Saturday 15 May 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 15/5/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


In bloom

Last Sunday I went to Columbia Road flower market in London’s East End. It has been a regular Sunday habit for decades. My friend Sharon and her partner used to live in a terraced house around the corner. On Sundays they’d invite me over for breakfast in their house filled with antiques and curios, then we’d go and visit the flower stalls and, occasionally, I would buy a bunch of something bright for my rented room.

After that we might move on to Brick Lane, which also hosted a Sunday market, this time offering well-stocked stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to discounted ladies’ underwear. (I am not sure I ever bought a thing, not even frilly knickers. Tempting, though.) But on street corners you would also see old men with sometimes no more than a cloth on the floor upon which would be displayed all manner of seemingly worthless, and often broken, crap. They were reminders of the poverty that had dogged the area for years and looked like they had walked out of a Victorian photograph; vapour trails from vanishing worlds.

The pubs, however, were hearty and the Bangladeshi curry houses and Jewish bagel shops on Brick Lane lured people from across the city. Still, this was the polar opposite of the cooler neighbourhoods of west London and visitors in Dorothy mode might be heard uttering a version of her famous phrase: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Notting Hill anymore.”

But back to last Sunday. To get into the flower market you now have to enter at one end and leave at the other – all in the name of coronavirus restrictions. By the time I got in line there were a couple of hundred people ahead of me but we snaked along at speed and, in 15 minutes, were in. The market has been redesigned with stalls now just on one side of the street, which means that it’s easier to get into the compact shops, bakeries and coffee outposts – and keep some distance from each other. The place was heaving: people were marching along with armfuls of peonies, olive trees held aloft, trays of ferns balanced precariously. It was the first time I had been in such a glorious, joyous crowd since, well, since this all began.

Then I walked down past all the new apartment blocks near Brick Lane to check out the latest outpost of Eataly, the epic retailer and restaurant business that started life in Turin in 2007 and which offers a very well-put-together taste of Italy. My timing was not great. The line to get in was again huge – but this time slow moving. Hundreds of people wanted to be in a new shop (restaurants and bars will finally be allowed to reopen in England this Monday, so for now there was no sit-down pizza moment to be had). Hundreds of people were pulled in by the nectar of newness; excited by the buzz surrounding Eataly’s launch – and to be in London.

I was not very queue-inclined on Sunday but on Wednesday I returned to Eataly for a pre-work recce mission. After months of retail feeling all a bit too essential – you need something so you order it online or go with purpose to a particular shop – it was a renewed sensation to be surrounded by things that you really don’t need but want. How did this shopping basket end up in my hand? Why was it filling up with wine, cakes for the team, jars of things whose potential use remained opaque even after staring at the label? It was great.

Also wonderful were the intent, the purpose and the commitment. Yes, we all love a pop-up but the belief and investment that have gone into the making of Eataly is writ large wherever you look – including in the dozens of staff stocking shelves with wine from every region of Italy, preparing displays of pasta, slicing meat, making another Illy coffee. It was a sunny sign from phoenix London that things could be back to something close to normal in weeks.

Some decry all this change: the flower market with all its Instagrammers, the arrival of bigger retail players, the march of new apartment blocks. I understand it; I saw that rougher, tougher neighbourhood. But the bagel shops and curry houses are still there and, while there are always tensions when cities morph – when neighbourhoods see their characters alter – this week at least east London has also looked pretty amazing. Ambition is stalking the streets. A city enjoying its fresh groove. And, at last, conversations are no longer always framed by the pandemic.


Welcome in

In London next month? Come to Midori House on Tuesday 1, Wednesday 2 or Thursday 3 June to catch up with our editors, get a copy of the newly published The Monocle Book of Homes and have a drink or two on our sunny terrace. Numbers are strictly limited. Click here to buy your ticket, or email Hannah Grundy It has been too long. We look forward to seeing you.


Home advantage

At first it felt a little strange, with the sun gleaming, beaches open for bathers and tables being set at terraces, but with a absence of tourists, that Lisbon has remained calm (writes Gaia Lutz). Normally, in this balmy, 25C weather you would expect every inch of the city’s outside space to be bustling with people and noise. And while the city might not be taken over by these usual activities, its streets are flourishing in new and entirely ordinary ways.

