Saturday 4 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 4/3/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Looking and learning

Ease into the weekend with a stroll down the streets of St Moritz, where the workwear of petrol-station attendants has become a trend, before pondering the place of soothsayers in South Korean politics, marvelling at the photography of Cameroon-born Samuel Fosso at a London exhibition and plenty more besides. First, here’s our editor in chief on why we need to expand our friend zone.

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Losing connection

This week I attended a dinner that had been convened for a conversation about conversations. The invitation made it clear that nothing was to be shared afterwards on social media (let alone during the evening, when phones were not to be taken out of pockets). Does a Monocle Weekend Edition column count as social media? Perhaps not – but I would like to be invited back one day so I will mostly keep shtum just in case. However, I will allow one wispy tail of the conversation to drift through the window this morning and it is this: we have become increasingly bad at talking to people outside of our core social circle and yet we imagine that the opposite is true.

In part, the blame lies with the old bogeyman that is social media. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram make us feel that we are exposed to thousands of people and numerous ideas (or, in my case, lots of heart-warming videos of dogs being rescued from frozen lakes). But when you look at the data, said one of our hosts (who does this as part of her work), you see that users of social media rarely engage in any meaningful way with anyone who they don’t already know in the real world. Even online, we huddle with our buddies. This matters, she said, because it’s those on the periphery of our social groups, our “weak links”, who usually introduce us to new ideas – as well as fresh people who are willing to laugh at our old jokes. (On the other hand, another guest insisted that they didn’t want to know any more people; that if you have 100 good folk in your network, you should circle the wagons as you have everyone you need in your life.)

Now I don’t want to swerve into Tyler’s Sunday Weekend Edition territory here but if social media makes us, well, less social, surely there are added dangers in the current shift towards working from home. A retreat to your suburban sanctuary puts you at risk of never meeting your weak links or having your ideas and worldview challenged. It also makes it harder for other people to join the party. But perhaps you prefer things that way.

Let’s be frank: keeping old ties strong can sometimes seem like a struggle. In your twenties and thirties, you build deep friendships with ease. But fast-forward a couple of decades and the people who you used to drop in on unannounced for a glass of wine now live on the other side of the world, have no time for life beyond their children (“Sorry, our youngest is in a gymkhana every weekend at the moment”), have become objectionable or are dead. Only a handful of people who you can talk to about anything remain. Thankfully, I have this squad: friends with whom there’s no bullshit and honest bonds have been forged in tough as well as fun times. But after that dinner I realised that I like having new best friends and want my huddle to grow.

Journalism helps. Over the past few days I have had dinner with Bernardo, a designer from Mexico City, who I first met 15 years ago when he was a student in London and came into the magazine to fact-check a guide to Mexico. I have had drinks with Adam, an author, correspondent and now media trainer, who I have known for more than 30 years through our work. I’ve also been able to connect with a few of my weaker links: I met up with someone to discuss a new business after we briefly chatted at an event that I’d chaired, spoke to a young woman who is hoping to switch careers and, against the grain, caught up with a web designer from Brazil – we’re hiring – who had contacted me on Instagram (so it can do good things). They all told me things that I didn’t know and expanded my outlook.

Meeting new people shouldn’t be a chore, a task to tick off (if you prefer being an antisocial sod, so be it), but if we want to have better conversations, we have to be open to closing our phones, stepping out of our comfort zones and making an effort to talk to those at the edges of our usual set.

PS: You might have noticed that our new book Spain: The Monocle Handbook is out now. To celebrate, we have launch events coming up at our Zürich HQ on Thursday 16 March and at Midori House in London on Thursday 28 March. Tickets include the price of the book, a glass or two of wine and some tapas too. And there will be talks by Spain’s ambassadors to Switzerland and the UK. Get your invite here. Who knows who you’ll meet?

The Look / Agip jackets

What a gas

It’s not uncommon to spot a Ferrari topped by snow-dusted skis in St Moritz but the latest automotive-themed trend in the Swiss mountain resort has little to do with racing cars (writes Chiara Rimella). On a recent visit to the town we spotted a strapping young man strolling down Via Serlas sporting a bomber jacket emblazoned with the word “Agip” on its back. Those who have spent time roadtripping around Italy will recognise this word, accompanied by a six-legged dog spouting fire, as the symbol of one of the country’s old petrol brands. Many of its service stations have been rebranded under parent company Eni’s moniker in recent years so there’s something about the original curved logo that speaks of a bygone era of on-the-road glamour (and cheap diesel).

