All wrapped up - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 6/11/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Popping off

From champagne-proof goggles for celebrating athletes to a kimono festival in the mountains of Niigata, Japan, we have plenty to chew over this week. Plus: how to get your hands on Marie Antoinette’s diamond jewellery, the bracing benefits of Finnish ice swimming and, first up, our editor in chief is building up some citywide self-esteem.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Urban legends

We all have those friends who are clever, successful and good-looking to boot but who you still find yourself being lured into giving morale boosts to every now and then (while deep-down secretly thinking, is this for real?). I found myself doing this at a city level this week in Copenhagen. I had been invited to speak at a conference with the no-messing name “Copenhagen: Cool or Boring?”. My input was to explain why we run an annual Quality of Life Survey; what makes a great city for Monocle (and for you, our readers – I hope you don’t mind me speaking on your behalf this once); and, yes, why Copenhagen so regularly takes pole position, including this year.

Over the three days that I was in the city, I did an interview with the newspaper Børsen, caught up with contacts and spoke with attendees at the event, and again and again people came over all surprised that pretty little Copenhagen was so well-loved. The tone was reminiscent of a Jane Austen tale in which some nice lady coquettishly holds a fan in front of her face and blushes as suitors express their love. (At least in this version of my story I can cast myself as Mr Darcy gone doddery.)

Trouble is, the evidence is everywhere you look. Michael Solgaard, the very engaging and well-regarded culture editor at Børsen, suggested that we start our interview on bicycles – he had his; I borrowed one from my hotel. Over the next hour we seemed to traverse a large swath of the city, all on dedicated and well-used bike lanes and with Solgaard acting as both tour guide and instructor on the city’s cycling etiquette (basically, you seem to have right of way when you are with him). Solgaard was also carrying a bag that contained towels and bathing costumes, as on Mondays he leaves work early to take his granddaughter swimming (you can see why they struggle here). We glided through even the supposedly sketchier parts of town, me looking like Miss Marple with a big wicker basket on the front of my two-wheeler, and it all seemed OK to the outsider. Later, over carrot cake in a café that sits in the shadow of the Church of Our Saviour, with its famous external staircase coiled around its steeple, Solgaard quizzed me about the city’s global appeal, pretending to be surprised while knowing all along that it was rather incredible. When I asked him about problems in Copenhagen, he wondered whether there were too many festivals. I am looking forward to a return carrot-cake ride in London.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

This became a running theme: people told me how they never work late, how all their university fees were picked up by the state, how they had found city-centre apartments for a decent rate, and how they felt that children had an easier and safer life than in many parts of Europe. Yes, they pay exorbitant taxes, the cost of living for things like food was high and, as in all cities, there were clearly people who struggled. But.

One night I cycled out to a party for Thomas Lykke, friend and founding partner of celebrated design studio OEO. His birthday drinks were in a restaurant called Hija de Sanchez (which he designed) in Nordhavn, an old port area that’s being transformed into a vast new residential district. Again, I got there on my bicycle, on lanes edged with ambitious planting and as I approached my destination there was a cute boathouse on the water and people had just finished kayaking. I looked in through the windows of handsome apartments at families eating dinner on this autumn night. At the base of the new apartment buildings there was lots of life in shops, cafés and restaurants. It was urbanism done well. I parked my bike among all the others that were so modestly secured and thought, “Let’s see whether anyone dares to ask why Copenhagen ranks so highly in our survey.”

On the plane back to London, just as on the flight out, many people boarded with no masks on at all, or with their hooters uncovered. The pre-flight announcements underlined that everyone had to wear a mask when not eating. The refuseniks, however, carried on staring at their phones with their masks slung like squirrel hammocks under their chins. The crew said nothing. There was an announcement that because of a heavy fog we had to turn off all electrical equipment for take-off so that there was no risk of it interfering with the plane’s foggyometer (I think that’s the technical term). People kept using their phones; one man was speaking on his even as we took off. A young woman next to me who was clearly friends with the crew kept her giant headphones on throughout without a word being said. Back in London, there were posters telling you to mask up on the Underground. Standing by the ticket barriers were four members of staff – no masks for them. I don’t like masks but I happily wear one if I think it makes other people more comfortable. At this point, though, the game is up and the messaging should change to match the facts: “Nobody here cares, do you?”

Mr Tuck would like to point out that his fine column was not prompted by today’s sponsor. Next week he promises to be a Dane-free zone. He won’t even go near a ‘kanelsnegle’ – a cinnamon bun to you and me. Although on that point we may not be able to trust him.

The Look / Championship goggles

Offensive guard

We are accustomed to sportsfolk wearing protective equipment on the field (writes Andrew Mueller). On rare occasions, it is also necessary for practitioners to continue to remain padded up outside game time too.

