Saturday 29 May 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 29/5/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Parting shots

A year ago, you could order a home-testing kit from a private clinic to see whether you had coronavirus – price: £400. Last Saturday on a street corner in London’s Soho they were handing out free rapid antigen kits. Hundreds of boxes were being offered to anyone who wanted one. It has been a choppy week for virus watchers in the UK, with case numbers up thanks to the so-called Indian variant and consequently Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria bringing in quarantine measures for any Brits hoping to visit. But sometimes, you do need to lift your head and celebrate the successes too.

And how about this: in England if you are aged 30 or over you can now book your jab appointment. Lots of the Monocle crew have been this week and there’s no hesitancy. Indeed, when people come back to the office after their date with the needle, everyone wants to hear what vaccine they had and how they feel. There’s some excitement; a sense of duty. Our culture editor Chiara and Monocle 24’s Carlota are both having theirs a few hours apart at the same centre. To show support for each other they are having a “vaccine brunch” in between. And it’s just six months since the UK’s inoculation programme began.

Although, sadly, the first man to be jabbed here died this week – nothing to do with the vaccine I hasten to add. In a stroke of luck for the PR drive back in December, the octogenarian’s name was William Shakespeare and he helped to inspire some very funny headlines; recalling them this week over lunch we agreed that “Taming of the flu” was hard to beat. “All’s Well That Ends Well” was pretty good too – even if Mr Shakespeare’s story ended less happily. There was also a debate about how long it would need to be before you could open a curry restaurant called The Indian Variant or a beach-shack bar called The Third Wave.

More good news. London is stirring. From new restaurants to gallery openings, suddenly it’s busy. On Wednesday I went to dinner at the just-opened Nomad London hotel, which occupies the old Bow Street police station and magistrates’ courts, where celebrated appearances in the dock included Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell and the Krays. It’s an amazing site, smack in front of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and the hotel has been nicely inserted into the building. Of course, it’s a scary time to be launching a hotel – there are no tourists to be found – but the sense of ambition and desire to get moving makes you wish these ventures very well. And the food is great. (A brief aside: if you want to see how Covent Garden looked in the 1960s and 1970s – when opera divas, gangsters and fruit, vegetable and flower sellers all had important appearances – find a copy of Clive Boursnell’s great photography book Covent Garden).

On a roll, on Thursday I went to dinner in Fitzrovia. The weather has finally improved and, to make the most of this, many restaurants have colonised parking bays for outdoor dining set-ups. Though you can finally now eat inside a restaurant, many diners and drinkers seem to prefer being alfresco – some residual fears? It was just nice walking around seeing so much frivolity and bonhomie at play. Again, just weeks ago the best you could hope for was a takeaway coffee.

We are not there yet, I know. There’s still swirling anxiety when rules suddenly change or when the numbers seem to head in the wrong direction. There’s still frustration with how this has played out and with government failures. But every now and then you just have to stop and look around. This is a story that has had more twists and chapters than we bargained for. It’s stymied well-laid plans and thwarted dreams. But there are good people and ideas at play and if you don’t recognise the progress, you will be left feeling defeated or uneasy. This will come to pass. And, in London at least, you can now wake up with a sore head and, as you lay there, decide to savour the dull thudding consequences of a nightcap in a dazzling new hotel bar.


Acting out

British actor Martin Freeman has graced our small and silver screens since the early 2000s. Initially rising to fame playing Tim Canterbury in the original version of The Office, he’s since gone on to star in Sherlock (for which he won a Bafta), comedy-drama series Fargo (for which he was nominated for an Emmy) and Hollywood hit Black Panther. Here he tells us about a favourite London landmark and why it’s good to hear from people you disagree with.

What news source do you wake up to?
It’s a bad habit to be on your phone really early. But the BBC news is the first update I’d get from my radio.

Any new projects that you’re working on?
I’m about to start filming something called The Responder for the BBC in Liverpool, a five-part series that I’m executive producing. It’s about the life of a policeman that unravels over the course of a week.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Tea mostly. Occasionally coffee.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I have the radio on in the mornings. Either BBC Radio 2, 4 or 6. All the good new music I discover, I hear on BBC 6 Music.

A favourite bookshop?
I’m going to go with good old Foyles. I like that it’s been around for so long. My mum used to go there as a young woman. It’s a nice London landmark.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
The one I’ve been listening to most is The Joe Rogan Experience. I like how he asks controversial figures on, who other podcasts might not provide a platform for. I want to learn and to hear more from people I disagree with; sometimes you end up on their side.

