Sunday 22 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 22/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Missing the mark

Do you remember the TV programme Hollywood Squares or one of its international spin-offs – Prat I Kvadrat in Sweden or L’Académie des Neuf in France? In case you didn’t have a chance to catch these shows when you were at home sick during high school or were too busy being a progressive housewife, the format involved nine low to mid-level celebrities sitting in a three-by-three grid of squares, a pair of contestants, an over-enthusiastic host and a noughts-and-crosses strategy combined with some questions to give the whole thing some structure. I didn’t catch too many editions during the 1970s and early 1980s but on the odd snow or sick day in Montréal or Winnipeg, I enjoyed watching an array of seemingly sauced stars offering ridiculous answers to even more absurd questions.

Earlier in the week, shortly after President Biden addressed his nation, I was reminded of Hollywood Squares as some TV channels squeezed up to 10 commentators and correspondents on screen, while asking and answering questions that seemed more fit for Charo or Zsa Zsa Gabor. What was more difficult to watch? Images of desperation and chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul or journalists, analysts and spokespeople struggling to find the angles and language to put the events into context? On many outlets, the journalists and presenters seemed to be on the backfoot as much as the governments they were attempting to hold to account.

And just as the past two years have seen a narrowing of the stories that news channels choose to cover, so too has the available vocabulary to explain complex issues. Is “inclusion” really the best term a news presenter can muster when questioning the ambitions of a Taliban-governed Afghanistan? As I listened to various analysts discuss whether they thought that this new version of the Taliban would be more inclusive in their approach to women and human rights, I found myself wondering who booked these people to offer supposedly informed perspectives and whether too many newsrooms have completely lost touch with the fundamentals of covering human suffering in simple, gritty terms rather than applying language to the Taliban that makes them sound like the admissions office of a boarding school or the sensitivity committee at a sportswear company that no longer believes in the merit of competition.

What would the next segment offer? Someone from an eco-focused think-tank posing questions about the Taliban’s commitment to the UN’s sustainability goals? Or perhaps an employment activist raising questions about how the new government was going to deal with the stresses of post-coronavirus work-life balance in Herat and home-office compensation in Kandahar? Intelligence agencies might have failed to decipher the dispatches from their informants about the Taliban’s momentum but news outlets have also failed to shift from HR-speak to telling it like it is.

With many on a permanent state of high-alert sensitivity, just waiting to be scrambled to their keyboards to tell anyone who’ll listen how offended they are on behalf of another group (who, by the way, couldn’t care less about how their traditional dress was used in a fashion show or that their most famous national dish was cooked for commercial gain by someone not genetically from their corner of the world), we’re now residing in a world where newsrooms cower because they see a couple of angry posts on social media and end up curbing their coverage and/or losing all sense of proportion around the topic at hand because there’s nothing worse than being insensitive in a modern, round-the-clock newsroom.

If the US and its Allies have given up on Afghanistan, does this mean that we’ve also given up on questioning the Taliban’s approach to running their version of civil society? Is it appropriate for us to take issue with their treatment of women? Should we bother defending gay rights? After all, aren’t we being insensitive to the Taliban’s culture, their lived experience, by calling their values into question and comparing them to ours? Feels like it.

Image: Tony Hay


In search of lost time

Wine bottle labels can be a wild west of branding that bombards buyers with information about grapes, vintages, producers, techniques and more. Not so in this tasty project from the Porto-based Studio Eduardo Aires, which has previously worked on everything from city branding to interiors and public-awareness campaigns. The project was close to the designers’ hearts: the wine, a 2015 from Quinta dos Murças in the Douro Valley, is by Esporão, one of the studio’s oldest collaborators, and it was originally dreamed up as a gift for clients before being made commercially available.

The bottle’s stark design became unexpectedly meaningful in the context of the pandemic. “Lots of people had emotional responses to it,” says the studio’s founder, Eduardo Aires, whose team of eight works from a studio near Porto’s Mercado do Bolhão market. “There really was no formal brief except my will to explore the concept of the past and future through different objects and materials. A bottle of wine seemed like a good and pleasurable way to pursue the idea.” Saúde.;

Image: Kentaro Ito


Business, licked

Blanco Ice Cream is a sweet business in every sense. “The inspiration comes from the ice-cream shop scene in the US,” says co-founder Fumiya Yoshiyama. “They’re more like cafés over there, open from morning to night.”

