Saturday 11 September 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/9/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Meeting of minds

Milan couldn’t have looked more beguiling this week. Come to mention it, its residents couldn’t either. The sun shone on a city that over the years has become expert at hosting people – especially when there’s a fashion week or the famous furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, in action. But Milan’s hosting skills have been underused of late; its party outfits have spent far too much time hanging in the wardrobe. However, after delays, rethought formats and some angst along the coronavirus way, this week the city welcomed back the crowds for Salone.

The fair is usually held in April and this year’s shift came with an extra dividend: a full-on blast of glorious late summer that made everywhere look head-turningly handsome. Milan is one of those cities that rewards you with intriguing glimpses. Raise your eyes and you see hints of vast private gardens atop grand apartment buildings – hidden realms. And then there are the courtyards. The snipped views you get of these inner sanctums as you walk the streets are the architectural equivalent of the rolled trouser cuff: a bit of ankle on display. (On that topic, do you think there’s a module in Italian schools in which young men get instructed in the fine art of the trouser roll? I wonder if they let foreigners enrol?)

The other thing that made the timing so good was that after an August spent at the beach, everyone seemed to have that just-back-from-holiday glow. There’s nothing like a few days in Milan to make you think you need to up your game, or wish you had some Italian heritage.

Look, I promise the flâneuring was not the only thing that I got up to. First off, in partnership with USM, we had a pop-up radio studio, coffee stand and space to pause and read our great Salone newspaper at the Rossignoli bicycle shop. USM used its modular furniture system to build everything from the seating to our radio cart and it all looked super cute. And the bicycle shop carried on with its business all around us: every few minutes, someone would pull up to use the free compressed-air unit to refill their droopy tyres. Nuns, children, all pausing to get pumped up.

And after all those months when certain people said that they would never travel for business again, that video calls were all they needed, Milan also demonstrated what you miss out on if you stick to that line. Everyone you spoke to told you about something you needed to see, shared plans being hatched. People were high on each other – and Bar Basso Aperol spritzes.

This need to come together in the real world was one of the topics that got picked up on during two panel debates that we held in conjunction with Swiss kitchen-appliances maker V-Zug. But before we even opened our mouths, the venue had won people over: the dinky Teatro Gerolamo. It looks as if someone has put a favourite opera house on a hot wash by mistake and it’s come out a tenth of its right size (although hearing how clever V-Zug’s machines are, I am sure that would never happen in their world). Its diddy scale is because it was designed for puppet shows and it was nicely packed with an audience of 70.

Perhaps one of the most interesting threads to the conversations we had on stage was the idea of using and making less. Joseph Grima is an architect who wants to build less. He’s the creative director of Design Academy Eindhoven, where he challenges his students to do the same. Mirkku Kullberg runs Glasshouse Helsinki and explained how she has spent time creating a whole manifesto around sustainability for her company – before rushing to make products.

But you do get floored at these events. On the second evening we were joined by Kamal Mouzawak, a social entrepreneur from Lebanon who now finds himself in Paris, displaced from Beirut after the blast. He explained how his country is dealing with insane levels of corruption and just a few hours of electricity a day. It’s at moments like this that you realise: telling some people to use less energy, to live simpler lives, can make you sound very privileged.

It was just a few days in an embracing city, surrounded by people who were keen to share ideas, show you things of beauty and question how we live. And the best bit? They are doing it all over again in April. You should come.


Deep divers

Submariners are, by definition, a strange bunch (writes Andrew Mueller). It is quite a decision to spend your working life confined at such close quarters with others in the lonely and precarious environment of the oceans, going weeks at a stretch without seeing the sun, or indeed anything further than a couple of metres in front of you. This is even more existentially challenging if you serve aboard one of the Royal Navy’s four Vanguard-class boats, which carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent – cooped up inside a doomsday machine, often (unless you’re a senior officer) unaware of where in the world you even are, hoping that you’ll never have to do what you’ve trained for.

While it might seem, for obvious reasons, that it scarcely matters what submariners wear, a minor sartorial recognition of their singular status is to be extended. The Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, has announced that submariners will from here on sport black covers on their caps, except at ceremonial events.

The signal being sent is clear enough: that submariners would rather be regarded, by their comrades especially, as mavericks and/or badasses than eccentrics and/or weirdos. A similar desire attends the long-standing tradition – never officially sanctioned but certainly not seriously discouraged – of flying the Jolly Roger from their craft on their return from an operation. In this context, black caps might seem the nearest practicable thing to eye patches, bandanas and shoulder-mounted parrots.


