Saturday 30 July 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 30/7/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

In the know

From the season’s most beach-party-appropriate footwear and Marseille’s coolest ice-cream parlour to Almasika founder Catherine Sarr’s travel plans, there’s plenty to get the conversation going this week. Plus: the Monocle Concierge and the Summer House Hunter share their worldly wisdom. But starting us off, Andrew Tuck on cities.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Containing multitudes

My colleague Nolan and his partner, Hyo, invited us to dinner at their flat in east London. Over the past 30 years, this part of the city has changed significantly as young creatives have flocked to one neighbourhood after another, setting off the gentrification cycle. Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Hackney have all succumbed to an influx of sourdough bakeries, hipster coffee shops and entertaining bars. And while gentrification gets a bad rap, many of the changes have been genuine improvements (and, yes, the communities that made these pockets of the city in the first place are still very present). While I wasn’t looking, the spread of new developments, upstart businesses and people looking for cool new places to live in has continued.

Nolan and Hyo live in a great apartment on a canal and from their third-floor balcony you can see the Olympic park, brownfield sites on the cusp of redevelopment and old factories turned into co-working set-ups. Years ago, I used to walk our late weimaraner near here in Victoria Park but I never strayed the extra distance to Fish Island, where Nolan and Hyo now live. There was no reason to.

After dinner we walked along the canal, past people drinking beer and chatting on its banks, to Hackney Wick. Again, it was as though I had walked through a portal to another dimension – hundreds of people at bars, queueing for clubs, packing out the pubs and restaurants. It was a carnival atmosphere. Suddenly I realised that I really don’t know London.

When I was in my twenties I lived in a part of the city where there was not a single cool thing to do. If you wanted to have a big night out you would head to the West End or one of the few thriving neighbourhoods such as Brixton or Notting Hill. But now? Well, it would be hard to find a place that doesn’t have good restaurants, a barista-run café and all the other emblems of hipster living (all dandy by me – these are my people).

The downside is that you just can’t keep track of every raved-about new restaurant opening or all the shifts taking place in every desirable outpost in the city. In short, London has become increasingly unknowable. You just have to accept that the scale of a modern metropolis will ultimately defeat you and that all you can do is find your village in its midst. Yes, you will always be missing out… but who cares?

I like Aēsop, especially its approach to employing a wide roster of architects to design its shops – although it’s jarring that you can’t refill its bottles in-store. But someone pointed out to me that many of these used bottles aren’t being sent to refill for an unusual reason: there’s a healthy trade in the empty vessels. On Ebay people are asking £10 (€11.90) for a used hand-soap bottle; it would set you back £35 (€41.60) replete with unguent. Of course, this lets the purchaser refill the container with a bargain-basement alternative, which is either highly amusing or a vision of our warped bathroom snobbery. But it does show that Aēsop has elevated its packaging out of the throwaway zone.

Perhaps this is a way forward. Ilse Crawford’s design company Studioilse has worked with Ikea for many years and the Swedish giant is currently selling a candle she has created that comes in a pot designed to have an afterlife. I wonder what I could get for my supply of empty wine bottles? Judging by our extensive recycling bags, I could make a small fortune if all goes to plan.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Wish me luck. The drive to Spain with the dog starts on Monday, so by this time next week I will either be swanning around Palma de Mallorca with an over-groomed fox terrier or divorced. I am hoping for the former but because we’re sharing the driving and I have often been accused of having an inadequate road focus, I am prepared for either.

The Look / Camper Kobarah

Put a cork in it

First, we had to put up with the march of ugly Crocs made from Croslite, a resin specially created for the brand. Now this summer we are surrounded by “sandals” moulded in one piece from ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), a kind of foam that’s stomping through the shoe world. It’s another frontier in deliberately ugly footwear and, at first glance, you wonder if some poor unfortunate has got a couple of polystyrene food boxes stuck to their feet. Even our beloved friends at Birkenstock have stepped into the market – although, thankfully, they have kept their much-loved silhouettes and just got adventurous with the colours.

Image: Camper

Some blame this trend on Mallorca-based Camper (although, sadly, nearly all its production has long since moved offshore). In 2016 it released the funky EVA Kobarah (pictured), which was reportedly inspired by actual cobras, although with its curved, plump shape it looks more like an unusual baked good. The Kobarah has now been rereleased in a Vengaboys-esque palette of bright orange and light green to cash in on its cult status. But while a few people we know have succumbed to foam fantasies, we are hoping that Birkenstock puts a cork back in this trend very soon.

How We Live / Skywriting

Don’t look up

Skywriting was once the medium of choice for marriage proposals or exhortations of sporting success (writes Christopher Lord). Today, however, the sky’s the limit: diverse brands are willing to splash out on aerial advertising, particularly above California’s beaches. Who can blame them? There’s a captive audience of sunseekers and surfers, and the reliably blue skies make for a perfect canvas to show off some carbon cursive. One recent Saturday in Malibu, however, this aerial parade got a little out of hand.

