Saturday 29 October 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 29/10/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Weekend agenda

From searching out public beaches on the East Coast of the US and surveying the evolution of fashion in Belgium to admiring late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s art collection, which is up for auction, our Saturday newsletter provides some compelling talking points to kick off the weekend. But first, Andrew Tuck tries his hand at decorating – what could possibly go wrong?

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Home sweet home

I will have to be careful here to protect identities – and to make sure I don’t get thumped. But some time ago I met someone via work who, at the end of the meeting, asked whether I worked with a certain person. I explained that not only did I work with them but that they were a rising star in the company who I knew very well. This is when it got fun. “I used to be their landlord,” he said. “He was part of a very nice group of tenants, although you might want to ask him why there were so many red wine stains on the kitchen ceiling after he left.”

Ask him? Usain Bolt could not have got back to the office faster. In between panting and mopping my perspiring brow, I said to my dear colleague, “I just met your old landlord.” I was delighted to see a pink blushing glow of horror spread up his neck and across his face like, well, red wine thrown in giddy abandon on a pristine white ceiling. Really, it’s moments like these that make life worth living.

Of course, there were denials – “nothing to do with me” kind of stuff. Then an insistence that if anything untoward did happen that he would definitely have been in a library reading an earnest tome about Sophocles when the damage occurred. I let it rest, delighted with myself. But the other day the story arose again and this time he explained that this had nothing to do with the splashing of some vintage claret but rather, once, when he was not there (let’s see whether he sticks to that story when the police arrive) a guest who might have drunk all of said red wine started playing tennis with lemons and that these kept smashing into the ceiling and, in the following weeks, their juicy splashes turned oddly brown, just like red wine stains. Landlord and tenant, it’s a funny old relationship: one minute you are solemnly signing contracts; the next there is mopping up to be done.

When we moved house some 17 years ago, we made the decision to initially rent out our old place and see whether we could hold onto it as an investment. While I have always had regular work and been able to plan ahead a little, my partner, who is an actor, has not, so this was a way of getting some security for him. And I am delighted to say that he has managed everything and let me carry on swishing about.

Over the past 17 years the area where the house sits has become kind of cool and so the house has never been without tenants for more than the moving in and out days. There were the German engineers who left the house in better shape than when they arrived. The New Zealand couple who raised a family in the house. A film director from the US who left half his clothes. The students who embraced the garden in lockdown, planting seeds and growing vegetables. The tenants have been great – no lemon-tennis players. Yes, there was the person who would call my partner out because a lightbulb had gone and they didn’t know what to do and another who had thought it cute that there was a mouse in the house, only alerting my other half when we spotted one in his bed.

Anyway, after 17 years the house needs some love and so after the latest tenants moved out we decided to let it rest and see whether it could recuperate back to how it looked and felt when we lived there. A builder friend is doing all the heavy lifting but there’s so much to do that this time I have had to get involved. What could go wrong? So far I have ordered metal curtain poles online but was surprised when they arrived in a miniature envelope – it seems that I typed in the measurements in millimetres, not metres. I ordered paint samples that seem to have no colour relationship with what’s on the chart – perhaps pink walls could be nice. I fell through a skylight, bruising my derrière.

The other bit that’s tricky – well, for me – is that my lovely design suggestions are brutally and routinely rejected by the builder and my landlord partner. I will suggest buying something delightful, crafted, storied – and every time the two of them chirp back, “It’s not hardwearing enough.” I have in the space of two weeks found myself slowly edged out of the decision making. While they hold meetings at the house, I am left shouting through the letterbox, “What about marble for the counter? Alvar Aalto made some lights that would work in the lounge.”

So in a few weeks the house will welcome the next tenants and once again I will have to remind myself that this is no longer our home – even if I see glimpses of our younger selves every time we go there – but somewhere for other stories to happen. But hopefully ones that do not involve lemon tennis.

