As Monocle heads stateside for The Chiefs conference, Andrew Tuck reflects on the changing fortunes of US cities and Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones reveals her favourite Brooklyn bookshop. Elsewhere, we warm up with a typically paradoxical British tradition and The Monocle Concierge recommends the high life in Oslo. Sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.
The Monocle crew, Mr Brûlé included, is making its way to Dallas this weekend for an outing of our The Chiefs conference in the city on Tuesday and Wednesday (you should grab yourself a last-minute ticket). It’s an event that looks at how we can improve leadership in business, global security, hospitality, retail and much more. It will also be a chance to explore the workings and ambitions of an American city reinventing its urban landscape – I am looking forward to meeting the mayor, newspaper editors and Dallas developers all out to make a difference.
In recent months the future of the American city has kept coming up in passionate conversations with writers, architects, urban planners and our US readers. Is there a crisis in San Francisco? Has civic leadership become sidetracked by the culture debate? Why are people moving to Nashville and Asheville, Miami and, of course, Dallas? The intensity of this conversation is also why we have commissioned an investigation into New York and the narrative that has taken hold that the city is increasingly dangerous, that homelessness rates are out of control and that housing costs are escalating in ways that threaten community cohesion. You can read it in our annual special The Forecast, which is at the printers as we speak (and you can secure your copy by subscribing now). I won’t spoil the read but it turns out that the challenges are real. Some of the causes and fixes, however, are more nuanced than a tabloid headline about a horrific crime can ever hint at. And it certainly isn’t a lost cause; we will introduce you to the people who believe that they can fix all of the above.
On Thursday I had drinks with New York-based architect James Sanders, who was in London for a few days. As well as designing buildings, he has written and edited books on cities and created numerous exhibitions about urbanism. We talked about New York. His view is that the lack of office workers means that the subway has suffered and that, yes, there have been some horrific crimes. But he also believes that the city remains vibrant and that Manhattan could support a new generation of entrepreneurs if only landlords would lower commercial rents. What was really fascinating, however, was when we started talking about the exhibition that he recently staged in Grand Central Terminal; suddenly I had a clear view of how much New Yorkers care about their hometown.
The exhibition was called The Constant Future: A Century of the Regional Plan and it marked the centenary of the city’s Regional Plan Association, which in its history has created four masterplans for New York. In Grand Central, a transport hub that even now sees hundreds of thousands of people pass through its ticketing hall every day, Sanders placed epic photomurals and videos showing how the city has been melded over time. He also put up detailed texts and told me that thousands of people stopped and read every single one. Urbanism: who knew that people would care so much. Someone should make a podcast on the topic; perhaps call it The Urbanist.
The future of the American city has arisen in lots of other ways this week too. An urban planner and former Dallas resident sent me her list of things that I must see in the city, from retail projects and cultural centres to a bar where “the dance floor gets messy”. She called Dallas a city that’s “learning to be urban”, which is also intriguing. And I interviewed Colin Parent, executive director of Circulate San Diego, a think-tank that has just published a report detailing how to improve bus transit in a city where the car is king. All positive.
Then, however, there was the email from the reader in Phoenix who has taken the decision to leave the city. It was sobering to read, starting with how they had chosen to vote in the midterm elections. “We made a point of dropping off our mail-in ballots in a post office lobby to avoid any armed intimidation,” he wrote, before adding, “Just a few days ago, in yet another road-rage incident (which seem to happen on a daily basis here in Phoenix), an eight-year-old girl was shot and killed. People routinely wear shirts in public that say, ‘Fuck your feelings’. Some are calling for a ban on gay marriage. It feels totally hopeless.”
So why are some US cities thriving as never before, while others are still shaking off the coronavirus-era blues? Why do some roll out the welcome mat, while others make a number of their residents uneasy? Having seen the list of who is joining us in Dallas, I am hoping for many more conversations about cities. But I am also looking forward to leaving with some lessons from a city that wants to remake itself in exciting ways – and to understand the leadership required. Join us and be part of the debate – and perhaps later we can find that dance floor.
