Saturday 5 March 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 5/3/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Out of left field

From a small-town Croatian radio station to a risible new Swedish restaurant so minimalist that it shies away from salt, settle in for our weekend reports. Plus: what’s in a colour? Silent sartorial protests against Russian aggression. First, thoughts on the week from our editor in chief.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Sense of perspective

• The narrative is clear: all Ukrainians are brave and fearless, and will defend their nation to the end. The overnight transformation of bus drivers, supermarket managers and builders into an armed home guard has been simply staggering to watch. And you can only imagine how many scriptwriters are already clattering away at keyboards, working on various Zelensky action movies. Personally, I’d be shit-scared. At lunch this week I was asking people how they thought they would cope if London was switched for Kyiv (I am a fun sandwich companion). Josh, our editor, kindly suggested that I would be a shoo-in for the communications unit. I wondered whether catering or laundry might be more my thing. When you start trying to superimpose yourself into what’s happening in Ukraine, trying to imagine what it would be like, it can be very sobering. On top of this, try adding in protecting your kids, your sick parents. Really, what would you do? Stick or run?

• Do you remember when you used to check the coronavirus charts in the newspaper every day and wonder whether the world would ever get back to normal? Gosh, those were good times.

• On Thursday we had a reception at Midori House for the launch of The Monocle Book of The Nordics and we invited some of the region’s key ambassadors to attend and speak on an informal panel for a few minutes about design, diplomacy, social democracy and Abba. Of course, the world had wobbled since we first invited them and so the discussion soon headed to Ukraine – not a single Abba question was asked. The Swedish ambassador, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, said that she had seen one good thing: any posturing over Brexit had vanished and it was great to see the EU and UK synchronised again. Ah, yes, when Brexit was what kept you awake at night.

• Iceland’s ambassador, Sturla Sigurjónsson, told the audience what happened in 2006, just after the US Naval Air Station closed down at Keflavík: Russia started sending military aircraft over the country, making it clear that its presence would be felt from there on in. Iceland is a founding member of Nato but has no military of its own and, this week, has said that it now expects more Nato traffic to the country. It might need to think about some new barracks too.

• I bumped into a former Monocle intern who is now a successful entrepreneur in London. She’s part Russian, part Ukrainian, and her parents are at home in Russia. We talked about life and business – and then the war. She said that her parents were on board with Putin’s attack; their belief was that nobody complained when Russians were killed in Donbas and that everyone is overreacting now that they are taking action to defend their people. And, she added, since they only watched the news in Russian, it was unlikely that anything would change their perspective.

• Finland’s ambassador to the UK, Jukka Siukosaari, told us that the country was seeing an uptick in young Russians crossing the border to Finland, keen to be out of their country in case, say, martial law is imposed. A sign of dissent and exasperation?

• We must be wary of some of the rhetoric being bandied about regarding Russia. The push to isolate the country should not be used to demonise all Russians and its culture. I have seen the stories about bars pouring their vodka down the drain, which may look like an act of solidarity but is a bit ugly and daft too. What next, setting fire to your Penguin Classic copy of Dostoyevsky? Picketing productions of The Cherry Orchard?

• If you want to read in English what Russians are seeing on TV and in their papers, you should have a look at the website for state-owned news agency Tass. You feel as though you are looking back at Earth from the moon. “Russia, Egypt and Tunisia, awaiting Russian tourists” is the sort of vibe they are after. Really, nothing much has changed, dear comrades – you just need to move your sun lounger to the other side of the Med.

• And here is another risk that comes with isolation: how do people ever get to change their minds, be tested on their thoughts, if they don’t meet people with opposing views? I get it – this is hardly the moment for banter at the beach bar. But we risk setting attitudes in concrete or returning to the entrenched ideological views of the past.

• I guess that these links, these conversations, have to wait. Even Swedish ambassador Kumlin Granit – who said that, given her career, she had to believe in the power of diplomacy – admitted that it was not a tool that could be wheeled out at this time. That will have to be something for the future, when it’s clearer where this terrifying, insane, unjust war has taken us.

The Look / Ukraine blue and yellow

National pride

Ukraine’s national colours, yellow and light blue, have been embraced as a symbol of solidarity in countries around the world since Russia’s invasion began nine days ago (writes Tomos Lewis). Enshrined as its national flag in 1848 and intended to evoke a field of wheat beneath a clear blue sky, these colours have lit up landmarks including the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower, fluttered on flags at rallies and been worn as ribbons pinned to the lapels of those in power.

In Russia, they have become the colours of quiet defiance: a photograph of an elderly woman on a Moscow subway train, dressed in a yellow raincoat, her hair covered by a bright blue headscarf, was shared widely this week. Verifying imagery like this is complicated but these photographs, and the silent rebellions they purport to show, are potent for people watching events unfold from afar.