A favourite film?
I watched The Father recently. It has Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in it and it’s based on a play by Florian Zeller. The whole cast is excellent; Anthony Hopkins, especially, is out of this world.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Sometimes audiobooks. Sometimes an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour from the 1950s, which I like the familiarity of. I try not to listen to things that are too conflict-driven, like debates. Maybe a bit of Vaughan Williams.


Field of dreams

Nothing says “summer in the city” quite like sitting in a park (writes James Chambers). Sun’s out? Let’s find the nearest patch of grass to throw a frisbee, drink beer and have a professional photoshoot with a French bulldog and a breezy summer dress (not me, mind). This was the scene earlier this week at Art Park in Hong Kong. The city’s newest public space, on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour, is proving to be something of a magnet for picnic blankets, day tents and inflatable hammocks. The real novelty, however, is the proper grass.

Mountains and beaches are never far away in Hong Kong but it’s a fact of life that most of us here can count the number of accessible lawns on one hand, with parks and playgrounds tending to be concrete. It’s with this in mind that the city’s business and expat community has spotted a gap.

Tuesday will see the opening of The Lawn Club, an outdoor venue in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district where the after-work crowd will come to drink and dine while playing a range of summery games: croquet and pétanque for the Europeans, and something called “cornhole” for the Americans. And while this particular “lawn” is artificial, it underlines the power that grass has to bring people together, as well as the city’s long-term need for more green space. Significantly, the government-owned land it sits on is currently up for auction and the tender calls for an open public area.

So, as the city’s powerful property tycoons price up their bids, let’s hope they stop in at the club or Art Park. Then, maybe they too will develop an appetite for the green (and preferably genuine) grass Hong Kongers so clearly desire.


Ride of your life

‘Afrique Victime’, Mdou Moctar. There are many heavenly sounds on this album by Mdou Moctar, an exceptional musician hailing from a village in Niger’s desert. Inspired by Saharan folk music, he was one of the first musicians to interpret it on the electric guitar. Moctar soon started producing complex, psychedelic songs that spread across West Africa through word of mouth. Now playing with an equally talented and hardworking band, he is committed to taking his music further afield. These songs sound like sunshine, freedom and happiness – things we can never get enough of.

‘Empty Houses’, Brenda Navarro. A three-year-old boy disappears from under his mother’s nose; on the other side of Mexico City, his kidnapper attempts to integrate him into her family. This powerful debut novel by Brenda Navarro is a reflection on parenthood, motivation, loss and desire, told through the alternating voices of the two mothers. It offers a searing comment on contemporary Mexican society.

‘Mohamed Bourouissa’, Goldsmiths CCA London. There’s a stable in north Philadelphia that isn’t some inner-city country club – rather it’s a place where the town’s underprivileged children can ride horses. Algerian-French artist Mohammed Bourouissa spent eight months there, photographing and filming this urban equestrian phenomenon. Now he’s bringing that body of work to the brilliant Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. This gallery is a rare gem that specialises in no-nonsense, adventurous exhibitions with none of the waffle that normally comes with such projects.


Good footwork

Roger Federer isn’t just a maestro on the tennis court but a master of branding too. Fresh from a new ad campaign with Robert De Niro for Tourism Switzerland, Federer is now turning his focus to footwear. His trainer collaboration with On comprises three running shoes – the Roger Advantage, Centre Court and Clubhouse – that work both at the tennis club and on city streets. All are available either in monochrome or with pops of colour.

The line arrives while Federer is embarking on a comeback tour following an injury, with the Swiss veteran hoping for a potential swansong at Wimbledon this summer. After that, the 39-year-old, 20-time Grand Slam winner will “see what happens”. Is that a hint at retirement? Whatever comes to pass, his contribution to tennis – and fashion – will keep on running.


Wake-up call

New Yorkers have been mentally preparing for the city to reopen for months now (writes Henry Rees-Sheridan). So when the most onerous restrictions on businesses were minimised or lifted altogether on 19 May, many of them hit the ground running. The first stop for some was at one of the city’s most underrated museums: Poster House on West 23rd Street, dedicated to the history of – you guessed it – poster art. Current exhibition Julius Klinger: Posters for a Modern Age showcases the strikingly innovative work of the Austrian artist who transformed commercial design while working in Vienna at the start of the 20th century.

