Saturday 21 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 21/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Survival instincts

The images that I cannot shake from this week are of a group of men clinging to the side of a US C-17 plane as it roars down the runway at Kabul airport and lifts into the sky. And then those of the tiny dots caught in one shot – it’s two of them plummeting back to earth. These pictures were eerily also a visual echo of where this story started and of another series of grim pictures that were seared into our minds 20 years ago. Those photographs were of people falling from the Twin Towers after the September 11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, an event that led to an invasion and now what can only be regarded as a capitulation.

A few weeks ago, as the final withdrawal of US troops approached and the Taliban mobilised, we decided to commission a story about how the media in the country were reporting on the events and we found a writer in Kabul to take it on. By last week we knew that the piece would need to become something very different. We also knew that the writer, Charlie Faulkner, would now be present at the fall of Kabul.

As the narrative swiftly changed last Friday we put in place a plan to make sure that we would have all our coverage lined up for the weekend and that The Monocle Minute would have the latest news when it arrived in inboxes on Monday morning. The same conversations were happening at every news outlet. What feels strange is that many in the political classes seemed so blasé, so unable to sense the imminent chaos. Here in the UK we have a foreign secretary who decided to stay on a family holiday in Crete until last Monday and even now sees no shame in that decision.

The instinct that a journalist needs to cover events like this on the ground is something that’s hard to explain. It’s a special mix of calmness, being able to read the nuances of a situation and knowing how to keep yourself safe, as well as knowing when to take a chance. Faulkner is still in Kabul and has told her editor at Monocle that she has no plans to leave at the moment. And, of course, nor will – or can – many Afghan writers.

On Thursday I read the emerging reports about one of the young men who jumped onto the plane and who then became entangled in its landing gear. His battered remains were extracted when the jet landed in Qatar. Images of another, Zaki Anwari (pictured), show a handsome young man. A man born after the fall of the Taliban who had been educated at a French-American School in Kabul and was a good footballer. Somehow seeing his face makes it even harder to imagine what he was thinking. Did he believe that his plan would actually work? Was it just despair and a mad, split-second decision? The same combustible mix of instincts that causes a person to jump from a tower or climb with their child into a dinghy for a perilous crossing?

On Thursday night I went to see the revival of Nick Payne’s play Constellations. It’s a two-hander and the cast changes regularly to give a different twist to this story of a beekeeper and a cosmologist and of how small decisions can shape our fates. As you watch the play you come to realise that we get through life by trusting that there are invisible crash barriers in place that will ensure things mostly trundle along in an OK way. But sometimes fate steps in to play a darker hand. In Constellations the characters are soon faced with life or death decisions. The guard rails are gone; all could unravel in seconds.

Take some time and have a look at the photographs of Zaki Anwari. He’s not that different from any of us. He’s certainly no fool – just a man who saw all his hopes vanishing with that taxiing plane and, yes, decided that clinging on was his best option. His guard rails gone. A split-second to decide.

Our illustrator, Mathieu de Muizon, is back next week.


Fit to serve

It is a particular kind of reader for whom the pulse quickens while leafing through the pages of a political manifesto (writes Tomos Lewis). But Canada’s Conservative Party is trying to broaden the appeal with its new platform, which it published this week ahead of election day on 20 September.

The manifesto’s cover star is Erin O’Toole (pictured), the Conservative leader, who has been styled like a model for a bootleg edition of Men’s Health magazine. Smiling, he stands with his arms crossed, staring straight at the camera, a hint of biceps straining against the taut sleeves of his plain, navy T-shirt (which seems to be made of the kind of performance fabric that you’d wear to the gym). It looks like a piece of fan art – except it’s not.

Recasting O’Toole as a heartthrob is no small task, particularly since opinion polls suggest that he has failed to quicken the pulse of even the most reliable Conservative voters since his election a year ago. More broadly it is unclear how influential political imagery, style and personae will be for voters in Canada and whether the issues, many of which are profound and far-reaching, will dominate the short campaign season instead.

