Andrew Tuck counts us in this week with a lyrical look at the sights, sounds and unusual smells of New York while en route to The Monocle Weekender in Asheville. Elsewhere, Turkish politicians are making for a colourful election campaign, Tracksmith is up and running in London and grandiose arachnid artworks are going under the hammer.
It’s Friday, 06.00, at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York and I need to file this column to the team in London so that I can head to LaGuardia Airport and meet Tyler. We are then flying to Asheville, North Carolina, because it’s time for The Monocle Weekender in that city; a chance to bring together a group of readers for talks, walks, wine and good food. I have never visited Asheville before but an advance team of Monocle staffers is already in place and has been sending me photos of the rolling countryside, rocking chairs by open fires and a big stuffed bear (of the ursine variety, not a guest). I’ll report back next week about how it all goes but one thing that I am not worried about is our readers being good company.
On Wednesday evening we had a party for the launch of Spain: The Monocle Handbook at the new McNally Jackson store in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Some nice Spanish wine was served as Tyler and I signed books and worked the room. We also did a small Q&A session and one of the nice things about being in New York is that people are not shy about asking questions. We were quizzed about the business, the power of books and whether we would kindly reopen a shop in New York. The other thing that struck me was just how open and positive everyone was and, wonderfully, how after all these years we had the kinds of relationships with our readers and listeners that we always dreamt of. I met a couple who I had once sent ideas for their holiday in Mallorca, a gentleman for whom we had arranged a meeting with a colleague in Japan, even people who had engaged in more combative correspondence with Tyler and I over the years and come away happy that ideas and viewpoints had been shared. Hopefully that’s one of the reasons that Monocle has thrived: we like our readers and know you in a way that pure data dives could never replicate.
Although I could have lost one reader. They wanted the book dedicated to themselves and “Alice”. Now usually I ask people to spell their names, even the most basic ones, because I have come unstuck a few times; there’ll be a random letter or two, added where you least expect it by a creative parent decades ago. I also had someone say, “Sorry, in my language we don’t put a dot on the letter I” just as the tittle had been placed. “Alice” seemed a foolproof name to spell but, as soon as I’d written the inscription, the reader corrected me, “No, it’s Alex”. He said not to worry but I couldn’t see that going down well when he got home (“It’s not your name, it’s the wrong gender, but I have a gift for you”) so we signed a new book. And, annoyingly, nobody else called Alice turned up.
The city felt good too. Buzzing. Restaurants are packed (we had a great team dinner at Le Rock in the Rockefeller Center), the streets are full of tourists (a lot of French accents in the mix) and, unlike when I was in New York last year, people seem more at ease with their surroundings – there were fewer conversations about crime or whether it is safe to ride the subway. But as an outsider, even coming from a big city such as London, the number of homeless men on the streets, the begging, seems of a different league. And the other thing is the weed.
Chris Lord, our US editor, and I went to Attaboy for cocktails (Chris was interviewing the founders of the celebrated bar; I was there to taste the quality of their most famous creation, the penicillin cocktail) and, on the way there, I glanced at a shop that appeared to be a convenience store but had a whole wall of locked cabinets filled with fancy glassware – vases, perhaps?
The next day, in a different part of town, I saw a shop with the same set up: cabinets rammed with elaborate, twirly glassware. Rather than containing Venetian vases or statement tableware, however, the shelves were stuffed with contraptions for smoking weed. And the smell is everywhere – site workers pause on the street to puff the stuff; it plumes out of car windows. New York should hope that some scientist is about to create fragrance-free joints because cities implant themselves in our minds not only via the sounds we hear and the way things look but also through smells. And if someone asked you to describe how parts of New York hit your nostrils, you’d have to say, “ like a giant reefer party”. But that’s to quibble. Thank you, New York, for a fun time. And now, Asheville here we come.
The next episode of ‘Monocle on Sunday’ will be broadcast from Asheville. Listen live at the special time of 09.00 Eastern time (14.00 London time) at monocle.com/radio or download the show as a podcast.
