Making waves - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 8/1/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Head space

Why do we have so few bald leaders? Why is Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo still collecting vinyl? And what happens when a tsunami hits while you’re on the radio in American Samoa? All this plus culture picks, a new home with interiors by Caravaggio and, first up, Andrew Tuck.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Breaking the ice

I see no thrill in being deliberately cold, so am taken aback by the ever-growing popularity of all-year swimming. It’s even rampant at Monocle. Sophie Grove, the editor of Konfekt, returned to work this week regaling us with tales of how she had stripped off several times over the break to dive in to brutally icy bodies of water and how it had left her feeling invigorated every time. And over the Christmas period, too many people I know were posting pictures of themselves splashing around like hooked mackerel in chilly, choppy seas. In the UK there’s always been some inverted snobbery about being warm – central heating decried as somehow a bit too middle-class for grand folk. Far better to have a historic pile that’s so big and badly insulated that the only heating options are to put on another layer or throw some old unwanted relative on the fire (“I hope you don’t mind, Ethel”). Anyway, after listening to Sophie’s sales pitch for the cold, I have decided to counter her and launch the warm-water swimming movement, which will pack away its towels and goggles every winter and reconvene come summer on Greek beaches.

We recently stayed with friends who did forewarn us that their home was only warm during the winter if you were within a few metres’ proximity of the Aga. But they had a good spin on this: “I assure you that our house is so bloody draughty that you’ll never catch coronavirus staying with us.” And indeed, we didn’t.

On the Tube this week I spotted a woman engrossed in something on her lap. Being nosey I looked closer and there, seated on her skirt, were two guinea pigs, to whom she was feeding a long stick of celery. The train rattled through the stations but the piggies were so blissed out that they were oblivious to all but their salad-waving god. I am hoping that she ups the game by the next time I see her and returns with, say, a llama and carrots. Anyway, it made me feel jollier than diving into cold water ever could have.

“Novax Djokovic” was the best newspaper headline of the week.

London has been odd this week. Many companies have delayed returning to their offices because of Omicron, so things have been quiet even for January. On Tuesday, a few of us went for lunch and we were the only people in our favoured spot. If you are in the business of murder, this would be a very good week to get rid of the body. While it seems that most people in the city just dump their old Christmas trees in the street and then try to pretend it’s nothing to do with them (despite there being numerous drop-off points), last night I caught in my headlights a man and woman carrying what looked like a big black body bag across the road and it was only as I passed them that I saw the tip of a festive fir poking out. I don’t know whether they were staff from a hospital or morgue getting rid of the seasonal shrubbery but it beats sticking your tree inside an old duvet to avoid a needle-shedding catastrophe.

Talking of the dead. A few minutes’ walk from my house is A France & Son, an undertakers that has been in business since at least 1764. Every Christmas it fills its window with a miniature winter-village scene: people are skating, a dog scampers through the snow, a choir sings. And there in the midst of all this frivolity you spot a lingering black hearse. Well, you never know when someone is going to break their neck on the ice. It’s great product placement.

I follow a group that posts old photographs of London and when you see pictures from 100, even 50 years ago, the streets, the markets, are teeming with life in a way we will never see again. Back then just about every transaction involved you leaving your house but technology and the changing nature of work have seen this everyday buzz evaporate. And it will only continue. Let’s be clear, I am not championing a return to Victorian Britain when, for many people, life was the equivalent of perpetual cold-water swimming. But still, it makes you yearn in the depths of winter for London’s streets to find more bustle again.

Finally, we are looking for a senior editorial assistant to come and work at Monocle. All the details are on our website. It’s a job for someone who loves magazines but also likes making things work, for someone with some skill at Excel but also a way with people. It’s based in London and you’d work alongside me and all the editors. No swimming skills required but some stamina and willingness to dive in wouldn’t go amiss.

The Look / Bald leaders

Dome luck

Olaf Scholz (pictured), Germany’s new chancellor, offers every indication of being what we expect and desire from German politicians: reassuring, competent dullness (writes Andrew Mueller). However, in one key respect, Scholz is an exciting anomaly. Scholz is bald. Indeed, he is an outstandingly unabashed champion of male pattern baldness, who doesn’t even try to style it out by shaving off the lot, instead sporting an old-school wraparound.

This cheerfully depilated state is unusual among democratic leaders in the mass-media age. The US has not had a fully bald president since Dwight Eisenhower and he had the advantage of fighting two elections against a similarly follicly challenged opponent, Adlai Stevenson (Joe Biden’s dogged maintenance of a few swept-back wisps excludes him from consideration). The UK’s last bald prime minister was Winston Churchill, 71 years ago. At the most recent G20 summit, European Council president Charles Michel’s unthatched bonce stood out among the other G20 leaders – and he, of course, was not directly elected to his role.