Curse birds

If your pet could talk, what would it say (writes Lewis Huxley)? We would all like to think that a cockapoo would thank us for feeding it, throwing that tennis ball and picking up its poo, or that a cat would explain that it still loves us even when it’s being aloof. Perhaps, when there is a chill in the air, a dalmatian would compliment the elegant swoosh of your long winter coat. At worst, we couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the animal in our care might just indulge in the kind of mundane small talk that serves no purpose other than to remind us of the simple pleasures of company.

So the carers at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra must have been taken aback this week when scientists unearthed a recording of Ripper, a musk duck, repeatedly saying, “You bloody fool.” The quacks – if I may call them that – must have been thrilled that they had found the first documented instance of a duck mimicking human speech. The staff at the nature reserve, on the other hand, were probably confused. After all, as Ripper was copying a human, someone must have been calling it a bloody fool regularly enough for the bird to pick up on it – or were they saying, as one of the kinder scientists suggested, “Here’s your bloody food”?

Either way, it’s a reminder that we should think about what we say, whether in public or in private. Gordon Brown, the UK’s former prime minister, famously lost an election after being overheard calling a voter a “bigoted woman” on the campaign trail, while Jacques Chirac, thinking that the microphones were off, got himself into hot water with Brits by saying, “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that.” Thankfully, Ripper, our talking duck, avoided the fate of Joseph Stalin’s parrot, which the dictator reportedly executed with a pipe after being embarrassed by the bird’s attempts to mimic his spitting. So are you speaking out of turn when you take your shiba for a walk? Be careful: there is always someone – or something – listening.


Drawing conclusions

Over the years, South Korean illustrator Henn Kim’s arresting black-and-white drawings have garnered her a cult following on social media – though these days, she’s perhaps best known for designing the cover of Sally Rooney’s bestseller Normal People. As well as having worked on a series of new illustrations for the BBC adaptation of the novel, Henn released her own book Starry Night, Blurry Dreams in August. Here she tells us about her favourite breakfast, new projects and a bookshop in Seoul.

What have you been working on recently? I’ve been working on illustrations for an app and a collaboration with a brand that I really like. Both of these are uncharted territory for me, so the work can be challenging but also incredibly immersive and exciting. I’m really enjoying myself.

What news source do you wake up to? I don’t watch the news in the morning. Instead I like to start my day with my favourite breakfast – rice with salad – and start sketching ideas as soon as I wake up.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I listen to a lot of genres on Spotify or Apple Music. My favourite musicians are Horace Silver, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, Björk and Radiohead. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Tame Impala and Tom Misch recently.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I like putting random indie music playlists on shuffle while I’m in the shower. They’re perfect for winding down.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?Dazed, Indie, New Philosopher, Domus, i-D and, of course, Monocle.

Newspaper that you turn to? I don’t read print newspapers these days but I do like going through a variety of platforms online so I’m not fully biased toward a particular channel.

Favourite bookshop? An independent bookshop in Yeonnam-dong near my house. The building is old and it’s a hole in the wall, really. And although it isn’t stocked with a particularly fancy or wide selection, it’s lovely and feels warm. I love spending time there.

Is that a podcast in your ear? I like sports, especially football, so I listen to sports podcasts. I also like podcasts that discuss movie interpretations and behind-the-scenes stories.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently? I don’t watch a lot of TV, apart from sport or the news while I eat dinner.

Who’s your cultural obsession? I love Emily Dickinson and Oscar Wilde. Their writing is sharp and cold but it also holds so much humour and sadness.

And what’s your film genre of choice? Films set in space, particularly Gravity, which is so artistically filmed that I want to see it again in Imax. I also love Inception. It perfectly captures the exhilaration of breaking down reality.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps? I don’t have a preference for anchors or stations. Again, I always worry about bias, so I watch a wide range of channels.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? I watch a lot of Netflix and really enjoy crime shows. I liked House of Cards and Narcos. And there’s a South Korean drama called Secret Forest that I’ve rewatched a couple of times. Pride and Prejudice and other historical BBC dramas are always lovely.


High frequencies

‘Thank You’, Diana Ross. The gift we didn’t know we needed this year comes from Detroit-born musical legend Diana Ross, who has released her first album of brand-new material in 25 years. To top it off, Thank You was co-produced by the producer of the moment Jack Antonoff. The sensationally uplifting record is Ross’s offering of a “powerful inclusive musical message of love and togetherness”.

‘Turbulent Skies’, Avrotros. The early, hedonistic days of international aviation are explored 100 years on in this high-end glossy Dutch drama. This series explores the complicated relationship between pilot and manufacturer Anthony Fokker and the founder of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Albert Plesman. The two men have opposite personalities: Fokker a maverick risk-taker, Plesman cautious and principled. They soon realise that they need each other to ensure Dutch aviation can become a major international player.

