Saturday 3 December 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 3/12/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Mammalian makeover

Is your wardrobe giving you the hump? Why not try on a camel coat for size? The Look will persuade you. Or perhaps you can’t decide what kind of Christmas tree to buy; we have that debate covered too. Elsewhere, there’s France’s trendiest ski brand and one of our colleagues’ native seasonal traditions. But first, Andrew Tuck on his new feathered stalker...

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Playing the markets

Short of sorting out your travel, I think I’ve done all I can to entice you to head to our HQ in Zürich for this weekend’s Monocle Christmas Market. But just in case you missed my soothing entreaties in recent weeks, please get yourselves down to Dufourstrasse 90 right now for a fulsome dose of Christmas cheer, some top-notch Crimble retail and a hearty ho, ho, ho from Mr Brûlé and the gang. And – cue drumroll – next weekend the snow will be falling, the robins a-chirping and merriment generally unleashed as Midori House in London sets up the stalls for its own Christmas Market. It’s an event worth attending just for the killer tombola with gifts so good that parents have been caught holding their offspring aloft, attempting to spy the good numbers.

While the robin will be a welcome guest next weekend, Midori House has another feathered visitor that is, as you might say, doing my head in. In recent weeks a female blackbird has taken to coming to the window next to where I perch and repeatedly pecking at its reflection. It can go on all day. During peak peckathons I have to open the window every 10 minutes to scare it off but still it returns. Apparently, it’s a territorial thing and not Morse code but I think that it has made its point and should give it a rest. In short, don’t be surprised if one of the first prizes won at the tombola is a head-banging bird in a cage.

Another animal story. My partner was away at the start of the week, so Macy the fox terrier came to work with me, something that she has been doing for a decade. But after years of dutifully following me around the office all day, she has suddenly decided to mix things up. First, she has discovered that I am not the only sucker who can be cajoled into picking her up so that she can snooze on their lap. I raise my eyes and there she is, curled up on Jack or Carol’s legs. Second, she has decided that the sofa in the meeting room is an upgrade on napping under my desk. This has meant that, several times this week, I have spotted her silhouette through the meeting room’s frosted-glass door because she has refused to budge while a department plans a project or someone has a private phone call. And the only thing that I can attribute this change of behaviour to? The pecking bird is annoying her too. Would taxidermy be such an awful conclusion to a bird’s time in Marylebone?

The new December-January issue of Monocle is hitting subscribers’ doormats and newsstands about now and contains our annual Soft Power Survey. It’s a ranking of the nations that use culture, diplomacy, education and trade to make friends and gently promote their interests and values around the world. On Thursday, I was onstage for a discussion about said soft power and Monocle’s perspective at a conference called Outer Thinking, organised by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK. It was fun and I wasn’t even pelted with meatballs when I explained that Sweden had dipped in the charts (though maybe they are waiting to smack me round the mush with a pickled herring when I attend the Swedish ambassador’s Christmas drinks next week). Josh, our editor, and Alexis, our foreign editor, kindly came to listen to the panel and show their support but afterwards we all had to sneak off because of a barrage of deadlines. It made for an amusing sight – little me leaving surrounded by the two tallest people at Monocle. They definitely looked like my security detail. Tossed rollmops? Deranged blackbirds? They wouldn’t stand a chance.

And Josh did this for real one time. We were in Hamburg and I was waiting in the street, looking at emails on my phone while he bought a book. A man came up to me and started accusing me of taking his picture – he had the look of the troubled blackbird – and in seconds slipped into a homophobic rant. Luckily, at that very juncture, Josh appeared clutching a dainty tome of poetry – he does like a poem – and simply stepped in front of the man, who beat a rapid and silent retreat. It’s handy having friends of scale. Tom Edwards, head of radio, once described Josh as being like a human haunch of venison. Said with some love, I hasten to add.

But we can’t leave things there, can we? It’s Saturday. The reason for our dash back to Midori House was that we are just sending to print Monocle Alpino, our winter newspaper, having recently dispatched our second volume of The Monocle Companion essays paperback. We are also fast completing the next in our new Handbook series; Spain will be following on from Portugal (there might be one or two Mallorca entries). How good is that – ending the year in such rude media health? So, really, come to see where all the magic happens next weekend in London. Did I mention the Glühwein? Just don’t get messy on it or my in-house security contingent will have to take control of the situation.

The Look / Camel coats

Animal attraction

Every winter coat I used to wear was black (writes Chiara Rimella). Colourful statement pieces have their place in some people’s wardrobes but I don’t want to stand out in the crowd with a cherry-red number, so I retreated beneath my dark cocoon – until I discovered the camel coat.