How can a politician make themselves appear of the people on the election trail (asks Hannah Lucinda Smith)? In Turkey, they might don a football scarf. Football is a passion here and while the underwhelming national team is not widely supported, fans follow their local club with agony and ecstasy. Candidates of all stripes often appear at campaign rallies draped in the scarf of the city’s team in a bid to curry favour with locals. President Erdogan (pictured), whose claims to have played football semi-professionally in his youth are disputed, is especially keen. In the space of one week during campaigning ahead of elections on 14 May, he wore the scarves of Denizli, Sakarya and Gaziantep as he addressed crowds of his supporters.
Members of the opposition have also used scarves as signifiers. Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul, sometimes wears the scarf of Trabzonspor, a team based in Trabzon, the Black Sea city that is his hometown. That in itself is a tribal marker: the Black Sea is known for its macho culture and it is also Erdogan’s ancestral home. This time around, though, the opposition is opting for a unifying message to fight Erdogan’s divide-and-rule tactics. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, its unitary presidential candidate, has released a campaign video addressing Turkey’s different ethnic groups, calling on all to vote for ideas, not identities. He has not been wearing a scarf at his rallies.
Grumpy columnists – this one included – have been righteously harrumphing about indoor background music since the first innkeeper decided that his patrons would rather listen to his record collection than each other (writes Andrew Mueller). But several times in recent months, I’ve found myself pursued outdoors by this plague. Most recently, I ventured to the refurbished Battersea Power Station in London. And along the riverfront, someone has strung speakers that loudly berate passers-by.
It’s annoying enough in itself but at least as irritating is contemplation of the meetings that brought it into being. Who decided to spend money on this, and why? What is it for? Nobody has ever thought, “I’m only vaguely keen to see what they’ve done with Battersea but an incessant blare of tinny pop would get me off the fence.” Among those who are there, nobody exhibits any indication that they are actively listening to the music or would miss it if it wasn’t there. In no sense is it an improvement upon silence.
Recent research by King’s College London and the University of Oxford suggests that about 20 per cent of people suffer from misophonia: extreme discomfort with extraneous noise. At the risk of appearing to endow an irritation with the dignity of pathology, I suspect that I’m among them (genuinely, the music in bars and restaurants that most people seem able to tune out sounds to me like a toolkit being kicked down a staircase). If appeals to reason and courtesy won’t deter imposers of compulsory music, it can only be hoped that the thought of alienating one fifth of their potential customer base might do the trick.
For the latest travel news, as well as top tips and recherche recommendations from around the world, tune in to Monocle Radio’s ‘The Concierge’. And, if you would like to ask the Concierge a question, to be answered in either textual or audio form, click here. We will answer one every week.
In a few weeks, I’m travelling to Amsterdam for the first time (somehow I managed to score tickets for the Vermeer exhibition). I will only be there for a weekend and what, except the Rijksmuseum, should I see to get the essence of Amsterdam without falling into tourist traps?
Congratulations on snagging the Vermeer ticket. The exhibition is indeed a gem and it is possible to escape the crowds, especially if you base yourself away from the central tourist traps. One great area is De Pijp, known as the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam. It’s full of excellent bars and restaurants (I can recommend Oeuf for brunch and Café Caron for dinner), smaller art galleries and cultural venues. And it is walking distance to the Rijksmuseum.
Seeing as you will be in Museumplein, it would be remiss not to drop by the Van Gogh Museum. The space is in desperate need of modernisation but you can’t doubt the power of the collection. Another way to escape the modern ills of Amsterdam is to step back in time and a number of the old canal-side houses offer that experience. There is Rembrandt’s House, the Our Lord in the Attic museum, or the marvellous Museum Van Loon, complete with a hidden garden and luxurious interiors built on the profits of the Dutch East India Company traders. It is currently hosting a timely exhibition about the role of slavery in building the Van Loon fortune. The area around the Van Loon Museum is another good option for hotels, restaurants and shops.
