quiz Mastermind and had three potential specialist topics: the cinema box office, the life and times of Madonna, and Eurovision. I realised that I have no specialist subject.

Let’s end on a nice note: Laura Pausini singing “Io sí” (written by Diane Warren) in Italian from The Life Ahead. It’s nominated for an Oscar, Best Original Song. Haven’t got a clue what she’s on about but, I promise, it makes perfect sense.

HOW WE LIVE / THE SUPER-COMMUTER

Train in vain

They’re a special breed: the individuals who willingly (or reluctantly) commute upwards of an hour or two each way, every working day (writes Christopher Cermak). My own experience of this came from living for a time in my family home in Massapequa on Long Island, taking the slow-moving Long Island Railroad that has been the punchline of many an American sitcom (I suggest How I Met Your Mother) into New York City. The commute took about two hours each way and left me with little energy to enjoy workday evenings in the city, as I found myself nervously checking my watch for the next train. People who do this regularly will tell you they “don’t mind” the commute – but I vowed never again.

But what about now? Surveys suggest that the further you live from work, the more likely you are to have enjoyed working from home this past year. And while we would be the last ones to swear off the idea of an office altogether, it’s fair to say that many employees expect to come into work less regularly in the future. Unsurprisingly this is breeding interest in living further away from work, too. And the benefit here is that we’re not just talking sleepy commuter towns (sorry, Massapequa) but second and third-tier cities that could see a population revival – what about living in Bath (pictured) and commuting to London, for example? The added benefit is that a commute once or twice a week starts to feel more like an adventure, something you really do undertake willingly and can round off with a proper evening out in the big city. It’s still not for everyone but for those willing to put on the red cape and join the new breed of super-commuters, I say: “Up, up, and away!”

THE LOOK / BLAIR HAIR

Locks away

Tony Blair’s recent appearances – typically sharp, jacket-but-no-tie offerings beamed from a well-lit study echelons above the regular low-res Zoom-iverse – nonetheless had us squinting and double-taking (writes Robert Bound). And his debut in Monocle’s latest issue ushered a reaction much the same: “Is that Tony Blair?” “Look at his hair!” “Hello!” The Blair hair is now of collar-bothering length, mostly snowy-white, thinning of course, but demonstrably there and rather raffish.

Mr Blair joins a group (or rather, rejoins – he won that first 1997 election on a wave of optimism and longer-than-necessary hair) of mature gentlemen who have embraced the longer lock. Paul Weller has grown out his “modfather” feathered cut for a lustrousness that often requires an ear tuck; Paul Smith continues to foster his neat take on the longer “creative” cut that works perfectly with his slim suits; and Bill Nighy’s louche flick and sweep of a fringe has become an innate element of the 71-year-old’s bankability that still has casting directors a-swoon.

The first thing we wondered when Blair recently twinkled into sight was, “Has he got a new album out?” Because the Blair hair – the lockdown look – positively reeks of rock aristocracy. On first squint it could have been McCartney talking about McCartney III but there weren’t enough V-fingered peace signs. Was it, then, a Pink Floyder talking about an album of rarities or a polo-playing member of Genesis announcing new dates for an old tour? Is Bryan Ferry’s son in trouble again? But no.

We applaud Mr Blair’s new hair. In foreign-policy terms the new Blair hair would not have teamed up with that most short-haired-thinking of men, George W Bush, in dishing out regime changes. It is a cut of confidence that harks back to former glories and looks ahead to new ones. That Ugly Rumours reformation can be but months away. On second thoughts...

THE INTERROGATOR / TRINE EILERTSEN

Reporting for duty

Trine Eilertsen is one of Norway’s best-regarded journalists and editors. Having worked for a breadth of papers and media companies nationwide – from Bergen’s Bergens Tidende (which she helmed from 2008 to 2013) to NRK, Norway’s national broadcaster – she now heads up the country’s paper of record, Aftenposten. Here she tells us about Buenos Aires’ unbeatable bookshops and why she has her coffee delivered to her in bed each morning.

What have you been working on lately?
We have serious growth ambitions for this year and some journalistic projects that we hope will make a mark. This summer will be 10 years since the horrendous 22 July terrorist attack. That will be important this year, as well as the pandemic, of course.

What news source do you wake up to?
I’m afraid I’m among the people who wake up with my phone next to my bed and hug it before I hug my better half. Luckily he is also a news junkie. I scan Aftenposten first of all, then the main news sites before moving on to The New York Times, the BBC, CNN and sometimes other European publications.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Ten years ago my partner convinced me that we needed to buy this big, mean (and quite expensive) Italian coffee machine. He promised to make me a perfect latte every morning and he has kept his promise.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
For music I listen to NRK P3. It keeps me informed about new music; I grew up in the pop-music dream decade of the 1980s, so I appreciate it very much.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
That would be a hit from the radio – or some lines of church music I rehearsed years ago for the choir I used to sing with.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Aftenposten’s own magazine, the A-magasinet. Vanity Fair, The Economist and sometimes magazines about skiing, cabins (Norwegians are really into cabins) or food.