‘Liquid Reality’, Shigeko Kubota, Moma. A genuine pioneer of video art, Japanese artist Shigeko Kubota was one of the first to point a camcorder at anything in order to put the results in a gallery. Her sculpture-meets-video body of work is full of references to nature, technology and the flow of water. Kubota was also married to fellow video art revolutionary Nam June Paik and dedicated much of her career to supporting him. Now it’s time for her to get some attention, because she’s as important as she is overlooked.


Under the Aleutian

Extending from the western coast of Alaska into the Bering Sea, Unalaska, a city of about 4,000 people on the Aleutian island chain, is home to the largest fishing port in North America (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). “We’re about 800 air miles [1,400km] from Anchorage,” says Hope McKenney, news director at Unalaska’s radio station KUCB. “In terms of access to internet and phone services, everything is tricky out here to say the least.” When McKenney first came to Unalaska from San Francisco, she thought it might be quieter. “I was under the impression that it would be a sleepy town,” she says. “But creating our newscast, I’ve discovered the complete opposite.” Here she tells us about the history of the station, the Alaska public radio network and the latest goings-on in Unalaska.

What’s the big news? Let me preface this by saying I just got back from being in a fishing boat, so I’m playing catch-up right now. I was on a salmon tender up in Bristol Bay, which is the largest sockeye fishery in the world, for half of the summer. That said, just in the past couple of months we’ve had three volcanoes erupting at the same time across the Aleutian range. Overall, I’m fascinated by the things we get to do here because not only do we cover stories such as sea urchins decimating Aleutian reefs, plane crashes, shipwrecks and the status of fisheries, we also get to report on really beautiful things such as community drum circles.

Tell us about your roster. I’m part of our three-person news team but we also do other programming as well: we have community DJs and volunteers who come in and do their own shows. We also hosted a radio play around Christmas and started a series at the beginning of the pandemic based on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs called Foggy Island Discs.

Any events coming up? Our next big event will take place at the end of the month. We’re going to host a public forum with all of the city council candidates as well as school board candidates to ask all the community’s questions. As a newsroom, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into that.


Master keys

David Winston has spent the majority of his life thinking about pianos; as a child growing up in southern California, he liked to take the instruments apart and bang on the strings. But what started as an offbeat pastime soon turned into a fixation with the art of restoration and in bringing old instruments back to life. It eventually earned him a royal warrant in the UK as restorer and conservator of pianos to the Queen; his personal piano collection numbers 26. “I did an aptitude test once and it told me I should either be a priest or a musician,” he says. “And in some ways I think it was quite accurate, because I’m sort of saving the souls of these instruments in a way.”

It’s been a good run, he says, but it’s time to move on to other things and at the end of the month, his collection will hit the auction block. Experts believe that two Pleyel models – a 1925 grand piano and a rare double piano – will likely receive the highest bids as both are expected to sell for upwards of £30,000 (€35,000). “When you own art or objects, you’re never really the owner; you’re just a caretaker,” adds Winston. “There comes a point where you have to pass them on to other people.”

And, because each piano is different, interested parties will likely find that there’s a model out there for everyone. “They’re like people,” he says. “Not only do they look different, they also sound different and you have to handle them in different ways.” He explains that getting to know a piano, like getting to know a person, can take time. So regardless of which model eventual buyers might choose, they shouldn’t worry if the connection isn’t instant. “Even after all these years, I’m constantly learning.”


Modern classics

Fans of French brand APC were thrilled at the news that it would reunite with super-stylist and fashion director Suzanne Koller for a fresh collaboration this autumn/winter. Paris-based Koller’s first capsule collection with APC in 2019 was a dream wardrobe of what the designer called “obvious classics” (think masculine-cut shirts and a camel poncho). For this season, Koller’s line-up features a dozen pieces for men and women that showcase her singular vision of modern simplicity.

As APC says of the collection, “It reflects and affirms Koller’s personal style: classically chic with a decidedly unclassic edge.” We’re eyeing up the bonded gabardine trench coat and the oversized Scottish lambswool jumper; the soft leather Suzanne clutch in apple green adds a welcome pop of colour too. This is APC’s 12th collaboration – or “interaction”, as the brand prefers to call it. Other friends that have brought their point of view to Jean Touitou’s singular label include Kid Cudi and Catherine Deneuve. Family plays its part too: Koller’s daughter Tess Petronio shot the new season’s campaign.


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