Saturday. 23/4/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Get your kicks

Some searing footwear-focused reportage from Venice, where even the nonnas at the Biennale are wearing tricky treads. And can a maverick ad campaign convince flyers that Britain is great, despite the government? Plus, Martha’s Vineyard’s august local newspaper. But first Monocle’s editor-in-chief on what lies beneath the surface.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Expect the unexpected

01
In the airline lounge at Heathrow the gentleman next to me returns to his seat with a dining plate piled high with a pyramid of biscuits. He sits down, unlocks his expensive leather carry-on, takes out a plastic zip-lock bag and fills it to capacity with a landslide of cookies. He checks that the coast is clear before hiding his hoard among his smalls. Then he heads off again, perhaps this time in search of cake. He’s a human squirrel. I’m sure that many people grab something for the onward journey but it’s his meticulous planning that is so impressive. He also doesn’t strike you as an obvious cookie-muncher, so nobody will suspect him. Next time I’ll bring a chiller box and see how many bottles of champagne I can remove. I need some of this life’s-a-buffet-get-stuck-in confidence.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

02
At the gate, before boarding the flight to Zürich, we are informed that everyone must wear a mask. But who greets us on the plane? A fully maskless crew. On the return journey there’s no mask announcement and not a single passenger is sporting one but the crew are now wearing them. European airlines seem to be winging it in more ways than one at the moment. Surely they can work this out and tell their staff and passengers what the policy actually is?

03
Having flown a few times in the past week – out to Palma de Mallorca for Easter, then Zürich for our board meeting – I am sympathetic on one front. Newspapers are filled with stories of airlines cancelling flights because of a shortage of staff; crew who were laid off during the pandemic have discovered that life is better when you are not getting up at 04.00 to deal with a plane full of demanding passengers and suspected cookie thieves, and cannot be lured back. But my flights have been delayed this week because there was no one available to clean the plane, a shortage of baggage handlers, not enough staff at work in air-traffic control in Europe and difficulties loading the food (seems that all the cookies had gone missing). While our wants and needs might be reverting to form, in every sector, in every country, there’s a shortage of people in place to make this return happen smoothly, especially in industries where salaries are low and customers are unwilling to pay more.

04
This debate about how to get people back in position seems to have become detached from need or common sense and descended into just another political tribal debate, especially in the UK. This week, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, published a league table showing how many staff had returned to work in key government departments as part of a bid to encourage more civil servants to pitch up at the office. He said that this was because he believed in the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working. Rees-Mogg is not a man who many would describe as likeable or empathetic but the media response has been so annoyingly predictable. The Guardian sees this as an assault on people’s right to work from home (one imagines the shrill response also reflects how many of the paper’s staff are home workers) and ignores the fact that disconnected remote working was one of the reasons why civil servants failed to respond adequately to the fall of Kabul and the need to rescue Afghans. Many believe that it cost lives. Meanwhile, any newspaper on the right seems to believe that all home workers are just snoozing on the sofa and bouncing up and down on their Pelotons. Nuance vanishes in the reporting, replaced by political posturing. Personally, I’d like to know that the teams dealing with Ukraine, child welfare and prison reform are all in the room, coming together. But it feels like it’s too late for a genuine debate about the future of work for the political classes on both sides of the divide.

05
I hope that Emmanuel Macron will still be France’s president next week. But just as on the cusp of other votes that shook the system – the presidential wins of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, say, or Brexit – there’s a strange mood in the country. You speak to people who you presume to be moderates, people who would panic at the thought of what’s at stake, and what you hear back is more nuanced. This week one French contact said that while he wanted Macron to win, he recognised that many people now thought, “What have I got to lose?” It’s a sentiment that can wreak last-minute havoc and shows that, from cookie desires to voting intentions, you should never take anything for granted.

