Saturday. 10/7/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

OPENER / ANDREW TUCK

Small victories

  1. Last week, in this column, I wrote about a book by someone I know and a man, Conal Walsh, who had died in 1995. It was the latter part that actually made me nervous. Would it reopen old wounds; was my take on a fraction of his life wise to share after all this time? Here’s what happened: within hours someone had forwarded the column to Conal’s brother, Nick, in South Africa. And Nick was warm and kind in his response to the story – we have since exchanged emails. Even in this breezy Saturday column, sometimes the words come with tugs or duty and meaning that leave me wondering how they will land. Anyway, I thought you would like to know that, this time, it was fine – and thank you also to all the people who wrote with their reflections on sustaining memories.

  2. Sure, we had never really talked about it. But there was an understanding in place – well, at least I had thought there was. Here’s the issue. We have a roof terrace at home; so do most of our neighbours. It makes for a miniature High Line park – if you are incredibly diminutive in stature that is. You see, over the years it’s become the favoured hangout of a mouse or two. Their presence has never bothered me – I might occasionally hear one rustling over an autumn leaf or spot one in winter devouring a seed or two dropped from the bird feeder by a messy-eating parakeet.

But the unwritten contract in my mind was: you do not come indoors. But this week? Let me tell you, agreements were breached. I was in the kitchen and, out of the corner of my eye, saw a mouse tip-toeing down the stairs from the roof, whistling a sort of don’t-look-at-me-style tune. When I stood up, he panicked and unwisely darted off into a dead end by the fridge. After a modest amount of squealing (me, not mouse) we captured him with the aid of a dustpan and a carrier bag and within minutes were releasing him into the wild, far from our house.

Then, the next day, I got home from work and there at the front door was a mouse – I thought for a moment he was about to press the doorbell. Spotting me, however, he made a run for it. Odd, I thought, seeing a mouse in the street. The next day? He came darting down the stairs again and into the lounge this time. He shot into another dead-end corner but when I ran over he had somehow vanished. What the heck?

Now believe me, while part of me was thinking “catch the blighter”, another part of me was thinking “this fellow deserves a season in Vegas”. I promise you that it was a vanishing act more impressive than David Blaine could muster. The other half was not happy and within seconds was online ordering all manner of humane traps. These began to arrive over the coming days. Some looked like miniature pieces of modern architecture, others appeared to be diddy playground rides. I was sceptical but we set them up all across the kitchen – each one made even more alluring with the addition of a biscotti morsel (it was all we had). Looking at our handiwork before we went to bed, the scene resembled a shrunken Burning Man festival. What mouse could ever resist this house of fun? Turns out, our mouse.

The next morning, all of the rides and trick houses were guest free. “Perhaps he only likes English food?” I proffered. Apparently this fell into my rather large list of statements in the “you are really not helping” category. Over the following nights we went through the same process and – nothing. There have been no, shall we say, “calling cards” either and so I am hoping that he has been reminded by his betters to get the hell out of our house. But we will see how this tale – and tail – concludes. Poison has been suggested but we need to carry on with our soppy middle-class niceness for a bit longer – before we snap and go into killer mode.

  1. Being older comes with a new benefit. The UK government has said that the double-jabbed can travel to all amber-list countries (lots of nice places) from 19 July without quarantining on your return. Now I have had my double-whacker status for some time but for younger people it offers a few challenges – especially if your second dose is not for weeks to come. Hence the scenes at Midori House this week. It transpires that many medical centres are offering the top-ups much earlier, you just need to sleuth them out. Chiara Rimella, our culture editor, seemed to be the control desk for our company, shouting out where various team members had to get to – and quickly. Sometimes people had just an hour to get in line. But by the end of the week, there were lots more people thinking that perhaps life this summer need not involve damp Cornwall.

HOW WE LIVE / QUEEN’S IMAGE

Irrational portrait gallery

Countries in which portraits of the head of state are a prominent feature of private décor are rarely happy places (writes Andrew Mueller). The picture of the king/sheikh/president/generalissimo above the hearth is usually not a purehearted demonstration of affection, rather a hedge against the penalties for dissent.

Nevertheless, at least one British politician believes that there ought to be more of this kind of thing. Joy Morrissey, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield – whose very name evokes some crashingly unsubtle satire of Brexit Britain, perhaps phoned in by Martin Amis during an off-patch – has launched a campaign to have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II installed in every home, company and institution. While Ms Morrissey is not proposing to make it compulsory (at least, not yet), she is proposing that taxpayers’ money be diverted to this purpose.

