Saturday 25 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/3/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

In-between days

While much of the northern hemisphere is on the cusp of spring, at times it feels as though it’s still winter – which begs the question, what to wear? The Look has some thoughts on the matter of transitional style. Meanwhile, The Concierge dines out on the charms of San Sebastián and Benny Sings, erm, sings the praises of White Lotus. There’s also some canine cartoons by David Hockney up for auction and, according to Andrew Tuck, a hunk of hound with rather less value.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Gifts that keep giving

It was the other half’s birthday last weekend and we were back in Palma de Mallorca. I took him for a very nice dinner at El Camino restaurant, sitting at the long counter as chefs cooked our meal in front of us. Though we had a fun night, he has not been given a present. That’s because I am on a gift strike – at least, when it comes to him.

When you are a child, you cannot believe that your parents don’t get giddily excited about presents or, incredibly, say that they have everything that they need (“Are they mad?” you wonder). I had a grandmother who would regularly unwrap presents and then hand the contents back to the gift-giver, explaining, “It’s nice but I will never use it.” Well, my partner has reached that stage and, to be blunt, it’s infuriating. I feel as though I am shacked up with the Dalai Lama. If I buy him something to wear, for example, I am lucky to see it get more than a single outing. When quizzed about the jumper that vanished into the wardrobe or the jacket that has never made it past the front door, he’ll claim that he’s “saving it”. He reads books on his Kindle (almost grounds for a divorce when your business involves such a love of paper) and is interested in technology but does not want a Luddite like me involved in buying any for him. So, this year, we reached an impasse: he had to give me an idea for a present or go without. Finally, after much prodding, he said that he knew what he wanted. He told me that there’s a subscription service that lets you watch recordings of plays on TV – could he have that and put the standing order in my name? I suggested that he should do the same with his phone bill and then that way I would have next Christmas covered too. He reluctantly agreed to “have another think”.

Then, on Sunday, María and Alfredo, our Spanish neighbours in Palma, pitched up with a gift in a box that was tied with a lovely ribbon. It turned out that they had found someone who makes miniature plaster models of dogs and they had had one crafted, from a photograph, of our fox terrier, Macy. It was a nice idea but the plaster version of Macy looks as though she has just swallowed a truckle of manchego cheese. She is clinically obese. Even the gift-givers apologised for her unflattering proportions. But the man who, just moments before, had said that he had no need for any more material things in his life was charmed and, after they left, kept moving Fat Macy around the apartment, trying to find her “the perfect home” (I had a dark thought). He took pictures of Fat Macy to send to friends. Really, how could I have known that this was what had been missing in his life? Let’s see if he’s just as excited when the model-maker finishes the likeness of him that I’ve now commissioned.

On the flight back to London, just after take-off, the pilot mentioned that his wife would be our chief flight attendant. Later, when she stopped by with the drinks trolley, I said to her that I had never heard an announcement like that and asked how often she got to fly with her husband. “He’s not my husband,” she assured me. “But he just said you were,” I insisted. I must have been speaking a little loudly at this point because the father and son in the row behind us joined in. “He definitely said that you were his wife,” they concurred. Then a woman across the aisle said that she had also heard the announcement. “I just told my mum how romantic it was,” she said. By now even the flight attendant was looking unsure. She stopped serving and instructed us to wait there – though where we might have gone was unclear – while she went and double-checked (could she perhaps have forgotten that they were life partners?). We watched her call him from the phone outside the cockpit and there were a couple of minutes of discussion. Then she returned to explain that we had misheard the captain and that he had actually said that his “work wife” was onboard. “But he’s asked me out for a drink,” she said with a smile.

I receive an invitation to a very nice dinner for some 20 people in a Mayfair townhouse restaurant. I arrive at the same time as another guest and, after both of us scoop up glasses of champagne, we fall into conversation. We talk about work – he runs, among other things, a social-media photography company with his partner. Then we discuss travel and family; he tells me that he has a two-month-old child. Three hours later, just as the dinner is wrapping up, I get chatting with a woman who says that she will be travelling to the Maldives the next day with her two-month-old child. “How funny, there’s a guy here who you really must meet – he also has a two-month-old baby,” I say with some excitement while pointing out the fellow whose arrival coincided with mine. “That’s my husband,” she replies with a look that you save for dealing with people in their dotage. Until that point, I had been doing so well with getting people together.

The Look / From slope to sailboat

Multiple choice

Is it the end of winter or the beginning of spring (asks Gregory Scruggs)? In corners of the world that are blessed with both mountain and sea, your perspective on the changing of the seasons depends on altitude. Along the US West Coast, which has experienced heavy snowfall in the high country while cherry blossoms now bloom at sea level, it’s multisport season. From downtown Seattle, I can zip to the mountains in less than an hour for a few morning ski runs and return with plenty of time to catch the sunset aboard a friend’s sailboat.

