Is imitation the highest form of flattery, or something more sinister? Plus: possibly the greatest magazine cover of the 1990s. And, we meet the editor of a new newspaper published in the mountains of southern India. But first, Andrew Tuck on the unintended consequences of misheard words.
I was surprised when she said that she had met her partner in Birmingham. Nothing against Birmingham, I hasten to add, before the wrath of the Brummies comes my way. It’s just that she looked like a Helmut Newton-era Saint Laurent model and was Spanish and living in Lisbon. So where, I wondered, did the link to Midlands Britain come in? And her partner is German and someone you’d expect to find in Tulum or Ibiza not in traffic on the M40. “Really, you met in Birmingham?” I asked, somewhat astonished. “No, I said that we met at Burning Man,” she said, correcting me with a smile.
To be fair to yours truly, it was noisy in the restaurant. But then I stumbled again when someone else said they were a “naked speaker”. “Why naked?” I thought. “No, I said I’m a ‘native speaker’,” came back the second correction of the night. I must check whether they still sell ear trumpets like those you see in old movies because you can see how misunderstandings might occur. I could have been telling people for months that the wonderful French film producer was willing to moderate debates in the buff. “No, really, she told me in Paris that it’s just something she does.”
This was Wednesday night, in the midst of production for the June issue (it’s heading to the printers this very weekend) and there we were all squeezed on to a long table at La Coupole in Montparnasse at the end of a very long day. The atmosphere was almost giddy – even if you couldn’t quite hear what people were saying. Another bottle of red was never far away, snails were cajoled from their shells, frites devoured, pots of moules made appearances and there might have been a prawn cocktail or two. It was a dinner for 16 of the Monocle crew, the film producer, her friend who to her knowledge had never stepped foot in Birmingham, and some other Monocle family friends. And it was just one of those nights that turned out to be immense fun. Perhaps everyone was in a good mood because Paris had looked glowing all day in the almost-summer light. Or that we had had such a fruitful day at Chanel’s Le19M, a new centre dedicated to protecting its craft heritage and which will be the venue for Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference this June. Or maybe it was just that we had been awake for too long (the day started for many of us with a dawn train from London) and were losing it. But there was some magic at play.
That’s the strange thing about restaurants: for a night to be great, all the obvious things have to go well – the food be tasty, the service wisely pitched, the bill not life-threatening. But there’s a part that no restaurant can control: the mood of the diners. Miserable sods will probably believe that they had a two-star night whatever unfolds. The restaurant simply provides the stage, the setting and some of the players. But it’s only when we also know our role and arrive with some joy that a special night can unfold. Anyway, let’s just say that conference guests might be getting some La Coupole action too – and the good thing is, you lot are never grumpy gramps.
Many years ago, I used to go to Birmingham a lot. The other half was in several seasons of plays at the Rep Theatre and I would often drive from London to collect him after the Saturday night show so that we could have a day in the capital together. It meant that I often had a lone seat in the auditorium, squeezed between two families or, worse, soppy couples. One night during Romeo and Juliet, the woman next to me and her friend just couldn’t stop commenting on the show – but for the most domestic of reasons. “Psst, Carol, see that blue,” said Samantha, eyeing up the set. “That’s the colour Jim’s doing the bathroom.” Then a few minutes later, “Psst, Carol, have you ever wanted a balcony?” It was rather admirable actually: in one sitting they were getting Shakespeare, a makeover show and a damned good natter (they might feel a little overwhelmed with design tips if they came to Le19M). Though their unlikely makeover inspiration sources are outdone by a story a friend told me about working at a women’s magazine. They did a story about incest and someone wrote in to ask whether the magazine would mind contacting the victim to ask her where she bought her sofa.
But back to Paris. It’s going to be an extraordinary conference and you should get one of the remaining tickets. There’ll be tours of Le19M, great debates, dancing, lots of people to meet, Paris – and I am sure that I heard someone mention naked speakers too.
In recent years, Johnny Depp, for so long Hollywood’s chic angel-faced bad boy, has come to resemble a Pacific Ocean plastic island – all bracelets, bandanas and ring-pulls (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). His ensemble isn’t a far-cry from that of Jack Sparrow – that cry being, “Ahoy matey!” All in all, it’s not a look you’d think anyone without scurvy would seek to emulate.
Which makes recent headlines regarding Depp’s widely publicised defamation lawsuit all the more surprising. If the celebrity press is to be believed, Depp’s erstwhile wife, fellow thespian Amber Heard, has been mimicking his choice of clothes after he takes to the dispatch box. The actress is supposedly copying everything, from the colour of his jacket to the bumblebee insignia spotted on his tie.
Speculation is rife as to why Heard is following Depp’s suit. His mega fans argue that it’s a dastardly scheme to throw their hero off track (or, indeed, overboard). “This woman is sick in the head,” pronounces one twittering individual. “Nobody would ever copy their abuser’s clothing,” writes another.
