We take the pulse around the world and uncover public dancing in the streets of Mexico City, a lush new film shot in a Colombian forest and a blooming regional media scene in Zimbabwe. Plus: Melania Trump is selling her hat. First up, Andrew Tuck is going to the pictures.
We are working on a big project that will launch this spring: a Monocle book of photography and reportage. It looks back at some of the great stories that have been shot for the magazine and is being guided by our creative director, Richard, and director of photography, Matt. There’s still some way to go and a few tough decisions to be made but this week we got to the point where just about every page has been designed once. It’s the juncture in a book project at which we commandeer the canteen, lay printouts on the tables and walk through everything to see whether the order works, whether the key points and passions have been covered, whether the mix of places makes sense. Also walking the walk are Joe, Molly and Amy from the books team.
Many of the images to be featured never made it into the magazine’s published edits – pictures from a city just before war crumpled it; shots taken in a failed nation; gritty images captured behind the scenes at a news channel. The pace at which any magazine works means that it’s hard to hold in your mind all of the stories that you have covered. And on the cusp of our 15th anniversary, it was both sobering and satisfying to see the work spread across those canteen tables.
When we started Monocle, our ambition was to bring together words and pictures to tell stories. The idea was not just to use pictures to illustrate the words but to allow a photographer to deliver an almost parallel story. Especially with the Expos, our big free-wheeling gloss section, a photographer would often work on their own, allowed to see and show things that the writer might not cover in the text. At other times a writer and photographer would work as a tight team, holed up together on epic journeys. It’s an approach that has helped to make Monocle a magazine that is known for still giving a photographer 16 pages on a single story, encouraging them to work with film, trusting their eye.
Surveying all of this work again also made me realise how some of these images have had a deep, almost subconscious effect on me. The soon-to-be-crumpled city was Aleppo in Syria; that story was shot in 2009 by Roderick Aichinger when the place was thriving and trying to be more open. Here’s an old-school travel agency; waiters in bow ties hanging out on the roof of the Mirage Hotel; a cool young woman smoking in a café. What happened to all of these people? What was their fate? As the civil war ravaged Aleppo, just having seen these images made me feel some strange connection to the city. It’s the power of photography to link viewer and subject, seer and seen, even if they will never meet.
On a side note, it’s hard to imagine that almost two years ago we were making books and magazines from our homes. We got through that time and did some amazing things but it’s so easy for nuance to be lost, for decision-making to become slow and fractious, when you are not in the same room. That’s why we have always wanted to have our team back together, in our offices and bureaux, whenever the rules have allowed. But as Omicron fades in Europe, we hope, and people speak with growing confidence about life after the pandemic, will companies that went along with working from home be able to reconvene their teams? And do they want to? This week I spoke to someone from a luxury brand who said that while most people wanted to return to work in her division, she couldn’t motivate her boss to come in. Another person told me that it was hard to imagine ever feeling the old team spirit again as their company had sold off half of its office space and told staff that in the future they would have to have “a good reason why they needed to come to the office” before rocking up.
And I promise this is the last thing. I presume you know that the UK prime minister is rightly in hot water for allowing parties to be held at 10 Downing Street at the height of lockdown. It is shameful and another instance of Boris Johnson waving his privilege in people’s faces but some of the BBC’s and Channel 4’s news presenters have sounded like they were auditioning for a job on Saudi TV. “Have you ever been to a work event where they served alcohol?” they huffily ask ministers. “I understand there was a trestle table involved,” one says. “Do you think that it was acceptable to be eating Pringles when other people in the country only had regular crisps?” (That’s what I thought would be the next question.) The stupidity of our rule-makers is enervating but sanctimonious news anchors are also irritating. And in full openness, I should confess that this week I did have a glass of wine during a work meeting and, sorry, cheese-sticks too. But there was no trestle table involved. That would have been bad and very un-Monocle.
Our new Kiosk at Zürich’s Jelmoli department store is open for business, offering a fine collection of books and magazines, a buzzing La Marzocco coffee machine and quality wares. Watch our film to see it in action.
A woman’s heels crack against paving stones at 19.00 on a Tuesday in Alameda Central, Mexico City’s oldest park (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). She’s lifted back up and spun twice by a stocky man with surprising dexterity – he wears a corporate-blue shirt, three buttons undone – before he slinks away from her with a hand against her waist, the other flinging out into the air. Shouting from her spot beside the stereo system, the instructor congratulates them: “Muy bien!”
The pair are part of a growing number of people taking salsa classes in public. Far from the reserve of older folk in search of a new squeeze, these sessions draw hordes to parks across the Mexican capital every day: smartly dressed women in the creative industries; middle-aged blokes who have just stepped off the trading room floor; youthful international types who have recently been moving to the city in droves. There is no awkwardness among the young, no macho rejection of flamboyant displays, none of the uptightness you might see in London or New York.
Besides being great exercise (disclaimer: calves will burn) the sessions have been shown to improve mental health and self-esteem – and yes, you will meet new people there. Latin dancing initially took off among Europeans for exactly this reason: when stuffy, strictly gendered European dances met indigenous ones in the Americas in the early 1900s, Spanish folk soon realised that dancing with someone in this mode was a good way to get to know a new partner. Today, in Mexico City, it seems the same still applies – regardless of whether you’re in a ballroom or city park.
