From Palermo’s palazzi and pistachio pastries to Hong Kong’s thriving international scene, our Saturday dispatch is here to whisk you away to new destinations and inspiring locales. Antwerp-based designer Dries Van Noten’s runway soundtrack and Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film also give us pause for thought, and, at the top, our editor in chief leads us in with a few lessons in, well, being more goat...
I am not a great believer in horoscopes – or, indeed, a believer in them at all – but I am a Capricorn. While I will have no truck with such nonsense, that means my star sign is the old goat. A few months ago, I met a woman at a party who turned out to be something of a horoscope oracle and she explained how my goatish qualities might sometimes display themselves. Don’t worry – it has nothing to do with ramming you in the rear with my giant horns or even eating your hat.
No, it was, she said, more about how Capricorns approach life. We are sure-footed or, rather, sure-hooved. Our dainty cloven cloppers are matched with rather thick ankles, which means that, if we take our time, we can be relied on to eventually edge up the side of the sheerest and craggiest of mountains. You might need to give us a moment but we will get there. Annoyingly, some of this resonated (mostly the fat ankles part), though when I recounted this to the other half, he said, “That’s just her saying that you are a bit boring.” His smile faded, however, as I charged at him and knocked him flying from the alpine path of life.
My January has not been dry. Well, it has been dry in parts but with squally fronts of wine descending at the weekends. Nevertheless, I will be glad when this month is over and we can all revert to form. While I am not opposed to change – indeed, I seek it – January is filled with too many conversations about how people hope to transform everything from their finances to their physique (you have to remember to leave your scepticism parked in the reality-check garage). But our ability to suddenly become free birds, look like strippers when naked, to diverge, to transform, is about more than just willpower. It depends on our hard-wiring. If you are essentially a goat, sorry, but you need to embrace it.
Last week I met a friend for lunch who works in a high-altitude post at one of those giant technology companies that shape our daily realms. But he also has more side orders of life on the go than anyone I know, juggling numerous passions, pursuits and projects with aplomb. And he’s not overly wedded to any of them. There are lots more things that he wants to try and even the presumably god-status salary is something that seems to matter little to him. I would happily read his management book but he’s inimitable. My focus is different and my strategy, well, more goat.
Then, at the weekend, I met two friends who live between London and Mallorca, and own two apartments. Except they often don’t live in either. Because they are happy to rent both of them out if there are takers, there are times when neither is available to them. So they just park themselves in another city for a month or two, as they are doing right now (if you spot two very relaxed people in Málaga this weekend, say hello). As we chatted, they explained that to make this peripatetic life work, they have vigorously whittled down their possessions and are now able to limit everything that they own in the world to three suitcases kept in storage in each location. Knick-knacks gone, all paperwork scanned and shredded, wardrobes reduced to levels that even a monk might begrudge. Freedom for them but, again, I couldn’t match that. “One cassock is never enough” is my belief.
So, if this is the point in Dry January when you waiver, don’t worry. All you need to do is ignore all of the distractions, find your own path, put one foot in front of the other and do this your way. Lifestyle makeovers take time. Role models are rarely helpful. And there’s always Fix-It February to look forward to if you need some extra leeway to achieve your goals. Take it from a goat.
As the world’s cold wars get warmer, to see a ray of sunshine thaw an inch of the icy steppes offered by rolling headlines or to witness a plucky bloom struggle free of the news agenda’s savage tundra is to sense a stirring like hope, to feel a thing akin to magic (writes Robert Bound). Such was the case this week with teenager, internet sensation and – at first glance, at least – potential Houthi heartthrob, Rashid al-Haddad, who you might know better as “Tim-Houthi Chalamet”.
Al-Haddad and his dreamy eyes, dimples and curls broke out online after posting pictures of himself posing beatifically on the deck of the Galaxy Leader, a cargo ship captured by the Iran-backed Houthi group last November. “Shiver me timbers!” quipped one online admirer. Indeed. It seemed as though Tim-Houthi was Jack Sparrowing his way across the Red Sea, throwing his shoe at the US navy as he went, but – too bad – the Galaxy Leader is actually moored off the Yemeni coast where it serves as a tourist attraction and a potent propaganda tool.
The Look, ever attuned to matters sartorial and – is it a crime? – seductive, was struck by a reverie. Images of toothsome felons flashed before our eyes: Veronica Koval, last year’s dangerous-driving dream girl; Amanda Stanton, booked for domestic battery in 2018 but still providing a charge; and Jeremy Meeks, the gorgeous gun-toting American who swapped prison for the runway in 2017 – probably a safer place for those piercing blue eyes (though Madonna was in the audience). Al-Haddad, despite a penchant for posing with an AK-47, seems just another disillusioned dish but one who has made our week a little more dynamic. But if he’s driving one of those 1990s Land Cruisers in his next post? Well, blow me, Tim-Houthi.