One thing, however, is clear: all parties involved have been debased. This public debacle has told us more about the pair’s short-lived matrimony than anybody had ever cared to know. And while truisms abound about how happy families are all alike, there also appears to be some truth in the reverse. Because when so much mud is slung from either side, everyone starts to look very much the same.
The beginning of the year saw a small milestone of my life in Toronto: I joined the public library (writes Tomos Lewis). To celebrate my membership, I threw caution to the wind: I checked-out some books (crazy, I know), compiled an online list of movies to watch on the library’s in-house streaming service, Kanopy, and – to the despair of my neighbours – borrowed an electric piano on which, I thought (drunk on possibility), I’d hone my rudimentary skills.
After eight weeks of hammering my way through “Happy Birthday”, I returned the thing for Canada’s next would-be Liberace to have a go. Toronto’s public-library system is among the world’s busiest and best-used: more than a million of its citizens are card-carrying members. Signalling a vote of confidence in this large corpus, Toronto Public Library (TPL) announced a month ago that, having suspended them at the beginning of the pandemic, it was now scrapping late-return fines for good. Library fines, TPL said in a statement, are no longer an effective way of ensuring that items are punctually returned and, in fact, can even deter would-be members from joining in the first place.
It’s an astute move. By removing the burden of immediate personal penalty, it focuses on the principle that library members are part of a bigger collective whole. Isn’t it, surely, a more motivating feeling to return a book that you adored on time rather than the grudge-inducing prospect of a penalty forcing you to do so? Other public libraries should consider taking a leaf out of Toronto’s book.
Frank Wynne is an Irish literary translator, editor and chair of judges for the 2022 International Booker Prize (writes Georgia Bisbas). After a stint in Paris as a bookseller in the 1980s, he began his career as a translator in 2001. His recent translation of Animalia by Jean-Baptiste del Amo won the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize. He currently divides his time between London and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He tells us about his favourite weekend markets and the classic literary fiction that he drifts off to.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee and cigarettes. I get all my news online these days, so I take my coffee out onto the balcony, overlooking a Canary Island ravine growing wild with bougainvillaea, and I doom-scroll…
Do you have a favourite weekend market?
When I’m in London, Chapel Market, near Angel. Here in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa, where I buy fresh fish, a loaf of sourdough – because I’m too lazy to make it – and my own body weight in cheese.
So, so many. When I’m in London, the London Review Bookshop – so often I stumble on brilliant writers or books I don’t know and I like rearranging the tables to put translations in more visible places. When I’m in Dublin, The Winding Stair and Books Upstairs. Whenever I’m in Paris, I always visit Delamain, which is almost the platonic ideal of a bookshop. But my favourite bookshop in the world is El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, for the sheer sweep and scale of a vast theatre converted into a bookshop.
Which news source do you wake up to?
BBC Radio 4. It usually makes me so angry that I have to get out of bed.
Which radio station and DJ do you listen to?
WQXR New York. They mostly play electronica and contemporary classical music. I’m still a regular listener to Late Junction on BBC Radio 3.
Do you enjoy podcasts? If so, which ones?
There are lots I have enjoyed, from the earlier series of Serial to regular visits to Words and Nerds; Chad Post’s Three Percent, about literature in translation; Colombia Calling; and, although it is a Youtube channel not a podcast, @TranslatorsAloud, a brilliant initiative by Tina Kover and Charlie Coombe where literary translators read from their work.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
I was blown away both by Michaela Cole’s blistering, brilliant I May Destroy You and by Russell T Davies’s funny, sad, sublime It’s a Sin. I’m currently enjoying the TV adaptation of Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven and I’m looking forward to seeing what Channel 4 does with Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie.
Any movie recommendations?
I loved Liquorice Pizza. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age dramas and this one is up there with Dazed and Confused and Almost Famous. Though I thought it was flawed, I enjoyed Joel Coen’s beautifully expressionistic Tragedy of Macbeth with Denzel Washington and the wonderful Frances McDormand.
What about books?
There are so many books in translation I would love to recommend but I don’t feel I can until the Booker judging process is over, so here are a handful of books I’ve loved in the past year: Keith Ridgeway’s A Shock, Torrey Peter’s Detransition Baby, Kei Miller’s Things I Have Withheld, How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.
What do you listen to before drifting off?
Usually audiobooks. The multi-voice reading of George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is glorious, with a cast of more than 100 weaving together the spirit voices of Oak Hill cemetery. I’ve gone back to the 2005 Naxos audio version of James Joyce’s Ulysses read by Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan; it’s a real classic.
‘Chilean Poet’, Alejandro Zambra. In Santiago, aspiring poet Gonzalo reunites with his high-school sweetheart, Carla, who now has a six-year-old son called Vicente. But just as Gonzalo starts to grow closer to the child, the couple once again drift apart. Meanwhile, the poet’s literary ambitions start to fade. By chronicling Gonzalo’s emotional journey and the small moments that throw entire relationships into disarray, Chilean poet and novelist Alejandro Zambra highlights the seemingly unimportant events in our lives that ultimately make us who we are. In this profound, at times absurd and often very funny investigation of family and failure, Zambra proves himself to be an important voice in contemporary Latin American literature.
