Saturday 16 July 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 16/7/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Heat of the moment

Whether you’re reading this on a poolside sunlounger or in your garden, there’s plenty to ponder. We look at why a legendary Italian crossword magazine is still the talk of the bagni and ask: do some shoes look cooler when they’re worn in different countries? Plus: this week’s Summer House Hunter. But first, Andrew Tuck on the dilemmas and delights of city life.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Constant gardeners

Hard decisions. Where we live there are two towering London plane trees that rise high above the houses. They are majestic. Not ancient: two saplings probably first took hold here about 100 years ago; now their boughs are intertwined. But there’s a problem. Their vast trunks are pushing hard against a neighbour’s wall and they’re concerned about their safety, not to mention the very visible damage that’s being done to their building. After years of toing and froing, it looks as though the trees will have to go. But taking down a tree is emotive and people want to know where we stand on the issue.

Meanwhile, on London’s Oxford Street, there’s a divisive debate about the future of a Marks & Spencer department store. The owners want to demolish it as it no longer serves their needs and replace it with a greener, more sustainable edifice. The critics say that the carbon released by this could outweigh all the benefits of a more sustainable building rising here. It’s a version of the same dilemma facing people who want to switch to an electric vehicle – will it be of more benefit to the planet than sticking with the same old petrol car for 25 years? – or airlines considering junking planes that are only a few years old but already considered fuel-gobbling dinosaurs.

Or how about this debate that happened in Hong Kong? Would you build a towering, small-footprint skyscraper if it allowed you to create a green park at its base, or would you reduce the height of the building and use all of the available space because people usually have better mental-health outcomes when they have easier access to the street?

Perhaps you can skim this list and know with certainty what’s right and wrong but the nature of hard decisions, especially those concerning the cities we live in – and love – is that often it’s not even about right and wrong. It’s about accepting that there will be loss, some disappointment, as we try to do the best we can. Not good people and bad people – just folk struggling with genuinely difficult choices and learning to accept compromises. I think the trees should come down.

Has anything stayed with you since the pandemic? I mean good things – not, say, a persistent cough or several extra kilos. While the big tree debate might have had its trickier moments, there’s still a whiff of lockdown camaraderie in the air where I live. Perhaps my favourite thing to have remained from those days is the bond that my partner and I now have with our neighbour, Leo, who is 86. At the end of every day, we ring his doorbell and then we water the plants together in our stretch of the mews. Leo gets the hose; we get the watering cans. As we attend to the agapanthus and oleander, we catch up on what’s occurred over the past 24 hours and discuss trips to be organised (we are all off to the wedding of our former neighbours Matt and Holly).

Leo is sharp and if passers-by stop to admire our blossoming handiwork he often pretends to be our put-upon gardener. “I’d love to chat,” he whispers, “but the governors here will dock my wages if I talk too much.” He’s got rather too convincing of late and people have started to give us an unforgiving eye.

And he has good stories. We were in an Uber the other day and he was telling us about how he came to England as a boy, leaving behind a tough life in Ireland and hoping to make it in the city. When the train reached London, he found the stationmaster and asked if there was any work going. The next day he was employed in the station (he later became a dresser in the movies in the 1960s, then the West End, before working for years as a butler for a group of lawyers). When we reached our destination, our driver, a Somali man, said, “Sir, I hope you don’t mind but I was listening to your story and, you know, that is my story too.” Leo was touched and they shook hands. Two men who had made a difficult journey (in life, not the Uber), hoping for something better. I felt obliged to give a very good tip. That will be coming off Leo’s wages.

The Look / Sole searching

Dead on my feet

A few years ago I bought a straw hat from a small shop that was tucked away behind the Vieux Port in Marseille (writes Alexis Self). It was tall and conical with a short brim – of a style that you might imagine on a particularly rakish 19th-century lavender farmer. Wearing this hat in Provence, I was transformed. I knew what people were thinking: there goes a worldly man, he’s seen things and he can probably start a fire with his bare hands.

Image: Shutterstock

But when I returned home, under the cold Stansted glare, all of that disappeared. I knew what people were really thinking: twat. Why am I telling you this? I’ve been eyeing up some avarcas Menorquinas. These leather slip-on sandals are ubiquitous in the sunnier parts of Spain, where they’re worn by men and women from all walks of life, including King Felipe VI (pictured). On Andalucian carpenters or Mallorcan lawyers, they project an image of functional stylishness and comfortable insouciance.

But I’m worried that on my sallow trotters, they’ll look less Javier Bardem and more Jeremy Corbyn. A colleague has a pair and wears them with great panache but she’s Italian. I’m more than willing to accept that certain garments or colours don’t suit me but a large part of these sandals’ charm is in their relaxed, universal appeal. There’s an adage that people can change their skies but not their souls, meaning that wherever you go, you’re still the same person on the inside. What you can do, however, is change your soles – then hope that no one on the Jubilee Line notices the difference.

How We Live / ‘La Settimana Enigmistica’

Clued in

If there is one true indicator of personal compatibility in my life – in romantic relationships, friendships or family – it’s a penchant for crosswords (writes Chiara Rimella). Parole crociate, as they’re known in Italian, have always been important to me, mostly thanks to one perennially popular publication, La Settimana Enigmistica. This unassuming weekly puzzle magazine has been stoking my passion, in a rigorously unchanged format (its front page features an easy crossword, accompanied by a black-and-white headshot of a celebrity), since I was a child. Its origins go back much further: its first edition was printed in 1932.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Dedicated puzzle-solvers like me buy their copies year-round but for most of the nation, Settimana Enigmistica season starts the moment they step foot on a beach. Its comfortingly old-school brand of entertainment is made for idling away hours in the heat. Seaside news kiosks stock towers of the magazine and you won’t be able to go to the bagni without spotting someone hunched over a grid, shouting, “So, 43 across, wrote Swann’s Way?” Indeed, doing crosswords is a very communal activity and people on nearby sunloungers frequently chime in.

