Saturday 3 July 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 3/7/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Shining on

It’s a long, long time ago. I am working at Time Out magazine in London; it’s when the offices are in Covent Garden. Michael, one of the receptionists, calls my phone to let me know there’s someone to see me. It’s a food PR called Conal Walsh. He’s standing there with a box of bread made with sprouted wheat. He’s a bit older than me; short, fit and immediately funny. After delivering his pitch about the loaves’ health benefits, he explains that his offices are just on the other side of Covent Garden and that, if I want any more bread, I should call him and he’ll “skip across the piazza” to bring more. We are going to be friends.

There are dinners at his house with fun guests, including people from his home nation of Zimbabwe, and his partner. Drinks with London’s food greats. There are nightclubs. A holiday in Mykonos. But, all too soon, I am standing in a packed St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street reading a eulogy at his funeral. Another person taken by Aids. Indeed I have been in this very church with Conal for the service of another friend, the journalist Les Daley. And Michael, the often biker-leather-dressed receptionist, will also die from complications arising from Aids.

This week I have been emailing with Derek Frost who has written a book, Living and Loving in the Age of Aids, that’s about those years and the people he lost – and also those who made it. Conal is one of the book’s cast. In the end it’s an uplifting read because Derek has led an extraordinary life with his partner Jeremy Norman, including the founding of Aids Ark, an organisation that helps people affected by HIV in places such as southern Africa. But there’s a lot of bruising sadness on these pages too.

I met Derek and Jeremy all those years ago because Conal took me as his guest to their house in London: a whole end of a mews, filled with art and designed to perfection. I sat next to the film director John Schlesinger who then invited me to dinner at his house in Kensington. You just met a lot of people when you were with Conal.

But reading this book made clear something else – perhaps something you think about too. How skilled we are at offering differently nuanced takes on who we are, depending on the audience – what we want, or need, from people. There’s a moment in the book when Conal knows that he is sick and he tells Derek that he will kill himself when things are really bad. I wish he had told me about those feelings. Of course, he had partners, lovers, far closer than me to confide in but it made me wonder, did I misread things? But like many people faced with serious illness, he made the decision to keep his diagnosis something of a secret from many people and chose to live life head-on.

I didn’t keep a diary back then, so unlike Derek I cannot remember the exact sequence of events. There was that holiday to Mykonos – I had never been there before and Conal was oddly insistent that we go. We stayed in a humble cottage on a hill and one morning we counted up how much cash we had left. “I think we may have been robbed,” said Conal. We totted up what we were spending on meals and drinks and quickly realised that living it up – not a thief dressed as a shepherd – was the cause of our penury. Perhaps we should skip some of the cocktails? I suggested. “Don’t be silly,” said Conal. “This is what American Express was invented for.”

I have returned to Mykonos many times over the cascading years and the café under the windmills where we had breakfast every morning is still there – well, the building is – and I always smile when I pass by as I catch a glimpse of us sitting under the whitewashed rattan awning. But as we lingered there I presume that Conal knew, or feared, what was ahead.

There are so many amazing stories in the book – not least how Derek and Jeremy both went to be tested in the early days of the crisis, and Derek got the all clear and Jeremy didn’t (he tested the very same week as Conal). And how love, and luck, allow them both to be here today. Then there’s Derek’s successful career as a designer; Jeremy owning legendary nightclubs including Heaven. But for me, reading this at home on a sullen London day, it left me thinking with crisp clarity about a happy man and his offer to skip across a piazza. Being missed, never dimmed, is a potent legacy and this book makes so many people shine once again.

‘Living and Loving in the Age of Aids: A Memoir’ is by Derek Frost and is published by Watkins.

Image: Getty Images


Heating up

As we roll into the weekend in Milan, a brief survey of the poolside tables at rooftop bar Ceresio 7 confirms that summer has officially arrived in the city (writes Ivan Carvalho). It’s booked to the hilt, with a dapper collection of locals imbibing rounds of negroni sbagliatos and showing off chic looks (older gents put the youth to shame by sporting snappy blazers, slacks and sleek slip-on sneakers). But the crowd at the bar aren’t the only ones with a perfect perch from which to admire the city skyline: one street over, guests at Hotel Viu’s panoramic terrace have commanding views of the Lombard capital.

At street level, you’ll find yet more signs of a city getting back into gear. For those long deprived of a culture fix, the recently inaugurated ADI Design Museum expresses the country’s rich design past – don’t miss the exhibition on Giulio Castelli, founder of design brand Kartell. Retailers, too, are rolling out the red carpet and the Massimo Alba boutique has propped open its doors to let in a gentle breeze so that Alessandro, the manager, can greet passersby. With beach trips now also on the agenda, many are flocking to Palorosa, a shop in Via Vigevano selling smart and sturdy tote bags.

