This week, we check out a footwear trend among Libyan rebels, talk mushrooms with Madrid-based artist Cristina Iglesias and survey high fashion’s return to the catwalk. But first, Andrew Tuck on two significant train journeys…
In January 1863, people descended into subterranean London at Farringdon Station and waited as the world’s first underground train pulled into view. The Metropolitan Railway locomotive, hauled along by a steam engine, its carriages kept bright by gaslight, then whisked people through newly dug tunnels to Paddington, stopping at six points along the way. It was an immediate success, carrying some 38,000 excited Victorians on the first day alone – people who were delighted that they could now dodge the chaotic traffic, pooping horses and crowds milling and jostling above them.
This week I made the same journey on the just-opened Elizabeth line, a new high-speed commuter service that crosses under the city from east to west and links with railway networks on both sides of the capital. It’s a development that has made the commercial and entertainment hearts of London just a short hop away for hundreds of thousands of people (and put places that seemed a bit off the map firmly on it). It’s a jolt that the capital needs.
By my reckoning it took just seven minutes to cross under the city on my trip – a key station on the line, Bond Street, is yet to open so we didn’t stop there, shaving some time off the journey. The stations are vast. To cope with the extra-long trains the platforms stretch far into the distance and they are deep – no fear of being knocked onto the rails by some suitcase-wielding tourist. It’s wonderful (although Mr Brûlé might not be delighted by the purple branding).
The project has been far from seamless: over-runs, overspends, a pandemic that questioned its purpose. Critics have said that the money should have been spent in the regions, that there is none of the glamour of the 1930s stations, that Uber, e-scooters and bicycles are the future of modern mobility. But in Britain anything that sounds like a giant engineering leap forward, especially one that expands rail networks to deliver trains at high speeds or develops airline capacity, will always be muddied with politics and dollops of outrage. For today we have the Elizabeth line – well, part of it, as it will take another year for it to be fully functioning. And judging by the buzz that it has generated, it will be a success.
My journey was on Thursday, two days after its opening. The Instagrammers had by then gone and already it was busy with people commuting to work, nonchalantly reading presentations, listening to music. As it did for those men and women who took that first underground train in 1863, the Elizabeth line will let Londoners see their city anew – not just how they traverse it and mentally map it but also what it’s capable of achieving, the quality of life that it can deliver, the innovation it can nurture.
And there’s another important train journey this coming week: the Eurostar to Paris. The Monocle Quality of Life Conference starts with the opening reception on Thursday and then there’s a full day of debate (plus, a night of dining and dancing) on Friday. It has an amazing line-up of speakers and guests who are coming from every corner of the globe. I get to host panels on the power of photography, the Olympic legacy and also city-making, and this week I have been catching up with speakers and am properly excited about what’s ahead. If you want to be there, you need to email Hannah Grundy today – email@example.com – or head to monocle.com/conference. We have added a few final seats. It will be another moment when you get to remap your world and see things in a new light.
And I am planning to be on that dance floor. On Monday night I had an operation on my knee. After months of being prodded, told I was probably just getting old, I went to see a specialist two weeks ago. The next day he sent me for an MRI scan, which revealed a torn meniscus. The day after that I was given a date for my operation. And so far, so good – I get to wear a sort of compression bandage that resembles a saggy stocking and have a shaved kneecap and some stitches to garner at least a bit of sympathy. As a departing gift they gave me a film of my operation on a memory stick. “Quite fun to watch with a glass of chardonnay,” said the nurse. Well, at least that’s tonight’s entertainment sorted.
Libya’s militia flare-ups have become so frequent that they rarely make international headlines (writes Mary Fitzgerald). But the next time that you see the country’s militiamen in a news bulletin, take a look at their footwear. I’ll bet you your left loafer that they’re wearing flip-flops. Plastic sandals – shib-shib in Arabic – might seem an unlikely battlefield accessory but they have become ubiquitous in the skirmishes that continue to roil Libya more than a decade after Muammar Gaddafi was ousted by shib-shib-shod rebels. While reporting on that uprising I witnessed fighters dodging bullets in dusty flip-flops that looked like they were about to fall apart.
Though some unruly militias have tried in recent years to cultivate a more professional image, with uniforms and proper boots, it appears that others just cannot give up their beloved sandals. The look inspired a multitude of memes during the 2011 uprising and again after Libya tipped into civil war in 2014. The heavily bearded commander of one powerful militia in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, became notorious for his signature style: a combination of high-end Italian labels worn with shib-shib that had seen better days.
