Saturday 4 February 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 4/2/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

From the top

Andrew Tuck kicks things off this week from a new vantage point before we consider the hairy subject of politicians’ beards and work out when to throw in the towel when bidding for Muhammad Ali’s shorts. Plus: Monocle’s recently relocated Asia editor checks in from Bangkok, we curate your caffeine kicks in Basel and report from Copenhagen Fashion Week. Let’s begin.

OPENER / Andrew Tuck

Matters of perspective

London is getting its own version of New York’s linear park, The High Line. Rather than struggle to find a fancy unique name, the project’s leads have decided to call it the Camden Highline. As the “Camden” bit reveals, the park will start in the north-London neighbourhood; it will end behind the redeveloped King’s Cross. They have even hired some of the same team that transformed that old, elevated railway track in Manhattan into a piece of urbanism that has captured the imagination of city planners around the world (and millions of tourists).

On Wednesday the crew from our cities podcast, The Urbanist – Carlota Rebelo, David Stevens and yours truly – took the bus up to Camden to walk the line (well, the accessible bits). We did this in the company of the project’s lead architect, VPPR’s Tatiana von Preussen, and Simon Pitkeathley, CEO of Camden Town Unlimited, which is running the show and raising the millions needed. You’ll get to hear the report on the show in the coming weeks. But a couple of things to share this morning.

The Camden project makes use of an abandoned railway line and a slice of unused land that runs alongside a very active line. It goes past modernist public housing estates and above a weave of Victorian roads. When it is fully complete (the first chunk could be done by 2025), it will offer anyone who ambles along the route a different perspective of the city and reveal views until now rarely glimpsed, much of this from a gently elevated vantage. And it’s this urban theatre of the viewing platform that perhaps explains much of the success of New York’s High Line and its imitators.

On the way to the interview, we sat on the top deck of a bus. After a couple of stops, a mother and her son, who was about 10 years old, came up the stairs. The boy beamed when he realised that two of the seats at the very front were free. I watched as he leant forward for their entire trip, enthralled by his ability to look into back gardens, into the homes that we were passing. Nothing exceptional was on show but just the fact that he was up here, suddenly several metres tall, made the mundane magical.

Before we visit another urban outpost, there’s an important takeaway here. The strip that will be transformed in London was identified by a geographer, Oliver O’Brien at University College London, who pored over maps in search of a potential site. Unlike with The High Line in Manhattan, the land to be used in London is a jumble of parts, yet somehow O’Brien saw something that had been missed. He found opportunity where others had seen wasteland. Now, that’s a good metaphor for life on a Saturday morning.

Urbanism – and views – made the front pages in London this week. The Supreme Court overturned the rulings of two lower courts and decided that a viewing platform at Tate Modern, the art museum on the Thames, makes life for the residents of the neighbouring Neo Bankside apartment building intolerable. This is because, rather than surveying the city skyline, people would often stare into the apartments and take pictures of their residents. The case has rattled on for years and the deck is currently closed. The victorious residents were widely roasted for their action with, as usual, the press seeing this through the prism of class: rich people stopping the masses from enjoying themselves.

There’s a funny tension at play in our cities with the rise of increasingly fishbowl-like luxury apartment blocks. People want privacy when they need it but many also seek to ensure that their wealth and status can be seen by passing outsiders too. The voile at the window, the sheer, has been rejected by homeowners in favour of letting it – in terms of interior design, at least – all hang out. This dance usually goes without comment; gawping at people’s domestic lives from the top of, say, a bus is simply taken as acceptable. But when the bus is replaced by a rammed viewing deck, these rules are suspended and lawyers make a lot of money. I don’t think that this court ruling will change much – it’s a unique case, after all – and the teasing out of lives well-lived through undressed windows will continue to be a spectator sport.