Yoshiyama, who works in neighbourhood café Paddlers Coffee in Tokyo, teamed up with brother Ryuya and their cousin Rina Fujikawa to start the business. Despite the big-city inspiration, the trio hails from Yamato-cho, a town with an ageing population of 14,000 in Kumamoto, which is also home to an organic farming scene. They renovated a shed at their parents’ home to become a mini factory. “The ice cream is 100 per cent natural,” says Yoshiyama. “We’re spoilt with great ingredients.”

Today, Fujikawa is busy with production but the young team know how to keep their cool. “Our ultimate goal is to make the future of Yamato-cho brighter, even by a tiny bit. So we pay higher prices to the farmers for their produce and to contribute to the local economy,” says Ryuya. “We want to have sustainable growth at our own pace.”


Frame of reference

Viennese auction house Dorotheum is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe but don’t write it off as being consigned to history. Founded in 1707, the institution still hosts some 700 auctions a year, selling art, antiques and collectables. The man at the helm is Martin Böhm, who pushed Dorotheum to embrace the art market’s contemporary side while retaining the institution’s old-world charm. Here he tells us about his favourite Tuscan wine, a passion for gardening and the ideal Viennese breakfast.

Where do we find you this weekend? My garden in Vienna.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday?
Breakfast at a coffeehouse. My favourites are Café Bräunerhof or the café at The Guesthouse.

Gentle start or a jolt?
Gentle start. Because when I wake up, my wife and our four children are still sleeping.

Soundtrack of choice?
Usually it’s classical music – either Bach or Mozart – but silence is even better.

What’s for breakfast?
A Viennese breakfast: a Melange (coffee with milk), orange juice and a Semmel (bread roll) with jam and butter. Then, to finish, one peeled egg, served in a glass.

News or not?
News, always. And always print – usually Die Presse, the Financial Times and Die Zeit.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
No dog. Although we did have a dog, a hamster and a wild cat once. We’ll probably get a squirrel next.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
Yes! Some gardening.

Lunch in or out?
Lunch in. Preferably a barbecue in the garden.

Sunday culture must?
A book – either history, social history or biography, such as The Ratline by Philippe Sands.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Red wine. Usually Armaiolo di San Fabiano from Tuscany.

The ideal dinner menu?
My children’s favourite: bread with eight different sides, including avocado, eggs, prosciutto, liptauer cheese, mozzarella and peppers.

Ideal dinner venue?
Anywhere, really, as long as I’m with my wife.

Who’s joining?
The children.



This Sicilian speciality – essentially a sunnier, island-inspired riff on ratatouille – has a pleasing agrodolce (sweet and sour) quality and makes for an appetising light lunch. It’s best enjoyed at room temperature so make sure that you leave time both to char the peppers on the grill and to let it all cool down before tucking in. Enjoy.

Serves 4


2 red peppers
2 medium aubergines
1 courgette
5 tbsps olive oil
2 celery sticks, chopped
½ small fennel
2 small (or 1 large) garlic cloves
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsps tomato paste
3 tbsps raisins
2 tbsps thick balsamic vinegar
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
1 small handful basil, finely shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven grill to the highest setting.

  2. When the grill is hot, place the whole peppers on a tray and grill until the skin is charred. Turn a few times until they are charred on all sides – this should take about 20 minutes.

  3. Remove and place in a bowl, then cover with a lid or plate. Leave until cool enough to handle.

  4. Peel the film-like outer skin and remove the inner stem and seeds. Discard the skin, stem and seeds. Chop the pepper into 2cm pieces.

  5. Now cut the aubergines and courgette into 2cm cubes and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tbsps olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, and toss to coat the oil evenly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Stir when you get to the middle of the cooking time.

