Saturday 19 June 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 19/6/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Living proof

Palma: Do you ever find yourself trying on other people’s lives, wondering how it would look and feel to be them and have their take on the world? Maybe you never waver, never have wandering thoughts like this. But during my final days in Palma, I found myself doing this a lot. Did I want to be the Swedish man who clearly lives here year-round, whose PA arrived after walking his dog and who glistened with all the stamps of at-ease wealth? There was something about his manner that made me think that I could do without this particular life-swap. Would I instead prefer to be the person signing the contract for perhaps the best-positioned and most carefully crafted triplex apartment in the city? Well, it would be a dream to live in a home by Ohlab architects (my generous site guides) but seeing as I’m struggling to organise a tiny new home, actually I will survive as I am.

Then I went to the studio of the potter Paparkone, who has become a friend over the years. The last time I had been here was just before the pandemic hit and he had helped (really helped) me to make a cup and saucer. I’d said I would be back in weeks but some 19 months had intervened before I found myself climbing back into his atelier, over the barrier that keeps his labrador from straying. Yet there, sitting on the shelf, was my now fired and glazed effort. The whole atmosphere was one of purpose, of beautiful things being perfected slowly. Could I become a potter, I wondered? Would I be good at gaining a skill that requires such patience, dexterity and tactile sensitivity? The answer was clearly no. But it’s fun to insert yourself into these pictures, if only to decide that you are lucky with things as they are and that the world is definitely a better place without you behind a potter’s wheel.

London: Two people speaking to each other and just getting along. Woman number one is explaining that she has just attended her company’s diversity training and that the section on microaggressions was revealing as she hadn’t understood that you shouldn’t compliment a black person’s haircut. “Why?” asks woman number two. “Is it because you risk exoticising people?” There’s a bit of debate but woman number two sounds a note of caution. “Honestly, I think you should just be true to what you think and pay the compliment.” As you will have guessed, woman number two is many things but among them is that she is a highly successful woman of colour.

The attempts by businesses to shut down all manner of conversations at work in a bid to avoid any risk of complaints, let alone a lawsuit, have left many people unsure what they can say, even when all they are attempting to be is kind. And this can only be counterproductive – people will think it’s better to stick with those who look and behave like them rather than trigger some unforeseen anger while making new links. But because there’s money to be made from this consultancy-driven rule setting, it’s unlikely to stop any time soon. And no this is not an endorsement of racist language or of people not being challenged when they say something that you find uncomfortable. It’s more a belief that, when it comes to saying that someone looks happy, or great after their holiday, most people will be delighted.

Palma: And you can only speculate what the consultants would have to say about this as an afternoon office treat. For the past few years there has been a craze in Spain for waffles shaped, well, like penises. (Please be very careful if you decide to Google this for further information; you may see bits of Spain that take your breath away.) It started in Madrid and Barcelona, and now chic Palma is getting in on the act with several new outlets. They also make a female version. But rather than linger longer on this big growth sector, I will leave the last word to a local news website which says more than enough in one sentence: “The shop sells 17cm penis-shaped waffles in various flavours and colours and the owners say bigger ones will be available soon.” And, no, I did not imagine life as a franchisee.

London: It has been announced that Oxford Circus, one of London’s most famous spots (for no particularly pleasing reason) is to be turned into a “an Italian-style piazza”. Don’t start. There will be no gargoyles, no splashing fountains, no old folk lingering over coffee, no fresh-veg stand; it’s going to be pedestrianised. The Italians should trademark the piazza concept because the glories of their squares are too often mocked by the laying down of some paving stones over tarmac or the installation of some out-of-a-catalogue street furniture, with cities then claiming that the result is something akin to Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori. Now this is the sort of offensive urbanist language that really could do with some consultant policing. It’s quite shocking how people think they will get away with it.


