Saturday 14 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 14/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


To have and to hold

I have been pretty good at keeping quiet on this front for weeks now – I didn’t want to push my luck with you too far. But let me share one final update. Earlier this year I wrote about the death of my partner’s aunt, Meg. She had no children and so we took care of her at the very end and, ever since, have been sorting through the long legal process needed to settle up the estate. Probate has now been granted, which means that the sale of her house can go through, hopefully any day now. And this week, in another important step, the ashes were interred in the plot where her husband is buried.

The service was simple, nicely emotional, and with just a handful of people standing around a very tiny hole in the ground as the vicar did his “ashes to ashes” business. Indeed, the hole was so small that I wondered whether the passersby peeping into the churchyard thought that we had somehow persuaded the vicar to come in all his regalia for the interment of a much-loved pet. “Mrs Floppy-ears, I now deliver you into the hands of the almighty Bugs Bunny.” Anyway, it was all over in 15 minutes.

One good thing is that Meg always enjoyed having fun company (and a nice glass of wine) and as well as having Charles with her in the graveyard, the next two plots are her mother’s and that of a favourite cousin. Indeed, this corner of the graveyard now feels less like a final resting place and more like the placement for a dinner party that will go on and on. Perhaps instead of bringing flowers to leave by the gravestone, it would have been more fitting for us to leave a bottle of malbec and a tray of vol-au-vents.

Anyway, I must say that interring is a far less troublesome venture than scattering ashes. When my dad’s remains were dispersed on a damp autumn day in a copse of silver birch trees, a gust of ill-timed wind (of the meteorological variety) suddenly carried the ashes in the direction of where I was standing. At the end of the service I looked at my brogues – and there he was, resting not in heaven but on my Aldens. It would have been unseemly to wipe him off with the handkerchief in my pocket so I just walked back to the car through the longest grass and the mossiest spots that I could scout, hoping that he would get the hint. Strange, he had never been clingy in real life.

There is another link between my late parents and Meg and, I fear, many old people: glue. This is not a metaphor about how people used to stick together; I mean glue. It has taken weeks to decide where all of Meg’s things should go and, as it’s a little easier for me, I have mostly been the one to decide what heads to the tip, what we give to charity, what’s kept and what’s sold.

Like many people of her generation, Meg had a lot of ornaments, some centuries old, some recent trinkets. But again and again as you pick up, say, a jug or some cherubic figurine, you notice that a handle or a pudgy foot is held in situ by the ooze of age-browned glue. You inspect a dainty porcelain lady gaily swishing her ballgown and spy that she is missing her fingers – or in some instances a whole arm. I am not sure what grand ball these ladies were once supposed to be rocking up to but they now seem to be attendees at the annual Factory Accidents Fundraiser. Sadly, the next appointment in their dance cards will be the municipal dump.

After my mother’s departure, I unwisely suggested to my sisters that I would get rid of boxes of similar knick-knackery on Ebay. For weeks I would find myself heading to the Post Office before work to send off another pottery dove or gluggle jug to a buyer with equally questionable taste. But I soon learnt to inspect the items very carefully pre-dispatch after a gentleman in Lancashire wrote a very angry message to point out that La Lladró shepherd was not quite right in the head. It seemed that in some distant dusting accident, my mother had decapitated him and then stuck his noddle back on with glue. What’s more, she had gone a bit freestyle and had him looking at an angle that was likely to leave him with terrible neck pain in later life. A fuller inspection of her collection of figurines revealed a bunch of people more patched up than First World War servicemen.

But this week, on the morning before the interment, we did the toughest drop at the charity shop. Into a mountain of boxes we packed the contents of her wardrobes. It reminded me of how cool she was into her nineties. Everything in this world was pristine: shoes from Ferragamo, blouses from Diane von Furstenberg and Moschino, and dresses by Jean Muir. Somehow their departure from the house suddenly made it seem very empty. And when we returned after the service, the smell of her perfume had vanished.


Conference call

There’s something about warm weather and good food that sets you thinking about your quality of life. Agree? Well, then why not join us in balmy Athens next month for our conference on that very subject?

