Saturday. 6/8/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Breezy does it

To air-con or not to air-con? That is the question this week. We also address plenty more hot-button issues, from a hat with universal appeal, if not necessarily charm, to how to reimagine eco-retreats. Elsewhere we offer expert advice for trips to Mexico City and the Saronic Islands, as well as Toronto’s favourite scoop. Andrew Tuck gets us in gear.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Dog days of summer

On Thursday morning the ferry from Barcelona docked in Palma de Mallorca and 10 minutes after driving down its exit ramp, me, the other half and Macy, our fox terrier, were in the apartment overlooking the Palma Sport and Tennis Club. We had made the journey from London in three days with a night in France and another night and day with friends in Barcelona. Now, of course, we have to go back again at some point but the trip down was fun. And, incredibly, we have not decided to file divorce proceedings, even if I did have to explain to my partner during my stints at driving that he could jab his foot as much as he liked but, as far as I knew, the car did not have a brake pedal on the passenger side.

There had been some anxiety as we headed from London to Folkestone to take the Channel Tunnel (where you drive your car onto a train that whisks you to Calais): just over a week earlier there had been chaotic scenes at the terminal, with some people caught in tailbacks for almost an entire day. Whatever the cause (the British press blamed the French for being French, the French press blamed Brexit), it had been rectified by the time we arrived. Lots of these logistics outages seem to be like this: squalls that hit, cause terrible disruption, then just disappear. Even the check-in process for the dog went mostly with ease; her travel documents all in place, just some pecking-order issues to resolve. At the counter the woman asked, “What’s the name on the booking?” and my partner replied with pride, “Macy”. This glow was slightly diminished when she said, “No, sir, what’s your name?”

Once in France we drove to Paris, then south to the city of Bourges, where we would stay for one night. I was looking forward to lots of stops at French motorway service stations, stocking up on magazines and getting great coffee but, sorry France, we are going to have to give you low marks on this front. Motorway services are terrible in lots of countries, for no clear reason: if you have operators who can run rail hubs and airports successfully, why can’t you make these potentially lucrative pitstops look good, have food offers that go beyond hamburgers and fries, and celebrate good local produce instead? For France this should be a simple win but, instead, the services were literally a sea of flooded loos, broken tills, coffee from vending machines or Starbucks, and a lot of Burger Kings. On the second day, in southern France, there was a nod to regional food but I never found a good newsstand – though I was tempted by the laminated charts of French kings that are apparently designed to entertain children in cars. No wonder the iPad took off.

I chose Bourges for an overnighter for the simple reason that it sits about halfway between London and Barcelona but I knew nothing about the place. It’s a gem. At its heart is an incredible Gothic cathedral and, wrapped all around it, a neighbourhood of half-timbered buildings. And while there are antiques shops and boutiques, it’s not prissy and seems free of tourist tat (in a Tudor town like this in England, everything would be called Ye Olde Fudge Packet or Shakespeare’s Milkshake Shack).

The second day’s drive was easier as the number of trucks diminished and the landscape became wilder, more mountainous, more sunbaked – temperatures hitting 41C at some points. And then, as the day passed, you were driving with the coastline as your guide – past Narbonne, Perpignan, Girona and on down to Barcelona. The crossing from France to Spain goes by almost unnoticed – though you do suddenly see giant advertising hoardings for a sex-toy supermarket. The location is Ronda Litoral, which seems just one letter short of the perfect address. We didn’t stop.

By early evening we were swimming in our friend’s pool – dog included – and joyfully stayed put for an entire day. The final hurdle? A Baleària ferry at 22.15 on Wednesday night to Palma. Now, against my own advice, I had read too many online reviews when trying to pick a ferry company, so I somehow imagined that we would be lucky if they gave us some water wings and told us to swim. But it went like clockwork. First, dozens of articulated lorries backed on, then a vast carpark full of vehicles somehow fitted in too. We found our dog-friendly cabin and Macy could also be taken to one deck where they had constructed a fake-grass peeing station, with illustrated graphics to explain its purpose. Macy seemed to have decided that she would wait until we landed but might also have been put off by the woman who had missed the sign and was sitting picnicking on the pee lawn with her daughter.

So here we are, about 1,500km of driving later. It’s 07.00 on Friday morning as I write this, sitting on the shady terrace, but already there are early morning joggers darting by, keen to avoid the heat. And, at my feet, a dog who also looks ready to meet the local perros.

The Look / Bucket hats

Well turned out

Staggeringly ever-present and consistently on trend, the bucket hat’s endurance is surely attributable to humanity’s desire to look a bit silly every once in a while (writes Jack Simpson). These aptly named chapeaux ooze an assuredness and confidence – a “buck it” attitude, if you will – and, though a slight novelty, are still worn by those who take no fashion choice lightly.