Rising again

Every year, Warsaw undergoes a transformation between the first warm days and the lull of August known as sezon ogórkowy (“cucumber season”), when people spill joyously onto the city streets (writes Annabelle Chapman). This year, after waves of restrictions, the change is more striking than ever. Suddenly there are leaves on the trees and people outside. The city feels alive again. Though Warsaw, with its long, cold winters, has never traditionally enjoyed the outdoor wining-and-dining culture associated with southern Europe, things have been changing. Since the fall of communism in 1989, and especially over the past decade, bars and cafés have made their way out onto squares in what is referred to as the city’s “Mediterraneanisation”.

To make the most of this, start with a visit to new bakery Dej (from the Danish word for “dough”), which opened this month in a villa in the leafy neighbourhood of Bielany in northern Warsaw. Then take a walk in Łazienki Park (pictured), which covers 76 hectares in the city centre. For a dose of culture, continue on to the nearby Centre for Contemporary Art inside the Ujazdowski Castle, which also includes a cinema. For lunch or dinner, stop by Przegryz for a bowl of chłodnik (a vibrant-pink chilled beetroot soup served in Poland during the summer) and other seasonal fare on its outdoor terrace on Mokotowska Street, a smart shopping avenue.

As for rounding out the day, finish with a drink outside at Cuda na Kiju or one of the other bars inside the former Communist Party headquarters, which, in a twist of fate, became the stock exchange in 1991 and now houses several drinking spots, not to mention the Ferrari dealership on the ground floor. Then get a good night’s sleep at the central Puro Hotel or, for a dose of old-world charm, the Hotel Bristol, which opened in 1901.


Backstreet poise

When you ponder what constitutes a good, urban public space, a back alley might not be the first spot that springs to mind. Alleyways are usually considered a city’s nether-regions: shadowy, out-of-sight urban arteries used for utility or for activities better hidden from the light of day. But in Toronto, backstreets are front and centre, thanks to the endeavours of one place-making organisation.

Since 2014, The Laneway Project has aimed to transform the city’s vast, 250 kilometre-long network of alleyways (known as laneways) into usable, life-filled public spaces in their own right. Its latest initiative was unveiled this month: a stretch of laneway with its tarmac painted in a bright, alley-long mural to denote the parameters of the revamped space. It will now become an additional outdoor area in which the neighbourhood’s residents can hold events, children can play, and urban wanderers can simply take a pause away from Toronto’s main thoroughfares.

This is part of the group’s ongoing “Park-ing” initiative, whose name is a playful nod to the passages’ traditional use as the entry and exit points to private car garages at the backs of houses and other buildings. The next project – a so-called healing garden in a laneway behind one of Toronto’s hospitals – is scheduled to open this month. It will represent another welcome chapter in the story of bringing Toronto’s backstreets into rude health.


Diamonds in the rough

The last thing you’d expect to see on a pothole-peppered alley in Iran is an architectural landmark (writes Lewis Huxley). But you can’t miss No Name Shop in Najafabad: with its bright lights and floor-to-ceiling windows, the clothes retailer is a beacon of striking design on an otherwise nondescript street. It’s a similar story in Natchitoches, where the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s labyrinthine concrete interiors might cause a visitor to wonder whether extraterrestrial life had accidentally landed in this town of 18,000. But there’s something about these out-of-the-way architectural pleasures that makes you appreciate them all the more.

For me, this distinction belongs to a house in Amersham, a leafy commuter town 45km from London known for its chocolate-box Old Town and a fleeting appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Highover Park (originally called High & Over) was the first modernist building in the UK and a catalyst for what became known in the country as the international style. Designed by Amyas Connell, the Y-shaped structure has a white concrete frame with ribbon windows and rooftop terraces betraying the influence of Le Corbusier. So far, so Bond villain. Step through the sheet-metal front doors and the fun continues: a round gallery in the hexagonal entrance hall allows a peek of the upper floors and the terraces overlook the garden’s hedge-lined stone staircase, which leads to a seductive circular swimming pool.

This meeting of simplicity and functionality was Connell’s first project and his vision for “Metro-land”, the residential area west of London marketed to 1930s professionals as an alternative to city living. Sadly, his approach didn’t catch on and, though thousands of workers decamped to Metro-land, speed and convenience dictated the construction of the semi-detached houses for which London’s suburbs are now known. Highover Park, then, is a glimpse of what might have been – and a reminder that innovation can be found where you least expect it.


