Saturday 11 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/3/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Prescribed reading

As the winter weather bites at Monocle’s Midori House HQ, we have a healthy dose of inspiration for you this weekend. The Concierge has cultural remedies for a visit to Zagreb, we report on a patient display of snow carving in Alaska and architect Annabel Karim Kassar has weekend recommendations that are just what the doctor ordered. We begin with our editor in chief discussing the healing power of a good conversation.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Time to talk

Last week, in this very column, I wrote about the need for conversations and why we find meeting new people so difficult – and it generated, well, lots of conversations. There’s the reader creating an app that brings together people who don’t know each other, not for one-night hook-ups but rather a chance to break bread in a restaurant and hear new ideas. There’s the Danish woman who organises sell-out events where she has learnt how to keep people off their phones and in the moment (you’ll be reading about her in Monocle, for sure). And there’s my former colleague in the US who contacted me this week to say that, prompted by my column, she wanted to introduce me to someone delivering rigorous change at a global retail brand who I would enjoy talking with (and so, with no outcome in mind, he and I caught up on Thursday, and she was right: he was fascinating).

But some other things came up this week in the correspondence too. One of them was a simple thing. For a conversation to work, someone pointed out, you need to be like tennis players, passing the ball back and forth over the net (although the analogy seemed a bit weak to me as I would be more likely to smack the ball into the net or accidently whack it into the other player’s eye socket). You get the gist though: a good conversation is open, frank, amusing, revelatory even, and involves sharing the ball. But people find it tricky to be open and honest: they don’t want to be seen as “oversharing” and they don’t want to be viewed as a failure in any way. So modern conversations too often remind me of Instagram posts where anything that isn’t perfect is cropped out and an imperceptible filter is added to every story that makes clear that the speaker’s life is all rather fabulous. It’s hard to know where to go with such conversations (home in a taxi is probably the best route). They also do no one any favours – who wants a world of life-draining bland chat?

And yet what has also come up in the correspondence this week is that a lot of people crave conversation, want to meet interesting people and feel like they belong; that they are part of a community. Perhaps this is something that has been heightened by the pandemic and the shift to people working at home alone. It’s surely also down to the silence of the modern office where the ringing phone and the watercooler banter has been replaced by people “talking” on Slack and wearing headphones all day so that they can be soothed by a rain soundtrack. And, of course, our bewitching phone screens don’t help. My Danish contact told me that, from where she lives in the countryside, she often sees people out on their horses but with the poor stallions aimlessly plodding along as their riders stare at their phones.

I don’t have all the answers to the question of how we create places that offer community, trigger conversations and reset our relationships with our phones but this week I have realised that it’s something that lots of people are thinking and talking about. And that includes Monocle. We want to host conversations on our radio station, we want to introduce readers to each other and passionate panellists at our events, and we want to hear from people who challenge the orthodoxy too. In surfacing ideas, in convening debates, we also hope that we are creating a community and a sense of ownership and belonging that all magazines once seemed to deliver. At their best, our cafés and shops seem to function as miniature clubhouses. Even with this column, I aim to be like a good dinner guest – happy to share my week, the ups and the downs, and keen to hear from all of you. But apologies if I stole your bread roll.

There’s also a positive, entrepreneurial story here. People clearly see an opportunity for creating businesses, delivering services, building spaces where we are enticed off our phones and where great speakers, exciting moments and incredible experiences are used to bring people together as one. It’s why, for example, the future of the private members’ club has never looked so rosy. But I’ll tell you all about that another time.

How we live / Alaska Snow Culture

Big chill

Ladders, chisels and handsaws are scattered around the car park at the annual Alaska State Snow Carving Championship, held under a bridge near downtown Anchorage (writes J Besl). Dozens of competitors, bundled against the chill, scale their blocks of compressed snow and start sawing. Their subjects – pineapples, moose, Nintendo’s Mario brothers – would never be cast in marble. These works are purely ephemeral.

Snow sculpting is just one element of Fur Rendezvous (known colloquially as “Fur Rondy”), a late-winter bonanza in Alaska’s largest city that wrapped up, both literally and figuratively, last Sunday. The event includes standard festival attractions, such as fireworks and Ferris wheels, alongside dozens of diversions that are unique to the Far North: snowshoe softball, the Iñupiaq blanket toss, the running of the reindeer (a milder version of its primo in Pamplona). The two-week celebration culminates in the sled dog races, with mushers taking off down 4th Avenue.

