On Monday, England will take another step out of lockdown that will include non-essential shops being allowed to open as well as restaurants and bars permitted to serve food and drinks, if alfresco. In London these establishments have been closed since December. This week, as you’ve been looking through shop and pub windows, there has been a small army of people polishing brass, replacing old winter stock for summer looks, painting walls, finally taking down their Christmas decorations and catching up over a cigarette with colleagues who they have not seen for weeks. It’s only a modest leap but it feels like the moment before a party begins. Who’ll blow up the balloons?
Once a week at 08.00 I see Trini. She is a woman of endless patience and such calmness when faced with stupidity and people crucifying her culture that she should be rewarded with a glistening medal. Trini is my Spanish teacher. “Now you remember the imperative?” she’ll say, then watch as the lights fade all around and a look of trepidation creeps across my face. This week she had found something “that simply explains subject and object pronouns and related syntax in Spanish sentences”. I read it. It might as well have been the user’s manual for the Hadron Collider. But I really like her unswerving confidence that something is getting through. If you go madly freestyle, she stays silent but gives a look that stops you in your tracks and forces you to retrace the stumbling path of your sentence until you see the dead body of an error that you tried to nonchalantly jump over. At least she knows she has job security – this mission will never come to an end.
Hairdressers also open on Monday. But most are booked out for weeks and my slowness on the speed dial means I will have to wait another fortnight to see my lock-lopper. Now, I could be disloyal but I succumbed to tonsorial temptation when I found myself in the same unshorn state after the last lockdown eased – and it all went badly wrong. The next day, looking very neat, I bumped into Jackson on his way to work. It’s hard to cover up such unfaithfulness, unless you quite literally cover it up with a hat. So, for now, I shall look like a cross between a saluki hound and a clump of washed-up seaweed and be proud that I have done the right thing. But if you do hear about any spare appointments…
A friend’s dog has died. But it had a good life and a name that caused much entertainment. He called the dog Taxi, which meant that whenever he shouted out its name, he risked London cab drivers screeching to a halt next to him. I heard another good one in the park this week: Spuds, as in potatoes, and in the past I have also met a Bucket, an Elbow and a pair of pomeranians called Dolce and Gabbana. All, you’ll concur, potential park head-turners if hollered in the right way. So far, Macy the fox terrier has declined the offer of being renamed Fire or Thief.
Last Sunday the spring sun shone and it felt as though every tree had selected the exact same moment to put on a lavish display of blossom in bubblegum pinks and brittle whites. Boughs bent with boastful blooms. I watched as people waited for their turn to stand under various particularly grand displays to have their pictures taken. Every now and then a tease of wind would dislodge a confetti-shake of petals. Nature had demanded that people witness its beauty, and young and old they came as supplicants. Who needs Kyoto? Back at work this past week several colleagues asked, “Did you see the blossom?” That’s what happens when everything is closed. I wonder whether we’ll take notice of such pleasures when the pubs are open.
Enthusiasm for conscription coincides with the enthusiast reaching an age beyond the interest of recruiters (writes Andrew Mueller). This correspondent never served a day and would have furiously resented being ordered into uniform – but, now safely ineligible, occasionally wonders if there is something to be said for it. Not necessarily a military draft but some idea of national service, introducing youth to new skills, new people and the idea that everything isn’t all about them.
Germany abolished conscription in 2011 but discussions of its reintroduction have been perennial since. A step has now been taken in that direction with the launch of a voluntary military programme for young folk – sort of a khaki gap year, including basic and specialist training, and requiring a commitment to deploy for five months during the next six years. Uptake has been brisk: 9,000 people applied for 1,000 places. Elsewhere, France will formally launch a new national civic service for teenagers this year.
The idea is that Germany’s new recruits will be available in the event of natural disasters – or, more pertinently, another public-health emergency. It is obviously no bad thing for nations to be better prepared but the same applies to individuals. I’ve met veterans of national service from a number of countries and eras. While their experiences varied wildly – from basically an extended summer camp to an actual combat tour – their view of it subsequently can be summarised thus: they might not have much enjoyed doing it – but they are very glad they did.
The quickish rollout of the vaccine programme – in the UK at least – means that many home-workers have been flocking back to the office with gusto (writes Josh Fehnert). Unfortunately, that same gusto has caused the less sporty among them to pile on a few pounds.
The Germans have dubbed the phenomenon Coronaspeck: an astute Teutonic coinage (literally “corona bacon”) that adds up to a broader waistline and extra chin thanks to a year of sitting and snacking.