Oh, and there is a lot of wardrobe and seating planning going on in London as we’re heading to Dallas this coming week to prepare for The Chiefs conference. There are two seats left at my table; Sophie Grove’s table is oversold; and I think we’re charging extra to sit on Tyler’s lap as they’ve added an extension to his. If you want to join us on 8 and 9 November, get your ticket here.

The Look / The ballet crowd

On pointe

As London’s autumn cultural calendar picks up, an outing to the Royal Opera House for some ballet beckons (writes Grace Charlton). The desire to dress for the occasion is understandable, especially as the visual language of ballet is so deeply evocative – pointe satin shoes and tutus – but a quick scan of the velvet-clad hordes reveals a rather urbane case of life imitating art.

Image: Alamy

The influence of ballet on fashion is nothing new. In recent years brands such as Miu Miu and Molly Goddard have taken the tulle skirt to new heights (or should I say widths) but dressing up as a ballerina to attend the ballet seems a bit like a high-class version of Comicon. Perhaps I’m being churlish – a resentment built up over years spent tiptoeing rigidly in a series of cold, mirrored rooms – but one should be wary of allowing garments to instil a false sense of athleticism.

Once, after a balletic adaptation of Laura Esquivel’s magical-realist novel Like Water for Chocolate, I witnessed with great amusement a silver-haired gentleman attempt a pirouette holding a large plastic cup filled with wine. Thankfully, the gentleman was unhurt. I wish I could say the same about the wine.

How we live / Life’s a beach

Out of bounds

On a recent reporting trip to the East Coast I found myself holed up in one of the small, leafy cities on Connecticut’s border with New York (writes our Los Angeles-based US editor Christopher Lord). It happens in journalism that sometimes you just have to wait – for an interview to happen, for clearance to come through – and so I took the opportunity to explore this extraordinary and, as I soon found out, rather exclusive stretch of coastline. Zipping about in my little rental car, I’d spy what looked like a good spot for an evening jog along the waterfront, turn down a side road – often little more than a sandy track – and find myself suddenly at a checkpoint. “Permits only here,” said the officious man in a mauve gilet, leaning out the window of a wooden hut. “You’re going to need to turn around right here, sir.” And so I did.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

It happened repeatedly; places designated as “parks” on the map would turn out to be permit-only enclaves. If I was allowed to step out of my vehicle, it would carry a hefty day rate, even just to take a peek at the Sound. Across the water on Long Island or Nantucket, vast stretches of the coastline are privatised and for some-eyes-only. I can appreciate locals wanting to control the numbers spilling onto the beaches as the big city decamps over summer. But the ocean should always be a great leveller and even for residents these “season permits” don’t come cheap. I wonder how many of those not living in the glitzier suburbs of Stamford and Greenwich feel inclined to splash out on a pass every year.

Here in California, you’ll spot a few “private beach” signs and hired security to ward off surfers and sunseekers. Generally speaking, you can pay them little heed: the mean high tide line, the highest point of the ocean along the 1,352km of Pacific coast, is designated public sand. And that’s exactly where I’ll be heading this weekend. Just try to stop me.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Québec calling

The Monocle Concierge aims to please. That’s why we will go to great lengths to ensure that all of our recommendations are fail-safe. If you are going somewhere and would like to know where to eat, drink and stay, click here. We will answer one question every week.

Image: Alamy

Dear Monocle Concierge,

My wife and I are going to Québec City in a few weeks – the last trip before our daughter is born in December – and I was wondering whether you have any recommendations for cultural activities and places to go in the city.

Thanks in advance,
Joao Kloster Souza,
Hoboken, New Jersey

Dear Joao,

Québec City in the autumn is charming. It’s difficult to beat wrapping up warm for a relaxed stroll through the cobbled, sloping streets of the old city (a World Heritage Site) or along its 17th-century city walls, which offer an impressive panorama of the city’s autumnal colours.

