- Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 26/6/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


New ancients

  1. A slot at the hotel gym has to be booked in advance and by the time I call the front desk there’s nothing left. But I’m now dressed in my gym gear and, although it’s toasty hot outside, I decide to head off for a run of some sort. According to my app there’s a nifty route around the Acropolis. Come on, who could resist having that on their running history? I leave the hotel, weave through tree-shaded streets, and then hit the inclines and sun-bleached dusty trails. I soon misjudge the map, have to retrace my steps, come to a fenced-off dead end and meet wild tortoises who seem to be moving annoyingly faster than me. But I am in Athens, as high up as a bird, and mornings have rarely looked so beautiful. And, then, I turn a corner and see the Parthenon in front of me, owning the skyline as it has for millennia. Really, welcome to Athens.

  2. We are having lunch and there’s a group of great-looking women at the table next to us who are all premier-league players of the under-ordering game. It’s brutal to overhear. “Can I get some crudités and taramasalata?” says the first woman. “Can I just have the crudités?” says the second woman. “Can I share your crudités?” says the third woman. “I’m not eating now as I have dinner in three months’ time,” says the next. “Do you have any air in a bowl?” asks the last member of the group. And, actually, they all would really like to have a burger and chips – and probably will when they get back to their rooms.

  3. The Monocle Quality of Life city index is published in the July/August issue of Monocle. Athens is not on there just yet. Nor are lots of cities in which life can be very good – sorry but the generational investment just in the public realm of, say, a Copenhagen is hard to compete with. But if you have a nice salary, then Athens delivers. Sure, there are some rough edges, a lot of graffiti on trains and many poorer neighbourhoods, but the city has an amazing tempo, a stock of modernist architecture whose potential is often untapped and a youthful strut that seduces. I warn you: if you come to our conference in the city at the end of summer, you may find yourself contacting a real-estate agent.

  4. Last summer I was in Athens, en route to the island of Folegandros, and I bumped into a reader at the Me Kolonaki café (apparently it was my Monocle tote that alerted him to my presence and encouraged him to say “hello”). So this time I made sure to meet Dimitris at the same place. We talked about our lives and work, about plans. One of the many things that makes me love my job is that when I meet our readers they turn out to be a pretty amazing crew.

  5. While we’re in Greece, the government changes the mask rules. As of Thursday, you no longer need to wear one outdoors unless you are in a crowded place – handy when the temperature is 36C. But as I head out from the Grand Bretagne a lot of people seem to have kept covering their faces. Do they not read the news? Or are they the opposite of early adopters? Or, actually, is this just another hint that the great unwinding will take longer than we think?

  6. You can’t dine inside restaurants in Athens, just alfresco. I don’t even notice this fact for days; you would be insane to eat indoors in this heat. It all just looks as it should be – perfect in fact.

  7. Who are the first travel movers? Americans. The city is full of US holiday-makers making the most of their jabs and desire to roam.

  8. At the airport, another Brexit joy. It takes 45 minutes to snake through passport control. One frustrated man starts barking at a woman guarding the empty EU passport holders’ zone. Suddenly we all hear someone confidently shout, “Asshole.” I turn – as does Mr Aggressive – to see an American gentleman who is built like some mythical Greek giant; his regular-sized mask barely covering his lips. Shoutypants decides not to go in with a punch. “Hey,” he meekly retorts, like an infant saddened by a parent’s scolding. Thanks for hitting the road, America.

  9. Airport watch number two. It’s impressive how Saudi women switch identities. There’s a Saudia flight checking in next to me and there are women in crop-tops and flip-flops who within hours will have to be more modestly attired. I spot a couple of young women who were just drinking beer in the café when I got my coffee. No judgment – it’s just fascinating how for all of us clothes can express beliefs or denial of them; validation or misdirection.

  10. Finally, come to Athens with us. It’s going to be a hoot. Keep an eye out for details in the coming days. We can even go on a morning run together and stare back at this city where ancient and modern collide to produce a place that’s both heady east and determined west. But always intriguing.


Showing up

Germany has been among the most cautious of Europe’s nations during this coronavirus debacle, often to the ire of businesses and cultural venues that have struggled through the darker months – but things are changing (writes Kimberly Bradley).

Youths can be found spending their afternoons on Berlin’s many lakes and in public pools, bolstered by a policy allowing children to get out of school early during unbearably hot weather. This said, if you head to lake Schlachtensee – a quieter neighbour of the ever-popular Wannsee – you’ll find a corner of beach free from the juvenile jamboree. And if you’d prefer something even more civilised, pay the east Asian-inspired Vabali spa in Charlottenburg’s vast Tiergarten a visit. In the city cafés are packed, with neighbourhood favourite Five Elephants in Kreuzberg attracting happy crowds. Not far from there, canal-side restaurant Horváth is bringing in diners with its classic Austrian cuisine.

