In the run-up to the Day of the Dead, we chart the surprising history of the ballgown-clad skeleton that stalks the streets of Oaxaca and beyond. Plus: the case against changing the clocks, author Mieko Kawakami on manga and a Giubbino jacket from the ample shoulders of James Bond himself. First: what’s your national costume?
On Tuesday lunchtime I headed over to the South Korean embassy in Kensington for a vin d’honneur (who doesn’t love a vin d’honneur on a Tuesday afternoon? OK, I had to look up what it entailed). The reception was to mark the fact that the country’s new ambassador, Gunn Kim, had just presented his credentials to the Queen – albeit via video link. I’ve met the ambassador a couple of times and he’s a skilled diplomat: incredibly engaging, full of fascinating perspectives and generous about his new host city. After our last lunch, he even sent me and my colleagues a gift each: the collagen facemasks that he swears by (he’s a keen champion of his nation’s cosmetics industry).
The invitation had said “lounge suits” but the ambassador was in a heightened version of national dress (nobody was going to upstage him that day). This included a very tall hat with a very wide brim, held in place with a thick chinstrap; there were beads draping down from the hat too. Layers of tunics and traditional white-toed shoes completed the outfit. But what was great was how he so effortlessly and unselfconsciously worked the room as though to say that this actually was his version of a lounge suit.
As a child I would look at pictures of national dress from around the world and, as an English person, feel a little left out. Canadians clearly went about their daily business draped in seal pelts and with snowshoes strapped to their brogues no matter what the season, while no Frenchman seemed to ever leave his house before squeezing into a Breton top, affixing a beret at a jaunty angle and accessorising the whole look with a garland of onions. And I was definitely annoyed at my parents’ lack of Spanish heritage if it gave you a free pass to go to school every day dressed as a matador and clack your castanets with your mates in the lunchbreak.
Back then, if the English ever got a look in, we were depicted in dull grey suits for the fellas and some flouncy-skirt number for the women. And now after almost two years of lockdown, the rise of global brands and the triumph of athleisure, I presume that most of those national costumes have been switched out for something from Nike. Bring back the grey suit and trilby please.
So good on the ambassador for standing up and representing his nation with such impeccable and memorable elan. On the walk back to the office, I got to wondering how often he would be using his ensemble. Might he be up for lending it once in a while? Well, no harm in asking, I guess.
Also this week, I met two people who are feeling their way around a business idea that essentially makes them the middlemen between architects and novice clients (I am going to write a story about them so will not get over-descriptive here) and they were great. I could see where they added value for busy architects: how they would give someone on the commissioning side of the equation both an easier life and a clearer understanding of what would be required from their role.
The middleman (or woman), the agent, the go-between, even the retailer who stands between customer and manufacturer, has, in recent times, been cast as an unnecessary expense. But I rather like these people. They save time, for starters. Take the headhunter (although I imagine that term is banned these days). Lots of people, including me, have resorted to Linkedin as a way of reaching a vast pool of potential candidates in a few clicks. But it’s always proved an utter waste of time when it comes to hiring journalists. (If you are a regular reader of this column and wondering what happened to the zookeeper who wanted to be our foreign editor, I hear he’s now thriving at Facebook.) Meanwhile, our creative director Richard wisely engages a specialist recruiter to sift through CVs, read the market and generally help him to secure the staff that he needs. Over on our side of the office, just this week, we had an application to be our fashion reporter from someone who could not spell the word “journalist” and another who mistakenly attached some weird template they had used to help them fill out the application.
And I know that we should be more tender with people but if you think you are applying for a job at Monacle or The Monacle, let alone Manacle, I will not be seeing you any day soon. Although, that could be a potential business extension: “Manacle, the aspirational magazine for incarcerated white-collar criminals.” Although I imagine that the travel pages would be of little use to our new readers.
She’s everywhere in Mexico at this time of year (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). You’ll see crowds of her traipsing down the avenues of Oaxaca, in elegant broad-brimmed hats topped with feathers and bright flowers. Sometimes she sports a feather boa, other times a string of pearls hung around her neck. But always, she wears a European-style ballgown on her body. A body that looks, well, skeletal. Whether as a costume, a painting or a model, La Calavera Catrina (loosely translated as “the elegant skull”) has become a staple of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities, which erupt throughout the country on 2 November.
And while Catrina embodies a tradition of celebrating the dead that dates back to pre-Hispanic times, she also embodies another Mexican pastime: poking fun at the upper classes. José Guadalupe Posada, a popular political satirist, originally created Catrina in around 1910 as a motif to lampoon rich Mexicans, who would fashion themselves in the styles of colonial traders. The implication? It doesn’t matter how great you look once you’re worm food.