Last weekend I also dropped by the Battersea Power Station, where the turbine halls have become a shopping centre filled with all of the usual high-street stalwarts. The building is magnificent and the soaring brick walls and epic chimneys are cathedral-like in their industrial grandeur. While the scheme has been slammed by some critics bemoaning a lack of affordable homes in the area and the pedestrian retail offering, it’s now down to Londoners to decide whether it gets stitched into their lives and routines. And on this winter Saturday, it looked as though many people had come for a new view, a fresh outlook, and liked what they found in this ever-changing city. London might not be perfect and it can be combative but it still has a dynamism that pulls you in.

The Look / Petr Pavel’s Beard

Winning by a whisker

Petr Pavel, the Czech Republic’s president-elect, has been widely diagnosed as a maverick (writes Andrew Mueller). The retired general ran as a liberal-democratic independent, taking on an incumbent populist oligarch. But whatever he does once he is sworn in on 9 March, he is already a political nonconformist in one unmissable respect: Pavel has a beard.

Such topiary has become vanishingly rare among leaders of the developed world. The UK has not had a bearded prime minister since Lord Salisbury, who resigned in 1902 and the White House bathroom has not required a beard-trimmer since Benjamin Harrison lost the 1892 election to the merely moustachioed Grover Cleveland. Among the current leaders of the G20, there are only four hairy chins, two of which belong to the unelected Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Charles Michel of the European Council.

Image: Alamy

Perhaps beards have fallen into disuse, even disrepute, among the politicians of democracies because of some ingrained association with kings, emperors, tsars and sultans (though Pavel might have benefited from a subliminal association with the last bearded Czech head of state, Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, who is still widely regarded as a hero).

Certainly, the few other current EU beards – including those adorning Latvia’s president, Egils Levits, and Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer – look more like the consequences of forgetting to buy razor blades than any conscious decision. No such uncertainty is discernible in Pavel’s splendid silver bristles; it will be interesting to see, especially in the Czech context, whether they indicate a leader who intends to govern as a Habsburg or a bohemian.

How We Live / Letter from Bangkok

Forever changes

Our flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok took barely two hours but this short hop between two Asian hubs crosses a clear line dividing chilly north from balmy south (writes James Chambers). After a relocation, you notice the little things most. When my son waves at people on the street in Thailand, for example, they wave back; Hong Kongers would be bemused. I thought that I enjoyed this British-style aloofness but perhaps I just didn’t know what it feels like to be met with friendliness as a matter of course.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

I’m getting used to the wai greeting. It’s a handy gesture when everyone in this famously smiley country is still wearing masks. I’ve been told that Thais will celebrate anything – and some stereotypes turn out to be true. Chinese New Year was big and Christmas decorations are still up almost everywhere. Songkran in April (a national holiday for Thai New Year) – my first and the first since the pandemic – promises to be wild. Everything tastes sweeter here: I can’t get enough of the papaya (I used to think that Hong Kong was heaven for fruit fanatics but it was just an appetiser). Moving anywhere in Southeast Asia means more motorbikes and I’ve been asked countless times whether I know how to cross the road. As frenetic as the traffic is, no one honks so the chaos can feel oddly calm. What demands your full concentration is walking along pavements that are cluttered with poles, potholes and hanging wires – and that’s without factoring in all of the distracting street food.

People say that roadside vendors are disappearing as a result of government crackdowns but they seem ubiquitous to me. Those who have lived in Bangkok for years will spot the differences – a fact that I pondered while saying goodbye to Hong Kong, my home of the past eight years. Anyone who goes there this year will think that it is the same amazing city that I found when I first touched down at Chek Lap Kok. There’s no time to be sentimental, however; Bangkok doesn’t allow it. This city is far too busy to be looking back. Elections are coming, tourists have already returned and I keep getting told that Bangkok is about to get really hot.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Playing it cool

The Concierge was wrapped up in fine woollens this week for a trip to Switzerland’s third-most-populous city. If you would like us to pound the streets of any city or country, cold or warm, in order to garner some tip-top recommendations, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

Do you have any tips for good coffee shops and interesting places to explore in Basel?