Narendra Modi has found time to be vexed by the lack of uniformity among the country’s police uniforms (writes Andrew Mueller). India’s prime minister has pitched the country’s state governments the idea of standardising cops’ kits – “one nation, one uniform”. As things stand, India’s state police forces make their own arrangements. The only common thread is that most wear a shade of khaki, though the city cops of Kolkata insist on a gloriously impractical and optimistic white.
It is usually correct to suspect Modi’s intentions whenever he floats some unifying nationalist wheeze. He has always been prone to a sort of Louis XIV-esque “L’État, c’est moi” hubris and it is easy to believe that he might perceive this as yet another endeavour in refashioning India in his own image. However, Modi does have a case that Indian police uniforms should be rejigged – just not the one he thinks he does.
The uniformed services of India are probably more entitled than most to wear khaki: the word for the dust-coloured fabric was adopted from Urdu by the British Indian Army in the 1840s. But khaki is a military necessity, not a law-enforcement one and any confusion, even cosmetic, of police officers with soldiers is bad for both the public and the police. A wish to avoid this confusion was the reason why London’s Metropolitan Police, upon formation circa 1829, were issued with blue uniforms – variations on which are now usually preferred by the police forces of democracies. India’s Old Bill should be enjoined to retain distinguishing local flair, which, after all, reinforces the idea that police are our fellow citizens. But they – and all police – should cease dressing like troops.
The Monocle Concierge is a big fan of forward-planning. So it was gratifying to receive a New Year’s Eve-related query this week. Please see below for our seasonally suitable answer. If you are off somewhere and would like our expert tips, click here. We will answer one question every week.
My family and I will be visiting Oslo for four nights over New Year. We are keen to experience New Year’s Eve the way the locals do but obtaining information in this regard is proving elusive.
Would it be possible for the Concierge to recommend how we should spend New Year’s Eve in Oslo and suggest one or two cosy, fun-filled restaurants offering excellent fare that the locals would frequent?
Durban, South Africa
Midwinter in Oslo is magical and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to a display of the aurora borealis (though you’ll stand a better chance if you travel further north). But in any case, you will definitely be treated to a firework display – not a public one, as the City of Oslo has slashed its budget in this regard, but hundreds of thousands of private ones sent skywards from pretty much every home.
To take all of this in, you want to head up as high as possible. You could travel on the number one metro to Frognerseteren, a station high above the capital, but you would have to catch a taxi back down as the metro stops running shortly after midnight.
If that sounds like a bit of a schlep, catch the external glass lift to the 34th floor of the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, where you’ll find The Top Restaurant & Bar and the best views over Oslo from the city centre. The menu features exclusive Norwegian ingredients and will have plenty of bubbly on ice for the big countdown. Be sure to book early: you won’t be the only ones to opt for this spectacular spot to enjoy the final hours of 2022. Oh, and dress up: most Norwegians don their finest to see out the year’s final day in as much style as possible. Godt nytt år!
In the UK, tonight is Bonfire Night (writes Alexis Self). This is a time when the people of these islands come together to celebrate the failure of a 17th-century conspiracy to blow up the king by, um, blowing things up. This evening I’ll be in Lewes, a medieval town in the southern English county of East Sussex that has one of the largest and strangest celebrations.
Between 1555 and 1557, under the reign of Mary I, 17 Protestant martyrs were burned in Lewes. These executions achieved their opposite intention: reinforcing, rather than dampening, the town’s anti-Catholic sentiment. When a 1605 plot to blow up the House of Lords and the new Protestant king, James I, was uncovered, its failure was celebrated raucously on the town’s streets – a tradition that continues to this day every 5 November.
This explosive commemoration of a thwarted explosion is not the only paradoxical aspect of Lewes’s Bonfire Night. Its early incarnations were intended to assert English radicalism over a meddling state; today they celebrate the institutions of church, police and the military. Those older adherents were the rambunctious denizens of a largely agrarian town; 21st-century Lewes is decidedly genteel. And yet the fundamentals of Bonfire Night remain: the feral energy of crowds, the pageantry of fancy dress and the mesmerising effect of large fires.