The Look / Statement trainers

Treads of night

Venice’s beauty can feel otherworldly and the denizens of the art world often appear to be living on another planet (writes Alexis Self). At this year’s Venice Biennale (see below for more) vernissage, many punters have taken this unearthly vibe to stratospheric new heights, donning footwear that’s more appropriate for Jupiter than the Giardini. Of course, the alien trainer is nothing new. Over the past few years, as the materials used to make them have become lighter, shoes have been ballooning in size and incorporating new gadgetry – Nike’s recent Hyperadapt 1.0s even claim to lace themselves. Nowadays people pop to the shops with their feet clad in more technology than the Apollo 11 rocket: this is one small step for man, one giant leap for a drop of milk. But never before in all my moon-stomping years have I witnessed such a dizzying array of extraterrestrial training shoes as at the Biennale, where even the nonnas wear Yeezys.

Image: Getty Images

As dusk falls over Piazza San Marco, the marble paving stones of the surrounding cloisters are illuminated by the armies of the night. Like heavy fireflies, they glide noiselessly over the ancient streets, jostling for supremacy as if in a prosecco-saturated peloton. Surging down alleyways the effect is of a bull run in Pamplona but with ballgowns instead of bullocks. Well, there are still a couple of bullocks.

Casting my eye over the runners and riders – their air bubbles, fluorescent piping and LED-bedizened soles – I search in vain for the comfortingly winsome sight of a humble brogue. All of the hard leather shoes must be picking winkles at the bottom of the lagoon. After my 23rd negroni of the evening, I realise that I’m late for the last vaporetto. Thankfully, I’m wearing my Asics and make it with seconds to spare. But just as I plant my hi-tech trotter on deck, its hybrid-nylon laces catch on a vengeful cleat and I take a tumble. If only someone would invent more watercraft-appropriate footwear. Boat shoes – now there’s an idea.

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference Paris 2022

You’re invited. The Monocle Quality of Life conference arrives in Paris in early June and we’d love to see you there. Our editors will introduce you to the big thinkers, bold designers, CEOs and makers – plus a packed itinerary to help you see the French capital’s best bits. Now, let’s get you acquainted with some of our guests.

Place-making made simple. Landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson brings a human touch to her designs for leafier, lovelier cities – not to mention a bold rethink of the gardens around the Eiffel Tower.

Paris explained. French journalist Florence Martin-Kessler uses her flair for storytelling to explain what keeps the City of Lights so illuminating.

Simple sell. After reinventing the Buly 1803 brand and starting an inner-city petrol station (among other ventures) French-Moroccan entrepreneur Ramdane Touhami has plenty of ideas to help jump-start a retail revival.

What makes a country good? Author Simon Anholt advises nations on how to be a force for good in the world. He shares his latest findings, suggests why collaboration pays and reveals where your nation sits on the leaderboard.

Snapper’s delight. Azeri photographer Rena Effendi shows us why shutterbugs matter and how they shape our view of the world. An argument for professionalism, presence and understanding in the age of the smartphone. Ready for your close-up?

The Interrogator / Vivien Zhang

Bright spark

Vivien Zhang is a visual artist who was born in Beijing in 1990. She studied fine art at the Slade and painting at the Royal College of Art, both in London. Her kaleidoscopic, hyper-surrealist paintings have been exhibited in Shanghai, Dubai and Berlin. A new show, “undo undo undo”, opens at the Pilar Corrias gallery on Savile Row on 26 April.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Tea with breakfast. I then have a mug of coffee with oat milk before setting off so that I’m pumped by the time I get to the studio.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
My local market is Victoria Park market in East London. Sometimes I pick up a loaf of bread or a couple slices of cake. When I feel homesick, Upmarket in Brick Lane has an amazing stall that sells momos [Tibetan dumplings].

Favourite bookshop?
Koenig Books, which manages the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop, is great. It always has a wonderful selection of art catalogues on discount. My other go-to is the website of the publishing house Verso Books.

Which news source do you wake up to?
The BBC World Service.