Brain food

Mndsgn (pronounced “mind design”) is the stage name of Los Angeles-based musician Ringgo Ancheta, whose brand of dreamy, R&B-infused electronica has won him an international fanbase. The West Coaster’s release schedule is surprisingly rigorous: he has dropped an album almost every year since signing with Californian label Stone’s Throw Records in 2014. His latest, Rare Pleasure, is a smooth distillation of his upbeat, jazz-inspired sound that has won plaudits from reviewers worldwide. Here he talks about revisiting the films and TV shows he loved as a child and the Youtube mixes that have been sending him to sleep.

What news source do you wake up to?
The birds. That’s all the news I need.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I’m most definitely a tea person; it’s good to coat the throat. I’ve been drinking a peach oolong tea that’s really nice.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I’ll either throw on a record or just listen to some music that I’m digging on the internet. I’m listening to a lot of early 1990s stuff right now.

A favourite bookshop?
There’s a shop in [LA neighbourhood] Boyle Heights called Other Books. They have all types of books there. The last time I was there I bought a book on yoga.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
I’ve been re-watching Family Matters, a classic sitcom from the 1990s with Steve Urkel. I grew up watching the show. In terms of new shows, the writing for family drama This Is Us is pretty spot on; it’s on Hulu. It’s not the kind of show I’m usually into but everybody can relate to something in it.

A favourite film?
I have a little TV in my dining room with a DVD player and I’ll always have a stack of DVDs from the thrift store next to it. One of them is The Fifth Element, with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich; it was one of my favourite films growing up.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I've always been inspired by [free jazz musician] Sun Ra.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Recently I’ve been digging those Youtube videos that are just like eight hours of relaxing noises. Sometimes it’ll be the ocean and there’s one that’s supposed to sound like the Twin Peaks café; it sounds like a diner with soft jazz in the background. If I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I’ll listen to those.


Fight for rights

‘The Engagement’, Sasha Issenberg. Other than being Monocle’s Washington correspondent, Sasha Issenberg is an acclaimed author. This book, his fourth, traces the winding and complicated history of same-sex marriage in the US and how a seemingly inevitable advancement in civil rights was far from a foregone conclusion. “Same-sex marriage only became a cause for the gay-rights movements when their opponents started prioritising fighting it,” said Issenberg on Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Listen to the full interview here.

‘Ghettolimpo’, Mahmood. While Italian singer Mahmood couldn’t manage what Måneskin did this year at Eurovision (having only finished second at the song contest in 2019), he has gone on to become a major musical figure in his home country – and an international success story. His sophomore album is a moody affair, all experimental R&B and mesmerising beats, from the very danceable, Latin-infused “Dorado” and melancholy ballad “Rapide” to the endearing “T’amo”, a syncopated song dedicated to his mother featuring bagpipes and a choir from her Sardinian hometown.

‘Farshad Farzankia’, Arken. Having made a name for himself in Denmark with a number of solo and group exhibitions, Iran-born artist Farshad Farzankia has now landed his first museum show at the striking Arken, a beautiful, cutting-edge coastal venue just south of Copenhagen. Some of the works on display – which include prints, drawings and his trademark riotously colourful paintings – have been made especially for this location. Their bold hues and strokes make for striking contrast with the angular, minimalist structure.


Gold standard

Boddington (population: 1,200) is bordered by a picturesque river, an hour and a half’s drive from Perth. The town has boomed, gone bust and then boomed again through the years: in the early 1960s, bushfires decimated the local timber industry and Boddington languished until the late 1970s, when mining of bauxite, a reddish rock used in aluminium production, began nearby. Then came the gold rush in the 2000s and Boddington today remains the home of one of Australia’s largest goldmines.

