This week we break bread with the Spanish ambassador at the launch of our new handbook, ponder the significance of Australian headwear, chew over the rising price of a slice of pizza and give you the lowdown on what to do while in Reykjavík. But first, our editor in chief gets into the groove with a trip to a well-loved musical and learns about some of our readers’ rather outré career choices.
We went to see Oklahoma! last weekend – the musical, not the state. The show started off-Broadway and then came to London; it was staged first at the Young Vic and now at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End. The director, Daniel Fish, hasn’t changed any of the lyrics or the script but his adaptation reveals life in rural Oklahoma in 1906, on the eve of the territory becoming a state, to be harsh. The love story at its centre is less romantic than usually depicted: options are limited for the powerful, stoic women here when it comes to choosing a man. And the show takes time to flesh out the character of farmhand Jud Fry, against whom the town unites. Is this hard-working man despised, in part, simply because he is an outsider? Oklahoma! is also very funny, with a scoop of ranch raunchiness on top. Anyway, you are not here for my review.
In the US, and now here in London, the production has drawn the ire of some purists who believe that an American classic has been sullied, that another pillar of the nation’s story has been undermined. The harrumphers have mocked the show as “Woke-lahoma”. As bad luck would have it, we had two determined-to-be-outraged theatregoers sitting near us: a couple who tutted and muttered complaints throughout and even uttered that cliché, “Rodgers and Hammerstein must be spinning in their graves”. If they were, I imagine that it would have been because our neighbours couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Did these complainers really want to see a production unchanged since its 1943 debut? Did they prefer a world where outsiders were always just outsiders?
This isn’t a debate about rewriting books to make them more palatable; it’s not about altering history to fit the times. It’s just about the marvel of what can happen onstage when a director shifts the lens and different parts of a story that were always there come into focus. Perhaps you won’t always like what you see but classics remain classics because they have within them the power to adapt, to keep their relevance, to deliver new truths. Just ask Shakespeare. Anyway, I was mighty disappointed that, as the audience dissolved into the night, our friends ran and jumped into a taxi. I had been convinced that they would have a surrey with a fringe on top awaiting them. “Who needs these confounded motorcars!?”
We had the London launch of Spain: The Monocle Handbook in London on Wednesday. The Spanish ambassador, José Pascual Marco, was the guest of honour and I got to interview him in front of our guests about his career, Anglo-Spanish relations and where he likes to go on holiday (you’ll find him on a beach in Cádiz). It’s always fascinating to see a seasoned diplomat in action. Within seconds, he had read the room and was by turns revealing and amusing. Describing his experience at a British boarding school as a teenager, he said that one word summed it up: “damp”. Earlier, when he arrived at Monocle and his chauffeur edged into Monocle’s narrow courtyard, he had warned me that he had another date and would need to leave quite early. I’m not sure whether it was the quality of the jamon we served but I was pleased to see him lingering with our readers. And the book? It’s a smash hit! A classic! So much so that we are reprinting it already. You can get yours here. We also have Portugal: The Monocle Handbook back in stock too.
Last Friday a reader and regular attendee of Monocle conferences was in town from the US so we went for a quick Friday-night drink. He has an interesting career: building warehouses for cannabis companies (of the legal variety, before you call the police). Who knew? Then, at the Spain event, I was talking to another reader who is a mortgage broker for people who want to buy oil tankers or, perhaps, a bulk carrier for grain. Again, who knew? Both of these fine people also revealed that they have snapped up tickets for our Weekender event in Asheville, North Carolina (the state, not a musical). And both are shining examples of why these events are valuable and fun. In addition to hanging out with the Monocle crew and meeting our guest speakers, you also get to know some truly special people: other Monocle readers.
When what brings you to an event is a shared passion – that’s us! Monocle! – rather than, say, the fact that everyone is a dentist, you make friends, learn surprising lessons from industries that you knew little about and are exposed to wonderful people whose lives are different to yours. You might even find interesting projects to collaborate on with other attendees – a cannabis company that needs a container ship, for example. Or would that amount to getting involved in drug running? Anyway, there are still a few tickets left, so come. It runs from 28 to 30 April. Just head here for details. Have a good weekend.
Anthony Albanese, prime minister of Australia, is fond of reminding voters that he grew up in public housing in an unglamorous suburb of inner Sydney (writes Andrew Mueller). He is entitled to this boast: it is no small climb from Camperdown to the Lodge. It is notable, however, that the principal sartorial signifier of this city kid is a definitively rural one: the Akubra hat. Akubra is a venerable Australian brand. It traces its origins to a Hobart millinery circa the 1870s, and the company has been owned by the same family since 1905. Akubra has outfitted Australian soldiers, Australian Olympians, sundry Australian sports and film stars and a good few Australian politicians – although generally those who, unlike Albanese, represent country seats and conservative parties.
It is sensible for any Australian to wear a hat – and Albanese has recently been touting his government’s plans to further address Australia’s difficulties with skin cancer. It’s also commendable for a national leader to advertise his nation’s produce, especially abroad (so long as he doesn’t hang corks off it). And Akubra makes indisputably handsome hats. But there’s something more going on.
