Saturday 8 May 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 8/5/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Turning up

Back in January when the third lockdown hit, our offices went quiet – although not silent. When you have a radio station, live news shows and a magazine to dispatch to the printers, you have to keep a core group together. Now, with infection numbers down and confidence up, the editorial team is fully back and the hope is that this time we get to stay united. Why does it matter? It’s more creative, it’s easier to finesse projects in real time that are moving at pace, it’s simpler to spot when someone needs help and it’s also more likely that you will avoid errors creeping into the process.

And then there’s the selfish bit: I like seeing these people. While we may not have a watercooler, we do have watercooler moments when films are recommended, stories unpacked, funny moments relived, ideas shared. That’s not to say that our teams in distant offices should be out of the loop – we make sure that there’s a weekly Asia-bureaux call with Fiona and Jun in Tokyo and Nina and James in Hong Kong (the highlight this week was Fiona explaining why a new cologne is based on the smell of sumo wrestlers). But, as too many reports continue to appear declaring that office life is doomed, here are just three scenes – and a few, perhaps, unsung stars – that made Midori House the place we all wanted to be this week.

On Wednesday, the first copy of The Monocle Book of Homes came into the office. It’s exciting when a new book arrives. And it is stunning. It was designed by our art director Sam Brogan and he’s done an amazing job. I have seen the focus and the late nights that he has poured into every page and every decision. Sam brought the book over to show me the second that it landed and he was beaming. How great, I thought, to have such pride in the things you make. Really, you had to be there.

On Tuesday we recorded episode 500 of The Urbanist which will air this coming Thursday. It’s a show that I get to host but booking the guests, honing the debates and stitching together my fumbled audio is down to two people on M24: producer Carlota Rebelo and senior studio manager David Stevens. For this landmark show the tables are turned and I am the guest – the result is both a celebration of almost 10 years of the podcast and a gentle roasting of yours truly. As the recording ended, David came in and opened a bottle of champagne. Just two of the people who have helped us keep the radio live and essential over the past 18 months, even while their families are far off in Portugal and New Zealand.

Yesterday we just about sent the June issue to print. We have a tight squad of sub editors who have to proof and improve every story, make sure that credits are in order, take in rounds of corrections from editors and late-filing writers, and so much more. They have perhaps the most stressful role to play. Running it all is chief sub Lewis Huxley whose calmness, precision and focus are unbelievable – and he’s dapper too. There was a moment this week where I just thought, “How does he do this?” There were people hovering around him, print-outs being dropped on his desk and then I arrived with even more changes. But there’s something in this intensity, in this ability to make to-the-second decisions on press day, that just works when we are all present.

I should also mention Nic and Louis, two young writers who are now also flourishing as editors (they pull together this Saturday Monocle Weekend Edition for starters) and who you see making the most of every project, every interaction that they have with the world of journalism – that’s hard to replicate on Zoom. Then there’s Joe, Hester and Molly on the books team who this week were already deep into planning our new title for anyone who wants to start or grow a business – and who were able to nicely corner me when they needed feedback without sending an entreating email.

This has been a week of interviewing people face-to-face for the new internship programme, planning for the launch events at Midori for the homes book with Hannah and, just as importantly, being surrounded by clever conversation, people passionate about making magazines and radio shows, and a feeling of nourishing camaraderie. That’s why for me – and many more people – the future is not being sat in the spare bedroom all day but in the office reborn.


Thaw freedoms

Spring is always eagerly awaited in Helsinki after a long, dark winter (writes Petri Burtsoff). This year, this maxim is truer than ever as the pandemic begins to subside here. You only need to step outside to sense that the mood has shifted.

The feeling of optimism is palpable at Allas Sea Pool, the outdoor Swiss-style badi in Helsinki’s main harbour. I was among the first in line as it reopened following months of coronavirus restrictions: people were laughing in the sauna and swimming in the heated pool, and the bravest were taking a dip in the seawater lido.

Footfall has also returned to Aleksanterinkatu, the city’s main commercial street, with its two new independent design shops welcoming scores of punters. Namely, the colourful flagship store of Finnish furniture brand Made by Choice and Lokal, a shop stocked with beautiful Helsinki-created objects, from ceramic bowls to works of art.

As for exhibitions, at the Didrichsen Art Museum a series of paintings by the Moomins creator Tove Jansson is proving a hit, as is a much-anticipated exhibition of the Russian painter Ilya Repin’s work that has recently opened at the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum. It seems that people aren’t short of things to do – and venues aren’t short of public appetite in Helsinki.