  6. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsps olive oil. Fry the celery, fennel and garlic for 5 minutes, then add the chopped onion and cook until softened. Now add the chopped tomatoes. Cook gently until the tomatoes break down. Add the tomato paste and stir it through. Turn off the heat and tip into a mixing bowl.

  7. Add the roasted peppers, aubergine, courgette, raisin and the rest of the ingredients. Season generously with salt and pepper. Finally, mix through the chopped basil. Leave it for a while to allow the flavours to mingle. Serve at room temperature.


Lasting impression

For a château set among the rose bushes and fruit trees, Domaine de Primard feels like a garden with hotel rooms, rather than the other way around (writes Annick Weber). Since June, the estate outside the Normandy town of Guanville, 25km from Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny, has been welcoming guests to experience its riverfront hospitality in a setting with more than a hint of an impressionist painting. “We fell in love with the romanticism of the place,” says co-owner Frédéric Biousse (pictured, on left). The grounds were designed by Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz in the 1980s. There are cloud-shaped hedges, lily ponds and an ivy-covered conservatory, while ducks quack in the distance. “At first we thought about keeping Primard for us to live in with our dogs but we felt it was too big, so we decided to open it up to guests instead,” says Biousse.

A former fashion CEO, Biousse and his art-gallerist partner, Guillaume Foucher, are by no means newcomers to the hospitality industry. Domaine de Primard is their seventh establishment, joining a portfolio of properties in Provence (where their first hotel, Domaine de Fontenille, opened in 2016), Menorca and the east coast of France. But in a world of identikit hotel chains, the duo are a refreshing change: rather than hoteliers, they see themselves as preservers of buildings and the heritage around them.

Primard’s garden was the inspiration for the hotel’s interiors, including the 40 guest rooms in soft pastel shades within the main 18th-century château, and warmer, creamier colours in the two restored farmhouses. Rather than outsourcing the decor to a design firm, the couple worked with interior architect Beryl Le Lasseur, roaming the region’s brocantes (secondhand shops and markets) to find anything from Gien china to vintage botanical models, which adorn the walls in the common areas. “Nothing here is calculated; we simply choose what we both like,” says Biousse as he sits on a rose-coloured Pierre Frey banquette in the floral-wallpapered boudoir. “In places it’s a bit kitsch but it all feels very natural.”

For more on Domaine de Primard and other places you may have missed around the world, pick up a copy of our September issue, which is out now.


Happy landings

JSX is a small and unusual US airline that launched quietly a few years ago but is now in expansion mode and getting the notice it deserves (writes Gabriel Leigh). The airline, which operates a growing number of routes around the US west coast and southern states, runs Embraer 145s with just 30 seats onboard, so there’s enough extra legroom for a more dignified experience. Not to mention the flexibility of less serviced routes to regional airports, including hops from Reno-Tahoe to Orange County, Napa to Phoenix or Destin-Executive in Florida to Dallas-Love Field, Texas. Then there’s the complimentary food and drink, and reasonable prices.

But what really differentiates the airline – and the reason that we’d like to see it fly to more cities – is that JSX operates out of private terminals, often at smaller airports, enabling passengers to step out of the taxi 20 minutes before departure and enjoy speedy security screening. JSX is mostly based in the western US for now but is eager to expand. Here’s hoping that it does.


Sound decision

In my experience there’s often an inverse relationship between how “smart” a speaker is and how deeply and problematically ugly it is (writes Josh Fehnert). Which is why I first dismissed Bang & Olufsen’s comely Beosound Emerge as a beautiful fool. All this honey-hued oak and book-thin delicacy can’t come without a downside, right? Well, and not for the first time, it seems I was wrong.

London-based industrial designer Benjamin Hubert, of Layer, has weighed in to help the B&O boffins create something of grace and charm. The Beosound Emerge can be paired with other speakers but sounds good solo with its built-in 10cm subwoofer and tweeter on top. It means that this svelte speaker produces sounds that are very capable of filling a room, while being pretty enough to put on show and accomplished when it comes to the technical bits. Perhaps this is the moment that smart speakers are starting to live up to their billing? Have a super Sunday.


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