Making waves - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/11/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Words to the wise

In today’s bulletin we offer sharp takes on modern phenomena from Hong Kong’s enduring love of the suit to France’s subtle tweak to its storied Tricolore. We meet a Tasmanian radio host and DD Guttenplan, editor of The Nation, shares thoughts on loving your enemy and shower falsetto. Plus: “The Auction”, at auction. Starting us off, Andrew Tuck has some Balearic thoughts.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

To the island

To Palma de Mallorca for a few days. The morning departure is from London’s City Airport and while, for the most part, the UK feels like it’s on a flightpath to somewhere not-far-off normal (although admittedly with some turbulence still to navigate), things feel off-kilter here. The airport specialises in flights to business destinations in Europe and, pre-coronavirus, its compact terminal would be full at this time of day with grey-suited men and women pacing around like a flock of anxious pigeons. This morning they are nowhere to be seen. The business travellers seem to be at home on their video calls and the airport is just ticking over.

And while we are on the topic: after last week’s column about a few of the wrinkles that come with ditching the office, the owner of a successful business contacted me about how he was still struggling to get some of his employees to return to the office but how they also wanted to hold on to some benefits from the old days. One of the rarely seen members of his team has asked if it would be OK if he claimed for his pre-pandemic level of travel expenses as, after all, the company must have budgeted for this and he could do with the cash. The gentleman hopes his employee will be joining the Great Resignation.

Back to the flight. British holiday travellers detach from time when they get on a plane. Down on the ground people might be still tucking into their toast and cereal but up here it’s whatever time of day you want it to be. Across the aisle from me is a couple in their seventies; she in a string of pearls, he sporting a fine flourish of grey whiskers. They ask the steward for gin and tonics – and would he mind making them doubles, please? He goes further and gives them four miniatures each. They proceed to polish these off alongside their pots of muesli. Am I missing out? Perhaps the steward could rustle up a negroni if I asked nicely.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

On the first night in town, we walk over to the Can Bordoy hotel to meet Jaime and Paloma, the architects who run the successful Ohlab studio (they designed Can Bordoy for starters). They tell us that since the pandemic eased, they have been inundated with enquiries from people wanting to build homes on the island and that prices are climbing ever higher. But Ohlab is trying to raise the game on what gets built and, on the prestigious avenue Passeig de Mallorca, a modestly sized project is nearing completion that will be a benchmark for sustainable building in the city.

And despite all the old buildings being converted into apartments and the new projects going up, the city does remain true to itself. In the end, it feels like an urban centre built for its residents.

Small cities such as Palma also feel at ease. Read the papers or follow residents’ groups and, yes, you can read about stories of crime, of people needing assistance to feed their families, of drugs – but you just don’t sense any menace. In London, when I see a group of kids hurtling towards me on electric scooters, I am cautious – and I make sure my phone is in my pocket. Here they are always just kids having fun. Where this city-at-ease vibe comes from is hard to know – is it that family ties are stronger and so people just behave better? Act with just a bit more generosity?

That’s certainly one of the reasons that another friend here gives for the near universal compliance with wearing masks in shops and restaurants in Mallorca. People see their parents and grandparents often, he says, and so they don’t want to be the person who makes them sick. If you are a 20-year-old in London who only hangs out with people the same age, you are more likely to take your chances and ditch the mask when you can.

It’s enjoyable to be in Palma in November, when you can get a spot at the counter in the restaurant El Camino without booking weeks in advance (although it’s still packed). It’s good to see the Christmas lights being put in place. It’s also nice to witness the city showing off its cosy side.

One night we go to a small wine bar called La Sang that’s run by Swede Lukas Lundgren. It serves natural wine but don’t let that put you off, because it has none of that lecturing edge that often comes with such places. Tucked into a corner on an autumn night with a Finnish friend, the evening unfolds around us as people come and go; conversations mix to become a gentle backing track to the night. It’s all rather perfect and as we walk back home through the alleys of the old town, Palma feels like a very special place to be on a winter’s night.

The Look / Hong Kong tailoring

Life jackets

Despite its warm climate and year-round humidity – weather that’s ideally suited to Birkenstocks and boardshorts – a three-piece suit remains the garment of choice for high-flying executives and bankers in Hong Kong (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). Its enduring sartorial presence can be traced to China’s communist revolution in 1949, which spurred another, quieter shift in the then-British colony: an exodus of tailors from Shanghai to the island caused a fresh injection of capital, labour and skill that turned Hong Kong into a world-class destination for bespoke suits.