Heckles up

Poor Mitt Romney (writes Tomos Lewis). During a speech at a Republican convention in his home state of Utah last Saturday, the moderate Republican senator and critic of Donald Trump faced a chorus of boos that all but drowned out his turn at the lectern. To some, the booing was deeply symbolic: that the middle-ground in Republican politics is increasingly scarce, its nuances to be shouted down and drowned out no matter how unceremoniously. For others, it was just plain rude.

The boo is indeed a blunt tool. It’s a longstanding one, too; it is regularly traced back to ancient Greece. But why has the boo persisted? Well, it’s simple and effective: breathe in, pout your lips and “booooo” for as clear an expression of distaste there is, at anything from the presence of a baddie in a pantomime to the subject of a protest or a fumble by a sports figure. (Some US football fans are referred to as “Boo Birds”, given their fondness of booing heartily during a game.)

Some, such as those in Utah last weekend, would argue that the boo is a democratising force: felling the mighty with the collective sound of the many. That may be so. But we like to think that there are more elevated ways of disagreeing with someone. We wouldn’t even say boo to a goose.


Case in point

For the past year suitcases have been hibernating in closets but as we prepare to venture back into the world, it’s time they were rolled out and clicked open. For a certain type of traveller there’s only one model to parade: the hard-backed, aluminium Rimowa. These sturdy metal shells have graced carousels since the 1930s but their popularity escalated when LVMH acquired the Köln-based luggage-maker in 2016. Distinctive yet unflashy, and embraced by CEOs and fashionistas alike, Rimowas have become a status symbol. Younger folks treat them as canvases to be customised, plastering them with stickers from streetwear brands, sports teams and destinations – and adding yellow belt straps from Off-White and plenty of scratches for authenticity.

A fleet of attractive and more affordable hard-shelled designs from young independents have emerged in Rimowa’s wake, whether it’s the matte polycarbonate carriers from Horizn Studios and Away, Paravel’s glossy offerings or the fun, shiny retro cases from Munich’s Floyd, which are inspired by 1970s Los Angeles and boast bright nylon interiors. And then there’s Monocle’s favourite, Proteca from Japan. Whether you opt for the OG or one of these upstart alternatives, you’ll be enjoying that sweet clickety clack of wheels trundling across pavements very soon now – and all will look happy plastered with stickers and luggage tags.


Anchor watch

Born in India and based in New York, Fareed Zakaria is the host of CNN’s global affairs programme Global Public Square (better known as GPS). He’s also a Washington Post contributor and the author of several books. Here he reveals a passion for singing church hymns and watching rom-coms.

What have you been working on lately?
The afterword to the paperback edition of my book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. It’s an opportunity to see what I got right and wrong.

What news source do you wake up to?
The official answer is CNN. The unofficial answer is that I skip around a lot. I usually start with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Financial Times online. Der Spiegel also has a very good English-language website. I look at the South China Morning Post, Le Figaro and Le Monde, and also the Indian newspapers. You realise that even though we are one big global village, the stories can be very parochial.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Two cups of strong assam tea with milk; I grew up in India and those habits die hard.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
It’s all Spotify. I used to have CDs and people will tell me that the sound quality from streaming is not as good. But the ease of use trumps the quality.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
This is where I reflect my multicultural origins and background: sometimes it’s opera, sometimes it’s Bollywood musicals and sometimes, believe it or not, it’s Church of England hymns, which I love. I went to a British school in Bombay where we sang hymns every morning from the time I was six years old until I was 18. You will sometimes find me in the shower bellowing “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The tragedy is that I was a magazine freak, having edited one for 10 years. But the number I physically read has gone down dramatically and I regret that. But certainly The Economist, The New Yorker and The Atlantic, plus The New York Review of Books and Liberties, the new journal from Leon Wieseltier.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I love Mandy Patinkin in Homeland. One day I was at a New York event and I saw him walking out of the bathroom. I froze and thought, “Should I tell him I’m a fan?” And at that moment, without missing a beat, he said “big fan” and walked away. I was still frozen; I wanted to say “I am too”.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
I like romantic comedies the most; I always have. From the great Katharine Hepburn films of the 1930s through to When Harry Met Sally, which is probably my favourite because it is set in New York.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I read before I go to bed and I don’t even read that much because I have insomnia, and doctors say that you should really only use the bed for sleep. But I do have a few things on the bed stand and they are usually things I can dip into like Auden’s collected poems. I’ll just read a couple of poems and go to bed; it’s short and sweet.


