Saturday. 19/3/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Break time

Take a pause this Saturday to read up about Emmanuel Macron’s sartorial faux pas, a new baking programme with a surreal difference and art dealer Rachel Lehmann’s cultural obsessions. Plus: the characters staffing a rural Scottish radio station. Andrew Tuck leads the way.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Off menu

01

My friend Gary says that his mum rates restaurants not on price or design, or even the food, but on their efficiency. When he was visiting her recently, he asked where they should go out for dinner and she said, “Oh, we’ll definitely go to the nice Chinese restaurant in town; you can have three courses and still be out in less than 45 minutes.”

Now, while I can’t compete with that kind of speed-eating, I have noticed that me and the other half are not exactly restaurant-lingerers. During the course of every day, we talk about what we need to get done, catch up about what we are working on, share some funny moments and occasionally bicker (how can he not know how to fold the towels in the right way after all these years?). So when we go out to dinner it’s not like being on a first date and, sometimes, I notice that we are asking for the bill while neighbouring tables have barely tackled the amuse-bouche.

But last Sunday we were in Palma de Mallorca and went for lunch at Cor Barra i Taula, a restaurant just beside the covered food market, Mercat de l’Olivar. It’s still off-season in Palma and on Sundays the market is closed, so Cor was quiet. At the bar downstairs there were only a few people drinking and the first-floor dining room was only half-full. And yet it was close to perfection: winter sun lit the room; the staff bustled but all the diners around us were taking it slowly. A baby crawled on the floor as its parents caught up with old friends. An elderly couple next to us were dressed up for the occasion and savouring every dish and moment. Our food – plump golden croquetas de bacalao, a plate of glistening padron peppers jewelled with flakes of pure white salt, bread rained on by olive oil – came at an easy pace. The verdejo seemed to offer a promise of the summer to come. And somewhere, no doubt, a clock ticked – but not here. Hours swam past; phones stayed in pockets. I’ve told him: next time we are going to the Chinese.

02

The expanding hose we have on the terrace to water the plants has split, so he-who-cannot-fold-towels ordered a replacement online. It’s just arrived. The brand name? Homoze. How did they know? Anyway, it promises that it “won’t go kinky” and will grow to three times its flaccid length. All in all, I think we will be very happy.

03

The South Korean ambassador and his team had invited me and a squad of Monocle editors to lunch at his residence. Then, the day before, he tested positive for coronavirus. But the embassy’s diplomatic team was keen to press on and so we headed over to South Kensington on Tuesday. Now I am not a petrolhead or vehicle snob but… Josh, Monocle’s editor, was put in charge of ordering a car for us all and I am not sure what button he pushed but somehow he managed to get us a miniature van that looked like its next stop would be a scrapyard. Its seats were torn, the floor filthy and, for some reason, the driver had a pile of tea towels and dishcloths next to him. We asked the driver to drop us off a safe distance from the residence’s front door and I have booked Josh on to a brand-awareness course.

04

On Thursday we had drinks for our staff at Chiltern Firehouse, the André Balazs hotel that’s just a stumble from Monocle’s London HQ, Midori House. The party was held to mark the 15th anniversary of Monocle and I woke up on Friday wondering whether I had downed a negroni for every one of those years. We have navigated so many things across that span of crisis-punctured time, so there was lots to celebrate. But for managers, it’s also important for us not only to look back but also to entrust the company and its potential to the hands of new people every day. There was a point when I was standing talking with Lex, Amara, Carol, Kamila and Paige (all of them schoolchildren, I imagine, when we started) and I just felt very confident hearing them explain how they see Monocle and what it can and will be in the future. Brands are built on repetition – and some change too.

05

Finally. After some delays, we have opened the new Monocle Shop on Chiltern Street, twixt Firehouse and Midori. It’s a corker. Come and visit. The team will be delighted to show you around and take your money.

The Look / Zelensky cosplay

Chronic fatigues

In all serious respects, no national leader would currently envy Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky (writes Andrew Mueller). His country is existentially menaced, many of his people are dying and his own safety is clearly under threat. In some more frivolous respects, however, Zelensky is clearly inspiring an amount of wistful jealousy: there is a part of every national leader who also aspires to be a national hero.

Witness this week’s sudden adoption of military-casual by Emmanuel Macron. France’s president is usually pretty snappily dressed, in suits custom-cut by Jonas & Cie, a tailor in Paris’s hip Sentier neighbourhood. This week, however, he arranged to be photographed at work wearing jeans, an artful quantity of stubble and a charcoal hoodie bearing the logo of France’s 10th Air Parachute Commando.

Image: SOAZIG DE LA MOISSONNIERE/PRESIDENCE DE LA REPUBLIQUE

It was not difficult to see what Macron was trying to do. Since Russia’s rampage in Ukraine commenced, Zelensky has discarded his own previously urbane comportment in favour of careworn dishevelment and khaki. This is, of course, entirely fair enough on the grounds that Zelensky is on the move between necessarily undisclosed secure locations and leading a nation fighting for its survival. Macron lives in a palace and is not.