Image: Alamy

Fur Rondy began as a way to welcome miners and trappers back to civilisation after a long winter in the woods. When the festival started in 1935, Anchorage had a population of 3,000; it is almost 300,000 today. While current residents are more likely to spend the winter tending to their broadband than their traplines, the conditions outside haven’t changed. Winters remain long, dark, quiet and calm. Events such as the snow-sculpting championship are a welcome antidote to cabin fever.

The city gains nearly six minutes of sunlight a day at this time of year and the snow sculptures will soon soften into Dalí-esque versions of their former selves. The meltwater will trickle into the nearby Ship Creek, the salmon will swim upriver to spawn and Alaskans will return to this spot under the bridge to cast their fishing lines in sight of downtown’s towers.

The Look / Split-toe shoes

Beyond satyr

The way that humans ascribe animals with either positive or negative traits is very, um, human (writes Alexis Self). Certain species are idealised, their form incorporated into praise words; our heroes are “eagle-eyed” or “lion-hearted”, others are denigrated as “rats” or “weasels”. Goats generally fall into the latter category, which is one of several reasons why the split-toe shoe trend is so baffling.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

It was that sartorial magpie Martin Margiela who first put cleft toes on the runway, his 1988 tabi boots took their name from the jika-tabi shoes worn by Japanese workers in the 1900s. Since then the divisive style has clip-clopped in and out of fashion, informing other designs – such as the Nike Air Rift – along the way.

Now I’m aware that it does not behove anyone, least of all someone like me who has a penchant for ‘f-ugly’ shoes, to accuse others of intentionally aiming to get someone’s goat with their choice of footwear. But I can see no other reason for wanting to don a pair of hooves for a trip to the shops than to get people riled up. Unless, of course, the trip to the shops involves jumping between rocks on a Swiss mountain.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Acts of Purgeri

The Monocle Concierge is on hand to furnish you with top tips and recondite recommendations for any destination on the planet. Click here to submit your request. We will answer one question each week.

Dear Concierge,

What hidden arts and cultural gems can you recommend in Zagreb?

Kind regards, Ariel von Bonn, USA

Image: Alamy

Dear Ariel,

Purgeri (as the citizens of Zagreb call themselves) can be a little bashful about the cultural cachet of their city. Perhaps that’s the legacy of centuries of playing second fiddle to Vienna, then later Belgrade. But since Croatia declared independence in 1991, its capital has established a distinctive arts scene with a unique flavour.

Start with one or more of Zagreb’s considerable collection of quirky museums. The Museum of Broken Relationships in the splendid Upper Town is the most famous. Two artists started it after their relationship foundered. Now it houses objects and stories donated by people to mark their own breakups, such as the axe used to reduce a former lover’s furniture to firewood. From there, choices include indulging at the Chocolate Museum or feeling sorry for yourself at the Museum of Hangovers.

Independent cinema is a Zagreb speciality. A bevy of standalone single screens include Kino Tuškanac, which shows a carefully curated international repertoire including al fresco screenings on its summer stage. June brings the Animafest international animation jamboree with the Zagreb Film Festival following in November.

As galleries go, the Museum of Contemporary Art is not exactly underground. But it is the best place to discover 1950s Yugoslav abstract-geometric art or the works of Zagreb’s New Tendencies movement. Plus, you can glide to ground level on a Carsten Höller slide.

The lack of a 2023 edition of the Inmusic Festival is a loss for Zagreb’s music scene (the team hopes it will return in 2024). But the beat goes on at city venues large and small. You’ll find bigger acts at Tvornica Kulture; underground house, dub and disco at Masters and, on the bar-packed Tkalčićeva Street, a friendly welcome downstairs at the self-explanatory Funk Club.

With all that and more, including international theatre and puppet festivals, Zagreb has much to offer cultured visitors. Zabavi se!

Interrogator / Annabel Karim Kassar

Building blocks

Annabel Karim Kassar is a French Lebanese architect and designer (writes Claudia Jacob). Her firm, AKK Architects, has offices in London, Dubai and Beirut, where it has been involved in rebuilding the city following the 2020 explosion. Here she tells us about her penchant for coffee beans and her favourite weekend markets.

Image: Ray Main

What news source do you wake up to?
Le Monde, always.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee, bien sûr. I fall asleep every evening dreaming of my morning coffee. I have two different coffee machines, including a new industrial-sized Rocket Espresso, and I love to wake up with my specialty coffees from Latin America and Africa. Delicious.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
If I’m in London, it would have to be Columbia Road market as it never loses its charm. If I’m in Paris, I go to Mouffetard market in the 5th arrondissement.