Friday-night dinner at the recently reopened Tati was allowed to stretch on for hours, without the pressure to free up the table straight after. The sight of producers setting up their stalls in recently opened farmers markets Comida Independente and Santos Collective on Saturdays is now a tranquil morning treat, and heading out for lunch afterwards at the popular Princesa restaurant on the Caparica coast felt (rightly) like a city getaway without the stresses of traffic, parking and waiting on a table. Meanwhile, it’s now possible to schedule coffee with friends by stunning historic monuments and sights such as Belém and Praça do Comércio – areas that sadly locals would usually avoid at all costs.

Lisbon’s soul is, deep down, quite serene, and something we residents have perhaps forgotten in recent years. And though there are without a doubt many upsides from the bolstered activity of visitors and travellers in summertime (let’s not forget this city has long lived off tourism), for now, and for the first time in a long time, it seems that Lisbon is a city of and for its own.


New tricks

“Wipe your paws” and “All guests must be approved by the dog” declare new doormats appearing almost weekly in the building where I live (writes Genevieve Bates). It seems that London’s pandemic-pet surge is only gathering pace. But how can you tell a seasoned dog owner from the puppy-come-latelys?

First, by their accessories. Keen readers of our editor in chief’s weekly column might remember the arrival of Daphne, my Japanese shiba inu puppy, at Monocle in November. I’d like to say that I bought my fur baby nothing more than a pre-owned Hermès collar from Vestiaire Collective. But there has been a near-constant stream of Amazon deliveries as Daphne rejects various harnesses (four so far), annihilates fluffy anti-anxiety dog beds (three) and ravages toys (countless). A water bottle with built-in bowl and dried venison-liver treats have followed too. Still, I’m quite minimalist compared to many. Cooling bandanas with embedded gel beads are popular among London’s French bulldogs and floral stick-on “mutt butt covers” are an American solution to the unseemly sight of a dog’s rear end.

The second signifier of a newbie dog owner is their attitude: a blend of fatigue, anxiety and smug exceptionalism that’s not unlike the expression on the face of a parent with a newborn baby. We’re tired because we now walk 30,000 steps a day and haven’t had an early night or a lie-in since the puppy’s arrival. We’re anxious because puppies will eat anything, making every litter-strewn park feel like a field of poison; tales of dog theft abound; and being out in public with an animal invites endless comments from strangers, mostly admiring but occasionally creepy or aggressive. And we’re smug because we can’t believe our good fortune. For better or worse, puppy love makes us blind to all the indignity, expense and inconvenience of dog ownership.


Show must go on

As Art Basel Hong Kong prepares to open its doors to visitors next week, Adeline Ooi can pat herself on the back: as the director of the Asian arm of the global art fair, she has managed to put on one of the first in-person art fairs of the year. “It has been a tough year for the whole world; we’ve been through so much,” she says. “I’m amazed we have 104 galleries.”

Though some of the international players have had to ship in works without staff to run the booths, many of the Asian galleries are out in force. “I know that none of these decisions were taken lightly,” adds Ooi. “The galleries have shown up for Hong Kong and for the audience. It’s such a gesture. They’re still with us through thick and thin.” The last few months might have been extremely busy but here, Ooi talks about what helps her to amuse herself and unwind.

What news source do you wake up to?
Sky News, though I don’t really stick to one channel. I’m a surfer: I usually start with Sky but then end up everywhere else, from Al Jazeera to CNN. I’m not monogamous.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee, black.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
A little bit of both. I do Classic FM, Soul Radio, Audio Grooves and then Spotify. But it really depends on the day.

Newspaper that you turn to?
I will flick from The New York Times, to the South China Morning Post, to China Daily. I also like the FT Weekend’s arts and culture section.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I like BBC Radio 4’s A History of the World in 100 Objects and Desert Island Discs. I’ve also been listening to Bill Gates and Rashida Jones ask Big Questions. It’s two people you wouldn’t expect to be put together and I’m a huge fan of Rashida Jones.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
On Netflix, Call My Agent.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Because we’ve been stuck in a place for a whole year, I’ve gone back to old books, rereading them and realising things I didn’t see the first time round because I was too young. I missed nuances. I’ve been rereading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, revisiting Rushdie and Calvino, and rediscovering movies from the 1990s, such as Philadelphia and Boys Don’t Cry.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Music. The way I relax at night is by having a hot bath. It’s good for self-care.