First up was a skywriter spelling out the benefits of buying a certain cryptocurrency. Next, there was a plane tugging an ad for a TV action programme, followed closely by a billowing flag for the micronation of Amazon Prime. Then came what I can only describe as a squadron pumping out a co-ordinated smoke signal that printed words perfectly onto the sky like a message from God. I’ve since learned that this is the nascent art form “skytyping”, often performed by drones. It was so impressive that I completely forgot what the message said.

That was a hard act to follow. But a special mention must go to the flying banner for a woman’s Onlyfans page that later drifted salaciously by, leading a young member of a group of nearby beachgoers to exclaim, “Mom, what’s an Onlyfans?”

A few years ago, there was a justified hullabaloo when it was proposed that satellites could one day spell out brands’ names in the night sky. Most of us can agree that some spaces are sacred and should be kept that way; the sky, whether above a sunny beach or at twinkling twilight, is one of them. To the marketeers out there, I say: cool your jets.

Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Hidden gems

What’s that sound? Church bells? Cicadas? No, it’s an orchestra of dings requesting the assistance of the Monocle Concierge. It has been very enjoyable reading your travel-related questions this week and we have answered a couple of them below. Do keep them coming in by ringing or, rather, emailing

Dear Concierge,

With the south of Spain too hot to handle at the moment, I fancy a trip to the north to explore the cooler wine-making regions. Any tips that aren’t the usual recommendations for Bilbao, San Sebastián or Barcelona?

Nicholas, Singapore

Dear Nicholas,

Catalonia has a fail-safe mix of mountains and Med, and offers less blustery climes than the rest of northern Spain, as well as a much-underrated viticultural scene. Barcelona and Costa Brava tend to steal the limelight but its inner regions are often overlooked by international visitors. That’s why Lleida sounds like what you’re after.

This inland province spills over the rugged foothills of the Pyrenees and boasts some of the country’s most impressive national parks and a wine-making tradition that stretches all the way back to the Iberians. When it comes to a base, our pick is Casa Boumort. It’s a stylish, small hotel that’s perfectly placed for those seeking to explore the hinterland. For the best of the bottles, head to winery Raimat. It’s Europe’s largest vineyard owned by a single family and encompasses ancient oak forests and the ruins of a medieval castle. You can sample sumptuous red wine and deliciously mineral albariño while gazing out over its sprawling environs.

Image: Francois Cavelier

Dear Concierge,

I would love to have you by my side while planning a two-week trip to Japan for my family of four. Any recommendations for unknown gems and obscure but marvellous places to visit between Tokyo and Osaka?


Julien, Paris

Dear Julien,

As Japan still remains closed to tourists other than those in organised groups, it’s difficult to deviate too much from prearranged routes. However, when the country does open up again, we would love to be by your side. There’s much to explore between Osaka and Tokyo but here’s our pick of some esoteric spots. The Enoura Observatory is a gallery and outdoor museum conceived and designed by photographer-architect Hiroshi Sugimoto. After looking at the exhibits, take a peaceful, shaded walk among the citrus groves that overlook beautiful Sagami Bay.

For a slice of early-20th-century Japan, Meiji Mura is an open-air architecture museum near Nagoya with dozens of buildings to explore from the Meiji, Taisho and Shōwa periods. The lobby and front entrance of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel are here. Indulge in some traditional cosplay and take a ride on Japan’s oldest working steam train. And right in the middle of ritzy Aoyama is the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum (pictured), the discreet home and studio of the legendary 20th-century Japanese artist, who is best known for his witty and eccentric public sculptures.

What I’m Packing / Catherine Sarr

French connection

Catherine Sarr is a jeweller and founder of the brand Almasika. She is also co-founder of the Prix Sarr, an annual award for students at Les Beaux-Arts Paris, and a recipient of the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, given by the French government to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the fields of art, culture and literature. Here she tells us about Provençal evenings and the perfect salad niçoise.

Going anywhere nice this year?
I am looking forward to enjoying some time in France: Paris, the Champagne region and the south. It’s the ideal season to spend quality time with my family in a place that’s home for me. I will also be heading to London, where I lived for 10 years and unfortunately haven’t been in five. It will be a sort of second homecoming.

What’s the first thing that you pack?
I am a heavy packer because I like options but the first pieces I’m packing are all versatile: a mid-season jacket, a silk blouse, a flat shoe and our new Terra Nova Globe necklace to take me seamlessly from London to Provence.

What will you be reading?
I am taking La Cheffe by Marie Ndiaye. On the surface, it’s a chef’s journey to owning her own restaurant but it beautifully expands into a story of perseverance and ingenuity.