Image: Alamy

For me, multisport season begs the question of what to pack without overstuffing my trusty Patagonia duffel bag. Some necessities just aren’t versatile: ski boots are far too clunky for manoeuvring on the top deck of a boat to rig a line, while wearing a life jacket on a chairlift will attract strange looks. There are, however, pieces that can make a seamless transition from ski to sea. Helly Hansen knows this better than most: the Norwegian brand has been outfitting sailors and skiers alike since 1877. Its Verglas Infinity Shell Jacket is perfect for springtime ski tours but can double as a maritime outer layer in a pinch. The same goes for its Crew Midlayer Sailing Jacket, which, despite its name, will serve you just as well on the pistes when the snow softens under the late-March sunshine.

If you want to hedge against a spring chill on snowy peaks or along fjords, base layers are a must. New Zealand clothing brand Icebreaker is the gold standard for form-fitting merino wool. And whether you’re on a shaded, north-facing slope or out on the water when the wind picks up, Coal Headwear’s The Harbor beanie and Outdoor Research’s Vigor gloves will do the trick. To wax the skis or unfurl the sails? Decisions, decisions…

How We Live / Equatorial Problems

Uncommon cold

On the island of Singapore, which lies just north of the equator, it’s almost always hot and humid (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). Some months it rains more than in others but the temperature rarely changes. And, give or take about 10 minutes at most, sunrise and sunset occur at the same times every day, all year. Wandering around a shopping complex is a popular pastime partly because their air-conditioned microclimates offer opportunities for sartorial experimentation: it’s cool enough to wear jackets, jeans and other outfits unfeasible in the sweltering outdoors.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Because of Singapore’s near-endless summer, any change in the weather is headline news. This March monsoons have swept cool winds across the island. The moment the temperature hit 21C, newspapers declared the onset of “sweater weather” and reported that Singaporeans were wrapping up in scarves and “struggling to adapt” to the relative chill. The unseasonable temperatures became the city’s hottest topic of conversation. Some began to talk about “winter”; others, searching for a more familiar concept, referred to the “aircon weather”.

To anyone who lives outside the tropics, the idea of nationwide astonishment at 21C might seem absurd. But weather is ultimately a collective experience. In countries where it’s ever-changing, such as the UK, talking about the weather is akin to a national hobby and even a source of patriotic pride. Singapore’s residents have variously reacted to the cold snap with surprise, delight and fear. Some layer up, shiver and complain, while others are celebrating with outdoor barbecues and hikes. Either way, people have loved the ready-made conversation topic. A four-degree drop might be nothing to Seattleites (see above) but in a place like Singapore, meteorological inconsistency is intriguingly exotic.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Basque in business

The Monocle Concierge is now on hand in newsletter and audio form. Like its digital cousin, The Concierge podcast features questions from readers (and listeners) seeking travel tips from locals and those in the know. This week’s episode features a dining tour of Helsinki’s Punavuori neighbourhood, ski season without skis in St Moritz and a trip through Europe’s ever-expanding night-train network. As ever, click here to submit your question. We will answer one here every week.

Image: Ben Roberts

Dear Concierge,

I’m planning a week in the Basque Country, with a few days focused on San Sebastián. I’ve already been to Bilbao but where else can you recommend in that region?

All best,
Rachel Lee
Decatur, Georgia, USA

Dear Rachel,

Donostia, as San Sebastián is known locally, is the much-beloved coastal jewel of the Basque Country. Your main challenge might be leaving its picturesque beauty behind. The Concierge is happy to guide you – and your time – in the right direction.

Your first excursion can be done by foot; crossing the Kursaal Zubia bridge into the thriving Gros district. Many first-time visitors – so mesmerised by La Concha beach and the old quarter – only discover this sumptuous side of the city on their final day. Home to Zurriola beach’s resilient surfer community, the back streets are awash with friendly bars and eateries that swarm with locals. We also love bakery and lunch restaurant The Loaf or the casual beerhouse menu from artisanal Basque brewery Mala Gissona.

For a worthwhile day trip, don’t miss the Chillida Leku museum and sculpture park, a scenic 15-minute drive into the hills of Hernani. Home to more than 40 of the artist Eduardo Chillida’s works, the estate also features the superbly reformed Zabalaga farmhouse. For a stitch of fashion history, head to the coastal town of Getaria, birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga and home to a wonderfully curated, eponymous museum. Make a pit stop in Zarautz, another hotspot for surfers, where the family-owned Pukas surf school will happily help you to master the Bay of Biscay’s waves.