Favourite bookshop?
I loved the bookshops I visited when I lived in Buenos Aires for a few months in 2006. They were as far from Amazon and the big chains as you could imagine – original and inviting, with events for book lovers. And you could buy a glass of wine too.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
All the time. News podcasts, like The Daily, Aftenposten Forklart [“explained”] and documentaries and fabulous storytelling. My favourite from recent years is Dolly Parton’s America.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
Anything except sci-fi; nothing with dragons or supernatural action.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
An episode from a TV series – I look forward to season 3 of Succession and miss Le Bureau des Légendes.

CULTURE / / LISTEN / VISIT / WATCH

Homecoming

‘Kuessipan’, Myriam Verreault. After garnering critical acclaim at festival screenings around the world for much of last year, this Québécoise feature is getting a wider release beyond Canada and the Francophone market. This story of a friendship between two women, both of whom are part of the local Innu community, cuts to the heart of what it means to belong. Does having one’s sights set beyond the confines of the reserve mean betraying identity, roots and family?

‘La Lengua en Los Ojos’, Travesia Cuatro. Thanks to its sister outpost in Guadalajara, Travesia Cuatro gallery in central Madrid has a strong relationship with Mexico. For this exhibition in its original space in Chueca, curators Andrea Celda and Claudia Llanza have gathered eight female Mexican artists whose photographic works focus on the body and its relationship with the context (both physical and social) that surrounds it.

‘Tako Tsubo’, L’Impératrice. Three years after electro-funk gem Matahari, French band L’Impératrice is back and the album’s unusual title means “octopus trap” in Japanese. Although the band considers the album to be less romantic than the previous one, the melodies still feel like a hazy summer evening. With its delightful synths, opening track “Anomalie Bleue” is a highlight and so is the fun “Peur Des Filles”. The album ends on a deliciously funky note with “Voodoo”.

OUTPOST NEWS / EMPROS, XANTHI

Joined-up thinking

On 25 March, Greece celebrated the bicentenary of its revolution against the Ottoman empire (writes Alex Aldea). But amid the tension that still exists between Turkey and Greece, 140km west of the Turkish border is Xanthi: a town in Thrace that is home to an ethnic mishmash of Muslim and Christian Greeks who live peacefully side by side. Pomaks, one of the region’s Muslim minorities, are unique in their unwritten Slavic dialect, which has Turkish and modern Greek influences.

It’s a potential minefield for those who aren’t culturally astute. But for Eleni Diafonidou, the editor and owner of Xanthi’s daily paper Empros, writing about the concerns of this melting pot is business as usual. With a current team of five full-timers, the paper was established in 1977 and has remained independently owned ever since. Here, Diafonidou tells us a little more about her territory’s history and how her paper reports on local concerns.

What’s the big news this week?
There’s a heated public debate around investment into a wind farm, which is planned for the mountainous area of Livaditis nearby. The land there is preserved by an environmental-protection convention. While public authorities recognise the need for renewable energy sources, they oppose the damage it would do to the natural beauty of the area.

Do you have a favourite article?
Recently, we published an article about the culture of pandochía, or chania [“inns”] in the town of Xanthi. The headline was “Xanthi, the inn-city of Thrace”. These inns offered accommodation for travellers and merchants when Xanthi was a passage for trade, especially tobacco. They were active until the 20th century. Our newspaper has always been positively oriented towards the benefits of a multicultural society. This piece celebrates the peaceful coexistence that has been achieved in Thrace, in spite of the conflict between Greece and Turkey.

Any big dates on the calendar?
Of course it’s difficult at the moment but Xanthi has historically been a town of big cultural events. Our carnival is the biggest in the north of Greece and one of the country’s most spectacular affairs, taking place 40 days before Orthodox Easter. Then there is a festival in April in honour of a famous local composer, Manos Hadjidakis, who once won an Academy award for his music.

WHAT AM I BID? / / ARTIFACTS OF HOLLYWOOD AND MUSIC

A little more action

Where were you when you first saw an ominous black Cadillac pull up at a ticket booth in The Godfather (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara)? When Andy Warhol upended the art establishment by printing Marilyn Monroe’s face on paper? Were you alive to witness Elvis Presley’s return to music after his seven-year hiatus? Even if not, there’s a good chance that the thought of it all wraps you up in a comforting sense of nostalgia.

This is a large part of why the 214-lot Artifacts of Hollywood and Music auction, hosted by the Kruse GWS auction house in California, is causing such a stir. Chock-full of classic pieces of Americana – including Elvis’s comeback-tour guitar (pictured) with bids currently north of $350,000 (€297,000); a Cadillac from The Godfather starting at $20,000 (€17,000) and a Warhol-signed Monroe print (pictured) priced in the thousands – the sale harks back to a time when the cultural world was simpler and more glamorous. “It taps into people’s emotions,” says Brigitte Kruse, founder of Kruse GWS and lead auctioneer. “Each item takes you to where you were and what you were doing when you first saw it on TV.”

Of course, it’s not only this that fuels bidding wars for classic memorabilia. “The other thing that makes these items exciting is that they’re part of a new commodities market,” Kruse says, comparing their value to art, which was once solely a collector’s pursuit and today is also seen as a stable choice for investment. So warm your paddle: live bidding begins on the GWS website at 10.00am PT, today.
gwsauctions.com

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