Running from September 23 to 25, Monocle’s editors will be joined by a host of inspiring speakers at our sixth Quality of Life Conference, where we’ll be talking about the importance of art and culture with the likes of Katerina Gregos, artistic director for Athens’ National Museum of Contemporary Art; design with Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury; and travel with Dimitrios Gerogiannis, CEO of Aegean Airlines. We’ll even take a look at how we can live longer, happier lives, with the Swiss neurosurgeon Philippe Schucht. Oh, and we’ll get the low down on the Greek capital from its mayor Kostas Bakoyannis.

Do join us. Tickets are going fast.


Cabin fever

The pressurised confines of aeroplane cabins have always revealed those among us who have no idea how to conduct themselves like grown-ups in a situation necessitating collective inconvenience and mutual courtesy (writes Andrew Mueller). But it might have been hoped that as people became free to fly again, they would be filled with gratitude for the restoration of what they once took for granted – and respond accordingly gracefully.

Sadly, this does not appear to have been the case. In the US, a spike has been reported in unruly passengers, often raging at masks and other coronavirus countermeasures, to the extent that the Transportation Security Administration has resumed self-defence courses for flight attendants.

And while there is no harm in this, it is certainly not the beleaguered aircrews who are at fault as they add the policing of pandemic protocols to their already considerable responsibilities. It is passengers who are in need of a refresher course.

Any such scheme (or even a snappy ad campaign from an airline) would be straightforward. After all, the basics of good aeroplane passenger behaviour – sitting still, being quiet and going a few consecutive hours without making a nuisance of yourself – are skills that most of us have some kind of grip on by the time we start school.


Report card

It isn’t easy to serve as editor-in-chief of Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s leading broadsheet and an institution in the Latin world. But since taking the mantle in 2019, Sérgio Dávila has performed the role with enviable grace. The appointment follows a decade of service as the paper’s foreign correspondent in the US, where he reported on everything from the September 11 attacks to the rise of Barack Obama. And in 2003, Dávila, who was the only Brazilian reporter to cover the Iraq war from Baghdad, won the country’s lauded annual ExxonMobil journalism award for his writing on the conflict. Here he tells us about his penchant for peppermint tea and humming Italo-house in the shower, and his favourite bookshop in São Paulo.

What news source do you wake up to?
Folha de S.Paulo. First thing in the morning; last thing before bed.

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

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
My own playlists on Spotify, the most recent of which I’ve named “5K”. I chose the songs carefully, so that it would last for the exact duration of one of my 5km runs.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“Everybody Everybody” by [Italo-house group] Black Box.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The Economist, The New Yorker, Piauí, 451 and aQuadra, my neighbourhood newspaper.**

Newspaper that you turn to?
Folha de S.Paulo, of course. And also The New York Times – the Sunday print edition if I’m in New York. Then The Washington Post, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and El País.

Favourite bookshop?
Megafauna, a charming bookshop in the heart of downtown São Paulo.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Café da Manhã, Folha’s daily podcast on Spotify. But also Serial, The Daily, Ricky Gervais’s Absolutely Mental and plenty of others.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
The documentary Collective, a very powerful exposé on healthcare fraud in Bucharest in 2015. It’s by an incredible team of sports journalists.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
Actually, it’s a subgenre: movies about journalistic investigations. Yes, I know, I have a problem.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
Every night, I stop everything I’m doing to watch Jornal Nacional.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
After 10 years living in the US as Folha’s correspondent, I’m still addicted to NPR’s long-time talk show, Fresh Air.


Calling the tune

‘Paul’, Daisy Lafarge. Poet and writer Daisy Lafarge’s clever debut poetry collection, Life Without Air, was shortlisted for last year’s TS Eliot prize. Her debut novel, Paul, has also gained accolades. The novel tells the story of Frances, a young woman, recently graduated, who spends a summer volunteering at a farm in rural France and falls under the influence of an older, charismatic man called Paul. A hazy and unsettling portrait of an uneven relationship.

‘Italianissimo’, Sam Ruffillo. Imagine yourself at a beach club on the Med just as the sun is setting. What music is playing? If you’re lucky, something like Sicilian-born, Bologna-based producer and DJ Sam Ruffillo’s new album. Italianissimo is an ode to the vintage joy of going to the club. Despite its name, it has something of a Balearic feel. It’s a house record but there are lashings of soul and funk in the mix too. Stick on “Es Buena” for a very good time.