Australia is one of Earth’s most comfortable and urbanised societies. And because of this, a good few brands – Akubra, Driza-Bone coats, RM Williams clothing – profit from selling bush chic to Australians whose four-wheel drives have never attempted an unsealed road. Inside every mild, middle-class Australian lurks the self-image of a crocodile-wrestling jackaroo; your London-dwelling Australian correspondent concedes that he is right now wearing Tasmania’s own Blundstone boots, just in case he goes into the Leyton bush.
When you next catch yourself grumbling about inflation, spare a thought for 2 Bros Pizza, the New York pizzeria having to rethink its commercial raison d’etre (writes Josiah Gogarty). Once a mainstay of the Big Apple’s “dollar slice” culture – one slice of pizza for one dollar – it’s now raised the price to $1.50. The founders blame the soaring cost of the all-important cheese topping, which makes more than 40 per cent of their food bills. It’s a similar story in the UK, where McDonald’s upped the price of its 99p cheeseburger to £1.19 last year, the first increase in more than 14 years.
For Italians, the no-frills fuel of choice isn’t cheap pizza or burgers but espresso. Customers expect to pay about €1 when they gulp down their shot while standing at the bar, with table service costing extra. Expensive, artisanal coffee is an unwelcome novelty – last spring, one punter in a Florentine coffee shop called the cops on his barista after being charged €2 for a decaf espresso. The shop was duly fined €1,000 for not displaying the rather upmarket price on a menu.
Rising costs are less sticky when it comes to fallible flesh and blood. Brazilian footballer Neymar cost Paris Saint-Germain €222m when they bought him from Barcelona in 2017, the only occasion a transfer has ever breached €200m. Six years later, he’s worth a miserly €75m – and no one, not even his wunderkind teammate Kylian Mbappé, is likely to come close to his record. Maybe the billionaires who own Europe’s top football teams are feeling the pinch too.
The Monocle Concierge also now exists in podcast form. The Concierge podcast features expert answers to listeners’ questions about destinations around the world as well as the latest travel news. This week’s episode includes an interview with president and CEO of Porter Airlines, Michael Deluce, who tells Monocle about his plans to rewrite the rules of economy travel. We also take an exclusive peek into the brand-new Cap Karoso Hotel on the island of Sumba in Indonesia. As ever, click here to submit a question – we’ll answer one every week.
I’m travelling between Portland, Oregon and Zürich, and stopping over in Reykjavík for a few days. What should I make a point of eating, drinking and seeing?
Portland, Oregon, USA
The Icelandic capital is often no more than a starting point for taking on the wild glacial wonders beyond the city’s perimeters but a Reykjavík unexplored would be a serious misstep.
Before anything else, you’re going to want to stretch your limbs and get that stuffy air out of your system. Everything in Reykjavík is within walking distance. A quick meander downtown will lead to an imposing grey structure that looks like a stone iceberg pushing its way above the sea. This is Hallgrímskirkja, a modern Lutheran church where you’re likely to hear the tinkling of keys or soft drone of an organ from inside. At the church, take a slight right onto Frakkastígur and stop in at Reykjavík Roasters for a quick flat white and then down to Brauð & Co to refuel at one of the city’s most popular bakeries. Yes, there will be queues – but it will be worth the wait.
Don’t be tempted to eat on the go. Follow the road down to the water and find a spot to watch the ships glide by in the distance. Along the waterfront, you’ll find Harpa, Reykjavík’s foremost concert venue. The interior of the main hall is reason enough to visit but if art is more your thing head to The Marshall House, which boasts multiple contemporary spaces.
Time for dinner? Down on the harbour you’ll find Saegreifinn, a no-frills experience serving the best lobster soup we’ve ever had, hands down. But if frills are what you’re after, then a trip to Snaps Bistro with its French classics and relaxed ambience will do the trick. For a nightcap, cosy wine bar, Vínstúkan Tíu Sopar or, cosier still, newcomer Mikki Refur and its excellent selection of natural wine would be our go-tos.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Iceland without a dip in some geothermal waters. Head to Sky Lagoon for views across the bay from a rooftop infinity pool. Its seven-step routine and no-clocks policy mean flexible dinner reservations are recommended. Closer to the city centre, you’ll find other friendly public bathing spots such as Sundhöllin and Vesturbaejarlaug. Just try to keep your cool when Björk slides into the pool next to you.
Last year, Libyan writer Mohammed al-Naas became the youngest winner of the IPAF when, at the age of 30, his debut novel, Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, scooped the Arab world’s most prestigious literary prize (writes Mary Fitzgerald). English and French translations of the book are forthcoming. Here, he tells us how his weekends at home in Tripoli start with coffee and usually involve a visit to the souk or his favourite bookshop.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
I start my day with what we Libyans call “Arabic coffee” – what’s known in other Arab countries and the rest of the world as “Turkish coffee”. It’s one of the many varieties of coffee that Libyans drink.
Do you have a favourite weekend market?