Ordinary Libyans might have initially joked about that juxtaposition but now, exhausted by years of conflict and the militias’ impunity, they no longer find it amusing. A fragile ceasefire agreed two years ago has just about held but clashes still erupt now and then. The sound of rubber soles slapping sandy Tripoli streets has become fraught with ominous associations.x
There is a simple rule for consuming audio output from your phone and it is this: nobody else should be able to hear it (writes Andrew Mueller). If you want to watch a TV show or listen to one of Monocle 24’s excellent programmes while in public, wear earphones. If you want to make a phone call on the train, don’t. It isn’t complicated.
Most people in most places observe this courtesy: as always it is easy but unwise to mistake the subpar etiquette of a relatively small cohort of antisocial yahoos for any broader trend. But in this, as in many other respects, something about air travel brings out the worst in folk.
Your correspondent recently returned to the skies after a couple of years grounded by the obvious: flights from London to Australia and back, domestic travel within Australia, so eight check-ins or transfers at six airports. At almost every one it took some effort – and in Doha, multiple grumpy relocations – to find a spot unreached by someone else’s Facetime call, tinny music, Game of Thrones dialogue or cricket commentary.
It seems plausible that this is a combination of two things: the monstrous solipsism encouraged by smartphones and the infantilisation engendered by airports – necessarily restrictive environments in which much responsibility for ourselves is temporarily suspended. The thoughtless broadcasting from phones in airports might be related to other slovenly, toddler-like behaviour that one rarely witnesses anywhere else. Those fully grown people swaddled in leisurewear, with their bare feet on public seats, yamming confectionery by the fistful, are now gurgling agog at the flashing lights and blaring sounds of their personal activity centres.
Given many opportunities to practise, I discovered one way of snapping such troglodytes back to adulthood: approach them affecting a cheerful demeanour and a guileless smile, and earnestly enquire, “Are you absolutely sure that’s loud enough?”
Madrid-based artist Cristina Iglesias combines industrial materials with natural elements to create immersive sculptural installations. A new exhibition by Cristina Iglesias is being shown until late July at the Gagosian gallery in London’s Mayfair. She will also be creating the major courtyard installation for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, which opens on 21 June. Here Iglesias tells us about Mallorcan olives and her brother’s music.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Double espresso macchiato.
Do you have a favourite weekend market?
The traditional Mercado de Pollensa in Mallorca, where I spend my summers. It has wonderful local olives and honey.
And a favourite bookshop?
La Fábrica, Pasajes and Tipos Infames, all Madrid institutions.
Any podcast recommendations?
I listen to Ben Luke at The Art Newspaper and Christiane Amanpour.
What are you currently humming in the shower?
The Star Wars theme by John Williams.
Five magazines from your sofa-side stack?
Wired, Domus, The London Review of Books, Artforum... and Monocle, of course!
What’s the best thing that you’ve seen on TV recently?
Fantastic Fungi. As the title suggests, it is all about the fascinating life of mushrooms, which I knew so little about before, though I always felt an attraction to them.
Any movie recommendations?
The recent Japanese movie Drive My Car. It is beautifully slow and has a surprising ending.
What do you listen to before drifting off?
Archipiélago by [Oscar-nominated film composer] Alberto Iglesias. It contains a wide range of compositions, from cinema scores to opera. He happens to be my brother and I have listened to so many of these works in progress all my life.
‘Bergman Island’, Mia Hansen-Løve. French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest feature takes as its subject the struggles and strains of filmmaking. It revolves around a couple, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, who take up a writing residency on the remote island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman used to go in search of inspiration. What follows is a study of a marriage that is completely out of sync and a personal, introspective examination of the uneasy but inextricable relationship between life and art.
‘Palaces’, Flume. Australian DJ and producer Flume’s third studio album was inspired by his move from Los Angeles back to his homeland, where he was surrounded by nature. The psychedelic-coloured bird on the cover indicates what to expect: funky pop tunes. Flume brings in several excellent collaborators, from US singer-songwriter Caroline Polachek, on the operatic “Sirens”, to Damon Albarn on title track “Palaces”, a deep dive into nature that features background chirping.