By the 1960s, the city began to be known as a prime destination for suits, with about 15,000 working tailors offering 24-hour turnarounds for made-to-order, often hand-sewn suits. The most renowned of these clothed American presidents, British rockstars and Shanghainese tycoons. Some tailors, such as the A-Man Hing Cheong Company – founded in 1898 and now based in the Mandarin Oriental – kept to traditional British tailoring standards, with half an inch of white shirt at the sleeves and half an inch at the collar (all of Hong Kong’s colonial governors were regular customers). Others played with new details, such as built-in pocket squares, gauntlet cuffs and extra inner pockets. Both styles are still sported.

And while many said that the pandemic would sound the death knell for tailored workwear, the streets of Central suggest that the city will continue to defy expectations when it comes to wearing suits. Playing a hand today are tailors who are sons or grandsons of the men, including Shanghainese exiles, who started many of the city’s iconic businesses. In 2021, however, there’s no revolution, only a quiet maintaining of the status quo.

For more on Hong Kong’s suit culture, visit the ‘Foreign Fabric Local Looks: A Hong Kong Suit Story’ exhibition at The Mills, which runs until 28 November 2021.

How we live / Flagging change

Sacré bleu!

This week, someone visiting the Élysée Palace seems to have looked up and noticed that of the red, white and blue on the flags flying above it, the blue was a few shades darker than previously (writes Andrew Mueller). It has since emerged that last summer, Emmanuel Macron ordered the change from the lighter marian blue to the darker navy.

It’s not so much a change, as a change back. Navy blue featured on the original Tricolore hoisted after the French revolution; it was lightened in the 1970s on the instructions of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who sought harmony with the background of the EU flag. And, as is the way of our world, the move has gone from being largely unnoticed to furiously over-analysed.

France is due a crack at the EU presidency from January. Macron faces an election in April. Has he darkened the blue, some have wondered, as a subtle gesture of distance from Brussels? Or, as others have theorised, perhaps he is embracing associations with revolutionary virtues to deter assaults on his patriotism by his most prominent election opponent, bellicose nationalist Marine Le Pen.

Or maybe – and sometimes things are simple as they appear – he just thinks it looks nicer. If so, he’s right: it does.

The Interrogator / DD Guttenplan

State of play

At the editorial helm of leading American weekly journal The Nation is Virginia-born writer and journalist DD Guttenplan (writes Grace Charlton). Founded by abolitionists in 1865, the paper is considered the oldest continuously published example of its kind and has remained a leading voice in politics, culture and opinion since its inception. It’s a trajectory that has continued under Guttenplan, who became editor in 2019 after previously working as The Nation’s London correspondent. Here he tells us about launching into falsetto, his go-to literary magazines and blending festive traditions.

What news sources do you wake up to?
I used to think of The New York Times as my enemy because I worked for The Village Voice and I was a columnist for New York Newsday. We regarded all mainstream journalism as the enemy and saw the Times as our competition. But if you look at the information economy and who feeds it, without The New York Times we’d all collapse. It’s not, and never will be, a radical paper; it is the paper of the status quo. But it has great reporters and a lot of money to spend on journalism, which is terrific.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee. I have a double espresso with oat milk, which I make myself with a stovetop espresso maker.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
My children range from 31 to 22 in age, so they are my musical gurus. I went to a Kamasi Washington concert in New York about three weeks ago. I also like the music of sometimes Nation-writer Ethan Iverson’s group The Bad Plus. He’s a wonderful musician and a brilliant writer.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I sing in the shower. I had dinner with two of my children and my wife last night and we were discussing Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. I was launching into the falsetto part and realised that it sounded much better in the shower.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I’ll read The New York Review of Books pretty much cover to cover. I like looking at magazines about boats and cars too. And literary magazines such as White Review and sometimes Granta. There’s also a New York-based magazine called Jewish Currents that I really admire.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Yes. Latino USA by PRX, The Review and Snap Judgement, a storytelling podcast hosted by Glynn Washington. And I love The Kitchen Sisters.

What is the best thing you have watched recently?
I watched Purple Noon, the French version of The Talented Mr Ripley. It’s one of Alain Delon’s first films.

Any end-of-year festive traditions?
I’m Jewish and my wife is Greek-Orthodox, so our end-of-year traditions are a mix of Hanukkah and Christmas.

Culture / Watch / Listen / Visit

Inherent vice

‘The Worst Person in the World’, Joachim Trier. The director’s exploration of the quest for romance in contemporary Oslo is a must-watch. Featuring a Cannes-winning performance from Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve, the film follows a 30-year-old woman through the city as she attempts to discover what she wants out of love and life. Part romantic drama and part dark comedy, what follows is a tender reflection on youth, loss and restlessness.