Image: Shutterstock

That is particularly true in Canada, where the significance of Ukraine’s emblem runs deep. The Ukrainian diaspora here is the second-largest in the world (Russia has the largest) and more than 1.3 million Canadians claim Ukrainian heritage. “I was born here but I’m Ukrainian first,” an elderly man called Volodymyr told me at a rally of supporters in downtown Toronto on Sunday. A gold-and-blue enamel badge, shaped in the trident of Ukraine’s coat of arms, was pinned to his black fur hat.

Bunches of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower, and traditional vinok floral crowns are some of the other symbols of solidarity on display. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, is of Ukrainian descent and was among those wearing vyshyvanka (Ukrainian embroidery) at the rally.

“I’ve learnt the resilience of Ukrainian people,” a demonstrator called Andrika told me. “I’ve learned it in myself and I realise where I come from. We’re all ready to stand up. And I’m just so proud.”

How We Live / Brutalisten restaurant, Stockholm

Simple tastes

For a small fee, there are all kinds of ways one can make modern life simpler (writes Alexis Self). If the thought of a Greek island holiday fills you with dread, how about this? For a few thousand pounds, ex-special-forces soldiers will blindfold you and leave you in the desert with nothing but a bottle of water and a map. And if you’re put off by modern food – with all its complex tastes and unpronounceable herbs – then German artist Carsten Höller has you sorted.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The conceptualist and songbird keeper has devised a new restaurant called Brutalisten, which opens next month in Stockholm. Its name comes from the brutalist school of architecture, whose adherents, mostly working in the postwar era, aimed for simplicity in material and design. Each dish receives a classification based on its ideological purity: “semi-brutalist” dishes allow for the use of oil; “brutalist” dishes permit elevation using just salt and water; while true believers can go for the “ultra-orthodox”, which contain no additional ingredients at all. The menu features a guinea-fowl dish that includes the bird’s grilled heart, its leg with the claw attached and an egg, liver, meat and skin mousse.

If this is becoming hard to follow, or your eyes are rolling so furiously that you can’t focus, then never fear for, as with all good restaurants, Brutalisten has a manifesto. The Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto is made up of 13 “notions”, which codify the philosophy of its chef and proprietor. Unfortunately, “serve tasty food” isn’t among them. And regrettably, “we are born as Brutalist eaters, as mother’s milk is essentially brutalist” is. But before you say that this is just one man’s strange Freudian quest to get his lips back on the proverbial teet, remember that humans were doing just fine (arguably better) before the invention of salad dressing. Just don’t ask Höller what’s in the dish dubbed “apple fanny”.

The Interrogator / Farrah Storr

Sound of silence

Manchester-born Farrah Storr is an award-winning writer and editor whose former roles include editing Elle, Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health in the UK (writes Georgia Bisbas). Today the author and journalist focuses on her several-times-a-week newsletter Things Worth Knowing and is head of writer partnerships at publishing platform Substack. Here she holds forth on her reading habits, rooting out antiques and the pluses of a rural life.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the papers?
Tea. Always tea. Ideally the colour of a deep fake tan and with one sweetener.

Do you prefer Saturday or Sunday?
Saturday. Sundays still remind me of doing last-minute school homework.

A favourite weekend market?
Faversham Antiques & Vintage market happens on the first Sunday of every month and is utterly joyous. It’s the closest thing to a French brocante that you’ll find in the UK and I always buy something that we don’t have room for in the house. Last time it was a large antique confit pot.

And a favourite bookshop?
I stumbled on a tiny bookshop called Kim’s Bookshop in Arundel, West Sussex, recently. It was everything a good bookshop should be: musty, crammed to the rafters with old books and with a winding staircase that forces you to have an awkward chat with whoever you are crossing on the way up. I also found a signed copy of Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians there.

Which news source do you wake up to?
The Daily Mail sidebar of shame. I like to know what is happening to Kim Kardashian. Then The Times to cleanse the palate.

Do you enjoy podcasts? If so, which ones?
I like Hattie Crisell’s In Writing. I’m always intrigued as to how other writers galvanise themselves.

What are you currently humming in the shower?
Billie Eilish’s “Billie Bossa Nova”.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
I don’t watch much TV but last year I watched a US drama called A Teacher, which was totally compelling and very well done. And every episode was only 25 minutes long.

What about books?
I’m a keen non-fiction reader. I have just read Ann Patchett’s new book, These Precious Days, and I like Meghan Daum’s stuff – it’s feisty and unapologetic. Oh, and The Status Game by my husband, Will Storr. Obviously.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
Silence. We live deep in the Kent countryside. Sleeping to the sound of nothing was why we came.

Photo of the Week / Ukraine

Track record

Sprawling, cruel and messy by nature, war is often reduced to statistics (writes Alex Briand). Numbers, at least, give those of us on the outside an idea of the reality of how things are progressing. But where the human cost is concerned, a picture can spin a thousand stats.

