This week, we vote against a worrying trend in politicians’ footwear, enjoy a bracing dip in the Serpentine Lido with the Estonian ambassador to the UK, take in the contemplative tone at the latest Milan Fashion Week and far more besides. First, Andrew Tuck on the comforts of a Spanish home from home.
First things first: what are you doing on the weekend starting Friday 28 April? Nothing? Great. Why don’t you uncork that bottle marked “Spirit of Adventure” and come join the Monocle crew in North Carolina? We will be hosting The Monocle Weekender in the city of Asheville. I am excited as I have never been there and I hear good things.
The Weekenders are moments when a small group of Monocle readers and listeners come together over delicious food and wine, engage in big conversations, hear some inspiring talks and find renewed focus. I’ll be there, perhaps rocking my Southern gent outfit, which I picked up at Sid Mashburn’s menswear shop when we were in Dallas for The Chiefs event last year. And so too will Mr Brûlé; Josh, our editor; Sophie, editor of Konfekt; Hannah, our head conference organiser; and Christopher Lord, our US editor.
We have also arranged for a series of studio and winery visits and even a walk in the woods. Now this is the bit that I am a little cautious about. On a recent visit to Asheville, Chris Lord (known fondly in our office as Lordy or even, on occasion, the Lord) went for a woodland jog and, as he sprinted around a bend in the path, came upon a “teenage bear” (I have quizzed him on the “teenage” part but he has given little evidence to back up this assertion – was the bear wearing a baseball cap? Filming a Tiktok video?). Ignoring advice that he had been given by the hotel to walk away slowly and backwards if he encountered a bear, Lordy simply turned turtle and bolted to his inn. So that could be a fun walk. At least Chris had his clothes on. Someone did suggest that our delegates might like to go on a naked hike – apparently a thing in these parts – but that has not made it onto the schedule. And while I like seeing our readers, I don’t need to see that much of them.
To get your ticket, head to monocle.com/events or email Hannah at email@example.com. She has all the answers.
Last Friday I went to see the lawyer in Palma to start the process of becoming a resident – if Spain will have me. Hopefully it will also mean an end to counting the days on my Schengen Area app and give me access to fresh vegetables all year round (supermarkets in the UK are now rationing the likes of tomatoes but this definitely has nothing to do with Brexit). The other half is all smug because he does not have to do any of this paperwork; post-Brexit he obtained an Irish passport and now sails through European immigration checks in seconds while I stand in line, wishing that my mother had been Italian or Greek.
Just before the pandemic hit, we committed to buying an apartment in Palma de Mallorca. When we couldn’t even go to see it, this seemed like the daftest decision I had ever been party to. But over the past 18 months the island has put a spell on me and the small apartment has slowly become a home, decorated for the most part with furniture and art from the island.
And while people warned us that we would end up only using it in the summer, it has proved to be a constant in the diary every month. We went last weekend and saw friends (Mallorquin, Spanish, Brazilian), gained access to amazing architecture, sat in the warming winter sun, hiked (no dangly bits hanging out) through the forests of the Tramuntana mountains and drove along country roads fringed by pink-blossomed almond trees. Being in Mallorca changes us: we’re more social, ever exploring. Even the mundane act of going to buy food is now a thrill.
I like all of the books that we produce but, because of this link, our latest, The Monocle Handbook: Spain, feels extra special. It’s a beautiful, celebratory book about a nation that I want to know better and it’s full of stories about amazing hoteliers, chefs and cultural leaders. To mark its publication, we will be hosting events for subscribers in London, Zürich and the US (Palma might have to be inserted) in the coming weeks where you can pick up your copy. The ticket price will include the book, a glass of something nice and Spanish, and some tapas too. Or you can just go to monocle.com/shop and get the handbook right now.
But we warned: it will entice you to think differently about the country and wonder whether you could put down roots there. If you are not careful, the next thing you know, you might find that you have an appointment with a Spanish lawyer.
A political resignation should be a formal affair (writes Tomos Lewis). So when Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, announced his departure, after an extramarital affair, from a role that he had held for almost a decade, the footwear he chose was as jarring to some as the announcement. To be clear, we aren’t referring to a simple pair of trainers, which can, depending on the occasion, suit a formal setting. Tory’s shoes were that awkward hybrid of the smart and casual: what looked like a leather brogue upper with a white rubber sole.
“Impeach!” you might say – and you’d be right. However, the former mayor isn’t alone among male North American politicians in his dress-trainer predilection. US House speaker Kevin McCarthy has also been spotted in these mutant moccasins. If a senior male political figure is intent on forgoing a classic dress shoe, the trick is to abandon the amalgam and pick a side. Despite the initial eyebrow-raising at Emmanuel Macron’s decision to sport a pair of black-suede trainers (pictured) while meeting the crowds in London ahead of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September, they suited the moment far better.