Do you enjoy podcasts?
I’m a podcast junkie. My all-time favourite is Reply All, a podcast with damningly absurd human stories concerning technology and the internet. Other good finds include Dr Death (the title is pretty self-explanatory) and ICYMI, which delves into trending topics and the online abyss.

Five magazines from your weekend sofa-side stack?
Turps Banana, a London-based publication discussing painting by painters. The Economist, Frieze, Elephant and Harper’s Bazaar.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
Top Boy, a crime drama about gang rivalry around the housing estates in East London. And, of course, Formula 1: Drive to Survive. This year’s holiday plan is to combine the Venice Biennale with the Italian grand prix in Monza.

Any movie recommendations?
The Lighthouse, a psychological thriller about two lighthouse keepers on a remote island and their eventual descent into madness. And The Dig, which is about the archaeological excavation of Sutton Hoo, the famous Anglo-Saxon shipwreck site in eastern England.

What about books?
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: it’s a historical novel about a Korean family and their life during the Japanese occupation during the Second World War and a poignant portrayal of the nuanced relationships between two societies and its peoples, as well as the effects of war that we don’t normally see. And Education, a memoir by Tara Westover, on her survivalist Mormon family and her ultimate breakaway from it.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
Rain sounds from my Lumie Sad lamp.

Culture / Venice Biennale Special

Unknown pleasures

Venice’s Biennale Arte opens to the public this weekend – and the footwear isn’t the only story (see The Look). Beyond the pavilions in the Arsenale and Giardini, the city is bursting with other shows. Here’s our pick of the bunch.

‘Penumbra’. While many exhibitions in Venice seek to make the most of the spectacular palazzos in which they’re housed, Penumbra, organised by the Fondazione In Between Art Film, shrouds the impressive Complesso dell’Ospedaletto in semi-darkness. The effect is to give the space even more charm. Eight video works are shown in what feels like eight separate cinemas; Karimah Ashadu’s film about tin miners in Nigeria and He Xiangyu’s subdued video of everyday life in Berlin are standouts.

‘Ugo Rondinone: Burn Shine Fly’. All three verbs in the show’s title are represented by different works in Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s compact show at the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista but most impressive is the “flying” part. Here, seven human-sized casts of dancers, painted the colour of the sky, hang from the ceiling of an ornate church, looking as though they have somersaulted out of the walls. It’s a modern, utopian version of the angels sculpted into the city’s ancient altars and vaults.

Danh Võ, Isamu Noguchi and Park Seo-bo at Fondazione Querini Stampalia. As well as showing his own work, Vietnamese artist Danh Võ has co-curated this exhibition. Contemporary pieces by Võ, South Korean painter Park Seo-bo and Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi are displayed among 18th-century paintings across the ornate floors of the palazzo, as well as on the lower floor, which was redesigned in the 1950s by Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. Võ’s delicate pictures of flowers and Noguchi’s mesmerising lanterns make for a striking combination with this modernist space.

Outpost News / ‘Vineyard Gazette’

On the grapevine

The island of Martha’s Vineyard lies south of Cape Cod in the US state of Massachusetts. It is home to lighthouses, beaches, a carousel and the Vineyard Gazette, a community newspaper that celebrated its 175th anniversary last year. Here, we speak to its editor, Julia Wells.

Image: Alison Shaw/Martha’s Vineyard Magazine

Could you tell us about the history of the newspaper?
The Vineyard Gazette is a 176-year-old newspaper, first published on 14 May 1846. Dedicated to clear writing, excellent photography and respect for the community, it has earned many awards over the years. The weekly print edition is a black-and-white broadsheet, seven columns wide, printed on a press in our 200-year-old building in Edgartown. The whole building shakes when the press rumbles to life. The paper has been independently owned from the start. In 2010, Jerome and Nancy Kohlberg, longtime seasonal island residents and philanthropists, bought the company with the goal of building on its high standards of community journalism.