While in Mexico her image remains an important part of craft traditions, in Europe and the US she has been co-opted by the commercial machine of Halloween. Vaguely Catrina-like costumes can be found in costume-rental shops in October; a Catrina-like Barbie doll was released not so long ago. It would be easy to take from this that Mexican traditions are being trampled. But maybe that’s a lazy conclusion: Catrina isn’t so old and, after all, she was intended to playfully appropriate European attire. Cultural dialogues go both ways – it’s clear that here, Mexico has had the last laugh.
In retrospect, Brexit should not have been interpreted as some unique, freakish or unprecedented act of masochism on the part of the UK (writes Andrew Mueller). Every single year, the country does another pointless and avoidable thing which makes inhabiting these islands unnecessarily harder. And it will do it again this weekend, turning the clocks back an hour, reverting until March (five needlessly miserable months) to Greenwich Mean Time. In the depths of December’s gloom, it will be dark at 16.00.
This could, and should, be simply fixed. This weekend, the UK should turn its clocks not back but forward another hour – and leave them there, permanently, on GMT+2. Winter evenings would be lighter for longer, energy consumption lower, streets safer, life generally just nicer – and if really necessary, subsidies could be made available so that the cohort of weirdo troglodytes who like the dark can buy thicker curtains. In the summer, the UK would no longer waste those hours of daylight now squandered in the small hours: in June, the sun rises over London before 05.00.
There are precedents for such a move: the UK retained GMT+1 year-round from 1968 to 1971 and civilisation did not collapse. It went full-blown GMT+2 for most of the Second World War, and won. If it would help to sell the restoration of GMT+2 to purse-lipped conservative nostalgists, the new time could be branded Britain’s Finest Hours.
Tokyo-based author Mieko Kawakami first rose to prominence as a J-Pop singer in the early 2000s (writes Nyasha Oliver). The Osaka native released three albums before the publication of her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth and the World in 2007, which set her on a trajectory to become one of the country’s most celebrated young writers. With her works now having been translated into more than 20 languages, including her international bestseller Breasts and Eggs, Kawakami has scooped up numerous prestigious literary awards, such as the Akutagawa prize and the Murasaki Shikibu prize. Here, she talks yoga, Demon Slayer and where to pick up poetry in Tokyo.
What have you been working on lately?
I’m always writing and at the same time I’m proofreading my next book, which will be published next year. Outside work, I go to yoga.
Newspaper you start your day with?
I subscribe to the Japanese broadsheet The Asahi Shimbun.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
It’s a mixture. I have two cups of coffee a day and burdock tea.
Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I mainly listen to classical music. I keep listening to András Schiff’s Bach and Beethoven. For pop music, it’s Lana Del Rey.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and, of course, Mariah Carey’s “Without You” from where she sings “I can’t live...” onwards. It was popular in the 1990s.
Is that a podcast in your ear?
Lately, more international reviewers have picked up my books [and talk about them on their podcasts]. So I listen to those when I receive the “mention” notification on Instagram.
Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I tend to read poetry or literary magazines that include tanka poems [a 31-syllable Japanese poem]. And, on the weekends, I read comic books and manga with my son, including one of his favourites, Demon Slayer.
A favourite bookshop?
I often go to the independent shop in front of my local train station. Although when I want to buy poetry collections, I go to Junkudo books in Ikebukuro or the Kinokuniya flagship shop in Shinjuku.
Who’s your cultural obsession?
Definitely Cyndi Lauper.
A favourite film?
I really liked Contact featuring Jodie Foster.
Sofa or cinema for the evening?
I have a nine-year-old son, so it’s been a while since I last went to the cinema in the evening. I don’t have much time to sit down on the sofa, so I end up sitting at the kitchen table.
‘Time to Melt’, Sam Evian. Having had enough of the big city, Sam Evian upped sticks with his partner, musician Hannah Cohen, to the mountainous Catskills region of New York state. There they built a recording studio and started a new life. It’s no surprise, then, that his new album is a joyous ode to a fresh start. If you live in the city, it’s hard not to feel slightly targeted when Evian sings of urban friends crunching numbers while he basks in the beauty of nature – but his uplifting, brass-accompanied songs are impossible to resent.
‘Azor’, Andreas Fontana. Imagine if Apocalypse Now took place in the world of Swiss banking rather than the Vietnam War and you’ll get a sense of the tone of Andreas Fontana’s curious film. This debut feature premiered to much acclaim at Berlin earlier this year and follows a Genevan financier in the 1980s as he travels to Argentina to reassure his anxious clients after his unscrupulous partner goes full Colonel Kurtz, disappearing without a trace. A story driven by period detail and character rather than by suspense, it unfolds slowly as the banker discovers the true cost of prospering in the brutal junta-led era.