The same cannot be said of the bespattered Nike SB Dunk Low “Los Angeles Dodgers” worn by Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, during a cabinet meeting in late January. The trainers feature a pink splodge on the right sole, which is meant to resemble a piece of stepped-in bubblegum. It isn’t unusual for politicians to want to portray themselves as all things to all people but when it comes to shoes, keep it simple – or you’ll put your foot in it.
“I try to design a car so that every time you get in it, you have a little vacation,” said General Motors designer Harley Earl in the 1950s (writes Andrew Nahum). For his critics, Earl’s reign was associated with irresponsibility, mining the US’s burgeoning aerospace programme for jet-plane motifs. But he also created the industry’s studio system, which iterated (and reiterated) the car’s changing form at a time when it jostled for primacy with its function.
Today’s design processes are arguably more meticulous and powerful software supplements the use of pencils, paper and clay. Drawing and modelling are still crucial – but what about that little vacation that Earl promised? In the 21st century, few motorists will find the car as joyful. Why is the current generation of automobiles so dull-looking? National identity in car design – think of when Fiats, Renaults and Volkswagens all expressed their home country’s aesthetics – is long gone. Now it seems as though the whole industry has lost its touch.
Except for supercars and tractors, car design has become depressingly routine. Functionalism must be part of the mix but what about elegance, originality and wit? The move to electric cars is one reason why designers might have lost touch with these things. A few years ago they looked forward to liberation; freed from archaic mechanical parts, electric cars would find new revolutionary shapes. That didn’t happen. Periods of stasis and revolution characterise most design (and most great art) until a true disruptor emerges to change what we expect. Maybe it’s time to update the old featherlight Citroën 2CV. Removing the bulk and weight of a contemporary SUV would save a tonne of metal and halve the energy required to push it along. Do we really need a self-opening motorised tailgate before we head to the gym?
This is an edited version of an article that appears in Monocle’s March issue, which features a 12-page survey on the future of the car, with pieces on design, charging infrastructure and clean energy. Pick up your copy today or subscribe to the magazine for more great journalism delivered to your door every month.
The Concierge believes that good things take time. That applies to holidays as much as food, wine or anything else. If you’re planning a long trip and would like some recommendations for things to see and do, ask us here. We will answer one question every week.
I’m planning a lengthy stay in the colourful, adorable fishing village Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca, near Alicante. Do you have any suggestions for day trips and rustic fine dining?
You’ve planned well: La Vila is a brightly painted bastion of community life and one of Spain’s friendliest stretches of coastline. The sands of Platja de Villajoyosa and Cala Torres La Vila (and its chiringuitos) are peaceful perches for respite but we recommend exploring the mountainous backdrop too. Hiking routes with golden vistas include the Serra de Bèrnia i Ferrer and the Pasarela de Relleu. Visit the Canelobre or Rull caves or wander the village El Castell de Guadalest. If the sea beckons, take a sailing trip to admire the skyline of Benidorm. Pack your snorkel: the large Roman boat wreck Bou Ferrer is right in front of Villajoyosa.
For locals, everything revolves around gastronomic staples such as rice, fish, mojama (filleted, salt-cured tuna), salazón (salted roe) and shellfish. Your first stop should be the Mercat Central to hand-pick fresh fish for the chef at cantina La Gallina, who will cook it for you for a reasonable fee. Don’t be tardy: market stalls close promptly at 15.00. El Hogar del Pescador is a slightly more sophisticated affair (try the house squid with raisins, pine nuts, broad beans and asparagus), while Taberna Tres 14 offers more street-styled fare. Fancy a trip to nearby Alicante? Both Noun Manolín and Pópuli Bistró will sate the appetite. For an afternoon spectacle, pull up a chair at the Bar Port, order a caña (beer) and some chipirones (baby squid), and watch the fishermen unload the daily loncha (catch).
La Vila is also a haven for those with a sweet tooth. A smattering of chocolate factories, some of which give tours, puff out a cocoa-infused aroma and ice creameries such as El Buen Gusto serve iced horchata (a nutritious milky Mexican drink made from sweetened tiger nuts, rice, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla). Be sure to try the liquorice-like nardo vilero, a mixture of iced coffee and absinthe that’s a liquid testament to the fun-loving spirit of this fishing town.
It was 3C when I joined the Estonian ambassador to the UK, Mr Viljar Lubi, for a swim in London’s Serpentine Lido yesterday morning (writes Jack Simpson). Tiptoeing past the stall offering warm tea and various foreign dignitaries, I began to regret my decision as I followed his excellency and his woolly hat into the water. The day before our swim, Lubi and I discussed the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, touching on Estonia’s impressive backing of Kyiv, the expulsion of Tallinn’s ambassador to Moscow and the Baltic nation’s booming technology industry.
