Saturday 10 June 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 10/6/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

In the best light

We begin the weekend cheering on the boats at Venice’s Vogalonga regatta, pondering the uncomfortable realities of Apple’s new Vision Pro headset, daydreaming about a perfectly furnished home with Acne Studios and plenty more besides. But first, Andrew Tuck on London’s bright and sunny outlook.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Good day, sunshine

I left the office earlier than usual on Thursday as I had arranged to meet a Monocle reader who had come to the launch of Spain: The Monocle Handbook at Midori House. He had mentioned a property project that he had just taken on that sounded intriguing and I had invited myself to have a look. But before we nose around his building, a word about London.

Summer has been slow to arrive this year, with the mornings annoyingly fresh as cold air barrelled in from the North Sea. Finally, on Thursday, a switch was thrown and the sky was a polished, flawless blue. Every bar that I cycled past on the way to my property viewing was ringed with merry drinkers. On evenings like this, London is hard to beat: even the tourists seemed to be having fun, as though they had forgotten just how much they were being charged for their hotel rooms. Which is good because when I see a family of visitors looking forlorn in the London rain or about to enter a notoriously rubbish restaurant, I have to resist intervening: “Do you mind if I book lunch for you? This place will leave you feeling sad. Or do you want to come round for dinner at my house?” Now, even I realise that, rather than seeing it as a welcoming London gesture, they might call the police so usually I keep my mouth shut. (My interventionist urges are especially strong when the lost souls are Spanish or Italian and you know that those kids wrapped in cagoules could be playing pelota on a sunny beach if only they had stayed home.)

But on Thursday, as I passed the British Museum, I saw packs of French teenagers waiting to board their coaches, laughing, jubilant, on a day that perhaps would be etched in their memories for years. That’s the power of the sun in a city that is too used to being capped by clouds.

Then I met our reader. He has taken on a 1906 building that has stood empty for years and is creating new offices here. Yes, he is making his money from offices. He had the keys to the site so we walked across the lobby’s terrazzo floors, worn smooth by generations of workers since Edwardian times, then up the old marble staircase. Sadly, though, much of the building was savagely butchered at some point in its history. A lone fireplace remains but apart from two small slabs, its green marble surround has been stripped and scrapped.

What I wanted to know was why he was betting on offices – and why here, right in the centre of the West End. There is, he explained, a shift under way. Many landlords and developers sought for years to seduce affluent technology start-ups with offices and co-working spaces in hipper neighbourhoods such as Shoreditch. Today, however, those businesses are struggling as funding has faded. So now he is tenant agnostic (“I am after creative people but not a single type of company”) and is seeing an increased demand for places in central London – as near as possible to those end-of-the-day pubs and busy streets. “What has changed is that people who have a 20-person company now take a 10-desk office because they can stagger when people come in and the contracts that we offer are more flexible than in the past,” he said.

The world of work continues to evolve in London and nobody knows where it will end. As one developer goes flexi and agnostic, someone else I met this week is involved in transforming an epic building in central London into a “science park”. Since the pandemic began, medicine and health technology have flourished and the cool kids who work in the sector no longer want to toil in a factory-like research centre in the middle of nowhere. They want to be in cities, near the best science universities and close to urban life when their day ends (even clever people like a negroni). My lunch date – we went for sandwiches at the magical Paul Rothe & Son in Marylebone – is tasked with making sure that the building is a lure, has a sense of community and is fun. And I don’t mean fun of the ping-pong-table variety but a place where people will be able to convene, talk and break bread.

According to the forecast for London, it’s going to remain sunny. Judging by the dispositions of some people who I met this week, I think that might extend beyond what the meteorologists are predicting.

The Look / Apple’s Vision Pro VR

Specs appeal

When Apple unveiled its Vision Pro mixed-reality headset earlier this week, journalists invited to play with the new technology weren’t allowed to film themselves wearing it (writes Charlotte Banks). It doesn’t take a genius to work out why. Despite the billions of dollars that companies have poured into headsets, none of them has yet been able to solve a fundamental problem: how to make the metaverse look cool.

Image: Apple

Though the Vision Pro is much sleeker than other VR headsets on the market, it’s still clunky. The battery pack dangles awkwardly at the side of your head and the EyeSight feature, which displays an image of your eyes on the front screen when someone else is nearby, is, well, a little creepy.