Kind regards,
Hervé Férec, Paris

Image: Alamy

Dear Hervé,

Because it’s on the banks of the Rhine, Basel is often vaunted as a summer destination but its vibrant cultural offering, great retail and wide array of cosy coffee shops make it perfect for colder months too.

South of the river is the Old Town, Grossbasel, with its medieval townhouses and stunning Gothic cathedral. For coffee, head to Kuni & Gunde or Unternehmen Mitte, the latter of which is housed in a beautifully redesigned old bank. North of the river, you’ll find the more youthful and hipper neighbourhoods of the Glaibasel. Here, Finkmüller and Café Frühling are the go-tos for a warming brew. After you’ve had your caffeine hit, check out furniture store Gopf! and grab some modern Swiss food at Klara. Finish the night with a cocktail or three at Amber Bar.

A trip to Switzerland’s cultural capital would be incomplete without a visit to one of its excellent museums. The august Kunstmuseum Basel houses the world’s oldest public-art collection and largest collection of works by the Holbein family. A short ride out of the city on the number six tram will take you to the Fondation Beyeler contemporary art museum in nearby Riehen. When there, grab some delicious Swiss-German food from the museum’s Baroque restaurant. Gniess es!

The Interrogator / Olivier Gabet

Open book

Olivier Gabet directs the Louvre’s department of objets d’art, its collection of rare objects from throughout history (writes Paco Herzog). Until last September, he headed the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and has also held curatorial posts at the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. He tells us about the Louvre’s smaller treasures, his Anglophilia and how books are the perfect sleeping pill.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines in the morning?
Black coffee, sometimes with a cloud of milk. And grapefruit juice.

What magazines are in your weekend sofa-side stack?
On Saturdays, I buy L’Obs and Le Point, Time and The New Yorker. For upper-crust gossip, I go for Point de Vue. I love M le Magazine du Monde; also, the Financial TimesHow to Spend It (I am a big Jo Ellison fan) and WSJ Magazine. And to change my mind, Apartamento, which is brilliant; The World of Interiors; Geste/s, a new Parisian magazine on design, arts and crafts; and Milk, which is always full of original points of view and features.

Any go-to bookshops?
In Paris, I am lucky to be surrounded by excellent bookshops. For literature, I go to Librairie Delamain; for English and American books and art history, Librairie Galignani; for everything else, Librairie Lavocat. In London, I rush to Hatchards, while in Berlin, to Walther König. In New York, my favourite is 192 Books in Chelsea. You see, this is an addiction.

Do you have a favourite piece in a museum?
For a museum person, that’s an impossible question with either no answer or plenty. But I would perhaps say “The Piano Lesson” by Henri Matisse at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But here at the Louvre, we have some incredible works, such as the Gothic ivory sculpture of the Virgin and Child from the Sainte-Chapelle. As I grow older, I am increasingly fascinated by medieval and Renaissance art.

A book you keep returning to?
Every book by Marcel Proust. I go back to them endlessly. Each contains the world. And Virginia Woolf’s novels. I remember how I felt the first time I read Mrs Dalloway. Now I read and reread all of her books in English. I recently reread To the Lighthouse.

Who or what is your cultural obsession?
Everything British between the 1540s and 1940s: art, architecture, literature, history, politics, art history. There are so many characters, so many places, so many stories, from Hardwick Hall to Bloomsbury. It might seem banal but I can tell you that, in France, it’s not so common! And everything about German art historian Aby Warburg.

What music do you listen to?
David Bowie, Arnold Schoenberg, Beyoncé, Benjamin Britten. And good old pop music and chansons françaises.

Anything on the airwaves before drifting off?
It’s a moment of the day that I love and fear. So I prefer silence as I am quietly reading. There’s nothing better than drifting off by reading: you feel sleepy, you struggle to read on, you reread the same page twice. And at some point you make the effort to shut the book and switch the light off. Thanks to this, I have never needed a sleeping pill.

