Saturday 21 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 21/1/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Hot streak

Ease into the weekend with our Saturday newsletter, which takes you on a winding journey from the Royal Thai Police’s eye-catching new uniforms to the Hollywood houses haunted by the stardom of their former occupants. Plus: the Monocle Concierge in Tel Aviv and menswear at Paris Fashion Week. Andrew Tuck kicks things off with a rather steamy tale…

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Grand old times

Lex, our foreign editor, had to send an unusual email to the Finnish embassy in London this week. “Have you, perchance, found a pair of swimming trunks lying around the joint?” he enquired. Lex had been invited to a session in the embassy’s sauna, used adroitly as part of that nation’s soft-power outreach (it’s a chance to savour something truly Finnish and nakedly democratic, though you might get thrashed with birch twigs if you say anything rude about your hosts).

Perhaps it was the pleasures of the sustenance that was supplied post-steaming but, when Lex got home, he realised that his swimmers (I was too polite to ask whether they were of the voluminous or budgie-smuggler variety) had gone astray. It only took a short while for Finland’s best diplomats to locate the lost garment – I have a nice image in my mind of the ambassador on all fours, looking under some Alvar Aalto furniture. I imagine that Lex is once again reunited with his trunks at this juncture. Now he just needs to find his shirt… I jest.

Discounting the oldest profession, there are few jobs where getting butt naked is part and parcel of a day’s work but dropping your trousers has a fine heritage at Monocle – and the Finns are to blame again. Years ago, we were broadcasting from Helsinki and asked one of our then reporters, the wonderful Adrian Craddock, whether he would be up for interviewing the architect of a steamy new sauna complex in the actual sauna and in the buff. The result was pure genius. I recall the line, “OK, I am taking my trouser belt off; I am going in now.” While there was a fair amount of ruthless teasing in advance, our determined reporter was most concerned about getting his Marantz moist (that’s the recording device, by the way).

I have two nice watches that mean the world to me. The first was bought with some money that my parents left and every time I click the bracelet closed on my wrist I think of them. The second came as a pretty magical marker of time well spent, helping to make a media company. It’s a constant ticking reminder of that time. I worry little about the complications and tourbillons that entice watch collectors. I simply like the way that a watch values time and can add a certain calm beauty to the passing seconds.

This week we co-hosted an event with Japanese watch-maker Grand Seiko at its new shop on London’s New Bond Street. Over the course of the evening I ended up speaking to many of our readers about the significance of the watches that they were wearing. There were tales of obsession with a particular brand but more often about how the purchase of their timepiece had marked a significant moment for them. I know that we all have the time readily available on our phones and fitness devices, and I am not urging anyone to get rid of those. But surely time and meaning are more easily glimpsed in the mesmerising glide of watch hands?

On Thursday night I came down to Palma for the weekend (not that I am obsessed with this place or anything). It’s off-season. I am writing this column on Friday morning and the forecast says that it will be a sunny high of 14C, so definitely no dips in the sea for me; this cold-water swimming nonsense isn’t something that I wish to encourage, let alone partake in. Last night the airport was pleasantly quiet. But, well, it’s not off-season for anyone who lives here. Indeed, I have the impression that winter, when fewer tourists are around, is when all the fun stuff happens.

Last night we dropped our bags and headed into town to meet friends who were at the city’s Sant Sebastià celebrations. The patron saint of Palma is the excuse for numerous events, parties and concerts that run until 29 January. On Thursday night we were quickly immersed in a world of music (bagpipes included), bonfires, a fire-spewing dragon, pop-up bars, alfresco discos and free concerts from the likes of Amaia – big news here, seeing as everyone except me could sing along to her songs.

Yet the best and most chaotic bit was in the Old Town’s bustling streets, where people had set up outdoor grills and were feeding friends and family meaty treats, their faces lit by the embers’ amber glow. It was another world, another life, just a hop from London – all happening when the world imagines that this place is off-season and tucked up in bed.

The Look / Thai-vis

Traffic signals

There are times and places at which it is permissible – nay, imperative – for a police officer to be unrecognisable as such (writes Andrew Mueller). No undercover sting operation would last long if the constable in the field were wearing a cap and badge. However, none of those times or places is when police officers are directing traffic. In such circumstances, it’s obviously of utmost importance that the cop can instantly be identified, both to assert their authority and avoid being run over. Only now, it seems, has this occurred to the Royal Thai Police (RTP).

Image: Alamy

The RTP’s traffic patrols are to embrace green-yellow high-vis after years of discharging their duties in greys, reds, browns and blacks: a colour scheme that almost seems designed to endanger those attempting to impose order on the frolicsome traffic of Thailand’s cities. The RTP’s deputy national chief, police general Torsak Sukvimol, believes that rolling out a standard national high-vis vest will enhance both the police’s credibility and its visibility.

One might have hoped that such a high-ranking police officer, doubtless well-schooled in assembling conclusions from clues, would have figured this out sooner. Sukvimol still hasn’t considered an even more obvious step towards improving the image of his force: ditching the pseudo-military RTP rank structure, with its generals, colonels, majors and captains, and giving his officers titles that remind the police and policed alike that cops are citizens and civilians too.

How we live / Hollywood problems

Seeing stars

At a recent dinner in Los Angeles, I sat next to a couple who had moved into a house that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe (writes Christopher Lord). It’s a Spanish-style cottage with a small grove of orange trees and something of the city’s old heyday about it, even if there are barely any traces of the starlet’s presence. “The only thing is that we get so many Marilyn fans knocking on the door,” said one of my tablemates.