When dinner hour approaches, you will see the hungry go indoors to tried-and-true establishments such as Ratanà in Porta Nuova, to savour risotto and a splash of wine made from one of Italy’s intriguing native grapes. Once seated, one thing becomes quite clear: Milan is back in business.


Better living

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference returns from 23 to 25 September this year in Athens. The three-day event is our most ambitious yet, packed with talks and tours from 25 leading experts in business, urbanism and more (as well as making time for wining and dining along the way). Early bird tickets are available for a limited time here. We can’t wait to see you.


Bold types

The first summer journalism internship I was ever given, at a small-town newspaper in Vermont, went belly-up before it even started (writes Christopher Cermak). A few weeks before setting off I inquired about renting a place near the office. “Well, my office is my home,” the editor in chief replied. “Will you have a laptop with you? Most of my reporters just send me their stories when they’re done.” Needless to say it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for – how do you soak up the atmosphere of a newsroom when there’s no such newsroom to speak of?

The future of the office has been much-discussed over the past year but there should be little doubt that the newsroom, as a space, carries a special significance. Which is why a new book, Above the Fold, due out this month by Irish-born photographer Noel Bowler, is a welcome addition. The publication takes its readers on a journey through newsrooms at major newspapers in Europe, the US and Asia, showing the often-messy stacks of papers and keepsakes from campaigns that reporters will keep at their desks.

While the culture and style of journalism outlets might differ, I can say from my experiences of working for publications in the US and Europe – from fast-paced newswires to daily newspapers and monthly magazines – that a few things typically stay the same. Newsrooms tend to be open plan, which is helpful for shouting out breaking news or working together closely on a tight deadline, but also allows for more random idea generation (journalists are necessarily inquisitive – including of our own colleagues). It’s the latter that makes working in a newsroom – or any office, in my mind – so crucial and enjoyable. After all, how do you gather or analyse new information if there’s no one around to talk to?

Image: Alamy


Views from the top

Given his lineage, a life in politics and diplomacy seemed natural for Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark, third-born child of Greece’s last monarch. But despite studying international relations at Brown University and working in news, communications and finance, eight years ago the prince turned to a pastime from his youth: photography. “I realised that the other things, despite being great experiences, were fillers and that photography is really my passion,” says Nikolaos. “It gets me out of bed in the morning.” Now an accomplished snapper, he’s just wrapped up an exhibition of his work at the London Design Biennale. Here, he tells us about a fashion designer who could double as a record producer and why his current hometown of Athens is on the up.

What have you been working on recently?
I’m feverishly preparing for my next exhibition at Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum in September. The show is about resilience and based on a quotation by the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis: “If you deconstruct Greece, you’ll be left with an olive tree, a vine and a boat.”

What news source do you wake up to?
I’m a news junkie. Whether it’s Greek news or CNN or the BBC, I always have the television on in the background with some sort of information coming out of it, which drives my wife crazy.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
A smoothie prepared by my wife. They are delicious.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Spotify. I generally listen to my brother’s playlists and my friend Edgardo Osorio’s too. He works in the fashion industry and has a brand called Aquazzura – he has great music taste and designs great shoes.

Newspaper that you turn to?
Athens broadsheet I Kathimerini and financial newspaper I Naftemporiki.

A cultural obsession?
That’s easy: it has to be Athens, a city that’s coming up at the moment in a number of ways, from art to design and architecture. In terms of people, I’d say Robert Wilson. He’s a fascinating man who works with light – which is a fundamental part of my creative process too. He also does set design and directs theatre.

Tell us about how you approach your own work.
To understand how I became the photographer that I am, you should know that I was once complaining to my wife about how difficult it was to capture the vastness of the Arizona desert. She said to me, “Stop trying to take a photograph of what you’re seeing and try to take a photograph of the emotion that the landscape is giving you.” That outlook changed my approach to everything that I do creatively.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
Definitely. One of my favourites to watch on Sunday is Fareed Zakaria from CNN. Richard Quest is another favourite of mine. He’s interviewed my wife and me before. He’s intelligent, asks great questions and has a great sense of humour.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
My wife saying “good night”.


In the current

‘Cyclorama’, Polo & Pan. Electro-pop French duo Polo & Pan have become quite serious. Debut album Caravelle may have been an outer space-themed extravaganza but their sophomore Cyclorama promises to be, in their words, “a musical odyssey through the steps of human existence and transcendence”. Fear not, however, for their brand of dreamy, surreal electronica remains intact. From the evocative “Ani Kuni”, inspired by their favourite lullaby, to straight-up house thumper “Tunnels”, this is a visionary, seriously cool dancefloor soundtrack.