There are two types of expats in Asia: those who swear by Singapore and those who choose Hong Kong (writes James Chambers). Singapore has enjoyed the upper hand since the coronavirus pandemic but Hong Kong is trying to claw its way back into contention – and the release next week of a new Amazon series based in the city could boost its efforts to attract international talent.
Shot on location at the height of the pandemic, Expats, starring Nicole Kidman, is based on Janice Y K Lee’s book The Expatriates. It’s set during the 2014 political protests – a more innocent time when schoolchildren occupied the streets and did their homework. The plot centres around a family tragedy (parents of young children are advised to look away) but the series also shines a light on the lavish lifestyles of Hong Kong’s high-earning, heavy-drinking foreigners: think private clubs, floating gin palaces, cigar lounges, boozy lunches, nannies, housemaids, international schools, frequent holidays and horse racing.
Critics will probably pounce on the excess, which is as real as it is ridiculous. But there will be many viewers around the world who will get a glimpse of Hong Kong’s unique geography for the first time and yearn for a lifestyle upgrade, reaching for the tissue box while making mental plans for an Eastern adventure that comes with luxury, convenience and safety. The lucky few might still be able to wangle a cushy relocation package.
These days, though, such a move is likely to require a bit more courage and ingenuity than in past decades, as we have shown in our recent Hong Kong survey. There’s a Japanese expat opening his first art gallery, a Scottish management consultant turned independent retailer and two French chefs striking out on their own after working in kitchens across Europe. There are Aussies, Germans, Indians and more. Hong Kong continues to draw a certain type of person: ambitious, hard-working and stubbornly optimistic. This week I went to see Antoine Vatar, Jean-Edouard Mano Picard and Maxime Isnard, three Frenchmen who opened a smart new select shop in Soho called 52 Gage in November. Their entrepreneurial adventure is the type of expat tale that Monocle likes to cover and I am excited to see their Hong Kong story unfold.
For more on life in Hong Kong, see our survey on the city in the latest issue of ‘The Escapist’.
Jukka Siukosaari is Finland’s ambassador to the UK. His diplomatic service career has included postings in cities from Tokyo and Buenos Aires to Rome and Dublin. Last year, Siukosaari successfully campaigned for Finland’s membership of the Council of the International Maritime Organisation. His current work involves creating more sustainable and efficient shipping practices with the other council members. Here, he tells us about some of his favourite restaurants and his fascination with castles.
What news source do you wake up to?
I start the day by reading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat and the Financial Times, as well as the headlines from the BBC and YLE, which is Finland’s national broadcaster.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
First, tea with milk. I have coffee a bit later in the morning.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
A variety of 1970s and 1980s rock classics.
Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The Economist, Monocle, Foreign Affairs, The Spectator and Finnish magazine Suomen Kuvalehti.
Who’s your cultural obsession?
It’s not a person but a thing. I have always been interested in castles and architecture. I tend to visit a fortress if there’s one on my travel route.
What’s the best thing that you have watched on TV recently?
I recently started the French Netflix series Lupin with my family. It is very well produced and entertaining.
And what’s your movie genre of choice?
It used to be action. Now, however, I’m steering towards historical biographies. Oppenheimer is one of the best films that I’ve seen lately.
Any good restaurant recommendations?
The last one that I visited was a Mexican-Japanese restaurant called Los Mochis in London’s Notting Hill. It has good food and a relaxed environment. My favourite restaurant in Finland is Olo. It serves Nordic cuisine right next to Kauppatori square in the heart of Helsinki.
‘My Friends’, Hisham Matar. Set after Libya’s 2011 revolution, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar’s new novel follows three friends who are forced to choose between life in London and the homes that they left behind. A wonderful book about family, friendship and exile.
‘The Boy and the Heron’, Hayao Miyazaki. The 82-year-old director of Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro has released a new film. The Boy and the Heron, which follows a 12-year-old boy grappling with his mother’s death in wartime Japan, is perhaps Miyazaki’s most personal work yet. It’s also visually engaging and tender.
‘Orquídeas’, Kali Uchis. When Kali Uchis released her first Spanish-language album in 2020, her record label warned her against producing something that sounded too Latin American and suggested that she return to the R&B sound of her debut, After the Storm. But the star’s latest album, in which she leans into reggaeton and cumbia even more confidently, is proof that the singer has other plans.
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.
My husband and I are planning to go to Palermo in February for a warm weekend break. Please recommend places to eat, visit and stay. Thanks for your advice.
