Saturday 1 October 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 1/10/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Chill factor

Want to dress like an Italian? The secret is a black puffer jacket. But perhaps it’s still warm enough for a few days in Valencia? If so, the Monocle Concierge has you covered. Elsewhere, we speak to a Nigerian artist about hot toddies, discuss the merits of Miss Hong Kong (the pageant, not the woman) and stress out about Monopoly. But first, 12 rounds with Andrew Tuck.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Boxing clever

I was just completing check-in at the hotel when he arrived. Like me, Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, was in Prague to attend the Summit of Cities. But, let’s be clear, that’s where the comparisons end. Klitschko is vast, a fighter of international fame (both in the boxing ring and, now, out of it). I almost felt sorry for the bodyguards who had travelled with him from Kyiv because he looked as though he could scoop them all up and place them in his pockets at the merest hint of trouble. But more of him in a moment. Let me explain why we were here.

The Summit of Cities ran across Monday and Tuesday this week and included two mornings of closed sessions at the mayor’s residence, which Monocle attended with our jaunty observer hats on, to discuss how to support Ukrainian cities, the energy crisis and how to ensure that populists and tyrants don’t undermine European values. Then in the afternoon there were open sessions at the Centre for Architecture and Metropolitan Planning (aka Camp), many of these moderated by me as Mr Monocle, to bring the same voices to a wider audience and to talk about how cities can deliver a high quality of life for all. The host was the mayor of Prague, Zedenek Hrib, who in a piece of bad timing had fared poorly in weekend elections. The two days wrapped with a meeting of the Pact of Free Cities – founded three years ago by the mayors of Bratislava, Budapest, Warsaw and Prague – and an EU cities dialogue.

And now a word about Prague. It takes less than two hours to fly between London and the Czech capital but it feels so gloriously distinct. The centre of the city remained largely undamaged after the Second World War and so is full of early-20th-century apartment buildings and old palaces embellished with numerous architectural flourishes and a ridiculous quantity of statuary; a man with a big chisel is never short of a Czech koruna, as I am sure they must have once said in Prague. Wherever you look there’s some stone face peering down on you. Arches are seemingly held aloft on the shoulders of naked women (I’d have recommended to the sculptor giving them at least a gilet as it gets nippy around here come winter).

And then there’s the cheese. On Sunday night, once I’d eased back through the meaty lobby, The Urbanist’s Carlota and I went for a quick beer with the team from Camp, who took us to a bar that was about the length of a subway station. They suggested that we eat something and soon I had a plate of breaded fried cheese and boiled potatoes. It was heaven. I also learned that you can look manly yet barely drink by ordering a beer that comes in a vast glass but is mostly just foam (deeper cultural insights can be gleaned if you visit yourself – but do have the cheese).

We’ve made an entire episode of The Urbanist about the summit but, for those of you too lazy to press play, here are a few highlights. On stage, Klitschko was impressive (and if his bodyguards appeared diminutive standing next to him, the subsequent photographs that I have seen of myself interviewing him make me look like a meerkat with a crooked neck peering up at a rhino – I mean that as a compliment, Mr Klitschko). He spoke calmly, got the measure of the room and made clear that Kyiv’s fight was everyone’s fight. “If we are not successful, other former Soviet countries will follow,” he said. “We are fighting to defend you. This is not a joke. Just a year ago people said that Russia would never invade Ukraine.”

But there were other standout turns: Matus Valo, mayor of Bratislava, Rafal Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, Erion Veliaj, mayor of Tirana, Anni Sinnemaki, deputy mayor of Helsinki, Remigijus Simasius, mayor of Vilnius, and Felip Roca Blasco, Barcelona’s head of international relations. What’s impressive is how these civic figures are doing so much – helping Ukraine in material ways (Prague has donated buses and trams) and with open-armed solidarity, developing nimble climate and energy strategies, and promoting co-operation as never before (though we’ll skim over the deputy mayor who lectured the audience on participatory urbanism and the menace of the motor vehicle, before leaving the stage without taking questions as she had a plane to catch).

And finally, a shout out to the folks at Camp. They have an amazing 1970s building that they are developing into a lively hub for urbanism (with a good bookshop, café and exhibition space), as well as taking the debate about city-making out into the city. The name of their centre also made for a sometimes amusing running order: “Andrew comes on stage to Camp intro”. As you can imagine, I was terribly disappointed not to hear Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as I strode up. It would have been a fitting rallying cry. Perhaps I’ll suggest that next time.