‘Memories from Limón’, Edo Brenes. Costa Rican illustrator Edo Brenes was living on a secluded tropical beach when he wrote Memories from Limón, a graphic novel inspired by photographs of his family from the 1940s and 1950s. It’s a chance to unravel the stories of three generations – but it’s not all granizados in the sun and cycling along the Caribbean coast. Brenes also digs into the family’s secrets, revealing affairs, superstitions, ruined football careers and memories from the civil war of 1948 in this charmingly illustrated collection of anecdotes.
Holetown, on the west coast of Barbados, is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Caribbean island, with sparkling blue waters and host of hotels that call the small town home, as do 1,600 residents. “Driving to work in the morning, I have the ocean on my left and a villa and golf course on the right,” says Vic Fernandes of island radio station Capital Media. “What more could I possibly ask for?” Established by Fernandes in 2016, Capital Media is one of two high-definition stations in the Caribbean. Fernandes, a veteran broadcaster, tells us how Capital Media started and a few projects that the station has organised recently.
Tell us about your broadcasting career.
I’ve known since I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a broadcaster. In the 1960s, before we had television on the island, my mum used to make me recite Shakespeare passages to her and her friends. I got the opportunity to work in radio at a young age but I knew that I didn’t just want to be the person reading the news and hosting morning shows; I wanted to get on the management side of the business too. Now they call me “the godfather” because I’ve been on the airwaves for so long.
What’s the big news this week?
We are continuing our project, the Veoma Ali Capital Kids Charity, presenting schools with tablets for students, since most are still being taught online. All the tablets carry an emblem with the charity and Veoma’s name. She was a Barbadian broadcaster who died in 2019. I was given money from a benefactor last year so I put that towards this project to perpetuate her memory. As long as Capital Media exists, it will be ongoing.
A favourite broadcasting moment?
One memorable moment was our successful radiothon for Cuba in 2016, when floods devastated the island and they were having issues getting clean water. Capital Media was only six months old at the time and it really brought us into the limelight. I have a very strong conviction that the media must be used for some public good. So every chance we can get to give back to the community, not only in Holetown but across the whole Caribbean, we take it.
Over the past four weeks, James Bond fans have packed cinemas after the long-awaited release of No Time To Die (writes Stella Roos). The 25th instalment of the 007 franchise delivers on the expectations: there’s a villain with a sinister scheme, a shootout on a skyscraper and a high-speed action scene that results in a severely mangled Aston Martin. In case the nearly three-hour film felt too short, movie-goers can now extend their excitement with themed apparel and driving gear courtesy of UK clothing brand Connolly, which was previously a leather-goods maker and has upholstered the classic Bond car since the 1960s.
The 007 capsule collection includes driving gloves, goggles and wallets, all in the same Vaumol leather that has been found on the interior of the iconic Aston Martin DB5 since the Goldfinger film in 1964. The linen shirt and Giubbino jacket that Daniel Craig wears in the vehicle this time around are available for purchase too, although we can’t guarantee they will arrive with Léa Seydoux in tow. And while Bond enjoys his tipple served at a bar, Connolly is helping to recreate the full experience on the go with a portable cocktail case complete with two martini glasses. The mixing instructions hardly need spelling out.
Finnish design is revered for its practicality, pared-back aesthetic and smart use of colour (writes Will Higginbotham). It’s an enduring reputation cultivated by a generation of 20th-century Finnish designers, including the likes of Alvar Aalto, textile artist Airi Snellman-Hänninen and designer Olavi Hänninen.
The latter two, a creatively inclined couple, lived and worked for 30 years in a home studio in the picturesque wooded town of Hanikka, just outside Helsinki. There, they created their own brand of experimental interiors: Airi tended to work on bold rug designs, textile sculptures and abstract paintings, while Olavi worked on the churches, hotels and even trams.
And while some of their work can still be found in public spaces and buildings throughout the country, the more personal wares that furnished their home and studio are now going under the gavel, with Bukowskis overseeing proceedings this Sunday. “The auction is a unique chance to own a piece of Finnish design history,” says Anna Rosenius, specialist on Finnish design at Bukowskis. “While furniture designed by Hänninen is sold at auctions from time to time, Snellman-Hänninen’s textiles are rarely sold.”
Among the rare pieces up for grabs are Airi’s “Talven Tulo” rug and textile artwork “Sinfonia”, which are expected to go for at least €2,500 and €5,000, respectively. A birch armchair (pictured) and “Buoy” coffee table designed by Olavi are both expected to fetch more than €1,200 each. Yes, this is a chance to buy into the history of Finnish design – but the real appeal, according to Rosenius? “Demand for work from these two is only on the rise.”