Green space is understandably popular in New York too and, as the weather improves, finding a perch in Central Park (pictured) or on the High Line gets competitive. But beyond Manhattan it’s a different story and Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick is one of the better-designed small green spaces in Brooklyn. Its adjacent streets are lined with dozens of bars and places to eat, the best of which is Arepera Guacuco, which serves tasty Venezuelan arepas in a congenial atmosphere.

If the allure of world-class museums, parks and arepas isn’t enough to entice visitors back to the Big Apple, then an unconventional place to rest their heads might just tip the balance. The TWA Hotel remains one of the most imaginative hospitality propositions in the city (or anywhere else). Housed in the former TWA Flight Center, the Eero Saarinen-designed building has been newly restored to its 1960s heyday with painstaking attention to detail. The Monocle crew are also looking forward to returning to the Crosby Street Hotel, part of the Firmdale Hotels group of well-designed inns.

But while New York remains a great place to visit, don’t expect to actually stop for some shut-eye. After all, the city that never sleeps is awake again. And it seems that after a year-long slumber it’s once again living up to that moniker.


See for yourself

The London Design Biennale opens next week and while Monocle’s editors will be on hand to provide on-the-ground coverage, there’s also a chance for newsletter readers (yes, you) to enjoy special access to a private viewing on Tuesday 1 June. To register to see the likes of Es Devlin’s spectacular “Forest for Change” as well as exhibitions by designers from Chile, Ghana and Greece, click here. See you there.


Peak practice

In Italy’s northeast, between snowcapped Dolomite peaks, valleys and lakes is the small South Tyrolean city of Bolzano. Here you can find the headquarters of FF, a weekly magazine founded in 1980 that focuses on regional politics and current affairs. “We research, move and investigate,” says the magazine’s director Verena Pliger. “Our work mostly takes place outside of the office and we try to cover even the most remote areas.”

Every Thursday 16,000 copies go out to newsstands and doorsteps across the region to be picked up by readers and subscribers – some have been faithful for more than 40 years. Here, Pliger tells us about the importance of an independent voice, investigative journalism and asking the hard questions.

How does a small magazine survive in a region where giant media companies are investing?
It can be difficult but you resist and thrive. We have received offers in the past from companies that wanted to buy the magazine. But we have journalists that have been committed to FF for almost 30 years, so it is important for us to be independent. There has been a change of ownership recently but they have no say in what we can publish or what we can say. We have an agreement that they can see the magazine only once it has gone to print.

What’s next on the agenda?
We are running a story on the reopening of Bolzano’s airport on 15 June. In a challenging time and in an environment of discussion regarding climate change and habits, we are asking a few hard questions, including whether we still need to fly. In 2030, Bolzano aims to become the greenest area in Europe; is the reopening of an airport in agreement with this?

Do you have a favourite photo?
In January we changed printing company, opting for a type of paper that could better showcase the quality of the photos that our in-house photographer Alexander Alber takes. The latest one portrays Heiner Oberrauch, who is president of the [Bolzano-based mountain sports firm] Oberalp group.

What about a down-page treat?
We have had a cartoon section since 1980 and Hans Peter Demetz [known as HPD], has been the artist since then. It makes us laugh but it can be provocative too – and we like that.


Driving profits

With summer fast approaching, now is the time to start planning that annual sunny roadtrip (writes Nic Monisse). And what better way to get into gear than by looking for a new set of wheels at Bonhams’ Bonmont Sale? Going under the hammer on 20 June in Cheserex, Switzerland, are plenty of classics and a number of modern vehicles, including a 2009 Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG Black Series (bids from €137,000) previously owned by Roger Federer (yes, he of newfound footwear fame). But it’s the former category that deserves the most attention.

“A vintage or classic car gives a completely different experience,” says Paul Darvill, Bonhams’ European auctions manager for motoring. “It’s not just a means of getting from A to B; there is an emotional aspect too. Driving a classic is immersive.” And for those chasing an escape over summer it’s this feeling of immersion that should be factored into any purchase. Take the custom-made 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupé (pictured), which Darvill says is his pick for such an experience on a summer jaunt, with bidding starting at €173,000. “It’s ideal for traipsing down to the south of France and then parking in Casino Square or outside a good restaurant on the Riviera,” he says.

However, a word of warning for interested parties: The Bonmont Sale is the first live auction for Bonhams in Switzerland this year and the field is expected to be competitive. Prospective buyers need to have their engines revved and be ready to go.


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