Saturday 20 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/5/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

This week, we pick out a few highlights at the Venice Biennale’s international architecture exhibition, ponder why the durian is Thailand’s king of fruit, plan out a Dubrovnik itinerary with the Monocle Concierge, and plenty more. But first, Andrew Tuck on other people’s successes.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Running the good race

I was talking to a friend when the name of someone who we had both known well a long time ago came up. “Whatever happened to him?” I wondered aloud. Unfortunately, my friend knew all the details. “He sold his company 10 years ago for a stack of money and now just leads a very nice life, by all accounts,” he said. I think the accounts that he was probably referring to were of the social-media variety because I had a look at our old acquaintance’s Instagram account and there were numerous shots of him looking lean, tanned and at ease. He seems to spend a lot of time at yoga retreats, holding those difficult poses that only yogis and the very rich have time to perfect – less full plank, more full bank. And his picture captions are all about the need to be connected, present and in the moment (by which I take it that he has a private jet). Jealous? Not exactly.

Hopefully, I am not alone in this. When you meet someone who is thrustingly successful and seems to have an existence of endless calm, do you ever take their life to your mental changing room and quickly try it on to see whether it would look good on you too? It’s especially tempting to do this if they are roughly the same age as you – and even tougher to resist if you knew them in your youth, when they amounted to little, but now their business prowess and associated wealth are the stuff of newspaper headlines.

If you have my bad habit, the last thing you want to hear from beyond the changing-room curtain is someone hollering, “But ask yourself: are they happy?” That’s usually my other half’s response. He’s one of those people who is happy with his life and recognises what good fortune we have. During any envy outburst, he will remind me that we seem to have our health and definitely have a dog. “Just imagine: if you flew private, the dog could go with you on every trip,” I will add, knowing that this is the one thing that, at a weak moment, might just get him. Honestly, though, even the dog trick usually fails. “We’re OK, you know,” he’ll say calmly, as he adjusts his halo and smooths out his saffron robes.

And, of course, I do know. But in the race of life it’s just too tempting to focus on the person in front. I guess that this is a roundabout way of saying that while it’s great to be inspired by people with immense talent (or connected parents), to benchmark yourself against your most dynamic contemporaries, we also need to take time to look at who is behind us and wonder what they need. But, believe me, the answer to the question about whether they are truly happy is almost undoubtedly “yes”.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

A week ago I met a high achiever of a different order. I moderated a panel that included Björn Ulvaeus of Abba fame. He and his fellow panellists said lots of interesting things but I liked Ulvaeus’s response when he was asked how today’s aspiring pop stars could try to emulate his success. “Write better songs,” was his simple advice, said with a kind smile. Now there’s a rare person who doesn’t have anyone ahead of him in the race.

Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of electric-car company Polestar, came by Monocle the other day and we talked about the future of mobility and car design. We also discussed people’s relationships with their cars and why this had perhaps dimmed over time. Ingenlath had an interesting take: perhaps it was because so many car designers had forgotten how to make sliding into the driver’s seat elicit an emotional response. In short, car companies were so heavily focused on function that the aesthetics had been forgotten. OK, he can go in the high-achiever category too.

We just had a couple of days in Palma with our friends Matt and Holly, who have an alarmingly in-depth knowledge of The Mallorca Files, a BBC police drama set on the island. I have seen a couple of episodes – basically someone gets murdered in the first scene and the whole case is wrapped up 45 minutes later, even with a diversion for some flirty banter. The show implies that Mallorca has a crime rate akin to Chicago’s in the 1930s and yet the scenic backdrops work a treat as successful place branding. Anyway, it turned out that they were filming season three while we were in town. We went and spoke to the crew, who were more than happy to point out the actors and explain the scene. But, no, they insisted, they did not need any more extras. That seemed very unfair – it would have easily trumped becoming an overnight rich kid.

The Look / Indigenous round jerseys

Native colours

The colours of a sports club’s home uniforms are usually regarded by supporters as sacrosanct (writes Andrew Mueller). To tamper with them untowardly is to incite a veritable tempest of zealous fury. However, in the Australian Football League (AFL), the top-flight competition of Australian rules football, such heresy is not merely indulged once a year but even applauded.

Since 2007 the AFL has observed a designated indigenous round, which launches this weekend – an acknowledgement of the colossal contribution made to Australia’s game by the country’s indigenous people. In 2016 it was renamed the Sir Doug Nicholls Round, in honour of the great 1930s indigenous footballer who later served as governor of South Australia. During the indigenous round, the AFL’s 18 teams wear uniforms that have been reimagined as indigenous artworks – often by their own players.