Palermo is an excellent choice at all times of the year. The city has a bewitching, languid charm. To properly understand it, you have to spend time in both its crumbling, fascinating historical centre and the wide bourgeois avenues just north of it. This will give you a better understanding of the city’s faded grandeur, unruly spirit and lasting elegance. Stay near the grand Teatro Massimo or Teatro Politeama to see its genteel side. Go for breakfast at Antico Caffè Spinnato for old-world pastries and coffee, then dive into the Vucciria market’s warren of alleys to experience Palermo’s frenetic energy.
The wealth of aristocratic estates and churches reflects a history of myriad influences and invaders. Head to the blissfully quiet San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the eerie deconsecrated church Santa Maria dello Spasimo and the stunning Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum, set in an airy palazzo complete with fountains and turtles. The flea market at the leafy Piazza Marina on Saturday morning is an unmatched opportunity to bag something unique. There’s also Palazzo Butera (pictured), which has been turned into a remarkable art foundation and is worth seeing for both its architecture and collection.
Food is such an integral part of life here that you’ll be tempted to have more than three meals a day – and why not? A quick lunch at unfussy Nni Franco U Vastiddaru will satisfy cravings for crispy, fried panelle and crocchè. Stock up on baked snacks, also known here as pezzi, from Cuochini or sample pastries from the bakery inside the Monastero di Santa Caterina, where you can enjoy your treats in the colourful cloister. Gelato is best enjoyed in a brioche, as the locals do, from La Kala; we recommend the pistachio flavour. Stick around the old marina for aperitivo at Il Nauto, which overlooks the sea, or head to Ferramenta. If you’re after a down-to-earth trattoria for dinner, try Al Ferro di Cavallo or an exceptional modern take on seafood at Sardina Pasta Bar. And, of course, don’t forget to leave room for cassata and cannoli at Pasticceria Costa.
Dries Van Noten returned to Paris this week to showcase his autumn 2024 menswear collection (writes Natalie Theodosi). The Antwerp-based designer invited his audience inside a dimly lit industrial space next to Montparnasse station – a world away from the idyllic garden that he spends much of his time in when at home in Belgium or the baroque venues that many brands tend to favour in Paris. He illuminated the bare setting with his elegant, meticulously crafted designs. It was a study in contrasts of fabrics, silhouettes and colours.
By remixing opposing elements – slim-cut suits with oversized knit scarves, technical nylon with heritage fabrics from English mills and casual cargo trousers with tailored coats – Van Noten said that he wanted to explore the meaning of modern elegance and find beauty in “the tension of contrasts”. Not a fan of loud statements, his take on modern-day elegance was all in the details: a waxed jacket worn over a sharp suit, a sweater tied around the neck in an unexpected way and rich fabrications, from intricate intarsia knits to thick coats and scarves, crafted using the needle-punch technique. Here, Van Noten discusses the collection with The Monocle Weekend Edition.
Talk us through your design process.
It is about being confident when you dress, so we wanted to play with the silhouettes, from the oversized to the very slim, and offer more options. There are fragments of different garments throughout the show – all things that are very dear to me, from leather, which adds toughness and a military effect, to rustic, soft scarves.
Why did you choose Simple Minds’ ‘Theme for Great Cities’ as your soundtrack this season?
It’s one of my favourite songs, so I thought, “Why not?” We worked with DJs who created a remix. They basically decomposed and recomposed the song.
What about the colour palette, which starts very muted but brightens up towards the end?
I wanted to add pastels and more light colours – I love colour. I used a lot of brown and burgundy in the past but it would be too easy [to do that again]. I have been thinking a lot about self-confidence. It requires a certain level of confidence for a man to add pink or rose to his wardrobe.
The late Baroness Boothroyd was a figure of considerable heft in UK political history: she was the first woman to serve as the speaker of the House of Commons, a role that she filled from 1992 to 2000 (writes Andrew Mueller). Boothroyd also boasted one of the more picturesque CVs of any MP, having been, in the years just after the Second World War, a member of the Tiller Girls, a dance troupe that capered at the London Palladium, among other venues.
The auction of Boothroyd’s estate by Special Auction Services on 23 January is accordingly split between gravitas and eccentricity. In the subsection “Political Life and Books” are signed memoirs by prime ministers John Major (€115-€175) and James Callaghan (€90-€115), among many other volumes. There are also trinkets including a certificate of appreciation from the Worshipful Company of Grocers (€90-€140) furled inside a handsome presentation box.
However, it’s the items filed under “Betty Boothroyd at Home” that really depict a commendably full life. Aside from some lovely furniture at decent prices – two 19th-century wooden dressers are about €120 apiece – Boothroyd’s whimsical side is best demonstrated by an assortment of toy frogs. The hammer will drop at about €115 for this lot, an ideal gift for loved ones who are a combination of political obsessive and amphibian aficionado.