Does the Taliban’s new police uniform represent a change of heart or merely a change of spots? And what of Barcelona’s beach drones: time to pack the budgie-smugglers or run for cover? There’s much to ponder this week, as Andrew Tuck discovers.
I went to a dry-cleaner-cum-alteration service on Monday. I had bought some trousers in Paris in a post-conference haze and they needed shortening (all of the shop’s trousers seemed to come in just one leg length: giraffe). Not wanting to strip off in the shop, I had pinned up a leg at home (I know, my skills are endless). I’d never met the woman behind the counter before and, after our interaction, I wondered whether she was in the right career. “Just the one trouser leg shortened?” she enquired. Perhaps that’s a cool style thing to do but I said, “Actually, this time let’s go all out and do both.”
Although, judging by what happened the following day, it’s feasible to lose a leg along the way and need some less-than-standard alterations. OK, that’s a bit dramatic but at least I have your attention.
It’s been three weeks since the surgery on my meniscus and so I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. I was wearing shorts to make life simpler for an inspection and, as I sat down, pointed to my knee and said, “It looks good, hey?” He smiled with what I now realise was a whiff of confusion. Then he started the consultation by showing me some scans of my knee, pointing out the tear in the meniscus – it was all so beautifully detailed, like a Nasa image of Saturn. Then he said, “So here’s what we will do. You need to come in for keyhole surgery…”
I felt it right to jump in at this point and said, “Sorry, but you’ve already done the operation.” The mists cleared; he blamed his assistant for the confusion, regained his footing. It was only when I was back on the street that I wondered what had been going through his head when I had asked him to admire my lovely knee. He was the one who had made the mistake but as I sauntered (oh, yes, sauntering is very much possible once again) down the road, I felt like I had somehow made a flirtatious faux pas.
I must admit that I had a very nice operation day at the clinic. The best bit was the intravenous general anaesthetic. Just before administering it, the nurse said that I should imagine myself drinking a delicious glass of champagne – I knew we were going to get along – and that when I awoke in about an hour’s time, the operation would be over. And it was. I was a bit hazy – like I’d insisted on drinking an entire magnum of bubbles on a short-haul flight – but you’ve got to love medical science. Perhaps I should have gone along with my surgeon’s mistake and had a second op?
I have had a lovely few weeks of meeting interesting people (including being with our amazing conference delegates), attending events. In Milan, during the furniture fair, I was invited by the founder of Camron PR, the great Judy Dobias, to her annual dinner in the city that’s held in a private palace (you don’t dither over the RSVP for that) and was seated at a fun table – an interior designer here, a writer to my left, a member of an esteemed design family in front of me. And next to me David Galullo, CEO of influential US design studio Rapt, who had also been at our conference. We had a good conversation – work, life, you name it. The usual to and fro that’s needed for it to be classed a conversation. But several times in recent months I have been stuck next to someone who thinks that they are so fascinating that they just want to talk about themselves. I had a well-known dinner neighbour just a few weeks ago who was gushing with details about her life, how much she earns, why her son is such a flake. Over two hours she didn’t ask a single question back. By the time the meal ended there was nothing that I didn’t know – she might even have Airdropped her dental records by this stage.
The issue of the “one-wayers” came up over lunch at work this week and apparently it’s a thing. Everyone had painful tales of being sucked in by conversation black holes – and also solutions. One colleague’s partner has a three-question limit, after that, if there’s nothing coming back, they just keep quiet. Someone suggested just saying, with a simple smile, after an hour, “Do you know what my name is?” It’s such a shame because I have fascinating views to share on both tailoring and knees.
Join Monocle’s Tyler Brûlé and Georgina Godwin at World of Words in Gstaad on 25 and 26 June. A fine weekend of discussion, debate, good radio and a smattering of shopping.
Visit the World of Words website to find out more.
Since the Taliban resumed control of Afghanistan last August, they have made vague, half-hearted attempts at a rebrand (writes Andrew Mueller). The idea floated – and echoed, softly and guiltily, by the governments that abandoned Afghanistan – is that this is Taliban 2.0, not to be confused with the surly thugs who imposed a reign of theocratic terror in the 1990s.
Those Afghans still in the country have been learning the hard way that any differences between the Taliban then and the Taliban now are slight. The group itself, however, is still seeking to sharpen up its image and to this end has introduced a new uniform for Afghanistan’s national police force. It should be conceded that any uniform at all is an improvement: when the Taliban were last in charge, you had to assume that any young man in a black turban carrying a rifle was a law unto himself and defer accordingly.