I like to go to Tripoli’s old medina on Saturdays, just to roam around the different souks. I might pick up a washag, a Persian “Libyan” incense. Before the country’s economic crisis, the medina used to be a family place. Now it’s full of young hustlers who offer financial services, such as transferring funds to and from other parts of the world or exchanging money, that the government can’t.
I love Fergiani’s Bookshop in downtown Tripoli. It’s where most of my first collection of books comes from. It’s a nice, compact place and still has that 1970s look. It is one of the oldest bookshops in Libya.
Any music recommendations?
On Fridays, I usually start the day like any other decent Tripolino by turning on some malouf, Andalusian music that was perfected in Tripoli by late Libyan musician Hassan Uraibi.
Magazines from your weekend sofa-side stack?
New Lines Magazine – and not just because I write for it; it does outstanding work on a range of international topics. I also read an Arabic website called Khatt 30, which features stories from all around the Arab world. I’m currently doing a deep dive into the archives of La Magazine. “La” is Arabic for “no”. It was a very popular Libyan magazine in the 1990s, an initiative of Gaddafi himself. I read it as part of a research project to know the news and stories of the country during my childhood and, to be honest, I fell in love with it.
What about book recommendations?
Pimp by Iceberg Slim, which is the biography of a pimp. It’s gruesome but truthful. Out of Egypt by André Aciman, an account of Jews living in Alexandria in the 1950s. Hisham Matar’s The Return, about his trip back to Libya after the revolution of 2011. The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Al-Koni, a great Libyan novel by a great Libyan novelist. And finally, Children of Allah, a hard-to-find memoir by Agnes Newton Keith, an American who lived in Libya in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s an insightful glimpse into an era of our history that most Libyans are unaware of.
The 38th edition of London’s oldest art fair wraps tomorrow (writes Sophie Monaghan-Coombs). The London Original Print Fair (LOPF) was founded in 1985 by a group of eight London print dealers to exhibit their own work. Today it is run by mother-daughter team Helen Rosslyn and Alice St Clair, and the number of exhibitors taking part has expanded to more than 40. This year’s iteration includes new works for sale from the likes of Tracey Emin, David Shrigley and Brian Eno, and features live printmaking demonstrations.
For assistant director St Clair, LOPF is the ideal destination for anyone interested in learning more about printmaking or looking to begin their own collection. What makes the fair particularly unique is its range of prices, the openness of dealers to sharing knowledge and the fact that many of the artists are present. “It’s a really good space to come to see a huge range of work and ask questions,” she says. “It’s a very friendly atmosphere”.
At this year’s Watches & Wonders fair in Geneva, the mood was more playful than in recent years (writes Natalie Theodosi). To my surprise, watchmakers have started breaking with tradition and introducing bolder colours and patterns to their designs. Rolex, which is keeping its spot as the industry’s leader for yet another year, introduced a rare new version of its Oyster Perpetual model featuring a turquoise dial with colourful lacquered bubbles. Colour was a running theme at many brand salons inside the Palexpo exhibition centre, from Cartier, which updated its popular Santos design with a smoky green dial, to Hermès’s new iterations of its sporty H08 watch in sunny yellows and aquamarine hues, reminiscent of Mediterranean summers and bound to become a hit in the warmer months.
At Chanel, the silhouette of brand founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel made its way onto the dials of watches, while the designer’s fascination with astrology was translated into an Interstellar capsule collection, complete with diamond-encrusted star charms and illustrations of the cosmos. There’s more room for storytelling and whimsy within watch design, according to Nicolas Bos, CEO at Van Cleef & Arpels. The French jeweller has been gaining ground at the fair because of its flair for telling a good story – and the rising popularity of more feminine watches. The re-edition of its popular Ludo watch, a gold and sapphire bracelet with a hidden watch, dating back to the 1930s and named after Louis Arpel, proved particularly popular. “When we started working on these ‘poetic complications’, we were met with irony from the watch world,” Bos tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. “But now there isn’t a single brand not trying to create its own version of feminine watches. There’s also a wider variety of players in this category: new names, fashion brands and independents coming in and offering a different perspective to the world of watchmaking.”
A decade ago, pu-erh tea auctions were a novelty in the growing Chinese auction market (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). Before a revival of interest in the fermented Chinese tea, auction houses had no standardised system for valuing pu-erh and most of it was drunk with breakfast dim sum in Hong Kong. Now auction houses have in-house experts that decipher labels and sniff leaves to determine the value and vintage of the tea.
Poly Auction Hong Kong’s spring 2023 sales list includes a batch of pu-erh cakes from the 1950s that will go up for sale on Tuesday and are estimated to fetch between HK$2m and HK$3m (€234,000-€351,000). Just as true champagne has strict geographic origins and production methods, true pu-erh tea can only come from a specific part of Yunnan province via a special fermentation process. It is the latter that gives pu-erh its dark colour and strong, earthy taste; like whiskey or fine wine, it improves with age. “Pu-erh is different from any other tea in the world,” Liam Gui, Head of Rare Wine, Whisky and Chinese Tea, tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. “I had the chance to try some pu-erh tea that was more than 100 years old and it does taste better than the younger ones.” Better put the kettle on.