Image: Getty Images

This year’s kits look characteristically splendid. Among the highlights are the guernseys of Essendon (pictured, second from right), who have switched their traditional scarlet sash for an image of Waa the crow, a totem of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people, and St Kilda, whose usual red, black and white will be exchanged for the red, black and gold of the Aboriginal flag. The AFL is the place in Australian life where indigenous people are most visible – about 10 per cent of AFL players, among them some of the game’s biggest stars, are indigenous. As a consequence, football has become arguably the primary forum for the addressing of indigenous issues. While the event is primarily (and properly) framed as a celebration, there is no doubting its wider political and cultural impact.

How We Live / Thailand’s durian fruit

Prickly subject

One of this year’s wackiest adverts on Thai television involves a woman attempting to make out with a delivery man who has a durian for a head (writes James Chambers) – no easy feat given the menacingly sharp spikes on this famously stinky fruit.

The advert’s message – that the Thai postal service can send durian anywhere around the world – speaks to the national levels of obsession with this pungent and prickly food, which is banned on public transport and sits somewhere near the top of the pantheon of acquired tastes.

Forget mango; durian is the king of fruit in these parts. And it’s not like beetroot or any of those other gross foods that people eat just because it’s good for them. For many, durian is pure pleasure. Lips are being licked particularly loudly right now as the tastiest ones are being harvested.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

June is peak durian season in Thailand, which produces the most sought-after varieties, so Bangkok is gearing up to gorge at all levels of society, from street stalls to high-end supermarkets. Fruit markets sell out early, while five-star hotels are offering it as part of luxury all-you-can-eat buffets. Durian is big money on a national level too. The business pages of the Bangkok Post report fruity stories almost daily, citing figures in the millions of tonnes and billions of baht.

Durians are not cheap and prices have been going up as exports around Asia have picked up after the pandemic. Thailand’s exports account for more than 90 per cent of the durian consumed in China. The Chinese are attempting to grow their own in Hainan. But just like with fine wine, production will take years to master and purists will always covet the original. For a real taste of Thailand, try eating durian this summer. If you like it, you can always send a box home.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Magic on the Adriatic

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also on hand in audio form on Monocle Radio, with reports and the latest travel news from around the world. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge, What are the best hotels, restaurants and things to see in Dubrovnik?

Brenda Millar, Canada

Dubrovnik offers medieval mystery and extraordinary beauty. Wander the lanes of the fortified Old Town and marvel at well-preserved Renaissance structures. The Sponza Palace is now home to the Dubrovnik State Archive and the Rector’s Palace forms part of the city museum. Or you can take to the ramparts and walk the city walls. As a vantage point for a sunset over the Adriatic, it’s hard to beat.

The key is not what to see but when to go. This Unesco World Heritage Site is Croatia’s biggest tourism draw, so avoid July and August at all costs. The shuffling crowds and stifling heat drain the Old Town of its magic.

Instead, visit in spring or better still early autumn. In October the Adriatic is still warm enough for swimming – and you’ll have much more elbow room in Dubrovnik’s narrow streets. Make your Old Town excursions in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the cruise-ship crowds.

In between times, relax in the old school elegance of the Hotel Excelsior, the contemporary calm of the out-of-town Dubrovnik Palace or the boutique Villa Dubrovnik, with its complimentary boat rides to and from the Old Town.

Dining options abound. You could just let the Old Town surprise you with an unpretentious konoba (tavern) in one of the lanes. Or you could eat Michelin-starred dishes at 360, overlooking the old port, where chef Marijo Curić specialises in seafood delights. Time it right in Dubrovnik and you’ll believe in magic.

Interrogator / Céline Condorelli

Structure to your day

French-Italian artist Céline Condorelli is the current artist-in-residence at London’s National Gallery (writes Claudia Jacob). Splitting her time between the British capital and Milan, her work combines art and architecture, bringing structures that tend to be overlooked into the public consciousness. Here, she recommends a novel that takes place in the corridors of the National Gallery and celebrates her local radio station in Hackney.

Image: The National Gallery

What news source do you wake up to?
I am lucky to have well-informed friends, some of whom enjoy sending me things that I should know. They have been some of the best sources of news from different places and time zones.

Do you like coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
I am loyal to our stovetop Moka.

Do you have a favourite weekend market?
Ridley Road is my daily local on the school run.

Favourite bookshop?
Donlon Books on London’s Broadway Market.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the shop?
Sadly neither. But I spend a lot of time reading news on my phone.

Which radio station and DJ do you listen to?
Our local radio station is the wonderful NTS. It broadcasts from two streets away and is always full of surprises and pleasure. A favourite is The Opera Show by the amazing Hannah Catherine Jones, aka Foxy Moron.