Or if you fancy a more modern architectural adventure, why not take a walking tour that tells the story of the Amsterdam School of architecture, starting off at the fabulous wave-shaped Museum De Dageraad in De Pijp? I would recommend finishing the day by catching a performance at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, a world-class company with a huge and varied repertoire and an enviable terrace where, if you are lucky enough to get a clear day in Amsterdam, you can enjoy views of the light on the water over a sundowner. Goede reis!
Superior running brand Tracksmith is Monocle’s newest neighbour on Chiltern Street (writes Jack Simpson). Its Trackhouse shop opened last week, just in time for Sunday’s London Marathon. In common with the clothes that it sells, the shop, designed in collaboration with architecture studio Roach Matthews, elevates the athletic look: think walnut cabinetry that displays running gear as though it were hanging in a wood-panelled Ivy League changing room.
Downstairs, a hand-poured terrazzo floor has been designed to look like a running track, complete with brass-lined lanes. The Tracksmith team hopes that Trackhouse, as well as being a beautifully designed retail space, will become a base for the city’s community of runners. On your mark!
Josh Sperling is a US artist based in Ithaca, New York. His work, which blurs the lines between painting and sculpture, is inspired by geometric abstraction, minimalism and pop art. Here, he tells us about his soothing soundtrack and penchant for Ethiopian coffee.
What news source do you wake up to?
NPR’s Morning Edition.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Always black coffee, whether it’s iced or an Americano. Ethiopian coffee is my favourite.
Something on the radio or Spotify?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Ted Hawkins and Jay Electronica lately.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“Groovy Little Things” by Ted Hawkins or Pastor TL Barrett’s “Like a Ship”.
Which magazines are on your weekend sofa-side stack?
I only subscribe to one magazine, The World of Interiors.
Is that a podcast in your ear?
Fresh Air, On the Media or The Daily. My guilty pleasure is Our Thing with Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, the life story of a former mafia boss in the New York Gambino crime family.
What’s the best thing that you have seen on TV recently?
The documentary Muhammad Ali by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon, and the third season of Atlanta.
What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Moondog’s song “Pastoral” or the Brian Wilson album At My Piano. I listen to these every night when I put my children to sleep.
‘Dog Hearted: Essays on Our Fierce and Familiar Companions’, edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Jessica J Lee. This collection of 14 evocative essays on what canine companions represent in their owners’ lives made our ears prick up. Activist Alice Hiller recounts the life-affirming experience of adopting a rescue dog, while writers Nell Stevens and Eley Williams outline the trials and tribulations of owning a puppy. This anthology captures the essence of dogs – their wet snouts, wagging tails and all – to explain what makes them such an important part of our human families.
‘Alien Nation’ by Mongolrak Jutanont at Eat Me Restaurant, Bangkok. For his debut exhibition, Thai artist Mongolrak “Mong” Jutanont has imagined a sin-free paradise where individuals of all sexual persuasions can live openly and let it all hang out. His black and white characters, haloed and bare-bottomed, call to mind early Keith Haring or a Mr Doodle freed from the confines of the museum gift shop. The 36-year-old Mong began doodling as a distraction from his day job as a forensic artist.
‘War Sailor’, Netflix. Based on a true story, this three-part series is an expanded version of one of last year’s biggest film releases in Norway. Set around the outbreak of the Second World War, the show, which stars Kristoffer Joner, Ine Marie Wilmann and Pal Sverre Hagen, explores the fate of some of the 30,000 merchant sailors who ended up working for Allied forces while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, joining a conflict that they had never expected or wanted to be part of.
If you happen to be both an arachnophile and a sculpture enthusiast, you might want to dust off your eight-legged piggy bank. Next month, Sotheby’s New York will auction “Spider” by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois – part of a series of six 1996 works that are perhaps the best-known arachnid artworks ever created.
With its dimensions of 3.4 metres by 6.7 metres by 6.3 metres, it would make for a spine-shiveringly grandiose addition to any garden or home, though you might want to think twice about putting it in the downstairs shower room. The auction goes live on 18 May and includes works by David Hockney, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat. ‘Spiders’ is estimated to reach between $30m (€27m) and $40m (€36m).