Incumbent prime minister Justin Trudeau is keeping his campaign style simple. His lockdown locks have been trimmed, his pandemic-era salt-and-pepper beard has been shorn and his shirtsleeves are rolled up, both figuratively and literally. No torso-hugging T-shirts here. Projecting or crafting an image or style is a staple of political life. But it might prove challenging for the Canadian Conservatives if, come election day, voters end up judging the book by its cover.


Own goal

It’s surprising that anyone sponsors sports teams (writes Andrew Mueller). It is the nature of sport that at some point the team wearing the name of a given entity on their strips is going to get beaten, even properly walloped – at which point their sponsors risk looking like losers by association.

This is tough enough to swallow when the sponsor is a mere corporation. But some teams are sponsored by countries, seeking to enlist the swashbuckle of some or other mob of leather-chasers in the service of their national soft power. One such arrangement is that by which Rwanda advertises itself on the sleeves of the shirts worn by London-based English Premier League club Arsenal.

The team probably seemed a safe bet: it regularly challenges for trophies and often features in European competition. However, they commenced the current season by getting duffed up 2-0 by little-heralded, newly promoted Brentford – and among the unimpressed observers was Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame (pictured, on right, with Arsenal player David Luiz). “We just must not excuse or accept mediocrity,” he thundered amid a series of anguished outbursts on Twitter. “I am sure we all know on whose shoulders the heaviest burden rests,” he added. “I hope they know too.” If Kagame is worried, Arsenal’s manager, Mikel Arteta, may be more so. Kagame, to put it delicately, is not famous for his patience with those who displease him.


Behind the headlines

Nwabisa Makunga was only 11 years old when she realised that she wanted to be a journalist. She was watching the funeral of anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani and was so impressed by news anchor Noxolo Grootboom’s reporting that she decided to follow in her footsteps. Now in her thirties, Makunga is the editor-in-chief of South African newspaper the Sowetan and is the first woman to take up the role. Founded in 1981 as an anti-apartheid liberation-struggle paper, the daily is one of the country’s most widely circulated publications. With Makunga at the helm it has remained a fixture of South Africa’s media landscape. Here, she tells us about true-crime documentaries, Beyoncé and drinking too much coffee.

What news source do you wake up to?
At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, the Sowetan. Just because I want to read it with fresh eyes in the morning. And then some of our competitors. Also Twitter.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
The first thing I have to do is drink water. Then coffee, always with milk and one sweetener. I don’t know how many I drink a day; I should probably cut down.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
No. I’d hate to listen to myself do that.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
My stack is mostly books, to be honest. The only magazine I read is the Financial Mail, and that’s a business magazine so it’s hardly leisure. I recently read All Rise, a book by South Africa’s former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke. And at the moment I’m reading Can We be Safe? The Future of Policing in South Africa by Ziyanda Stuurman.

Newspaper that you turn to?
Aside from the Sowetan, I read The Sunday Times.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I’ve been listening to [South African broadcaster and political analyst] Eusebius McKaiser’s podcast, In The Ring.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
The true-crime documentary Devilsdorp. It was quite hectic.

Do you have a cultural obsession?
Definitely Beyoncé. I’m a proud member of the global Beyhive.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
I don’t have to make an appointment because the news is constantly on in the background.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Nothing. If I’m alone, I’m reading. If I’m with my family, we’ll most likely be chatting.


Bright lights, big city

‘[In]visible City’, UK Mexican Arts Society. Sandwiched between London’s King’s Cross and Euston train stations, the inner-city neighbourhood of Somers Town is rarely explored and somewhat invisible to those who don’t inhabit it. But it is home to the UK Mexican Arts Society, a gallery that brings contemporary art from Mexico to Britain and fosters collaborations between creatives from both countries. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s evocative novel Invisible Cities, the group show [In]visible City explores the history of the neighbourhood and inspires new perspectives with a series of installations in the area’s shops, pubs, gardens and phone booths.

‘Solar Power’, Lorde. When New Zealand pop star Lorde released “Solar Power”, the lead single from her new album of the same name, fans knew that her latest long-player would be worth the four-year wait since 2017’s Melodrama. That single, which was more than a little inspired by Primal Scream’s “Loaded”, had an unplugged, 1990s feel and other songs, such as “Mood Ring”, continue to channel the decade. “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is a mellow ballad; each track combines to evoke the feeling of a drawn-out summer.