The degree to which politicians enjoy appropriating the military virtues – patriotism, courage, selflessness, discipline – is usually inversely proportional to the degree to which they possess them. In Macron’s defence, a case can be made for donning certain military-adjacent regalia (as it can for a president of the US): he is, by dint of the office he holds, commander in chief of the country’s armed forces. He is not, however, a special forces paratrooper.

The rule for military cosplay (decorations, badges of rank, unit insignias) applies to all of us but it applies especially to politicians: if you haven’t earned it, don’t wear it.

How We Live / Is it cake?

Gateau gospel

Here at Monocle, we like to ask the big questions (writes Georgia Bisbas). Things such as: What is love? Is democracy the most effective political system? And, is that cake? Thankfully, the bigwigs at Netflix are on the same page. Yesterday, the streaming giant released another baking competition show dedicated to unearthing the secrets of our material world. In common with most great works, Is It Cake? was inspired by a social media post featuring Turkish baker Tuba Geçkìl cutting into everyday objects that were thereby revealed to be not toilet roll or a microwave but cake.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

This trend, which launched a thousand imitation videos, has now evolved into longer-form content: 25-minute episodes with, no doubt, more filling than a meringue. Trompe-l’oeil edible creations and their real-life counterparts are put before judges, who then have to guess which one is pudding and which is not. The most skilled cake-faker is in line to win $50,000 (€45,000), as well as a job interview for the CIA’s pastry division – if such a thing exists. And if it doesn’t, they can probably whip up a dessert that looks like one.

Hundreds and thousands of works, in both classical and contemporary culture, have been dedicated to the art of concealment and illusion: from the Trojan Horse to renaissance frescoes, the samurai to Potemkin villages. But none of these could be washed down with a cup of coffee mid-afternoon. As our sense of visual reality is challenged hourly, maybe the idea that everything is in fact cake would explain the 21st century’s recent surrealist turn. And at least, if your house, car and husband were made from flour, eggs and sugar, you might have finally achieved the unachievable: to have your cake and eat it.

Photo of the Week / ‘Presidential Busts’

Heads of state

Founded in the aftermath of the Second World War by four of the most celebrated names in photography – Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David Seymour – Magnum Photos celebrates its 75th anniversary this year (writes Alex Briand). The agency was started with the aim of celebrating and documenting the postwar world, as well as exploring the nascent role of the photojournalist: a novel mix of reporter and artist. It has since represented photographers at the top of their game the world over.

Its highly anticipated biannual square-print sales offer limited-edition, museum-quality 15cm prints for €110, for one week only. To celebrate 75 years of intrepid exploration, curiosity and creativity, a series of three sales will bring together some of the agency’s most notable images, from more than 70 Magnum photographers. And to support those in today’s conflict zones, half of proceeds from the sale will be donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross, currently doing valiant work in Ukraine.

Image: Hannah Price

The collection’s photos chronicle pivotal geopolitical events from the agency’s history, from Troubles-era Northern Ireland to Tiananmen Square, and their subjects range from The Beatles to aspirational Zambian astronauts. This image by Hannah Price was taken from an assignment for The New York Times in 2019. Originally created for a Virginia tourist attraction called Presidents’ Park, the five-metre-tall heads now sit on private land – though they didn’t travel well. “Bill Clinton is missing part of his right ear,” read the accompanying feature. “Woodrow Wilson looks as though he has leprosy.”
magnumphotos.com

The Interrogator / Rachel Lehmann

Eye to eye

Art dealer Rachel Lehmann has been at the helm of New York-based gallery Lehmann Maupin for more than 25 years (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). In that time she’s built up an impressive roster of international artists across the institution’s various outposts in Seoul, London and Hong Kong. Here, she tells us about the artworks of Helen Pashgian, a favourite columnist and remote studio visits.

Image: Jason Schmidt

What have you been working on lately?
So many things! It has been exciting to continue working with artists for a long time, particularly those who have strong and ever so relevant messages to convey through their work, such as Ashley Bickerton, Teresita Fernández and Dominic Chambers.

What news source do you wake up to?
I usually start the day with The New York Times and the Financial Times. Recently, both publications did profiles on artist Helen Pashgian, whose work was long overlooked because she was a woman in a male-dominated art world in the 1960s and 1970s. I am also very focused on what is happening in Ukraine.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
First, black tea; at least three cups. Later, a cup of orange juice or a green smoothie. Then it’s video calls and remote studio visits with artists from all over the world. By the time I arrive at the gallery, I’ve already been to Seoul, London and sometimes Bali – digitally, that is.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I always listen to music when I work out – everything from rap to jazz.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I lean towards magazines that empower women, such as The Gentlewoman. I also love Another, Pin-Up, Apollo and, naturally, Monocle.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Common Decency. Howie Kahn is one of those journalists who not only does all the detective work on an artist but also knows how to distil the essence of their practice and personality.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
I’m currently drawn to the intersection between fashion and art, particularly when it comes to reusing fabrics and materials. At Lehmann Maupin we represent two Johannesburg-based artists, Billie Zangewa and Nicholas Hlobo, who both use repurposed materials such as silk and ribbon to reflect on topics including identity, intimacy and shared memory during the global pandemic.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Nothing. I have a deep love of poetry so I’m probably reading a book of poems instead.