If you’re seeking somewhere to stay other than the famous, castle-esque Château Frontenac, we would recommend Auberge Saint-Antoine. It’s housed in a former maritime storehouse in the old city and has views of the mighty St Lawrence River from some of its rooms. Its in-house restaurant, Chez Muffy, with its exposed rough-hewn stone walls and an open fire, is a cosy affair, and serves elevated dishes made from Québec-grown ingredients.

Beyond the old city, have dinner at Le Clocher Penché, a family-owned bistro open since 1993 and now a city institution. Given how rich Québec’s food and drink scenes are, you should visit Le Grand Marché de Québec, the city’s handsomely redesigned central market. You can pick up some fresh cheese curd, a Québec staple (and safe to eat while pregnant), from Laiterie Charlevoix to snack on while you’re there. Be sure to listen carefully when you take your first bite: the louder the curd squeaks between your teeth, the higher its quality, so the Québécois say.

To sate your cultural appetites, check out the (largely French-language) performance schedule at the imposing Grand Théâtre de Québec, a striking brutalist building commissioned to mark Canada’s centennial in 1967 and restored last year. The acoustics of its auditorium are second to none. If your musical tastes are less formal, pop into the city’s best-loved record shop, Le Knock-Out!, which sometimes hosts impromptu in-store shows by local musicians.

A visit to the excellent Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec is a must. Its permanent collection of contemporary art is rich, as are its visiting exhibitions. At the end of your tour of its galleries, you should visit the excellent gift shop. It’s a well-designed space that we’ve long believed should be a template for museum gift shops everywhere, thanks to its nicely curated collection of art books and non-touristy objects, and its charming, crescent-shaped children’s library, which is a good place to pick up a trinket or two for the soon-to-arrive newcomer in your family.

Bon voyage, Joao.

Fashion update / MoMu Antwerp

Sights of the season

Antwerp and its famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts have long held influence over the world of fashion and birthed some of the industry’s most famous names, from Martin Margiela to Dries Van Noten (writes Natalie Theodosi). That is why the Mode Museum (Momu) and its new programme of winter exhibitions make a trip to the Belgian port city particularly worthwhile.

For the first time, part of Momu’s permanent fashion collection will be on show, featuring garments by the aforementioned Margiela and Van Noten, as well as the Royal Academy’s international alumni. The aim is to highlight the evolution of fashion in Belgium. “Since the international breakthrough of the first generation of Belgian designers in the late 1980s, Belgian fashion has seen radical change,” curator Elisa de Wyngaert tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. “The cultural, socio-economic and political contexts from which designers shape their oeuvres all lead to an identity that is constantly changing.” What unites Antwerp’s creatives today, according to de Wyngaert, isn’t geography but a collective flair for craft, surrealism and the deconstruction of clothing. “They all explore the peculiar and the humorous by combining garments in unexpected ways,” she adds.

Image: MoMU

Elsewhere in the museum, you can explore Mirror Mirror, a show that examines the psychology of fashion and all the ways in which clothing can be used to shape one’s body image. “People tend to focus on the negative connotations and beauty ideals promoted by the industry so it was interesting to emphasise the empowering role that designers can play,” adds De Wyngaert.

The third exhibition, Exploding Fashion, is the result of a joint research project with students from Central Saint Martins in London. It focuses on the art of pattern cutting and its evolution from 2D sketching to 3D animation, offering a glimpse at the future of design.