Image: Alamy

In truth, most camel coats no longer bear any relation to the long-legged quadruped of the desert: in the 1920s, when the shade started becoming ubiquitous, many models were made from the animal’s hair. Today they’re more frequently wool or cashmere but their mammal moniker still lifts them out of bog-standard beigeness. From the moment I first put on my long, double-breasted Max Mara model, I felt like a sultry heiress. Somehow the hue felt both stand-out and subdued; neutral, aloof, elegant. In its short, long, belted or wraparound versions, the camel coat has been worn by the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe (pictured) and Catherine Deneuve; it is imbued with a sense of old-school, mid-century chic.

I started making the camel coat a regular part of my winter repertoire a couple of years ago, and plenty of people have joined my caravan since: my colleague Sophie Grove started showing up in a similar coat. Brands from Nanushka to Loewe and Totême to Blazé Milano keep bringing out new versions of this caramel-coloured classic. And putting one on is a surefire way to cure the humps.

How We Live / Christmas Trees

Always the real thing

I always love watching Christmas trees being carted home (writes Sophie Grove). As December swings into gear, you’ll see Nordmann and Douglas firs lashed to cargo bikes, shunted along or carried by couples in little bushy convoys. A 2.5-metre-tall spruce is heavier than it looks and I admire those who carry them with nonchalance, slung over one shoulder, Sunday papers in the other hand.

Of course, the felled tree’s fleeting use – and their ultimate brittle demise – has led to a little controversy over the years. A neighbour of mine declared that she will use a bunch of artful twigs as a tree substitute this year. A couple I met at a gardening collective said they are painting a tree onto the glass of some bi-fold doors. Another friend has become so disillusioned with malting needles on her carpet that she’s going plastic. Her argument goes that though imitation trees have a larger carbon footprint (estimated at 40kg) than real ones, they can last a lifetime and don’t involve the transport costs or disposal at the end of the season. Some fakes are worryingly good impersonators and some are pricey: The White Company offers a pre-lit faux conifer for €465 and one company called Kaemingk Everlands has a 3-metre-tall spruce for €1,160.

I’m not won over. For me, owning a plastic tree is equal to the ersatz folly of hoovering your garden’s astroturf once a week. Maybe we give fake Christmas trees a hard time. But there’s something about mock greenery that feels worse than any other plastic confection. Masquerading as photosynthesising foliage has a kind of duplicity that I can’t live with. For me, the spicy scent of terpenes on Christmas morning is worth the spiky needles through your socks and a few sessions with the hoover as Twelfth Night looms. In the grand scheme of consumables, a sustainably sourced bushy conifer from Scotland or Norway feels like it’s one of the lesser ecological evils facing the planet – and one of its reliable pleasures.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Chills and thrills

This week the Concierge heads to Japan, where many of you seem to be bound this Christmas and New Year. Hopefully, our recommendations will help to make it a memorable trip. If you would like some seasonal tips for your winter holiday, click here. We will answer one question every week.

Image: Alamy

Dear Concierge,

My wife and I plan to spend Christmas in Tokyo and New Year’s Eve in Kyoto. Any unique suggestions to help us enjoy the season?

Thank you,
Flavio Lobato

Dear Flavio,

Christmas is an excellent time to visit Japan. Take advantage of the crisp, clear weather at this time of year to see Mount Fuji from Shibuya Sky, the outdoor observatory on top of the Shibuya’s Scramble Square Tower. Tokyo’s Christmas illuminations are already blazing; try Nakadori in Marunouchi or Keyakizaka in Roppongi Hills. Be warned, though: the sparkling trees and lights will be removed on Christmas Day and replaced with beautifully simple pine and bamboo New Year’s decorations.

Shogatsu (New Year) is an important holiday in Japan but New Year’s Eve is less of a street party than a quiet family affair. If you’re seeking a crowd, head to the nearest Shinto shrine, where people will gather to see in 2023 – bells are rung and amazake (sweet saké) is drunk. For those in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine and Kanda Myojin in Tokyo will all be busy into the early hours. In Kyoto, Yasaka Shrine will be in full festival mode and you can try the traditional New Year’s Eve noodle dish, toshikoshi soba. Don’t worry if you can’t make it on the 31 December as shrine visits (hatsumode) continue for several days.

Many restaurants are closed until 3 or 4 January but you can make your way to a hotel for a bite. Back in the capital, eat delicious tempura at The Okura Tokyo’s Yamazato restaurant, enjoy a cocktail in the panoramic Starlight bar and marvel at the perfect recreation of its 1960s lobby. Yoi otoshi o!

Culture Cuts / Miami Art Week 2022

Hot ticket

The 2022 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach ends today. If you’re in the 305 this weekend, here are our three picks for off-site exhibitions and fairs to see.