Reporters such as Turkish photojournalist Emin Özmen give us a window into the recognisable and real effects that conflict has on those on the ground. Here, an image shows hundreds of families darting to catch a train from Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi station, bound for Poland.

Image: Emin Ozmen

It’s a balance that Monocle has striven to strike while telling the story of this conflict: insights from the people making the big decisions alongside pictures and testimonials from those making choices that feel just as seismic. Whether or not, for example, to transport your children miles out of the crumbling capital that you call home.

To hear from reporters, diplomats and citizens on the ground all over Ukraine, tune in to our rolling coverage on Monocle 24. Don’t miss our live special edition of The Foreign Desk today at midday, London time.

Outpost News / Rovinj FM, Croatia

Small ripples

Rovinj is an ancient fishing port on Croatia’s Istrian coast (writes Annabel Martin). It was originally an island, until the channel separating it from the mainland was filled in 1763. Alen Matosovic Topssy from radio station Rovinj FM tells us about the town’s baroque cathedral, the perils of broadcasting from a sailboat and the team’s favourite hangout.

Image: Shutterstock

Tell us about the history of the station.
Rovinj FM is fairly young. It was founded in 2015 after a previous one that ran for 20 years was shut down. Rovinj, a seaside town with 1,500 years of history, was without a local radio station for a year. So two young brothers, who had worked at the previous one, decided to form their own. And here we are, set to celebrate our seventh birthday in August, when Rovinj’s 14,000 inhabitants will be joined by 50,000 tourists.

What song is played most on the station?
The most played song has got to be “Santa Eufemia” by Rovinj-born Tony Cetinski. It has been played every morning from day one and always finishes at 07.00. St Euphemia is the protector of Rovinj and the cathedral at the top of the hill in the Old Town is dedicated to her.

What are some memorable broadcasting moments?
Radio is very dynamic and different challenges present themselves daily. Still, some are more challenging than others. I’d say that the time we broadcasted from a sailboat that was in an official race in the Rovinj archipelago will be one of the most fondly remembered.

What’s the big story on the waves this week?
We don’t dabble much in big world news. We mostly focus on local stuff. This week’s highlight is the announcement of the reopening of the Batana Eco Museum. It is a multimedia museum dedicated to the batana, our regionally specific small fishing boat that we successfully got listed on the Unesco register in 2016.

Where do you and your colleagues unwind?
One of our favourite spots is a Mexican restaurant, La Concha. We’re still not sure if it’s because of the great food or the great tequila – probably both.

Fashion Update / Paris Fashion Week

Tribute brands

Paris Fashion Week opened on Monday with a tribute to the late Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear (writes Natalie Theodosi). The final Off-White collection designed by Abloh, the industry’s favourite polymath who passed away last November from cancer, was presented at the Palais Brongniart on Monday night.

A giant chandelier, a replica of the one seen in the halls of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, hung low from the ceiling, as the late designer’s friends and supporters paraded his designs. These included tennis champion Serena Williams, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Bella Hadid (pictured), and performer and producer Pharrell Williams.

Image: Shutterstock

The collection, designed by Abloh and finished by the Off-White team, celebrates the former’s many codes: letterman jackets, slim tailoring, flashes of neon colour and quote branding. A series of couture dresses and a new make-up line were also part of the show, testaments to Abloh’s continuous commitment to exploring new territory.

The rest of the week rolled on with Paris stalwarts including Dior and Saint Laurent hosting runway shows. Dior’s reworking of the Bar jacket through a more utilitarian, sporty lens stood out, as did Anthony Vaccarello’s all-black line-up for Saint Laurent, which was a tribute to 1930s writer and style icon Nancy Cunard.

What Am I Bid? / Chinese snuff bottles

Strut your snuff

When contemplating the 114 lots comprising Christie’s forthcoming Rivers and Mountains Far from the World auction, one experiences two levels of incredulity (writes Andrew Mueller). One is at the beauty of the artefacts: Chinese snuff bottles fashioned from, among other things, amethyst, jade, glass and tourmaline, many exquisitely engraved. The other is that so many of these delicate things, smaller than a human palm, have lasted centuries without being lost, dropped, sat on or destroyed in some similar mishap.

Image: Christies

The biggest-ticket item is likely to be a bottle traced to the Imperial Palace workshops in Beijing and the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796): bidding is expected to start at about $400,000 (€360,000). At the more downmarket end – circa $3,000 (€2,700), everything’s relative – the options include a pretty porcelain bottle decorated with a painting of a serene fisherman and sealed with a malachite stopper, and a notably badass white glass one wreathed in a red cinnabar dragon. The oddest might be a representation of the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, in corpulent agate.

It is easy to see how collecting these tiny, gorgeous and idiosyncratic items can become addictive: it is possible to look at them as Kinder Egg toys for the wealthy and discerning. But there is an investment potential here which is – yes, yes – not to be sniffed at. At an auction in Hong Kong in 2011, another Qianlong bottle fetched $3,328,400 (€3,012,269).


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