Many of these mega-fans don’t just want a selfie; they ask whether they can have a peek at the rooms where their idol once roamed. It’s a remarkably international crowd: Monroe still attracts admirers from all over the world, as well as budding biographers seeking a new angle. One day the mayor of a town in Norway showed up.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Marilyn Monroe tourism is its own industry in Los Angeles. There are walking trails and even a “Blonde Bombshell” bus tour, so perhaps a few house calls are to be expected. In this city, it’s a fact of life that your dream pad might have previously had an illustrious resident or been featured in a long-running TV series.

Dubious “maps to the stars” were once sold in street-side vending machines but now Google Maps will direct screen buffs straight to the door of the “former home of Sylvester Stallone”, the “Six Feet Under house” or the high-security gates of “Banks Mansion”, the fictional seat of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You could argue that this is the magic that still draws people to Hollywood, the curious mingling of everyday life and entertainment history in a city built on selling stories. But spare a thought for whoever lives in the so-called “Elm Street house” – the attention must be a nightmare.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Sun city

The Monocle Concierge was in Tel Aviv this week, doing, um, serious research. If you are going somewhere and would like us to furnish you with top tips and recommendations for places to eat, drink and stay, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Image: Jonas Opperskalski

Hi Concierge,

I am planning a trip to Tel Aviv with my partner and two friends. I have never been before so your recommendations would be hugely appreciated.

Carl Ellis,

Dear Carl,

In terms of where to stay, try Neve Tzedek (pictured), the artists’ quarter with high-ceilinged colonial buildings, the hipper Florentin neighbourhood or the southern port area of Jaffa. You can’t go wrong with The Jaffa or The Setai; if you’re seeking something more boutique, however, there’s Fabric or The Vera.

For high-end dining, book a table at Dok or Mashya. Both serve exquisite fare that wouldn’t be out of place at the top of the food scene in any major world city. There’s also Pereh, a modern bistro that serves excellent cocktails, and North Abraxas, where the chefs dispense with plates and lay your food straight on the table. Dalida, within the city’s narrow back roads, is also worth investigating. If you’re looking for a more low-key meal, the city is packed with charming lunch spots such as Hakovshim. You can get your fill of steaming, life-affirming hummus (they’re meals in themselves) from places such as Hummus Abu Hassan in Jaffa or Hummus Hasson in Florentin. Bete’ avon!

When it comes to nightlife, our first pick is Teder FM, the headquarters of an internet radio station with a bar bordered by corridors housing a record shop, pizzeria and clubs (try Nuweiba for a slightly more sophisticated experience). Kuli Alma is a Tel Aviv nightlife institution with a warren of bars catering to any taste. Côte is a cool Scandi-inspired wine bar; if you’re more in the mood for some dimly lit mixology, try Bellboy.

For recovery the next day, hit the coast. Banana Beach and Frishman Beach are great, as are the stretches of sand out towards south Tel Aviv. The city has many markets and souks to explore; try Shuk HaCarmel for the classic experience or Shuk HaNamal for something a little more like a gourmet farmers’ market. Enjoy!

House news / Monocle’s February issue

Places that work

Monocle’s February issue, which hit the shelves this week, celebrates places that look good and function well for those who use them. We visit 20 places that work – from a floating office in Rotterdam that’s home to a climate-adaptation agency to a new subway system in Vienna and a mountain community in Colorado – to find out why each succeeds with panache and aplomb.

We also stay at two new hotels in Belgrade and Tbilisi, and take a gastronomic tour of Charleston’s booming hospitality scene. Pick up a copy here.

Culture cuts / Listen / Read / Visit

Solid rock

‘Rush!’, Måneskin. Having achieved global stardom after winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Italy in 2021, Rome-based rock band Måneskin have released a new album with lyrics mostly in English – a clear sign that their ambitions remain firmly international. The 17-track collection delivers more of their guitar-heavy, sultry rock’n’roll, with singer Damiano David’s insouciant vocals front and centre. It might not be revolutionary but it’s beguiling nonetheless.

‘Lapidarium: The Secret Life of Stones’, Hettie Judah. Fusing archaeology with philosophy, science and mythology, art critic Hettie Judah’s detailed new book explores “how human culture has formed stone and the roles stone has played in forming human culture”. A treasure trove of stories about stones, from amethysts to shadowy coal, it digs far beneath the surface to excavate the most fascinating details.

Diana Thater, Bourse de Commerce. If you’re in Paris this weekend on the hunt for great design at the Maison & Objet trade fair, you’d be remiss not to take in Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s reworking of the historic Bourse de Commerce while you’re there. Its new solo show by Diana Thater makes a visit even more worthwhile: her film of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl functions as a compelling architectural study, as well as a celebration of life carrying on against all odds.

What am I bid? / Railway spike

Looking sharp

A small part of American history goes up for auction at Christie’s New York next Friday (writes Paco Herzog). A ceremonial railroad spike is one of four nailed in the meeting of the Central Pacific and Pacific Union tracks at Promontory Point, Utah, on 10 May 1869, an event that marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the US. Presented by the third governor of Arizona, Anson P K Safford, it is clad with silver and gold, and has an inscription that reads “Arizona presents her offering”. Sold by the Museum of the City of New York to raise money for its collections fund, the piece would cap any train enthusiast’s ensemble.

Image: Christie’s

As Christie’s specialist Peter Klarnet tells The Monocle Weekend Edition, this piece is not only bound to the history of railroads or, indeed, the US, but is “part of a much larger historical progression in a moment when the world was turning smaller and smaller”. The hammers driving the spikes in during the ceremony were wired to a telegraph line connected to the parapet guns at San Francisco’s Fort Point, making it one of the first events broadcasted live to an entire nation. It is estimated to sell for between $300,000 (€280,000) and $500,000 (€460,000).


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