Museums and galleries have returned with blockbuster exhibitions such as Yayoi Kusama’s show at Gropius Bau. In the decommissioned Tempelhof Airport’s Hangar 2, a huge art exhibition called Diversity United is also showing large-scale installations and other art by some of Europe’s biggest stars, including Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Alicja Kwade. Berlin: we’ve missed you.


Cover stars

Our sunny July/August issue is out now. Under the covers you’ll find our annual Quality of Life index ranking the best 20 cities to call home and examining the places that are building back better. Elsewhere, we meet the ice-cream firms who have the industry licked, profile properties we’d happily call home in Málaga and Melbourne, and examine the economics of island life on the Aegean outpost of Thassos. Plus plenty more besides. Hop in while the water’s warm and order your copy today. Or subscribe to get instant access to our Digital Editions.


Sack race

In the early 1900s before plastic and mass production, many shopping bags in Taiwan were made by hand from rush in a style known as kagiami (writes Clarissa Wei). The distinctive Taiwanese take on a hold-all takes its own name from the Japanese word for weaving – from when the island was under imperial rule – but kagiami remains a reassuring, colourful presence toted by Taiwanese grannies, transporting their farm-fresh produce home after a trip to the market.

But far from being the preserve of senior citizens, in recent years these bags have also caught the attention of more fashionable crowds to become a new icon. Once shunned due to their humble associations, perceptions shifted when the island’s modish youth recognised the retro bags as part of their national vernacular. Walking down Taipei’s streets today, you’ll see colourful models slung about the shoulders of the designer-clad, paired with wallets, backpacks and even umbrellas in the trademark red, blue and green stripes.

For budding designers, there’s a lesson in the kagiami’s enduring popularity: make something simple, resilient, and utilitarian with an element of craft in its construction. In 100 years’ time, you’ll thank us for the advice.


World apart

Nigerian-born, UK-based writer Abi Daré released her debut novel The Girl with the Louding Voice early last year. The tale, which follows a 14-year-old girl who is employed as a house maid in Lagos, has gone on to become a bestseller, garnering international praise for its gut-wrenching examination of class and girlhood in Nigeria. Here, Daré tells us about singing around the house, an east London bookshop and her admiration for the poet Maya Angelou.

What news source do you wake up to?
I personally don’t wake up to a news source but my husband is obsessed with Sky News. I can actually hear him watching it right now. I sometimes read Al Jazeera online, just because it’s nice to get news from different parts of the world.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Pre-pandemic, it was a hazelnut latte, one shot, in a takeaway cup. There was just something about the shape of the cup and the lid that reassured me that the day would be good.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I tend to listen to gospel, afrobeat and old R&B. My kids look at me like, “What are you singing?” They don’t know what good music is.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I love the sound of water hammering down on my skin, so I really just want to listen to that.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I love Essence, a Nigerian publication called Genevieve and Vanity Fair.

Newspaper that you turn to?
I tend to read The Guardian online. Sometimes, I’ll read the Financial Times. I’m also not ashamed to say I read a lot of Instagram blogs that give news updates. Channels TV has one, as well as Sahara TV in New York. They give snippets of what’s happening around the world.

Favourite bookshop?
Before I moved to the countryside, it was Pages of Hackney. It’s just a really lovely, pretty store.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I used to listen to a lot of writing podcasts on the train. Before I decided I wanted to pursue writing professionally, I listened to Pat Flynn’s podcasts about turning your passion into profit.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
I’ll have one ear listening but I’ll also be reading a book or doing something else. As for newsreaders, I like Gillian Joseph and Lukwesa Burak.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I love Maya Angelou, particularly I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read it when I had just arrived in England and there was something about the story – about finding your power, finding your voice – that really resonated with me. I admire her boldness and the way she was able to embrace the complexity and pain of her life to stand strong and build such a solid legacy.


Let the sun shine

‘Jubilee’, Japanese Breakfast. After two albums and a novel on the pain of losing her mother, Michelle Zauner, frontwoman of Japanese Breakfast, is closing the book on grief and opening the door to joy. Co-produced by Craig Hendrix, Jubilee is a personal and playful record backed by plenty of saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and strings, with a couple of melancholy tracks added in for good measure.

‘Ride a Cockhorse’, Raymond Kennedy. Originally published in 1991, this story of small-town rabble-rousing in the midst of the late 1980s financial crisis is an unexpectedly hilarious delight. Almost overnight, 45-year-old Frances Fitzgibbons, a widowed home-loan officer at a Massachusetts bank, discovers both a gift for “persuasive speech” and a “sudden quickening of her libido.” Without further ado, she starts wreaking havoc all over town, with her minions (her dedicated hairdresser and her adoring son-in-law) in tow. Soon to be made into a film starring Rachel Weisz in the lead, this welcome rerelease is a force to be reckoned with.