‘The Sparks Brothers’, Edgar Wright. Who are Sparks? The question posed at the very start of this documentary captures the essence of a cult band that is both relatively unknown to mainstream listeners and has remained enigmatic even to their devotees. Director Edgar Wright presents a laudably exhaustive effort at providing an answer as he traces the group’s 50-year journey from artsy glam-rockers to electronica innovators and contemporary indie icons. Interspersed with archive footage and a killer soundtrack are a host of talking-head testimonies from famous fans and musical disciples, as well as commentary from the Sparks brothers themselves, who are as weird and wonderful as ever.


Radio waves

North Kohala, a district encompassing three small towns on the volcanic coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, is well known for its rugged beaches, mountains and, strangely enough, cowboys. “We used to be home to one of the biggest cattle ranches in the US, so we have a community of cowboys here who wear cowboy boots and hats, and ride around in pick-ups,” says David Ebrahimi, programme director at Kohala Radio (KNKR).

On air since 2015, KNKR is a community-run station based in Hawi. “It’s the first town when you come around the tip of the island,” says Ebrahimi. KNKR serves North Kohala’s 6,000 or so residents. We ask Ebrahimi about the headlines in the area.

Why did you launch the station?
We conceived of launching the station in the aftermath of a large earthquake here in 2006. Because of rockslides and a bridge collapse, the area was cut off from the rest of the island. Meanwhile, all the other [nearby] broadcasters were down after the earthquake, so we thought it would be a good idea to have our own station to give news to local folks.

What kind of music do you play?
I play music from all over the world. I’ve been loving music from the Cape Verde islands recently – Cesária Évora, for instance. One of the funny things about Cape Verdean music is that, like Hawaiian music, it features a lot of ukulele.

Tell me about the shows on your roster.
After my show, we have an entertainer who is part Hawaiian come on and talk about Hawaiian issues and women’s issues. She sings and plays the ukulele live too. There’s a large Filipino community on the island, so we have two Filipino DJs who do a bilingual show. My sister is a DJ as well and so is my wife. We don’t have a big demographic to choose from so I forced them to do it.

Any memorable broadcasting moments?
People wanted a memorial for a community icon to be broadcast live, so we set one up at our local park and did it on the radio. Everyone came in their cars, parked and tuned in. We also did a live broadcast for a primary-school graduation. Parents drove by with their children and we interviewed them before they got their diplomas and drove off.


Party lines

Wood Wood has tapped into the mood of the moment. The Danish clothing brand released its autumn/winter range with parties that were all about “seeking to connect”, at the brand’s London and Copenhagen shops. According to our sources, the drinks were good and the music was better.

That’s not to mention the clothing: designed by Danish favourite Nikolaj Møller, the wares stretch from preppy and informal (we’re looking at the thick varsity jacket) to sharp and chic, with smartly tailored camel suits and mid-length woollen coats. Here’s to getting back out in the world – and looking good while you’re at it.


Doubling up

A home for €1. It sounds like a scam (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara) but across Italy, small rural towns feeling the effects of depopulation have been using rock-bottom house prices to lure foreign buyers to help change their municipalities’ fortunes.

The strategy dates to 2008 when the then-mayor of Salemi in southern Italy announced a plan to allow people to buy a property for €1. Since then, countless blog posts, newspaper articles and even TV series have looked at how to cash in on the trend. And it seems to work for the towns and villages, with buyers renovating vacant lots and often enticing more outsiders to join them.

Sambuca di Sicilia has made such a success of it after selling 16 of these €1 properties since 2019 – making it a go-to destination in Sicily – that the council has decided to raise the prices. You can expect houses to start at twice as much now: the next 20 buildings are going up for auction with reserves beginning at €2.

Applications to bid are open via Sambuca’s website and you can realistically expect sales to land anywhere between €5,000 and €10,000 when lots go under the hammer in November. You’d be wise to go for a viewing and check on building regulations before you put your money where your mouth is. Nonetheless, you could do worse than picking up a holiday home for less than the price of a new car.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00