Image: Shutterstock

The jacket in question, though, wasn’t a brand-new padded leather garment: clearly well-worn, it was a worker’s jacket, the kind donned by those trying to get through their shift at the pump (in its most luxe interpretation, at the side of an F1 race). Seeing it proudly paraded between the Cartier and Loro Piana boutiques called to mind an ironic, high-meets-low aesthetic with a sort of House of Gucci-esque, “doing it in the tyre-maker’s office” frisson.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a trend has pastiched a social register: the craze for Lidl’s garish sneakers in 2020 shows that there’s an appetite for playing with perceived indicators of taste and class. The shoes, which were originally sold for €12.99 in the low-cost supermarket, now fetch far more than that on luxury resale platforms. If you’re after an Agip jacket of your own, you’ll have to go hunting on eBay: pieces are now pretty rare but (as yet) not exorbitantly expensive. It might be worth putting your foot on the gas before they are.

How We Live / Political soothsayers

Magical thinking

Most politicians are perfectly capable of having silly ideas without enlisting outside help (writes Andrew Mueller). South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, is presently embroiled in a scandal occasioned by allegations that he has consulted a soothsayer. The seer in question trades as Cheongong and looks the part: with his voluminous grey beard and billowing white shirt, he is the very image of the serene mountaintop wisdom dispenser. Cheongong’s alleged influence is said, in some quarters, to have been behind Yoon’s decision to leave his official residence, the Blue House.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Yoon is not the first leader thought to have sought guidance from the kinds of sources that most of us can only access via a premium-rate phone number. Former US president Ronald Reagan, Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, are among those known to have consulted astrologers; former UK prime minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, was a dabbler in several varietals of New Age hogwash. Yoon not only denies everything but is suing several of his accusers.

It is understandable that Yoon is sensitive about this. One of his predecessors, Park Geun-hye, ended up in prison partly as a result of her association with a dubious “spiritual adviser”. When Yoon was campaigning for his present role, he was compelled to deny that he had taken advice from shamans and had submitted to the ministrations of – readers mid-breakfast might wish to look away – an “anal acupuncturist”. It has not helped Yoon’s case that South Korea’s first lady, Kim Keon-hee, wrote her doctoral thesis on fortune-telling. On balance, he should have seen this coming.

The Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Before sunset

It’s March, which means that spring is within touching distance in the northern hemisphere and with it comes the best time of the year for a European city break. If you’re heading somewhere nice – on that continent or any other – and would like some recommendations from the Monocle Concierge, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

Thank you for all your wonderful tips. Any advice for a long weekend for two in Trieste?

Kind regards,
Ana Morgan,
Geneva, Switzerland

Image: Alamy

Dear Ana,

Trieste is a Monocle favourite. This storied port city beat a slew of other wonderful places to come fourth out of 25 in our 2023 Small Cities Index, which you’ll find in The Forecast. Before you go, make sure to pick up a copy of Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, Welsh writer Jan Morris’s last travelogue; there’s no better way to get an understanding of Triestine history. When you arrive you’ll quickly discover this city’s unique Mitteleuropean atmosphere – the way it gravitates seaward and also its abundant inland charms.

The prime entry and exit point of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was handed to Italy after the First World War, Trieste still retains a cosmopolitan, belle-époque charm. The wealth that this trading post commanded can be seen in the opulent art collections of the Museo Revoltella, housed in the former palazzo of Baron Pasquale Revoltella, a philandering philanthropist who was instrumental in the opening of the Suez Canal. Cross Trieste’s own Canale Grande and you’ll spot many more signs of the city’s intriguing past, including a statue of a strolling James Joyce erected as a tribute to the Irish author, who wrote most of Ulysses here. Nearby, the Byzantine domes of the Serbian Orthodox Church remind us of Trieste’s proximity to the Slavic world.