Image: Getty Images

A prejudice is clearly at large; this dearth of hairless elected leaders simply does not square with the statistical reality that by their 50th birthday, around the age at which the climb to high office is usually peaking, 85 per cent of men have shed at least some of their rug.

With the current preference for full-head-of-hair leaders, who knows what brilliant talent we could be thwarting or what sagacious leadership we might be depriving ourselves of? Any German readers suffering discomfort with the prospect of a bald chancellor are invited to contemplate the luxuriant mane of his British counterpart.

How We Live / New year’s resolutions

Best-laid plans

You make new year’s resolutions even if you think you don’t. It would require superhuman resolve and/or obtuseness not to react to the calendar ticking over by having a bit of a think about how far (if applicable) you’ve come in the past 12 months and therefore what distance you might like to travel in the next.

So making resolutions is fine, if not downright commendable. It is also very common, even if the past couple of years seem to have inculcated a widespread attitude of fatalistic resignation. According to a CBS News poll at the end of 2021, while 29 per cent of Americans were drawing up new year’s resolutions, this was down from 43 per cent in 2020.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

But as common as making plans is beating oneself up, usually in tones of wry self-mockery, often around the middle of January, for breaking them. And this is the bit we shouldn’t do.

Most things we attempt don’t work out. Or, if they do, they work out differently to how we had fondly imagined they might. This is all entirely OK; indeed, if you want to get really zen about it, it’s pretty much all there is. Wherever your intention is on the spectrum between meticulously excogitated plan or vaguely expressed aspiration, what is certain is that without some measure of resolve, nothing will happen, or change, at all. Good luck with whatever it is, and happy new year.

Interrogator / Lee Ranaldo

Vinyl tap

Lee Ranaldo is best known as a founding member of rock band Sonic Youth (writes Grace Charlton). Over his 42-year career, the guitarist has also released several solo projects – most recently In Virus Times, a four-part acoustic record he created while stuck at home in Manhattan. “It has these blocky, minimalist, dark chords that would bloom and fade away,” says Ranaldo. “I felt like I was a novice again.” He tells us about the importance of browsing in bookshops, a new music documentary and making up riffs in the shower.

Image: Anna Bogaciovas

What news sources do you wake up to?
First thing in the morning, it’s The New York Times. And then we listen to our local National Public Radio station and sometimes BBC World Service. By noon, I’ve usually read most of the paper and listened to the news on the radio.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee, for sure, and a little orange juice.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I’m often trying out new riffs. Making up tunes in the shower is something that happens a lot – it’s a great place for singing.

You released ‘In Virus Times’ digitally and on vinyl. How do you prefer to listen to music?
I listen to vinyl and I don’t collect it so much as acquire it. A streaming file is not a satisfying object. I grew up in an era when we studied vinyls – the back cover, the artwork, you read the credits. It all added to the experience.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Some new and some old, including a new record by one of my favourite recent artists, Haley Fohr, also known as Circuit des Yeux. Also, for the first time in my life I’ve been listening to Frank Zappa.

A favourite bookshop?
The favourite bookshop of many New Yorkers, me included, is the Strand. It’s the kind of place you go into for a browse and come out with an armload of books. Something wonderful about bookshops and record shops is being surprised by what you find. You take home things that you weren’t looking for that become favourites.

Movie genre of choice?
I like movies so much that I don’t know if I can pick a particular genre. I saw Todd Haynes’s new documentary about The Velvet Underground last week. That was really good and actually in a theatre, which was nice.

Anything on the airwaves before drifting off?
Usually that’s when I watch television: in the hours before going to sleep. Immediately before bed I comb the news.

Culture / Watch / Read / Listen

To the rescue

‘A Hero’, Asghar Farhadi. In his latest film, the Iranian filmmaker presents us with a curious cautionary tale. There is no clear moral to this story of a prisoner who returns a dubiously acquired bag of gold coins to its owner, despite desperately needing the money to buy his own freedom from a creditor. Over two hours, the realist auteur puts trust in his audience to navigate the tale’s ethical ambiguities and arcane social codes without being prescriptive. The result is an absorbing, challenging feature that invites us to consider the arbitrary distinction between heroism and self-interested callousness.