And bookshop?
In London it would be Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. L’Écume des Pages on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris is an iconic one too.

Which radio station?
Radio Nova, an eclectic French music station playing reggae, jazz and more.

Do you enjoy podcasts?
I am listening to the “Agnes Callard on the Theory of Everything” episode from the Conversations with Tyler podcast. I also enjoy the Projections Podcast with Sarah Kathryn Cleaver and Mary Wild, a deep dive into cinema and psychoanalysis.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
I don’t watch a lot of TV besides sports – football or tennis specifically (I hate it when Arsenal get beaten).

Any movie recommendations?
If I had to pick three: Paris, 13th District by Jacques Audiard, Shirley by Josephine Decker, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II.

What about books?
Currently On Balance by Adam Phillips and Cézanne: Drawings and Watercolours by Christopher Lloyd, plus occasionally a thriller.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
Meditation is part of my bedtime ritual.

Outpost News / Italics Magazine

Interesting angle

Much has been written about Italy’s beautiful landscapes and complicated political history (writes Lucrezia Motta). But what about Italian people? Italics is an English-language online magazine focusing on the experiences of Italians living today. Here we speak to editorial director Riccardo Venturi about the magazine’s origin and his interview with an astronaut.

Tell us about the history of Italics?
After having experiences abroad, I noticed there was a completely distorted narrative about Italy. It was either absolutely positive with long stories about touristic places or completely negative with regard to political and social issues. No one was effectively covering civil society and its projects. So, I decided, with co-founder Daniele Angelini, to give a voice to the part of Italy that doesn’t correspond to these clichés. Through the years, it evolved from a passion project into a magazine with different contributors. Our columns highlight different people and places that are underrepresented. It’s about giving a voice to the diversity that we have here in Italy.

What are some of the particularly memorable moments?
I saw that the magazine had reached a turning point when we started to get interviews with prominent figures such as the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. It was an unforgettable moment on a professional and personal level. Luca was very kind and down to earth – excuse the pun.

Do you have a favourite recent story?
One of our latest interview columns discusses the different facets of living in Italy while belonging to a minority, such as what it means to be a second-generation Italian. We also have our “Sustainable Italy” column in collaboration with the international non-profit Rethinking Climate. These are all examples of the type of projects that we’re working on. It’s not simply about writing the article but going deeper and giving a megaphone to members of Italian society whose stories are being ignored by mainstream media.

Wardrobe Update / On Running

Good for the sole

Swiss sneaker maven On Running has opened its first flagship on London’s Regent Street – a prime retail location that is reflective of the brand’s ambitions to become the go-to label for runners (writes Natalie Theodosi). The new shop is an opportunity for On to showcase its full sneaker collection and growing clothing range. “We don't want to open too many new doors that would cannibalise our wholesale business but this was a big opportunity,” says label co-founder David Allemann. “We've grown beyond just running shoes and we need this type of space for people to come in and learn more about the brand.”

Image: On Running

Upstairs the brand’s popular sneakers – famous for their performance-enhancing soles – are neatly laid out across a “magic wall”. Hidden drawers are used to store the full size range of each shoe. “When shopping for sneakers, you usually pick a model and have to wait around for shop staff to find your size,” says Allemann. “We had to come up with a better solution.” A devoted jogger, he marked the opening with a run that began at the Swiss embassy – a tradition that his London team plans to continue. Community runs will become a regular occurrence at the On flagship and those joining in will be able to try out new gear and socialise in the dedicated events space on the lower-ground floor.

What Am I Bid? / Vintage Apple

Return of the Mac

A few weeks ago, we featured an original, unopened iPhone that sold for €60,000 at auction. Now, for all those wondering how much other vintage Apple products might be worth, Los Angeles-based Julien’s Auctions is selling what is probably the largest collection of retro computers and other Apple gadgets, dating from 1977 to 2008. The cache originally belonged to Swiss historian Hanspeter Luzi, who developed educational computer games for children.

Image: Getty Images

Luzi collected more than 500 vintage Apple products, creating a comprehensive timeline of one of the world’s most profitable companies. Highlights include a complete model of the original Macintosh computer from 1984. This machine is remembered as a piece of computing history but also because of its famous commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, with the slogan “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”. The Macintosh is estimated to reach between €190 and €280. The auction will take place in Beverly Hills at the end of the month.


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