Saturday 9 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 9/12/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Merry and bright

With little more than a fortnight to go until Christmas, we get festive by learning the secrets of a 14th-century German gingerbread recipe. Elsewhere, an Australian colleague cracks the code of seasonal travel and we pack our bags for a winter escape to Japan. But first, Andrew Tuck ponders the power of human connection – and why that extra glass of wine might be a good decision.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Connective threads

Every year it seems as though the summer-holiday season in the northern hemisphere lasts just a little longer. Yes, things get going nicely again in September but by the time October arrives, it feels as though you’ve been strapped onto a sledge and are hurtling towards Christmas at G-force speeds. The past few months have certainly been a little epic at Monocle, with project after project coming to fruition. And, in the last week, these immovable deadlines have been interlaced with a snowfall of social events, including the staff party in London on Thursday (there were a few slow-moving souls in the office yesterday). But we are almost there and, just to keep things interesting, this weekend we are hosting the Monocle Christmas Market in London – and we would love to see you. I can promise Glühwein, Santa, real reindeer, numerous stalls laden with gift solutions for even the most pernickety of relatives, more Glühwein and all the Monocle team on hand to entice you into purchasing a Monocle subscription or 10. Come and say hello. It’s going to be jolly.

There was also a Paris moment this week. We had a 2024 planning session in the city followed by a party for friends of Monocle at the hotel Château Voltaire. We pull in a good crowd, from politics to fashion and cinema to publishing. People come into the fold in interesting ways: the couturier we first met at a party in Beirut, the Parisian entrepreneur we wrote about and several people who we first met on stage at a Monocle conference, such as the architect Lina Ghotmeh, who is one of those people who just makes your day a little better. The party felt like the magazine come to life – all its passions and interests in human form. The power of the social moment writ large.

Last Saturday we – me, my partner and a friend who can actually cook – drove up to Stratford upon Avon. When my partner’s aunt died a couple of years ago, we had the task of clearing her house and, over the months, got to know her neighbour, Ann. Every weekend we would visit her for a gossip and a bottle of champagne – Ann has good taste. She’s in her nineties and has become a friend. We wanted to have an early Christmas lunch with her, hence the drive north, as it would be unlikely to progress much beyond sandwiches if I was on menu duty. We persuaded good-cook Paul to come too.

What amazes me about Ann – and our octogenarian neighbour in London, Leo – is how both have such undented memories and such a rich and open-minded knowledge of the world today. This week I recorded an interview for a forthcoming episode of The Urbanist on mental health with Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who was the lead science editor on Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. Among its many conclusions is that being lonely shortens our life expectancy and erodes our mental health. While eyesight issues now challenge Ann, she is dogged in going to the shops to buy her groceries, knows all her neighbours and is a whizz on Facetime. She is also living proof of the value of being social. Who knew that that extra glass of champagne in Paris was an investment in my mental wellbeing? Clever me.

The Look / Political messaging

On the case

Some people wear them slung across their shoulders tied to a thin rope as though they were a handbag (writes Chiara Rimella). Others adorn them with bejewelled straps. Smartphones have become a prominent part of someone’s outfit and the choice of cover matters – particularly if you’re a politician. The back of your phone is important real estate: we’re talking about a large rectangle that gets photographed right next to your face whenever you’re on a call, looking busy, doing your job, lobbying, shifting opinion far and wide.

That’s why Giorgia Meloni’s pick for hers surprised many people this week. While taking a self-portrait with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, at Cop 28, Meloni was pictured clutching a white phone inscribed with small, self-declared “Affirmations for Anxiety”. They ranged from “I am enough” to “My anxiety doesn’t define me” and “I’ve got my back”. Many political leaders have started being more open about their mental health. Former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s resignation earlier this year as a result of burnout is an example of this shift. Meloni has not had an easy ride of late. Aside from having an objectively stressful job, she was also recently at the centre of a public marital scandal. And yet, in dealing with both her personal and professional matters, Meloni is always keen to project the image of a defiantly tough, straight-talking and unbendable leader – and her policies often reflect this. Could a more empathetic era for the far-right politician be on the horizon? We’ll have to find out.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Christmas travel

Better late than never

It is that time of year when many readers will be doing something nearly as stressful as travelling for Christmas – and that’s thinking about travelling for Christmas (writes Andrew Mueller). Happily, there is a solution: the key is not to travel for Christmas but on it. Leave late to avoid the rush. The deadline that billions of us impose on ourselves – being home by 25 December – drives up fares, overcrowds roads and public transport, and tests everybody to the limits of their psychological endurance. Even one of the festive tunes on remorseless rotation on UK radio this time of year – Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas”– is essentially a whine about traffic jams.