In the works

‘If I Could Make It Go Quiet’, Girl in Red. The story of Girl in Red reads like a modern-day pop-music fairytale. The unassuming teenage songwriter from rural Norway (AKA Marie Ulven) amassed such an enormous following of devout fans that she signed a great album deal, landed a billboard in Times Square and garnered critical acclaim for her debut. Ulven sings energetic but tender, blisteringly honest songs about often-unrequited queer love, and the enduring pain of relationships.

‘Second Place’, Rachel Cusk. This new novel from the author of the Outline trilogy explores the power and privilege of art through an encounter between a restless female writer and a famous male artist. Convinced that his presence and influence might help her understand her own work better, she invites him to stay in a cabin close to her secluded coastal home. But when he shows up together with a beautiful young woman, claustrophobia and confusion, rather than clarity, ensue.

‘Frank Bowling – London / New York’, Hauser & Wirth. This extraordinary exhibition on the long and august career of Guyana-born painter Frank Bowling is taking over both the London and New York locations of the commercial gallery giant. It’s an apt decision, given that over the course of five decades, Bowling has worked across the two cities and was inspired by their respective scenes: some of his latest colourful, textured canvases will be on show too.


Style isle

The Italian island of Pantelleria is set between the Sicilian and Tunisian coasts and is known for azure waters, salty capers and passito wine. Though home to some 7,500 permanent residents, the island hosts a smattering of some 20,000 tourists in normal years. Though less than other, less far-removed isles, this annual intake is largely made up of Italy’s wealthy and stylish milieu and the likes of Giorgio Armani have invested in holiday homes.

It was in the summer of 2018 that Marina Cozzo founded Il Giornale di Pantelleria. Launched partly out of interest and partly by necessity, Cozzo explains that there were no independent freesheets left on the island. Published monthly and shipped from printers on mainland Italy, the newspaper has a circulation of 1,000 and has quickly become the island’s reference point. In recent months, when the supply of other newspapers to the island was cut off, Il Giornale di Pantelleria still managed to keep its deliveries consistent. Here, Cozzo fills us in on the island’s goings on.

What’s the big news at the moment?
A man called Francesco Lanzino, who’s originally from Palermo but often used to spend his holidays here, is on an adventure on foot. He’s travelling 2,500km from Pantelleria to Turin with two mules and a Pantesco donkey. It began in April and we’ve followed him every step of the way, describing the history, traditions and cultures of the places he visits. The story has received a big response from other newspapers across Italy and we are very happy with it.

Do you have a down-page treat?
A short time ago we started receiving poetry submissions. They were coming from all over the world – the US, Brazil – and were all written in Pantesco, our dialect. So we decided to include them in a regular section. Now we even organise an annual prize to celebrate the best ones we receive; it’s called “La Cossyra”.

What’s the next big story on the island?
Pantelleria has always had a large agricultural industry. But since tourism kicked off here in the 1980s, people have slowly invested more heavily into the holiday sector. The reality now is that much of the economy relies on the summer’s tourist money for the whole year. We’re trying to make the island more appealing year-round. We now have a high school dedicated to training people in hospitality but farming is still important – there’s been a recent proposal to create an agricultural school here too.


Fall from space

Scarcity fuels demand (writes Alex Briand). So it was perhaps inevitable that collectors eyeing ever-rarer and more exotic prizes stopped scouring the earth altogether – and started looking to the heavens. Between 18 and 28 May, Bonhams’ meteorites auction will offer the opportunity to bid on matter that has crashed to earth after flying through space.

One specimen had formed a part of the Martian surface for millennia before it broke off and eventually crashed in the sands of the Sahara Desert – it’s estimated to go for up to $450,000 (€371,000). A Lunar equivalent will set you back up to $250,000 (€206,000). “They represent two of the best examples in the world,” says Bonhams’ natural history specialist Tom Lindgren. “It’s a rare opportunity to acquire exceptional objects that have quite literally traversed through time and space.”

As for other celestial opportunities, Christie’s announced on Tuesday the private sale of a bottle of Pétrus 2000 that has been aged for 14 months – on board the International Space Station. This stellar vintage, expected to go for $1m (€820,000), was taste-tested by a team of connoisseurs against a regular, Earth-aged Pétrus 2000, and they reported marked differences. Whether the flavour is in any way improved remains to be seen (it would have to be some bouquet to warrant repeat trips) but the aim of this particular project goes one step beyond viniculture – the mission’s other 11 bottles will be studied to further research on new methods of agriculture on earth.

Perhaps fuelled by the burgeoning new space race – with India, Japan and China all having recently joined the US and Russia’s renewed efforts – the opportunity to own a piece of the cosmos is proving more popular than ever. Collectors are well and truly reaching for the stars.


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