Saturday 16 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 16/12/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Ring the bells

With little more than a week to go until Christmas, we head off to a family-run pastry shop in Naples to sample some of Italy’s finest festive bakes. Plus: we embrace the nostalgia of old-school headphones, contemplate coffee in Sydney and visit Sweden’s latest sartorial outpost in London. But first, Andrew Tuck gets things under way, reminiscing on the happy memories of Christmases past.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Trip down memory lane

It’s Saturday morning and we – me, the other half and the dog – are off once again, driving down to Palma for Christmas and the New Year. Two days on the road, on the ferry. The repetition is giving birth to new traditions: we’re stopping at the same hotel en route, seeing many of the same people that we hung out with last Christmas and are planning to stock up on provisions in the same bakeries and delicatessens that we went to 12 months ago. There are now even boxes of decorations waiting to be unpacked.

But I often find my mind making a different journey, drifting back to a world that’s gone, to a time when Christmas seemed to follow the same comforting script every year. I see my mum in the kitchen icing the cake, perching the little plastic robin on the end of the chocolate log, whisking, whipping and checking off a long list of culinary preparations. There is a low windowsill in the kitchen, where a small boy can sit almost unnoticed and perhaps even get passed some sweet treats from a baking tray. My dad is called in for various tasks – jar lids that refuse to budge being one of the main jobs – but this is her domain. I am not sure why these loops of past Christmases resurface like this but I pray that they continue and that this time travel continues, allowing me to go back to that busy, steamy kitchen.

This week I went to Zürich to catch up with Tyler, attend the party at our Dufourstrasse 90 HQ for clients, contributors and friends, and then, the following night, go to the Christmas dinner for all of our team in Switzerland. It has been an epic year – so many projects completed, so much ground covered – but also a little hectic. I sometimes wonder how we get so much done but then you see our squad, drawn from every corner of the globe, which is so talented and fun. The staff dinner was held at Oxen, the restaurant and inn that Tyler and a group of his friends are now running. I sat with some of the crew from the café and shop, and heard parts of their life stories as we downed the champagne and got through three courses of fondue (the house, truffle and chilli varieties). There were young people from South Africa, Tunisia, Italy, Cuba and Mexico who have all found a home in Zürich and see in Monocle a world that resonates with their global lives and ambitions. I know that lots of companies now shy away from hosting Christmas parties but, when done well, they are unbeatable moments to say thank you as a year closes out. They offer a time to pause, share stories and eat a mountain of cheese. As everyone headed off to find a nightclub – for once I listened to the siren call of my bed – I thought how lucky we are to be surrounded every day with such good people.

The Look / Wired headphones

Hear hear!

I remember the moment when one of my Airpods fell onto the train tracks as though it was in slow motion (writes Chiara Rimella). The bud came out of my ear, bounced onto my boot and slid into the void. It was then that I finally understood why stations make such a big deal out of convincing people not to risk death to salvage a lost item: the pesky white thing was right there, staring at me, just out of reach. As a replacement, I dejectedly fished out my old wired headphones – the ones that used to come with all iPhones – coupled with a comical little adapter that allows them to fit my now too-advanced phone model. At first, I thought that this would be a temporary measure. Why would I abandon the comfort, the freedom of movement, the relentless onwards march of progress? And yet, the more I kept using them, the more I rediscovered the surprising pleasures of untangling the wires, letting them dangle casually around my neck and the music carrying on even if you removed one bud from the ear. I might as well dust off the Walkman next.

I relished this revanchist spirit, feeling like a solitary renegade, until I started spotting my comrades on the Tube. More and more people proudly sported those lanky little wires, tucked into scarves, poking out of coats. Had they too been victims of Airpod loss or were they joining a resistance? The fact that the likes of Bella Hadid (pictured), Lily-Rose Depp, Lana del Rey and Phoebe Bridgers have been spotted with old-school headphones should have given me a hint. My fellow wired-up passengers’ washed-out 1990s aura and nonchalance made it clear that theirs was a very deliberate choice: a way to project unbotheredness as a signal of natural cool. I joined the trend without even knowing. Now what’s cooler than that?

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Hanukkah in the USA

Festive celebrations

This year Hanukkah, which ended yesterday, found itself in the crosshairs in the US, given the recent events in Gaza (writes Christopher Cermak). The reported rejection of a menorah by a community festival in Williamsburg, Virginia, drew widespread national coverage; organisers said that they were trying to keep religion out of the festival altogether.

But things shouldn’t have to be this strained. Everyone should feel that they can celebrate religious festivals regardless of politics. This week I attended the lighting of the menorah at the Austrian embassy in Washington. Its annual collaboration with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) is in its 13th year. AJC regional director Alan Ronkin remembers the organisation being a little perplexed when a former Austrian ambassador reached out to suggest the celebration but says that it’s a happy reflection of how “times have changed”.

The Austrian embassy in Washington does these collaborations regularly. A few months ago I attended a lecture by an Israeli diplomat who had written a book about Austria’s first Jewish postwar chancellor, Bruno Kreisky. To be fair, Kreisky supported the Palestinian cause and you wonder what he would think about the events of today. But that aside, kudos to the Austrians for their interesting soft-power play in Washington, facing up to history and creating new partnerships in the process. Whatever your politics, Hanukkah deserves a celebration – with a tasty apfelstrudel to top it all off.

