Saturday. 22/5/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

OPENER / ANDREW TUCK

Growing up

  1. There are many odd things about rural England but driving around the picturesque Cotswolds last weekend I was struck by how many houses and pubs have plastic plants outside their front doors. In particular, those horrible topiary balls that swing in the wind while suspended from porches. Type “buxus balls” into a search engine and you’ll see what I mean (it may sound like I am directing you to a worrisome medical page but I promise that you will be perfectly safe). It’s hard to work out their appeal, especially when you are surrounded by real thrusting spring greenery. I see on one site that a particular benefit is that you can wash your buxus balls in a bucket if they get dirty. Again – who knew that that was a concern?

  2. And plastic window frames. Everywhere. Supposedly also easier to keep pristine – so why do they all look filthy?

  3. The weather seems to be in cahoots with the UK’s health authorities and has us trapped in a pattern that dims any of the delight of leaving your home. Hail! Rain! Crazy gusts of wind – and, no doubt, dislodged buxus balls rolling down country lanes. But on Monday, England allowed restaurants to reopen for indoor dining and it has been a very welcome step back to normality – and one which many people have decided to put on their sou’westers to head out and experience. I had dinner in Soho and what was so nice was just hearing that much-missed backing track of clinking glasses, gossip being shared, laughter.

  4. Last Saturday, on our Cotswolds excursion, we went to Hidcote Manor to visit the gardens created in the first half of the 20th century by the American major Lawrence Johnston. They were also the first gardens to be taken on by the National Trust when Lawrence signed them over in the 1940s. The steely skies meant that there were few visitors and it was sublime to walk between the various “rooms” demarcated by high hedges, babbling streams, topiary and pools. I have since read lots from various gardening geniuses harrumphing about changes to the gardens and how to correctly interpret their significance – they should just be grateful that the locals haven’t been allowed to introduce a selection of bucket-washable shrubs. But the other takeaway was how a wealthy person can create something that ends up being for the common good, that continues to give pleasure for years after their death. Hard to imagine that this idea even figures in the minds of today’s effortlessly rich.

  5. Naomi Campbell has a new baby. She’s 50. Too old? Unfair on her children who will never have a youthful mother? It’s all been picked over in the features pages of the newspapers. My mum was 45 when I was born, my dad 50. They already had four children by then and my eldest sister was in her twenties. I think it’s fair to say that another child was not quite what my parents had planned. And, yes, they were different to some of my friends’ very young parents – but I loved it. They had time, they knew themselves and what they were doing, and my dad did not want me to play football but perhaps instead to hang out in the garden – it’s why I am a snob about plastic topiary. Yes, I had many fewer years with them than my sisters had but every one was treasured. I am very happy that contraception was clearly very unreliable back then.

  6. The return to calmer times means that we now have guests back in the radio studios and that people are happy to meet for interviews again. This week for a forthcoming episode of The Urbanist, we walked the Low Line just south of the Thames. It’s not a linear park, so forget the High Line. It’s more an attempt to create a path alongside the rail track and see empty arches turned into theatres, homes for fledgling businesses, a trapeze school or a green delivery depot. But trees and planting will be used as a tool to create the public realm and to make the disparate feel whole. Real trees too.

  7. And don’t forget to come and see our verdant home at Midori House. We have a ticketed event to mark the launch of The Monocle Book of Homes. Nolan, its editor, will be there. Me too. Come and join us, it will be a ball. Not a topiary ball, a real one.

BOUNCE-BACK CITIES 03 / VENICE

Above water

Just over a week ago, Venice felt like a different world (writes Ed Stocker). True, the sodden weather didn’t help but the lagoon city was almost entirely devoid of visitors. I had St Mark’s Square to myself. That’s changed this weekend, now that the Architecture Biennale has officially kicked off after a few days of preview (we recommend the Polish, Japanese and Hungarian pavilions). People are back on the streets and foreign accents can be heard: Arabic here, French there, a passing English voice.

Of course, Venice has a complicated relationship with the sort of mass tourism it experienced before the pandemic. Protest flags still flutter from the windows of residents opposed to any return of the cruise ships that used to be a constant presence in the city. But this still felt like Venice waking up from a protracted slumber. And this isn’t mass tourism anyway, right? The crowd is here to sample the city’s cultural calendar.