‘Pompeii’, Cate Le Bon. Recorded alongside longtime collaborator and producer Samur Khouja in Cardiff, Welsh singer Cate Le Bon’s sixth album tackles topics from faith and political dissonance to beauty regimes. This week, Le Bon released the record’s second single, “Moderator”, which is partly inspired by an essay written by Italian-born Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi and sees Le Bon grapple with the many habits she can’t kick.

‘Bamako Encounters’, African Biennale of Photography. Curators from cities including Marrakech, Cape Town and Toronto have come together to work on the return of Bamako Encounters, one of Africa’s leading photography biennials. The event opens today in Bamako, the capital and largest city of Mali, featuring 25 artists from countries across the continent exploring identity and heritage in a globalised world.

Outpost News / Coast FM, Tasmania

Making waves

Wynyard on the coast of Tasmania is a picturesque and quiet place to put down roots (writes Nyasha Oliver). “We don’t even have any traffic reports over here,” says Brian Shearston, who heads up the Australian town’s radio station, Coast FM. “That’s because there is no traffic and the town is mostly a lot of retired people living a peaceful life.” Despite this sleepy disposition, Shearston plays an important role in keeping residents entertained and informed. Here he tells us about its boomer-friendly playlists and pranking the public.

Image: Alamy

How did you first get involved in radio?
I started out producing at a community station in northwest Sydney in the early 1980s, doing the occasional on-air session. I now manage Coast FM and produce the breakfast programme five mornings a week from a remote studio.

What does the rest of your roster look like?
We currently have 27 volunteer staff producing a variety of music, talk shows and sport programming.

And what kind of music do you play?
Our listeners are entertained with a mixture of popular music from between the 1950s and the 1990s. It’s mostly classical, country and blues.

Any memorable broadcasting moments?
Over the past 40 years I have seen some strange radio events. We once held an April fools’ day event that promoted the arrival of the Big Mac, the world’s largest speedboat, at the nearby river. Playing on the name, an invitation was sent out to our listeners to attend a barbecue to celebrate the Big Mac’s arrival. We had an outside broadcasting unit in place to cover the event live and it encouraged a large crowd to arrive. Some people were expecting burgers but at the appropriate time, all eyes looked down the river to see a boat coming instead.

Wardrobe update / Tom Àdam

Beauty sleep

With the days getting shorter and the sun coming up later – in the northern hemisphere at least – there’s a temptation to lie in a little longer at the weekend. It’s an activity that pyjama brand Tom Àdam ensures can be done in style. Founded in Berlin in 2015, the family-run business makes small, limited-edition batches of unisex pyjamas, made from a soft environmentally responsible cellulose fibre that is sourced from eucalyptus trees.

The current line is available in a cabana striped pattern in blue, pink, yellow or green. Its smart finishes are a reminder that looking good is important, even when you’re in bed – if not for yourself, then at least for your partner snuggled up next to you. Oh, and if canine companions are allowed on the bed, then there’s also the option of custom-made boxer shorts for your furry friend, so no-one feels left out.

What Am I Bid? / LS Lowry’s “The Auction”

Under the hammer

Life will imitate art when bidding starts on LS Lowry’s painting “The Auction” at Sotheby’s in London this week (writes Hester Underhill). A late bloomer, the Lancashire-born artist failed to sell any paintings at his first show in Manchester in 1921 and only found gallery representation at the age of 52. Today he is one of the UK’s most celebrated postwar artists and in 2011 his painting of Piccadilly Circus sold for £5.6m (€6.7m). By the time he produced “The Auction”, which depicts a bustling saleroom, Lowry was already established as an artist; he had long given up his previous job as a debt collector.

“This new financial freedom allowed him to indulge his passion for collecting clocks and works by the pre-Raphaelites, some of these acquired at auction,” says Charlie Minter, director of modern and postwar British art at Sotheby’s. “Lowry was not simply a detached observer of auctions. He could relate to the drama of the auction experience, captured here in his unique and celebrated visual language.”

Image: Shutterstock

With the painting expected to sell for more than £1.2m (€1.4) on Tuesday, one might wonder how Lowry would have felt, given that so much of his early work was undervalued. It’s a question that he answered after some of his works were sold on for huge prices at an auction late in his life; he told a friend, artist Harold Riley, that he felt “like the horse must feel when they give the jockey the prize for the winning race”. That said, we’re sure he wouldn’t hold anything against you for being that jockey this time around.


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