Do you enjoy podcasts? If so, which ones?
I have spent the past few days listening through Undead Matter, which was imagined by Sophie J Williamson and is completely mind-blowing.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
There is no TV in our house and I am very bad at watching series.

Any movie recommendations?
Saint Omer by Alice Diop has been haunting me for weeks.

Have you read any books recently you can recommend?
Being in residence at the National Gallery, I must recommend Asunder, the novel by Chloe Aridjis, which follows the life of a guard wandering through the rooms of the museum. It is a perfect travel companion.

What do you listen to before going to sleep?
At the moment it is Nina Simone first thing in the morning and the quite wonderful album Stikling by Blue Lake last thing at night. I go through the whole musical spectrum in between during the day.

Architecture / Venice Biennale

Built to thrill

Thousands of people will be streaming through the gates of the Giardini della Biennale in Venice today for the public opening of the international architecture exhibition. Taking place in the lagoon city over the next six months, it’s a landmark event on the design calendar, presenting works from leading architects from across the globe. While this is a cause for celebration, with 63 pavilions and exhibitors on show, a day at the biennale can be daunting. To help set visitors on the right track, here are three of our favourites.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

‘T/C Latvija (TCL)’, Latvia. This contribution brings a little levity to the long trek through the halls of the Arsenale. The space is set up as a supermarket, except the irreverent products on the shelves represent Venice Biennale pavilions from the past decade. Visitors – or rather, customers – can choose their favourites, throw them in a cart and get a receipt at the till.

‘Ball Theater’, France. Architects Muoto and Georgi Stanishev have created a disco-ball-cum-amphitheatre for the French pavilion. Covered in shiny aluminium, “Ball Theater” explores what fun will look like in the future and will serve as a stage for discussions, workshops and parties throughout the biennale. A drag show kicks things off on the opening day.

‘Open for Maintenance’, Germany. Major temporary exhibitions tend to produce a lot of waste – an issue that the biennale has sought to tackle this year, with curator Lesley Lokko asking participants to have zero carbon footprint. In response to this brief, the German entry has artfully filled its structure with waste materials from more than 40 national pavilions that participated in last year’s art biennale. The result is a striking reminder that discarded materials can still be turned into beautiful works.

Fashion Update / Australian Fashion Week

New looks

Could it be that the traditional fashion capitals of Milan, Paris, London and New York are no longer the sole destinations for industry insiders (writes Grace Charlton)? The success of Copenhagen Fashion Week in recent years would certainly suggest that the perspectives of less discussed cities – from Dakar to Seoul – are worth keeping a close eye on. Yesterday the Australian Fashion Week came to a close in Sydney and proved that the city has more to offer the world than bright resortwear (though many Antipodean designers, such as Erik Yvon, subvert and update the coastal genre well).

Image: Aje

Throughout the week, up-and-coming designers including Alix Higgins and Caroline Reznik presented their latest collections alongside more established brands such as Albus Lumen that are celebrated internationally for their breezy and relaxed style. Aje, founded 15 years ago by Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest, is another example of a label garnering attention globally thanks to its combination of effortless yet playful creations. Norris and Forest showed their latest collection on Tuesday and celebrated their house codes: think double denim and ruffles with a tonal palette of neutral hues and a dash of bright pink or yellow. With such joyful celebrations of Australian talent, exploring beyond the established geographies of the fashion industry has never looked so appealing.

What Am I Bid? / ‘Cheers’ auction

Raise the bar

When the doors of fictional Boston saloon Cheers closed for the last time on 20 May 1993, an estimated 93 million Americans – more than a third of the population at that time – tuned in to watch. The actual bar around which the cast of Cheers charmed viewers in the US and around the world for 11 seasons can now be yours.

Image: Heritage Auctions

Heritage Auctions is selling the square bar counter from Cheers, complete with brass railings and ephemera including menus, the bar telephone and a Boston phone book (the cash register is available as a separate lot). Also in the auction are bar stools – by definition including the one upon which resident sage Norm Peterson, played by George Wendt, sat to utter such astute summaries of the human condition as, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m wearing Milk-Bone underwear.”

There are few more widely recognised sitcom sets – the only serious rivals for the title are the apartments in Seinfeld, Friends and the Cheers spin-off Frasier. But this set was more important even than those: for the characters who inhabited the bar, it was their world – or at least the world they preferred. They frequently baffled or annoyed each other, especially John Ratzenberger’s merciless pub bore Cliff Clavin, but nevertheless would always rather be where everybody knows their name. Bidding closes on 4 June.


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