How did you become involved with the paper?
I started as a reporter in 1984 and became editor in 2004.

Who’s your most popular writer and why?
Our managing editor, Bill Eville, is without a doubt the most popular. Bill writes beautiful essays and profiles of people. His standout contribution is a weekly online newsletter, The Notebook, which has a huge following. Part creative writing, part literary, it’s a lovely read that lands in your inbox every Saturday morning. The Notebook is a gem and an antidote to a troubled world. There’s no charge to subscribe.

What’s your favourite headline published in the paper?
It’s not a headline but my favourite part of the paper is the skyline: a single line of poetry that runs across the top of the front page every week. Our art director, Steve Durkee, chooses it. By long tradition, I read it aloud before the print pages go to press every Thursday night. We put it on Facebook too, with a beautiful photograph.

What is this week’s big story?
This is the week when the annual town meetings begin. These are said to be the purest form of democracy in New England. They’re old-fashioned open forums for debating and deciding everything, from new police cruisers to multimillion-dollar environmental initiatives. They can be fiery, messy and sometimes poignant. It’s a week of little sleep for reporters and editors.

Where do you and your colleagues like to hang out after work?
There’s a place down the street from the office where we like to go for beer and oysters, fresh from the island’s saltwater bays, after we put the paper to bed to let off a little steam. vineyardgazette.com

Fashion Update / Mover and Qwstion

Going bananas

Swiss labels Mover and Qwstion have come together to prove that it’s possible to make fully plastic-free products (writes Natalie Theodosi). Both brands have long been developing natural fibres; Zürich-based Qwstion crafts futuristic backpacks using natural materials such as Bananatex, which is made from banana plants.

Image: QWSTION+MOVER

The Hip Pack, developed with Mover, makes the most of this know-how: it contains no plastic, even in the buckles, sewing threads and straps. “We have a common vision of humans as part of nature, leaving the age of exploitation and plastic behind,” says Christian Kaegi, Qwstion’s co-founder and creative director. The bag’s design combines the brands’ flair for functionality and love of the outdoors. The result is a bright, colour-block style that features expandable compartments and can be tied around the waist.

Though the Swiss-made Hip Pack is only available in a limited edition of 100 pieces, the project’s ambition is far grander. Kaegi wants to share the plastic-free solutions that emerged from the collaboration with the broader fashion industry. “We want to convince as many people as possible to avoid plastic in their goods, whether they use Bananatex or another natural fibre,” he says. “We’ve already brought various brands on board with our mission and have good potential to scale Bananatex production.” qwstion.com

Ad of the week / ‘GREAT’ campaign, London

Pride of the nation

Visitors to the UK’s airports in recent years will probably have had the misfortune to come across the British government’s “GREAT” ad campaign, which uses capital letters to subtly get its point across. Launched in 2012, during the London Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, the aim of the £125m (€150m) campaign is to increase tourism from a number of crucial markets, including India, China and Japan. However, the most salient effect of the ads – bearing pictures of Harry Potter and Buckingham Palace guardsmen with “GREAT” emblazoned across them – was to make Brits returning home from abroad cringe their way through passport control.

Image: Frederic Aranda

Perhaps mindful of its painful uncoolness, the campaign launched a competition alongside the Royal Photographic Society and Heathrow Airport for new images to be displayed in prominent places at the UK’s largest airport. One of the winning entries was this shot by London-based snapper Frederic Aranda of a group of refugees in Smithfields Market (pictured). The image is a tribute to Care4Calais, an organisation that helps refugees whose immigration status is in limbo as a result of restrictive government policy. “This was taken during a walk with refugees living at a government hotel in Hackney,” Aranda tells Monocle. “Weekly activities are organised by Care4Calais volunteers to get the refugees out of the hotel for a few hours and give them a chance to meet locals and get some physical activity.” Aranda has donated his prize money to each of the refugees in the picture. Now that’s truly great.

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