The goggle-eyed effect reminded us of Google Glass, one of the greatest Silicon Valley misfires of recent years. Part of the reason for that project’s commercial failure was that few people wanted to be seen in public wearing something that resembles the type of glasses usually reserved for the dentist’s chair. Not even a 12-page feature in Vogue, in which Glass-wearing models struck dynamic poses in the Texan desert, could save the accessories. The gamble now facing Apple is similar: will anyone pay €3,250 to end up looking like Eddie the Eagle?

How we live / Port in a storm

Crashing waves

Venice isn’t short of impressive sights (writes Catherine Bennett). But if you were in the city on the last Sunday of May, you would have seen something singularly impressive: 2,000 colourful rowing boats drifting in the San Marco basin. They were waiting for a cannon shot to mark the beginning of Vogalonga, an event that is both a protest and a non-competitive regatta.

Venetians lined the fondamente that morning to cheer on the boats as they set off on a winding 30km route around the islands north of the city. This year the event attracted more than 7,300 rowers from 40 countries, including teams of Swiss in rented dragon boats, Venetians in traditional wooden boats called mascarete, local rowing associations in long canoes and women-only teams from France.

The event’s origins might have escaped many of the foreign participants: it started in 1975 as a protest against motorboats and their turbulent wakes, dubbed moto ondoso, which churn up the lagoon and damage the city’s buildings. Its history seems to have escaped some locals too.

The city’s much-scorned mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, was there for a photo op but there was no mention of the movement’s underlying demands. Local rowing associations would prefer that he put his policy where his mouth is and enact stricter speed limits on the canals, repair crumbling quays and reduce tourist-boat traffic. The irony was also not lost on Venetians when, only a few days later, Brugnaro proudly opened this year’s Salone Nautico – an unabashed celebration of motorboats.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Thinking Capri

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also available 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.

Image: Alamy

Dear Concierge,

I’ve been to Capri a few times over the years but not recently. I’m planning to return there for a few nights in July. One member of my party goes every summer but I would like to impress her with the most amazing insider recommendations for lunch, sunbathing, aperitivo and dinner.

Thank you,
Alfred Perry,
Los Angeles

Dear Alfred,

Nothing compares to the drama of the cliffs of Capri. While it might be slightly more crowded nowadays, it’s still one of the most impressive islands in the world – as long as you know where to go, of course. I like to spend my days on a sunlounger at La Fontelina (pictured), a beach club set on the rocks with picture-perfect striped parasols and an excellent restaurant. Another laid-back option is Lido del Faro on Anacapri, which stays open until sunset (make sure to book a private terrace in advance). Come aperitivo hour, the Villa San Michele museum in Anacapri keeps its terrace open on Wednesdays and boasts a belvedere to die for. For dinner, stick to the classics and head to Da Tonino, a Capri establishment with a wine list that satisfies even my pickiest sommelier friends.

It is mandatory to admire the Casa Malaparte, where, if you squint, you might make out Brigitte Bardot lounging on the roof as she did in the 1963 film Le Mépris. You also shouldn’t miss the Nomad design fair, which is taking place from 6 to 9 July at the Certosa di San Giacomo monastery, the oldest building on the island.

Finally, a longer Capri holiday requires a boat and a day trip down the Amalfi coast. Between the grotto hopping, stop for lunch at Zeffiro Sereno, a restaurant that is little more than a beach shack and accessible only by water. The fishermen bring their catches here directly each morning so the seafood and setting are bound to keep even a modern-day Agnelli beaming.

Culture Cuts / Visit, watch, read

Under the radar

‘Catching Light: The Architecture of Iwan Iwanoff’, Modernity gallery, London. One of Australia’s lesser-known modernist masters, Bulgarian-born architect Iwan Iwanoff has largely flown under the radar because most of his commissions were in Perth, one of the world’s most isolated cities. However, his revolutionary practice, which used concrete blocks to play with light and texture in many striking residences, is now finding wider appreciation. Photographer Jack Lovel, who grew up in an Iwanoff home, is showing exclusive photographs of the architect’s projects at Modernity’s west London gallery. Drop by on 14 June for a talk on why his principles are still relevant by Nic Monisse, Monocle’s design editor, as part of the London Festival of Architecture.