Culture / Listen / Read / Visit

Beneath the surface

‘Get Up Sequences Part Two’, The Go! Team. Few bands can stay relevant (let alone surprising) for more than 20 years but this seventh album from The Go! Team suggests that the UK six-piece is bucking the trend. Every song on this frenetic collection is reliably exuberant and upbeat, each splintering off into countless rhythmic directions. The Go! Team are musical magpies, borrowing influences from all over the world, from J-pop to Bollywood beats.

‘Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution’, Tania Branigan. Journalist Tania Branigan’s literary debut is an exploration of the Cultural Revolution, as remembered by those who have been tempted – or forced – to forget. While working as a correspondent in Beijing, Branigan realised how taboo discussing that period in China’s history had become there – and how fundamental it had been in shaping the nation’s present.

‘Yuri Ancarani: Atlantide 2017-2023’, Mambo, Bologna. While trade fair Arte Fiera takes over Bologna’s exhibition halls, the central Italian city is also staging an art week across its atmospheric venues. This exhibition promises a deep dive into director Yuri Ancarani’s Atlantide, a moody film about the youth of the Venetian lagoon and their raucous antics aboard modified motorboats. You’ll find snippets of Ancarani’s research into this subculture, as well as videos made especially for the show.

Fashion Update / Copenhagen Fashion Week


Copenhagen is well on its way to establishing itself as Scandinavia’s fashion capital (writes Natalie Theodosi). “It’s an ambitious title but we’ve earned it,” says Anna Sofie Dolva, the newly appointed director of Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF), which coincides with Copenhagen Fashion Week. Between Tuesday and Friday, designer brands exhibited their new winter collections at CIFF’s modernist exhibition space. Notable highlights included Danish up-and-comer Tobias Birk Nilsen, whose label Iso.Poetism offers a smart take on sportswear, and the many great Japanese brands (such as Kaptain Sunshine and Snow Peak) that are using Copenhagen as a springboard for European expansion.

Image: Getty Images

Designers in the Danish capital have long made utility a priority but they have more recently begun to invest in higher-quality materials to reach further into the premium luxury market – and some fine examples were in town this week. Names to watch include The Garment, known for wardrobe classics made using natural materials, and Wood Wood, whose new design team is shifting the focus to easy-going tailoring that’s comfortable enough to ride your bike in. By Malene Birger is also receiving a full rebrand, with an elegant new logo and a sharper collection of shearling outerwear and cashmere knits, while Soulland, another Danish favourite, is attracting increased international attention for its collection of casualwear after a successful outing at Pitti Uomo last year.

Behind much of this successful shift is Copenhagen Fashion Week’s CEO, Cecilie Thorsmark, who now requires brands to fulfil a set of minimum sustainability standards in order to participate in the city’s marquee fashion event. “A fashion week can help to change our mindset around fashion and advocate for change,” she says.

What Am I Bid? / Muhammad Ali’s Shorts

Short selling

Entering the sports memorabilia market for the first time are a pair of white MacGregor shorts worn by the 39-year-old Muhammad Ali in his final professional fight against Trevor Berbick on 11 December 1981. “The fight had to happen in the Bahamas because no US doctor would give Ali a licence to fight,” Valentina Borghi, Chiswick Auctions’ memorabilia specialist, tells The Monocle Weekend Edition.

Ali didn’t win the “Drama in Bahama” but Berbick, more than 10 years his junior, couldn’t knock him down. The seller of the piece, a sports journalist and close friend of Ali’s coach, Angelo Dundee, received the shorts as a gift after the fight in the locker room of Nassau’s Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre. Stained with the blood, sweat and possibly tears of the self-proclaimed greatest boxer of all time, this artefact of sporting history will go up for sale on 14 February and is estimated to sell for between £15,000 (€16,800) and £20,000 (€22,500). Bidders, show me your gloves.


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