I go home for Christmas almost every year, schlepping from London to Australia. But my habit is to embark on Christmas Eve in order to arrive early on Boxing Day. The airports are less crowded. Those who are there are also serenely unbothered by the date and cabin crews and security staff are much friendlier. The spirits are buoyed further by the smug contemplation of the unseemly scramble that you are avoiding. I once enjoyed a fine Christmas lunch, well, a sandwich, amid the cacti of the roof garden at Changi Airport in Singapore. This year, if I’m reading these tickets right, my Christmas meal will be consumed at Incheon Airport in Seoul. As I have never been, I am quite looking forward to it. And when you finally do arrive, you can plead jetlag as a reason to be left alone and eat everyone’s leftovers, while watching the cricket on television in peace.

Image: Kohei Take

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Our cup of tea

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,

My husband and I are headed to Japan for Christmas and New Year. Do you have any recommendations for which cities to visit and what to experience at this time of year?

Jessica Lin

Dear Jessica,

There are two ways to tackle winter: run away from it and find warmer climes or wrap up and embrace the chill. If you’re thinking about the former, hop on a flight to Naha (featured in the latest edition of Monocle’s The Forecast in Okinawa, where daytime temperatures are currently hovering at about 24C. Shop for ceramics in the Tsuboya pottery district, slurp a bowl of soba noodles in one of Eibun’s two branches and learn more about the place in the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, a modern structure inspired by traditional local architecture. If you’re looking for a proper winter, visit a northern city such as Morioka in Iwate prefecture. Surrounded by mountains at the meeting point of three rivers, this is a place where you can experience Japan’s countryside. Pick up one of the cast-iron tea kettles that the city is famous for (Suzuki Morihisa Studio has been making them for 400 years), as well as something decorative from stencil dyer Ebisuya Onosensaisho. If you have time, visit Grand Seiko’s Studio Shizukuishi, designed by Kengo Kuma, where some of the best watches in the world are made. And if you’re thinking of sports, head to Appi Kogen, a ski resort just an hour north of the city.

Culture cuts / Read, watch, listen

Outside the box

‘In Italy: Venice, Rome and Beyond’, Cynthia Zarin. The acclaimed poet and The New Yorker writer Cynthia Zarin reflects on four Italian spaces in this lyrical book. Every city is brought to life through a flurry of reflections and memories. Weaving together past and future, Zarin’s sun-soaked travelogue is equal parts whimsical and revelatory.

‘Fallen Leaves’, Aki Kaurismäki. Two lonely strangers in Helsinki meet by chance in a karaoke bar in this deadpan tragicomedy from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. But the progression of their romantic relationship is hindered by one character’s alcoholism, lost phone numbers and other unfortunate events. What follows is a heartwarming tale about finding comfort – even in darkness – and the strange and, sometimes, wonderful paths that lead to them.

‘Santhosam’, Priya Ragu. The Swiss Tamil singer’s debut album is a potpourri of R&B, rap and Tamil folk – a blend that she has dubbed “ragu-wavy”. Few artists say that their music falls under a new genre but Ragu is right to think of her work as singular. Expect synths paired with violins, multilingual lyrics and plenty of dance-floor-ready hits.

Image: Trisha Ward

The Interrogator / Marie-Louise Sciò

If the shoe fits

Pellicano Hotels CEO and creative director, Marie-Louise Sciò, is the woman behind the transformation of the iconic Italian hotel group into a global lifestyle brand. To simply call her a hotelier would be to fail to fully describe the stylish trendsetter. From interior design to shoe collections, Marie-Louise does it all. Here, she tells Monocle about her latest collaboration with Scholl, her morning rituals and her recommendations for exceptional fine-dining experiences.