Image: Madison Blair

‘Spy/Master’, Max. This new six-part series, starring Alec Secareanu (of God’s Own Country and the BBC’s Happy Valley), tells the story of Victor Godeanu, a fictional aide and adviser to Nicolae Ceausescu. After organising espionage operations for the Romanian dictator, Godeanu tries to defect to the US without being detected – but plenty of enemies stand in his way.

‘Elsewhere’, Yan Ge. Since publishing her first book at the age of 17, Yan Ge has picked up several prestigious literary accolades in China. Her debut English-language short-story collection, Elsewhere, pokes gentle fun at intellectuals. A new mother reintegrates into literary society, a student develops an obsession with the social-media accounts of a dead acquaintance and two lovers meet in an Irish cinema: it’s a set of warped, slightly surreal tales.

Fashion update / ‘House of Acne Paper’

Dream home

The domains of fashion and print media often coexist in a state of mutual fascination, with fashion houses going as far as trying their own hand at producing magazines (writes Grace Charlton). Maison Margiela’s magazines, for example, are some of the most coveted titles available on Ebay. This Thursday Stockholm-based brand Acne Studios launched the 18th edition of its Acne Paper series. Titled House of Acne Paper, the concept behind the hefty 504-page tome is a fantasy house that has been fully furnished by Acne Studios’ creative director, Thomas Persson, and his team with a collection of 151 pieces that span a broad swathe of time and aesthetics.

Image: Acne
Image: Acne

In this imaginary art deco villa, paintings by avant-garde French painter Francis Picabia might hang next to chairs by Philippe Malouin or Shigeru Uchida. Contemporary UK designer Faye Toogood’s tables mingle with surrealist cutlery by Salvador Dalí. “In this issue, we have let our imagination run free,” says Persson. “The objects were chosen for their attractive provenance, remarkable craftsmanship or innovative brilliance.” Leafing through the magazine, nine rooms and a garden are catalogued in detail with reverence towards the history and the creators of the pieces. Perhaps someone should take it upon themselves to bring this imaginary home to life.;

Photo of the week / ‘A Perfect Sentence’

Notes on an island

Image: Loose Joints/Oliver Chanarin

Following the end of a 23-year artistic partnership as Broomberg & Chanarin, Oliver Frank Chanarin has released his first solo book, A Perfect Sentence, which was published this week by Loose Joints (writes Alex Milnes). Eager to throw himself back into the photographic world, Chanarin spent 2022 travelling across the UK and often finding himself on the fringes of society. He visited suburban fetish clubs, met with amateur drama groups performing in church halls and spent time with accident-faking ambulance chasers. These encounters invite the viewer to question what constitutes documentary photography, while trying to capture a polarised nation still processing Brexit, the pandemic and everything in between. In his book, Chanarin presents a series of organised and collaborative photoshoots without the polished, final images. His pictures lack descriptions but are instead marked with comments in chinagraph pencil and darkroom test notes that evoke a feeling of unease in the uninitiated viewer.

What Am I Bid? / Vollebak Island, Canada

Piece of paradise

If you feel that owning an island with a grand villa or traditional Scandinavian saddle-notch cabin is a tad basic, Vollebak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia caters to a more esoteric outdoor type (writes Jack Simpson). The 11-acre island sits in Jeddore Harbour and is the fruit of a collaboration between UK technical clothing company Vollebak and Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Together they sought to develop a “pragmatic utopia” that is estimated to cost up to €10m when bidding ends on 14 June at Sotheby’s, New York.

Image: Vollebak

The island envisages an idealistic way of living that blends architecture, design and materiality with the surrounding environment. It is the epitome of BIG’s philosophy of hedonistic sustainability and a continuation of Vollebak’s future-focused design. Architecturally, the offering consists of four houses, a greenhouse and a sunken stargazing room. Each of these is built from a unique material tailored to its use, from the stacked seaweed of the boat house and the glass-brick greenhouse to the Japanese-style bathhouse chiselled from the island’s bedrock. The whole compound is carbon-neutral so you can wait out the climate crisis in style – and without guilt.


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