How we live / Miss Hong Kong

Life’s rich pageant

Last Sunday evening, families sat down in front of the TV for the final of Miss Hong Kong, which marked its 50th year on the city’s biggest broadcaster, TVB (writes James Chambers). Beauty pageants are a mainstream draw in this part of the world. For Miss Hong Kong, TVB staged a prime-time event at the Hong Kong Coliseum, featuring famous entertainers and Cantopop stars.

Image: Getty Images

Model Denice Lam (pictured) looked shocked to be named the winner. Some viewers might have been just as surprised to see the wife of Hong Kong’s new chief executive, appearing in her role as head of the city’s most prestigious charity, on the judging panel. The establishment and mainstream media have to take Miss Hong Kong seriously and even veiled criticism of the old-fashioned format can have a surprising outcome. TVB threatened a former official with legal action last month when she dared to question why women must appear on stage in bikinis while answering questions.

Sunday’s show was a handy reminder that, when it comes to social norms and cultural values, the world is not sashaying down the runway in lockstep. The organisers of Miss Universe decided recently to allow mothers and married women to take part in the next iteration, provided that contestants still meet the strict age requirements and can juggle the extra responsibility that comes with wearing its famous crown. The “landmark” announcement duly made non-ironic headlines across Asia, from the Philippines, a serial winner, to India, the home of the current holder. Who are we to judge?

The Look / Italian puffers

Down with the locals

It’s that time of year when the stifling heat of the Italian summer suddenly dissipates (writes Ed Stocker). Morning temperatures are fresher and, while it might still be extremely clement for many a northern European or American, for Italians it’s time to rethink the wardrobe quite considerably. Premature, you say? Nonsense. Classic wintry heavy hitters are beginning to make an appearance, notably the black puffer (a southern European classic) to help combat those cool mornings commuting on a moped.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Allow us to generalise ever so slightly for a moment. Italians are no fans of sudden drops in temperature. In fact, spend enough time here on a high-speed train during summer and you’ll overhear more than one person having a quiet word with the conductor about lowering the power of the air-conditioning. This writer has witnessed an Italian literally zip up their entire body – head included – when the temperature on a plane got a little too crisp. A strong breeze, seen by some other nationalities as good for cleaning out the cobwebs, is viewed by many Italians as something that could make you sick. Necks need to be protected, while a certain breed of old-school nonna might recommend that their grandchildren put on layers to protect their kidneys from the elements.

So it is with something approaching pride that the first of the wintry clothing is dusted off from the wardrobe and combined with the requisite sunglasses. This is a time of year that divides the wheat from the chaff, the tourists from the locals. And while it’s not cold enough in Milan, Turin or Rome to break out the mighty scarf, the clock is surely ticking.

The Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Sunny outlook

As the nights draw in, the desire to escape somewhere sunnier grows ever stronger. This week the Monocle Concierge had the vicarious pleasure of walking the streets of Valencia. If you’d like a helping hand with any tips for upcoming trips, click here. We will answer one each week.

Image: Ben Roberts

Dear Concierge,

I will be alone for a week in beautiful Valencia in Spain. Do you have any tips for where I could meet some locals to improve my Spanish? B&B, restaurants, bars, shops – I’ll take what I can get.

Muchas gracias,
Claudia Wuensch,

Dear Claudia,

While Valencia’s centre is undeniably beautiful, if it’s local flavour you’re after, it pays to venture off into slightly more residential neighbourhoods. A quick stroll over the Pont de la Trinitat will take you to Benimaclet (pictured), a particularly charming barri with a friendly, village-like feel. Check out bookshop La Repartidora, where the staff are always more than happy to advise you on a new title that might help you practice your Spanish (if you’re at that level). There are also regular talks and readings from visiting authors where you’re bound to get chatting to a local crowd. If you want to stay in the area, our pick is The Little Corner B&B, which has a café on the ground floor where you can eavesdrop on Valencianos as they gossip over a café con leche.

For a taste of the nightlife, we’d recommend heading to La Fábrica de Hielo. It’s a buzzy bar-cum-events space in an old fish-packing warehouse just off Cabanyal beach that often hosts live music and DJ sets in the evenings. It draws a friendly bunch of creatives who come together over a programme that encompasses everything from film screenings and live comedy to flea markets and yoga classes. ¡Diviértete!

Culture / Listen, Visit, Watch

Melting pot

‘Nymph’, Shygirl. Exciting British up-and-comer Shygirl’s confident, lush debut album playfully mixes genres and experiments with distorted vocals and hyper-pop sensibilities. The first single, “Firefly”, is an excellent blend of electronica and 1990s-style dance, while “Heaven” feels almost ethereal. Fun hip-hop-influenced track “Nike” is sure to seal this club-ready record’s status as one of the hottest releases of the season.