While the idea sounds – and indeed is – quite mad, it’s also the logical end point of a recent post-Brexit embrace, ardent if clammy, of the Union Jack by the UK government. Ministers have ostentatiously draped their Zoom backgrounds in red, white and blue, and at least one MP, Jamie Wallis, has represented the people of Bridgend in the Commons adorned with a Union Jack tie and facemask. A new tax-office building in Cardiff will be draped with a flag eight storeys tall.

There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying one’s national flag, or admiring one’s head of state. But insistently evangelising on behalf of either is not merely weird – it also seems definitively un-British.

HOUSE NEWS / QUALITY OF LIFE CONFERENCE 2021

See you there

Fancy some inspiration, great Greek wine and an Aegean breeze this autumn? You’re in luck. Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference is back from 23 to 25 September and this year we’re in Athens. The three-day event is our most ambitious yet with an itinerary packed with discussion, talks and tours from 25 key voices in business, design, culture, urbanism and more. Early bird tickets are available here.

THE LOOK / EUROS

Kitted out

Who remembers the twisted logic of Roberto Baggio’s ponytail (writes Tom Reynolds)? Gianluigi Buffon’s absurdly pointy sideburns, or Andrea Pirlo’s flowing locks? Italy’s national football team certainly seem to be champions of strong looks on the pitch. But this year the team’s style icon is putting in graft behind the scenes.

Though a member of the backroom staff, assistant manager Alberico Evani has proven to be the team’s most fashionable employee in this European Championship, catching our eye with his thick-rimmed glasses, carefully pruned facial hair and generous mop. His bushy eyebrows might be likened to the famous Groucho Marx glasses-and-nose disguise but the Italian’s innate stylishness means that this comes across as more chic than novelty mask. This is one of the few jobs where you can legitimately wear a tracksuit to work but Evani is more likely to turn up outfitted in a seersucker blue-and-white striped suit courtesy of Emporio Armani – as are the entire Azzurri staff.

They say dress for the job you want and while Evani’s boss is kitted out in the same gear, Italy’s manager, Roberto Mancini, prefers to trawl the touchline jacketless in his tailored long-sleeved white shirt and tie. In the opposite dugout tomorrow, Gareth Southgate’s look will be less Mediterranean and more middle management; he’s ditched his World Cup waistcoat and is now quietly confident in his Marks and Spencer two-piece. But remember, it doesn’t matter how you dress it up – anything can happen in the final.

THE INTERROGATOR / MARIANA ENRÍQUEZ

Scare stories

Argentinian writer Mariana Enríquez’s eerie tales of violence and greed in Buenos Aires have enthralled readers on both sides of the Atlantic over the past year. Having first made a name for herself in her home country, she won Spain’s prestigious Herralde prize in 2019 for her novel Our Share of Night. More recently, her latest book The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, a collection of short stories translated by Megan McDowell, was shortlisted for this year’s International Booker prize. Enríquez tells about her undying love for Nick Cave, her favourite San Telmo bookshop and why she hates singing in the shower.

What news source do you wake up to?
I rarely read papers these days; I’m not proud of it but I’ve been feeling really disappointed in the state of journalism. I do check Reuters, the BBC and other news agencies, as well as local media I trust. But overall I think it’s a bad moment.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Coffee. I use an Italian-style Volturno moka pot and usually I’ll drink it with milk.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Neither. I’m very old-school, so I tend to buy and download CDs and songs, make my own playlists and listen to them on my computer. Genre-wise, it’s mostly rock and gothic country.

What’s that you’re singing in the shower?
I never sing in the shower! I’m a terrible singer and I’ve never really understood why people do it; I always get water in my mouth.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I like a Brazilian magazine called Piauí but I can rarely get my hands on it. I also wish I could read Mojo but in Argentina it’s really expensive.

Newspaper that you turn to?
There are good articles in The New York Times and I feel the same way about the newspaper I work for, Página/12.

Favourite bookshop?
La Libre in Buenos Aires. It’s a bookshop in San Telmo, a historic neighbourhood that, albeit popular with tourists, hasn’t lost its soul.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
The Evolution of Horror, because I like horror movies and I like hearing them unpick the genre.