Bodd News began in 1993 and Heather Stevens (who turns 87 this year) came on board about 12 months later. Though not a fully fledged newspaper by any means, “We’re possibly the only completely independent community newsletter left in Western Australia,” she says, adding that she’s proud of having wrested control from the local council. “I’m not the type of girl who likes to be ‘overseen’.” Today, 10 volunteers put together the publication, which constitutes a thick raft of A4 pages and sells for AU$1.50 (€0.95) a pop. Fortnightly circulation hovers around 300. Here, Stevens digs into the news of the town.

What’s the big story?
We have a rather beautiful street in Boddington that’s lined with liquidambar trees; they’ve been there as long as I can remember. But people complain that their houses’ walls are cracking and the footpaths are too. So the Shire [local council] decided to remove the magnificent trees on the recommendation of an arborist – who, I might add, is the person who comes to chop them down! It has caused a bit of controversy.

A favourite image from a recent issue?
A photo of this wonderful mosaic mural residents made of the flora and fauna of Boddington. People donated bits of china and old plates, and they managed to get all the right colours. The main feature was a rare red-tailed black cockatoo. It took two years to make and was installed in a community park last year.

Do you have a down-page treat?
Let’s Talk Earth Care, which is written by a different person every fortnight. There was a case recently where a platypus was found with a hair tie embedded in its skin. So last week someone wrote about the importance of cutting hair ties before throwing them out.

What’s the next big event?
The Country Women Association will hold their annual Big Morning Tea in the town square to raise money for cancer, and there’s the “thank a responder sausage sizzle”. But Boddington’s biggest event of the year is the Lions Club Rodeo, always held on the first weekend of November. Over 10,000 cowboys, horses and spectators descend on our little town. Organising camping sites and food is a major undertaking.


What women want (to wear)

Cruise shows, a charmingly dated term for the between-season presentations also known as resort collections, are often themed around a travel destination – and this week Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri landed in Athens (writes Genevieve Bates). Staged at the Panathenaic Stadium, the bravura show included influences from athletics, ancient Greek tropes and the fashion brand’s own house codes. Every look offered further evidence of Chiuri’s genius for designing beautiful clothes that women actually want to sport.

Technical fabrics, leggings and trainers nodded to the reality of how athleisure has permeated wardrobes. Elsewhere, a soft version of the house’s iconic Bar jacket was offset with a floaty plissé skirt in one look and loose, tailored trousers in another. There was also a dystopian, space-age feel to the metallic fabrics and chunky, knee-high boots, which was in sync with Nicolas Ghesquière’s space travel-inspired resort collection for Louis Vuitton earlier in the week. Anyone who wants to tap the authentically Greek aspects of the Dior show can turn to Atelier Tsalavoutas, maker of fisherman’s caps, whose headwear featured, and those with more dramatic ambitions will want to home in on the myth-inspired Leda and the Swan dress that closed the show.


And the roast is history

Public glimpses into film stars’ private lives never get boring, however quotidian the revelations – at least that’s what New York-based auction house Siegel is betting on (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). It plans to auction Marilyn Monroe’s personal cookbooks in its American Free Franks and Historical Documents sale on 22 June. “A friend of mine bought them in the original Christie’s sale,” says John Zuckerman, senior vice-president at Siegel, referring to a substantial 1999 auction of the actress’s personal property. “He had them for more than 20 years and enjoyed them, and we decided it was time to pass them on to someone who might enjoy them as well.”

The single lot comprising two 1950s hardbacks – The New Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and The New Joy of Cooking – offer glimpses into the minutiae of Monroe’s culinary life, including handwritten grocery lists, a deli business card and her diet schedule. The meals in question? Mainly a mix of lean meats and cooked fruit. Bar a couple of odd choices (Marilyn drank eggnog year-round), her dishes are surprisingly ordinary. But it isn’t really about food, is it?

“Cookbooks are a personal thing, something that she would use all the time,” says Zuckerman. “At the end of the day, it shows a human side to her.” The lot is expected to go for between $50,000 (€42,000) and $75,000 (€63,000) and offers a rare window into the life of an American icon, who we now know was a dab hand in the kitchen. Stewed fruit, anyone?

Images: Alamy, Courtesy of The Laneway Project, Courtesy of Savills, Shane Sakanoi, Getty Images. Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon


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