And listening to?
My summer playlist is a blend of artists and genres from the new French scene – Yseult, Lous and the Yakuza – with an afrobeat presence throughout.

What food do you look forward to eating?
I am craving my mother’s home cooking. I have also set my sights on fresh seafood and a real niçoise salad.

Aperitivo of choice?
I’m partial to any berry cocktail or virgin mojito.

Any Mediterranean recommendations?
Villa Lacoste in Provence. It’s 40km or so inland but worth the detour. I went there when it first opened and it remains a must-visit for me. I love the singular appeal of a restaurant like Villa Lacoste, which not only has delicious food and wine but also incorporates a blend of art and culture.

Scoop of the Week / Vanille Noir, Marseille

Soft landing

During these sultry summer months, our writers and correspondents have been reporting on their city’s freshest scoops: their best ice-cream parlours. In Marseille, our North Africa correspondent Mary Fitzgerald takes us to Vanille Noir.

Image: Glacier Vanille Noire

Ask a Marseillais to recommend a local ice-cream shop and they’ll likely point you towards Vanille Noire. A few minutes’ walk from the Vieux Port, the tiny yellow-and-black counter shares the name of its most famous flavour. The black colour of Vanille Noire – its precise recipe remains a secret – stands out among the dazzling rainbow of other flavours on offer. Its taste is a salty-sweet sensation, combining rich Madagascan vanilla with fleur de sel and a tang from that mystery ingredient that will keep you guessing.

Owner Nicolas Decitre left the corporate world in Paris to move to Marseille where he started making ice cream in 2014. Long beloved of city residents and tourists alike, Vanille Noire offers some 20 flavours daily, each made in small batches. Several – like the Provençal lavender ice cream and pastis sorbet, made with Marseille’s very own Ricard (an anise and licorice-flavoured aperitif), are distinctively local. Others draw on the wider Mediterranean: I can’t resist the Beyrouth Nights, a fleur d’oranger ice cream studded with caramelised pistachios. Don’t forget the fruit sorbets: made with up to 80 per cent fruit selected according to season, they pack a glorious punch on a sunny day.
Vanille Noire, 15 rue Caisserie, Marseille

Outpost News / Radio Diaconia, Puglia

In the air

On Italy’s heel, where Puglia’s low hills meet the Adriatic, you’ll find the ancient town of Fasano, a maze of cobblestone streets set against the backdrop of olive trees (writes Monica Lillis). This is the home of Radio Diaconia, a small community station for which Martino Mizzi has volunteered for the past 40 years. Here he tells us about the history of Radio Diaconia and the joys of conversation and coffee.

Image: Alamy

Tell us about the history of the station.
It all started in 1977, when Italy’s constitutional court granted private individuals the right to broadcast locally. Priest Don Salvatore Carbonara was inspired by the opportunity and Radio Diaconia was born in the parish of San Giovanni Battista Chiesa Matrice. The station has always had loyal listeners in our town and has slowly advanced technologically. It can now be streamed via computer or smartphone and there’s also the option of DAB sound. In a few years, Radio Diaconia will celebrate its 50th birthday. Even the pandemic couldn’t stop us!

How did you become involved with the station?
I was invited to join the station as a volunteer by then director Don Salvatore Carbonara when I was about 17 years old. Now nearly 40 years have passed and I’m still here, supporting this wonderful organisation. I take care of the broadcasting equipment, as well as organising the schedule with the help of other volunteers.

What events will you be covering in the near future?
Over the years we have put on a few events, including a children’s singing competition called Eurino d’Oro.

What local spots do you and your colleagues enjoy hanging out at?
As we’re in southern Italy, we are certainly not lacking in bars, pizzerias and restaurants. We like to organise many get-togethers with the editorial team. These are joyous moments when we all talk over pizza, beer or even just coffee.

Summer House Hunter / The Noble Traveller

Perfect portfolio

Summer house hunters seeking a smart way to holiday year-round should look to The Noble Traveller for inspiration. The home-rental service’s founders, Owen Grant Innes and Rony Zibara, have snapped up four prized properties over the years: a villa on the Med in Portofino, a farmhouse in Provence, a chateau in the French Alps (pictured) and a pretty apartment in Paris. They live between these at their leisure, while renting the vacant houses to discerning vitamin-D-hungry travellers through their website.

“Our journey has always been about finding properties that engage and intrigue us,” says Grant Innes. Key to the project’s success has been the sensitive renovations of the buildings that they rent, all of which are simpatico with their locations. The pair, who are always on the search for more properties, are secretive about where their next rental will be, though they do have advice for those hunting a dream second home this summer. “You can do quite well in Menorca at the moment and, surprisingly, in Venice,” says Zibara, adding that houses in La Serenissima are especially underpriced right now. “You’re looking at a quarter of the price of properties in Paris. It’s quite remarkable, particularly as the city is doing a lot of good rebuilding work there.”


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