This was the case for America’s newly crowned baseball champions, the Atlanta Braves, who this week had to armour themselves against the consequences of celebrating a World Series win. As the Braves rejoiced amid mists of champagne fizz in their dressing room, players swapped their baseball caps for ski goggles, as has become a tradition in American sports. There is a practical reason for this: a ricocheting cork striking the eye of a star catcher might be detrimental to next season’s defence of the title, as might the damage done to your shortstop’s corneas by a jet-washing of alcohol.

Image: Getty Images

But the practice is now so ingrained that donning the goggles has become a gesture of exultation in itself: they are, in American sports, the equivalent of the laurel wreath bestowed upon victorious Roman generals. The drawback is that anyone wearing ski goggles indoors looks mildly ridiculous.

This is a price worth paying for players’ eyesight. But some who celebrate sporting triumphs look absurd with no practical benefit. In the UK, for example, spare a thought for former Arsenal defender Steve Morrow, who scored the winning goal in the 1993 League Cup final and as the game ended was hoisted onto the shoulders of his captain, Tony Adams, who dropped him. Morrow broke an arm and missed the rest of the season.

How We Live / Ice swimming

Barely afloat

As the temperatures drop in Finland it’s not uncommon to find people stripping in public (writes Petri Burtsoff). Far from being a public-decency issue, the sight of nude or partially clothed Finns in bathing suits, woollen caps, booties and gloves, is a result of the Finnish tendency to dive into the sub-zero temperatures of the country’s icy winter seas.

Like many Nordic nations, Finland is experiencing a boom in ice swimming and many of the country’s 260 winter-swimming clubs – particularly those in Helsinki – have waiting lists hundreds of names long.

At my local ice hole, Helsinki-based author and ice-swimming enthusiast Katja Pantzar explains the appeal. “It’s an easy, quick and natural way to boost your wellbeing,” says Pantzar. “Many of the body’s happy hormones such as endorphins and its natural painkillers – serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin – are set off by a dip of just 30 seconds in the cold.”

To be clear, once swimmers are out of the water, clothes are promptly put back on. But the routine is a reminder of the country’s healthy attitude to full or partial nudity in communal settings. And while this no doubt contributes to a relaxed national psyche, it’s also something that one should be cautious to try beyond Finland’s borders; stripping off and jumping into the Yarra, Hudson or Thames is likely to result in a rather unrelaxing trip to the police station.

The Interrogator / Jennifer Higgie

Acts of curation

As former editor of contemporary art and culture magazine Frieze, London-based Jennifer Higgie has long provided thoughtful commentary on the state of the art world (writes Grace Charlton). Now she has been fusing anecdotes from the past with insights from the present for her new book, The Mirror and the Palette. The title alludes to the history of female self-portraiture, acting as a springboard for discussions on why women have often been overlooked in art history. Higgie tells us about supernatural obsessions and which newspaper has the best word games.

Image: Polly Braden

What news sources do you wake up to?
I can’t bear the news first thing, so as I make my coffee I tune into classical music on BBC Radio 3. I love that they always mention what key a work is written in.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Two double espressos, no sugar, and I can face the day.

A favourite tune at the moment?
My sister, Suzie Higgie, is a brilliant musician. All of her songs are my favourite tunes.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I tend to sing or hum Billie Holiday’s “The Very Thought of You”.

Which newspapers do you turn to?
The Guardian, The Times and The New York Times. I am addicted to the NYT’s Spelling Bee.

A favourite bookshop?
Hatchards on Piccadilly and Foyles on Charing Cross Road.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I’ve been writing a book on women, art and the spirit world, so anything supernatural has my attention. I’ve just started listening to Danny Robins’ new BBC podcast, Uncanny. I loved his investigation into the Battersea poltergeist.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
The first episode of the new series of Shetland. What Douglas Henshall as detective inspector Jimmy Perez can do with his face to express a range of emotions is a thing of wonder. But I also love Better Things, a beautifully low-key, funny, heartbreaking series about family, creativity, love and lunacy. I bow down to its co-creator and star, Pamela Adlon.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I am a bad sleeper and was recently converted to the app Insight Timer. I’m slightly addicted to its “Cleansing Crystal Bowl Sleep” track: 92 minutes of pure calm.

Culture / Listen / Read / See

Building character

‘Day/Night’, Parcels. The Berlin-based quintet are back with their second album. Despite being conceived among the wilderness – in a forest house the band rented in their native Australia, which was also home to spiders and a balcony snake – the record is a mild-mannered and easy-listening effort. With its soft disco background beats, “Somethinggreater” is a smooth, melodic pop piece. The catchy “Comingback” will make you smile – and definitely return for more.

‘Peaces’, Helen Oyeyemi. Oyeyemi’s seventh novel tells the story of Otto and Xavier Shin, a couple who embark on a strange and mysterious train journey. The tickets are a gift from a wealthy ageing aunt for the pair’s “non-honeymoon honeymoon” (though not joined by matrimony, they do now share a surname). With characteristic wit and ingenuity, the award-winning author conjures a cast of weird and eccentric characters (mongooses included) and equally bizarre destinations. Who are the other passengers on the train and where will the tracks take them? Surrealism meets Agatha Christie.