‘The Union of Synchronised Swimmers’, Cristina Sandu. In an unnamed Soviet state, six cigarette-factory workers meet every day to swim in the river that separates east from west. At first they’re just messing around in the water, killing time between shifts, but over time their movements become “determined” and the six girls become a single entity, “inseparable from the river as the reeds and the stone”. Granted visas to travel abroad to represent their country in the Olympics, these girls grasp at their only chance for freedom, scattering to six strange new lives on their own.

‘Albion Fields’, Oxfordshire. It’s not just London’s residents that have experimented with relocating to the countryside over the past year: some of the capital’s best galleries (including Goodman and Lisson) have banded together to start a sculpture park in rural Oxfordshire. The works displayed across the wild woodland and along the lake shore come from quite an impressive line-up of artists, including Alicja Kwade and Rachel Whiteread. And in case the sheer scale of the works doesn’t scare you off, everything’s up for sale.

Image: Alamy


Life’s a beach

In the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the northeast of Brazil, Tibau’s golden beaches have gained a reputation among domestic tourists. “The funny thing about Tibau is that although we usually have a population of about 5,000 people, we get an influx of around 150,000 during the holiday season,” says Luiz Nazareno, who manages the town’s community radio station, Rádio FM Tibau. Even during the pandemic, this surge has been felt in town. “A lot of people in the state have summer homes here, so they’ll come and stay in them for a few months,” adds Nazareno. “People really love our beaches.”

What’s the biggest story this week?
I’d say it’s still the town’s vaccination program. This week, 42-year-olds can get the jab and I think we should be moving on to the next age group soon. So people are tuning into our station to stay up to date.

How does your daily roster look?
Mostly a mix of music and local news. We play a lot of [northeastern music genre] forró around this time of year because the [traditional festivities] festas juninas are taking place. But also, generally speaking, it’s a very popular genre in the region, so we definitely tend to gravitate toward that year-round.

And do you have a song on repeat?
Definitely – “Storiezin” by Raí Saia Rodada. He’s also from Rio Grande do Norte, from Caraúbas, which is near us. But people are listening to him all over the country now.


In step

Shinji Sekizuka has managed to modernise zouri (traditional Japanese sandal) style without losing its historic importance. His destination shop, Hakimono Sekizuka, sits in a former timber warehouse on the outskirts of Kyoto. “I’ve always wanted to have my own shop,” says the 38-year-old craftsman. The shop-cum-workshop showcases his beautiful, traditionally made sandals in a pared-back manner, which is attracting customers from all across Japan. Made-to-measure versions are also available, taking two months for him to put together.

Sekizuka learned the craft of making this particular type of footwear at a famous institution in Kyoto. “I learnt the Japanese aesthetics there – what makes things beautiful,” he says. “Every small detail has to be perfect for the whole piece to work.” Following six years of training and working with a zouri-maker, he opened his own shop in outer Kyoto last April. “I wanted to be close to nature,” he says. “It helps my creativity.”

Like what you see? Read more of this story in our July/August issue, which is out now. Or, subscribe today so you don’t miss an issue.


Five-finger discounts

Psst – keep this under your hat but if you’re in the market for a stolen car, we know just the place (writes Alex Briand). Or if you’re all set for a getaway vehicle, can we tempt you with a pilfered Picasso? A thieved timepiece? Great prices are guaranteed and, best of all, it’s perfectly above board. When stolen items are seized by police, every effort is made to find their rightful owners. But after a while languishing at the station, these confiscated goods are passed on to auction houses to be sold at a snip.

One such firm, US-based online auctioneer Property Room, was founded by a former New York detective and specialises in distributing items seized by law enforcement agencies across the country, including the New York and Los Angeles police departments. Most lots start at $1 and items range from laptops and cameras to gold bullion and diamond-studded rings. This past week’s fashion finds included an embroidered Kenzo jumper that went for $77 (€65).

Further afield, the aptly named Justiz Auktion offers lots sourced from North Rhine-Westphalia’s Ministry of Justice in Germany. Annual sales have exceeded €3.5m in the past and current lots include a bevy of gleaming, purloined BMWs and a very slick Porsche 911, alongside esoterica such as a room-sized safe now sitting in a court basement (a bargain at €210 but getting it home is up to the bidder). It’s the same the world over – from a £28 (€33) Macbook Air in the UK to a box of 25-year-old scotch at Breen in Victoria, Australia. And many of these auctions only take place in person, meaning you might not know what it is you’re missing out on. So why not hit the road? You might just find yourself a steal.;;


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