As such, we’ve spotted a fair few workers in the tie-wearing trades re-emerging onto the streets in blazers and slacks that look rather snugger than they might have done when lockdowns started last spring: think of lapels bulging, thighs burgeoning, and jacket sleeves hoicked up to reveal an extra inch of shirt cuff. The changing codes of workwear are a perpetual debate but the longer-term shift away from ties and lounge-suits seems inevitable after a year that many have spent schlubbing around at home or with the freedom to join work calls in pyjama bottoms (more so when some companies aren’t even convinced that there will be an office to return to in future).
But stretched suits are likely a seasonal sight. Maybe a return to the rigours of socialising and commuting will see corpulent corporates shed the lockdown pounds? Or, perhaps, we’re set for a summer of suited elastication and the arrival of drawstring trousers in the boardroom. Good news… at a stretch.
Handsome residential and commercial design projects have formed the backbone of Yaara Gooner’s work so far. The young Israeli architect has earned recognition for her efforts leading the design teams at both Labs (an office provider with locations in London and Tel Aviv) and Stay (a smart new London accommodation service), creating smartly considered spaces in which to live and labour. Here she tells us about her love of a timeless soundtrack, the newspapers she thinks are best designed and the importance of a morning coffee routine for structuring your day.
What have you been working on recently?
We’ve just launched Labs’ largest workplace to date, Victoria House in London’s Knowledge Quarter.
What news source do you wake up to?
No news for me in the morning. I try to limit my screen time first thing and prefer listening to music while I get ready for the day.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee and lots of it: preferably a cappuccino with oat milk. I’ve managed to find a few good cafés offering takeaway in my area, which has been a saviour during the past year. Being able to keep that morning coffee run in my routine has really helped to shape my day.
Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Definitely Spotify. These days I find myself listening to a lot of Billie Holiday and the Amélie soundtrack. The film came out 20 years ago now but I still love Yann Tiersen’s expressive accordion and piano.
Newspaper that you turn to?
I always loved newspapers and magazines growing up in Israel, especially the Telavivian. It’s visual journalism at its best. Since moving to London, I’ve also enjoyed the great colour supplements from The Sunday Times and The Observer. The layouts, illustration and photography fascinate me.
Shreeji News and Magazines on Chiltern Street in Marylebone. It’s technically a newsagent rather than a bookshop but it stocks hundreds of specialist newspapers from around the world, fueling my love for magazines and print. It also now serves coffee, making it the perfect place to spend a few hours on the weekend.
And what’s your movie genre of choice?
I would have to say black-and-white movies from old Hollywood. There’s something about the absence of colour that heightens the mood; film-makers were forced to use music and close-ups to convey emotion.
Do you make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
Not at all these days, I catch up on the latest headlines on my phone before getting ready for bed.
`What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I love listening to podcasts, particularly biographies. The New Yorker: Poetry podcast is also very soothing to fall asleep to.
‘The Man who Sold His Skin’, Kaouther Ben Hania. If the debate around NFTs has had you wondering whether the whole thing is, in fact, an elaborate satire on the extremes of the contemporary art market, this film (reportedly inspired by a true story) will provide another interesting intellectual challenge. The Tunisian entry for the Oscars’ best international feature category tells the story of a Syrian refugee who agrees to have his back tattooed by a controversial artist in the hopes of reuniting with his long-lost love. Travelling around as a living and breathing artwork proves to be easier than as a refugee – but this artificial freedom of movement comes at a price.
‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’, Mariana Enríquez. This stunning collection of short stories explores the darker side of life in contemporary Buenos Aires, the sprawling, teeming streets of which become a halfway house between the living and the dead, full of weird happenings. A neighbourhood slowly goes to wrack and ruin after its inhabitants are cursed; disappeared children suddenly reappear en masse to terrorise the living; and a woman with a heartbeat fetish seeks increasingly deadly sexual stimulation. Enríquez’s gothic stories are a force to be reckoned with; they shimmer with a strange beauty.
‘Paradigmes’, La Femme. The third album by the Paris-based band is another excellent example of its fluid mix of genres, with influences ranging from Kraftwerk to The Velvet Underground. Title track “Paradigme” is an outstanding piece of cabaret-electro. Perhaps as a nostalgic ode to times spent travelling around the US, La Femme dedicates three songs in the album to America: “Cool Colorado”, “Pasadena” and the sweet “Nouvelle-Orléans”. We await impatiently the moment that they get back on tour, as the band is known for its extravagant live performances.