‘Checkout 19’, Claire-Louise Bennett. The second book by the author of the acclaimed short-story collection Pond follows a woman who finds herself both in love and “in conflict with life and death”. She revisits the highs and lows of her past – from her attraction to a teacher to time spent eavesdropping on her grandmother’s odd stories – that have made her who she is. If Bennett’s debut introduced us to a writer of extraordinary talent, Checkout 19 is sure to cement her position as one of the finest contemporary storytellers.


Great escapes

The village of São Jorge sits at the entrance of the Chapada dos Veadeiros, a national park in central Brazil known for its waterfalls, quartz crystals and moonlike rock formations. Originally a small mining settlement, São Jorge now attracts people from all over the country and – for better or for worse – its small population of 600 is likely to increase. Some travel there believing that the Chapada’s ancient plateau holds mystical properties, while others go seeking a change of pace. “I came here from [the state capital] Goiânia in 1997 when my daughter was about to be born. Her mother and I didn’t want to be in an urban centre,” says Juliano Basso, who manages the town’s community station Rádio São Jorge and its parent organisation, the Casa de Cultura Cavaleiro de Jorge. Basso tells us about the history of the station, its roster and a forthcoming book festival.

How did the station start? The idea came in the early 2000s but the project was on hold for years because we had licensing issues. Then last year – at the start of the pandemic – we brought the idea back and the station was born as part of a project led by a non-profit, Turma Que Faz, which offers a range of arts and nature-based activities for kids in the area. It felt like the start of a small revolution and we were able to get the whole community involved.

What is your roster like? We have a show called Studio Chapada, which we use as a platform to share the work of local artists, as well as something called A hora de Reggae [Reggae Hour]. We also do a show that focuses specifically on music that features the viola caipira, an instrument that is very popular in the region. The president of the viola club hosts that one.

Any events coming up? Lots of them. We’ll soon be hosting a festival centred around a type of Brazilian literature called regionalismo. We’ll be working with schools and focusing on the book O Ermitão de Muquém by Bernardo Guimarães. As part of the festival, we’re also doing a play and producing a radionovela [based on the story].


Simple pleasures

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the latest offerings from Sunspel were designed and made in Japan. In reality, the British heritage brand has teamed up with the London-based label Studio Nicholson, led by its founder and creative director Nick Wakeman. The designer has long drawn inspiration from Japanese culture, architecture and interiors to produce her functional and structured garments.

The collaboration between the brands builds on Wakeman’s influences and combines them with Sunspel’s expertise in working with premium cotton jersey clothing. The result? An elegant collection of black and white jumpers, pants and T-shirts in a mid-weight cotton – perfect for when the temperature drops at the end of a balmy summer day.;


Time well spent

New sales figures from auction houses including Bonhams, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s show that the market for luxury watches is ticking along nicely (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). During the first half of 2021, purchases soared by 239 per cent compared to the previous year – a 49 per cent increase on 2019’s pre-pandemic figures. Richard Lopez, head of online sales and a senior watch specialist at Sotheby’s, says that the trend is unsurprising. “A lot of [people] want to invest their money in something that has a great return and watches are it right now.”

Those who want to tap into this growth need look no further than Sotheby’s Fine Watches sale, which opened on Thursday and continues until the end of September. Among the featured watchmakers, Patek Philippe pieces are expected to do exceptionally well (nine of the 10 most expensive watches sold by auction houses this year were made by the Swiss manufacturer). “They are at the top of the food chain when it comes to watches [because] of the quality of the craftsmanship,” says Lopez, who says the Reference 3940 (lot 23) is the auction’s star Patek Philippe timekeeper.

Made in 1987, the 3940 is a perpetual calendar, which means that unlike most watches it accounts for leap years and lunar phases. Interested parties should plan to spend up to $100,000 (€85,600) – an expense that Lopez says is likely to pay off in the long run. “It’s like buying Porsches or vintage Ferraris. You buy them when they’re cheaper and you can sell them when they’re at the top of the market for a great profit.” So providing that they’re patient, eventual buyers might find themselves in a very favourable situation if they bide their time.


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