The town’s bonfire societies march through the streets as First World War soldiers, Napoleonic sailors or Tudor queens, dragging elaborate effigies that they then burn on huge pyres. There is usually at least one depicting the prime minister of the day but the UK has had three leaders this year and the town’s effigy-makers might find it difficult to decide which is the most important – and therefore most worthy of burning. So in Lewes this year, immolation could be the highest form of flattery.
Radhika Jones was appointed editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair in 2017, leaving The New York Times where she served as the editorial director of the books department. She has also held editorial positions at The Moscow Times, The Paris Review and Time. Here, Jones tells us about her favourite Brooklyn bookshop and her uncanny ability to fall asleep in an instant.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I alternate between coffee and strong black tea; Harney & Son’s Scottish Morn is a favourite.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I couldn’t possibly stop at one, so here are three that reliably tempt me: Greenlight Books in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn; Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, Rhode Island; and Persephone Books, formerly in London and now in Bath – the shop is a showcase for their catalogue, which I dream of buying in its entirety.
Any podcast recommendations?
My family and I took a trip to Scotland in June and, in preparation, we started listening to Stories of Scotland, a podcast about Scottish history and legend. We became complete addicts. The hosts are irresistibly engaging and funny, they have a marvellous rapport and their deep love for Highlands culture animates every episode.
I love a good literary period piece. The Age of Innocence has never really left my mind. Neither has A Room with a View.
Who’s your cultural obsession?
Don DeLillo. He has such a quietly powerful imagination; he knows things before they happen.
What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I am blessed with the ability to fall asleep almost instantaneously but in the rare instances when I need aural assistance, Chopin’s nocturnes do the trick.
Aelfred, London’s largest showroom of Scandinavian furniture, opened on Thursday (writes Jack Simpson). Housed in a vast industrial space in London’s East End, it stocks a rolling supply of mid-century furniture and home accessories. “Rather than putting everything online, we want to celebrate the dying art of discovering treasures in real life,” said Nina Hertig, the showroom’s co-founder. Hungry visitors will be able to indulge in the new Moro East restaurant next door, which features a beautiful minimalist interior designed by Hertig’s friends Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama of Studiomama.
Unlike its namesake King Aelfred, the 9th-century Anglo-Saxon ruler who spent his days fending off Vikings, this showroom will gratefully welcome Scandinavian hoards. Whether it be Rio rosewood shelving units or Poul Henningsen lighting, Aelfred boasts quite the bounty. Hertig won’t be labelling the designers to promote guests connecting with the item itself – offering the chance to procure some iconic pieces.
Valentino Garavani, founder of the Roman fashion house that bears his name, celebrated his 90th birthday this year and a new exhibition to mark the occasion has opened in Doha’s M7 design and innovation hub (writes Natalie Theodosi). Set to run until April 2023, Forever Valentino is the brand’s largest dedicated exhibition yet. It features more than 200 pieces, ranging from Garavani’s earliest designs – worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – to more recent pieces by the brand’s current creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli.
The clothing and accessories are shown against a backdrop of images of Rome to highlight how the Italian capital has shaped the spirit of the brand. “Rome is where everything starts,” said Piccioli, who has stayed close to Garavani ever since taking the helm in 2008. In a sign of respect for his predecessor, Piccioli curated the exhibition alongside the author Alexander Fury and Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of New York’s New Museum.
“The legacy of Valentino Garavani is to celebrate beauty in all its incarnations, from every walk of life and every period of time,” said Fury. “That ceaseless search for – and celebration of – beauty to better the world is the true meaning of Forever Valentino.”
Bedfellow is a new collection of work by Caroline Tompkins (writes Kamila Lozinska). Between soft, night-sky-coloured covers are pages filled with what the New York-based photographer calls her “heaven and hell pictures” in which pleasure and fear go hand in hand. Her latest book, published by Palm Studios, explores stories from her past relationships, some of which are playful while others reveal the photographer’s fears.
Unrecognisable at first, this image of a pink-and-fleshy cactus flower encapsulates Tompkins’ fascination with juxtaposing the delicate and the violent – a motif that pervades this enrapturing book (and accompanying exhibition, which is open by appointment until 25 November at London’s 1014 Gallery).