So where are we staying? Il Palazzo Experimental is a nice modern take on Venice. And where’s the party? Well you might have to hunt that out but Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the thoroughfare between the Biennale’s two main venues, is full of diners. Choose carefully and you’ll find Venice’s take on seafood crostini known as cichetti. And don’t forget to pop into Caffè Girani for a pack of house-roasted coffee to take home (ask nicely and they might even make you an espresso). Then keep heading inland from the Grand Canal until you hit Al Vecio Portal, a restaurant where waiters aren’t in a rush to speak English – and simple seafood and an honest glass of Veneto wine are the order of the day. Venice, it’s good to be back.

Read more from the city of canals in our Venice Biennale special edition newspaper and The Monocle Minute.

THE LOOK / NETFLIX DRESSES

As seen on screen

Beautiful clothes, drugs and gay life in 1960s and 1970s New York – Roy Halston Frowick lived a racy lifestyle (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). As founder and designer of America’s first luxury clothing brand, Halston, his dresses and accessories adorned everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Liza Minelli and, before his untimely death during the Aids epidemic, the man became as much of a celebrity as the people he attired. So much so that Netflix has recently released a fictionalised account of his life. And, perhaps most interestingly, the media giant has also collaborated with the Halston brand on a collection of 10 dresses, which will be available to pre-order in June. Think red chiffon gowns and blue silk kaftans that seem to have stepped right out of the small screen. Each one is seen for the first time in the programme and was created with references to the brand’s archive.

It’s a strange sort of reverse homage: a clothing brand influences a TV show, which in turn collaborates on a new range of clothes. And it’s not the first time either. To speak of the big screen, Savile Row tailor Huntsman – which dresses rock stars, royalty and the smarter actors – was both a setting and an inspiration for Kingsman (you remember, the slightly corny-but-fantastically-good-fun spy thriller). And – of course, film-lovers – the tailoring house then worked with Mr Porter and the makers of Kingsman to create a range of snappy suits and accessories that you can put on to make you feel as though you’re actually in the film.

As with Halston, it’s another instance of art imitating life imitating art, as they say – enough to put anyone’s head in a spin. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I might have to go and lie down.

THE INTERROGATOR / SALVADOR SOBRAL

Winner takes it all

In 2017, Salvador Sobral picked up the Eurovision Song Contest trophy for Portugal – and the moment was glorious. The singer clinched victory with “Amar Pelos Dois”, a song written by his sister, ending a 53-year losing streak for the Iberian nation and achieving the highest score in the history of the competition. More recently, he’s been working on a new album, BPM, which is out next week. Here he tells us about his love of print, his favourite psycho-thriller and the world’s oldest bookshop.

What news source do you wake up to?
Always a newspaper, typically Público – I don’t have a smartphone and I love the scent of newsprint.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
No doubt about that one. It’s coffee for me: espresso at the café outside my house, where I can chat with the neighbours.

Tell us about your new album, ‘BPM’. What makes it special for you?
It’s the first album composed entirely by me – so there’s only original material. There’s a very personal side to it and I’ve been working on it for some time now.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Mostly I listen to FM radio but lately I have been listening to both. The radio allows me to hear stuff that I don’t know; I like Antena 3, a national station that plays a lot of new Portuguese artists I would not discover so easily otherwise.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“Step Out of the Light” by Bruno Pernadas.

A favourite bookshop for a drizzly afternoon?
Chiado’s Bertrand in Lisbon. It’s the oldest bookshop in the world, having survived the 1755 earthquake. It has been open since 1732.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late?
I would have to say it is Princípio, Meio e Fim, a programme by Portuguese writer Bruno Nogueira. It’s a nonsense comedy – a genre I love – about the beauty of the error.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
An artist from Brooklyn: Kota The Friend, who is also known as Avery Marcel Joshua Jones. I like how he raps about profound things and the appearance of his videos is very appealing to me.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?**
My favourite movie genre would be psychological thrillers, hands down. If I had to choose one as an example, it would be *Persona
, by Ingmar Bergman.

How do you wind down at the end of the day? I’ll watch a movie or read a chapter of a book until I doze off.

CULTURE / LISTEN / WATCH / READ

All change

‘Wink’, Chai. Although this Japanese quartet remain as joyful as ever, latest album Wink veers towards a soothing sound. In fact, it’s almost minimalist compared with the group’s previous technicolour efforts – and it works. Lead single “Action” is powerful thanks to its syncopated beats, while “In Pink” is a captivating song that features producer Mndsgn. Another highlight is electro track “Ping Pong”, a hilarious love letter to table tennis.