Image: Trisha Ward

Personally, I can’t get past memories of being forced to wear one by my mother to prevent sunburn as a small boy (cruel, I know). But I admit that there’s an accessibility and functionality to the bucket hat. Indeed, while being rather graceless in shape, this accessory has democratic charm in spades. Whether you’re a late-1980s Bronx rapper, a windswept fisherman or a baby at the beach, bucket hats are for the people.

Still sceptical? It might just be a matter of finding the right one. For a classic look, it’s best to go to minimalist Austrian milliners Muehlbauer. Alternatively, try a colourful crochet number from Emily Levine or a pinstriped piece from Grevi, which will fold neatly into beach bags. High-end versions by Prada or Maison Michel have sought to elevate the hat’s classic shape – and are bound to attract buckets of praise.

How we live / The Air-Con War

Cold shoulder

I am shivering at my desk on an early-August afternoon (writes Alexis Self). No, La Niña hasn’t suddenly made landfall in a very localised corner of Marylebone; I am sitting beneath one of the office’s air-conditioning units. Opposite me a colleague wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead and issues another complaint about the heat. Our struggle is but one front in a war being fought right this moment in an office near you.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

There are two types of people in this world: those who think that air-conditioning is a good thing and those who believe that its icy emanations and deathly whirring herald the experiential equivalent of hell on earth – and always the twain shall meet. If you haven’t worked it out by now, I fall into the latter category. This puts me at odds with a number of my colleagues, for whom an air-conditioned office means respite from the inferno outside.

I’m not going to repeat my well-worn arguments against – about its desiccating effects, how it exacerbates illness or damages the environment – for that would be puerile. Instead, I will offer a time-honoured lesson about the importance of compromise in the workplace. Be compassionate towards your colleagues and appreciative of their feelings. If you think that the air-conditioning is too cold, don’t raise a rancorous heckle; keep your peace. Then go and turn it off at the mains while no one’s looking.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions answered

Much to explore

The Monocle Concierge had a plethora of wonderfully escapist queries this week. Find a choice answer below and do, please, keep ringing our bell for all matters travel-related.

Dear Concierge,

I am travelling to Mexico City and would love to know what your best recommendations are. Thanks in advance.

Elizabeth Wong, Singapore

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for your wonderful question. Mexico City is a modern Babylon and we have many recommendations for places to stay, eat and visit. Stay in the northwest: La Condesa, Roma, Chapultepec, Juárez or Polanco. There’s no end of options for good food. Try Lardo for a casual dinner, seafood restaurant Contramar for a long evening meal, Pujol for modern Mexican cuisine or Expendio de Maíz for street food with a twist.

Image: Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock

For art and design, big hitters Museo Jumex and Museo Soumaya are unmissable and nextdoor to one another. Check out smaller commercial spaces too: Kurimanzutto and OMR showcase blue-chip work. If you’re walking around Chapultepec Park (do), stop at the newly opened gallery-cum-restaurant Lago, if only for the view across the lake. And whether you’re an architecture buff or not, visit at least one house designed by Mexico’s greatest, Luis Barragán; Casa Luis Barragán is the classic but Casa Gilardi is easier to book. Finally, Xochimilco, an outlying neighbourhood made up of floating islands, is worth seeing. A boat can take you to Arca Tierra, a restaurant that uses Aztec farming methods for its organic produce, served to those who venture out. ¡Buen viaje!

Scoop of the week / Dutch Dreams, Toronto

Worth the wait?

The latest in our series of legendary local ice cream parlours comes from Toronto. Tomos Lewis picks up the story…

It’s the tail end of another sweltering summer’s day in Toronto and I’m in the mood for an ice cream. So I make my way north from downtown and take my place at the window hatch of Dutch Dreams. It is as famous for the long queues that stretch around the block – even in the depths of winter – as it is for its delicious scoops. Dutch Dreams was established in 1985 and is adorned with ephemera including multicoloured milk pails and, fluttering from the rooftop, the flags of an apparently random miscellany of nations and international organisations (Jamaica, Saudi Arabia and the UN among them).

Image: Dutch Dreams

I’m flanked at the hatch by two enormous fibreglass replicas of classic cones, each topped with glossy, bulbous scoops of pink and white ice cream. I wait patiently for my order: one scoop of Dutch chocolate and one named Gold Medal Mayor, which is, I’m told, vanilla ice cream swirled through with caramel and studded with chocolate nuggets (I have a sweet tooth). It will be served in a crispy waffle cone made according to a family recipe and baked in-house every day.