Estonia, which has devoted half of its defence budget and more than 1 per cent of its GDP to military support for Ukraine, shows no signs of slowing down a year into the war. Lubi made it clear that raising the country’s defence spending to 3 per cent was “not drastic”, as that would still be well below the 5 per cent seen during the Cold War. He then echoed the thoughts of Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia’s foreign minister, who has lobbied for a 3 per cent benchmark for all Nato allies. Lubi was unfazed by the expulsion of his colleague in Moscow and the accusations of Russophobia directed at his country. “This is nothing new,” he told me, before stressing the cohesiveness of a country with 90,000 Russian citizens out of a population of 1.3 million. The ambassador’s tact was almost as refreshing as an 08.00 dip in a London pond.
Florence isn’t exactly your typical, far-flung outpost (writes Lucrezia Motta). But for newly arrived English-speakers, the Tuscan capital can seem impenetrable. That’s where The Florentine comes in. The English-language newspaper is a pillar of the city’s Anglophone community. Its editor in chief, Helen Farrell, tells us about the newspaper’s 18-year history and the city’s galleries.
How did the newspaper begin?
The Florentine came into being in 2005, thanks to an American husband and wife, Nita and Tony Tucker, who came to Florence for the latter’s work. They didn’t speak Italian and thought, “Why is there no magazine in English that helps us know what’s going on in Florence?”
What have you been covering lately?
We had the privilege of interviewing Peta Motture, chief curator of the Donatello exhibition at the V&A in London. It was an honour to publish that. It’s also the little pieces that often make a difference. We have a children’s lending library here that is struggling because fewer people seem to be reading books. We published a piece and it had a new influx of young readers and parents who didn’t know anything about it.
Do you have a favourite picture that you’ve run?
Yes, an image of a child on a skateboard at Piazzale Michelangelo with the view of the city and the bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David. In this photo you see absolute joy but also tension because it was the first day that we were released from lockdown. Many of our readers have asked to buy the photo because it was so powerful.
What will you be covering in the near future?
There’s a new show at the Palazzo Strozzi contemporary art centre in early March. We’ve recently done a behind-the-scenes photo story about the Viareggio Carnevale parade, which is fascinating. People always say that Florence is a Renaissance city that rests on its laurels; it absolutely is not. That’s what we’re trying to give you: a look at contemporary Florence.
‘Follow the Cyborg’, Miss Grit. This debut album by Korean-American Margaret Sohn, aka Miss Grit, is a collection of oblique but perfectly judged indie songs. The title track rides a pressing synth crescendo with softly spoken lyrics, while the syncopated “Like You” resembles futuristic marching music. There’s a sci-fi thread running through the lyrics but the album’s focus is on our sense of self and what makes us human.
‘Eleonore Koch’, Travesía Cuatro at Fundación Fernando de Castro. Madrid’s Arco art fair is going from strength to strength and the accompanying exhibitions across the city are no less impressive. This foundation just north of Chueca is playing host to work by Eleonore Koch. A Jewish artist born in Berlin, Koch emigrated to São Paulo to escape persecution in the 1930s. There she became associated with the country’s avant garde, though her subject matter was never fully abstract. Her drawings and paintings have a certain melancholy, as well as a striking potency.
‘History Keeps Me Awake at Night’, Christy Edwall. This gripping debut novel follows a young woman, Margit, who becomes obsessed with the desaparecidos, 43 Mexican students who were abducted in 2014. When she learns that the case remains unsolved, Margit sets out to discover what happened and who was responsible – all from her computer in London. Before she knows it, the search starts to consume her entire life.
This year’s Milan Fashion Week, which runs until Monday, takes place exactly one year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and at a time when many are questioning the relevance of runway shows (writes Natalie Theodosi). Designers such as Miuccia Prada, alongside her co-creative director Raf Simmons, chose to address this with more sombre collections. They referenced the uniforms of front-line medical workers and tried to put some distance between the brand and over-the-top dressing, focusing instead on utility. This meant smart A-line skirts, classic knitwear and oversized blazers in multiple shades of grey.
Prada’s approach (pictured) reflects a collective move towards uniform dressing and more considered shopping. The brand’s slim suits and tailored coats for men, or the elegant cotton-poplin skirts for women, will make for smart investments next season. So will Etro’s hand-crocheted cardigans, designed by newly appointed creative director Marco de Vincenzo, and the cropped aviator jackets from Tod’s. Also worth looking out for is Mathieu Blazy’s Bottega Veneta presentation, which takes place this evening. The show promises to continue Blazy’s mission to present “craft in motion”, using his shows to highlight the skills of the company’s wide network of artisans.