‘Wet Tennis’, Sofi Tukker. The second album by US duo Sofi Tukker takes inspiration from the allure of tennis. Turkish producer Mahmut Orhan orchestrates the beat-heavy “Forgive Me”, while “Mon Cheri” features Mali’s Amadou & Mariam. Elsewhere, the funky “Kakee” celebrates Brazilian music and there’s a delightful leftfield cover version of “What a Wonderful World”.
‘Incubator 22’, A. Society, London. Just down the road from Monocle HQ, on Marylebone’s charming Chiltern Street, the hip gallery A. Society will host a series of six back-to-back week-long exhibitions of exciting young artists’ work. Running until 5 June, Incubator-22 describes itself as “the bricks-and-mortar antidote to the hangover of forced isolation and virtual substitution”. The first artist to have their work displayed is Mary Stephenson, a young Londoner whose surreal, diaphanous paintings give brilliant expression to our 21st-century inner lives.
To most Indians, Kodaikanal – a hill station with about 40,000 permanent residents in the biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats – is the honeymoon spot of yesteryear (writes Prasad Ramamurthy). “The pace is slow,” says Rajni George. “There’s not much to do.” When the pandemic struck, she returned home for the first time as an adult for an extended period and launched The Kodai Chronicle, first as a digital platform and now a bimonthly print publication. George tells us about the importance of print and investigating strange fungi.
You started as a digital medium but then went into print. Why?
We needed print to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the average reader in Kodaikanal. We are still very much an English-language platform, with few stories in Tamil, the local language, but we want to reach more people. And, of course, we also love to see our stories in print, like anyone who grew up before the internet was commonplace. Currently we print 1,000 copies of six bimonthly issues.
What has been your favourite headline?
“The Basket Stinkhorn May Be the Strangest Fungus You'll Meet” is a classic weird Kodai headline. The story is about a brightly coloured, cage-like fungus that smells like a dead animal and can be found in the hills.
Where do you think ‘The Kodai Chronicle’ fits within the larger media landscape?
A publication like The Kodai Chronicle slows the pace for readers. It gives them a chance to pause between immediate events and hard news – which are still very much a part of the fabric within which we write, think, plan – and the big issues we need to consider alongside. We also hope to build what my fellow editor Neha Sumitran refers to as “regenerative journalism”. Many of us have come from newsrooms that didn’t allow us this space, independence or time – and we appreciate a chance to create this.
What’s the big story in the latest issue?
Outside of our theme, a “local's guide to Kodai”, we have a thoughtful story on Mari, an indigenous tribal honey-gatherer. It’s a great example of the kind of quiet story that we can put centre-stage. We also have a big story on wildfires in the mountains in the works. thekodaichronicle.com
In 1997, on the cusp of the Spice Girls’ first US tour and subsequent mega-stardom, Nigel Shafran was asked by The Guardian to accompany radical-feminist writer Kathy Acker to interview and shoot the boisterous quintet in New York (writes Alexis Self). The resulting image, of five eclectically clad pseudo-anonymous pairs of legs, made the cover of the paper’s Weekend supplement above the headline “The world at their feet”.
That cover has since become a classic of the form, the editorial epitome of Cool Britannia. Shafran was given strict instructions about what he could and couldn’t shoot, as well as the kind of make-up and attire the women could wear. When he arrived to take their photo, the Spice Girls were in an ebullient mood, something that their army of publicists and managers was trying to temper.
Perhaps as a result, Shafran looked down, and in doing so produced an image more revelatory than a thousand headshots. It is featured, alongside a number of other witty, beautiful photographs in a new collection of his work, entitled The Well, whose name comes from an industry term for the image section of a magazine.
At Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca in 1986, in a quarter-final of that year’s World Cup, Argentina’s mercurial talisman Diego Maradona scored twice in a 2-1 win over England (writes Andrew Mueller). They were, respectively, the most infamous and most famous goals in football history. The first was an act of outrageous chicanery: raising a fist to punch the ball past England’s goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. Maradona later slyly credited it to “a little the head of Maradona, a little the hand of God”.
The second, four minutes later, was a work of art and a magic trick: running the ball out of Argentina’s half, weaving silkily through a bewildered England midfield before gliding it into the net. “You have to say,” said English commentator Barry Davies, gulping back a grudge, “that is magnificent.” The shirt that Maradona was wearing is on the block at Sotheby’s until 4 May, offered by Steve Hodge, the England player whose miscued clearance provided the assist for the almighty. Hodge scooped the big prize in the traditional post-match exchange of kit. Sotheby’s expect £4m to 6m (€5m to 7m).
It will probably be the most expensive item of sports kit ever sold, eclipsing the $5.6m (€5.3m) paid for a New York Yankees jersey worn by Babe Ruth in the 1920s. It will certainly be the most expensive item of unofficial sports kit ever sold: the shirts Argentina wore that day were sourced from a Mexico City shop, after players had found the ones they’d brought with them too heavy in the heat. Maradona’s number 10 was ironed on.