Image: Jamie Stoker

The Interrogator / Johny Pitts

Calming influence

Johny Pitts is a British writer, photographer and broadcaster. His award-winning book Afropean: Notes from Black Europe has been translated into eight languages, most recently Portuguese. His latest solo exhibition, Home Is Not A Place, is currently showing at Graves Gallery, Sheffield, with an accompanying book published by HarperCollins. Here, Johny tells us about his love for Provençal weekend markets and why he is such a fan of NHK World-Japan.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
When I’m drinking coffee, I love nothing more than a cup of strong Red Brick coffee from Square Mile Coffee Roasters to go with my newspaper. But at the moment I’m caffeine-free and loving it. I feel younger somehow. So I’m sticking to freshly squeezed orange juice.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
When I was living in Marseille, I’d always make the short trip to Aix-en-Provence to its weekend farmer’s market. I’d buy exquisite cherry-and-jasmine jams and lavender honey. The French are relaxed with artisanal treats but I find such markets in London too boujee and self-aware. I prefer the madness of Peckham High Street.

Favourite bookshop?
My friend Joe Shakespeare runs the bookshop at the ICA and he’s doing amazing things with that space. I see him less as a bookshop manager and more as a curator: rather than banal genres, he groups together books from various disciplines that chime with each other. It is dangerous for your pockets though.

Which news source do you wake up to?
Newsline on NHK World-Japan. News outlets in the West are so anxiety-inducing so I like to start my morning with a round-up delivered from an Eastern perspective. The presenters are formal and calm.

Which radio station and DJ do you listen to?
I used to listen to Claire Anderson’s The Late Lounge on Jazz FM, which is full of what I call “late 1990s backpacker music” – Balearic house, trip-hop and so on. Claire’s not on Jazz FM any more but she still does The Late Lounge show through her own website.

Any movie recommendations?
Last night I watched an indie film called Spring. It is about a young guy from the US who is having a tough time and escapes to a small town in Italy where things get weirder. I’ve never watched a horror film before that I would describe as strangely relaxing.

What about books?
I’m currently digging into Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a strange and fascinating collection of essays that brings together Marxist analysis, psychogeography and architectural criticism. For new books, I enjoyed Orhan Pamuk’s atmospheric and timely Nights of Plague.

What Am I Bid? / Paul Allen collection

Where the art is

Whatever one’s views on the propriety of individuals amassing preposterous fortunes, late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, worth an estimated €20bn, at least had the good grace to enjoy himself (writes Andrew Mueller). He owned NFL and NBA teams, a collection of vintage aircraft and a yacht with its own submarine. Allen also collected art. On 9 and 10 November, Christie’s will enable you to acquire some of it. It might be the most lucrative art auction of all time. The collection is valued north of $1bn (€1bn); Allen’s estate is donating proceeds to his philanthropic causes.

Image: Christie’s

There are relative bargains. You might land a Saul Steinberg sketch for less than $20,000 (€20,000), or a small Paul Signac watercolour sketch for a four-figure sum – not bad given that a Signac masterpiece elsewhere in the auction is expected to clear $35m (€35m). There are also works by Cézanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Klimt, Van Gogh and Monet – all firmly in the “if you have to ask how much, what are you even doing here” category.

High-end art still seems a solid investment: in 1998, Allen paid $4.4m (€4.4m) for that Signac. And these lots will be lent further lustre by their provenance. You’ll pay for who owned them, as well as who painted them.

Photo of the Week / ‘Deer Hirsch’, Wolfgang Tillmans

Animal magnetism

“I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see,” said Wolfgang Tillmans of his work (writes Maja Renfer). This September, the legendary German photographer received his first major retrospective in New York at The Museum of Modern Art. One of the most anticipated shows of the year and in the works since 2014, Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear showcases 417 photographs, videos and installations.

Image: Wolfgang Tillmans

Deer Hirsch, one of the two largest works on show, depicts Tillman’s partner Jochen Klein on a deserted beach showing his empty hands to a buck with which he had shared food seconds earlier. The rare black-and-white photograph was shot in 1995 only two years before Klein died from an Aids-related illness. A photographer of transience, Tillmans leads his lens with a sense of attention and deep care for his subjects, and urges us to look without fear. Despite global wars, political tumult and the loss of loved ones, there is plenty of good left to see – the deer might be gone before you know it.

‘Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear’ runs until 1 January;


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