Track records

‘In’, Will McPhail. As a cartoonist who reached fame by doing vignettes for The New Yorker, Will McPhail is used to making every frame count. This graphic novel – his debut – is masterful in its concision. Like his weekly cartoons, it’s wry, sarcastic and funny. But it is also at its deepest and most affecting in the pauses, the voids and the captionless silences.

‘Eye of the Storm’, Millie Turner. The indie-pop of the London-based singer has a touch of Scandi-electro about it: it feels only right that she was Swedish pop maestro Tove Lo’s support act and that her excellent single “Eye of the Storm” was given a choral remix by Icelandic Eurovision hopeful Daði Freyr. This mini-album brings together a number of dancefloor-ready tracks, including the synth-heavy “Concrete Tragedy”.

‘The Underground Railroad’, Amazon Prime. Pairing Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins with a screenplay based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning novel seems like a failsafe recipe for success. This Amazon series promises to deliver – and then some. It is epic in relevance, tone and scope, dealing with a secret network of routes used by the slaves of the American south to escape, embarking on a journey that was anything but straightforward.


State of play

Okay, we’ve stretched the definition of “outpost” on this one, but bear with us (writes Henry Rees-Sheridan). Albany is a small city on the Hudson River in upstate New York, that just so happens to be the state capital. Among its population of 97,000 are a base of powerful policymakers who wield sizeable influence over New York, the largest metropolitan area in the US.

To keep abreast of developments in Albany’s halls of power and the State Capitol building (pictured), many government employees turn to the city’s paper of record, the Albany Times Union. Casey Seiler has been its editor since February 2020 and in that time has overseen coverage of the state governor’s rise and now his likely fall. He tells us about state politics, wildlife shoots and dog days.

What’s the big news at the moment?
The main story continues to be the course of the pandemic and the reopening of New York’s Capital Region. The second big story we’ve been tracking is the political fall of [New York State Governor] Andrew Cuomo. We’ve led on a number of scoops concerning the scandals surrounding the governor, including the sexual misconduct allegations made against him. The Times Union attempts to punch above its weight in terms of coverage of state government for the same reason Detroit papers try to cover the auto industry best: it’s a company town. And in Albany, the company is the New York state government.

Do you have a favourite recent photo?
While it’s not exactly the most powerful newsmaker, we had a fantastic picture of a great blue heron rising off a pond shot by Lori van Buren, one of our outstanding staff photographers. It was just such a cool photo; I had to be shouted down from putting it on the front page.

What about a down-page treat?
We had a story this week on how people are preparing their pets to be alone for eight or nine hours a day now we’re beginning to return to work. It’s incontrovertible that, if your pets like you, they will remember these past months as the great days.

What’s the next big event?
The legalisation of adult-use marijuana is a major narrative we’re going to be covering in the coming months and over the next couple of years as the retail industry ramps up. We’ve also been discussing how to mark some big forthcoming anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the 10th anniversary of the passage of marriage equality in the state legislature.


Illusion of time

It might be surprising to hear that a magician was the inspiration for the star lot at French auction house Piasa’s Jewels and Watches sale on Wednesday. The item in question? A Cartier “mystery clock” (lot 48) from the early 1930s designed by watchmaker Maurice Couët.

He followed in the footsteps of Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, the 19th-century horologist and illusionist credited with transforming magic from a pastime for the masses to entertainment for the wealthy. How? Couët developed a means of manufacture which creates the illusion that the clock’s hands are disconnected from any mechanical power system and instead simply turn of their own volition. Described as a “miracle of watchmaking”, the clocks were a coveted item in the early 20th century, when Cartier produced about 90. They remain highly desirable today, with the lot in question expected to fetch more than €400,000.

“Part of the appeal is that it’s a movement that nobody – other than Cartier – knows how to create,” says Piasa’s Salomé Pirson. “The mechanism is very complicated, which makes it rare, naturally.” Adding to this is the fact that the item going under the hammer is the only known mystery clock made from Rhodonite. It’s a combination, then, that means fans of Cartier – or magic – should waste no time placing a bid.

Images: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Art Basel, Alamy, Courtesy of Piasa. Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon


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