What’s the best thing you've watched on TV recently?
The third season of Twin Peaks. I know it came out a long time ago but I only saw it recently. It’s great how such a crazy show can just go up on a streaming platform like that.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Nick Cave. I’ve been a fan of his for 13 years and there isn’t a single record of his I don’t like.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
Horror, without a doubt. But I also like science fiction and documentaries à la Werner Herzog, about things that feel stranger than fiction.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I’d rather read. It brings me more peace of mind. At the moment, I’m reading Fangirls by Hannah Ewens and reading Stendhal’s The Red and Black again. It’s an eclectic mix.

CULTURE / VISIT / LISTEN / READ

Ways of seeing

‘Seizing the Invisible’, MMIPO Porto. Can a picture of a sculpture offer a new perspective on a physical work? After a year of remote viewing, the temptation would be to squirm at the thought – but if the person who took the shots is Peter Lindbergh, it’s probably worth taking a look. This exhibition pairs images by the late German photographer with the Alberto Giacometti pieces they portray. The already enigmatic, tall and lanky sculptures take on an even more mysterious air – and end up looking like mesmerising ancient archaeological finds in the process.

‘Portas’, Marisa Monte. A Brazilian institution is back with her first solo album of new material in 10 years. In Portas, Monte offers a bit of escapism with her soothing voice. Admittedly, she avoids too much experimentation in the album but perhaps that’s a good thing. Listen out for the title track, which could well become another Monte classic, and her collaboration with Seu Jorge and Flor on “Pra Melhorar” is definitely another highlight worth listening to.

‘Three Summers’, Margarita Liberaki. This sun-soaked story focuses on three sisters growing up outside Athens before the Second World War. As the title implies, it’s set over three warm summers, during which Maria, Infanta and Katerina loll around, live and love, discovering who and what they want to be. This is a replenishing book about the strange and exciting state of adolescent girlhood.

RETAIL UPDATE / SUMMER POP-UPS

Brief encounters

Seasonal pop-ups are having their moment in the sun and from the Balearic Islands to the Hamptons, brands are eager to satisfy holidaymakers’ demands for a new wardrobe. Sure, the beach can be relaxing but retail therapy also does the trick. Here are three we liked the look of.

Loewe, Ibiza. Launched alongside a capsule collection in collaboration with homegrown fashion brand Paula’s Ibiza, expect playful prints in a leafy retail space in Talamanca bay.
loewe.com

Chanel, St Tropez. Chanel’s swanky St Tropez pop-up is based in the La Mistralée mansion for the 13th year in a row. Come for the clothes, stay for the sun loungers and Mediterranean charm.
chanel.com

Tod’s, East Hampton. Think breezy summer accessories and interiors inspired by Portofino’s seaside landscapes. Maybe it isn’t exactly Italy but, hey, we’ll take it.
tods.com

Though these pop-ups aren’t expected to last beyond the summer, we aren’t writing anything off. Retailers often use these shops to test out new spaces, so don’t be surprised if some become permanent fixtures.

WHAT AM I BID? / SYLVIA PLATH’S BELONGINGS

Opening the jar

Museums love showing important people’s personal memorabilia (writes Chiara Rimella). Want to see Che Guevara’s half-smoked cigar or a stray hair from Salvador Dalí’s moustache? There’s probably a place for those, somewhere in the world. Sometimes these items help to paint a picture of the person that was; other times, admiring a collection of assorted and unrelated items feels a little bit too much like idolatry.

Sotheby’s sale of Sylvia Plath’s belongings falls firmly into the first camp: reading the love letters to and from her husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes isn’t just glorified peeking; it’s perusing an hitherto unseen literary treasure. Their daughter, Frieda, is putting up for auction some impressive (and strikingly personal) heirlooms, from the couple’s wedding ring to the family photo album, which is expected to fetch between £30,000 and £50,000 (€34,895 and €58,160).

“I find the photo album incredibly compelling,” says Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s English literature and historical manuscripts specialist. “It has her annotations and captions in it. As you flick through the pages, a narrative of their life together starts to emerge. There are moments in there that make you think, ‘This is that poem.’ But at the same time it’s an ordinary family record, with shots of babies and visits to tourist sites. It brings together literary history and daily life.” Be prepared to part with up to £20,000 (€23,263) for letters of love and longing from a relationship that would reach a bitter end. Or perhaps opt for something a bit more prosaic. For £1,500 to £2,000 (€1,745 to €2,326), you could take home a postcard written by Plath from California: “Ate at the fish pier, watched them unload huge salmon from the sailboats – on our way to the Grand Canyon.” Have a good weekend all. sothebys.com

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