The new-model Taliban police officer will wear boxy-looking, dark-blue tunics, trousers and matching caps, sourced, according to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, from an Afghan manufacturer: 300,000 kits have been ordered. A shoulder flash represents the Taliban’s all-white flag inscribed in black, in Arabic, with the Quranic injunction, “There is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” There has been no announcement of any outfits for female police officers and the holding of breath in anticipation of such would be ill-advised. The official line is that these fresh rigs will encourage and enshrine professionalism in the ranks. However, the Taliban’s ideas about police reform are likely to fall short of the highest standards of due process – and if there’s one thing more dangerous than an entitled goon with a gun, it’s an entitled goon also equipped with a uniform and a badge.
Those heading to Barcelona for a seaside jolly this summer will notice a new addition to the city’s skies (writes Hester Underhill). Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a beach-monitoring drone. The Catalan capital announced last month that it will start testing the use of drones to manage its shorelines because, well, nothing says “fun in the sun” quite like constant aerial surveillance.
The devices will be unleashed during high season when they will hover above the city’s platjas taking videos and images that will be used to assess numbers of beach-goers. The aim is to help manage overcrowding when the mercury soars in July and August. Catalans are understandably concerned about their privacy rights. But those complaining about being papped while oiled-up in their budgie-smugglers are being reassured by the city council that the drones will be using a state-of-the-art real-time image-processing system that anonymises people caught in the shots. This will no doubt be of particular relief to regulars at the Mar Bella nudist beach – or perhaps not.
The drones will apparently also be used to monitor beach cleanliness and pick up information on the effect of storms on the coastline. In light of the city’s recent blanket beach smoking ban, perhaps they could also be adapted to zap Camel Blues out of the hands of sunbathers? Although they have practical uses, there’s hardly a more ominous visual symbol than a drone – even in a city where the skies are generally filled with crazed, pigeon-eating seagulls. And while it’s highly unlikely that this new trial will affect how many tourists arrive in Barcelona this year, Big Brother on the beach is never a great look.
Moza Almatrooshi is a visual artist based between the UK and her native UAE. Her work is inspired by storytelling, cooking and reshaping historical narratives through magical realism. Here, she tells us about her favourite Saudi TV and the secret ingredient in her tea.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Tea for sure. I actually carry around a tiny jar of saffron everywhere I go because I love the flavour that it gives it.
Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
Spotify all the way, although I think that I’ve confused the algorithm with my music taste. I like everything from khaleeji music to European jazz and there doesn’t seem to be a playlist with both of those genres.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I absolutely love old khaleeji tunes. Well, when I say “old” I mean from the 1980s, so maybe just “older”.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Yes, there’s one in Dubai Mall called Kinokuniya. Outside of the UAE, one of my favourite experiences of buying books has been in Cairo during my residency there in 2017. There’s a market called Soor el-Azbakeya that sells exclusively used books. You never know what you’re going to find but they’re all in such good condition. Sometimes you come across hidden gems. It’s such a lovely experience.
Any podcast recommendations?
I really enjoy listening to Khosh Bosh. It’s a podcast that identifies really cool cultural practitioners who are based in the UAE. It’s very conversational and switches between being personal and professional.
What’s the best thing that you’ve watched on TV recently?
During Ramadan there’s always a great Arabic series that everyone hunkers down to see. I’ve been watching one called Rashash. It’s a huge production with a traditional good vs evil trope to the story. It’s based on a notorious criminal in 1980s Saudi Arabia and the chase between him and the police. The visual elements are very interesting and it’s really well done.
‘Mondrian Evolution’, Fondation Beyeler
It’s worth popping by the Fondation Beyeler just for the fabulous architecture and lush park – particularly on a week as hot as this in Switzerland. Inside, this retrospective on Mondrian provides a pleasingly exhaustive lesson on art history. We watch the Dutch painter as he moves from landscapes to abstraction but learn to find the seeds of his later revolutions in the early works. Almost psychedelic renderings of windmills and dunes tell an eloquent story of the cubist and post-impressionist influences that would have swirled around him.