Foodwise, you’re spoilt for choice but brush up on the nomenclature for Basque morsels, referred to as pintxos, never tapas. Subsets include txapelas (bread stuffed with fillings); gildas (skewered olives, peppers and anchovies) and tortilla de txaka (crab-stuffed potato omelette). Some good news: after a prolonged hiatus, fine-dining luminary Mugaritz will reopen at the end of April, in time for its 25th anniversary. Other gilded gastronomic experiences include Narru, Bodegón Alejandro and Arzak. For a more saccharine outing, visit the Spanish border town of Irun, where Donostiarras travel for a taste of the ice cream at Yon Gallardo’s Heladería.

Ondo pasa, Rachel!
(That’s “have fun” in Basque language Euskera.)

House News / ‘Spain: The Monocle Handbook’

Folio fiesta

Before you embark for Spain (see The Concierge), come to Midori House for some Spanish lessons with Monocle’s editor in chief, Andrew Tuck. He and the team invite you to celebrate the release of Spain: The Monocle Handbook on Tuesday in London. For the price of a ticket, you’ll receive a copy of the new book, in which you can discover the Iberian nation’s leading shops, cool hotels and beach bars, plus the best art and architecture. Join us for tapas, una copa de vino and the company of our editors and Spain’s ambassador to the UK, José Pascual Marco Martínez. Hasta pronto – there are just a few tickets left!

Image: Tony Hay

Tickets cost £35 each and include a copy of the new book. Click here to book.

Location: Midori House, 1 Dorset Street, London W1U 4EG
Time: Tuesday 28 March, 18.30 to 20.30

The Interrogator / Benny Sings

Comparing notes

Benny Sings is a musician from Dordrecht in the Netherlands known for his falsetto voice, laid-back beats and luxuriant hair. His tenth album, Young Hearts, was released yesterday. He is currently on a European tour; next week he plays London’s Koko, Paris’s Le Trianon and Berlin’s Lido. Here, he tells us about his favourite Amsterdam market and what he’s currently humming in the shower.

Image: Robb Klassen

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Decaf! I like the idea of coffee but can’t stand the caffeine. It makes me nervous.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
We have a farmer’s market, Noordermarkt, just around the corner from us in Amsterdam, which runs every Saturday. Best cheese in the world.

Favourite bookshop?
We have a beautiful big bookshop here called Scheltema. It has a great children’s section.

Do you enjoy podcasts?
Still stuck on the one of the first podcasts, WTF with Marc Maron. There’s just something about it. I like to listen to his weird little rants and awkward interviews.

What are you currently humming in the shower?
Laura Jean’s “Folk Festival”. Everyone should check her latest album, Amateurs. It’s so weird and good and beautiful.

Five magazines from your weekend stack?
I like the magazine that comes with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
The White Lotus is awesome. And I like Enlightened, which is also created by Mike White.

Any movie recommendations?
Cyrus. It’s the cutest little movie.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
Rodrigo Amarante’s album Cavalo is very good for that.

Culture Cuts / Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Surefire hit

The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles is emerging from a top-to-toe transformation that has been 20 years in the making (writes Christopher Lord). “I’m still in a bit of a daze to think that we might actually be done,” architect Michael Maltzen, who authored the original masterplan in 2003, tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. Maltzen sought to give this introverted and cloistered art gallery – bolted onto the side of Occidental Petroleum on Wilshire Boulevard – a lot more presence on the street.

Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture, Joshua White
Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture, Joshua White

The result is an extraordinary opening up of the façade of an entire city block, bringing the gallery and artworks face to face with the city around it. Tomorrow, the new street-level galleries open to the public and will be used to house site-specific installations by the likes of Sanford Biggers, while the expanded spaces within will pluck from the Hammer’s impressive contemporary collection of 4,500 works.

Over the past two decades, with director Ann Philbin at the reins, the museum, which is affiliated with UCLA, stayed open and has risen from relative obscurity to become a cultural powerhouse known for its thoughtful, challenging shows. That happened in tandem with LA’s own ascension on the global art circuit, with fairs and innumerable private galleries opening – and makes this weekend’s big reveal all the more poignant.

What Am I Bid? / Christie’s, London

Pup for sale

Artists have been painting their pet dogs since Neolithic times (writes Lucrezia Motta). Modern master of colour David Hockney is no exception. The monochrome etchings in his series Dog Wall are currently up for auction at Christie’s as part of its George Club: Twenty Years in Mayfair online sale, which features works that have graced the walls of the London members’ club.

Image: Christie's Images Limited

The 14 works were estimated to fetch up to £5,000 (€5,655) each but some bids have already exceeded that figure. The pieces show Hockney’s two beloved dachshunds, Stanley and Little Boodgie, in various poses. They were created in 1998 after Maurice Payne, a close friend of the artist, moved into Hockney’s Los Angeles home. Payne left prepared etching plates all over the house, which Hockney used to sketch his dogs while they slept or played. The Dog Wall prints ended up in the collection of the George Club. The profits from their sale, which ends on Tuesday, will go to The Caring Family Foundation.


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