‘Isolitudine’, Biennale Arcipelago Mediterraneo. Palermo-based Biennale Arcipelago Mediterraneo is returning for its third edition after launching in 2017 to question the role of borders in southern Europe and the connections made possible by cultural dialogue. A programme of arts, theatre and music events will see works by international and Italian artists take over the historic churches and squares of the Sicilian capital. As part of the festival, Turin-based Fondazione Merz is curating Isolitudine, a series of four exhibitions at the contemporary art venue Zac pavilion, with pieces by the likes of Guido Casaretto, Rä di Martino and Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa.

‘White Sands’, TV 2. A crime drama featuring police from two different countries at loggerheads might prompt memories of big-hitting Scandi noir The Bridge but it is also the premise for this new Danish series that has quickly gained international traction. Hvide Sande (or White Sands) explores the mysterious death of a German surfer at a Danish seaside town of the same name. With Danish and German police arguing over the handling of the case, homicide detective Thomas Beckmann and undercover cop Helene Falck are sent to the town, posing as a married couple, to work out the truth – and small-town secrets soon begin to unravel.

The Interrogator / Peju Atalise

Living legends

Nigerian artist and poet Peju Alatise experiments with words and materials from Yoruba folklore and mythology (writes Grace Charlton). Her evocative sculpture “Sim & the Glass Birds”, which features a young girl in domestic servitude escaping to an alternative reality, is currently on show at Frieze Sculpture in London. She tells us about the best bookshop in Lagos and her favourite weekend market.


Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
A hot toddy is always nice. Otherwise, I’m content with pretending that I enjoy a bland green tea as a healthy choice for antioxidants.

What’s on your weekend sofa-side stack?
Nothing too exciting: Frieze magazine, Spectrum and a Habitat catalogue.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
Sex Education on Netflix. It was funny, raw, truthful, different and hugely entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the complicated friendships develop and get challenged. The characters are precious.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
I love going to Portobello Market on Saturdays whenever I’m in London. It’s always so vibrant and colourful.

And a favourite bookshop?
Jazzhole in Lagos. Most of my books are from there. I’ve been going there for more than 25 years. Apart from the variety of books on offer, it’s a place to discover non-mainstream music from all over the world. The owners, Kunle and Tundu, are the best things about the small shop. Together, they are a mix of therapy, comedy, political commentary and history, all served with a cup of green tea and the best carrot cake ever.

What are you currently humming in the shower?
Oh dear, it’s quite a silly song from Cocomelon. “I like to eat apples and bananas...” I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

Outpost News / BFM, Malaysia

Talking numbers

Malek Ali founded BFM, Malaysia’s only independent radio station, in 2008 (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). The station serves residents of the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and covers business and current affairs. Ali tells us about the inception of the station and the news in Malaysia.

Image: Alamy

Tell us about the history of the station
In 2008 the main radio stations in Malaysia focused on music, entertainment and religious education. I was part of the commuting crowd and I wanted to try something a bit more substantive and talk-oriented, so that when you were on the road for two hours a day, you could learn something. In Malaysia at the time, politics was quite restricted. You couldn’t really talk about it much but I noticed that one particular newspaper could discuss it through the lens of business – and BFM was born.

What does the roster look like?
The first thing you’ll hear in the morning is how markets performed in the US last night. Is the Fed raising interest rates and how will it affect my investments? Then we’ll go on about topical issues, such as our former prime minister Najib Razak going to prison. Then we have a marquee programme called The Breakfast Grille. We grill business, political and NGO personalities on their organisation, performance and leadership.

What forthcoming events will you be covering?
The general election and the Malaysian budget. It will be a very populist budget so that’s something we’re looking at – can we afford it? We also have a couple more politicians in the dock [charged with corruption] and the trials are ongoing. Those are the big issues in Malaysia right now.

Ad of the week / Dutch Monopoly

House of pain

Board games are most closely associated with a sense of togetherness and camaraderie (writes Claudia Jacob). They are dusted off at dinner parties, family meals and at Christmas, when the presence of others is most keenly felt. But Monopoly’s newest Dutch advertising campaign portrays the property-themed board game as one that can spark feuds rather than friendships. Amsterdam-based ad agency Kesselskramer based this on the competitiveness and frustration that Monopoly encourages.

Image: Erik Smits/ Monopoly / KesselsKramer

The slogans, including “For learning to cope with losing”, promote the pedagogical elements of the game and associate positive connotations with arguing. Krista Okma, a childhood-development expert who worked with the agency, believes that Monopoly can help to provide children with a safe environment when dealing with difficult emotions. Erik Smits’ imagery features Monopoly fans aged between eight and 12, their faces contorted in exasperation. Many older readers will surely relate.


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