‘The Seven Pomegranate Seeds’, Rose Theatre. Persephone, Hypsipyle, Medea, Alcestis, Phaedra, Creusa and Demeter might sound like the roll call of girls at a West London kindergarten but it is also the cast of characters in the world premiere of Colin Teevan’s The Seven Pomegranate Seeds at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, just outside the UK’s capital. This searing series of seven stories, set in contemporary Britain, is loosely based on female characters in Euripides’ plays, with amazing performances weaving a compelling tapestry of shocking desires. Teevan’s plays tend to open in regional theatres before transferring to the West End and Broadway, so this is a chance to be among the first to see this fresh production.

Outpost News / ‘Tokamachi Shimbun’

All wrapped up

Best known as the home of leading Japanese rice brand Koshihikari, Tokamachi (population 50,000) is a two-hour train ride from Tokyo, in the mountainous Niigata prefecture (Nyasha Oliver). But despite its size, the town is far from a cultural backwater: visitors come from across Honshu for its annual Kimono Festival and art triennale, both of which are covered by trusted weekly Tokamachi Shimbun. “This year was exceptionally good for us because it marked our 120th anniversary,” says the paper’s Seiji Kanazawa. He tells us about its ambitious beginnings and the prominence of the Kimono in the town’s cultural life.

Image: Shutterstock

How did ‘Tokamachi Shimbun’ start?
Its founder Yamanouchi Kuranosuke was working at the lantern shop that his family ran here. Then, at the age of 20 in 1898, he travelled to Tokyo without his parents’ permission and trained in the printing industry in the city’s Nihonbashi district. He returned in 1901 to start a printing business but it wasn’t until 1908 that he established the Tokamachi Shimbun. Now, three generations later, his grandson Yamanouchi Masatane is president of the newspaper.

What’s the biggest story at the moment?
Tokyo Paralympian Higuchi Masayuki, who is from Tokamachi, visited recently. He interacted with the children and other citizens, and we found it very admirable.

A favourite image from the latest edition?
It would have to be the photo of our women’s football team, FC Echigo-Tsumari, with supporters after they won a home game.

Any events coming up?
We just celebrated the first Kimono Festival and seijin no hi [coming-of-age ceremony] since the pandemic began. And as Tokamachi is known for its kimono production, young adults were dressed up in them to celebrate.

Fashion update / APC Quilts

Blanket coverage

Fashion designer Jessica Ogden has been creating collaborative quilts with APC since 2011. For 10 years, Ogden has used discards and offcuts from the French clothing brand’s collections to mark the passing of the seasons – and help ease the transition from hot summer nights to crisp autumn evenings – by quilting the excess fabric into cosy blankets.

The latest release, which uses colourful fibres from APC’s 2021 fashion-week run, hit stores last week and pays homage to traditional crafting methods. Ogden employed a zig-zag technique to stitch the fabric together – a simple composition method that creates angular clashes of scale, colour and texture. The result? A bold blanket, perfect for snuggling under as the days get shorter, smug in the knowledge that you’re doing your bit to help to limit waste in the fashion industry.

What am I bid? / Marie Antoinette’s bracelets

Regal-eyed bidders

It’s no secret that Marie Antoinette spent a lot on looking good (writes Grace Charlton). The French queen had an annual clothing budget just shy of €3.1m in today’s money and a collection of jewels that matched her exuberant lifestyle – one that played a significant part in the French court’s downfall.

Now, more than 200 years after meeting her end at the guillotine, a pair of the queen’s diamond bracelets, valued at more than €1.8m, will be auctioned at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva on 9 November. Despite the three-strand bracelets being set with 112 diamonds between them, a large part of their appeal stems from their rarity: most royal jewellery from the revolutionary period was broken apart or refashioned.

Marie Antoinette bought the pieces from Parisian jeweller Charles Auguste Boehmer in 1777 and their survival is down to the diplomat Count Mercy-Argenteau: shortly before being placed under house arrest in 1789, the queen stashed away some prized possessions, including these bracelets, with the sympathetic courtier for safekeeping. And he clearly did a good job: they passed untarnished through the hands of European royals over the ensuing 230 years.

“These bracelets seem to be among the few pieces that have not been remodelled as they are still identical to the Brussels inventory from 1794,” says Max Fawcett, head of the jewellery department at Christie’s Geneva. “Their provenance is impeccable. Not only is their line of heritage traceable since 1776 but they have also featured in two famous paintings of Marie Antoinette.”

For the sake of continuing this legacy, here’s hoping that whoever submits the winning bid on Tuesday takes a similarly considered approach to their care.


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