‘Parar la Fresca’, Fonteta. Barcelona-based galleries Bombon Project, Galeria Joan Prats and Noguerasblanchard are joining forces for a pop-up space in the beautiful (and tiny) Spanish village of Fonteta in Girona. And while the location may not be a glitzy resort, the inaugural exhibition, structured to show work by three different generations of artists on the theme “Parar la Fresca” (the local custom of shooting the breeze as the sun sets), is a breath of fresh air.


Feeling swell

Nazaré, a fishing town in central Portugal with a population of 15,000, is home to the biggest surfable waves on the planet (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). “They’re probably three or four times stronger than the ones you’d find in other places along the Portuguese coast and often reach the 20-metre mark,” says Joaquim Pequicho, president of local radio station Rádio Nazaré FM. “Naturally, big-wave surfers started putting us on the map.”

The station first got its licence in 1986 and covers everything from music to politics and culture. Pequicho says it is now a big part of the community: “We’re very present in locals’ everyday lives. We’re in people’s homes and in their cars.” Here, he fills us in on the town’s latest developments and tells us about the station.

Where’s the station based?
We’re in the tallest building in Nazaré, in the city centre. That helps us amplify our signal, not only on land but also at sea. We want fishermen to be able to listen to the radio when they’re out fishing.

What kind of music do you play?
A big mix. Some shows focus exclusively on [Portuguese music genre] fado, others on the work of local artists like Sara Vidal. Nazaré has a really interesting and unique music scene.

What’s your favourite show on the schedule?
A Voz da Igualdade (“the voice of equality”). During the programme, we interview people who work in government at the national level and cover a range of social justice topics: children’s rights, disability rights, gender inequality.

And finally, a favourite broadcast moment?
People in Nazaré live for the carnival, so it was really sad when it was cancelled this year because of the pandemic. But the station stepped in and did a special carnival broadcast. We played all the traditional marchas [satirical songs performed by carnival revelers or local musicians]. Lots of people listened to it in their homes and on their balconies. People walking past could hear it. It felt like an affirmation of our identity.


Clear vision

When Guy Buchan conceived of Bold London in 2013, the premise was simple: high-quality eyeglasses handmade in England to each client’s specifications. The idea combined Buchan’s knowledge of craft and design – garnered from his studies and experience in sculpting – with the top-tier branding work he’d made his living from as a consultant. “I felt the time was right to create something that I could put into people’s hands,” he says. And since launching the brand in 2016, he’s delivered.

Working with four workshops across England, Buchan sees that each pair of glasses is made from the client’s choice of materials, which can include sterling silver in the frames and subtle diamond inlays. The cases are made from thick English bridle leather and every pair of spectacles comes with the option of a matching signet ring. “Providing that personal experience is important to me,” says Buchan. For this reason, monthly production runs are in the dozens rather than the hundreds and every pair takes weeks of painstaking work. So some clear-sighted advice: get your orders in early. bold.london


Battle borne

In the panned 2014 flick The Monuments Men, George Clooney explains the urgency of his military unit’s mission to find a trove of valuable Nazi-looted artworks before the end of the Second World War (writes Nic Monisse). “If Germany falls [before we uncover them], the Nazis are going to destroy everything.” Thankfully, the real-life (and silver-screen) Monuments Men accomplished their mission in time. Good news for the art world then – and also good news for Christie’s auction house now, which is selling two of the saved artworks at its Old Masters Evening Sale in London on 8 July.

The pieces in question, Jan Davidsz de Heem’s A Banquet Still Life (lot 21) and Dirck Hals and Dirck van Delen’s A Merry Company in a Palatial Interior (lot 22; pictured), were acquired by the Nazis after their owner, Amsterdam-based businessman and art collector Jacob Lierens, had his belongings seized in 1941. Both were returned to the Dutch state in 1948 and a restitution committee regained possession in 2019. They are now putting them up for auction.

But it’s not just this remarkable backstory that makes the pieces appealing. “Both works were acquired for the planned Führermuseum at Linz before being returned to the Netherlands after the war,” explains Clementine Sinclair, head of sales at Christie’s London. “They were then put on public display in major museums in Holland, underlining the fact that they are of institutional quality and outstanding examples of each artist’s oeuvre.”

Prospective buyers should plan to spend between £3m and £5m (€3.5m and €5.9m) for the De Heem and £600,000 to £1m (€700,000 to €1.16m) for Hals and Van Delen’s piece. It’s significantly less than the €60m budget for Clooney’s film – and for significantly better art. christies.com


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