‘Chouette’, Claire Oshetsky. This striking debut novel reads like an unsettling dark fairy tale. It’s the story of a woman named Tiny, a cellist who has always been an outsider and finds her life turned upside down when she becomes pregnant with a baby owl. When the creature is born, she inspires fear in most people so Tiny is left to care for her alone. As wild and feral as the little owl herself, this novel is raw, ferocious and pulsating with energy.

‘Um Gosto de Sol’, Céu. The singer-songwriter’s plucky take on Brazilian pop is already a fixture of the country’s music scene. But her latest record sees her break new ground. Um Gosto de Sol is her first covers album, fusing the work of big tropicália and samba names alongside songs by Fiona Apple and Sade. Single “Chega Mais”, an acoustic rendition of Rita Lee’s 1970s hit, softens the original track’s peppy disco beat into a slow-burning affair.

Outpost News / 93KHJ, American Samoa

Making waves

With a population of just 3,600, Pago Pago in American Samoa (pictured) is one of the world’s smaller capital cities (writes Nyasha Oliver). Despite its size, radio station 93KHJ’s general manager and co-owner Joey Cummings is proud to call the city home. “We’re on a volcanic island with rainforests, wonderful beaches and majestic but devastatingly steep cliffs,” he says. Having just celebrated its 22nd anniversary, 93KHJ is the island’s leading on-air outlet for live music shows.

Image: U.S. Department of the Interior/Flickr

How did the station start?
Co-founder Larry Fuss was broadcasting in Mississippi in 1994 during an ice storm. He said to himself, “It would be nice to have a radio station on a tropical island, so I don’t have to go through this again.” Hawaii was expensive, so he chose American Samoa. At first it was automated with no staff; it was just an excuse to have a holiday. But eventually it grew and needed multiple employees.

What is your roster like?
It started out as a top-40 destination but drifted over the years to become a classic hits station. There’s also a mix of live morning shows with calls, contests and interviews.

Any big stories from the past week that you can share?
There have been reports of people getting caught by authorities while smuggling drugs, such as methamphetamine, inside a TV or a resealed bag of crisps. The questions that surround these stories are: where is it all coming from and how does it get here? It’s bizarre.

Do you have a memorable broadcasting moment?
On 29 September 2009, I was on the air filling in for our morning announcer, John Raynar, when an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Samoan and Tongan islands. I thought I was going to die. It was intense.

Fashion update / Karl Lagerfeld snow goggles

Bold vision

Legendary aesthete Karl Lagerfeld was never seen in public without a pair of black shades, usually tinted like the windows of a limousine (writes Stella Roos). To honour this, the late fashion designer’s namesake label is now bringing the look to the ski slopes with its first pair of snow goggles, developed in collaboration with action-sports eyewear brand Dragon. Only 777 chic, black pairs are available (seven being Karl’s favourite number).

The sleek appearance, however, belies a host of hi-tech features, courtesy of Dragon. The lenses employ cutting-edge colour-optimisation technology and can be toggled even mid-ski to adapt to changing light conditions. They are available in two finishes: mirrored pink lenses, ideal for overcast skies, or a dark-smoke version that’s suitable for sunny days. It means that no matter the weather in Aspen or St Moritz in the coming weeks, Karl Lagerfeld’s glasses will make for a stylish look when swooshing down the slopes – low ponytail and starched white collar optional.

What Am I Bid? / Villa Aurora

Painting by numbers

Large-scale works by Italian master Caravaggio are not up for grabs every day, let alone those that come with a mansion (writes Will Higginbotham). Yet that is exactly what is on offer when Villa Aurora (pictured), an estate in the heart of Rome, goes to auction this month. As you might expect from such a unique pairing of prized Baroque art and property, the price is high: bids for the villa start at €471m.

The house is full of treasures, including rooms frescoed by another Italian painter, Guercino, and a sculpture by Michelangelo. But Caravaggio’s painting – which depicts the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, flanked by their respective beasts – is certainly the outstanding feature. The work is Caravaggio’s only ceiling mural and was commissioned by the villa’s owner, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, in the 16th century. It’s estimated value? €310m.

Image: Alamy

Villa Aurora has not passed through many hands in its long history: it was established as a retreat in the 1600s by the aforementioned cardinal but was soon sold to the Ludovisi family, which had links to the papacy. The estate stayed within the family and only hit the market following a tumultuous inheritance dispute after the death of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2018.

Despite the price tag, the villa won’t be move-in ready: the property requires a restoration estimated to cost €11m. But what’s that when you’re in the running to own a Caravaggio and a storied estate in the heart of Rome?


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