‘1971: The Year that Music Changed Everything’, Apple TV. According to recent news, things changed in 1971. First, food magazine Bon Appétit recently proclaimed that this was when the history of food changed course. And now a new documentary argues that it was a watershed year for music too. Only here the argument for director Asif Kapadia (also behind documentary film hits Amy and Senna) is that musicians didn’t just evolve with the times but actively shaped the news. Expect some compelling footage and cameos from all the era’s big stars.

‘See/Saw: Looking at Photographs’, Geoff Dyer. In the august tradition of John Berger and Susan Sontag, British writer Geoff Dyer tackles the topic of just how complicated the apparently simple act of looking at a photograph can be. From Vivian Maier’s enigmatic street self-portrait to Andreas Gursky’s hyper-realistic (and slightly eerie) supermarket shot, Dyer offers new perspectives and anecdotes on photographs both familiar and lesser known.

OUTPOST NEWS / ‘BAGUIO CHRONICLE’

Sunny outlook

A small mountain resort, Baguio was transformed into the Philippines’ summer hotspot by Americans travelling abroad in 1909 – though it’s since also become a popular university town. “It’s still a favourite destination for foreign and local tourists,” says Frank Cimatu, managing editor for the community newspaper Baguio Chronicle, stressing that Filipinos are often eager to escape the sweltering heat of summer months for Baguio’s cool alpine air.

Launched in 2009, Cimatu’s weekly paper has remained stoic in its commitment to print and owns its own printing facilities and image-setting equipment. The paper also launched an online edition, following the turbulence that the past year caused for its distribution. Here, Cimatu fills us in on the view from this altitudinous enclave.

What’s the big news this week?
The old Baguio Stone Market is being turned into a shopping mall. People were initially apathetic but feelings changed after the newspapers here started writing about the plan and market vendors started to stage a noise barrage every day at 15.00. Local artists, with help from the Baguio Chronicle, are also doing a two-month exhibition at the city square that highlights the history and significance of the old market to the town.

A favourite image from a recent issue?
Our photographer took a stunning image of Baguio shrouded in thick fog. It perfectly captured the town’s erratic, cool weather. Another one is of the lake in Burnham Park turning suddenly muddy in colour; the caption was “Chocolate Burnham Lake”.

And a favourite headline?
“Karma-karma-Carmageddon” about the traffic nightmare caused by Manila tourists in December 2017. I also like “Burnham Park, not Burnham parking”, referring to the plan to construct a garage building in our park. Our paper loves to cover environmental issues and talks to people about things that matter to them.

Why do you think that a physical newspaper is still the ideal format for your audience?
We distribute our papers in Sagada and other remote areas in the Cordillera mountains, where the pass-on rate is 10, meaning that the paper is passed on to at least 10 more households. In Abra, they use newspapers as rolling paper for tobacco. School libraries also use our newspaper for their journalism classes.

WHAT AM I BID? / CLEARANCE AUCTIONS

One man’s treasure

The world of auctions can be a confusing place, particularly when it comes to extremes of valuation. Expanded to manic proportions with the NFT debacle (don’t get us started), it can often call in to question what things are really worth – and why. But far from the headline-grabbing, eye-watering sums fetched by big-name paintings and locks of celebrity hair, hammers fall every week all over the world providing treasures for a snip. In particular, the curious are often rewarded by clearance auctions that feature items recovered from vacated homes or sales without an obvious theme.

The Mallams Home Sale in Oxfordshire, UK, is a perfect opportunity to pick up some pieces for more-than-reasonable prices: a Georgian-era mahogany bureau is listed at a guide price closer to an Ikea desk than a 300-year-old treasure, at just £250 (€232); and an expansive set of finely crafted silver cups and cutlery is probably worth more melted down than its lower estimate of £50 (€58). There are even hippo teeth up for grabs, estimated to sell for between £80 (€93) and £120 (€140), if that’s your sort of thing.

In Johannesburg, the more upmarket Wunderkammer auction at Russell Kaplan Auctioneers presents “a treasure-trove of weird and wonderful artefacts and curiosities” every six weeks. In last Thursday’s sale, among assorted paintings, teddy bears and jewellery, an exquisite Versace-Rosenthal place setting sold for ZAR4,000 (€234). And collections such as these are what auctions, really, are all about – not making a canny calculation on returns or buying a first-class ticket on the hype train. Instead they prompt each bidder to ask, “What is this worth to me?” mallams.co.uk; rkauctioneers.co.za

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