Image: Alamy

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Coffee confidential

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,

I am planning an excursion to Sydney. Could you kindly point me towards the best places to grab a coffee in the eastern suburbs, as well as great dinner spots around the northern beaches and beyond?

Many thanks,

Nicki Lange

Dear Nicki,

Though Melbourne thinks that it invented coffee, Sydney is heaving with outstanding coffee shops, especially in the eastern suburbs. On or around Glenmore Road in Paddington alone, you’ll find Five Ways, as much a landmark as a café, the gaily refurbished terrace house Sonder and other splendid options, including Jackie’s, Juniper and Bake Bar. But the best coffee option in this part of Sydney is takeaway. Specifically, coffee taken away to be sipped as you stroll through the glorious Botanic Gardens, along the harbour foreshore and around to Circular Quay, where the café at the (excellent) Museum of Contemporary Art offers views of the ferries.

As for dinner on the northern beaches, it depends on how much of an occasion you want to make it. The Cottage Point Inn in the Ku-ring-gai Chase national park offers the options of arriving by water taxi or seaplane, and overnight accommodation for sleeping off the seafood-focused eight-course tasting menu. Also in the further-flung north, the Clareville Kiosk on the beach overlooking Pittwater is a local favourite and Barrenjoey House, a Palm Beach institution, has not rested on its laurels.

A bit closer to central Sydney, our local contacts enthuse about the Basin in Mona Vale Surf Club. Slightly further south, Oceans, near the beachfront at Narrabeen, is terrific.

Culture cuts / Read, watch, listen

Into the unknown

‘Nothing to be Rescued’, Asta Sigurðardóttir, translated by Meg Matich. While many consider Asta Sigurðardóttir to be Iceland’s first modernist writer, she remains a relatively obscure figure. A new collection of the author’s short stories, translated by Meg Matich and published by Nordisk Books, aims to introduce her work to an international audience. Following the lives of people on the margins of society in Iceland’s hinterland, the narratives tackle dark themes with lightness and dexterity. It’s proof that while Scandinavian authors have gained something of a reputation for crime thrillers, there’s a lot more to the region’s literary scene than meets the eye.

‘Wonka’, Paul King. UK director Paul King, known for directing both Paddington films, is back with another feel-good holiday film. The movie-cum-musical, which traces the origin story of Roald Dahl’s eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, features performances by the likes of Olivia Colman and Timothée Chalamet. The script is, rather aptly, sweet. By the time the credits roll, it might feel as though you’ve eaten too many chocolates. But isn’t that what December is for?

‘Before and After’, Neil Young. Recorded over the course of four shows, the Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young’s latest live album features 13 of his lesser-known songs, performed without audience noise. Highlights include a quieter version of “I’m the Ocean”, which was first recorded with Pearl Jam, and the wonderfully intimate “When I Hold You in My Arms”.

Image: François Halard-Totême

Fashion update / Totême

Art of the matter

The opening of Swedish fashion brand Totême’s first London flagship shop has brought a touch of Scandinavian minimalism to Mayfair in London (writes Grace Charlton). With a predominantly neutral and limestone palette, the shop’s design is inspired by Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, while bronze accents reference the Vienna Secession movement from the turn of the 20th century. “We’ve always admired this area and wanted to create a shop here that felt a little more grown-up and polished,” says Karl Lindman, who co-founded Totême with his partner, Elin Kling, in 2014. “It’s important to keep one foot in Scandinavia and another wherever we are.”

Kling and Lindman commissioned Stockholm-based architecture firm and longtime collaborator Halleroed to design the space in a way that would showcase the label’s clothes, accessories and debut jewellery collection alongside contemporary-art pieces. A sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Milles from the 1920s sits in contrast with a metallic sofa by Australian industrial designer Marc Newson. It’s an eclectic mix that demonstrates the founders’ aesthetic sensibilities. “We are very aware of our customers and their time,” says Kling. “We want them to feel inspired by more than just the clothing and, ultimately, have fun.”

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Cake makers / Scaturchio, Naples

Where life is sweet

Walk along Via Mezzocannone in Naples and you will reach Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, where you’ll find Giovanni Scaturchio and his family’s pastry shop, which was established in 1905. A century later the name is synonymous with Naples’ most celebrated and mouthwatering pastries, such as the baba sponge cake and sfogliatella puff pastry.

At Christmas, the smell of honey and candied fruit permeates the square as the Scaturchio bakery fills its windows with Neapolitan struffoli (deep-fried dough balls doused with honey). “They’re a symbol of good wishes for the new year,” says Giacomo Cautiello, director of the Scaturchio laboratory, where recipes and pastries are developed and painstakingly perfected. The importance given to the quality of ingredients is what sets Scaturchio apart. For Cautiello, it’s what makes the difference between a dolce (a dessert of high quality) and something that is simply sweet. “You always have to select the best,” he says.


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