‘Brice Marden: Inner Space’, Kunstmuseum Basel
Head downstairs in the museum’s stark Neubau tower for a compact but powerful show by the New York painter. His sketches for abstract stained-glass windows that were intended for Basel’s cathedral show rare insight into a project that sadly never was. But more than his minimalist paintings, his “Cold Mountain” drawing series is the star of the exhibition here. Inspired by the Tang dynasty poet Han Shan, these images begin as distortions of orderly calligraphy and play with letting the chaos in.
‘Berenice Olmedo: Hic et Nunc’, Kunsthalle
The colourful paintings by Kenyan-British artist Michael Armitage downstairs will be the main draw for many visitors but do make sure that you also head up to see Oaxaca-born Berenice Olmedo’s eerie sculptures. These mesmerising resin casts of stumps belonging to amputees challenge the distinction between human and machine; their quasi-alien shapes resemble bizarre shields of armour for unconventional bodies – a recurring subject for this artist who focuses on society’s most vulnerable and dispossessed.
Around 200km southwest of Bangkok lies Hua Hin, a small city known as the original Thai beach resort (writes Monica Lillis). In the 1920s it transformed from a quiet fishing village into a flourishing holiday destination for the Bangkok elite. It is home to Hua Hin Today, the only English-language newspaper in the region, which was founded in 2003. We speak to editor in chief Jonathan Fairfield about the paper’s future and an upcoming jazz festival in the area.
How did you become involved with the paper?
I knew the former editor. He retired in March and suggested that I apply for the role. I worked in media in Thailand for 10 years, where I managed one of the largest online English-language news sites. The role of editing a print publication in 2022 is, of course, not without its challenges but improving our print output while developing our online content is something that really excites me.
What’s the big story this week?
Probably the news that people in Thailand are now able to legally grow cannabis and hemp at home. A good story about Hua Hin is that the city has been named as the winner of a major award in recognition of its efforts to tackle climate change.
Which events will you be covering in the next few months?
Before the pandemic Hua Hin hosted an annual international jazz festival, which was hugely popular. It also puts on an excellent food festival. Both of these are set to return in the next couple of months.
What other papers do you enjoy reading?
For national news in Thailand, the Bangkok Post.
This week Grace Wales Bonner took over Florence’s Palazzo Medici Riccardi for the 2022 summer edition of Pitti Uomo (writes Natalie Theodosi). The London-based designer put on a show that revived excitement around the physical catwalk format as a space for creative collaboration and cultural dialogue.
This presentation was two years in the making and Wales Bonner used the extra time to bring in collaborators from across the globe and invest in handicrafts. Her sophisticated collection included hand-dyed jerseys and woven cottons made in Burkina Faso, opera coats from the House of Charvet in Paris and cashmere tuxedos created with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard. “During the pandemic there was more pragmatism around our work but now I feel that you can really dive back into things,” Wales Bonner told Monocle. “I returned to my archives and some of my earlier ideas and aspirations, translating them with a new, more mature sensibility,” she says. “Bringing in craft is key. It was all about celebrating techniques and traditions from around the world and having this ongoing conversation with the makers.”
She also took in her surroundings and heavily referenced Alessandro de’ Medici, a patron of the arts who ruled Florence in the 16th century and is thought to have been the first black head of state in the Western world. Telling stories that blend her European and Afro-Caribbean heritage has always been the fuel of the young designer’s ambition. “I want to elevate the position of Wales Bonner to become a true luxury house offering a black cultural perspective,” she added. “I feel like there isn’t such a house at the moment and that’s what I want to build for myself.” With an LVMH prize, an ongoing partnership with Adidas and a new footwear line all under her belt, she is well on her way.
For news on more brands and retail tips from Pitti, read Sunday’s Monocle Weekend Edition.
An ensemble of postwar, postmodern Italian design classics will go under the hammer on 21 June at Sotheby’s in Milan (writes Jack Simpson). The auction house’s design sale is inspired by the late Milanese architect Osvaldo Borsani. His mahogany bar cabinet room divider is among the stand-out items for sale – it has an estimate of up to €18,000.
A wonderful Giò Ponti Proteo lamp from 1967 (pictured) is also included in the auction. Elena Checchi, design specialist at Sotheby’s Milan, tells Monocle that it is “a piece that rarely appears on the market and shows the influences of the 1960s moving into the 1970s on the designer’s output”. Resembling a bright orange apostrophe, this curved table lamp has an estimate of up to €15,000. Elsewhere, a bookcase from 1950 by Ignazio Gardella adds to a line-up of pieces that still have a contemporary edge.