Paris-based Japanese architect Tsuyoshi Tane founded his namesake architectural atelier in 2017. With works across Europe and Asia, his portfolio includes a number of civic buildings, notably the Estonian National Museum in Tartu and Japan’s Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art. Here, he tells us about turning to a magazine for inspiration and why the best thing he’s watched recently wasn’t on a screen.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to start your day?
I begin with coffee while I check my emails.
What have you been working on recently?
Our most recently completed project is in the heart of Paris, in front of the Place de la Concorde in the Hôtel de la Marine. Here, I designed the museum galleries that will hold the Al Thani collection [an art collection with work that spans thousands of years] for the next 20 years.
Do you listen to music while you’re designing?
I like to be in silence and to listen to the sounds of the day.
What’s the best thing you’ve watched recently?
It wasn’t on a screen but I saw the artwork wrapping the Arc de Triomphe by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. It was pure art and created a debate on the meaning of public buildings, freedom and peace in art.
Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
National Geographic is always inspiring for its insight on the universe and science.
Any movie genre of choice?
I follow film directors more than I follow genres. I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick. He was a visionary, a legend and full of inspiration. 2001: A Space Odyssey,Barry Lyndon,Full Metal Jacket,The Shining and A Clockwork Orange are a few of my favourites. I also like Japanese film-maker Takeshi Kitano, who I have followed from the beginning.
Any favourite bookshops?
I often go to the bookshop at the Pompidou Centre. It’s home to lots of art, architecture and design titles, and great permanent collections. Librairie Le Cabanon, a specialist dealer in rare books next to our atelier, is another one of my favourites.
What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Listening to jazz in the evening puts me in a good mood to end the day. I like classic and contemporary jazz, and the improvisation that takes place as it is played.
‘Memoria’, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. With its shots of lush Colombian forest and modernist architecture, this slow-moving film rewards patience. Tilda Swinton cuts a ghostly figure as a British expat who is haunted by loud noises that she alone seems to hear. Inspired by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s experience of a rare sleep disorder that causes auditory hallucinations, Memoria is an eerie film that lingers long after the credits roll.
‘Law of Large Numbers: Our Selves’, Rindon Johnson. An art show doesn’t have to extend for rooms on end to make a nuanced point. Chisenhale Gallery in London has switched off the lights in its main exhibition hall, turning it into a pitch-black room containing nothing but a huge video work that lies flat on the ground. Berlin-based artist Rindon Johnson’s new piece, commissioned for this show, might resemble a peaceful film of seawater; in reality, it consists of a virtual reconstruction of weather data captured a year ago in the so-called “cold blob”, a patch of the Atlantic that is remaining stubbornly chilly despite global warming. The result makes us question our relationship with reality, nature and technology – and sits at the slippery edge between pessimism and hope.
‘Fragments’, Bonobo. Five years since his last release, Los Angeles-based producer Simon Green, better known as Bonobo, has returned with more of what he does best: atmospheric soundscapes that are both energising and sleek. He has once again called on some extraordinary vocalists to bring texture to his evocative tracks; there’s New Zealand-born Jordan Rakei, Japanese singer Joji and the wonderful Kadhja Bonet. Fragments isn’t a major departure from the style of Bonobo’s earlier work yet it remains electronica of the classiest kind. The songs here feel ethereal and sun-drenched even in the middle of winter.
Florence’s Pitti Uomo, which wrapped up on Thursday, has long been the destination for leading menswear brands to launch their collections. Joining for the first time this year was British leather-goods brand Connolly, with its newly minted autumn/winter collection.
Inspired by its roots in the automotive industry, making fine leather interiors for the likes of Aston Martin and Jaguar, Connolly’s new offering includes a smart woollen vest and jumper (pictured). Appropriately, given its debut in Florence, there are also deerskin-leather driving gloves traditionally crafted in Italy.
Don’t feel, however, that these items can only be worn on urban streets or behind the wheel of a vintage E-Type. Paired with Connolly’s navy performance parka, they’ll be perfectly at home on city pavements too.
If there is anything to be said for the Trump family’s stay in the White House, it is that they never bothered to conceal the grift (writes Andrew Mueller). President Donald Trump, for example, regularly charged his secret service protection detail to stay in hotels that he owned.
The latest attempt to cash in by former first lady Melania Trump appears comparatively trivial but is nevertheless impressively vulgar. She is auctioning the hat she wore while hosting the 2018 state visit to Washington of French president Emmanuel Macron. The bidding starts at $250,000 (€218,000) and includes the Hervé Pierre-designed hat as well as a one-off watercolour of Ms Trump wearing the hat by French artist Marc-Antoine Coulon and an NFT of the same picture but with a subtle animated flourish. Payment is solicited in the cryptocurrency Sol, which can only reassure the sceptical that all is totally above board.
There is a market for presidential memorabilia but by its established standards, Ms Trump’s asking price seems optimistic. In 2020, $375,075 (€327,000) won the white Lincoln Continental which carried President John F Kennedy on his second-to-last car ride on 22 November 1963. It’s worth noting that aside from relative historical significance, you can’t drive a hat.
Even if Ms Trump’s titfer is a lousy investment, it is certainly possible to imagine the money raised by a former first lady’s surplus wardrobe doing a great deal of good. Her website notes that “a portion” of the proceeds of this auction will be donated to charity. It would be riveting to learn how big that portion is.