Culture / Watch / Read / Listen

Inner conflict

‘Los Fuertes’, Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo. More than two years since its premiere at the Valdivia International Film Festival, this Chilean drama finally receives a wider international distribution. For admirers of incisive character studies and bittersweet romances in the vein of Francis Lee, it will be worth the wait. It tells the story of an architect, Lucas, who visits his sister in a remote town on the coast of Chile and falls for a sailor called Antonio. Rigid social norms strain the relationship but the film is at its most intense when it explores the lovers’ contrasting approaches to life.

‘The Trouble with Happiness’, Tove Ditlevsen. Fans of Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy won’t be surprised to learn that, despite the title, there isn’t much happiness in this collection of newly translated stories. Instead, there are troubled marriages, musings on mortality and a woman who longs for nothing more than a silk umbrella. The depths of desire and despair are Ditlevsen’s subjects and illuminating them is her talent.

‘Métamorphose’, Vendredi Sur Mer. With Métamorphose, Geneva-born singer-songwriter Vendredi Sur Mer finally gives us another dose of her excellent electro-pop. This is a strong follow-up to her debut, Premiers Émois, some of which she performed on The Monocle Summer Series podcast. She is pure lust on “Comment tu vas finir”, in which her vocals are propped up by piercing beats. “Monochrome” is delightfully groovy, while “Le lac” shows the singer at her most vulnerable.

House news / The Monocle Weekly

On the beach

Club Azur is the second album by Kungs, a French DJ. The music transports the listener to the beaches of the south of France, where the producer was born and raised. His inspiration was the high energy of the Italo disco tracks of the 1980s. This can be heard in “Fashion”, for which he samples the classic “Passion” by 1980s group The Flirts.

Kungs’ schedule for the summer is fully packed with European festivals but for now, you can happily celebrate the beginning of spring with this pulsating record. Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco sat down with Kungs to discuss his new album and the inspiration behind it for The Monocle Weekly. Listen here.

Outpost News / Caithness FM

Country air

At the tip of Scotland’s rugged northeastern coastline is the historic county of Caithness, famed for its ancient burial sites and beautiful scenery (writes Annabel Martin). It is also home to Caithness FM, the northernmost radio station on mainland Britain. Here, we speak with Jackie Johnson, co-director and secretary, about the station’s beginnings, its most requested track and falling asleep at the mixing desk.

Image: Getty Images

Tell us about the history of the station.
Caithness FM first went on air in the summer of 1993. We broadcast from a Portakabin in the garden of a local councillor for four weeks. After some initial success, we broadcast the following year for eight weeks from some empty nursery school rooms in Scapa House, in the town of Thurso, which had previously been a hostel for American Navy personnel. We are still entirely run and manned by volunteers, and continue to try to keep up with the needs of our community as well as ongoing changes in technology.

Who’s your most popular DJ and why?
Definitely our chairman, Robin Young. He is known throughout the county as a musician and for his love of country music. Our listeners love his banter and music knowledge.

What song is played most on the station?
We have a listener who tries very hard to get “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers played every night – we always try to persuade him to choose another track.

What are some memorable broadcasting moments?
It has to be when one of our volunteers fell asleep during his own show. To be fair, he was suffering with a bad cold and had been taking medicine, which knocked him out. My daughter was working in the studio that day and it was only when she knocked over a pile of CDs that he woke up – I don’t know who got the bigger fright!

What events will you be covering in the near future?
At the end of this month, we have our Spring Soak, when some totally crazy residents will go swimming in the freezing waters of Thurso Bay. We will be entertaining the crowd and providing commentary.

Wardrobe Update / Manolo Blahnik × Birkenstock

Strap in

Birkenstock’s classic Arizona sandals, with their thick buckled straps and orthopaedic footbeds, are fast becoming the luxury world’s most unlikely icons (writes Natalie Theodosi). Thanks to a series of blockbuster collaborations with fashion houses, including New York-based label Proenza Schouler and Dior Men’s, and a newfound appreciation for comfort, the company’s classic styles are now appealing to the style-conscious as much as those with chronic foot injuries.

This week the German footwear giant unveiled another partnership with UK-based shoe-maker Manolo Blahnik, further solidifying its luxury status. Blahnik himself has long been known for wearing Birkenstocks around his workshop and, at the start of 2020, he also starred in a campaign alongside his niece (and CEO of the company) Kristina Blahnik. By designing a collection, he wanted to take his relationship with the company a step further.

Image: Stefan Sieler/Birkenstock

“Birkenstocks have been in my wardrobe since the very beginning,” said Blahnik. “I have loved and worn mine for years.” He added his own flair for decadence to the Arizona, by way of plush velvet fabrics and crystal buckles. He also reworked the Boston clogs, another Birkenstock classic, with more crystal embellishments. The collection will become available to shop on 24 March across all Manolo Blahnik shops and on Birkenstock’s online platform, 1774.
1774.com

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