Deep in Chile’s Antarctic region, in its southernmost port city of Punta Arenas, daily print newspaper La Prensa Austral has been serving a loyal 4,000-strong readership among the region’s 160,000 residents for nearly 80 years (writes Anastasia Moloney). Leading a team of six journalists is Poly Raín, who started her career as a sports (then entertainment, then arts) reporter 30 years ago. “I’ve done all the beats,” says Raín, who says he became editor eight years ago “almost by accident”.
With the city acting as a gateway for expeditions to the Antarctic, news about tourist cruises have tended to attract local headlines – as have the periodic rescue missions by the Chilean armed forces, saving stranded fishermen and shipwrecked vessels in the glacial wilderness off the edge of South America. But it’s the pandemic that has dominated coverage in the past year. Here, Raín tells us about the challenges it has presented and the success of the vaccine rollout in Chile.
What’s the aim of the paper?
Our paper is focused on the community: we promote regional news. We don’t have any political affiliation – we are independent and pluralist. It’s been difficult for newspapers in the region to stay afloat, with some forced to go online. But we’ve been able to keep our print edition going, as well as our Sunday edition, El Magallanes, which has been around since 1894.
What’s the big story this week?
Everything has been all about the pandemic. Many businesses have shut following the lockdown and the health service has collapsed. We rely on tourism most months of the year, with cruise ships arriving at Punta Arenas and visitors coming here from all over the world, so thousands have lost their jobs. But business is slowly reactivating and we’re hoping that the sector will recover fully by mid-2022. Chile’s vaccine rollout has been efficient and a high percentage of people in our region have had the jab. We’re now focusing on how effective the vaccines are, reopening plans, and how the community can bounce back.
What’s the next big event?
Chile will host a major world congress for the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research in 2024. Meetings will be held in Punta Arenas and across the region. We’ll be covering the lead up to this event and the conference.
Before passing away in December last year, Jan Torsten Ahlstrand was well-known in Sweden’s art milieu. Lauded as an art historian, the 82-year-old was the author of books and countless essays, also serving as the culture and museum director for Ystad municipality and director of the Skissernas museum in Lund. His personal collection included an extensive array of 1920s artworks, from a pastry reimagined by Picasso to lithographs by Matisse. But in his region, he was always best regarded for his selection of paintings by – and unmatched knowledge of – the great Swedish artist, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, who is so famous in Sweden that he is known simply as Gan.
This is why Bukowskis auction house’s forthcoming sale of 50 works from Ahlstrand’s collection in Stockholm is causing something of a stir. As well as various rare prints (sadly, the pastry isn’t up for grabs), 14 pictures by Gan will go on sale, with his expressionistic “The Eiffel Tower”, painted in 1920, among the cream of the crop. It is estimated to sell for as much as SEK1.2m (€118,000). However, the 1928 Cubist-style painting “Fiskarna vid Seine” by Gan’s contemporary Erik Olson is expected to go for the highest sum, starting at SEK1.5m (€147,000). “The lots range all the way up from a few thousand kronor,” says Bukowskis’ Andreas Rydén, stressing that these Swedish modernist and avant garde pieces are increasingly popular among international buyers. Part of the Modern Art and Design auction on 10 to 11 May, this might be your way into a Nordic art scene that is only growing in stature. As they say: lycka till. bukowskis.com
Women: it’s time to say bye-bye to last year’s bucket hat and embrace the baseball cap (writes Genevieve Bates). Think off-duty Princess Diana, Jennifer Aniston during the Brad Pitt years and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise – but neater and more polished for 2021. It’s a little bit normcore, a little bit 1990s and a little bit sexy too.
While baseball caps have long been a staple of A-list celebrities striding through airports, they’ve recently become a recognisable fashion trend among younger women. The seeds of this resurgence were sown on the runway – first during Balenciaga’s logomania phase in 2017, when creative director Demna Gvasalia styled the house logo by repurposing the typography from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, and later in Burberry’s spring/summer 2018 show, when the house put its rehabilitated beige-check pattern on caps.
So how to wear one now? The most-photographed models favour caps with New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers logos. But for grown-ups who want something in keeping with a smart, urban appearance, we suggest a subtly fashion-inflected interpretation from APC, Celine or Isabel Marant. apcstore.com; celine.com; isabelmarant.com