‘Here Goes Nothing’, Steve Toltz. The latest novel by Booker-shortlisted writer Steve Toltz is an entertaining and unconventional meditation on life, love and death. Protagonist Angus Mooney never gave much thought to the supernatural but when he finds himself in the afterlife, confronting his own cremation and “his soul’s long wanderings”, he must reckon with his past as a petty criminal and try to communicate with his pregnant wife from beyond the grave. With humorous inventions and amusing plot twists, this is inventive and superbly written.
About 480km northeast of the southern tip of South America lie the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory and sprawling archipelago (writes Monica Lillis). Falklands Radio provides information and entertainment for up to 15 hours a day to its approximately 2,800 residents. Here the station’s news editor, Traighana Smith, tells us about its beginnings and memories of the 1982 Falklands war.
Tell me about the history of the station.
A radio service has been broadcasting here since 1927. Our building on John Street in Stanley has served as our home since 1955 and supports two modern studios, from where we provide our community music and news. In our early days, international news was posted 8,000 miles to us from the UK in the form of newspaper clippings. We were also sent programmes from the BBC regularly; there was no escaping The Archers [a long-running radio drama] even here! Now we have five full-time employees, bolstered by more than 20 freelance presenters.
How did you become involved with the station?
I moved to the Falklands from Scotland in 2016 and have a background in television broadcasting. I began working at the station as a freelance presenter in 2018, taking up the position of journalist a year later. And now I’m news editor.
Who is your most popular DJ and why?
Myriam Booth is our most iconic presenter. She began working at the station in 1961 and her knowledge of music is second to none. She presents two shows a week. There is nothing about country and rock’n’roll that she doesn’t know.
What song is played most on the station?
During the day we play a mix of modern music but in the Falkland Islands, country music always wins. “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” [by Jimmy Buffet] is a firm favourite.
What are some memorable broadcasting moments?
One of the most memorable broadcasting moments in Falklands Radio’s history, and indeed broadcasting history in general, is when the studio was invaded by Argentinian soldiers in 1982. The station manager at the time, Patrick Watts, was broadcasting as it happened and his phrase “…get that gun out of my back” has been played in numerous films and documentaries over the past 40 years.
What local spots do you and your colleagues enjoy hanging out at?
For drinks it’s Falklands Beerworks and for the best chicken curry on the islands it’s the Victory Bar.
The many recent location fashion shows are a collective statement from the industry’s top designers that digital presentation, which took off during the pandemic, is now a thing of the past (writes Nathalie Theodosi). Brands are returning to the traditional catwalk to present their latest wares to live audiences.
This month, Balenciaga presented its spring 2023 collection and a collaboration with Adidas on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, while Dior travelled to Venice Beach to show a collection co-designed with young designer Eli Russell Linetz. Gucci was another brand that went big with a show at the Castel del Monte, a 13th-century castle smack in the middle of the flat Puglian countryside. Among the olive groves, creative director Alessandro Michele’s chic Italian suiting and mood-boosting stripes highlighted a renewed appetite for polish and dress-up.
Fashion retailers are also getting in on the action. Munich-based Mytheresa recently celebrated a collaboration with Belgian designer Dries van Noten with a dinner in architect Axel Vervoodt’s private Antwerp residence, before jetting off to Capri to help Camille Miceli, Emilio Pucci’s new artistic director, debut her first collection of resortwear for the Italian brand. “In-person experiences count more than ever,” says Mytheresa CEO Michael Kliger. “We want to show people that we’re a true luxury community, not just a place to buy clothes.”
The 20th edition of the Leitz Photographica auction is headlined by a camera that is expected to become the most expensive ever sold: the Leica 0-Series No 105, once owned by Oskar Barnack (writes Jack Simpson). The asthmatic father of modern photography and godsend to a million hipsters, Barnack invented the 35mm camera so he wouldn’t have to cart heavy equipment over the hills of Wetzlar, where he lived. His ingenuity enabled the work of Walter Bosshard, Erich Salomon and Robert Capa, revolutionising photojournalism and street photography.
The model going up for auction on 11 June was his personal camera and the first prototype of a machine that changed history. It is estimated to reach between €2-3m under the hammer. Other cameras in the catalogue will take fewer negatives from your bank account. A unique gold-plated analogue Leica MP is estimated at €20,000, while the Olympus OM-1, one of five cameras made exclusively for NASA missions, is valued at around €5,000. Finally, a bundle of Nikon F2 equipment and lost photo archive owned by photographer Chas Gerretsen, and used for production on the set of Apocalypse Now, should attract interest from moving image buffs.