‘Liminal’, Pérez Art Museum Miami. Argentine maestro Leandro Erlich gets the deep-dive treatment; a study of the in-between worlds that have been fertile fields to till for the artist. By that, we mean his illusionistic installations that create the effect of peering up from the depths of a swimming pool, or a view to a block of flats reminiscent of ‘Rear Window’: a survey of stories surfeit with potential, always poised at the point of being fully formed.

‘Miami is Not the Caribbean. Yet it Feels Like it’, Oolite Arts. A humid breeze is blowing through the well-buffed corridors of Oolite: artists of Caribbean heritage interrogate the idea of how much Miami, this city-on-the-up, really figures in the tropical island neighbourhood of the Caribbean. Curated by Danny Baez, co-founder of the MECA Art Fair in Puerto Rico, this is a balmy snapshot of where the regional scene is right now.

Untitled + Scope. These twin satellite art fairs to Art Basel, separated by a quarter mile of sand on the waterfront in South Beach, are two peas in a pod: a true mixed bag of gallery might, some of which are just nudging up to the big leagues, buffered by some mediocre offerings. Still, it’s an entertaining stroll among the booths and a place to pick up an affordable piece or two.

Christmas Traditions / Saint Nicolas, Switzerland

Where it all began

Inspired by conversations around Midori House, we will be sharing one of our colleague’s native Christmas traditions every Saturday until the new year. This week, Monocle’s researcher Grace Charlton takes us to Switzerland, where excited – and anxious – children are awaiting the imminent arrival of Saint Nicolas.

Image: Alamy

Every 6 December, kindergarten students the length and breadth of Switzerland line streets and hallways to greet Saint Nicolas (or Samichlaus, as he is known to Swiss Germans). This avuncular figure’s long red robes and snowy white beard are the inspiration for the modern-day Father Christmas. The original Nick was a third-century Catholic bishop in Myre, southeast Turkey, who was adored for his generosity and as a protector of children and widows. Nicholas’s legend grew in Europe during the Middle Ages, with tales of his good deeds spreading across the continent thanks to sailors claiming him as a patron saint.

In Switzerland he retains a quasi-religious aura and his arrival in early December is greeted not only with excitement but trepidation by muffler and Moon Boot-clad tots. Saint Nicolas carries a leatherbound notebook, in which are written the names of those who have been nice and those who have been naughty. The former will receive a bag full of peanuts, mandarins, chocolate coins and a gingerbread replica of the bearded man himself. Those who have fallen short get a lump of coal from Nicolas’s sinister sidekick, Le Père Fouettard, who carries a creepy broom made from twigs. I’m afraid at this point in the year it’s probably too late to affect the outcome. I hope that you, dear reader, will share some of your mandarins with me.

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What Am I Bid? / The US Constitution

Founding barter

A certain class of weary sneerer enjoys complaining that American politics is for sale to the highest bidder (writes Andrew Mueller). On 13 December, Sotheby’s plans to lend literal substance to this complaint. For sale will be one of only 13 known remaining examples of the initial edition of 500 or so copies of the US Constitution printed after the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Of that 13, two are privately owned – one fetched $43.2m (€41.4m) last year, which might be motivating the seller of this, the other one.

Image: Sotheby's

Last November’s auction occasioned an attempt to buy it back for the public: more than $40m (€38.3m) was raised by a crowdfunded effort, only to be outbid by hedge-fund honcho Kenneth C Griffin. There would seem two agreeable outcomes to this new auction. Either the federal government steps in and purchases it for the nation or some public-spirited individual possessed of the means and requisite expertise in the arts of forgery buys it and rewrites the Second Amendment to note that it applies specifically to muzzle-loading single-shot rifles that would be lucky to ding a barn door at 100 metres. Those who can’t afford to buy it – ie, almost everyone – can at least look at it: the lot will be on public display in Sotheby’s New York gallery prior to sale.

Retail Update / Black Crows

Downhill destination

The idea for French ski brand Black Crows was hatched in a Chamonix tavern in the winter of 2004. Around the table were Camille Jaccoux, a former pro skier (and James Bond stunt double), free-ski pioneer Bruno Compagnet and investor Christophe Villemin. The three wanted to create skis and cold-weather clothing that were stylish and technical, hardy yet light, and would perform well in all snow conditions. Nearly 20 years later, Black Crows’ distinctive six-chevron logo denotes a wearer who is serious about skiing. Now the brand has landed, with consummate grace, in Paris’s Latin Quarter for a pop-up called the Nest. Open every day until Christmas, it will feature the entire Black Crows 2022/2023 collection. Slide on down.
42 rue des écoles, 75005 Paris

Image: Black Crows


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