Triestine cuisine can throw some visitors off, especially if they are expecting typical Italian fare. Go to Buffet Da Pepi for its boiled pork served with crauti (sauerkraut), washed down with a cold beer. Better still – especially if you want to earn your lunch – take a bus up to the Obelisco di Opicina, where you can walk for 5km along the stunning Strada Napoleonica carriageway until you reach the village of Contovello. Here, you can relish the rustic delights of a typical osmica. These Slovenian farm restaurants are open seasonally and shouldn’t be missed; Osmica Terčon Lisjak is particularly cosy. The village’s full name is Prosecco Contovello and it is reputedly the birthplace of the world’s favourite Italian bubbles. A few glasses (or bottles) of this and other locally grown wine can be enjoyed at any osmica worth its salz. Then it’s time for a taxi back to the sweeping Piazza Unità d’Italia for a waterside sunset… Cin-cin!

House News / ‘The Monocle Companion: 2’

Travelling partner

The second edition of The Monocle Companion, our popular paperback series, features 50 essays for a brighter future that will make for an inspiring read on a cross-continental train journey. Overflowing with delight, instruction and delightful instruction, it features pieces on subjects ranging from going off-grid and ways to improve our conversations to the place of national service in modern societies. You’ll find these essays, along with 47 others, within the 208 beautifully bound pages of this book. Pick up your copy here and subscribe to Monocle for more thought-provoking journalism delivered to your door every month.

Image: Tony Hay

Interrogator / Jennifer Croft

Found in translation

Jennifer Croft is that rare thing: a critically acclaimed author and translator. In 2018, she was awarded the International Booker Prize for her work translating Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights, originally published in Polish as Bieguni. The following year, Croft published her memoir, Homesick. Here, she tells us about her love of classical music and her favourite Kraków bookshop.

What news source do you wake up to?
I listen to the NPR app on my phone as I’m making coffee.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I’ve been listening to a lot of classics lately. I haven’t been able to get Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess” out of my head.

What’s on your weekend sofa-side stack?
Currently I have the latest issue of Granta and Shelley Frisch’s translation of The Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, edited by Reiner Stach, which has been a delightful thing to read in little increments.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, Unabridged Bookstore and Pilsen Community Books in Chicago, Massolit in Kraków and Hopscotch Reading Room in Berlin.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I love Heavyweight by Jonathan Goldstein. It’s incredibly brilliant, compelling and funny, yet it almost always makes me cry.

What’s the best thing that you’ve watched on TV recently?
Hacks on HBO. And the first season of Love and Anarchy, which is streaming on Netflix.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Biologist Merlin Sheldrake.

Fashion Update / St John by Drake’s

Looking delicious

Two of Monocle’s favourite London brands, St John and Drake’s, have collaborated on a new clothing collection (writes Jack Simpson). Exploring the interplay between the world of the kitchen and life at the table, the link-up features a number of pieces inspired by the restaurant’s founders, chef Fergus Henderson and restaurateur Trevor Gulliver.

Image: St. JOHN and Drake’s

They include the Wine Gilet, a blue moleskin vest, similar to the kind that Gulliver wears on vineyard visits, with pockets for corkscrews, notepads and grapes. Elsewhere, motifs of frolicking pigs and words such as “sniffing” enliven a number of fine cotton T-shirts and baseball caps, which will mark their wearer out as someone with supreme sartorial and gustatory taste. The St John by Drake’s collection will be available from 9 March.

Photo of the Week / Deutsche Börse prize

Second sight

Also in London is the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (writes Kamila Lozinska), whose exhibition of the work of shortlisted artists opened yesterday at the Photographer’s Gallery. The prize is awarded to the practitioner deemed to have made the most significant contribution to the field over the past year. The finalists include Bieke Depoorter, who probes the complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, and US artist Arthur Jafa, whose work seeks to articulate the black experience.

Image: Samuel Fosso

Another finalist, Cameroon-born Samuel Fosso, explores almost half a century of his experience in portraiture in a beguiling retrospective. In the mid-1970s, Fosso established a commercial photography studio at the age of 13 in the Central African Republic. Drawing from West African portraiture traditions, he reimagines himself as social archetypes and historical figures, from Muhammad Ali to Angela Davis.

The exhibition runs in London until 11 June. The show will then travel to Kraków’s Museum of Photography, where it will be open to the public from 30 June to 17 September. By that point, we will also know the winner of the prize. My fingers are crossed for Fosso.


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