A few words about your latest project?
I’m collaborating with Scholl for a winter edition of Issimo. I’m also working to expand Pellicano Hotels, exploring new locations for forthcoming ventures.

Your first collection with Scholl was during the summer. Tell us more about the winter collaboration.
I wanted to design a classic shoe suitable for year-round wear. It draws on winter aesthetics and autumn-inspired colours. We have used an exquisite burgundy suede to accentuate the classic clog with elegant gold details.

What news source do you wake up to?
I begin my day by reading The New York Times or the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Coffee, tea, or something pressed to go with headlines?
I used to have coffee, which I miss, but I prefer tea now.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
This morning I found myself singing a Van Morrison tune.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I enjoy listening to Jay Shetty, Rick Rubin and Desert Island Discs.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
1971: The Year that Music Changed Everything.

And what’s your film genre of choice?
I appreciate a wide range of films, particularly those that are thought-provoking. I have revisited Festen, a Dogme 95 film from the late 1990s.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
A podcast or a Youtube interview. I might also indulge in the soothing tones of a jazz album. I love Miles Davis.

Any good restaurant or bar recommendations?
If you’re in Rome, I recommend Da Cesare al Pellegrino and Da Enzo al 29. There are also Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York and Giacomo in Milan.

Art update / Miami Art Week

Art of the matter

The twin cultural colossi of Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami come to a close this weekend but there’s much more happening in Florida’s southern city beyond the two fairs. Here’s our round-up.

Image: Piergiorgio Sorgetti, Alcova
Image: Piergiorgio Sorgetti, Alcova

Alcova is best known for being the risk-taking sideshow to Salone del Mobile in Milan and this independent showcase of art and design made its US debut this week. Taking over the mid-century Selina Gold Dust motel, every room is dedicated to a singular project, from furniture by New York-born Rich Aybar to a selection of recent design acquisitions made by the Maxxi museum in Rome. “There’s space for more research-orientated design in Miami, which asks questions about what design is today,” Joseph Grima, Alcova’s co-founder tells The Monocle Weekend Edition.

The rehang at the Rubell Museum in Allapattah is a must-see, with a focus on artists who live and work in Los Angeles. Titled Singular View: Los Angeles, it’s an opportunity to get a glimpse of Thomas Houseago’s imposing sculptures, which seem to reveal more about the psyche of their creator, and work from a generation of much younger artists. Keep an eye out for the canvases by late painter Noah Davis.

The Historic Hampton House was once listed in the Green Book, which guided black travellers to welcoming lodgings during the segregation era in the US. The motel has been restored and transformed into a multidisciplinary arts centre, with Martin Luther King Jr’s old bedroom kept as a sort of shrine to the time when civil-rights luminaries visited the house. In the upstairs rooms is Gimme Shelter, an exhibition curated by art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and artist Maynard Monrow, with works that reflect on the importance of finding sites of refuge and renewal.

Image: Felix Brüggemann

Expo / Cake makers

Spice of life

Lebküchneri Woitinek in Nuremberg is a family-owned business famous for its Lebkuchen, a traditional gingerbread that’s enjoyed at Christmas. Today, Lebküchnerei Woitinek is run by fourth-generation baker Bernd Woitinek alongside his wife, Pia, and their three children. “My great-grandfather built this business in 1895 and I took over from my father in 1995,” says Bernd, now in his mid-fifties. In 2004, Woitinek decided to stop making bread in order to focus on the festive season.

Nuremberg has been associated with gingerbread since the 14th century, ever since its heyday as an important stop on international spice-trade routes. Early recipes for Lebkuchen list only honey, flour and spices, along with a raising agent such as ammonium carbonate. Today, Bernd still uses his grandfather’s recipe to produce three million of the rich, nut-laden cakes between August and December. Finally, for the chocolate coating, the gingerbread baker creates his own mix of special beans. Though he might not indulge in them often himself, this traditional Nürnberger Lebküchnermeister is clearly proud of his family’s famed gingerbread.


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