“It really was the best ice cream of our lives,” Banafsheh Manouchehri, an Iranian aircraft technician who has just finished her scoops, tells me cheerfully. She’s here with her mother, who is visiting from Tehran. “It was perfect,” she says. My order arrives, topped with an unexpected flourish: a shiny glacé cherry and a fluffy wisp of purple candy floss. One garish garnish too many? Perhaps. But I happily dig in, content in the knowledge that sweet dreams (well, Dutch ones, anyway) are indeed made of this.
dutchdreams.ca

Mini guide / The Saronic Islands, Greece

Islands of curiosity

Greece is on a roll this summer and poised to surpass its 2019 record-breaking tourist numbers (writes Gregory Scruggs). While hordes of foreigners make a beeline for the Cyclades, the Saronics are a much shorter and less choppy ferry ride from Piraeus. A favourite weekend getaway for Athenians, these islands offer a less frenzied taste of the Aegean. From stunning public art to breathtaking hikes, here’s an itinerary to get you started.

Image: Jeff Koons/Eftychia Vlachou

Praise the sun god (Hydra)
Sail to Hydra through 31 October and you will be greeted by Apollo Windspinner (pictured), a golden sculpture by US artist Jeff Koons. (Regular visitors to St Moritz might say that it looks awfully familiar). The mesmerising summer installation crowns an art gallery in a former slaughterhouse run by the Deste Foundation, which commissioned Koons to create a modern-day shrine to the sun god.
deste.gr

Beards and threads (Poros)
A few blocks inland from the tacky souvenir shops lining the port, there’s a retail revival afoot on Poros along the marble-staircase-marked Mitropoleos. Olivelab Naturals stocks a luscious collection of handmade soaps and bathroom accessories; the shaving sets are top-notch. Nearby you’ll find simple yet sophisticated womenswear at Nymfe, where fashion designer Marily Ioakeimidou opened her first boutique in June.
olivelab.gr; nymfe.gr

Late nights (Spetses)
The Aegean Film Festival on Spetses has already wrapped for the summer but the venues that hosted its opening and closing parties are clues for where to find fun and fashionable nightlife. At Throubi Bar and Bikini Bar, rub shoulders with Athenian creatives and intellectuals visiting the Anargyreos & Korgialeneios School for the summer.
bikini-spetses.gr

Early mornings (Aegina)
Summer is too hot for midday jaunts to Aegina’s many marked hiking and cycling paths but early risers can still sample a unique blend of footpaths, back roads and trails. Route No 3 treks up to a traditional village flecked with stone houses, then down into an ancient olive grove with 2,000-year-old living trees.
aegina-hiking.com

What I’m Packing / Lea Cranfield, Net-a-Porter

Case by case

Lea Cranfield is chief buying and merchandising officer at online luxury retailer Net-A-Porter. She joined the company for a second time in 2020 after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, during which she served as commercial director at Matchesfashion. Here she tells us about the perfect all-in-one swimsuit and why different locations require different aperitivi.

What’s the first thing that you pack?
Typically it’s a lovely straw hat such as the Requiem cotton grosgrain-trimmed style by Gigi Burris. I also prioritise an assortment of incredible summer dresses from brands like Zimmermann and Matteau, plus a great pair of leather slides, such as Chloé’s Woody.

Swimwear of choice?
A versatile all-in-one swimsuit such as the Alaïa white halter-neck style or a great classic from the likes of Eres.

What will you be reading?
Anna: The Biography by Amy Odell and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens are currently top of my reading list.

And listening to?
I love all genres of music, so it really depends on my mood, but a bit of Madonna never goes amiss.

Aperitivo of choice?
It depends where I am but always an Aperol in Italy and a crisp chilled white wine in France.

Any Mediterranean recommendations?
I highly recommend Rome’s Michelin-starred Il Convivio Troiani. I love its intimate and enchanting atmosphere.

Summer-House Hunters / Eco-retreats

It’s only natural

Those whose idea of an eco-retreat is a solar-panelled shed in a field should look in the direction of British architect John Pawson’s latest holiday-home designs (pictured) to see how far the world of sustainable accommodation has come. He has created two bespoke villas for Ibiza’s Sabina development that harness the land’s natural properties to form low-impact holiday living for affluent investors.

Image: John Pawson for Sabina
Image: John Pawson for Sabina

Sabina’s selling point for its architect-designed homes (the development’s A-list cast also includes David Chipperfield and Marcio Kogan) is their high levels of certification for using local materials, managing waste effectively and cutting carbon emissions. Its 50 properties will gradually become available in the next few years with price points between €4m and €20m.

For those summer-house hunters seeking low-impact holiday-home options on a humbler scale, I’m happy to point in the direction of our favourite Norwegian cabin-makers. Nature Compact Living offers cosy, window-laden, prefabricated micro-homes that can be plopped onto the back of a truck and driven to a prized plot of land. Alternatively, if you want to commission an architect for a sunny cabin in warmer climes, Portuguese firm Studio 3A’s recent Cabanas in Comporta project drew upon timber design to embrace nature in the most magical of ways.

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