There’s a reason why sales of the magazine remain buoyant despite the menace of digital media. Wordle is all well and good when you’re commuting on a train but in the scorching sun you can forget about looking at your screen. Cheap, porous paper is essential to the functioning of La Settimana Enigmistica: you feel free to handle it with greasy, sun-cream-covered fingers, give your answers a scrub-down with an eraser or drop your copy in the sand. And once you’ve filled in all the boxes, you can leave it behind – another smiling celebrity awaits next week.

Scoop of the Week / Tel Aviv

Ice palace

Every week, one of our writers around the world reveals a city’s most coveted scoop: its best ice-cream parlour. In Tel Aviv, our business editor David Hodari takes us to Anita.

A trip to Tel Aviv in July can be a woozy affair. For every breezy, Bauhaus-inflected boulevard, there are warrens of sweltering backstreets clogged with construction work. It’s a city that never stops building but never seems to grow any more architecturally consistent. For those suffering from sweaty ennui or the after-effects of a heavy club night, gelateria Anita is a haven. The ice-cream parlour squats among the art galleries and 19th-century townhouses of the once-bohemian Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and greets its patrons with a welcome blast of cool air.

Image: Anita Neve Tzedek

Peppy staff clad in black T-shirts proffer big smiles and a seemingly endless array of samples to customers who swoop like seagulls at the beach for a reliable mint choc chip or an out-there salted cashew. Full from a hefty dinner and anticipating an animated night, I went for a refreshing scoop of limoncello (surely the natural choice of anyone who likes their digestifs poured as cold as possible).

The gelateria, where copper worktops sit beneath cyan and millennial-pink cabinets, might be social media-friendly but it was a Tel Aviv institution long before the advent of the selfie. Initially founded as a mother-and-son outfit, Anita has grown into an international business with seven outlets in places as far-flung as Limassol and Bondi. Through all of that, its gelato has remained as consistent as a Tel Aviv traffic jam.


Glory days

As general director of online newspaper Observador, Rudolf Gruner oversees one of Portugal’s leading media outlets (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). Since its launch in 2014, Observador has grown to include a radio station, podcasts and a printed periodical. Here, Gruner tells us about the Brazilian writer Nelson Motta and why he can’t stop listening to Bruce Springsteen.

Image: Rodrigo Cardoso

Going anywhere nice this summer?
I’ve already been to Formentera and Paris. I’m spending the rest of my holidays in Portugal, first in the Algarve and then in the north to see family.

What’s the first thing you pack?
My Bluetooth speakers.

What will you be listening to?
Curtis Harding, though my go-to is always Bruce Springsteen.

And reading?
Bandidos e Mocinhas by Nelson Motta.

Any podcasts?
Observador’s E o Resto é História, which is about Portuguese history, and a Brazilian crime podcast called A Mulher da Casa Abandonada.

Aperitivo of choice?

Any good Med recommendations?
Can Carlitos in Formentera. It’s a wonderful restaurant.

Retail Fix / Tee-rrific

Dazzling white

Why is it that you find yourself reaching for the same T-shirt again and again, even snatching it from the dryer before it’s fully dry? Perhaps it’s the softness of the cotton or the way that it defies the tumbling cycle and keeps its shape (writes Natalie Theodosi). Whatever the reason, we all need a reliable tee and a classic white one is probably the most essential piece of clothing in your wardrobe. We recommend that you choose a shirt that’s lightweight and feels soft to the touch: you can’t go wrong with one by Auralee (pictured), Harris Reed, Organic Basics, Lady White Co, Asket or Sunspel. If you’re feeling adventurous, pick something a little oversized. Trends come and go but you’ll never go wrong if you stick with the basics.;;;;;

Image: Arata Suzuki

This piece is an extract from Monocle’s Quality of Life-themed July/August double issue, which is on sale now.

Summer house hunter / Pool sharks

Something in the water

Being by the sea in the summer is great but sometimes you don’t want to share your slice of paradise with anyone else (writes Nolan Giles). So you settle on a solution: a place with a fine private pool. This week, after being invited to the loveliest of pool parties at South Tyrol’s Villa Arnica, the Monocle Summer House Hunter has been inspired to unveil some of Italy’s best on-the-market properties offering such liquid assets.

Image: Sotheby's International Realty

Italian film director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name and its languid poolside moments provide obvious inspiration and in the province of Cremona, where that film’s main home is located, we’ve dug up a vintage treasure in the town of Acquanegra Cremonese (pictured), available through Sotheby’s Realty. Built in 1780 and available for €3.2m, it’s a tranquil heritage home, just an hour or so from bustling Milan. Most importantly, its pool is a stunner, featuring a sumptuously leafy terrazzo area that’s ready for the chicest aperitivo hour.

For something more low-key and remote we continue to channel the Guadagnino vibe (this time informed by A Bigger Splash, a film inspired by Jacques Deray’s 1969 classic La Piscine) on the sun-drenched island of Pantelleria. Netherlands-based online luxury marketplace James Edition has curated a solid selection of properties across the windswept, moon-like island. My pick is Pantelleria Villa, a €2.5m property with two pools and an architectural style that nods to nearby Tunisia. Enjoy it but don’t drink too much – you wouldn’t want to end up like Ralph Fiennes’s character in the movie…


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